Series: Snapshots of the Past
Series: Snapshots of the Past
Story: Man of the House
Disclaimer: The characters depicted in this story belong to NBC, WB, and Aaron Sorkin. We're just borrowing them for some fun :)
Story Summary: Adjusting to living apart proves to be difficult for Jed and Abbey, especially after a bump in the road that profoundly affects their marriage
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"I, Josiah Edward Bartlet, do solemnly swear that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign or domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; and that I will well and faithfully discharge the duties of the office on which I am about to enter. So help me God."
On Thursday, January 3rd, 1985, Jed stood on the floor of the United States House of Representatives for the very first time and, along with his 434 colleagues, took the oath of office administered by Speaker Tip O'Neill.
Abbey, Elizabeth, Ellie, and Zoey sat at the back of the chamber and listened for Jed's name during the 40-minute quorum call before the oath, followed by his vote during the hour-long roll call that ended in O'Neill's reelection as Speaker of the House and began the group swearing in.
Afterwards, each newly minted representative joined the Speaker for a private ceremonial gathering to repeat the oath so that friends, family, and press from the member's hometown could capture the moment for posterity.
Jed had invited two dozen supporters - in addition to his family - most of whom made the journey to Washington for the historic day. His campaign director, Derek, was there, along with Larry and a few mid-level staffers, interns, and a couple of volunteers. His new communications director, Christine, blended in among the crowd to avoid the media, unwilling to snatch even a second of Jed's moment in the spotlight.
Ellie stood to his right and Liz and Zoey stood to his left. Abbey's parents, Mary and James, her sister Kate, and Jed's brother and sister-in-law Jack and Kellie all looked on proudly as Jed was sworn in for the second time with Abbey beside him, holding the bible his mother had passed down before she died.
"I, Josiah Edward Bartlet, do solemnly swear..."
He echoed the very words he had spoken earlier that morning and this time, Abbey absorbed each syllable right along with him. Her husband always had the makings of a great leader. From the days he spent taking on city officials after the Boston busing disaster in 1974 to the fight at the New Hampshire State House for Head Start and the New England Dairy Compact, Jed had won over journalists and politicians with his intellect and his tenacity.
It was those qualities that attracted voters too. They were the ones who sent him to the hallowed chambers of congress, where it was obvious that it was time to play with the big boys. Abbey was certain that Jed would fit right in. He'd play the game the way the game was supposed to be played and at the end of the day, he'd be the one standing.
It was all so simple, the way it sounded in her mind. She had no idea that this day would launch a lifetime commitment to public service and that with that commitment would come a world of changes that neither she nor her family were expecting.
"How about one more shot of you with your wife and kids, Congressman?" The official congressional photographer stood before Jed after a slew of newspaper and television interviews at the reception.
"Sounds great!" Jed beamed, always eager for more family pictures. "Hang on. Let me get my wife."
He scanned the room to find Abbey mingling with a crowd of representatives and their spouses. They were listening attentively to whatever it was she was saying and though he didn't even know the topic up for discussion, he sensed her passion in her hand and facial gestures. He snuck up beside her and wrapped his arm around her waist to subtly announce his presence.
Abbey's hand instinctively went to cover his. "Hon, Congressman Williams was just telling me about the House resolution for more funding for childhood vaccines."
"And if you had your way, that'd be first on the agenda, right?" Jed teased her lovingly, then addressed his colleagues. "Never mix medicine and politics with my wife, fellas. You're gonna get screwed every time."
Abbey returned his good-natured ribbing. "My husband's just upset that I'm campaigning before he's had a chance to look over the talking points."
"As much as I'd like to disprove that myth, it'll have to wait. The photographer wants another family photo. What do you say, babe?"
Jed whisked her away from her captive audience. "Should I be worried that you're going to win them over before I do?"
Abbey glanced at him, dismissively. "Would you rather I stand beside you, seen and not heard?"
"Don't ask me that question like it's something you'd actually do. You agreeing to be arm candy isn't even a remote possibility."
"And if it was?"
"If it was, I wouldn't be nearly as turned on as I am watching you work the room." He winked at her. "Where are the girls?"
"I sent Ellie and Zoey to the game room they have set up in the back. And last time I checked, Lizzie was at the dessert table."
Jed's eyes drifted to his eldest daughter who was chatting it up with one of her peers while picking at a plate of brownies. "Uh oh. That's Melissa Herald, Congressman Herald's kid."
"Why uh oh?"
