"O Holy Night, the stars are brightly shining..."
He could see them. Looking past the swirling snow, he could see the stars. And the lone figure standing at the window wondered
if there was hope.
The world was just as it should be at Christmas...evergreens glittering with lights...drifting snow...glowing candles.
Washington was enveloped in the timeless signs of the glory and wonder of the holiday season. But the lone figure at the window
knew that the magic could no longer touch him.
As the melodious voices of the Whiffenpoofs filled the halls, Jed remembered other years when, as a child, the anticipation
of Christmas had been an agony of waiting. When would the big day arrive? For a young boy, intent on the excitement of the
holiday, the days of December crept more slowly than those of any other month. But the special day always came, and, with
his childish wishes fulfilled, he was sure there could be nothing better.
But there was. He grew up and found that the magic was renewed in his children. Jed watched with delight as his daughters
experienced the same impatience he had once known. Marveling at the wonder in their eyes, he had waited to see it each year,
wanting to stretch out the days. Now, he wished he had cherished those times of innocence and guarded them more closely.
For him, innocence had vanished.
The music echoed around him...
"A thrill of hope, the weary world rejoices, for yonder beams a new and glorious morn.
Fall on your knees! Oh, hear the angel voices!"
If only the beautiful words could be true...
Jed wanted to fall on his knees and ask for absolution, but, at this point, he didn't believe anything could remove his
guilt. Struggling under the heavy weight of his crime, he knew that hope and rejoicing were vain wishes this year. His sins
were too grievous; his life had veered too far off course.
Priest... President... Liar... Murderer...
The snow swirled beyond the glass panes of the window, falling soundlessly to cover the everyday grime of the city. For
a while, Washington would be clean and perfect, the dirty business of politics forgotten under a blanket of white. Jed sighed.
The city, like his sins, would emerge once again. And nothing would be changed.
For a while he had managed to forget.
He could no longer say if there had been a conscious effort to hide the memories. It had become second nature to him to
push the more uncomfortable aspects of his job to the back of his mind. Back in May...right after the incident...it had been
intolerable then. Night after night was spent in sleepless torment, and, when sleep finally did overtake his weary brain,
his conscience battled back with the dreams.
Bursts of gunfire echoed across the deserted Bermuda shore as men died, falling mutely to the ground while music swelled
in the background. And the blood...the red stain was everywhere. But it never appeared on his hands. He looked at them and
wondered how his hands could remain so clean while his heart was so dark.
But that had passed. Somehow it had become like every other sin. If you try hard enough to put it out of your mind, it
can eventually be dismissed. In the early days, he could push it away for only a few minutes, but, as time went by, the images
faded, returning only briefly to haunt him. He brushed them away. What was done could not be undone.
And there was work to get on with. Jed traveled across the country, his mind intent on the re-election campaign. He became
so overwhelmed with other issues that his crime was finally condemned to a seldom visited corner of his mind. Abdul Shareef
had been an evil man, capable of untold terror. The world was better off without him. Jed knew that didn't excuse his actions,
or even justify them. It simply allowed him to live a sane existence.
But sanity might be only an illusion, because the tormented thoughts had sprung to life again. They taunted him at unexpected
times. When had his conscience revived?
It had been a sunny December day, the bright light pouring in the windows of the Oval Office. Fitzwallace had been briefing
him and surely it had been something important, but not about the Middle East. Possibly China. Jed should have been listening,
but concentration was impossible. He could see that Fitz was talking, but the music in his head drowned out the Admiral's
The finale of "The Wars of the Roses" played over and over in his mind. Strong voices sang about a country that, having
been victorious in war, shall be made glorious in peace. What was glorious about what he had done? Red pennants became tattered
cloths soaked in blood, the blood of an enemy, but still the blood of a fellow human being.
He had almost told Zoey. Was he mad?
That wasn't the sort of thing he could tell his daughter. Unlike grief, which becomes halved when shared, this was sin,
and the guilt could only be redoubled by telling. How could he have even contemplated abusing her innocence in that way?
Jed suspected that he only wanted positive reinforcement of his actions. And who better to give it than his daughter, who
loved him and trusted him completely? But he wasn't sure what he would have seen in her eyes if he had actually confessed.
Perhaps disappointment? Pain? Revulsion?
He had wanted to tell Stanley Keyworth even before it had happened. He had hinted about the possibility of breaking a law,
doing something wrong to promote the greater good. But there was no way around the facts. He had broken the law and he wasn't
going to get away with it. Danny Concannon was already pursuing the trail they had thought to be nonexistent. The sin would
be uncovered. It was only a matter of time.
Jed turned away from the window and shrugged his memories aside. He didn't even try to dismiss his guilt...it was his constant
Despite the snow, Air Force One was able to take off, delivering its occupants to a holiday respite at the family farm
in New Hampshire.
