A Normal Day
A Normal Day
Authors note: It always intrigued me. How did Jed and Abbey find their way back after what happened to Zoe? Abbey was in Manchester for months. Here's my interpretation.
It was dark when Jed had come back to the residence after spending time in the war room. They were no further forward but as much as he hated to admit it, Abbey was right when she had asked where Josh was. The room had more energy when he was there, he challenged, provoked, forced everyone around him to raise their game.
He knew the staff were frustrated with him, Leo was worried this was purely the President losing his mind after Zoe. It wasn't. Or maybe it was. All Jed knew was that they had a deal. He was the President.
Let Bartlet be Bartlet.
He didn't have to win another election, the shackles should be off, run the presidency exactly how he wanted to. And yet he found himself having to compromise on a vice president, on his stimulus package, college tuition.
Enough was enough.
He was tired. Emotionally drained. But what did he have to lose? His presidency was on the precipice, along with his marriage it seemed. His steps slowed as he reached the doors to his bedroom. Would she be there? Or would she choose to stay in another room in the residence? It was only a few days ago that she asked him not to come to Manchester. Now she was back, sitting in his war room, asking him where Josh was, teasing him about eating peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. Almost as if she hadn't walked out on him or hadn't lived apart from him for months.
He'd never considered it. Not really. He knew the presidency would put a strain on their marriage, he knew that things would be different but even during the re-election arguments, he never, ever even considered for a moment that his marriage would be in trouble. The Presidency was all encompassing but Abbey and the girls were his life. He would be nothing without her, without them.He hesitated before the bedroom doors, the agents staring dispassionately ahead. He took a breath. Turned the handle. And walked inside.
She was sitting up on the bed, reading. Her glasses low on her nose, the pillows piled up behind her. Jed's chest burned as the breath caught in his throat. It could have been any moment in time.
"Hey." Abbey said simply, looking up at him over her glasses.
He nodded in return, not trusting himself to say anything more than a tight 'hi' and made his way to the bathroom, tugging at his tie as he did so. Was this how it was going to be? All politeness and nothing but numbness.
He splashed his face with water and looked at himself in the mirror. He wasn't sure he was up for this. He was fighting battles on many fronts, but none had quite the capacity to break him as much as his wife did.
He changed quickly, shedding the veneer of the president and replacing it with the man and walked back into the bedroom. The book was gone, half of the pillows replaced to his side of the bed, and the covers turned down.Abbey was lying on her back looking up at the ceiling.
"This ok?" Jed asked, feeling almost foolish for doing so. Asking his wife for permission to get into his own bed.
"Sure." Abbey responded. Her voice tight, the pitch high. At least he wasn't the only one struggling with this.
"You want me to get the light?" He asked as slipped in beside her.
The room darkened and Jed tried not to sigh in frustration as he lay down."Josh back in the room?" Abbey asked.
"Yeah. You were right." Jed responded.
"I almost always am." Abbey replied and they descended into silence again.
"Almost." Jed said finally.
There was no response, not that the comment demanded one and Jed wished he hadn't turned out the light. He didn't have a clue how his wife was feeling. Nearly 40 years together and never had he felt so far away from her.
"If things don't change, I thought that I could cook. For Eddie and Marie."
"That would be good."
"Chicken or something."
"They get in the day after tomorrow?"
Jed turned on his side, he could see the outline of his wife. He went to open his mouth.
"You've got quite the day tomorrow Jed. Try and get some sleep."
He didn't have the energy to disagree with her. He closed his eyes.
Abbey's side of the bed was empty when he awoke the next morning. He listened for the sound of the shower running and couldn't help the feeling of relief when the reassuring tap of the water against the shower stall could be heard.
If it was a normal day he might have considered joining her. If it was a normal day, he probably wouldn't have had the time. How's that for sods law, today he had the time but probably not the permission.
Before he could spend too much time dwelling on the depressing thought, he heard the shower shut off. On a normal day he would have walked right in, teased her for taking up too much time in the shower, undressed while she dried herself off and sung Sinatra, badly, while she continued to get dressed.
Five minutes later Abbey came out of the bathroom with her robe on, her hair wet. On a normal day he would have wrapped his hands round her, stealing into the folds of her gown. She would have slapped him away, half heartedly.
"All yours." Abbey said simply. Jed nodded in return and walked in to the privacy of the bathroom she had just vacated to brush his teeth.
