Title: “A House Divided” Part Seven
Author: Marie Rossiter (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Spoilers: Everything up to 17 People
Summary: Can the House be joined once again?
POV: Alternating: LEO/FLOTUS/POTUS
Thanks to my “beta-reader”, Jo-Ellen. She’s a slave driver, but has kept me on top of the game. Couldn’t do this without you!
There are times in a person’s life where they are put in a situation that he wishes he’s never seen. This is one of those moments. I know that Abbey is in no mood to talk, but if I don’t see her, the President will lose his mind. Why did I volunteer to even talk to her? I’m no good at this relationship crap. Christ, my own marriage went in the toilet because I couldn’t handle issues like this.
But, these two people aren’t just anyone, and I’m not referring to the fact that they are the First Couple. They are my friends—two people who I love as my family. If there is even a remote chance that I can help, I’ve got to try.
Personally, though, I think that this goes beyond the typical Chief of Staff job description. Where in my contract does it say anything about being a marriage counselor? However, if I don’t at least try to fix this, we might as well pack up the White House now and head back to New Hampshire—because this administration will be over. If I had a choice, this would be a job that I’d pass on to my “deputy”, Josh.
Of course, Abbey would chew him up and spit him out for lunch. And, while that may be quite amusing to watch, I do still need Josh around to do my other dirty work.
So, it’s up to me to serve myself up for lunch to the First Lady today. Lucky me.
I knock lightly on the door. “Abbey? It’s Leo. Can I come in?”
There is no response. I open the door and go inside the room. Abbey is sitting in one of the chairs; she is distraught.
“Leo, go away.” she says through her tears.
“No, Abbey.” I reply and pull up a chair next to her.
She looks up at me. I can’t tell what her face is saying to me. I’d better play it easy.
“Leo, do you know that my husband is a pain in the ass?”
I can’t help but to smile, just a little. Pain in the ass...where have I heard that before?
“Yes, as a matter of fact, I heard that just yesterday morning from someone.” I answer.
“Really? Who said that?” she asks, defensively. Amazing. She can be pissed off at Jed, but don’t ever make her think that someone is talking badly about her husband. She’ll jump on you quicker than a flea jumps on a dog.
“Me,” I respond and give her the handkerchief that I keep in my back pocket.
She simply nods her head and wipes her eyes.
“Have you talked to him, Leo?”
She hesitates a moment, then asks, “How is he?”
“Pretty shitty. What do you expect?”
“I don’t know.” she sighs.
“Damn it, Abbey. You threatened to leave him. You must have known that would devastate him!” I snap. My tone is a little harsher than I had anticipated.
“I didn’t expect this, Leo!”
“I expect careless remarks from Jed. He can’t help it: the grand irony of having a great mind and a terrible temper. You, on the other hand...”
“Leo...” she says, with a warning in her tone. “As Chief of Staff, you may be able to maneuver and push around my husband, but as for me..”
“As for you, Mrs. Bartlet, you are my best friend’s wife and I am addressing you as such.”
There is silence between us for a brief moment.
“I mean no disrespect to you, Abbey. I’m just trying to fix this.”
“I don’t know if you can.” she says. She stands and walks over to the window and looks outside.
“Abbey, I can’t play games with you. I wouldn’t even try. That is why I need some straight answers from you right now.”
She says nothing, so I decide to continue.
“Were you serious about leaving him, Abbey?”
Still not a word from her.
“Abbey?!” I demand. I thought that maybe she said it in a fit of anger. That doesn’t make it all right, but at least I’d understand that.
“What do you want from me, Leo!?” she turns back to face me.
“I want an answer to my question!”
She throws her hands up in the air out of despair. “I don’t know, Leo. I can’t even think straight right now, so don’t interrogate me!” Now, she turns away again in disgust.
I walk straight up to her, turn her around in front of me and look her right in the eye. “Then answer this question: do you still love your husband?!” I shout at her.
I stood there with my hands still on her shoulders. Did I just shout at Abigail Bartlet? I’m either getting braver or dumber in my age and experience.
“How can you even ask that question, Leo?” I ask in total shock. My shock is not only from the question, but also from the fact that Leo just yelled at me. There aren’t many people in this world that can get away with that.
“How can I not, Abbey? You throw an ultimatum like that out there...”
“I know, I know...” I reply. Don’t tell me something that I already know, Leo.
Leo takes in a deep breath. “Abbey, I have asked you two questions. You haven’t answered either one.”
“Of course I love my husband!” I shout. “Why the hell do you think I’m fighting for him?”
“Fighting for him?” Leo looks confused. Of course he wouldn’t understand...he’s a man.
“Yes, Leo. I’m fighting for my husband. His nervous system is being eaten away by all of this. At this rate, he’ll relapse sooner than anticipated.” I can feel the panic in my voice build. “The memory loss, debilitated speech, lack of motor function...all of it...and I can’t just stand by and watch him work himself into an early grave!”
Damn, the tears are starting again.
“I can’t lose him, Leo. I’ve lost him for almost 4 years because of this damn job. I’ve been patiently waiting until Jed finished living his dream, so that he and I could continue our dream. I’ve given up 4 years of my marriage, and I don’t want to lose any more time before..” I can’t continue my thought. The tears are flowing freely now.
I feel like the room is closing in on me. I reach out to grab a hold of something. The closest thing I can find is the wall. I place my hand on it and slide down it until I am seated on the floor. I am sobbing now.
Leo is next to me in a second, sitting beside me. He puts his arms around me and pulls my head onto his shoulder so I can just sit and have the cry that has been building inside of me for weeks now.
I’m sure Leo is at a loss as to what to say at this point. I hate losing control like this in front of anyone—but if it had to be anyone, I’m glad it was Leo.
