Series: Splendor #20
Chapters: 001 Word Count: 4584
Character(s): Jed Bartlet, Abbey Bartlet, Toby Ziegler, Ellie Bartlet, OFC, Huck Wyatt Ziegler, Molly Wyatt Ziegler
Category(ies): Angst, Drama, Family/Children, Romance
Crossover Shows: - No Show -
Summary: "Smile for me, Eleanor Bartlet-Ziegler."
“He bought our kids a black Lab.”
“A black lab puppy I might add.”
“Mmm hmm, I saw him.”
“The kids love him.” Toby grumbled.
“Tori named him Bear.”
“There is nothing small, lazy or quiet about Labrador Retrievers. You and I discussed a bulldog, Ellie.”
“Yes we did.”
“And your father got our children a black Lab.”
Ellie looked at her husband, the sour look on his face, and burst into laughter.
“You should see your face, honey.” She managed between giggles.
“What does it look like? Mortification, disbelief, flashes of the possibility of killing my father-in-law?”
His wife still laughed and Toby looked peeved. It was bad enough he had to spend the end of his spring break in Manchester but this was too much. The entire Ziegler clan took the five-hour drive from New York just that morning. It would be Molly’s second trip to the farm and she was looking forward to it. She wanted to ride horses and Ellie promised she and Tori could do just that.
They piled into the rented Town and Country with DVDs, IPods, and snacks. Toby hoped they would talk but the kids had other plans. Molly and Tori fell asleep, Ellie worked on crosswords, and Toby and Huck talked about books. Upon arrival at the farm, they met the newest member of their family. Everyone helped carry bags into the house and of course the kids had an abundance of hugs and kisses for Nana and Grandpa Jed.
“Surprises in the den.” Jed said, moving aside as the twins and little Tori stampeded through the house.
“Dad, I hope you didn’t go overboard.” Ellie said.
“If I cannot overindulge my grandkids what am I supposed to do in my old age?” the former President asked.
Toby tried to control his eye roll. Tori’s gleeful squeal caught his attention. She came rushing back in the room, her arms full of black fur.
“Daddy! Daddy look, it’s a puppy!”
“So it is.” he glared at his former boss.
“I'm a name him Bear. We can keep him, right?”
“Of course we can, baby. Go back in the den and play.”
“A puppy, Dad.” Ellie waited until her daughter was out of earshot.
“You said the kids wanted a dog.”
“I tried to stop him, Ellie.” Abbey said as they all sat down. “You know how he gets when he is a man on a mission.”
“We planned to get them a more suitable dog.” Toby said. “Less rambunctious.”
“They are going to get many years of love and joy from that dog.”
Jed would not be swayed from his decision. What else was new? All Toby could think about was cleaning up after him, the destruction of his furniture and shoes, and the noise. He might be facing prison again if left alone with Jed Bartlet.
“They were ecstatic.” Ellie said, pulling him from his memory. “Bear is in bed with Molly and Tori right now. She hasn’t let him out of her sight all day.”
“I am capable of buying our kids a dog, Ellie. I did not need super Grandpa showing me up.”
“Is that really what this is about?”
“I don't know.” Toby muttered. He flopped down on the chair and looked at his wife.
She lay in bed, a book on her lap. Nicholas Sparks could wait as she thoroughly studied her husband. The former Communications Director winced under the scrutiny. She stared like her mother. Grabbing his sneakers from a few feet away, he slipped them onto his feet.
“I need to take a walk; I need some air.”
“Where are you going?” her voice was very soft.
Toby thought he heard tears behind her words but convinced himself that he did not. If Ellie started to cry he would lose it…he always lost it. Damn her family, everything was fine until they got across New Hampshire state lines.
“I just need some air. I’ll be back in a little while.”
“Fine.” She picked up her book and read.
He knew that tone. Ellie got mad so she wouldn’t get emotional. There was no point in staying and trying to smooth it over. Toby grabbed his hoodie and walked out. He checked on the kids before going downstairs. Tori and Molly were asleep in the big bed. Sure enough, Bear was lying between them, content in his new position as more adored animal on the planet. His father’s sudden presence startled Huck. He rushed to turn out his flashlight and pushed the comics onto the floor.
“Go to sleep, Huck.”
“I mean it.”
