Leo walked out of the Roosevelt Room with Josh, Bruno, and Mike Watson. The information from the new USA Today poll had
been quickly reviewed and dismissed. Josh and Mike headed off in their own directions, but Leo and Bruno lingered in the hallway.
"That didn't take long," Bruno said. "I think I'll go back to the Residence and finish the meeting with the President."
Leo tried to dissuade him, sure that Jed had heard enough from Bruno for one night. He knew that, if it been him who had
been subjected to Bruno's company for over two hours, he wouldn't have welcomed a continuation. With that in mind, Leo said,
"It's late. Why don't you just take it up another time?"
But Bruno was determined. "Oh, I'm sure it will be fine for me to go up. I left Rachel there and the two of them are probably
still at it."
Rachel and the President were alone in the Residence? Leo thought that had all the markings of a dangerous situation, and
he shuddered at Bruno's reference that they were "probably still at it".
Leo's eye was suddenly caught by the movement of several people at the rear of the hallway. First came two of Abbey's agents,
and then he saw Abbey walk by, her body slumped with fatigue. He watched as they disappeared in the direction of the elevator.
Why hadn't someone told him that the First Lady was coming back tonight?
Bruno had seen Abbey too. "Well, looks like it's too late now."
Leo gave an inaudible groan. He had saved the President from another visit from Bruno, but there was absolutely nothing
he could do about the woman heading to the Residence.
He fervently hoped that Rachel had left.
And if she hadn't... As Bruno had said, it might indeed be too late.
Jed was delighted to see Abbey. With everything settled in his own mind, this was an unexpected bonus. Now he wouldn't
have to wait for tomorrow. They could begin to straighten things out tonight.
Abbey leaned back against the door. She hoped it looked like the pose of a sophisticated woman, one who viewed her husband's
little tryst with scorn and disdain. In all actuality, at that moment she couldn't have taken a single step forward without
falling on her face. And it was hard to breathe. She hoped Jed couldn't see that; she did not want to give any physical indication
of the pain which very nearly overwhelmed her. The shock of seeing the two of them here...
Her heart twisted painfully. She reverted to doctor mode for a moment, mentally reviewing the symptoms: shortness of breath,
weak knees and heart pain, but no nausea, sweating or dizziness. Probably not a heart attack, then, but certainly an attack
on her soul.
Abbey berated herself for being caught off guard. She should have expected this. No matter what Jed had told her, she had
known that there was an indefinable link between him and Rachel. He had actually admitted being a 'little bit' in love with
her. Even though that had been a long time ago, some things simply didn't die, and he had admitted dreaming about her. Yes,
Jed had admitted to feelings, thoughts and desires for Rachel. Her campaign trip - on his behalf, she could simply kick herself
- had given him a golden opportunity to act on his feelings. Why hadn't she seen this coming?
He was a total jackass. And more. 'Jackass' didn't even begin to cover it.
In the brief moments as these thoughts flew through her head, she saw Jed release Rachel's hand and get up from of his
chair. He was smiling and surely he was speaking, but her head still buzzed with the remembered sound of him talking softly
to Rachel. The words had stunned her as she entered the room.
"I do understand, Rachel, and I agree, but I'm very glad you're here. You've made things very clear for me."
So he was glad that Rachel was here, was he? Glad that she had made things clear for him. Obviously, Rachel had put it
on the line for him. She had probably told him that she was ready to have a relationship with him, but he would have to get
rid of Abbey. Yes, Rachel would have made that clear. Even Abbey didn't think that she was the type to settle for an affair.
And Jed had agreed to her demand. She had heard him with her own ears. There was absolutely no getting around it.
"Abbey...?" Jed was standing right in front of her now and his voice finally cut across her bitter thoughts. She finally
focused on him and saw that he was indeed smiling at her, almost as though he were happy to see her.
Abbey swallowed hard and pushed away from the door, willing herself to be able to walk and talk normally. "Sorry, Jed,
for interrupting. There were schedule changes in Houston and we flew back early."
She congratulated herself that she had sounded incredibly normal. There was no way that she was going to let him know that
he was killing her.
"That's great. I am really glad to see you, and you're not interrupting. Rachel and I had just finished talking."
Abbey looked at him, amazed that he was trying to brazen it out like this. Glad to see her? Did he really think she would
Rachel was standing now too, and she approached Abbey with her hand held out.
"Mrs. Bartlett, it's so good to..."