"She's 18 going on 30 and she's very opinionated about politics."
"Why uh oh?" Abbey repeated.
When Jed saw Liz approach, he knew the question would soon be answered. "Wait for it."
"Dad, you know what I just found out?" Liz set her plate down on one of the tables.
"Penguins are dying. They are literally being strangled to death in the waters off Antarctica by those plastic six-pack holders that people dump wherever they want. They're being horrifically murdered because of us."
"That's terrible, Lizzie."
"So what are you going to do about it?"
"Excuse me?" They strolled through the reception hall.
"Well, you're in congress now. Can't you pass a law that would make it illegal for people not to recycle?"
"Elizabeth, YOU don't recycle."
"Yeah, but now that I know that penguins are dying, I plan to start."
"And as soon as you do, be sure to..."
"Wait." When they arrived at the game room, Abbey cut him off. "Where's Ellie?"
"I thought you said she was here."
"I thought she was." Abbey waved her hand to get Zoey's attention. "Sweetie, where's your sister?"
Zoey shrugged. "She said she was sick of the party."
"Sick of the party?"
Jed and Abbey rushed through the double doors out of the reception and split up so they could each take a separate wing of the Capitol. As she dashed through the bustling halls in search of Ellie, Abbey tried to recall her last conversation with her.
The 10-year-old had begged her mother to let her go back to the hotel with her grandparents, but Abbey refused, explaining that Grandma and Grandpa had to leave for the airport to catch their flight back to Boston. Ellie had to stay, she said, without putting the pieces together to realize that it wasn't the party Ellie was trying to avoid. It was the press.
She had always been a shy little girl. In kindergarten, she got her first taste of public attention as the lead in the school pageant and the minute she left the stage, she decided she never wanted to do it again. In Girl Scouts, she gave up the opportunity to earn an astronomy badge when she backed out of an oral presentation she was required to give.
She avoided attention of any kind and no one understood that part of her better than Abbey. So when it was Abbey who sent her to the game room instead of shielding her from the cameras, Ellie took it upon herself to evade the media any way she could. She ducked out of the reception, unnoticed, and decided to wait for her parents in the lobby of the Capitol.
"ELLIE?" Abbey called her name over and over as she ran through the building. "ELLIE?"
Hearing her mother's frantic voice, Ellie headed towards her. "What?"
Abbey stopped in her tracks. After a second of relief, she angrily confronted her daughter. "WHERE HAVE YOU BEEN?"
"Right here. I told Zoey to tell you I was sick of the party and that I would be waiting here."
"You told Zoey? You don't go anywhere without asking permission from me or from your father. You know that."
"But I didn't want to stay there."
Abbey grabbed the young girl's hand and started down the hall, slowing down her pace when she felt Ellie nearly slip from her grip as they came face-to-face with a photographer. Though the man wasn't even holding the camera secured around his neck, Ellie still hesitated and bowed her head to pass.
"He's doing his job, Ellie. He's here to get pictures of your dad and his colleagues for the paper, that's all."
"You should have told me they were hovering over you." Abbey tenderly wrapped a protective arm around the reluctant girl as she led her back to the reception.
"What happened? Where did she go? Is she all right?" Jed approached his wife and daughter, full of questions.
"She's fine. She's just annoyed with the press."
"Why? Did they bother you, Ellie?"
Ellie shook her head. "No. It's just...I feel like they're always taking pictures of us. Like wherever we go, they're there. Can't we leave now?"
"Your dad has to stay for a while longer." Standing in front of her, Abbey kneeled down and twirled her finger around one of Ellie's blonde curls. "How about you hang out with me for the rest of the day? I'll play you a game of Monopoly?"
"They're back there too." Ellie gestured to the crew from New England Cable News milling around the game room to get a few shots of a couple of representatives playing chess.
"Yeah, but with me there, they wouldn't dare get too close. What do you say?"
Jed stopped them before they wandered away. "What about the family photo?"
"I don't wanna take anymore pictures," Ellie said.
"We have taken quite a few, Honey," Abbey reminded her husband. "Let's sit this one out."
Mother and daughter took off together, unaware that Ellie's apprehension had stung Jed. He could accept that she wasn't as interested in all this as Liz, but he didn't understand what drove her to go out of her way to avoid it, at the cost of avoiding him.
