Bartlet did not look up when his friend stepped through the door. He meant to, but he was suddenly taken with the surface of the comforter he was sitting on. It was deep burgundy with white stitching throughout, in patterns. "Hey, Leo," Bartlet said.
Leo sensed the mood; his step was appropriately muffled by the carpet. "Good evening, Mr. President."
"What do you need?"
"Joe Tracy's going to turn in his resignation."
The President didn't look up. "Tonight?"
"He wanted to wait till I was out of the building?"
"He wanted to wait until the press corp was out of the building."
Bartlet laughed a little. "Okay."
"We can live without him," Leo said.
Leo waited. "Mr. President?"
"Jed," Bartlet said.
"Excuse me, sir?"
"No, no sir." Bartlet fingered the white stitching that chased itself through loops on the comforter. "Just Jed." He paused. "Just for this evening."
Leo nodded somewhat hesitantly "Okay, then. Jed it is."
"There you go." Jed sighed. "Abbey's the only one who's called me that in a while."
"Where is Abbey?" Leo asked after a moment, trying to steer the conversation to safe ground.
Jed studied the stitching on the blanket more closely. It was unraveling comfortably in places. "To the tell you the truth, I don't know."
"She giving a speech?"
"She's always giving a speech."
"But you don't know where."
Jed shook his head. The thread was only coming loose on the tightest of patterns in the intricate design. The most intricate of the intricate. He picked at a piece of thread and then made himself stop, preserving the stitching for as long as he could.
"You know when she'll be back?"
"She must have told me," he said. "Before she left. I know she must have told me."
"But you don't remember."
Leo nodded. "Well, she gives a lot of speeches," he offered his friend.
"Yeah." A piece of the pattern came loose. He realized he was picking at it again, and quickly smoothed it. "Yeah, but that's not why, though."
"You weren't listening," Leo guessed.
"I was thinking about other things."
"You were thinking about the library?"
Jed closed his eyes for a very long moment, and when he opened them he kept them lowered and still didn't look at his friend. "I want to run, Leo."
"No, you don't."
Leo nodded gently, although the President hadn't looked up at him yet. "I know."
Jed stroked the threads of stitching. "She doesn't want me to."
"Well, this is your discussion, sir, not mine."
"No 'sir'," his friend reminded him. "Just Jed."
"But she's not here," Jed muttered. "So damn quiet in this part of the building."
"You want me to put on some music?"
Jed laughed a little.
"I'm not kidding," Leo warned. "My daughter was here earlier. I thought she'd grown out of her eighties dancing phase, but not so much. Plus your daughter left a stack of CDs on Charlie's desk."
"I really don't want to know what she's listening to these days," Jed admitted with a chuckle. Leo grinned as well. As his grin faded, he studied his old friend's face. But Jed did not look up. Circular patterns tumbled across the surface of the blanket. Swirls of white in a sea of solid color. He wanted to see her. His wife. Wanted to know where she'd gone for the night.
"I have to resolve this," Jed told Leo. "I have to resolve this before it does me in."
"With Abbey?" Leo asked indirectly.
"She doesn't want me to run," Jed repeated.
"How serious --"
"No," Jed said quickly. "Never. Nothing like that. But I can't be at odds with her for more than a day without ..." He drew a breath and leaned his head back, but his eyes remained downcast, following the thread. "I was listening to her voice, but I didn't hear her say where she was going. I can't focus on this for too long."
Leo nodded, although he didn't understand completely. "Well," he said. "I can find out where she is if you'd like."
"No," Jed said. "No. I should have listened."
There was a pause that echoed with the silence of the residence. A clock somewhere ticked seconds by as they stretched on into years, and silence reigned.
"I want this job," Jed said.
"I love this job."
"What should I do?"
Leo shook his head. "It's not my place to be a part of this discussion."
"Crap. You're my chief of staff, Leo."
"Tonight I'm calling you Jed. It is not my place."
Jed sighed. "All right."