After what seems like an eternity, I am cried out, at least for now. I am exhausted.
“Abbey?” Leo whispers.
“I can’t say that I understand how you feel, that would be an insult to you. You want your husband back and you want him whole. That’s fair. But, you must realize that Jed hasn’t finished his dream.”
Yeah, I know that, Leo. Again, he’s telling me something I already know.
“He needs you in order to finish that dream. Don’t you think he realizes the risk and that he wouldn’t do it if he really felt that he couldn’t?”
“No, Leo. I don’t think he realizes the risk. He thinks he’s invincible.”
“He’s always felt that way. How do you think he convinced you to marry him?”
Leo is trying to make me smile. I’m too tired to fight it. I feel a tiny smile start to spread across my face.
“I can’t tell you how to feel or what to do. All I can say is this: you just told me that you don’t want to lose any more time with Jed. Don’t walk away from him now. That would do more to destroy him than 4 more years in the White House. He needs you more than the air he breathes. He can’t live without you—with or without the MS.” He stands up and offers his hand to help me up. I accept his hand and rise off the floor.
I just stand there and look at Leo as he starts for the door. He stops, though, and turns back to look at me. He looks as though he wants to say something, but he isn’t talking.
“Leo? What is it?”
“Have you noticed how alive he is when he’s working? Sure, he gripes and complains, but he was made for this job. He has made a difference, Abbey. The both of you have. You make a hell of a team. The answer may not be walking away, but finding a balance. It will be damn hard, but I think you are the best person for that job. You’re the toughest person I know. If anyone can change Jed Bartlet, it’s you.”
With that, Leo was gone.
I think I’ve just had a reminder about why Leo is my husband’s closest and most trusted advisor.
“Sir, shouldn’t you have a jacket on?” I hear Charlie say as I head out the doors of the Oval Office that lead to the outside. I didn’t even hear him come in.
I simply wave him off and continue outside. I can’t let him see me like this. I’m not sure what I look like at this point, but it can’t be good.
I think it’s about 40 degrees outside right now, yet I don’t feel the nip in the air. I can’t feel much of anything. I’m numb all over. The good news is that I can say with certainty that the numbness has nothing to with the MS—since this morning I haven’t felt a thing.
“...I can’t stand by you and I’m not sure that I can live with you...”
From the moment I heard those words from Abbey I have shut down. I’m not even sure how I got out here. I can’t remember walking from the residence to the Oval Office.
The stars are out tonight. It’s clear and crisp up there. The sky is the only clear thing I can see right now. Everything else seems a blue at this moment. I look up to the heavens, in search of answers to questions that have none or that won’t be given to me:
“How did I get myself into this mess?”
“Why have You let my body betray me?”
“Why can’t You make this hell disappear?”
“How can I live without Abbey?”
Live without Abbey? The one question I have an answer for: I can’t. I can’t live without Abbey. I don’t care if I am sick or not. When I was 30 and healthy, I needed Abbey to survive. She is my life’s blood. She is my partner. I rely on her. I probably rely on her too much. I can’t help it. We’ve been side by side for over 30 years now—it’s a hard habit to break.
The mere thought of Abbey leaving me causes my stomach to tie itself into quite a nice knot. I’ve been fighting the urge to vomit since I walked out of our bedroom earlier today. How could she even think that? We’ve been through so much together—all of the political crap, this damn illness, the glare of the spotlight, the long distances and time away from one another. I always thought that we could survive anything. She’s put up with so much; I guess I thought, “What’s one more thing?”
It appears that ‘One more thing’ is enough to finally send her over the edge. I’ve let my damn bravado and pride get in the way of sound reasoning.
All the things she said were true. This job has eaten away at me. Sure, the physical toll is measurable: the fatigue, the aching back, the insomnia, the episode last year—all brought on by the stress and hours of my job. I look in the mirror and I see a shadow of the man I once was. These differences aren’t stark—just noticeable to me and those closest to me. The reality of my illness rears its ugly head and it scares the hell out of me. I picture myself as a man trying to fight beyond the physical limitations that will crop up. Then, more importantly, my mind will start to go along with my body.
I need to sit down again. I can’t start thinking of that now.
As I take in a deep breath, I can feel the cold air for the first time. It fills my lungs and it wakes me up just a little.
I’m scared. I’m scared of losing myself, yes. But, mostly, I’m scared of losing Abbey.
Abbey is the one (along with Leo) who got me to where I am today, and I’m not saying that to blame her. She knew that this was a dream that I had buried deep inside of me for ages. She gave me the courage and the ability to move forward with it and to make it a reality, even though I was scared shitless then, too.
I’ve shared many dreams with my wife—she knew of my dream to become a priest. That was, of course, until I met Abigail. My dreams changed at that instant. My only dream was having her by my side, to grow old with her, to make beautiful love every day to her, to share everything with her and to create a family with her. So, far, I’ve lived all of those dreams (except for the making love every day part—a man can dream, right?)
I also know that my job has eaten away at more than just my health. It has sucked the life from me: my life with my wife, my family and my friends. These were sacrifices that had to be made, and I thought that was understood and accepted. In my heart, though, I believed that I could do it all—be the President, a devoted husband, involved father and attentive friend. I overestimated my abilities, I suppose. Suppose, nothing...I’ve screwed up, and royally.
My best dream is ready to fade away. I don’t want to open my eyes and let it slip out of my grasp.
I have had many dreams in my life. Some were worth letting go. Some still may be. Some dreams are hard to give up, but if it’s what’s best, sometimes you have to just suck it up and drop it.
I think I’m ready to trade one dream for another......
End of Part Seven
go on to the next part