Ellie worshipped her father. When he was Jed Bartlet, patriarch and family man, she understood him. It's when he turned into Jed Bartlet, politician, that she shied away. It was a foreign world to her, one that she wasn't yet comfortable with. He was larger than life on the floor of the House and though her heart swelled with pride for him, she couldn't escape the urge to reject the fanfare that followed him.
This was just the start of a complicated relationship between father and daughter.
As soon as Speaker O'Neill presented Jed with a set of keys, the Bartlets embarked on the short walk to the Rayburn House Office Building to take a tour of Jed's congressional suite. On the fourth floor, behind a door that bore a name plate with his title, was a small lobby and three offices - one for Jed, one for his chief of staff and senior staffers, and one for his legislative aides.
Mahogany desks, leather chairs, and an assortment of office supplies had already been moved in and on the wall in his lobby was a single nail, there to hold Jed's official framed portrait once it had been taken.
"So, what do you think?" he asked as he walked Abbey through the rooms.
"About what?" She grinned when he cocked his brow. "I think it's great. I think everything about this place is great."
"Dad, what's up with the walls?" Liz joined her parents in one of the corner offices. "They're kinda dreary."
"That's how they come."
"We should paint them - bright pink with teal trim. I saw it in a design magazine."
"Elizabeth, Sweetheart..." Abbey placed her hand on her daughter's shoulder. "Your dad's never going to let you in this place if you keep talking like that."
"Your mom's right," Jed agreed.
"Dad, trust me, once you see the furniture Mom and I ordered for your apartment, you'll realize that pink and teal walls at the office are pretty minor." Giving him a tight grin, Liz turned and headed towards another office.
"What does she mean by that?" Jed questioned his wife.
"Nothing," Abbey assured him.
"You like purple futons, don't you?"
That evening, Jed, Abbey, and the girls picnicked on Chinese food take-out and fortune cookies on the bare carpet of Jed's new Porter Street apartment. It was a one-bedroom residence on the seventh floor of a fairly upscale building overlooking Rock Creek Park, just two blocks from the shops and restaurants of Connecticut Avenue and a quick metro ride away from the Capitol.
Jed and Abbey had fallen in love with the place weeks earlier. The location was safe enough to ease Abbey's mind and convenient enough to win Jed's vote. It wouldn't be like living at home with his family, but at least it was cozier than moving in to one of the extended stay hotels some of his colleagues had opted for.
After finishing his dinner, Jed cracked his cookie and read his fortune aloud. "'Walk to remember yesterday.'" He furrowed his brows. "What the hell does that mean?"
"It's philosophical," Abbey told him.
"Just because something doesn't make sense doesn't make it philosophical. I hate cookies that have meaningless fortunes inside." He jerked his hand away when Abbey tried to take the cookie. "I didn't say I wasn't going to eat it."
"Why do we have to leave tonight?" Ellie asked her mother. "Why can't we stay in Washington until Sunday?"
"Because I have to work tomorrow and you guys have stuff to do for school this weekend. Don't you have that project due on Wednesday?"
Liz took a different approach. "Then why can't Dad come home with us this weekend?"
"They're delivering furniture on Saturday," Jed reminded her. "And I have to be here because apparently, I might have to send some of it back."
"You're gonna love it! My fortune cookie says so." Liz uncoiled the thin piece of paper inside her cookie and read, 'Trust your intuition. The universe is guiding your life.'"
"Mine doesn't say anything cool like that," Ellie complained as she spouted off hers. "It says 'don't kiss an elephant on the lips today.'"
Chuckling, Abbey handed Ellie another one. "Here, Ellie. You can have mine."
"But then you won't have a fortune to read."
"That's okay. I have enough fortunes in my life anyway."
"Will somebody read mine?" Zoey held up her cookie for a volunteer.
"I'll read it!" Liz offered as she took the slip from her sister. "'The shortest distance between two people is a smile.'"
Abbey awed at the sweet sentiment while Jed rolled his eyes. "Oh geez. All right, Ellie, read the one your mom gave you."
Ellie fumbled with the cookie to pull out the fortune. "'The onion you are eating is someone else's water lilly.'" She looked up at her family, confused. "Huh?"
"You just get all the weird ones, El," Liz teased as she spotted another cookie in the bag. "There's one more left. Mom, you get this one."
"Thanks, Lizzie." Unlike her husband and daughters, Abbey was skilled at finagling the fortune out without actually cracking the cookie. She opened it up and paused when she read it.
"What is it?" Jed prodded.
"It says, 'when planning the future, always include pretzels.'"