Toby left the door ajar and walked downstairs. He walked through the darkened, quiet house, which made as many creaks and moans as his beloved Brooklyn brownstone. Through the sunroom, Toby stepped out onto the back porch. He shivered against the March night breeze, took a deep breath and stared at the stars.
“Fuck!” Toby grabbed his chest and looked at his father-in-law. “Are you trying to kill me?”
“No.” he shook his head and smiled. “I was doing my best not to scare you.”
“Is everything alright, Toby?”
“I was going to buy a dog for the kids. Ellie and I had talked about it.”
“Well Pete Caulfield down the road, his dog had pups. They were so adorable and Abbey told me she and Ellie discussed the dog.”
Toby nodded, not saying anything. He sat on the banister across from Jed on the porch swing.
“You're upset with me?”
“It would be convenient. The truth is that the kids love the dog, and I love the kids.”
“They are wonderful. I'm really glad that you and Ellie decided to come and visit us. I wished we could spend more time with the girls and their families.”
“Even Doug?” Toby asked.
“Sometimes. I wasn’t trying to make an ass of you, Toby, I would never do that. We just seem to end up at this place with one another.”
“Yeah.” He nodded. “We’re going to be here for four days so I think we should all relax and just have a nice time.”
“We've got some fun planned for the kids.” Jed replied. “Abbey thought you and Ellie might want a little time for yourselves one evening.”
“It would be nice.”
"Any news on the adoption front?”
Toby did not feel very comfortable talking about it with Jed. All these years later and he still didn’t feel comfortable talking about anything with the former President. When had he lost his edge? One thing Toby Ziegler never feared was saying what he had to say. However, this man was no longer the man he made the President, the man he made crazy, the man who fired him, and then pardoned him. Jed Bartlet was his father-in-law. While Ellie’s relationship with her father was always difficult to put into words, Toby wanted to be sure that nothing he said added any strain or stress.
“I think we have a meeting with the lawyers next week. I'm not sure.” Toby cleared his throat. “I am going to call it a night. Do you need help getting inside?”
“No, I’ll be fine. Goodnight, Toby.”
He went back into the house and up to his room. Once more, he checked the kids; this time Huck was asleep. In the master bedroom, it looked as if Ellie might be too. She left the lamp on for him to see. Sighing, Toby took off his tee shirt, clicked out the light, and slipped under the blanket. He spooned behind his wife, sliding his hand under her top and across her belly.
“Are you mad at me?” Toby asked.
“I don’t want you to be mad at me.”
“It’s going to happen sometimes.”
“Is it happening right now?”
“I don't know, Toby.”
Damn, he did not like that answer. If she didn’t know then how would he know how to fix it?
“I want you and my father to get along.” She turned around to look at him. “God knows you have a long history and I'm not asking you to be best friends. Maybe I'm just asking too much but…”
“You're not. We do get along; the dog thing threw me for a loop. I’ll get over it.”
It threw Ellie for the same loop. She just knew her husband; he could stay mad about it the whole time they were there.
“I love you.”
“I love you too, Toby.”
“I love you so much.”
He held her close as they slept and after a while of contemplating his father-in-law in the dark, Toby fell asleep too.
“Hey Molly, smile for the camera sweetheart.”
Molly smiled, waving at her father as he recorded she and her little sister riding horses. Huck hung on the fence, deciding that the large, jittery animals weren’t for him. The girls were having fun, trotting around the enclosed area under the watchful eye of Toby and Ken Baxter, the horses’ caretaker. Jed and Abbey had three horses left on the farm; Sugar, who had been Zoey’s since she was a teenager, Belle, and Peanut.
Molly took a real liking to Peanut. Toby knew it had been a while since he saw that kind of glee on his little girl’s face. He hoped they would have some time to talk while out on the farm. While unsure of everything he would say, Toby just wanted Molly to know how much he loved her. Separation had changed Huck and Molly, or maybe time had. Maybe it was supposed to.
They no longer seemed to be that one entity, HuckandMolly, but had different personalities and paths. Huck loved his writing, classes at Temple, and baseball. Molly was a budding social butterfly, excelling at the violin and loved surfing the Web. The main mode of communication between the siblings was email and they saw each other little more than once a month. It was hard for the blended, yet broken, family. Everyone did their best to carve out a niche but Toby feared they were all missing something. There was nothing he could do about it.
“I was great, wasn’t I dad?” Molly asked, being helped down and then running out of the gate.
“Wonderful.” Toby kissed the top of her head.
