In three years, everything had changed.
The morning after the Inauguration of President Santos, Claudia Jean Cregg took a plane and moved to the other side of the country to start a new life. There, at the airport, with a bunch of roses and a silly grin on his face, Danny was waiting for her. Together, hand in hand, they walked to the car and drove to the hotel where they began to plan the next few weeks of their lives while eating Chinese sitting on the floor of the expensive suite.
They decided to move to Santa Monica even though they both would work in LA. They bought a house with a large backyard and a pool. While Danny taught some classes at UCLA and wrote a book, CJ began working with Frank Hollis and his new charity project. She brought Carol, Margaret, Ed and Larry to work with her and, in record time, they had everything done and running.
On the anniversary of their first day in California, Danny took CJ out to a fancy expensive restaurant. After the wonderful meal, while taking a walk at the Garden of Water and Fragrance, Danny asked her to marry him. CJ stood silent, too astonished to do anything else, but after a few seconds she reacted. She threw herself at Danny's arms and, between kisses and happy tears, she agreed.
They got married two months later, on March 23rd, in a little and private ceremony. Only eight persons were invited: Toby, Andy and the twins on CJ's side and Danny's sister with her husband and kids for the other. The rest of their friends and family were told after the couple returned from their two weeks honeymoon in Punta Cana.
In January, the same day of the second anniversary of their arrival at LA, unexpected news reached the Concannon's household. Four tests and an almost nervous breakdown later, they finally believed the piece of news: they were going to be parents! Anna Juliet Concannon was born on July 26th after twenty long hours of labour.
Even though they were still in touch, the relationship between CJ and her old friends grew apart; after eight years in the White House she needed her space. She still felt a bit betrayed by them: they had all left her alone. The same thing went on with former President Bartlet and his wife: they exchanged emails and an occasional call but she always declined their invitations to spend a few days with them at the farm in Manchester. She had seen them three times in three years.
However, in an afternoon, some things changed.
Daniel Concannon, former White House Reporter, sat behind his desk at his home in Santa Monica typing on his computer, deep at work. He was so focused that he didn't hear the door chime the first two times it rang. After whoever was at the door rang a third time, he reluctantly got up and went to see who was at the other side of the front door. For his astonishment, when he opened the door he found two men, all dressed in black, and with serious expressions on their faces.
"Can I help you?" Danny asked them, suspicious.
"Mr. Concannon. I'm Agent Murphy." The eldest one said. "He's Agent Brown." He continued pointing to his partner. "Secret Service." The Agent told Danny, showing him his badge. "Would you mind if we-"
"Of course. Come on in." Danny said, stepping out of the way and letting the agents secure his house. In the meantime, he observed the black car parked in front of his house. He was pretty sure of who was inside and was debating whether call his wife or not when the agents returned.
"All clear." Agent Brown said. "Thank you, sir."
Another agent opened the car's door while Danny walked to their position to greet his unexpected guests. The first one to step out of the car was Abigail Bartlet, quickly followed by her husband. Smiling widely, Abbey hugged Danny and kissed his cheek. Then, Danny intended to shake Jed's hand but the older man embraced him in a fatherly hug.
"It's great to see you both." Danny told them.
"Sorry we're dropping by unannounced but we were in LA and wanted to see you." Abbey explained.
"You're always welcome. Why don't we go inside?" Danny said, looking around. "I think we're making your agents nervous."
"Good idea." Bartlet replied.
Together, they entered the house and went to the living room. Danny invited them to sit down on the couch and asked if they wanted something to drink. He left them alone for a few minutes to prepare the drinks. Jed and Abbey used the time to look around the room, admiring the cozy environment the décor produced with its warm colors and its modern furniture. On one of the shelves, there were a few frames with family photos. Jed, after noticing them, got up to get a better look. His interest went to two very special pictures: the one with CJ and Danny on their wedding and the one of the couple with their newborn baby girl. He took them from the shelf and returned to his seat next to Abbey to show her. When Danny returned with the drinks, he found the older couple engrossed admiring them.
Danny left the tray on the coffee table and handed them their beverages before sitting down in one of the armchairs.
"Where's CJ?" The former President inquired while leaving the pictures on the table, next to the tray.
"Claudia and Annie went to the mall. Friday afternoon is Mommy&Me time." Danny explained. "They'll be back soon."
"How's life treating you?" Abbey asked.
"Very well." Danny answered, smiling. "We're both very busy but it doesn't affect our lives as it once did. We work a lot from home so we can spend a lot of time together and give Annie the attention, love and care she needs. CJ usually takes her to the office, advantages of being the boss, while I'm teaching my classes at UCLA. If I'm at home, she stays with me."