On a normal day he would have sang in the shower, loud enough to annoy her. On a normal day he might have stepped out of the shower, slung a towel around his hips and talked to her about their day ahead as he proceeded to get dressed. On a normal day, by the time they were both dressed and ready to leave the residence they would have talked about fifty different subjects.Jed exited the shower, dried himself off and dressed slowly. On a normal day she would have picked the tie out for him already.
He selected a tie from the rack, knotted it and slung on his jacket. When he walked out into the bedroom, the curtains were open, the bed made. She was just about to open the door. She smiled at him briefly.
"You heading to the war room?"
"OK, Ill be in the East wing if you need me."
On a normal day, she would have kissed him goodbye. He would have called her sweetknees at least twice.
She walked out the door and Jed sighed.
It wasn't a normal day.
He'd felt invigorated for the first time in months. It was a stunt, a pure unadulterated stunt, but he didn't care. Josh had called it right, yet again, no matter what mistakes the kid made he always made up for it in the ones he got right. He'd felt the spark, he'd seen the gleam in CJ's eyes, the grudging respect in Toby's. Even Leo looked less like he was about to have a nervous breakdown.
He wanted to be able to govern and the impasse was all about leadership. He'd felt since the 25th that he had relinquished a part of the presidency. Walken may have handed the oval office back but Haffley appeared to have taken some of the crown.
Josh was right when he said that 52 million Americans didn't vote for Haffley, they had voted for Bartlet. And it was time they got their President back.
"So you had a bit of a day." Abbey said as she walked into the family kitchen. "I hear you went out to stretch your legs."
He turned to look at her with a slight smile, "It was a nice day, no point being cooped up in doors." He turned back to stir the chilli and felt her move closer to him.
"Did the secret service freak?" She asked and he wasn't sure but he thought he could hear a slight note of awe in her tone. He snuck a glance at her, her face impassive.
"They sucked it up pretty good." He replied as he took a sip of his wine.
"The staff seem happy." Abbey noted as she reached passed him to grab a glass off the shelf.
"It's been a while since we've had a good day. You want some chilli?" Jed asked as she filled her glass up.
"Depends on what version it is." Abbey replied with a raised eyebrow.
Jed couldn't help the chuckle, it was a long standing Bartlet family belief that the strength of Jed's chilli closely resembled his general mood at the time of making it.
"It's got a kick but nothing that will burn."
That seemed to be ok with Abbey so he set about dishing it up. The silence while he worked less oppressive than it had been the night before.
"So," Abbey began as he served the meal and sat down, "Josh's bright idea for you to march on the capitol building?"
"Yeah. He's got his mojo back."
"What was Haffley thinking?" Abbey asked incredulously.
"God knows. Apparently Royce was raving at him."
"Royce had wanted to come out earlier?"
"He's a good guy."
"You think they'll come to you tomorrow?"
Jed shrugged, "They'd be fools not to, but I don't know, this guy – Haffley, it depends how far he's willing to push it."
"How far are you willing to let it go?" Abbey asked with an air of nonchalance that didn't fool Jed one bit.
"I want to be able to govern Abbey, I don't want a 3% cut and I don't want another CR. I want a budget, with the deal we had made."
"Then that's what you tell him."
He looked at her and for the first time in a long time, it looked like she believed he could make it happen.
It wasn't a normal day. But it was a better one than all the days he'd had since that terrible night in May.
After dinner, Jed had gone back to the war room and by the time he got to the residence the room was dark and Abbey appeared to be asleep. He'd watched her for a while, his eyes adjusting to the darkness. It was almost a physical ache not being able to hold her but he dared not make the first move. A couple of days ago he wasn't sure his wife would ever be in the same room as him. He'd take whatever she was willing to give and if that made him sound desperate, he really didn't care.
They had played bathroom tag again the next morning before greeting the Prime Minister and his wife. Eddie and Marie Miller were good people, both he and Abbey had genuinely enjoyed spending time with them over the years. It was likely that Eddie was going to lose the next election so Jed was keen for him to have a state dinner before that happened.
Jed was sure the tension between he and his wife had not gone unnoticed by the Millers. Jed and Abbey had never hid their affection in front of them before, so the forced politeness had probably sent alarm bells ringing if the look he had caught between the two Brits was correct. Marie had quickly steered Abbey off for a 'gossip', while Eddie turned the conversation to the shutdown.
