Disclaimer: Jed and Abbey Bartlet et al are the property of Aaron Sorkin, Thomas
Schalmme, John Wells, NBC, and Warner Bros. I'm just filling in some gaps!
Rating: Mainly PG, some NC-17
Feedback: Yes please!
A/N: Many thanks to my 'beta readers' for all their advice, suggestions and discussions about J and A's thoughts and feelings.
Abbey walked into the kitchen and angrily dumped the basket of apples on the table.
"Damn the press!" she seethed. "Damn their unnamed sources! Damn their prying – snooping – meddlesome – intrusive–"
"You talking to yourself again, Mom?"
Abbey turned at the sound of Zoey's voice at the kitchen door. "No," she said, unable to keep the bitterness from her voice, "I'm just practising for the next time I stand at the podium in the Press Room! Unnamed sources – huh!"
Zoey came into the kitchen and started transferring the apples from the basket into a plastic bowl. "You talking about the reports in the press today? Yeah, some of them–"
"Don't you start – I've had enough with CJ!" Abbey snapped then stopped. "Oh God, I'm sorry, Zoey, I didn't mean to take it out on you. I shouldn't have taken it out on CJ either. But I just get so frustrated–"
"About the lack of privacy?" Zoey asked. "Do you want these coring and peeling now?"
"What? Oh no, leave them. There'll be time later. And yes, at the way those mealy-mouthed wannabe reporters seem to think they have some God-given right to ask questions about every intimate detail of our private lives."
Zoey hesitated. "Is – is everything all right, Mom?"
Abbey glanced round at her. "What makes you ask that?"
"Well, you only came up here this morning – and Dad–"
"Your Dad had to come up here two days ago because half the staff were here working on his speech – and I–" She stopped and heaved a sigh. "Yeah, okay, Zoey, things have been a bit strained recently."
"Because he's gonna run again?"
"That's part of it. But – no, I'm sorry, Zoey, this is between your Dad and me – and we'll sort it out. But CJ wants a photo-op with us all together – and it just bugs me when we have to do something like that just to keep the press quiet."
"So we're gonna do a photo-op then?"
Abbey raised her hands in a gesture of defeat. "Oh, for heavens sake, why not? But later or maybe tomorrow – because right now I need to take a long hike somewhere to get away from people and press and politics and – everything! You gonna come?"
"Yeah – and Ellie said she'd come too. Liz just called to say that they'd wouldn't be here until later – something to do with Annie's dance class running late."
"Okay – ten minutes then? We can do the trail around the lake."
Two hours later, Abbey was in a somewhat calmer mood. Their hike around the lake had helped. Zoey and Ellie had chatted lightly as they walked and, as if by mutual consent, had left her alone with her thoughts. And she hadn't really known what she was thinking. What she had said to Zoey was true – things had been strained. Yeah, well, that had been an understatement, she thought with a sigh. The damned Berlin Wall had been rebuilt between them since the press conference. And they were both to blame for that.
Her mind went back to her own stunned reaction when he'd first made that announcement, and then how the shock and at the same time the gut-wrenching fear had ripped through her. Maybe if she'd managed to stay calm as she waited for him, things might have been different. But by the time he had eventually come up to the Residence it had been white-hot anger that had spilled out of her, anger that he had gone completely against the decision they had made together when they knew that they had to go public with his MS – and against the deal they had made four years earlier. She'd tried to give him ways of getting out of it – but stopped when she saw the steel in those blue eyes as he said 'I'm running again.'
He'd said that he had a lot to say – but then there hadn't been time – and then he'd closed down on her, seemed to find any excuse that he could not to talk about it – and then told her that she wasn't with him – and not even given her the chance to tell him what she was thinking or feeling.
She remembered how hurt and angry she had been – the night she had told him to go to hell – because he'd refused to listen. She'd wanted to tell him then that she understood why he had to do it – but he'd dismissed it, told her he needed to read about agriculture – and she'd lost her temper and stormed out. After that, they'd been civilised together – but a million miles apart, even in bed.
'And I shouldn't have taken that out on CJ,' she thought. 'She was only doing her job.'
She and CJ had bonded in the early days of the campaign for the Democratic nomination – at least after the evening when they'd both had a few glasses of wine too many and had admitted to each other that to start with they had both been a little in awe of the other. After that, their friendship had developed and even after Jed had become President, there were still the times when they could step aside from their professional relationship of First Lady and Press Secretary into their personal friendship.
Was that what CJ had been trying to do that afternoon? Abbey wondered. Trying to give her advice as a friend, and not just as Press Secretary? But then she'd started talking about the photo-op and then the unnamed sources – and Abbey's frustration at the intrusion of the press into their private lives had boiled over.
Abbey heaved a sigh that made Zoey and Ellie look round at her.