“You think I could convince mom to buy me a horse?”
“I think you can try.”
As Huck and Tori ran back to the house for lunch, Molly lagged behind with her father.
“What's on your mind, sweetheart?” Toby asked.
“Sometimes its tough.” She said.
“Hopping around…two different families.”
Toby wrapped his arm around her shoulder and pulled her close to him.
“I know.” He whispered. “I wish I could make it easier for you.”
“Why didn’t you and mom stay together?”
“Oh Molly, that’s a tough question to answer. Your mom and I loved each other once and um…wow, we tried really hard. While we were meant to be your parents, we weren’t meant to be together. I hope that doesn’t scar you for life.”
“I don’t think so.” Molly replied. “Huck left; I don’t want to leave too. I love mom, my house, and grandma and grandpa. Roger is a great stepdad.”
“Your mom loves you more than anything, just like I do. I want to make sure that every moment we have together is one to look back on fondly. I can't promise you that the hopping around will get any easier but we’re your family too and you will always have a home with us.”
“Sometimes I like being just me, not one of three. If you and Ellie get a new baby, I will be one of four. Having all of mom’s attention is better than having just some of yours.” Her voice caught. “I'm sorry daddy. I don’t want to be mean.”
“Don’t be sorry.” Toby stopped walking. He stood in front of Molly, placing his hands firmly on her shoulders. “Every kid wants that special attention; every kid deserves it. No matter what happens in the world I am never going to stop being your daddy. I will be there for recitals and always call to see what you're doing. I’ll buy you books, hot roast beef sandwiches, and you can email me your book reports so I can read over them before you turn them in. I promise to always take you ice skating at Lincoln Center. Whenever you need me, I am going to be there. It doesn’t matter how far away you live.”
“OK.” Molly sucked up her tears and smiled as her father caressed her face. They started back toward the house.
“Hmm?” she sounded just like Huck when he said that.
“Do you like Ellie?”
“I think so. I don't know…she is hard to get to know.”
“Yeah. She is nice, but I think I might not be here enough. I just…having a mom and a stepmom is hard.”
“What about having a dad and a stepdad?”
Molly needed to think about that. Roger showered her with affection and attention; again, it went back to being an only child. Ellie had her own child and wanted another. Huck seemed to love her so much too. He did a great balancing act between her and his own mother. Molly wondered how he did it but didn’t have the courage to ask.
“I don't know, daddy.”
“Its alright.” Toby kissed her again. “It’s really alright.”
He could not force his new wife on his daughter. Perhaps he would call Andi soon and find out if Molly talked to her about it. One thing Toby knew for sure, he was not going to tell Ellie about it. She would be devastated.
“Lunch in the kitchen,” his wife said when they came up the steps. “Soup and sandwiches.”
“Thanks Ellie.” Molly smiled, glancing at her father once more before going into the house.
“Is everything alright?” she asked as Toby wrapped his arms around her waist.
“Molly and I had a talk; I want to have more. I don’t want to overdo it but…I just want to make sure everyone is alright.”
“I'm fine.” Ellie held tight to his hands.
Toby smiled, kissing the nape of her neck and holding onto her. It wasn’t always going to be easy but he loved her. He loved them all…he would make it work.
“When is the last time you saw a movie?” Ellie asked.
“In a theater? A long, long time ago. This doesn’t count you know.”
“Well, The Thin Man came out before either one of us was born. It’s not a new experience.”
Ellie slid her hand in Toby’s as they walked out of the movie theater. A light snow fell but it didn’t bother the couple much. It was Friday evening and they left the kids at the farmhouse for a date night. Jed and Abbey had family films, board games and pizza; they would not miss mom and dad. Ellie wasn’t sure if they should but when Toby told her what film was playing, she could not resist. Seeing it on the big screen was fantastic. Necking with her husband in a dark move theater was even more so.
“It was a new experience for me. I've never necked in a movie theater before.”
“Never?” Toby looked at her.
“Nope. I was a good girl.”
“I know you Eleanor; you can be a bad girl when you want to be.”
She smiled, her face coloring as she turned away from Toby. He leaned to kiss her warm cheek. They went into Mackie’s Diner, both craving dessert, and seated themselves. Toby opted for the two-scoop ice cream sundae. Ellie wanted the warm apple pie alamode.
“Paul’s assistant Mandy called me this afternoon.” She said.