They were silent. And moody, the both of them. Then Jed said, "Call me Bartlet."
And Leo answered, "This country needs you."
Bartlet traced the stitching through patterns he would never think a needle could find its way out of. Wouldn't the thread get tangled around itself? Wouldn't it be forever caught up in the middle and never get out?
"I used to go out with my colleagues after work," Bartlet told Leo.
"I used to --" He raised a hand, and let it drop. "I don't know."
"You used to go out to a bar, and get drunk with your friends, and argue politics and laugh too loud."
Bartlet let half a chuckle escape. "Yeah."
"I was there," Leo said ruefully.
"I remember," Bartlet told him.
Leo shrugged. "Well, do that, then."
"What do you mean?"
"If that's what's going to make you feel okay, then do that."
Bartlet grinned a lopsided grin. "I'm the President of the United States. You want me to go out with my colleagues and get drunk?"
"If you aren't running anyway --"
The grin was gone. "I never said that."
Leo sighed, a soft, long breath that spoke volumes, and Bartlet nodded without looking up. "Neither one of us can do that."
"Mr. President --"
"Oh, for godsakes, call me Jed."
"Jed, I want you to stop doing this."
Jed shook his head. "You want me to stop doing what?"
"You are so stubborn, sir."
Jed laughed without humor. "That sentence negates the address that you're using."
"At this hour, Jed, and after you asked me for advice, you're going to sit there and pretend that you don't know what I'm talking --"
"I don't know what you're talking about!"
"Call your wife, or don't!" Leo exploded. "Run again, or don't. But do not sit here two years from the potential end of this thing you want to do, and simply wait for it all to be over. You owe us more than just watching the clock!"
"I owe who more than just watching the clock?"
"Us, this!" Leo encompassed the world in one sweeping gesture of his hand. "Your voters and the other guy's voters and the people who didn't cast a vote at all. The nation! You've given --"
"I didn't bring up the damn library!"
"You have given to them two spectacular years, in which you've said amazing things to them and done amazing things for them. Things no other President could dream about. Things no speechwriter, no policy adviser for another President could dream about. You and this staff, *our* staff -- You have given two spectacular years, but do not think that means you're off the hook for at least another two!"
"Nobody's arguing with that, Leo!"
"The name is Jed!"
"Jed!" Leo stopped himself and lowered his voice. "Mr. President. Since the State of the Union you've been feeling this way."
"Let's not discuss the way I'm feeling right now, Leo. I don't want to hear from you right now about the way I'm feeling!"
"If you don't want to hear about it, fine, but please don't sit here acting like your term expires tomorrow. And do not speak like you've given up early just because you might not run again! I don't want to hear it!"
"That is not what I'm doing, Leo!"
"That's exactly what you're doing, Mr. President!"
Bartlet sighed despairingly on this overwhelming night. "This is it," he announced. And his voice was suddenly quiet. His eyes through all these moments remained on those stitches in the fabric.
"This is what?" Leo demanded.
"This is the final stop on my resume, and you know what's strange?" He laughed, a sound that started bitter and somehow blended into safe. "I can't stop thinking about the first stop."
Leo released the tension in a sigh, and softened his voice. "Which was what?"
"Helping people manage their finances."
Leo laughed unexpectedly, sparking Bartlet to laugh, as well.
"How old were you?"
"Fourteen." They laughed harder, and Leo sat down on the edge of the bed.
"I used to go out after hours," Bartlet said, and the laughter quieted but lingered in the air.
"That's when we socialize, is after hours, but that's not the way it is anymore."
"You miss the staff?"
"I really do. It was different during the campaign."
Leo chuckled. "You were brutal to them during the campaign."
"I'm brutal to them now. But now there's not time for anything else."
Leo shrugged. "Go out with them, then."
"I'm the President, Leo."
"Do it anyway."
"I can't just go out --"
"Who says you can't?"
"You think Danny Concannon wouldn't do a dance of joy if I did that?"
