Chapter 1: 1997
Toby looks out of the sedan’s window as the social worker drives him to his new foster home. The social worker, whose name he refuses to remember out of spite, had said something about Toby being lucky to get a couple of rich bleeding hearts, and that he should be grateful for the opportunity, and that if he screwed this up, he would be put in the worst group home the social worker could find. Toby had smirked at him, knowing that it would infuriate the man.
Toby is fourteen years old and angry at the world. He has a lot to say and no desire to say it tactfully. If these new foster parents want to use him as a way to score points in the social papers, they have another thing coming.
The social worker took one turn, and then another, and they’re driving down a smoothly paved road to an honest to God plantation-style mansion.
“Jesus Christ,” the social worker mutters resentfully. Toby sneers. He wonders if there’s a synagogue nearby or if he’s going to have to pretend to convert. Maybe they’re in a cult or something, and he’s going to be sacrificed to their alien goddess. Put out of his misery.
Maybe they’re cannibals.
The front door opens as Toby and the social worker climbs the front steps. A man stands there, his mouth fixed in a smile. He looks like every white bread politician Toby has ever seen on TV, polo shirts and all. “Sorry it’s just me right now,” he says regretfully. “Abbey is at the clinic, and the girls are at school.”
“Understandable, Mr. Bartlet,” the social worker says, oozing sleaze. Toby curls his lip in disgust. “Your family is very busy.”
“Is that going to be too much of a problem?” Bartlet asks, motioning for them to step in. “We have staff, and our youngest has a nanny for when we’re not here. And my friend Leo is in and out often enough that he and his daughter should be paying us rent.”
“No problem, Mr. Bartlet,” the social worker oozes. Bartlet looks vaguely uncomfortable at the blatant sucking up, but he hides it well.
“So,” he says, changing the subject and rubbing his hands together. “I’m Jed. Who’re you?” He smiles at Toby expectantly. Toby pauses, considering the man. He’s slathered in Rich East Coast charm, but there’s genuine intelligence in his eyes. His wife, whoever she is, works at a clinic, and from the size and age of their house, probably runs it. And has her name on the door.
“He says his name is Toby, but we don’t know if that’s true or not,” the social worker says, speaking before Toby could say anything. Toby scowls at him and shuts down. The man has been doing this the entire two weeks Toby has been in the system, and he’s sick of it. “We don’t know his last name, if he even has one. He’s a runaway.” He pulls out Toby’s file, and ruffles through it through it for show. “He’s nonviolent, but belligerent.” He snaps the file closed and looks at Bartlet earnestly. “If you want to have a younger child, or, you know, different child, I can put him in a home and find--”
Different child. Different as in not so obviously Jewish. Toby’s hands curled into fists.
“Don’t you dare finish that sentence,” Bartlet growls, his eyes narrowed. Calm to furious in less than three seconds. “Leave the file. Get the hell out of my house.”
“Out!” Bartlet explodes. His rage is like a furnace, heating up the whole building. “Get out, or so help me God, I will grab the antique gun from the dining room and see if it still works!”
The social worker stumbles backwards until he’s out of the door and down the stairs. Jed Bartlet watches with hard eyes as the man gets in the sedan and tears off.
Bartlet sighs, rubbing his hand through his hair. “I probably shouldn’t have done that.”
“He’s an ass,” Toby says. “I’ve been wanting to knock him down since I met him.”
Bartlet grins. “Glad to be of service.” He sticks out his hand for Toby to shake. “I’m Jed.”
He shakes the man’s hand. “Call me Toby. What are you going to do about the CPS?”
“Ah, to hell with them,” Bartlet dismisses. “I’m gonna get that ass fired whenever I can schedule in some time.”
Toby raises an eyebrow. “Can you do that?” he asks skeptically.
“Toby, my ancestor signed the Declaration of Independence,” Bartlet tells him with a mischievous grin. “I think you’ll find that I can get away with quite a lot.”
“I’m sure being rich doesn’t hurt,” Toby observes.
“Not at all,” Bartlet says with a wink. “Now, are you hungry? I spent all morning pacing about your arrival, and I forgot to eat.” He pauses for a moment, his brain and logic catches up with him. “Unless you’d like me to call and have someone from the Social Services down here. You don’t have to stay if you don’t want to. Perhaps there’s someone else you’d like to contact as well…?”
