Please see Chapter 1 for general info and disclaimers.
Hours had passed since Jenn had entered the White House and made her way to the North Entrance guard's desk. Hours had passed since Leo had reintroduced the President to his estranged daughter. Hours had passed since Jenn had sat down with her father and told him about her mother's bout with cancer and her subsequent death. Hours had passed since the President had struck his desk in disgust that his best friend had not relayed the information on to him that Melanie Erickson had been sick…
"Dammit, Leo!" Jed roared, slapping his right hand against his desktop for added effect. "You had no right keeping that information from me!"
"I know that now, sir. At the time, I thought—"
"I don't care what you thought! I don't care if you thought you were protecting me or my Presidency. You should have told me the minute you knew."
"I should have told you," Jenn interjected quietly. "It wasn't Uncle Leo's place or responsibility to tell you. It's not like I didn't know how to reach you."
Jed struggled to suppress the anger that had overtaken him. He regarded the downtrodden face of his second-born daughter and went to sit beside her on his couch. As his arm encircled her shoulders, she cringed at his touch and pulled away.
"I didn't call you because Mom didn't want to see you. You know she didn't want to see you."
Hurt, Jed looked away, making sure to avoid any eye contact with Leo.
Shifting uneasily from foot to foot, Leo started inching towards the closest door. "I should leave you two alone. You both need some privacy to talk."
Jed began to nod his head in assent to the suggestion when Jenn turned around and beckoned him back to her. "Wait, Uncle Leo…please. What are you going to tell people?"
"I'm sure people who work here know something's going on. People saw me being escorted to your office. And then there's your assistant. What are you going to tell her?"
Jed scooted over towards her. "What do you want us to tell them?"
"I don't know. I'm not the President," she shot back, annoyed. The boisterous and loving girl who'd run and hugged Leo in delight when she'd first seen him had disappeared and been replaced by a sullen young woman protecting herself against potential rejection.
"Jenn," Jed began soothingly, "do you want to stay here for awhile?"
"Do you want me to stay?" she challenged, her eyes narrowing.
"What matters is whether you want to stay. But if you have to know, then yes, I would like you to stay. I would really like it if you stayed."
The wall Jenn had put in front of herself began to crumble as she covered her mouth with her left hand and looked at the floor, trying to blink away the tears that had formed in her eyes. She nodded her head vigorously, unable to speak any words.
Smiling, Jed patted her knee and rose to his feet. He pulled Leo aside and whispered, "I should speak to Abbey about this."
Leo nodded. "And I should speak to the senior staff, sir."
"Thank you, Mr. President."
The two men parted ways then. Leo retreated to his office to plot what his next moves should be and Jed returned to the couch, every ounce of him wanting to pull his grieving daughter into his arms but knowing that he needed to take things slowly…at least for now.
An hour had passed since Toby, Josh, C.J., and Sam had huddled around Leo to hear a story they had never expected to hear…
"The President and the First Lady had been married for about five years when they began encountering some…err…marriage difficulties. I won't bore you with the details because, quite frankly, they're none of your business. Suffice it to say, the two were not getting along. Whenever they were speaking to one another – which wasn't very often – they would end up getting into a heated argument. This continued on for a couple of months before they agreed that maybe they should try a trial separation. Soon after that decision had been made, the First Lady filed for divorce. The President was crushed. Jenny and I invited him numerous times to come spend some time with us, but he always refused.
"I'm not exactly sure when, but I think the President and the First Lady had been separated for six weeks when he met Melanie Erickson at a town council meeting. Mel was relatively young at the time. She was in her mid-twenties, smart, witty, and fiercely independent. They enjoyed each other's company and began to spend a lot of time together – platonically. He was still wearing his wedding ring, so she'd assumed he was a happily married man. One night she asked him if his wife minded how much time they'd been spending together. That's when he admitted they were getting divorced. She was the second person he'd confessed that to; I was the first.
"This admission brought them even closer together. I eventually got word from the President that they were exclusively dating one another and that he was happy. I don't doubt for a second that he ever stopped loving the First Lady during that period, but he was lonely and enjoyed the companionship Mel provided. I never met her despite the fact that he often invited me to spend a weekend with them in New Hampshire; I just never seemed to have the time. But the President sang Mel's praises every time we talked, and I half expected that they would marry after his divorce to the First Lady became final.
"But then Mel suddenly broke off their relationship. He told me that she'd never told him why. She just stopped taking his phone calls and wouldn't open the door for him when he'd go to her apartment. He tried to talk to her while she was work, but she made a scene in front of all her co-workers as she ranted that she never wanted to see him again. What could he do? He was crushed, but he certainly couldn't make someone talk to him when she didn't want to. So, as quickly as Melanie had entered his life, she disappeared from it.