While everyone laughed, Abbey rolled up the fortune before anyone could discover she had lied about what it said. She squeezed it back into the cookie, setting it aside so that she could sneak it into Jed's bedroom when no one was looking.
"I want you to go with us, Daddy!" Zoey gripped her father's neck tightly at the airport terminal.
"I want to go too, Sunshine. I can't though. I have to stay here and work, but we're going to talk every single night on the phone and I'm going to be home before you know it."
"Will you read to me on the phone?"
"You bet I will. I'll go out tomorrow and buy myself a copy of all your favorite books. I promise." Jed squeezed Zoey tight in his arms, then lowered her to the ground, looking to his middle daughter next.
Ellie moved in to hug him. "Can I call you if I want?"
"Any time you want, day or night. Wherever I am, you tell them you need to talk to me."
"Okay." She hid her face in his sweater so she could dry her tears before anyone noticed.
When she pulled away, Jed cupped her chin. "You didn't forget anything, did you? I'm not going to have to run to the post office first thing in the morning to mail your homework back to you?"
Ellie giggled softly. It was so like Jed to pick on her for always leaving things behind. "My homework's in my backpack."
"Good." Jed smiled. "Lizzie, get over here."
"I don't know what the big deal is," Liz replied. "You'll be home soon enough and until you are, every night is Girls Night."
She was teasing him, just as she always did. But underneath her playful demeanor, it was obvious that she was just as upset as her sisters.
"And here I thought you were going to miss me the most. You are a perplexing young lady, Elizabeth."
"Just like my father...except for the 'young lady' part."
Jed looked over his daughter's shoulder and saw Abbey tying Zoey's shoelace and helping Ellie with her coat. He pulled Liz slightly to the side. "Listen, I know you and your mom have been kind of off and on lately..."
"It's fine, Dad."
"I just want you to try. I won't be there to mediate, so I need you to watch the attitude, okay? She's already lightened her work load. If she's called in on emergencies, that isn't her fault. I don't want you giving her a hard time."
"I won't. We're cool now. Really."
"Okay. One more thing." He dug through his pockets to pull out a set of car keys he then dangled in front of her. "I'm going to need someone to take my car out for a drive now and then...you know, keep it running. Do you know anyone who wouldn't mind doing that?"
"You're giving me your car?"
"LOANING you my car."
"Thanks!" She took the keys and hugged him tightly. "It's gonna be so weird not having you around all the time. I'm gonna miss you."
"I'm gonna miss you too, Angel," Jed assured her just before he broke the embrace. "Do me a favor and help your sisters onto the plane so I can have a moment with your mom?"
Liz ushered Zoey and Ellie towards the jetway, giving Jed and Abbey some privacy.
"The more I think about it, the more I think we made a mistake," Abbey started. "The last time you lived in an apartment by yourself was when you were at Notre Dame and I saw the mess you made of that place. I don't know what ever made me think you'd be capable of living on your own again."
Jed laughed. "Are you trying to take away my bachelor pad?"
"Oh, how I hate that phrase."
He closed the space between them. Gazing into her eyes, he said, "It's going to be hard sleeping without you next to me."
"I didn't think we'd ever have to do that again once I finished residency. Is it too early to hand in your resignation?"
He shook his head. "Just say the word."
Regrettably, Abbey knew they were both kidding. "Ten days? I can't remember the last time we were apart for ten days."
"I can't either."
"I know it's just over a week, but...I don't know...it seems like more than that."
"That's because I won't just be away on a trip. I'll actually be living somewhere else." He was right. For the first time since before they got married, Jed's primary residence wouldn't be with her.
"It's going to be like college all over again."
His eyes shined warmly at the memory. "All the phone calls, the letters. Me in Indiana, you in Boston. I almost forgot we've done this before."
"Yeah, but we barely knew each other then. It didn't matter as much."
"We missed each other though. Think about the bright side. Back then, we had to wait for Christmas vacation or Easter break to get together. Now, it's every weekend."
"The weekends will get me through the week."
Abbey stroked his cheek, then leaned in to kiss him. "I should go. The girls are waiting."
Jed allowed her to turn from him, but a second later, he grabbed her arm to spin her back around for one more kiss. "Call me tonight, as soon as you get there."
"I will." She stepped away from him, backwards, until she had to face the steward to check her ticket. "You better cook for yourself," she warned, throwing her head over her shoulder to address him. "I don't want to hear about burgers and fries every night, got it?"
"I got it."
