Abbey sat quietly in her Houston hotel room, lonely, tired, and frightened. When she had flung her malicious words at Jed,
she hadn't really cared if they scalded him or made him more angry. But that righteous indignation had worn off very quickly,
and, even before the plane had touched down in Atlanta, she had been stricken with unease over her actions.
Despite her personal problems, Abbey's speech in Atlanta had gone well, and, for a few hours, the work alone kept the worry
and depression at bay. Early this morning she had traveled to Houston, where she had found her schedule had been changed.
Originally slated to speak at a 2:00 rally, then to visit the M.D. Anderson Cancer Treatment Center, she had found things
turned completely around. Instead, she was rushed from the airport to tour the medical facility during the morning and was
then treated to lunch with some of the hospital dignitaries. With lunch scarcely over, the staff rushed her to the rally to
deliver a speech in support of her husband.
And, despite their current problems, she did support her husband. Completely.
Now she sat alone, with time that should have been filled with activity resting heavily on her hands. The staff were working
to set up an impromptu late afternoon photo op with local Democratic bigwigs, and they would probably put a dinner together
too, but Abbey really wasn't up to it. All she wanted to do was get on the plane and head home, but she knew she had to finish
her work in Houston before she could see Jed. She needed to apologize to him. She was ready to do whatever necessary to put
an end to this terrible argument and get their relationship back on track.
Abbey wondered how he was. She hadn't heard from Jed at all during this trip, and she had been afraid to initiate a call
herself. Probably this animosity between them was troubling him as much as it was her. He could be worrying...making himself
Abbey grabbed the phone and started to dial.
Leo was sitting at his desk, reading a memo from Josh when Margaret popped her head in the door.
"The First Lady is on line two," she said.
"Thanks, Margaret," he said, and waited for her to close the door before he picked up the phone.
"Hi, Abbey," he said. "How's it going?"
She completely ignored his question and, in a voice tight with anxiety, posed her own, "How is he, Leo? Is he okay?"
"He's fine, Abbey," Leo said soothingly. "Everything is fine here. Are you okay?"
She sounded thoroughly distraught to Leo. He probed further, "Haven't you talked with the President since you've been gone?"
"But you did settle some things with him before you left, didn't you?" he asked.
"No, not really," she said, trying to dredge up something other than monosyllables as replies. But she couldn't think of
anything to say. Leo already knew what they were fighting about, and she was too ashamed to admit that she had made it worse
with her ill-conceived remarks.
Her heart was breaking and she was stuck in a hotel room halfway across the country. She really needed to talk to someone.
Her voice trembled as she said, "Leo... I..."
Abbey paused and Leo waited for her to continue. She was obviously very upset.
When she stayed silent, Leo realized that her first response had been a lie. He didn't think she was all right, far from
it. So he asked for a second time, "Abbey, are you okay?"
Tears crowded her throat and she could only manage a hoarse whisper.
Jed sipped his drink and stared into the fire, wondering if he had made a big mistake by forcing Rachel's hand and arranging
for this meeting tonight. Of course, to the casual observer, it would appear to be like countless other dinner meetings, just
the President and some of his counselors wrangling over strategy. But he knew it was different. He could have set something
up with Bruno anytime, and Rachel could have sent her proposals in by Mike Watson. She had been very clear during their last
phone conversation that she would be leaving, and she had wished him goodbye and good luck. Maybe he should have left it at
He didn't know why exactly, but he felt compelled to tell her the truth about what had happened between them. Or, more
precisely, what had happened with him, because, beyond a brief peck on her cheek in greeting, absolutely nothing physical
had ever happened. Of course, there was no reason for her to know about that strange and vivid dream, and he certainly wouldn't
be sharing it. But he did want to explain how he had glorified the past in his mind and had thought, very fleetingly, of trying
to recapture it.
What was it she had said?
"I know something is wrong in your life, Jed. I don't know what it is exactly and you don't have to tell me, but I can't
be the quick fix to your problems."