"You okay, Mom?" Zoey asked.
Abbey nodded. "Yeah, I'm okay – just trying to get my head round something."
"Anything we can do to help?" Ellie asked, and Abbey saw the concern in her eyes.
She smiled. "No, it's just something I need to sort out." She paused for a moment then went on, "Your Dad once said 'The day-to-day experience of my life has changed in many ways since taking this job' – and I guess that goes for me too – and for both of you. It's just that some days it's harder to cope with than others."
As they started across the fields that led back to the house, Abbey reflected on what she'd just said. In the days before the Presidency, there hadn't been the media scrutiny into every aspect of their lives. But now their lives had changed, and she supposed it was inevitable that the press wanted to pick up on anything and everything about their President. And that meant his relationship with his wife too. Even when – no, especially when – it was so obviously as fraught as it was right now. Even the staff were tiptoeing around them. What was it CJ had said hesitantly – 'uncomfortable territory'? Yeah, it was that and more, much more.
'We really do need to sort this out before Monday,' she thought suddenly. Jed was going to make his formal declaration of his candidacy for his second term as President – so somehow before then she had to reach out to him, tell him that she was with him, despite all her reservations and fears. The only question was when? He had been closeted with the staff in the Great Barn ever since she had arrived home. She'd only seen a glimpse of him in the distance from the bedroom window, when he'd obviously sneaked outside to have a cigarette – a sure sign that things were not going well. But maybe later that evening, when the staff had gone back to the hotel? Yeah, okay, she thought to herself, we can talk about it tonight. Having made the decision, she relaxed a little.
Then, as they approached the house, she saw Leo sitting on one of the Adirondack chairs on the porch. 'Oh God,' she thought, her nerves tightening again, 'now he's gonna lay into me for upsetting CJ–'
"Hey, Leo," she said with forced brightness as she took off her boots before climbing the steps to the porch. "How's things?"
"Difficult," admitted Leo. "But I won't bore you with the details." He stood up as she approached and gave her a quick kiss on her cheek. "Good to see you, Abbey!" She wondered if even that simple statement was loaded – if he was referring to the fact that she hadn't travelled up here with Jed – but then he grinned. "You always look much more relaxed up here – must be all this New Hampshire fresh air!"
"Less stuffy than Washington huh?"
"In more ways than one?"
"Yeah, you could say that. Want some coffee, Leo?"
"Sounds good to me." Leo followed her into the kitchen and Abbey busied herself with the coffee machine. "I thought Ellie and Zoey were with you?"
"Yeah, they've just gone to feed the horses."
"They're staying over till Monday?"
She nodded. "Yes, and Liz is coming over too with the kids."
She suppressed a groan – here it comes, she thought. "Yeah?"
"Don't bite my head off, Abbey – but – photo-op?"
Abbey poured the coffee and then handed him a mug. "Because of this morning's photos?"
Leo shook his head. "No. I know CJ's pissed off about those, but I think she's making too much of it."
"On Monday he's gonna make his formal declaration – so if Monday morning's papers ran a photo of you all? Just casual – family breakfast on the porch tomorrow morning maybe?"
"The United Family of America?" Abbey said caustically, then sighed. "Yeah – okay, Leo. You'd better check it out with Jed, though." Then she stopped, realising what she had just said. She raised her eyes to meet Leo's. "Leo, I haven't even seen him yet. He must have heard the motorcade arriving but–"
"Abbey, I'm not making excuses – but it is pretty heavy at the moment. Even Bruno was threatening to put a pitchfork up everyone's asses. There are a lot of arguments going on – the staff, Bruno's team – they're really struggling out there."
"Yeah, okay. So is this going to go on all evening too? Liz and the kids will be here soon – and I know Jed'll want to see them." Even if he doesn't want to see me, she added to herself.
"I'm sure he wants to see you all. Look, we're gonna break about six – I'll get everyone back to the hotel for a couple of hours – okay?"
"Then you'll need Jed for the rest of the evening?"
"'Fraid so, we've got a lot of stuff from the White House to catch up with. And do you mind if the guys use a couple of rooms in the house this evening?"
Abbey grinned suddenly. "You mean you don't want to add blackfly and mozzie bites to all your other problems? Yeah, that's fine – be my guest. We'll be okay downstairs in the family room."
"Thanks, Abbey." He downed the rest of his coffee and stood up. "I'd better get back."
"Leo–" Abbey stopped him as he reached the door. "Will you need CJ this evening?"
"Probably not – why?"
"I think I need to talk to her."
Leo nodded. "Yeah." He paused for a moment. "She was doing her job, Abbey."
"I know. I shouldn't have bitten her head off. So would you tell her that I'd like her to come up here this evening, Leo?"
"Okay." He hesitated for a moment, seemed about to say something more, then just said again, "Okay – see you later, Abbey."