"Shortly thereafter, at Elizabeth Bartlet's 6th birthday party, the President and First Lady sat down and actually talked to one another. They realized, after this discussion, that neither of them really wanted the divorce, so they ripped the divorce papers into pieces, began seeing a marriage counselor, and the rest is history.
"But, ten years later, Melanie popped back into his life. He hadn't heard from her at all during that ten-year period. He'd heard some talk that she'd moved to California, but he didn't know that for sure. Anyway, one night, she called his house and told him that, during the past ten years, she'd been bothered by the fact that she'd neglected to tell him something before she'd broken things off with him: she'd been pregnant; he was now the father of a ten year old girl. She invited him to fly out to California and meet his daughter, which he did, immediately. Things proceeded rather well from that point. He met this new daughter of his and they hit it off.
"Mel was really concerned about being a good parent. In some ways you could say she was overly critical of her own parenting skills; she would often put down the parental decisions she made, even though they were completely sound. Because she was so critical of herself, she insisted that she wanted the President to be a father to their little girl, which he readily agreed to. Over the course of the following year, the President flew to California numerous times, and his daughter flew to New Hampshire for a few weekend visits. During one of those visits, I met her for the first time. She was small –smaller than most girls her age – and very timid. But once she'd become comfortable with you, she was quite an angel.
"Then, Mel suddenly prohibited the President from seeing his daughter anymore. It was almost a repeat of when she'd broken up with him. Whenever the President would call their home, Mel would hang up on him. She'd send his letters back unopened. She accused him of trying to corrupt her daughter's mind against her. When he persisted in wanting to see her, she threatened to take their daughter and disappear if he didn't stop. The President took her threat seriously and knew that living a life in constant flight was no way for a child to grow up, so he relented. Oddly enough, though, Mel had no problems with me calling and sending letters, so I began keeping tabs on the President's daughter for him. I'd fly out to California at least once a year and pay her a short visit, and in-between the visits, I would call and send letters.
"When I began running the President's presidential campaign, Mel barred me from coming out to California anymore. My letters began getting sent back to me and my calls would go unanswered. I never heard from either Mel or her daughter again. That is, until this morning."
Leo leaned back in his chair and took a deep breath. The four senior staffers in his office stared at him in disbelief as they tried to digest all of the information he'd just thrown at them. C.J. was the first to recover from the bombardment and asked quietly, "What's her name?"
"Mel. Melanie Erickson."
"No. The daughter's name, Leo."
"Oh," he exclaimed, surprised that he failed to mention it. "It's Jennifer, but she prefers to go by Jenn."
Another moment of silence fell over them. Toby lips were pressed together into a hard frown as he stared at the wall behind Leo. Sam had taken off his glasses and was absently twirling one of the legs between his right thumb and middle finger. Then Josh began sputtering unintelligible words as he got to his feet and crossed his arms. "Wh-wh…It- Uh- How…How, Leo, how is it possible that no one knew about this girl's existence before today?"
"There were people who knew of her existence. You just didn't."
"You know what I'm getting at, Leo. The President has a child born out of wedlock while he's married to another woman. How was that not thrown in our faces during the campaign?"
"I don't know." Leo shrugged his shoulders, unconcerned. "I guess no one made the connection. Jenn didn't use the President's last name. Melanie had created a whole new life for them in California. Except for me, the President, and the First Lady, no one knew Jenn was his daughter; they didn't even tell Liz, Ellie, or Zoey who Jenn really was when she visited them those few times in New Hampshire."
"But Leo, how in the world- "
"Wait!" Sam held up his head and put his glasses back on as he stood up next to Josh. "What happened today? Did this crazy woman come to the White House with her daughter in order to expose this little scandal?"
"Sam…" Leo began.
"No, wait, I'm not done. What did she figure? That since the whole country now knows that the President has MS, why not threaten to tell them that he's a president who not only has MS, but also has an illegitimate daughter from an affair he had?"
"Sam," Leo tried to interject again.
"No, Leo, I think this could actually work to our advantage if that's the tack she's planning to use. It might not look good right now, but we could discredit this woman. Paint a picture of her as a mentally disturbed woman who wants to make a buck off the President and is using her daughter to do so. We could- "
"Sam!" Leo barked, finally succeeding in interrupting Sam's train of thoughts. "The 'crazy' woman you're trying to paint is dead."