Jed stood grounded to his spot, watching her for as long as he could as she made her way to the plane. He wondered how long he could stay at the airport. Could he just roam around aimlessly after their flight took off?
He knew he was being silly. Even if he wouldn't be living with his family seven days a week, he'd still see them often. But he couldn't help it. For a man so used to coming home every night to a house full of people, the prospect of returning to his cold and empty apartment all alone depressed him.
Just as he sat down on one of the chairs by the gate, he heard the rapid clicking of heels against the floor. He jumped to his feet to see Abbey running back towards him.
She couldn't resist charging into his open arms one more time. "I forgot to tell you, I put the leftover Chinese food in your fridge and I ordered groceries from the market around the corner. They'll be bringing them by in about an hour so you need to get back to your apartment now."
"I do, do I? Did you do this because you knew I'd be hesitating?"
"Why do you think I told them to deliver at eight?" She squeezed his hand, then separated from him once again. "I'll call you when we get there. I love you."
"I love you too."
This time, when she stepped onto the jetway, she was gone for real, leaving Jed to slowly walk over to the window so he could watch the plane.
Late that evening, back at the farm, Lizzie passed by her mother's bedroom. The door was open and Abbey was draped under the covers, reading. At least, she was pretending to read. Liz spied on her for a few minutes and when it was obvious Abbey wasn't even turning the page, she interrupted.
"Why are you still up?"
"I can't fall asleep. Did Dad say if he'd call again tonight?"
"He said he'd call tomorrow."
"Are you okay sleeping alone?"
Abbey pulled off her glasses and looked her daughter in the eye. "I'd actually like some company."
Liz stepped back into the doorway and shouted down the hall, "ELLIE, ZOEY, SHE SAID YES!"
Within seconds, all three girls, holding their own pillows and in Zoey's case, even a blanket, raced to their parents' bed and jumped onto the mattress, crowding themselves around their mother. An amused Abbey couldn't deny that having them there was exactly what she needed on her first night without Jed.
"Ellie, I wanna sleep next to Mommy," Zoey whined.
"Go to the other side."
"But I wanna sleep on this side!"
"I'm already on this side!"
Before Abbey could intervene in the disagreement between Zoey and Ellie, the ringing phone on the bedside table demanded her attention. She held up her hand to silence her girls as she reached for the receiver.
"What are you wearing right now?" Jed's tone was amorous and playful.
"Um, flannel PJ's. The girls and I are having a little slumber party in here." She lowered her voice to add, "And they have incredible hearing powers so watch yourself."
"Daddy?" Zoey pulled on the cord. "I wanna talk to Daddy!"
"You can talk to him in a minute." Abbey rushed through a few pleasantries, then surrendered the phone to her youngest daughter first. "Give it to Lizzie when you're done."
"Daddy, Ellie won't let me sleep next to Mommy."
As Zoey began her call, Ellie fluffed her pillow and claimed her spot, angrily narrowing her eyes at her little sister. "Tattletale."
"I am not!"
Abbey shook her head at both of them. "Zoey, either talk to your father or give the phone to Lizzie. Ellie, quit provoking her."
"I don't get why she can't just sleep on the other side."
"We'll figure out the sleeping arrangements as soon as she's done."
The phone was eventually passed around the bed to Lizzie, then to Ellie. When all three girls finished their conversations, Ellie hung up the receiver, remorsefully covering her mouth when she realized Abbey never got a chance to say goodbye.
"You knucklehead!" Abbey threw a pillow at her middle daughter.
"I forgot!" A giggling Ellie returned the gesture.
Picking up the phone to dial her husband, Abbey tried to ignore the chaos in the room as Zoey continued the pillow fight. "Jed?"
"Next time, give the phone to Ellie first instead of last."
"Are you ready for bed?"
"I am," he said. "But it sounds like you've got quite the party going on over there."
"Pillow fight," she told him. "I'll call you during breakfast?"
"I can't wait. Goodnight, love."
As Abbey joined her daughters in their pillow fight, Jed wandered through his unfamiliar apartment towards his bedroom where he had planned to sleep in a sleeping bag on the floor. He pulled the zipper, yanking down the top flap and that's when he saw it. The fortune cookie that Abbey had left for him caught him by surprise at first. He examined it briefly, then broke it in half to pull out the fortune.
With his thumb gliding over the words, he read it out loud. "'Someone is thinking of you.'"
The hint of a smile curved his lips before he tucked the fortune under his pillow and laid down to settle in for the night.