Series: Snapshots of the Past
Story: Stealing Cinderella
Disclaimer: The characters depicted in this story belong to NBC, WB, Aaron Sorkin, and John Wells. We're just borrowing them for some fun :)
Story summary: Family bonds are tested when Elizabeth goes ahead with her plans to marry Doug, despite Jed and Abbey's objections
Feedback is always appreciated!
Author's Note: Just a reminder that TWW has off-season presidential elections (Jed was elected in 1998), so this series will from now on as well. Thanks to all you readers out there for sticking with this series for so long!
Election Day 1986
As she descended the stairs in slipper-clad feet, Abbey looked out the sidelight to see Jed standing on the deck. He gripped the railing, his shoulders heaved forward, and gazed out into the distance at the sun rising over the pasture. She knew he hadn't slept much. She felt him toss and turn for most of the night until he finally gave up. He rose from bed before 5 a.m. and crept down to the main floor. She wanted to run down after him, hold him in her arms, and whisper words of reassurance in his ear, just as she did two years earlier to help alleviate the stress that accompanied election day. But the election wasn't all he was concerned about this time and knowing that, Abbey hesitated before reaching for the knob.
The night Elizabeth announced her engagement was a turning point in the Bartlet house. It intensified the dynamic between the teenager and her parents. Jed had disengaged from the conversation. He'd thrown himself into the final days of his campaign, heading into work before the first glimpse of morning light and returning home only after dark, too exhausted to contemplate anything but sleep. Abbey worked her usual long shifts at the hospital and at night, she tried to hold it all together for her family's sake, but it wasn't easy. Liz wanted some support. She approached her mom in the kitchen late one evening, after Zoey and Ellie had gone to bed. She didn't ask for much; she just wanted suggestions on a wedding date. But Abbey couldn't help her. It was a mistake, she told Liz, and that ignited the mother-daughter confrontation that sent Liz out of the house. She ended up at her grandparents' home and that's where she had been ever since.
Abbey remembered the hurt expression on her daughter's face that night, and when James and Mary had called to tell her that she was with them, Abbey heard Liz crying in the background. Mary convinced her that a few days away from home would do Liz some good, and it would give her and Jed a chance to come to terms with the changes in their family once and for all. So, Abbey accepted it. She thanked her parents for looking after Liz and decided to wait for the smoke to clear.
But it hadn't.
Jed was still reeling from the news of the engagement and neither of them were any closer to accepting Doug. Liz had left a week ago exactly and no one knew what would happen when she finally came home.
The family had never felt more fractured.
Elizabeth brushed her long thick hair and pinned the sides on top of her head with a sterling silver barrette her mother had once given her. Earrings tugged at her ears, a pair of small silver hoops that were a gift from her father last Christmas. She then slipped into an emerald green turtleneck dress and paired it with a wide black belt, a pair of black tights, and black leather boots. Satisfied with her appearance, she started to leave the room, but as she hit the doorway, she stopped. Something nagged at her. It was the ring, the one that sparkled in the glimmer of sunlight that peeked through the curtains. That ring was a symbol. To her, a symbol of Doug's love. But to her parents, it was a symbol of a union they couldn't accept. The last thing she wanted was to fuel the flames, so she twisted the band around her finger and for the first time since she told her family that Doug proposed, she slid it off, then laid it flat on the dresser.
Now she was ready, she told herself as took a deep breath and made her way down the stairs of her grandparents' upscale home in Boston's Beacon Hill. She headed towards the kitchen to help with breakfast, but just steps from the entryway she overheard her grandfather. Predictably, he was reading his paper at the table.
"His numbers are down," he said to his wife.
"He's still in the lead."
"Yeah, but not by much."
"He'll be fine," Mary insisted. "He always is."