Jed enjoyed talking to Eddie, there were very few political leaders that could understand the pressures and strain of the presidency and he was one of them. Jed had come to value his counsel and his support through Zoe and Shareef had been unwavering.
"How's Zoe doing?" Eddie asked as he accepted the tea that Jed handed to him. Jed sat down opposite him with a sigh.
"Better than the rest of us I think." Jed replied as he stared thoughtfully into his cup.
"I saw the interview, she was magnificent Jed. You should be very proud of her."
Jed nodded thoughtfully, "I am."
He looked over at Eddie, he was watching him with a patient smile on his face. They had always been confidantes, but it was usually over how to deal with political wranglings or whether to acknowledge the French President's mistress when at the G8 meeting. Sometimes they talked about their children, the difficulty they had raising children in the spotlight. Their private marital matters, their private fears were never discussed. Jed knew he was vulnerable, it was not the usual impression a President would dream of giving to a foreign leader.
"Did I do the right thing Eddie?" Jed asked simply.
Eddie sat back, taking a sip of his tea, "What are you asking me Jed? Was it the right thing to run for President? Was it right to seek a second term?"
Jed sat forward in frustration, "You know what –"
Eddie put his hand up, "Are you asking if it was right to order the killing of a foreign citizen on foreign soil? Or are you asking me if it was the right thing to do to shut down your government?"
Jed rubbed his face, and looked up when Eddie continued, "Maybe you are asking me whether you made a mistake not telling your wife something that has been eating at your soul from the moment you gave the order?"
As usual, Eddie had managed to hit the nail on the head.
"You know Jed, the jobs we do. No one can understand them, no one can understand the responsibility we have, the decisions we have to make, the sacrifices. You listened to your Chief of Staff, your security advisors, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs. You made a decision as the President of the United States. Just as you did when you ordered the government to shutdown. What I am confident of Jed is whether or not you made the right decision, you made it for the right reasons."
Jed looked across at his friend, he could feel his emotions bubbling towards the surface.
"But," Eddie started and Jed couldn't help but smile, there was always a but with a politician. "For me and you Jed, our wives are the ones that keep us sane in this world of madness. Sometimes we don't want to share the horror that we have to deal with, we want to protect them from the evil that we face or we're not sure how they'll feel about us when they learn about what despicable things we have had to do. But Abbey is your salvation from that. She keeps you honest and she keeps you true to yourself. You start turning away from her now and that road can only lead to darkness."
"What if its too late? I already turned away from her Eddie. What if I cant turn back?"
"Bollocks. She's here isn't she? It's time to pick yourself up off the mattress my friend. You are a good man. One of the best I have ever met. Haffley's a sniffling little weasel. There's no contest."
Jed smiled at his friend, "You sure I cant do anything to sort out that election for you?" He was only half joking.
Eddie laughed, "I think you've got enough trouble for the time being. But I appreciate the offer. You meeting Haffley today?"
"I'm meeting him alone."
"Good. Sit at your desk, not on the sofa. Don't treat him like an equal Jed, he's not."
"Thank you Eddie."
After brunch, Eddie had left Jed to meet with the ambassador before dinner and Jed caught up with some reading before he returned to his room to freshen up. Haffley was due in under an hour. The chat with Eddie had steeled him, the sort of chat he used to have with Leo. That was another relationship that needed some work. He'd pushed him away, pushed everyone away, but not anymore – it was time to move on.
He opened the door to the bedroom and was surprised to find Abbey on the couch watching the news. Actually, she was watching herself, dressing a nice bird.
"They've been playing this on loop. You'd think they'd never seen a first lady who knew how to cook a chicken." Abbey said with a smile.
"It was a good idea. Bet CJ was pleased."
Abbey smirked at him, "She wasn't pleased when I made her my kitchen helper."
Jed chuckled and made his way into the bathroom to freshen up. When he came out the tv was off and Abbey was perched on Jed's side of the bed.
"I've got that meeting with Haffley." Jed said, feeling awkward and not knowing why.
"Yeah. Fancy some company on the walk to your office?"
Jed was nearly struck dumb but he recovered to nod and held the door for her."Do you know what you are going to say to him?" Abbey asked as they walked down the corridor, nodding to the security officers and staff as they went. Jed wondered if they were shocked to see her, it had been months since she had been at the White House, he wondered whether they had speculated about his marriage. Who was he kidding, of course they had. Who wouldn't?