Rachel must think that he was the worst type of heel, trying to run from his problems by having an affair with his old
girlfriend. Jed had to let her know that he thought more of her than that, and that he would never use her that way. A long
time ago, she had held his heart for a short time and helped ease the pain caused by a dysfunctional home life. He loved her
for what she had once meant to him, and he wanted her to know that he would never cheapen those memories.
And, even if Rachel had wanted to be the quick fix to his problems, Jed knew now that there wasn't such a thing. The road
to mending his marriage and his personal life was going to be long and tedious, but he knew it would be well worth the effort.
But first, he had to convince Abbey of his love and faithfulness. After that, he was sure they could find the answers they
Jed sighed. Tomorrow she would be home and they could start.
He drained the liquor from his glass and cast a glance around the sitting room. The stewards had already brought in a small
dining table and it sat ready for its strange rendezvous for three. Everything was ready. He checked the clock on the mantle.
It was almost time.
As Bruno droned on and on, Jed sipped his coffee and surveyed the dinner table with its litter of empty dessert plates
and used flatware. Here, then, was the price he had to pay for an opportunity to talk to Rachel, if he ever actually got the
opportunity to talk at all. He had forgotten how much Bruno liked center stage, and Jed had been willing to let him have it,
because, after all, he was using Bruno as a shill of sorts. He felt he owed the guy some sort of satisfaction during the evening.
But was he ever going to shut up? Or even pause?
And - the question he hadn't considered before - how was he going to get rid of him?
His eyes momentarily locked with Rachel's and he could see she was thinking the same thing about Bruno. Jed rolled his
eyes just a bit in exasperation and was pleased to see her tiny smile of response before she bent her head.
Apparently she agreed with him that Bruno had lectured long enough. Just as Jed was drawing breath to interrupt him, there
was a tap on the door and Charlie's face appeared as it opened just a fraction of the way.
"Mr. President..." he said. "Could I have a moment, please?"
Jed waved him into the room. "Hey, Charlie. What's up?"
"Leo asked me to check with you, Sir, and see if you could spare Bruno for a little while. He said there was something
about a new poll coming out in the morning and he needs to discuss it with him."
Jed sent up a good thought for Leo, who was indeed the best Chief of Staff a President could ask for. And, apparently,
he was also psychic.
"Sure thing," he responded, standing up.
Bruno was forced to stand also, and, in seconds, he found himself at the door, being ushered out by the President. He wasn't
thrilled about being removed from center stage, but at least Bartlet was telling him how much he had enjoyed the performance.
"Thanks, Bruno," Jed said as he stood in the doorway. "We'll have to do this again sometime."
Jed shut the door firmly behind Bruno's departing back, and started walking back to the table. "But not anytime soon unless
I'm medicated," he wisecracked.
Rachel laughed. "He does tend to go on."
Jed grinned. "And that is putting it mildly."
He dropped back into his chair and picked up the coffee pot. As he let the spout hover over Rachel's cup, she shook her
head and pushed back her chair.
"None for me, Mr. President. I have to go. I have an early flight in the morning."
Her term of address stunned him a little. She had always been careful to say 'Mr. President' when anyone else was around,
but, on the few occasions that they had been alone, she had always reverted to calling him Jed. It only served to reinforce
his opinion that she was distancing herself from him and that she still held the uncomfortable perception of him as a potentially
"It's 'Jed', Rachel, and I would like you to stay for a little while. There's something we need to discuss."
She looked a bit mutinous, but Jed realized that he had the upper hand. Rachel wasn't going to make a scene by walking
out on the President. She had no way of knowing if he would go so far as to have the agents stop her. He wouldn't, but right
now it was a card in his favor and he wanted to keep her here.
But, now that he finally had the chance to talk to her, Jed found it was difficult to get started. He took refuge in what
seemed to be small talk. "Are you looking forward to the job in New York?"
She seemed a little astonished that he was even asking. "I believe I told you the other day that I thought it was best
that I leave the campaign, Jed. Do I want to supervise the races in New York? No, I don't, but I really don't have a choice.