Something snapped inside Abbey. It was probably the fact that Rachel had called her 'Mrs. Bartlett', when it was obvious
she would soon no longer hold that title.
Abbey broke ruthlessly in on Rachel's greeting. "Come now, let's don't stand on ceremony. Since we're sharing a man, I
think the least we can do is use each other's first names. Just call me Abbey and I'll call you Rachel. As for Jed, I think
I'll just call him 'jackass' and be done with it." Even though she had started out in a normal tone, Abbey's voice was loud
with anger as she finished.
Rachel looked shocked and seemed at a loss for words. Jed grabbed Abbey's arm, and forced her to look at him. Abbey saw
that rage at her unexpected outburst had flushed his face. Probably his blood pressure was through the roof, but she didn't
He was voice was deep and stern as he admonished her, "Abbey, be quiet. I don't know what you think, but you've got it
"Do I? Do I really, Jed? I don't think so. It looks to me like you had it worked out beautifully...a nice dinner, pleasant
conversation, the two of you holding hands, and our bedroom just a stone's throw away. Where are the flowers and candles?"
She turned to see Rachel's astonished face and said confidingly, "He's slipping a little. You'll have to excuse him. He's
usually quite romantic."
Jed's face was getting redder by the second with his efforts to keep his anger in check. Abbey would just bet that he wanted
to choke her or clamp a hand over her mouth, anything to make her shut up. But why should she? She'd lost already. Why couldn't
she have the satisfaction of a good rant?
"Abbey, you need to be quiet," he said in a severe tone, his voice firm.
Rachel finally found her voice. "Mrs. Bartlet, I think you're mistaken..."
"I don't care what either of you say. I saw you...and I heard you, Jed, saying you were glad that she was hear and that
things were clear..." Abbey paused because her voice had cracked a little. She took a deep breath and spoke again, pride making
her haughty, "Do you think I'm an idiot?"
Somewhere there was an insistent beeping. The sound grated on Abbey's overwrought nerves, just like fingernails on a blackboard.
"Can somebody make that damn beeping stop?" she asked.
Rachel walked across the room and removed her cell phone from her briefcase.
In the sudden, thick silence, Abbey stared at Jed. "I can't believe you did this," she whispered.
"I haven't done anything, Abbey," Jed responded quietly. "We'll sit down in a minute and talk this out. You owe Rachel
They stood there, eyes locked, faced off like two boxers waiting for the bell to start the round. Both of them were so
busy with their own thoughts that they didn't hear Rachel's phone conversation.
They were startled back to reality by the sharp sounds of Rachel shutting her cell phone and snapping the locks on her
Jed saw her movements out of the corner of his eye and turned to her. Something was wrong. She had looked astonished at
Abbey's verbal attack, but now she looked completely devastated, all the color drained from her face.
He took a step toward her. "Rachel, it will be okay. We can straighten this out. Abbey just misunderstood..."
Rachel's voice was unsteady as she interrupted, "It isn't okay, Jed. That was my husband's assistant." She paused and Jed
noticed that she was shaking. "Rick has had a heart attack."
Jed strode quickly across the room to Rachel. It appeared to him that she was about to collapse. He reached out for her,
intent on helping her to a chair, but she impatiently brushed his hands away.
"This can't happen. He's all that matters to me. I have to get out of here," she said, a note of panic rising in her voice.
The torment in Rachel's voice was evident. For some reason, in the blink of an eye, things clicked into place in Abbey's
mind. These weren't the words of a woman trying to cover up an affair in front of the wronged wife. They were the words of
a woman in real pain as she faced the possibility of losing her husband. Because the same fear had so recently haunted her,
Abbey recognized it at once. And Rachel had brushed Jed away so impatiently...like he didn't matter at all...
"Wait, Rachel," Abbey said, and her voice was no longer strident. In fact, the quick and unexpected change in her tone
caused Jed to look at her in bewilderment. For a reason he couldn't fathom, Abbey's anger was gone and she was suddenly calm.
She went over to Rachel and placed a hand on her arm. Rachel seemed about to brush her away, but Abbey forestalled her.
"Sit down, Rachel. You've had a shock and certainly you want to go to your husband. Just give Jed a minute to have someone
arrange a plane reservation and a car to the airport. That's what you need, isn't it?"
Rachel looked at her silently and nodded, her lips trembling in her white face. Abbey pushed her gently into the nearest
"Okay, then, that's what we'll do." She turned to Jed and nodded. "And while he takes care of that, I'll try to get some
information on your husband's condition. Just sit there a minute and take a little water, if you can."