Paul Carpenter was their adoption attorney. It wasn’t that Toby didn’t like him, even though he had to answer far too many personal questions during this process. He still found it difficult to wrap his mind around “private” adoptions. He had no idea how much money Ellie was paying for the service and she did not want to discuss it. They were being shown pictures and profiles of children as if buying a car. As much as he knew his wife wanted this, and he wanted it too, the former Communications Director was uneasy.
“We have an appointment at 5:30 next Thursday. I don’t want to be too optimistic but I think Paul has found an agency for us.” she smiled over her apple pie.
“I just think its weird, Ellie. I'm not saying nefariously weird but paying someone to procure you a child is weird.”
“It’s not like that.” she replied.
“Tell me what its like.”
“You’ve talked to Paul, and I know you, you had someone look him up.”
Toby called Larry the night after the meeting. All these years later he was still the go-to guy in this kind of situation. Paul Carpenter was as clean as a whistle and one of the best in the business. If there was something to find out about him, Larry would have found it but there was nothing. Nothing but healthy, needy children adopted by middle and upper-middle class families for the past 20 years. No one could find a bad thing to say about him and that was a miracle considering his profession.
“Its private, that’s all, I would never purchase a baby. We are paying for his services and they are not cheap.”
“Then tell me how much he costs.”
“Come on, I promise not to get upset.”
“Eleanor Millicent Bartlet…we don’t keep secrets from one another.”
“Toby, you don’t want to know; it won't help my case. Look, there are many children out in the world who need a home and these private lawyers work with agencies here and abroad to help. I don’t know what I can say to make you feel better about it. Nothing, I guess.”
“People with money get things much faster than people without.” Toby replied.
“Since the beginning of time. Paul came highly recommended and he is doing an excellent job.”
“I know sweetheart.” He covered her hand with his own.
“Are you having second thoughts?” Ellie asked. “Now would be the time to tell me. Don’t blindside me, just say it.”
“I'm not, not about our baby. Just know that I am probably going to ask him questions on Thursday.”
“Smile for me, Eleanor Bartlet-Ziegler.”
She could not help the smile that moved across her face, through her entire being. She loved her life so how could she not? Her job was fascinating. Her husband was attentive and loving. They had three beautiful children and a fourth on the way. Ellie devoted more time to social endeavors, reconnecting with old friends and making new ones. Her relationship with her parents was better than ever and she was comfortable seeing her shrink twice a month.
“I love you, Toby.” she kissed his hand.
“Enough to share a piece of that pie with me?”
He smiled as Ellie sliced the hot pie with her fork. He leaned across the table, opening his mouth and closing his eyes.
Abbey walked into the kitchen and looked at her daughter. Ellie had been on her cell phone and now relaxed at the table with a cup of tea. Going over to the cabinet, the former First Lady grabbed a mug, some peach flavored tea and poured hot water from the kettle.
“Is everything alright?” Abbey asked.
“Mmm hmm, I was talking to Zoey. She is just so ecstatic about the baby. She and Charlie are so far keeping the promise to not find out the sex.”
“Zoey hasn’t cheated?” Abbey asked, sitting across from Ellie.
“I doubt it. Since she could not tell Charlie, she surely would have told me. She wouldn’t be able to help herself.” Ellie grinned.
“And you and Toby are adding another baby to your brood soon.”
“Yeah, not a newborn though.”
“Mmm,” her mother nodded. “That’s understandable considering how hectic both of your schedules are. Is everything alright?”
“What do you mean? Are the kids still playing?”
“They are kicking up dust with their bikes and having a fabulous time. They are bundled up and everyone is wearing a helmet. Jed and Toby are playing chess in the sunroom, probably engaging in awkward conversation, and keeping an eye on them. Now, what about you?”
“I don’t know what you mean.”
“Ellie.” Abbey said it in that tone. That tone which stated that her daughter knew exactly what she meant. “Marriage is not always bliss, even when you love the person very much. Then you add in a blended family, tough work schedules, and a few other things and you could have an uncomfortable situation.”
“What do you want me to say?” Ellie asked.
“Well you don’t have to make something up…I just want to know that you're alright.”
“Toby and I are both busy but we always make time for ourselves and our kids. His schedule is a little more flexible than mine is but we like to have dinner at home together as often as we can. We have outings on weekends and somehow manage alone time, though I still don’t know how we do it.” Ellie shrugged. “You just do it I guess, you and dad did.”