Toby considers the way Bartlet threw his idiot social worker out the minute the man displayed a hint of anti-Semitism. Toby’s fourteen, but he’s also big for his age, and he’s used to defending himself. He can survive on his own. And here Jed Bartlet is, offering him a meal and a phone call, should he want it.
“I think,” Toby says slowly, “that I’ll stay for a while. Just so that I can make sure you follow through on your promise to get that asshole fired. And then we’ll see.”
Bartlet’s face lights up. “Excellent!” He closes the door and steers Toby back towards a magnificent kitchen. “Now, we don’t have a regular cook, just a part-time staff, so I’ll get a chance to show off my wonderful sandwich making skills! A treat for us both.”
“I’m sure,” Toby says dryly, which makes Bartlet laugh.
This could work out.
Chapter 2: 1998
Sam is their third foster child. He arrives on a hot summer day, just four months after CJ joined their patchwork family. The social worker drops him off at the front of the house, and barely has time to hand over a file of information before speeding away. Jed and Abbey are left to flounder their way through an introduction on their own. It’s CJ who comes out and takes the boy by the hand, even though he should be far too old for that. His social worker, when she had called them, said that he was twelve, but Jed thought that there had to be some mistake. The boy was small and frail-looking, with deep purple bruises across his cheekbones. He couldn't be older than ten.
“Don’t worry,” CJ says, her voice soft and comforting. “I’m a foster kid too. The Bartlets are nice.”
Sam looks doubtful, but he smiles when Abbey motions him inside. His knuckles are white, in stark relief against the dark strap of his backpack. The bag holds all of his worldly possessions. Jed makes sure to stay in the kid’s sight at all times, so that he doesn’t startle him. He’s learned, even with the two relatively easy children they’ve taken in so far (Toby and CJ) that it’s the men they trust the least. He tries to avoid being behind them or making sudden moves, just in case.
Abbey smiles and says, “CJ, why don’t you give Sam the tour? Toby will be back from his debate thing soon with the girls.”
“Yes ma’am,” CJ says. She leads Sam through to the front sitting room, her long fingers wrapped loosely around his small hand. Once they’re out of earshot, Abbey turns to Jed.
“He’s going to be different from the other two,” she tells him. He nods. CJ is in the system because there’s no one of able mind to take care of her. Toby ran away from home over a year ago and won’t tell anyone who he is. Neither of them appear to come from the kind of situation Sam was in.
“I think we should install a lock on his door,” Jed says. He had thought about it all week, when the social worker had first called them. “One that only locks from the inside.”
“Do you think that will be safe?” Abbey asks. “What if something happens and he needs us inside?”
“Then we’ll knock the damn thing down,” Jed says. “The boy needs some sense of security.”
“I’ll call a locksmith tomorrow,” Abbey says, nodding. They share a smile for a brief moment and then--
“Don’t be such a dick, Toby!” Jed’s sweet eldest daughter shouts, storming in with the clunk of high heels. She’s eighteen now, and on her way to college in the fall, but she’s still Jed’s little girl. Less, however, when she curses like a sailor.
“I’m not being a dick, you’re being unreasonable!” Toby shouts back. He walks in with less flair than Liz, but there are definite storm clouds over his head. “Look, all we needed was a ride. If you didn’t want to do it, you should have just given me the keys!”
“It’s my car!” Liz exclaims. She dumps her purse on the floor and puts her hands on her hips. “I don’t want to spend my last free summer ferrying around a bunch of brats!”
“Hey!” Jed interrupts, his voice ending the argument immediately. “First of all, it is not your car, Liz, it is yours and Toby’s. Secondly, this is a family, and as a family we get in our cars and pick each other up from whatever activity requires it. Your mother and I weren’t able to go, so you had to. That’s just how things are.”
Liz huffs in annoyance. Without a word, she scoops up her purse and stomps up the stairs to her bedroom. They can tell when she gets there because she slams the door closed.
Jed sighs. “Toby--”
“Don’t bother,” Toby says, waving his hand. “She doesn’t like us, I know. Not your fault.”
“Is he here?” Zoey asks, edging into the house with Ellie now that the shouting is done.
“CJ is showing him the house,” Abbey says, hugging each of their children in turn. Toby stands shock still and endures it as he usually does.
“Are Uncle Leo and Josh coming over for dinner?” Ellie asks. The lot of them begin the ritual of pulling of their shoes and lining them up against the wall. Anything to save the wood flooring.
“Don’t they always?” Jed answers with a grin. He kisses his daughters on the forehead and pats Toby’s shoulder. “Come on, let’s go see what CJ and Sam are getting into."