Jed sat down on the edge of the bed and started to take off his shoes. Even though it was late, voices and laughter still
carried through the rooms of the old farmhouse. He listened to Ellie's voice raised in a tuneless rendition of "I Saw Momma
Kissing Santa Claus" and smiled. For the first time in many days, he felt calm, peaceful, almost happy.
This was home. Here he could push the torment of the outside world away. Awasiwi Odenak. Even the name was soothing. The
cadence of the old Indian words was about as far away from Qumari intrigue as one could get.
He glanced up as Abbey came into the room and closed the door.
"Hey, Mrs. Claus...are you happy to be home?"
"Of course," Abbey sighed as she kicked off her high heels. "But do you really need to call me that? I already concede
that you're my Commander in Chief. Now you want to be Santa Claus too?"
He grinned. "Yep."
"Well, you're gonna have to work on the jolly thing, Santa, because, just lately, you haven't been."
Abbey started to cross the room and he reached out to grab her. "I've just been waiting for the right elf to come along."
He wiggled his eyebrows and tried to pull her down on the bed. "I'm gonna be so jolly that you..."
She slapped his hands away. "Mind your manners, Jethro. We have to behave. There is a member of the French aristocracy
under our roof."
Jed reached out again and finally succeeded in pulling her down to sit beside him on the bed. "I don't like him."
Abbey smiled and shook her head slightly. "I would have been amazed if you had."
"He's too..." Jed wasn't sure what Jean Paul was, but whatever it was, it was too much.
"Yeah, I know," Abbey replied.
"But there's nothing we can do."
Abbey felt a little sorry for him; he always had such trouble letting his girls go. "Zoey said you were going to make him
sleep in the root cellar. Do we even have one?"
"Yeah, underneath the sun porch."
Abbey lifted an eyebrow. "How convenient. Have you stashed anybody else down there?"
Jed grinned. "You'd be surprised."
His grin stayed in place, but his thoughts immediately swung off in a darker direction. Abbey would be surprised by a great
many things. Even though she knew that Jed's job sometimes forced him to do things he found morally distasteful, he had let
her assume that he could handle the pressures. That he could deal with his conscience and move on. She would be surprised
at the level of his guilt and turmoil. Abbey would be hurt, because he was hurting. He couldn't let that happen.
So he maintained his teasing tone, "I send them down there when no one is looking. But I'll let 'em out for Christmas.
"Yeah." She stood up. "I'm going to take a shower."
Jed watched her go into the bathroom, then stood up and removed his own clothes. He was so tired. He left his shirt and
pants in an untidy heap in the wing chair across the room and, suddenly chilly in his boxers and T-shirt, climbed into bed.
As the warmth of the blankets enveloped him, he let his eyes close. The drowsiness was hard to resist.
Maybe he shouldn't have had those two drinks on the plane, and then another...or was it two more?...when they got home.
His senses were dulled and the sound of the shower in the bathroom was almost hypnotic. He could hear the water cascading
off the tiles, the soothing splash...
His lids fell as sleep slipped over him.
"You asleep?" Abbey asked quietly as she slipped under the covers next to him.
"No," he lied, his voice an indistinct mumble as he sought to open his eyes.
"Good." She cuddled up close and he could smell the mingled scents of soap and toothpaste. Her arms crept around him as
she pressed her lips gently against his. "Your elf is here, Santa, and she's feeling pretty festive."
"Ummm...that's nice. Give me just a minute." Jed was trying hard to open his eyes, to leave the fantasy of sleep behind
and return to the very interesting reality of the waking world.
But Abbey was kissing him and he was making a valiant effort to get his own lips to move. He didn't have to open his eyes
for that, did he? Everyone knew you were supposed to shut your eyes while kissing. More romantic that way.
Jed let his hands wander over Abbey's body, her skin still warm from the shower. Down her thigh, than back up, sliding
under her satin nightshirt, over her stomach, and up to her breasts. They were still warm, too. Nice...
Abbey sighed softly as Jed's teasing fingers began to find all the right spots. With his other hand, he pulled her hips
closer to his. Nice, very nice...
She lay there quietly for a moment, enjoying the sensations of warmth, love, and slowly mounting desire. She tried to arch
closer, then suddenly realized that Jed's fingers were slipping from her breast and his other hand was getting heavier and
heavier on her hip. And his breathing was far too regular for a man anticipating an episode of conjugal bliss.
He was asleep.
Santa was totally oblivious and there would be no spreading of Christmas cheer tonight. Abbey let her momentary exasperation
slip away. They were both tired, and she was simply glad that he was resting. There had been far too many nights lately when
she had gone to bed alone while he worked late in the Oval Office or worried away over something in his study.