"You've worked it out pretty well." Abbey commented.
"Yes. When we found out that Claudia was pregnant we began to think about how our child would change our lives. We knew we didn't want a nanny to raise her while we were at work missing all the important moments of her life, that's why we made these arrangements. We also agreed that she needed to spend some time with us alone, not as a couple. So, Monday afternoon is Daddy&Me time and Fridays are Mommy&Me."
"A great idea." Jed stated.
"A very good one." Abbey said too.
"Danny, can I ask you something?" Jed asked him. "I'm curious about something you said."
"She lets you call her Claudia?"
"She does, sometimes. Mostly when she doesn't hear me." Danny said, grinning widely.
"Did she change her name after you got married?" Abbey asked, also curious.
"She did." Danny replied, surprising them. "She needed a change in her life." he explained. "She'd been CJ since she was a teenager, it was a way to be one of the guys. Moving to LA, getting married, having Annie, has made her feel different in a way she hadn't before. After we got married, she adopted my last name and began introducing herself as Claudia Concannon. She's still CJ at work, though."
The sound of someone clearing its throat startled them. "Hello." That someone said from behind them.
"Hey, sweetheart, you're back!" Danny happily exclaimed, getting up and going to give her a peck on the lips. "Look! We have guests."
"I guessed when I had to show my ID to enter my house." CJ told him, still disconcerted at the presence of the couple sitting on her couch.
Annie, perched on CJ's hip, extended her short arms towards her father. "Dada! Dada! Dada!" Danny gladly accepted and took his daughter from his wife's arms while he kissed Annie's cheek. Jed and Abbey also stood up and approached them.
"CJ, she's gorgeous." Abby told her before hugging the younger woman.
"Thanks." CJ replied.
When Abbey finished, Jed took his wife's place embracing the woman he considered as one of his daughters. "Claudia Jean." He whispered while embracing her.
Jed released her and turned around to look at the little girl. "She's grown so much since the last picture you sent us." He exclaimed. "Hi Anna! I'm your Grandpa Jed!" He cheerfully told the baby, smiling warmly at her. The little girl, happy with all the attention she was getting from the grown-ups around her, extended her arms again wanting to be hold by her new grandfather. Jed gladly picked her up.
"Let's sit down again, now that Claudia is here." Danny proposed. "Do you want something to drink, honey?" He asked CJ.
"A Coke, please."
While the rest went to sit down, Danny grabbed a Coke from the fridge and joined them. Jed and Abbey sat down with Annie on the couch while CJ took the armchair with Danny sitting on its armrest. They sat in silence for a few seconds, aware of the tension in the air. Danny, knowing how difficult it was for his wife, put his arm around her shoulders and gently squeezed her arm, showing her his support.
"How are you CJ?" Jed asked her, breaking the ice.
"I'm fine, sir." She answered.
"Sir?" He inquired, surprised. "I'm not the President anymore, Claudia Jean. I think it's time you call me Jed."
"I'll try." CJ replied, smiling shyly. "It's a hard habit to break."
"See that you do." He said, joking.
"How's motherhood?" Abbey asked while picking the baby from Jed and sitting Annie on her own lap.
"A wonderful, tiring, amazing experience." CJ laughed. "She's a great baby, almost never cries, usually sleeps through the night. After hearing all those stories about babies, we thought it would be worse."
"You're lucky parents. We had many sleepless nights with our three." Jed explained.
"Too many." Abbey added, laughing.
"How's Liz?" CJ asked. "Charlie told us that she asked for a divorce."
"Finally." Jed murmured, earning a slap on the arm from his wife.
"She's better now. It was hard at first, she and the kids spent some time at home with us but now she has an apartment in town and a new job that she enjoys." Abbey explained.
"I called her when I heard and we met when she came to LA two months ago." CJ said.
"She told us." Jed told her.
Abbey, noticing an strange smell, sniffed a bit until she realized it was coming from the little girl sitting on her lap. "I think someone needs a diaper change." She said, laughing.
"I'll take her." Danny quickly volunteered.
"Do you mind if I come with you?" Abbey asked. "It's been a while since I've been around a baby."
"No problem. The more the merrier."
They got up and Danny took Abbey and Anna to the nursery, leaving Jed an CJ alone in the living room. CJ, not knowing what to say, took little sips from her can of Coke while Jed looked at her, his sight bearing a cross between sadness and disappointment.
