"There he is." Jed announces to the group with a fond smile. It never ceases to amaze me when I hear pride in his voice that's aimed at me. I worked so hard for his approval for so many years. Now it seems like all I have to do is just show up.
"Quite a collection of dignitaries." I quip looking at the group gathered around him. It's been more than two years since we were all in the same place at the same time, although Sam and Ainsley's wedding feels like it was just yesterday. It's crazy how quickly time passes these days.
"The President' here." I announce gesturing towards the door as I turn to go greet him. The rest follow me out to the entry and we wait for the limo to pull up.
"You know," Will begins conversationally, "it's been exactly three years since the convention."
My head tilts as I think about it. Huh. I guess it has. Things sure have changed in that time.
Toby's been forgiven and reinstated into the family.
Kate wrote an incredibly flattering portrait of President Bartlet's accomplishments in the Middle East. Will's a Ways and Means backbencher. The two of them are shacking up, but don't seem to be moving in the direction of marriage.
Zoey and Charlie, on the other hand, will finally be tying the knot in just a few short weeks.
CJ and Danny have a beautiful baby, that we are all still waiting to meet in person. I'm honestly surprised that anyone is speaking to them for showing up here without little Hope. Not that any of us brought the kids to the ceremony today, but still. At least Lulu and Bartlet are out at the farm with Nannies. Sam and I know better than to deprive Jed and Abbey of time with them.
And Donna . . . I watch as my beautiful wife steps out from a town car. A college graduate, an integral part of the Santos Administration. The mother of my child. I feel my chest swell as I look at her.
God. I've missed her so much. Even just one week away is horrible. Sure it was exciting to be in Jakarta with President Bartlet. And it was a great opportunity for Sam to run the show for a few days. But the nights were too lonely. The thrill of politics isn't worth only seeing Lulu and Donna on a screen.
I've really got some thinking to do about the re-election campaign.
Matt and Helen stride forward and greet Jed with firm handshakes and quick hugs. Donna watches me with hungry eyes. If there weren't a pile of reporters, I'd ignore the formalities and show her just how much I've missed her.
But I stand to the side as she waits her turn to say hello to Jed. Then while she does, I greet Matt and Helen, and then Sam.
"How'd things go?" It's sort of a silly question. Sam and I were in almost constant contact. But it feels obligatory to ask.
"I told you. Everything was fine. You'll see for yourself. The place is still standing." He answers good naturedly.
Ainsley joins us just as an aide approaches. "Alright, this way please." The aide instructs trying to move us all to the gardens in the back so they can start the ceremony.
The others fall into a group behind the Presidents, but I pause a moment so that I can grab Donna's hand. I pull her to me and give her a quick kiss.
"I missed you."
"I missed you too." She smiles softly, letting my slightly whiny tone go by without comment, so I try again, turning up the whine just a bit more.
"And I miss Lulu."
"I know." Donna responds patting my hand and coddling me a bit, just like I like. But then she takes it a bit farther. "She's missing you like crazy too. She'll be so glad when we get back to the farm."
That switches me right back into parental mode. "Is she okay out there? Was she upset when you left?"
Donna smirks a bit as she answers, and I know I've been played. "She's fine. Nicole is with her. And she's still enamoured by Baby Bubba. If anyone was recalcitrant to leave, it was Abbey. For a minute I wondered if she'd skip the ceremony!"
But as we are lead out the back, I see Abbey sitting there in her place of honor with the rest of the family. We are directed to the empty chairs to the left of the podium, although Charlie takes a seat next to Zoey instead. Doug refuses to make eye contact with me, but Liz gives me a slight nod. Annie waves a little, while Neil smiles in greeting. It'll be good to have dinner with all of them later. I know I belong on this side of the stage, but part of me is really starting to feel like I fit into the family side as well.
Once we are seated Jonathan Bartlet introduces President Santos, who approaches the podium while the audience gives him a standing ovation.