“Adding a baby to that could cause more strain.” Abbey replied.
“There is no strain mom. I want to have a baby. It’s not because Zoey is pregnant and it’s not because of Andi Wyatt; I want to be a mom. If Vic were still alive, would anyone be questioning our motives? I get tired of all of the questions. It might not be easy but we both want this.”
“Both of you.”
“Yes.” Ellie’s tone was clipped and her teeth clenched. “Stop it, please. Toby is happy and I am happy. We would love to see Molly more, have her be a bigger part of our lives. I know Andi probably feels the same way about Huck. I think about suggesting to Toby doing things as a blended family. I'm not sure how he would feel about it. The history between he and Andi is such a minefield and I don’t want to be blown to bits. Still, it would be good for the twins. Stepparents are not a new phenomenon; I just want to make sure I am doing right by them because I love them so much.”
“I just worry Ellie. I worry you are carrying too much on your shoulders.”
“I'm not carrying it alone. Please don’t worry…things are good.”
“Normal. What do you want, a fairy tale?” Ellie laughed a bit. “I'm tired; I think I am going to lie down for a little while.”
“I’ll put dinner on in a few. We’re having pork chops with homemade mashed potatoes and asparagus.”
Ellie wanted to know if her mother needed help.
“The kids love helping out in the kitchen. That’s all the help I need.”
“Mom, have you and daddy considered leaving the farm? It’s so much on you both.”
“We talked about it, but Jed loves it here too much. This is our home and we always said we would grow old here. We’ve talked about getting some help. A companion for Jed and someone to help around the house. I don’t like leaving him alone to go to the hospital, you know?”
“Yeah.” Ellie stood and took her mug to the sink. “I’ll just take a little nap before dinner. If anyone needs me…”
“I won't let them disturb you.” Abbey said. “Everyone needs some time to themselves. Go.”
The younger woman nodded, taking the back stairs to her bedroom.
Ellie knew his scent, felt him close, and slowly opened her eyes. Toby lay beside her, his eyes filled with love. Yeah, it wasn’t always easy but that look, and every feeling behind it, made Ellie giddy. Everyone who knew her well could say giddiness was not Ellie Bartlet’s default position. Toby stroked her face, leaning closer until their lips touched. Ellie sighed.
“Is dinner ready?” she asked.
“Not yet. I just wanted a few minutes close to you.”
“Toby, answer me something.”
“Are we moving too fast? We dated, married, moved in, blended, tried to get pregnant, took a few minutes to breathe, and now we’re going to adopt. We’re still newlyweds; should we slow down?”
It all tumbled out of Ellie’s mouth practically without her consent. Except she was glad it did because she didn’t have to worry about holding it back until it choked her.
“Who suggested this, mother or daddy?”
“Don’t be like that.”
“I’ll slow down when I die.” He replied.
“Me too. Considering the national average, I have 23 good years left. That’s hopefully going to go up to 25 or so soon. I want to spend every one of those eight thousand or so days by your side. I want toys on the floor and homework checking. I want to run off once a month to an expensive hotel room to get away. I want the damn black Lab. I have a family, do you know how long it’s been since I had a family. Tell me we make you happy.”
“Oh God, yes.” Ellie smiled, stroking his face. “I love you so much and you know that. I love our kids and our life. I love Annie living in our attic and the drafty house. I love how it feels to sleep next to you and have the kids come in and wake us for breakfast. I've never been as happy as I am with you. Toby, I've loved you since that night at your apartment twelve years ago, possibly even before that.”
“Then don’t let anyone make you question that.” he kissed her. “People have good intentions I guess but they don’t know us. You can always come to me with what you're thinking and feeling.”
“I know. I think we should get someone to help with the kids. They can do some housework…Connor has phone numbers.”
“She has everything, doesn’t she?”
“Pretty much.” Ellie laughed. “And we’ll see Paul on Thursday.”
“Yes.” Toby pulled his wife closer, kissing her breathless. Ellie slid her arms around his shoulders. “Everyone is busy downstairs and we’re upstairs.”
“Just a little…a few moments of…”
“You better believe it, Dr. Bartlet-Ziegler.” Her jeans were already open and he slipped his hand in. “Just say when, sweetheart.”
Ellie’s eyes fluttered shut, her back arched, and she knew words were something lost for the time being. She was just fine with that.