"What?" CJ finally asked.
"Why are you avoiding us?" He blurted out.
"What?" She asked again, surprised at his question.
"Yes. Not only Abbey and me, also Josh, Donna, Sam ... Everyone." Jed said. "You've turned down all our invitations."
"We've been busy." She told him.
"Claudia Jean." He warned her, not believing her excuse.
"What do you want me to say?" CJ exclaimed, getting up from her seat and throwing her arms up in the air.
"The truth." He simply said. "You nearly broke all contact with us, except the occasional phone call or email. I knew you got married because I read it on a goddamned newspaper, for crying out loud!" He exclaimed, raising his voice.
"Why is that so bad?" She asked, her voice matching his. "We wanted something small and quiet." She told him. "Only Danny's sister, Toby and their families came. We didn't even tell my brothers!"
"And you think that's normal?" He told her, getting up too.
"You've no right to tell me what's right or what's wrong!" CJ yelled, her old resentment showing up again.
"Hey!" Danny shouted from the doorway. "If you wanna yell at each other, please, step outside. You're scaring the baby."
"Sorry, honey." CJ told him, calming down. "Is AJ alright?"
"Abbey's distracting her. Go outside and talk, you both need it."
Following Danny's advice, CJ and Jed went to the back yard to continue their talk. They sat down on the deck chairs situated next to the pool and spent a few minutes in silence to clear their thoughts, looking opposite ways so their sights wouldn't cross.
CJ, lost in her own thoughts, jumped slightly, startled, when Bartlet touched her shoulder. She turned around in her chair to look at him and accepted the cigarette and the lighter he was offering her. After lighting it up, she returned the lighter to her former boss so he could do the same. They both took a deep drag and slowly exhaled the smoke.
"I know I hurt you and I'm sorry but-" CJ shyly began to talk.
"Can I speak first?" He asked.
"I understand why you needed some space and some time, I did at first, and that's why nobody pressured you but it's been three years, Claudia Jean. Your friends miss you, I miss you. Everybody kept in touch: I usually talk with Josh and Sam once a month, Toby and I exchange emails, Will calls sometimes, even Kate! However, when we want to know how you are doing, we have to ask someone, usually Charlie or Margaret, because you avoid us."
"I don't." She stated, firmly.
"You do, CJ. And it hurts." Jed said. "I hope you know how much I care about you, how much you mean to me and Abbey. We've known each other for more than a decade, I consider you family, a daughter. You were there for me all those years, even when everybody else left, you were still there by my side. Do you think I don't know that? That I don't appreciate it? That I don't know how difficult it was for you or how much you sacrificed for me?" He asked her but she remained silent. "We wanted to be here for you, with you, to share your happiness, your accomplishes, your dreams. We had to read on the Post that you got married. You never told us that you were pregnant, we found out when you appeared at that fundraiser with your six-months belly in front of you and I suppose we should be glad you showed up at all."
Jed took one last drag of his cigarette before he extinguished it on the ashtray while CJ held her almost consumed one in her hand. She left it next to his and breathed deeply, trying to control the tears that were threatening to fall down her face.
"When Danny proposed ..." She began, her voice slightly hesitant. "I knew I didn't want the big fuss I always thought I would have. My brothers and I were trying to fix our relationship, we were speaking again but things were still a bit strained, as well as my relationship with everyone else. I talked to Danny, we wanted to get married as soon as possible, so we decided to have an small ceremony with only our witnesses and the Justice of the Peace." CJ explained. "Danny asked her sister and I asked Toby. He's my oldest friend, my brother. We got married at the beach and had dinner in a too expensive restaurant. Our intention was to contact everybody when we came back from our honeymoon but The Post published it before we could do anything."
"Ok, I can understand that." Jed told her. "But your pregnancy? Didn't you think we'd like to know? If you didn't want to, Danny could have called!"
"He offered." CJ simply said, defending her husband.
"I had a miscarriage before I got pregnant with AJ." She told him, her voice full of sadness. "I was scared that I would lose her too. We waited until I began the second trimester to tell everyone. Danny asked me if I would to call but I told him I wanted to wait a few more days. Days turned into weeks. He offered to make the call but I didn't let him. I knew everybody would fuss around me and I needed my peace. Then, the invitation for the fundraiser came. I knew you all would be there but I didn't have the courage to say anything so I decided to surprise everybody."
"A hell of a surprise." Jed murmured under his breath.
"Yeah, well, you're the master of that." CJ stated.
"What?" He asked, surprised.