"I don't have a speech planned, but I know what I want." He said and Abbey nodded, deep in thought. They walked through to the Oval Office, Debbie handed him a folder, greeting Abbey as she did so and Jed thought she saw the hint of relief in his secretary's eyes. It had been tough on her too these past months.
Jed checked his desk as Abbey took a seat on one of the chairs. He noted it was not on the sofa but the more formal chairs. The atmosphere was still too tense and the silence fell upon them. He cleared his throat.
"What's with the escort?" He asked, more tersely then he had planned and instantly regretted it when she raised her eyebrow at him. Now was not the time. "Not that I mind of course." He finished.
He could see she was searching how to answer, he even thought he saw a hint of nerves. He sat down on the chair opposite hers, "Abbey?" He asked softly.She looked up at him, "It's a big deal. What's happened with the shutdown, what you've done. You've done it pretty much on your own. I," Abbey hesitated and Jed waited patiently, "I didn't want you to feel that you were walking in here alone."
Jed was astounded, he didn't know how to respond.
"Thank you." It sounded lame to his own ears but it was all he could say.She nodded and they both looked down at the floor between them, lost in their own thoughts until they were interrupted by Leo. As she left, reminding him that he should try not to be late, it almost felt like a normal day.
The weeks leading up to Christmas had gone by in a flash, once the shutdown was lifted, it took a long time for things to resemble normality in the west wing. But there did appear to be a buzz about the place again. When he looked into the eyes of his staff, he no longer saw pity and fear, he saw respect and confidence. It gave him confidence in return and a renewed determination. Things wouldn't be easy, but they would be better.
The arrival of his daughters, even Ellie albeit late, had brought with it the usual familial angst. Try as his might, he still could not see Doug as anything other than the meat head jock who got his daughter pregnant at 18. A good father he may be, maybe even a good husband, but he would never be good enough for his little girl.
Zoe had wowed the staff and the crowds with her appearance at the tree lighting. She never ceased to amaze him. And Ellie, despite his grouching that they never saw her, always brought with her a sense of quiet peace. He would never forget that when things were really bad, when they thought Zoe was lost, it wasn't Abbey that held his hand, it wasn't Liz. It was Ellie. He would forever be grateful.
As Gus switched the tree lights on and off Jed was lost in his own thoughts. It had been a long time since he had thought about his illness, about the possibilities that awaited him. The past few months he had been so consumed with Zoe, his marriage, the presidency, that he hadn't even thought about his own health. Yet again it was Toby making him face his harsh realities. Toby. He would have preferred Leo, could have coped with Josh or CJ, but no he got Toby.
His question to Abbey was genuine. Hopeful but genuine. A short question but complex with a myriad of meanings? Will you be there?
Will you be there when I can't feed myself?Will it be you that will bathe me?Are you staying longer than the holidays?Are we a 'we' again?Do you still love me?
The silence was heartbreaking and Jed had thought that she was seriously considering the question. It wasn't until she had blurted out a 'yeah' that to anyone else would have sounded distracted or half hearted, did he realise the effect his question had on her. If she couldn't say more than a yeah then he must have struck a nerve. It's why he had stopped her, her name strangled in his throat. He was asking her for forever, and she had answered with a kiss.
In the weeks since her return it was the most intimate they had gotten with each other. Jed couldn't help but smile. After Rosslyn it had only been a few weeks and he was going out of his mind. It had been months now, he was worried he was getting used to abstinence.
After Gus had finally got bored of the tree, he took him back to his room to read him a story. Doug gave him the cold shoulder, Lizzie tried to look disapproving of taking her son out in the cold and snow to flick a light switch but Jed could see the warmth there. He hugged his eldest tight as he said goodnight and whispered in her ear an apology for the cauliflower. She rolled her eyes but couldn't hide the grin. He stopped off to see Ellie and Zoë who were watching a film curled up in blankets, a bowl of popcorn between them. It could have been any moment in time. He stole some popcorn, mocked the film they were watching, before hugging them both tightly. He left feeling lighter than he had all day.
He walked slowly back to his room, his mind full of the last few weeks. Eddie had been right. Abbey was his light, without her was only darkness. From the moment he met her he knew his life would be changed forever. Changed for the better. And she had deserved better.
"I take it you were responsible for the light show?" He looked up to see Abbey standing in the doorway to their room, leaning against the frame while the agents, luckily for them, averted their eyes from his pajama clad wife.