Sam is a quiet child. He flinches at loud noises and sudden movement. He takes to Toby and CJ immediately, and he’s fond of Abbey, but Josh Lyman is the person he becomes closest to the fastest.
Josh lives with Leo, who was a friend of his father’s. After his dad died, his mother couldn’t manage. Leo had stepped up and taken the boy in. At thirteen, he’s just a year older than Sam is, and they both have haunted eyes. Sam’s subdued nature balances out Josh’s tendency to overreact to every little thing. While Sam seems to worship Toby, who is as strong and unmoved as ever by the attention, he lets himself relax around Josh. Jed’s glad they have each other.
Leo and Josh are over at least three times a week for dinner. Leo can’t cook worth a damn, and Josh has been banned from the kitchen after managing to set the place on fire twice, so there’s always a place open for them at the Bartlets’ massive dinner table. Once, the formal dining room had been just for show; the Bartlets rarely entertained in their home. But ever since Abbey came to Jed with her crazy scheme, they’ve been eating in the only place big enough to accommodate everyone.
There are twelve places at the table, enough for family and whoever comes along. If they were anyone else, they wouldn’t have enough money to feed everyone. As it is, they have part-time help who smooth things along.
Tonight is a full house. Sam is sandwiched between Toby and Josh, with CJ directly across from him. Liz is on Jed’s right, and Leo is on his left, right next to Josh. Abbey is at the other end of the table with Ellie and Zoey. Tonight they’re joined by one of Josh’s friends, Donna, and Toby’s girlfriend, Andy.
Jed doesn’t say an evening prayer anymore. Ever since Toby came into their lives, he’s taken to having a moment of silence, so that everyone can pray to the deity of their choosing, should they want to.
Once the minute allotted is done, everyone begins passing around the plates and serving spoons. Tonight’s dinner is a chicken roast with mashed potatoes and several vegetable sides. Abbey and the kitchen staff had whipped it up while Jed was at the university with Leo.
“Toby, can you give me a ride tomorrow?” Josh asks as everyone begins to tuck in. Toby grunts and affirmative. He acts like the two year age difference is an unpartable ocean, but it's only an act. The two are thick as thieves.
“What’s tomorrow?” Ellie asks absently. She’s trying to discreetly read a magazine at the table and failing utterly.
“It’s Saturday,” Toby reminds her.
Ellie blinks. “Oh. Right. Forgot about that.”
Toby rolls his eyes and shovels around his peas without eating any.
“Wait,” Liz says, straightening with indignation. “I thought it was my day to get the car!”
“You’ll get it in the afternoon,” Jed says firmly. They seem to go through this every week. Even after a year and a half, Liz still resents “the interlopers” in their lives. They’ve had the argument a thousand times.
Liz sighs dramatically. “I wanted to go to the matinee with Doug.”
Jed represses the urge to tell her that she’s not allowed to go anywhere with Doug Westin at all. “He’ll have to drive you.”
“But he doesn’t have a car!”
“Just walk, Lizzie,” Ellie says in a matter-of-fact tone. She pulls out a highlighter and runs it over a passage in the article she’s reading. Jed cranes his neck a bit and sees that it’s some kind of medical or science thing.
“It’s the middle of summer!” Liz protests. No one so much as twitches. “Mom!”
“I can’t, honey,” Abbey says absently. She’s trying to convince Zoey to eat her vegetables without being bribed into it. She’s losing. “I’m taking Sam to get new shoes and stuff.”
“Lizzie,” Jed says lowly. She sighs but drops the subject.
“So!” CJ says brightly, trying to lighten the mood. “What did everyone think of the other night’s Law & Order episode?”
Leo laughs and joins her in a thorough dissection of the crime and trial presented, even though it was just a rerun.
Chapter 3: 1999
Carlie is their youngest foster child yet. Sam was twelve when he joined them, and he was old for his age, with tired eyes. CJ knows she acts like she’s thirty even though she’s only fifteen. Toby is worse; he acts like he’s forty. At ten, Charlie is a year older than Zoey, who has still managed to remain the baby of the family.
CJ tries takes him under her wing, but it’s clear that he and Jed hit it off immediately. Unlike with Sam, he doesn’t need to be handheld through his tour of the giant houshe and its surrounding area. He’s clearly independent and bright. It’s been a year and a half since he was kicked into the system by his mother’s death. The only bump in the road is his sister.
She’s not here.