"You are not the best person to talk about secrets and surprises." She calmly told him.
"After eight years, you're throwing this at me now?" He questioned, hurt. "Is this some sort of revenge?"
"Do you think so lowly of me?"
"I don't know what to think or not, Claudia Jean!" Jed loudly exclaimed.
"Think whatever you want!" She exclaimed back, getting up from her seat.
CJ began to pace while Jed Bartlet stared at her, having an argument with his former Chief Of Staff wasn't on his plans when he decided to visit her. He took a deep breath and calmed down.
"Claudia, you're making me dizzy."
She stopped pacing and stood in front of him, her eyes fixed on the ground between them. Then, she reached down to grab his pack of cigarettes. She took one out and lighted it before she started pacing again.
"I know I was wrong." CJ began talking. "But I was hurt and I needed my space. Talking to everybody only made me remember our last year at the White House and all my resentment broke loose again. After a long talk and a pair of bottles of wine, Toby and I were able to make peace with what happened and move on. He's been my best friend for longer than I can remember and I needed him by my side." She stopped to breathe and continued. "I needed to build my new life with Danny without old ghosts hunting me down. Nobody approved our relationship, nobody said 'Congratulations!', nobody cared enough."
"We care." He interrupted her.
"I know, but it didn't seem like it three years ago." She answered him before taking a drag from her cigarette. "Do you remember that conversation?"
"The one over that awful thing I found under Debbie's desk?" He asked, smiling slightly.
"Yeah." She simply replied.
"Yes." Jed affirmed, remembering perfectly clear what they had talked about.
"It hurt when one of my best friends didn't even call to congratulate me on my new job and my new partner. It took her more than six months to do it."
"I can't talk for my wife, CJ, I learnt to not do that, but she had a lot on her mind."
"She didn't even get on the phone when I called, sir. She was always busy." CJ said. "Here, that's one of the reasons I stopped calling."
"Don't call me sir, because if you do I'll begin calling you Claudia Jean and we both know how much you hate that." He told her, making her smile. "Abbey's sorry, CJ. If you let her I'm sure she'll apologize sometime tonight."
"We should talk."
"You should." He replied firmly. "Do you know what else we should do?"
"What, Jed?" She asked, grinning.
"Leave all this behind us, start again." He told her while getting up.
Slowly, he approached her and, without hesitation, threw his arms around CJ, encircling her in a comforting hug. They were standing there, hugging, for more than a minute when someone interrupted them.
"Is it safe, now?" Abbey asked from the deck.
"It is." CJ answered, breaking the embrace.
"Then, stub out your cigarettes and come inside. Annie is asking for her Mommy." She told them.
Jed and CJ complied quickly and joined Abbey and Danny inside. Little Anna called immediately for her mother, extending her arms and demanding to be picked up. CJ took her from her husband's arms and sat down on the couch, placing the little one on her lap, the rest occupied the other empty seats. Jed and Abbey shared a knowing look, trying to decide without words who would begin speaking. CJ and Danny caught it and looked at each other, wondering. Finally, Danny spoke out.
Jed cleared his throat before he started. "There's a reason we came all the way to Santa Monica."
"Are you alright?" CJ quickly asked, concerned.
"I'm fine, CJ. Getting old but that was to be expected." He joked.
"What Jed here wants to tell you is that we came to personally extend an invitation." Abbey explained.
"An invitation?" Danny asked. "To what?"
"The dedication of the Bartlet Presidential Library." Jed stated.
"You must feel important." CJ teased him.
"Yeah, it makes me feel pretty good." He replied, laughing.
"We set it for the first weekend of June." Abbey told them. "Everybody's going to come to Manchester and staying at the farm. We'll have a quiet dinner Friday night. Then, on Saturday, we'll go to the dedication and to the official lunch. After that, we'll return to the farm for a quiet afternoon before going to town. The pub will close for the night so we can hold a private party with plenty to eat and drink and a karaoke. We hired two nannies to stay with all the kids while we enjoy ourselves."
"You have everything planned to the detail." Danny commented, amazed.
"Of course." Abbey replied, grinning. "All those years being the First Lady, planning State Dinners and receptions left an impression on me."
"Who's everybody?" CJ asked.
"Josh and Donna with Noah, Sam and Ainsley with Leslie and little Leo, Toby and Andy with the twins, Kate, Will, Debbie, Charlie, my daughters with their bunch of kids and Mallory with her husband and their daughter." Jed said.
"We'll be happy to come." Danny told them, looking at his wife for confirmation.
"We'll be there." CJ assured them.