"Dead?!" C.J. rolled her eyes and dropped her head in amazement. Things were just getting better by the second.
Sam fell back into his seat, his mouth hanging open in surprise as Leo explained, "Pancreatic cancer. By the time a doctor had caught it, it had already spread to her spine and brain. Chemotherapy was useless at that point, so she went through radiation in the hope of buying her some extra time. She ended up living four months more than they initially thought she would, but she passed away a week ago. Oh, and Sam, your brilliant idea of casting Mel out as a mentally unstable woman wouldn't have been a good idea even if she was still alive since she was mentally unstable. She suffered from severe manic depression for most of her life. The media would have castigated us for making light of her serious condition."
"Manic depression…is that why she…?" C.J. began to ask.
"Acted so erratically at times?" Leo finished for her. "Yeah, I think so. I found out about her condition about seven years ago. Jenn had, obviously, known for a long time, but had never told anyone because Mel had asked her not to. But Jenn was applying for college then and was worried about going to school far away and leaving her mother alone. So she confided in me. Partly, I think, to get it off her chest, but I think she was also hoping I might help her keep an eye on Mel."
"What is she doing here now?" Toby asked quietly, his voice muffled by the hand that was covering his mouth.
"What?" Leo asked, leaning forward in an attempt to catch his question.
"Why is she here?" Toby asked again, this time with his head raised and his tone curt.
Not appreciating what his tone was implying, Leo shot back, "Oh, I don't know, Toby. Her mother just died. Maybe she's here to seek some comfort from the father she never got a chance to know."
"Where is she now?" C.J. asked, uncrossing and then re-crossing her legs.
"With the President back at the Residence. He still has to tell the First Lady."
"Oh to be a fly on the wall when he breaks the news to her," Josh murmured under his breath. Sam nodded in agreement.
"Is she planning to stay, Leo?" C.J. asked.
"The President would like for her to."
"Does the President have any idea how bad this could get if she stays?" Josh asked, yanking on his tie in order to loosen it.
"Seeing as how he's the President of the United States, I'd venture a guess and say that he does."
"Then how can he possibly think that encouraging her to stay is a good idea?"
"Josh," Leo said sternly, "there are only two things the President truly regrets in his life. One is that you were shot and almost killed at Rosslyn. The second is that he didn't put up more of a fight to be a father to Jenn."
No one said a word in the room as they all tried to gauge how much damage this new daughter of the President's could hurt his reelection chances. To break the gloomy silence, Josh quipped, "Well, we had a nice three week run there without our world falling apart, didn't we?"
Leo slightly smiled in response as Sam added, "We're not going to get to go home tonight, are we, Leo?"
"Probably not, Sam. Probably not." Leo stood up, which they all knew was a sign that the meeting was over. "I'm going to head over to the Residence and see where things are now. I'll keep you all posted, and, obviously, this doesn't leave this room."
"Of course. Thank you, Leo," they all chorused mechanically.
As they began filing out his door, Leo detained Toby by lightly touching his arm. Once the other three were gone, Leo closed his door and said, "The President and I are going to be relying heavily on you if Jenn decides she wants to stick around."
"I know," Toby replied morosely.
Unsatisfied, Leo pressed on, "Toby, the President and I are going to need your- "
"I know," Toby repeated sharply. He sighed then and gave Leo an apologetic look for his brusque tone. "He really slept with another woman while he was married?"
"He thought he was getting a divorce."
"Yeah…somehow I don't think that's going to get us very far."
"It's the truth."
"Which doesn't always set us free." The two men looked at each other without saying a word. Both knew what the other was thinking because he was thinking it as well. "I'm going to go back to my office and think, Leo."
And almost two hours had passed since the First Lady had gotten back from her trip to Chicago and had been intercepted by her husband on her way to see him in the Oval Office. They were now secluded in their bedroom with the door closed. Jenn sat waiting for them in their parlor, her fingers tapping out the passing seconds.
Suddenly, the outer door to the parlor opened and Leo stepped inside. He sat next to her and motioned to the closed bedroom door with his head. "They in there?" He could hear whispered voices speaking urgently on the other side of the door.
"Unless time slowed down and no one bothered to tell me, it's been close to two hours."
"Two hours?" Leo's eyebrows shot up in surprise. "Any yelling?"
Jenn shook her head.
He waited a few seconds before asking with a mischievous smile on his lips, "Any crying?"
Knowing that he was trying to lighten the mood, she turned her face towards him and tried to give him a smile. "Not funny, Uncle Leo."
"Don't worry, kid," Leo instructed, giving her body a small nudge. "Everything's going to work out. You'll see."