They were referring to her father's campaign of course. Jed's poll numbers had taken a hit and Liz shouldered most of the blame. She once felt anger at the press and the public for judging her, so much so that she convinced herself to dismiss their opinion and ignore what they had to say. But that rage was gone now, replaced by guilt for failing to be the perfect daughter they thought she was. To them, she was a representation of her father, a reflection of his ability to parent and instill in his children a sense of morality and responsibility. Little did they know that he had done that and done it well. Her upbringing wasn't to blame for the recent turmoil in her life; her actions were.
She stood still, reflecting on that until her grandmother called for her.
"Lizzie, come on down!"
"I'm here," she announced as she walked in. "Good morning."
"You look lovely."
James put his paper aside. "Where are you going?"
"She's going home to vote with her parents," Mary told him.
James's expression confused Liz. She assumed he'd be happy to hear that.
"You don't think it's a good idea?" she asked.
"I think it's a great idea, as long as Doug isn't going."
"James." Knowing how much heat Liz was taking from Jed and Abbey, it was important to Mary that she and James not pile on.
"Jed doesn't need to deal with that today is all I'm saying."
"Doug's not going, Grandpa," Liz interjected. "It's just me."
Mary approached her granddaughter.
"Sit down, sweetheart. Breakfast is almost ready."
"Thanks, but I'm not all that hungry," Liz replied uncomfortably. "I think I'm going to head over. You know how traffic can be during rush hour."
"Lizzie..." James stood and followed her to the foyer. "You don't have to take off because of me."
"I'm already on the outs with my parents. I don't want to get into it with you too."
"I don't want that either. I'm sorry, I shouldn't have said anything. It's just hard for me to bite my tongue when I feel like you haven't thought through some of the decisions you've been making lately."
"The decision to marry Doug isn't one I made on the spur of the moment."
"It seems to me it is. He popped the question and you said yes without even thinking about it."
"I had already thought about it long before he proposed. I dreamt of that moment, I fantasized about it. He surprised me with his proposal because of WHEN he did it, not because he did it. I don't know how to convince you of that." Her eyes shined under a layer of unshed tears.
"Sweetheart, don't cry." Mary handed her a tissue.
"I don't understand why no one believes me."
"It's not about believing you," James said, his tone more comforting this time.
"I feel like I have to break up with Doug to make everyone happy, but that's not what *I* want."
"I didn't ask you to break up with him."
"That's what you'd like though. Like my dad, you want me back in school and away from Doug."
"I won't deny that. But that's only because I want you to be content with your life, not just now, but always. My only concern is that you're trying to right a wrong."
"You mean the pregnancy."
"Yes," he admitted. "You want to make up for getting pregnant by getting married to avoid the stigma against unwed mothers."
"Why is that so wrong?"
"Because it's a horrible reason to get married! We're not like those families who run around frantically trying to marry off their pregnant daughters. No one here is going to judge you if you choose to pursue single motherhood. You wouldn't even have to do it by yourself. You'd have all the help, not to mention financial security, you'd ever need."
"I know and I appreciate it." Liz was grateful for that.
"But it's not enough? Why?"
"Because I'm in love. I'm not an immature fool with a schoolgirl crush, Grandpa. I've never felt about anyone the way I do about Doug. I'm really and truly in love. And I can't explain it. I can't tell you why my heart belongs to Doug. That's what everyone wants from me, but I can't and because I can't, no one understands."
"Okay fine, you love him. Why do you have to get married right now?"
"I WANT to get married now. I want us to start our life together. I want Doug to be by my side when I have our baby. I want us to be husband and wife before we bring a child into the world."
"You should have thought about that..."
"Before I slept with him, I know. I can't change what's already happened, no matter how much I wish I could. All I can do is look to the future...but the future I have mapped out in my head is a future no one approves of. No one gets it." She dabbed at her eyes with the tissue, her emotions getting to her again. "I've never felt so alone."
"Stop right there." Mary cupped her chin. "You're not alone. It might feel like the world is against you, but I'll never be."
"And neither will I and neither will your parents," James added. "We all just want what's best for you."
"I want what's best for me too, and I should get a say in what that is. My parents don't get that I'm not a kid anymore."