"Thank you everyone! I'm as excited as you are to be here today. Jed Bartlet inspired me for many years and he still does. During his eight years in the White House, he oversaw a thriving economy, brokered a Middle East peace deal, and appointed three incredible justices to the Supreme Court. Since leaving the White House, he has remained a trusted advisor, most recently moderating a summit in Jakarta between Kazakhstan, China and Russia. The list of accomplishments is simply too long for me to name them all, so without further ado, I'm pleased to introduce my friend, New Hampshire's greatest son, President Josiah Bartlet."
The crowd reacts with polite applause and once again rises as President Bartlet makes his way to the podium. His speech is a little meandering in parts, but it's classic Jed Bartlet. Full of little known facts and pearls of wisdom. It has a tone of humble appreciation for the opportunities he was given, and gratitude for those who helped him achieve some measure of success. It ends with an inspirational call to greater service, and it rings with what can only be a result of the Sam Seaborn touch.
A glance over at Sam's face confirms my suspicion, and I briefly make eye contact with Toby, who has clearly arrived at the same conclusion. Toby gives me a slight smile. There are many things we've disagreed about over the years, but never the fact that Sam is an incredible writer.
When the speeches are finished, people are free to mingle as they tour the library. There are roaming waiters with hors d'oeuvres and champagne.
"Let me show you around the place." Jed offers to the group, waving his hand in a wide circle. The crowd parts, and he walks through with a steady tapping of his cane.
Matt and Helen fall in beside him, with Donna and I just behind; Sam and Ainsley right behind us. Then Toby and CJ and Danny. Then the rest of the crew. I suspect that Charlie's already seen it, but he accompanies us without comment.
The maple tables in the library shine with sunlight that's coming in through the large windows. And I can't help but run my fingers across them lightly as we pass by. The stacks of books and ladders feel inviting, as do the reference desks. Donna's got a big smile as we move through the room. She loves libraries. She's such a nerd.
Jed opens doors to smaller classrooms, telling us how they'll be used as study halls, or for civics lessons, or scout meetings. He grins especially wide as he opens a room that is obviously for toddler story time.
"I had them put this one in in honor of my grandchildren." He tells the group. "I'm looking forward to seeing Tori and Lulu and Bartlet use it very soon. And, hopefully someone will provide us with a few more grandchildren before too long." He gives Charlie a pointed look, which causes a round of laughter.
Now that Donna's done with school. I'd really like to provide him with another grandchild as well. I'd like my kids to be closer in age than Joanie and I were, and let's face it, I'm not getting any younger. Last November Donna and I agreed in principle that we'd like to have more, but when it came right down to it, she just wasn't ready on a practical level. I can't really blame her. She was juggling a lot. An incredible career, and active toddler, a husband who could get called away at any moment, and finishing her degree on top of it all. She's only taken one thing off her plate, but I hope it's enough to convince her that now the time is right.
"Ah, here it is." Jed announces as we reach the end of the hall. "This is what I've been waiting to show you." He opens the door and we all file in.
It's a large rectangle room, with some comfortable chairs and low tables scattered throughout the middle. The outside walls contain long display cases filled with exhibits and across the top, the timeline of the Bartlet Administration stretches around the room.
Just to the left of the door it begins with November 18, 1997. The display case below the date contains a large photograph of Leo and Jed shaking hands, some campaign buttons and posters, and a framed napkin that I haven't seen in quite a while.
My heart gives a little thump at seeing Leo, larger than life staring back at me. Donna gives me a small smile and squeezes my hand. I know she knows just how much I miss him. I just hope I'm making him proud.
The next date is November 3, 1998. Below it, a placard contains the story of Bartlet's victory. How he started out polling in the single digits and steadily rose. It describes his primary victory in Illinois as the turning point before talking about his nomination and eventual success.
The next display contains paraphernalia and pictures from the First Inaugural Ball. I quickly scan the photos to try to spot Donna in the background. I don't see her in any, but it doesn't matter because if I close my eyes I can still picture exactly how she looked. Long tight black gown, hair up in a twist. Huge innocent eyes, sparkling in amazement at the fact that she had arrived in DC, that she was part of something that big. I didn't realize then, but now, I'm pretty sure I was already at least half in love with her. Denial isn't just a river in Egypt.