I'm not comfortable being here anymore."
Silence fell on them for a minute. Then Jed said, "You know, that phone conversation the other day was a bit uncomfortable
"I can understand that," Rachel replied. "It was for me, too. Jed...would it be too presumptuous of me to ask what exactly
is wrong? You don't have to say if you don't want to, but I don't understand what triggered this. I was happy just remembering
old times, and then something changed..."
He considered her question for a moment before responding, "You'll laugh."
"I hardly think that will happen."
"I'm not nineteen anymore," Jed said. Even to his own ears it sounded foolish. But, essentially that was the root of his
problem. On some level, he wanted to go back to a simpler time, when relationships had been easy and stress had been just
a word in the dictionary.
He saw the smile play around her lips and was surprised that she managed to keep it under control.
"Why on earth would you want to be nineteen again?" Rachel asked. Jed almost smiled at her tone. There had been an almost
Abbey-like sarcasm to it, part humor and part exasperation at his insanity.
He answered soberly, "Everything was so much simpler then."
She shook her head and smiled ruefully. "No, it actually wasn't. We had our problems, and they seemed monumental at the
time. I was afraid to leave home, afraid that I couldn't make it in the world. And you were afraid that you would never get
away from your father and find a normal life. We were stumbling and falling and constantly searching. Jed, being nineteen
is highly overrated."
"But not all bad."
Rachel looked at him with exasperation. "No, but where you are now is so much better. You might not be king of the world,
but you're pretty damn close. You have three beautiful daughters and a wife who loves you. All those years ago, even though
it hurt when I saw you with Abbey, it was obvious to me that you were meant to be together."
"I know it...I've just been stupid," Jed said sadly.
"I think you may have slipped a little, but I certainly don't think you've been stupid. And, if you have been, and it concerns
Abbey, saying you're sorry works wonders." Rachel smiled at him. "I know I love it when my husband apologizes for being a
jackass. And Rick is very good at it; he knows flowers help and jewelry is even better."
The 'jackass' comment got him. By some weird quirk of fate, did Abbey and Rachel share DNA? Or did all women just think
Jed grinned at her. "Were you always this smart?"
"No, and sometimes I still have lapses. Like the other day on the phone. We both need to be completely clear on what was
said and what was meant."
"Rachel, we had feelings for each other a long time ago. I don't think it's unreasonable to still care about each other.
But it would be wrong to act on those feelings."
"I need to be honest with you on this, Jed." Rachel paused, then continued very seriously. "I love my husband very much
and I'm devoted to him. But, inside me, there's a 19-year-old girl whose first love was a wonderful young man with sad blue
eyes. She doesn't like to think of him being hurt, and she would do almost anything to help him. But I can't let her. Because,
as nice as it was, and even if we think we might want to, we can't relive it."
That was what Jed had intended to tell her. What he finally understood so completely. She had come back into his life during
a very trying time, when he was tired from the stress of the reelection and the conflicts with Abbey. He had thought, because
of their past, that she could simplify things for him. And, unexpectedly, she had done exactly that tonight with only her
words. She had made the situation simple and clear. He had a wonderful life with Abbey and he was the one who had complicated
things. Now it was his job to fix them.
Her hand lay on the table, and he touched it gently, even going so far as to rub his finger over her wedding ring. That
evoked the memory of his dream. In it, her ring had been gold. This one was platinum and diamonds. Just as the rings differed
from dream to reality, the circumstances tonight were totally different. They were friends and not lovers. He looked into
her eyes and smiled. Jed sincerely hoped that she was happy. He hoped that Rick loved her as much as he loved Abbey.
He kept his hand on hers and said, "I do understand, Rachel, and I agree, but I'm very glad you're here. You've made things
very clear for me."
Neither of them heard the door open, but Jed caught the click of the latch as it closed. He looked up to see Abbey standing
there, leaning back against the door, her face a blank mask as she stared at the scene before her.
Nothing that she could have said would have surprised him, but her voice was very normal when she finally spoke.
"I see I'm interrupting something."
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