"Yes, they do."
"No, they don't. You have no idea what it's like talking to them these days."
"They're shell-shocked. They were just getting over the news of your pregnancy and then you hit them with this. They haven't had enough time to let it sink in. They haven't had time to deal with it."
"How much time do they need?"
"A lot more than you think." He grabbed her by the arms and pulled her into his embrace. "Give them a chance, Lizzie. They love you more than you know."
"I love them too, but at some point, they have to trust me to know what I'm doing." Liz broke the hug to look her grandfather in the eye. "I can't keep apologizing for who I love, to them or to you."
"I don't need you to apologize. I just need you to be sure."
"By not rushing into this. Take some time..." Liz shook her head as if blocking out his words. "Have the baby, then decide..."
"I can't do this again," she snapped. "I'm sorry." She grabbed her long black leather coat. "I'm going to be late."
"Hey?" Mary stepped in between Liz and James to give her a hug. "Don't let this stuff get to you today."
"Do more than try," she said with a loving smile as she pulled away. "We'll see you at the party tonight."
"I can't wait."
"I will. Bye."
James watched his granddaughter disappear behind the door before addressing his wife.
"You're not helping."
"She needs us," Mary insisted.
"I'm not saying we should abandon her, but blindly supporting her is only going to make a bad situation worse."
"You don't know that."
"She dropped out of college and as of now, she has no plans to go back. She's getting married and having a baby with no prospects for the future. And she's only 18."
"I was 18 when I married you."
"You weren't pregnant!" James barked. "She's making a mistake."
"Then it's her mistake to make! That is if it's a mistake at all."
"She quit school. How can that not be a mistake?"
"Hard as it may be to believe, some women are happier as a wife and mother. Not everyone has to go to college and graduate school and make a six-figure income to be satisfied."
As someone who took pride in devoting her life to her husband and children, Mary was annoyed that James, like Jed and Abbey, looked down on the possibility that Liz might want to do the same.
"Who said anything about a six-figure income? The subject is her education."
"Maybe college isn't for Liz. Have you thought about that?"
"She's academically gifted."
"It's not what she wants."
"It's what she wanted until she got pregnant. Her goal has always been to go to college and then law school."
"Pregnancy changes a woman."
"Was it the pregnancy or was it Doug? There's a reason Jed can't stand him."
"And that's Jed's reason, not yours. Neither you nor I know enough about Doug to come between them. So if you want to crush her hopes and dreams based on Jed's hunch, have at it, but don't expect me to play along. Lizzie needs at least one person in this family who is going to stand by her, no matter what she decides."
Mary stormed up the stairs then, angry at her husband and furious at what was happening to their family. Loyalties were being tested, relationships challenged. She'd been there in London when Elizabeth came into the world. She'd seen Jed and Abbey tremble with anxiety at taking care of their newborn baby girl. She'd witnessed the parent-child bonds that formed within the first few days of Lizzie's life, the bonds that had strengthened and grown for the past 18 years, the bonds that now seemed so fragile, they could break at any moment.
It was too much for her. Feeling physically ill, she climbed into bed and tried to fall back asleep.
Jed never heard the front door open behind him, or Abbey's footsteps as she neared the railing. Instead, he listened to the sound of the American flag that was mounted off the deck snapping in the breeze. It was a warm breeze, he thought, too warm for election day. He wished there was more of a chill. He wished the skies were grayer, the trees more frosty, the land more frigid. He wished it would snow, and not just a few flakes here and there. A good New England blizzard, that's what he wanted. The wind howling, branches breaking, and everyone inside running around in slippers and PJs with steamy mugs of hot chocolate. This is what monopolized his mind that morning and that's exactly how he wanted it. Any lapse in these frivolous thoughts would have inevitably led him to reflect on and scrutinize the last 10 days, something he tried desperately to avoid.
"Jed?" Abbey called softly.
It was like he was in a trance and the only thing that brought him out of it was when she strutted up beside him, too close to ignore.