The next exhibit showcases the things we accomplished in our first 100 days. It seems pitifully small. I remember how much harder it was than I expected it to be. I'm just glad we figured it out.
The next grouping contains the narrative of the assassination attempt at Rosslyn. I hear Donna gasp, and I pull her close as everyone turns to look at her. Her eyes are shiny and moist. God, I hate seeing her in pain. Jed offers a sympathetic smile.
"I'm sorry, Donna. It's part of our history."
"I know." She responds in a wobbly voice. She sniffs hard and I feel her pull herself together. I start to move us towards the next display case, but she holds us back until everyone else moves on, then she inches forward to see how they've presented one of the worst moments of my life.
It's not really about me, but there are pictures of me, looking like death on a triscuit in the hospital, then slightly better, exiting a town car on my first day back to work. The President is given better treatment. He's show waving out a window to a crowd gathered outside the hospital. The placard describes the events pretty matter of factly. Karl Leroy's confession that it was a hate crime is reported without mentioning Charlie or Zoey, thank god. There's also no mention of my PTSD or the fact that Donna still occasionally has nightmares. And there's nothing in there to suggest how on earth we tell our children about this someday, preferably before they learn about it in a history class. Maybe this display is a blessing. Maybe we'll be able to bring them here, to a place they'll feel at home. Maybe they'll understand why we risked everything for our ideals.
Donna lets out a shuddering breath and we move on without speaking about it further.
We take our time catching up to our friends. Glancing at the exhibits, but really just drawing strength from each other.
We stop at a case that demonstrates the U.S. relationship with Mexico. During the third year of his first term, Mexico's economy crashed, hard. It involved intense negotiations to get Congress to agree to a bailout. It was a turning point for Jed's presidency. The first year had been rough. The second wasn't much better. The assasination attempt bought him a lot of goodwill, and the Mexico bailout was our first opportunity to use it. I spearheaded the enterprise and I got great results. Leo and the President were pleased. But what I remember most is the way I felt when Donna gave her approval. Not that I needed it. It was a done deal before I ever handed her the 8th grade social studies book. But I wanted her to understand. I wanted her to be proud of what I had accomplished. When she said okay, I was on top of the world.
Then I found out about the MS.
I look down the timeline. I know there has to be something about the MS in there. I wonder how they'll present that.
But the next event on the timeline re-directs my attention. It's a tribute to Mrs. Landingham.
The group is gathered around a picture of her, each of them filling Kate and Will in on what an incredible lady she was. Of course, Kate probably already knows. I'm sure the President spoke extensively about her during their interviews. Mrs. Landingham was an integral part of Jed Barlet's life story from the time he was a teen through his first two years in office.
Most people saw her as a secretary, but to him she was his sage. Dispensing cookies, offering wisdom. Pushing him when he needed it. Always having his back. He confided to me once that she was the reason he sought reelection after all. He just couldn't bear to disappoint her. Even if she was no longer with us.
I loved her too. She seemed to have a soft spot for me, but I loved her most for the way she mentored Donna. And Donna was to me all that Delores Landingham was to Jed. And obviously, so much more. While Mrs. Landingham wouldn't have condoned a relationship while Donna was my assistant, I think she'd have been happy with where we ended up.
The group moves on but I pause a moment longer. "Thanks, Mrs. L. For everything."
The rest of the room goes by in a blur. It tells a story that Donna and I know well. Even though we weren't there for every moment at the end, we lived it through our family. But this room tells a story from one perspective. This is Jed Bartlet's story.
Before we leave to get back to the reception, I give the room another glance. I know it won't be the last time I'm here, because more than ever I realize that I have a story to tell as well. My perspective of these events isn't going to be like anyone else's. And there are some events missing from this room. There are some things that only I can share. And I owe it to my children to share them.
When the time is right.