"What has that got to do with anything?"
"In my experience, Leo, anything that makes Danny a happy man can't be too good for me."
"You think Danny's going to write you up as a drunken incompetent? Danny's got more depth than that, sir. Most of the people in your press room have."
"You think CJ --"
"CJ works for you, sir. And so do the rest of them. And they enjoy your company, so you might as well take advantage of the fact that they are sitting in a bar right now, getting drunk and having a good ol' time."
"The President of the United States cannot go out drinking with his buddies like he's in his sophomore year at Notre Dame."
"Weren't you studying to be a minister when you were in your sophomore year at Notre Dame?"
"No, as a matter of fact, by that point I had already changed my major."
"You want to bet me your campaign nobody's going to stop you from going to that bar tonight?"
"No, Leo, they're not going to stop me. They're going to take pictures of me. And tomorrow I'm going to wake up with a headache and a six-page spread in the Times."
"And you'll read it over Cocoa Puffs, and you'll feel a hell of a lot better than you will if you just sit around here moping!"
"I do not eat Cocoa Puffs."
"Well, only when Abbey's gone."
Leo rolled his eyes. And fell silent. And after a long moment said, "Mr. President?"
"I've got to leave this building," Bartlet admitted.
Leo nodded. "You should."
"And I've got to be able to enter it again. For a lot more years than two."
"Well, you should do that, too."
Jed Bartlet looked up slowly, and his gaze found Leo's for the first time that night. "Abbey's concerns are not entirely unfounded," Bartlet admitted, and it was only then, after all this time, that Leo realized completely what it was that Abbey feared.
"Well," Leo said, barely able to keep his voice from breaking. "Don't think about that tonight."
"What should I do instead?"
"Go get drunk."
Bartlet laughed. But the idea was beginning to sound appealing.
There was a knock on the door. "Mr. President?"
"What is it, Charlie?"
Bartlet nodded. "Send him in."
Sam entered the room. "Good evening, Mr. President. Hi, Leo."
"Hey, Sam," Leo answered.
"I wanted to let you know that Joe Tracy turned in his resignation a few minutes ago."
"Thank you, Sam."
"Thank you, Mr. President."
Sam started to leave, but Leo stopped him with a question. "The lot of you going out tonight?"
"I'm meeting them there," Sam confirmed.
"I used to go out after work like that," Bartlet repeated to no one in particular.
"Well, you're welcome to join us, sir."
Bartlet smiled at Sam, and then laughed. "Thank you," he said.
"Thank you, Mr. President," Sam repeated, and he left them alone.
Bartlet studied the back of the door Sam had closed. "Remember when we used to go out walking?" he asked.
"Let's do that instead."
Leo grinned slowly and nodded. "Okay."
An hour later, Sam Seaborn put his head down on the table. "Describe it to me one more time," he pleaded.
"They want to do away with current top and bottom attitudes."
"By doing what?"
"By flipping the earth over the other way."
Josh and Toby gasped in laughter, but Sam was seriously trying to grasp CJ's concern. "How exactly are they planning to --"
"The map, Sam. They want to do this on the map."
"For any particular reason, or are they just messing with my head?"
"I would feel like I was standing on my head, for, like --"
"CJ, honestly. It's just a map."
"It doesn't, you know, frighten you a little?"
"Yes, it's right up there with death and re-election," Toby agreed.
CJ, pretending to take this as support, leaned back triumphantly. Josh started to laugh suddenly, at absolutely nothing, and Donna discreetly confiscated his drink. CJ and Toby laughed at this. Sam was studying the surface of the table, tracing the patterns that spun and tumbled through the wood.
"You know what's bugging me now?" he said to Donna.
"The middle of your thesis?"
Sam laughed in surprise. "How'd you --"
"I've seen the lengths you go to to do away with a first draft once you've finised the second."
Sam nodded slowly, still grinning. "Yeah."
"Are you guys discussing something that the rest of us are supposed to know about?" CJ asked.