She snuggled closer. Her Santa was usually pretty feisty in the morning. It was something to dream about.
It was a beautiful peaceful day, extraordinarily mild for late December. Jed stood in the open field, the sun warm on his
shoulders, and looked into the limitless blue sky. He hadn't felt like this in a long time, completely peaceful and calm.
The roar of jet engines broke the silence around him, and, turning, he saw something that he hadn't noticed before. Across
the otherwise still landscape was an airfield, and speeding down the runway was a huge silver airplane. He blinked.
Air Force One. Where was it going and why was it leaving without him?
He watched as the aircraft lifted from the tarmac and sailed into the sky, the sunlight glinting off its wings. It rose
effortlessly into the blue and, even though he was slightly perplexed about its departure, he wasn't concerned enough to move
from his spot in the field. The world, for today, could go on without him.
He watched as the plane, which had been speeding away from him, banked and began to turn back. As always, Jed marveled
over the intricacies of flight. How could something so heavy arc into the sky, maneuvering as if lighter than air? But suddenly
it wasn't lighter than air. The nose was dipping, and, despite the continued throb of the engines, the plane was losing altitude.
A red haze rose up from the horizon, seeming to reach for the gleaming silver bird. The plane was going down. Jed knew that
with absolute certainty.
The plane was nearing the field again, falling precariously close to the earth. Jed began to run toward it. There were
people on board...people he loved. Somehow he had to stop the plane's descent and send it soaring back into the sky.
"It's not their fault. It's mine!" he screamed, running harder.
Suddenly, a man appeared, blocking his path. Abdul Shareef stood silently, blood pouring from a gaping wound in his chest.
Jed didn't even break stride as he pushed the man out of his way. Although he hadn't been able to bring himself to shake the
man's hand in the Oval Office, he now had no problem thrusting his hands against the blood-soaked shirt and shoving with all
The man toppled and Jed rushed on. Air Force One had skimmed past him now, dipping toward the horizon. He had to get there...
The red haze billowed upward and the sky darkened. With his heart pounding and his breath coming in painful bursts, Jed
continued to run, but he couldn't get close to the plane. It descended beyond the crest of the next hill, and he stopped,
bracing for the explosion he knew was imminent.
He was met by only silence.
Jed waited, dropping to his knees in agony. Still there was no sound. The plane was gone... The people he loved were gone...
He stared at the blood on his hands and cried out in anguish.
Priest... President.... Liar... Murderer...
Jed awoke slowly. In the dim room, he could pick out familiar objects and he could feel Abbey's warmth next to him. It
was still night and he knew that Air Force One was parked safely on the tarmac in Manchester, guarded and secure.
But the overwhelming feeling of impending disaster clung to him.
Something was about to happen.
And there was nothing to do but wait.
July 4, 2003
Dusk fell slowly and anticipation rose from the crowds that gathered in the city's parks as the July sky darkened. The
fireworks would begin soon, their fiery glitter eclipsing the stars. Once again, Washington would be cleansed, bathed in the
glow of patriotism. Tomorrow, it would be politics as usual, but tonight was reserved for celebration.
But the man standing alone on the balcony was not celebrating, the reason for his somber mood not readily apparent. Shouldn't
he be counting his blessings? Tragedy had been averted and his beloved Zoey was back, safe and reasonably sound. He had survived
monumental trials by fire in the past weeks and his Presidency had emerged unscathed.
Even the ultimate discovery of his greatest sin had been met with minimal backlash. In fact, the country heralded Jed for
removing Shareef. Had he not been a public enemy, a threat to domestic security? Their President had done the right thing.
Everyone thought so.
But Jed didn't think so. Neither did Abbey.
She was gone, leaving in her wake the unmistakable aura of disappointment. She blamed him for unwittingly gambling their
child's life in a game of ceaseless world violence. Couldn't he see what they could lose? What the job was costing them? He
remembered how her voice had broken, the anger and sorrow inextricably mixed. She blamed him and her cold eyes held no promise
He also blamed himself, but he hadn't been given the opportunity to say so. Better than most, he knew the full extent of
Priest... President... Liar... Murderer...
In the warmth and stillness of the July evening, he felt as chilly as if the December snows still blanketed the ground.
He wasn't sure if his heart would ever be warm again.
At last, the fireworks began to explode against the dark sapphire of the night sky. Jed stood alone to watch the colorful
display. There was no joy in him, his sad features only briefly illuminated by the cascading embers mirrored in his lifeless
eyes. His thoughts were elsewhere as he tended the small flame of hope that could not be abandoned, no matter what she had
said to him.
Abbey would come back. She had to come back. He would wait.