He shook his head, "Nah some hooligan in dinosaur pajamas."
Abbey smirked and he followed her back into their room.
"You see Liz?" She asked as he entered the bathroom to brush his teeth.
"Yeah, it was minus 100 C with Doug but Lizzie was ok. I apologized to her for the cauliflower." He shouted through.
"And you got out alive?" He jumped to see Abbey behind him, watching him in the mirror.
"Bartlet charm." He smirked at her and she rolled her eyes at him.
"Wasn't it the Bartlet charm that caused the incident in the first place?"
"No, no, no don't start, that was a Barrington move if ever I saw one."
"From what I recall, you used to like the Barrington moves."
"Still do sweet knees." He caught her eye in the mirror, she smiled at him and for a moment he felt that spark of electricity. He started to undress, waiting for her to back off into the other room as she had done since her return from Manchester. She didn't.
"I hear you gave the AG a roasting." She said as he stripped off his sweater, she held out her hands for it and he passed it to her to fold.
"What's he doing running for office from my cabinet?" Jed asked and Abbey shook her head.
"He thought you wouldn't go there?" Abbey asked as she handed him his pajamas.
"Yeah. Can't say I like the idea of having that conversation on national television but there you go."
"I've drawn up a few names, gave it to Toby."
They walked back into their bedroom together. Abbey stopped to look at him. "Did you think that I wouldn't be there?" To anyone else it would have sounded like a non-sequitur and he paused.
For a moment it had almost felt normal, he could lie, hold onto the moment.
"Some days Abbey it feels like you can barely look at me."
He was surprised by her surprise. She seemed truly shocked. Silence fell between them and Jed felt like kicking himself.
"I never thought anything could break us. I never thought I would look at you and see so much disappointment and venom staring back at me. You were gone for months Abbey, I almost expected divorce papers."
She stared at him.
"I wouldn't have blamed you. What I did. What I've become. It was wrong."
"No it wasn't." Abbey said quietly. Jed almost asked her to repeat herself he couldn't believe what she was saying.
"You don't think I expected you to have to make decisions like that? I'm a bright girl Jed. I don't make foreign policy around here and I would never expect to."
"Abbey-" Jed started but Abbey held up her hand.
"You didn't tell me Jed. We're supposed to talk these things through. You promised. After the re-election fiasco. You promised I wouldn't have to find things out on tv."
"I couldn't." Jed said quietly, his voice breaking.
"What?" It was Abbey's turn to be surprised.
"I was so ashamed Abbey. I'm so sorry, I really am."
"I know. Me too. God Jed, divorce? I could never..." She shook her head, "For you to even question whether I would be there..." Jed looked down until he felt her fingers under his chin.
"I was so angry Jed. I didn't want to see you or talk to you, time hadn't healed me like it had healed Zoe. I didn't want you there for the interview, I didn't even want C.J there. I wanted nothing to do with the White House, your staff, your presidency and I had made it clear to Leo that I wanted nothing to do with him."
She sat down on the couch, looking as if she was trying to collect her thoughts, he sat opposite her, perched on the coffee table, waiting for her.
"I had seen the shutdown on the news, but I was still so angry. Zoe was imploring me to ring you but I couldn't. Milly tried too." Jed raised his eyebrow at that one.
"I couldn't get past it. Then Leo rang. Zoe answered the phone, said it was Leo asking for me. I couldn't move. The way I had left things with Leo, the only reason he would ring..." Abbey's voice broke.
"I was so scared. The thought of anything...and I hadn't...god Jed, it was Rosslyn all over again."
Abbey broke down, while Jed sat in stunned silence, waiting for her to compose herself.
"I couldn't, wouldn't take the phone. It took Zoe a few minutes to explain to me why he was calling. The relief." Abbey shook her head in bemusement, "I had to come Jed."
Jed nodded and reached out for her hand, she grasped it and they sat for a few moments before Abbey stood and pulled him towards their bed. They pulled down the bed covers, removed the decorative pillows and climbed in. A routine they had done hundreds of times before. And they talked.
They talked about Shereef, Zoe, the presidency, his MS, her role as First Lady. It was cathartic, for both of them. They shouted, they whispered but they talked. More openly and freely than they both could ever remember.
And when they were done talking, Abbey reached out to her husband and pulled him towards her, as she had done thousands of times before.
Just as if it was a normal day.