"Hey," he said.
"I called your name."
"I didn't hear you."
"I know," she replied, her arm extended with a cup of coffee in his favorite Notre Dame mug.
"Thanks." He took a sip. "I don't think Easton's going to win the governor's race. His numbers are static."
"Are you disappointed?"
"I'm always disappointed when a Democrat loses."
"Yeah, I know." Jed had been considering Easton's proposal about helping to implement the office of the lieutenant governor and then serve as New Hampshire's second-in-command, but he wasn't ready to admit to being disappointed that the election results would take the decision was out of his hands. "The girls still asleep?"
"Zoey's up and Ellie's starting to move around."
"My mom called. Liz is on her way over."
"Liz? The same girl who hasn't even bothered to call us in the last week."
"We didn't call her either. We all needed some time to cool off."
"So why is she coming? For appearances?"
"Jed, don't be like that."
"She doesn't want to see us, Abbey."
"She never said that."
"She didn't have to."
"She's sick of the fighting. We all are."
"So then why is she coming? Did my office tell her that the press needs to see us all vote together? Because if they did..."
"Calm down, no one from your office contacted her. It was Liz's decision to come home. First of all, in case you've forgotten, her legal residence is still the farmhouse, so if she wants to vote today, she has to go to the same polling place we do. And second, she wants to be here. She wants to support you."
"How do you know? Did you talk to her?"
"I don't have to talk to her to know that. No matter what's happened, she still adores you."
"She's mad at me."
"You're not exactly thrilled with her either," Abbey reminded him.
"And you are?" Jed could see the feelings of disappointment written all over her face. "That's what I thought."
"We're both disappointed in her, and it's obvious that she's disappointed in us. We have to find a way to get past this."
"As long as Doug is in her life, I don't see how that's possible."
"It is. It has to be. She's going to go through with this. She's going to marry him and somehow, we need to accept that so we can be there for her."
"How does a father stand by silently and watch his child set herself up for failure?"
"The same way a mother does," she said without offering an answer. "As soon as I figure it out, I'll let you know."
He glanced over at her, then wrapped his arm around her waist, taking comfort in the gesture when Abbey rested her head on his shoulder. What would he do without her, he wondered. She was the only other person who knew exactly how it felt, the powerlessness that came from witnessing their daughter embark on an ill-fated marriage that would drown her potential.
"Why does the press care when he goes to the polls?" The worst part of election day for Ellie was the cameras that followed them when they went to vote.
"It's just what they do." Abbey stacked a serving tray with cinnamon apple pancakes. "Ignore them. Pretend they're not there."
"That sounds easier than it is."
"You know the drill, Ellie. Stay close to me and your mom. If they so much as take a step toward you, you tell me and I'll put an end to it," Jed assured her, reaching up to fetch a can of New Hampshire maple syrup from the top cupboard.
Everyone stopped then. They turned to see Zoey running into the kitchen, pulling her older sister by the hand.
"Lizzie! I didn't know you were coming!" Ellie ran to hug her.
"I couldn't miss election day." Liz looked up at her parents standing behind Ellie. There was so much she wanted to say to them, but when she opened her mouth to talk, all that came out was, "Hi."
"Hi," Abbey returned. "We're glad you're here."
Jed didn't have to say anything for Liz to know how much her presence meant to him. It was written in his eyes, those baby blues she had learned to read when she was very young. They were fixed on her now and instead of the harsh anger she feared she'd see, they were warm and inviting, though brimming with such concern that it nearly muted the fatherly love struggling to shine through. And there was hurt. Hurt for the widening gulf between them, for the words they'd exchanged and never forgotten, for the way she'd dismissed his advice and guidance when he disapproved of what she was doing. That's what she regretted the most. A lot had happened the past few months, but if there was one thing she wished she could take back, it was hurting her father.
Without being asked, She picked up a stack of plates left on the counter and began setting the table. "So, has anyone asked Dad why lawmakers designated the first Tuesday after the first Monday in November as election day?"