"No," Sam said.
"Okay, then watch this." CJ grabbed the salt shaker and started to decorate the table.
"CJ, what the hell --"
"I'm going to show you."
"Here's the pepper," Josh announced with something disconcertingly close to a giggle.
"Josh," Toby said, "would you like some coffee, or --"
"Don't mind him," Donna said. "He has a very de--"
"--licate system," the entire table coursed with her. For some reason Josh found this even more humorous, and put his head down on the table with the effort of laughing.
"See, the northern hemisphere gets the top of the map," CJ explained, drawing a line in the salt. "What these people want to do is flip it over, so the north is on the bottom and the south gets the, I don't know, the whatever. The top attitude."
"Makes sense to me," Josh chuckled. "The world is certainly upside down at the moment." Donna elbowed him, but he didn't stop laughing.
Out on the sidewalk in front of the restaurant, two men stood watching their staff through the window. Then the President turned to face Leo.
"We're never going back to those days," he said vaguely.
"I know," Leo answered. They stood still for a moment, examining cracks in the sidewalk. And then Leo looked up, and Bartlet followed his lead. Their eyes fell again on the people inside.
"When I do return to the status of ordinary citizen," Bartlet remarked, "I'm going to miss having restaurants cleared out for me."
"Well, you're pretty good at doing that for yourself, sir," Leo chuckled.
"Look at them in there," Bartlet said. "Relaxing. Look at Josh."
Leo suppressed a grin. "I don't think that's relaxing, sir, I think that's passing out from excessive alcohol consumption."
"Which, from what I hear, for Josh is half a drink," Bartlet commented, making both of them laugh.
"Look at Sam," Leo prompted. Sam was studying CJ's salt map intently; his new shirt was unbuttoned at the collar, and he looked ready, at last, to go home.
"What do you suppose Toby and Donna are arguing?" Bartlet asked.
"The electoral college," Leo guessed. "They've been at it for days."
"She thinks we should dump it?"
"Or change it. He's of the opinion that we're fine where we are."
"No one ever is," Bartlet remarked. He continued to study the people inside, but Leo looked at Bartlet, and waited to see where the night would go from here.
"I'm counting at least twice as many empty glasses as people," the President said with a chuckle.
"You going to join them?""
Bartlet shook his head slowly, a small smile on his face. "No."
"Suit yourself," Leo said, and started walking. The President walked beside him.
They were silent for blocks, while cars skimmed past. Sirens went off somewhere. A breeze came up, and died again.
"If I could forget about this godforsaken library," the President said, "would it turn everything right way up again?"
"I don't know," Leo answered, "but whichever way you turn it, it's still the world."
Bartlet smiled. "Yeah."
They reached the corner of Leo's block and stopped walking. Bartlet breathed deeply the night air, and studied the houses on this street.
"Did you know that in New Hampshire it's illegal to destroy a farm structure that was built before 1900?"
Leo nodded. "Yeah, that was your doing, wasn't it, sir?"
"Yes, it was." He stared wistfully at the strong stone of these houses. "If a farm structure were built before 1900, a strong wind could take it down in just a minute."
"A strong wind could change everything," Bartlet said, and Leo patted his best friend's shoulder.
"Go home," Leo said.
Bartlet laughed. "Am I that bad?"
"Nah, it's late," Leo said kindly.
Bartlet nodded. "All right," he said. "I'll see you tomorrow."
"Good night, Mr. President."
"It's Jed, Leo, and good night." Jed watched his best friend walk away, and then studied the houses on this street some more. Not one of them had been built before 1900.
"New Hampshire," he said suddenly, and the fact that his wife had gone home and he had been unable to remember it made him laugh out loud in a night that wasn't overwhelming anymore. "She's gone to New Hampshire," he shouted, and Leo, half a block a way, turned and waved, laughing as well. Jed Bartlet waved back, then walked resolutely toward his White House.
02 March 2001