She bit her lower lip and looked at the closed door. "She can't be happy that I'm here."
"I won't lie; she's probably not."
"Did you and your dad have lunch together?"
"Yeah, and dinner. He told me about his MS."
Leo chuckled. "Yeah, he's become pretty open about that these days."
"So I asked him if he was okay, and then he asked me if I was okay. We spent a good hour establishing that we're both okay."
Leo laughed and put his arm around her. "Baby steps, Jenn. It'll take awhile for you two to feel comfortable with each other again."
"He doesn't know me, Uncle Leo," she stated morosely. "When he looks at me, I know he still sees me as the ten year old girl he once knew."
"Give him some time. Today was a shock for him."
"Today was a shock for everyone." Without missing a beat, she asked, "You told some people, didn't you?"
"Just four: the Director of Communications, the Deputy Chief of Staff, the Deputy Director of Communications, and the Press Secretary. They needed to know…be prepared for what may come. You'll probably meet them soon."
Jenn nodded absently. "How'd they take the news?"
"Well, I'm pretty sure they would rather have heard they were receiving a raise."
The two fell silent then as they realized that the urgent whispers had stopped. Before long, Jed emerged from the room – alone. His tie was now gone and the top two buttons of his shirt were undone. He looked as if he'd just finished running a marathon, and he was obviously thrown by Leo's presence in the room.
"Mr. President," Leo respectfully greeted him as he stood up.
"Oh, sit down, Leo," Jed huffed, signaling him to resume his prior position. "I think we're past any silly formalities, don't you?" Looking at his daughter, he asked, "You okay?"
"Yeah," she replied for what felt like the hundredth time that day.
Instead of sitting down, Leo moved over towards Jed and pulled him aside. "How's Abbey?" he asked quietly, but not so quietly that Jenn wasn't able to hear his words.
"She's not the happiest person in the world right now, but that's understandable."
"Is she upset?"
"That would be an unbelievable understatement, Leo. Did you tell the troops?"
"Yeah. They're waiting to hear what our next move will be."
"Not terribly happy, either, but he's fine. You know he's always up for a challenge."
"We should probably—"
"I think I'm going to go home now."
Jed and Leo stopped whispering and watched in shock as Jenn stood up and grabbed the sweater that had been hanging on the back of her chair. "Excuse me?" Jed was able to croak out.
"This was a really big mistake on my part. United's got a flight to Oakland that leaves in three hours. I'll just catch that flight back home and we can pretend that today never happened. You guys can go back to running the country, and I'll go back…to Berkeley. No harm, no foul."
"Jenn, you've got to be kidding."
"I'm really honestly not, Uncle Leo. I don't…I don't know what I was thinking coming here. It was just a really big mistake."
"Jennifer, you are not going back to California," Jed commanded.
"Yes, I am," she insisted, her voice raising with every word. "I'm not some kid you can order around anymore. I'm a grown woman, and I can go wherever I choose."
"Jenn…" Leo began to say soothingly, hoping to calm her down.
"This isn't up for debate!" she shouted, her face turning crimson. "Why can't you two accept that I screwed up? I. Screwed. Up. I got scared, and I let my fantasies run away from me. I thought that if I came out here, everything would be okay and we'd become this big, happy family. Well, I obviously miscalculated. I just… I guess my expectations were just too high."
"That's not necessarily a bad thing," Jed mumbled.
"Only when it comes back to bite you in the ass," Jenn retorted.
Father and daughter stared each other down, both of them set on the decisions they'd made. "You said you wanted to stay earlier," Jed finally stated.
Jenn sighed and looked at her feet as she shook her head. "Look at what my coming here today has already done. I've disrupted your life. I've disrupted Abbey's life. I've disrupted Uncle Leo's life. I've even disrupted the lives of people I don't even know."
Jed moved towards her and softly asked, "Jenn, do you want to stay in Washington?"
She looked away and began biting a fingernail. "You're not listening to me."
"I heard what you had to say," Jed stated as he placed his right hand under her chin and lifted her head so that she would be looking right into his eyes. "But I'm asking you to please think about your answer this to question: do you want to stay?"
She began to utter her response but then hesitated, the word no caught in her throat. Looking away, she finally uttered, "I don't know." She pulled away and rubbed her forehead with her left hand. "I don't know," she repeated sadly, more to herself than to anyone in the room. " I don't want to stay, but I don't have a home to go home to."
Jed looked over Jenn's head to Leo and gave a slight nod. Leo nodded back at his old friend and left the room. It was time to prepare for another fight.