Most of the time, the CPS tries to keep siblings together, but they can’t always manage it. Things fall through, like Toby’s first social worker’s anti-Semitism. There are a lot of things that need to be fixed, holes plugged, processes smoothed. CJ has been think about it recently, ever since her English teacher assigned them a paper about what they want to accomplish in life.
Deanna Young is somewhere in the system without her older brother. CJ is an only child; she can’t imagine what the pair of them are going through. Abbey and Jed talk about it when they think the kids can’t hear. They’ve been trying to track Deanna down, but the social services employees are being more contrary than usual. All they know is that she’s in the state somewhere.
Charlie tries to put on a brave face, but he’s only ten. CJ has caught him more than once with tear tracks down his face. They make her want to bundle him up and give him hot chocolate. She had felt the same way about Sam when he arrived, and at least he had let her. Charlie just wipes his sleeves over his face and pretends that nothing happened.
So CJ, who acts like she’s thirty and sounds like it over the phone, makes a few calls. She’s been in the system and talked to enough other foster kids to know who to pretend to be. Just a few calls, and she has a list of possibilities.
She takes the list to Jed, who glances between it and her with surprise. She looks at him flatly. “Charlie misses his sister,” she says in a tone that allows no argument.
“I’m going to ignore the fact that I’m pretty sure you broke the law to get this information,” Jed says, “and instead remark that you’re a brilliant young lady, Claudia Jean, and a scary one.”
“Thank you, sir,” she says with great dignity, and then she sweeps from the room with grand elegance. Only to trip over the damn rug in the hallway. Jed laughs at her as she regains her footing.
Once the Bartlets find Deanna, there’s the problem of getting the state to give her to them. The Bartlets are well known and respected, but they already have four foster kids, as well as their own three children. The social worker in charge is being wishy-washy about moving Deanna, even though the Bartlets have more space and are better equipped -- and moneyed -- to take care of so many people. CJ doesn’t know what she’s after, but she’s pissing CJ off.
That is, until she figures out what the hold up is.
“Adoption,” she says one evening in Abbey’s office. Jed is in his study with the boys, going over their social studies homework with them. It’s giving CJ the perfect opportunity to broach the subject with Abbey. “I think she wants you to adopt some of us.”
Abbey pauses, looking up at CJ over her glasses. “What makes you think that?”
“Because every time you guys put her on speaker phone, I hear her say things like ‘ways out of the system,’” CJ says, “and the only ways out are to age out, go back to living relatives, or get adopted.”
“CJ, I don’t even think any of you are eligible for adoption,” Abbey says, putting her book down. “Although I’m not against the idea; I think of you all as my children, you know that.”
“Sam is,” CJ says, because she’s done her research. “Charlie and his sister are.”
“Sam has a father and a mother,” Abbey says with a frown. She looks thoughtful.
“A father who abused him and a mother who pretended not to see it happen,” CJ snorts. She has strong opinions about Sam’s parents, mainly that they don’t deserve to be parents in any way, shape, or form. The Bartlets adopting him would be an excellent kick in the nuts to the assholes.
“Do you think they’d let us?” Abbey asks hopefully.
CJ nods. “I do.”
“I’ll talk to Jed tonight,” Abbey decides. CJ smiles to herself. Now that she’s shown Abbey the path, she knows that the woman will plow through until she has her non-biological children under her permanent protection.
Deanna’s arrival at the house is met with a lot of fanfare. It’s a triple celebration -- Deanna’s arrival, Sam and the Young children’s adoptions, and the return of Josh and Leo from the city. Sam has agreed to have his surname changed to Bartlet; Deanna and Charlie, however, want to have their names hyphenated. Zoey is thrilled to no longer be the youngest in the house, as Deanna was born more than two years after her. Ellie is just pleased that the siblings are reunited.
CJ watches as everyone crowds around the Bartlet’s massive dining table. Donna and Andy are here, as well some of CJ’s friends. Danny from down the street is here, with his stupid hair and his stupid smile. Leo and Josh come armed with three bakery bags full of cookies, although CJ has private reservations that it’ll be enough.
Even Toby is getting into the grove of things, making sarcastic comments that get the girls laughing. Lizzie is back in town for the occasion, and for once she’s smiling at them. Perhaps with Sam and the Young-Bartlets (and God, they’re going to get teased for that) as official members of the family she’ll lose some of her resentment at them for their presence in her parents’ lives.
There’s no long enough room at the dining room table, but CJ wouldn’t have it any other way.