Abbey picked up a glass from the table and put it in Rachel's shaking hand. A small part of her mind noted that there were
three places set. Who else had been here? She dismissed the thought as she walked a few steps away and motioned for Jed to
"Do you think someone can get her a seat on the next plane out?"
"Yeah, I'll get Charlie right now," Jed answered. He looked at her closely. "Abbey...?"
"It's okay, Jed, we'll talk later. Just get Charlie now."
Abbey watched as he went to Rachel's chair, placed his hand on her shoulder and spoke softly, "Rachel, I'll be back in
a minute and then we'll get you to the airport."
"Okay." Her voice was merely a whisper.
Abbey pulled a chair close to Rachel's and sat down. "Do you know which hospital he's in?"
The other woman looked at her blankly. "It happened hours ago...this afternoon, I think. Why didn't they call me?"
"Probably your husband didn't want to worry you. He must have thought it was something minor. That's the way men are,"
Abbey said. Then she tried again, "Which hospital, Rachel?"
"NYU Medical Center."
"Okay." Abbey went to the desk in the corner of the room and opened a drawer. She pulled out her personal directory and
looked for a number. She knew some cardiologists at NYU. Maybe one of them was on this case and would give her some information.
She found the number she wanted and started to dial. "I'm sorry, Rachel, I don't know your husband. His first name is Rick?"
Rachel replied through stiff lips, her face frozen with worry. "Yes. Rick. No, wait...they would have him as Richard."
Abbey turned her attention back to the phone, and, after going through three different departments, she finally found a
doctor who could help her. She listened to his careful description of the patient's condition and asked a few questions before
She went back to sit in the chair next to Rachel. "Rick is stable now, and that's a very good sign. The cardiologist, Dr.
Marks, says the preliminary tests don't show any major blockage of the arteries to the heart. He thinks it may be a problem
with heartbeat irregularities that throw the heart out of rhythm."
Jed had come back into the room and was standing quietly, listening to his wife.
"Rachel," Abbey leaned over and took the other woman's hands in hers. "These are good signs. The problems I'm talking about
can be controlled, if not with medication, then with a pacemaker. You have every reason to be optimistic."
Rachel nodded and seemed to relax just a tiny bit. "Thank you. Thank you for checking on him." She paused, looking puzzled.
"I don't know why you did it, since you think I'm... But I'm not. Jed and I aren't..."
Abbey nodded. "I know, Rachel. I made a mistake. I'm very sorry."
Abbey's change of attitude caught Jed completely by surprise. What had happened to the woman who had been verbally tearing
him to shreds a few minutes ago?
He would have to figure that out later. Right now he had to get Rachel on her way.
Jed spoke quietly, informing her of the arrangements which had been made. "We have you on a flight that leaves shortly.
There's a car waiting outside to get you to the airport and I've asked Mike Watson to fly back with you."
Both women stood and Rachel started to protest that Mike didn't need to bother.
Jed stopped her. "I can't do it myself, Rachel, but I want to be sure that you're okay on the trip. And Mike wants to do
it. We all want to help in any way we can."
Rachel nodded and Jed pulled her into his arms for a brief embrace as they said goodbye, and she shuddered for just a moment,
her eyes bright with unshed tears before she dropped her head onto his shoulder. Jed looked across at Abbey and saw that she
seemed unconcerned at the scene. In fact, she nodded slightly.
When Rachel pulled away from Jed, Abbey reached out and took her hands. "Rachel, I hope everything goes okay with Rick.
I'll be thinking about you both."
Jed opened the door and handed Rachel's briefcase to Mike Watson, who was waiting outside. He watched as they walked down
the hall, then he closed the door and turned back to Abbey.
"I'm afraid she's in for a hard time," Abbey said.
Jed looked at her thoughtfully for a moment. "But I heard you tell her that he was showing good signs. That she could be
Abbey smiled a bit and shook her head. "It's called hope, Jed. It costs nothing and it will get her to him."
They stood in silence for a few moments, both of them lost in thought. Of course Jed was concerned about Rachel's situation,
but his primary thoughts were of Abbey and their marriage, which had seemed to be in dire jeopardy only a few minutes ago.
Abbey was thinking about the same subjects, and voiced her thoughts aloud.
"Rachel may lose her husband, Jed." Her voice cracked slightly over the next words, " I don't want to lose
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