Abbey smiled at that.
Election day was treated like a holiday in this family and that meant that Jed had to share pearls of historic trivia. Liz had heard his stories so many times, she could recite them in her sleep, but it gave Jed pleasure to tell the tales every year. While she usually teased him about it and pretended not to care, this time, she chose to indulge him.
"Isn't every Tuesday after a Monday?" a confused Zoey asked.
"Zoey, you ask that every year!" Ellie chuckled.
"But I forget the answer!"
"It has to be the first Tuesday after the first Monday in November," Abbey told her. "If Tuesday is November 1st, it can't be election day because it was still October on Monday."
"Huh?" The six-year-old crinkled her eyes at the logic in that.
"It'll make sense when you hear the story." Ellie nudged Jed. "Dad?"
Jed gathered utensils as he explained, "Election day can't be on November 1st because November 1st is All Saints Day, Zo. So that means that if the first Tuesday of November is November 1st, then election day has to be a week later."
"What if Monday is November 1st?"
"Then election day can be Tuesday, November 2nd."
"See, it makes sense. The first Tuesday after the first Monday in November. And why does it have to be in November, you ask? Well, that's easy to explain too..."
Ellie grabbed a carton of orange juice from the fridge, Liz passed out glasses, and Abbey set the stack of pancakes and can of syrup in the middle of the table. They then pulled out their chairs and took their seats to start breakfast as a family.
"It used to be that states could set their own presidential election days within a 34-day period. But that all changed when Congress set one date for the whole nation in the 1800s and the date they settled on was November. Things were different back then. There were no cars so travel had to be convenient. The fall harvest had to be over, but the weather had to be mild enough that it wouldn't keep people from making the trip..."
Jed, Abbey, and all three of their daughters arrived at First Emmanuel Episcopal Church in one car later that morning. Voting together was a Bartlet tradition and because it was Liz's first general election, it was even more special today. A few months earlier, she had cast her very first ballot in the congressional primary, but the general was what it was all about. She couldn't wait to pull that lever and carve her mark on the New Hampshire electoral process.
Jed scanned the perimeter as he pulled into the parking lot. Campaign workers lined the sidewalks, handing out pins and buttons, stickers and decals. And the cameras. They were everywhere. It was a presidential election year and that meant more press than usual. The networks weren't there to cover him, but he'd been around the media long enough to know that if they got a shot their affiliates could use when reporting local returns, they wouldn't shy away from it, especially if they happened to catch the slightest hint of Liz's baby bump that could lead the sensationalistic headlines of election analysis late into the night.
Jed wouldn't stand for it. Despite his judgment in allowing Liz to act as a surrogate for his campaign, he maintained his shield against the press. His daughter wasn't a prop to be used on the trail. It was the motivation to protect her that kept him on message and diverted public attention away from the pregnancy leak and he wasn't about to allow the mob of journalists to break through the barrier now. If they were going to gossip about her, they were going to have to do it without pictures.
He parked the car and hopped out to reach for the back door so he could usher Liz toward the church.
"They can't hurt me you know," she told him. "I don't care what they say anymore."
It was ironic, Liz thought. She hated his hovering when she was growing up. Now that she was so vulnerable and exposed, she couldn't imagine what this chapter in her life would be like without him around to protect her. She glanced behind her to see her mother holding her sisters' hands as they all walked into the church and toward the line that spiraled down the hall.
In true Bartlet fashion, Jed grabbed a sample ballot to make productive use of their time by explaining the amendments and bond issues to Ellie and Zoey. Liz listened in until it was her turn in the voting booth. She then stepped in and pulled the curtain, then stared at the old lever machine, one of many that the city of Manchester had used since the 1970s. She unlocked the levers and bypassed the race for president and governor until the end so that she could get to the nominees for New Hampshire's First Congressional District.
'Josiah Edward Bartlet (D)'
She stared at it for a moment, then proudly turn the switch toward her father's name, casting her first general election vote.