Something she learned about her father then was that he started this little jaw thing when he was thinking about something. She watched him hard and close, trying to figure just what he wanted. How he wanted to talk to her and most importantly, why.
"Daddy." She hesitated. "Daddy, why me?"
Snapping his head up, Jed sat back uncomfortably. "What?"
"Why me Dad? Why is that from day one, you and Mom could never love me the same way that you love Liz and ZoŽ?" At his stare, she stopped and then waved her hands. "I mean, I *know* you love me and all, but not the way you love them." Squarely looking him in the eyes, she whimpered, "It hurts Daddy. Coming home, seeing y'all so nice and cozy and then turning hard when I come into the room..."
Watching as she wrapped her arms around herself and bow her head, Jed leaned his elbows on his knees and rubbed his face. "Damn it, Eleanor, you never let any of us in. When you were younger, your favorite place to be was in a book or in your room, listening to music. Everyday, you'd come home and when asked about what you did, you say the same thing. I remember when your friends came home with you once in awhile, or we had to pick them up, I didn't know who any of them were. It was if you didn't want anyone-your mother, sisters or I-to know what you did in your spare time."
In a quiet voice, she looked down at the floor. "You're right."
Taken aback, her father watched as large tears went down her face. "Goddamnn it, you're right. I hated when you asked me about school 'cause I felt that if I told you that I got a B on my government test, you'd blow up at me. I felt that if I told mom about the times that Biology was giving me problems, she'd scuff at me. I hated coming home and all of you'd be there." Sniffing and rubbing a hand under her nose, she looked up at him. "There's something you should know."
"What?" he whispered.
"I ran away once."
His attention back on her, Jed hissed, "Excuse me?"
"I...I waited until you and Mom were out of town, ZoŽ and Liz went to a movie or something and I stayed home, knowing that that was the time. So, I packed a bag, walked out of the door and went walking around the city. Aunt Millie, bless her, found me and brought me back to her place." Ellie paused. "We had a long talk that night. When I came back two days later, Liz and ZoŽ just gave me a look and didn't say anything to me."
The car came to a soft stop then, and Jed looked up, only to see stop lights. Rubbing his face once more with his hands, he whispered, "I just don't understand you."
"I don't understand you," he repeated slowly. "You're able to open to people that are total strangers or only part the family by marriage, but when it comes to your own family, there's this wall that you set up to keep everyone out."
"I never meant for this to happen," she told him, tears coming again. Grabbing her stomach, she moaned, "I think I'm going to be sick."
Alarmed, her father stared at her while crying out, "Stop the car!"
"Sir," the driver said, looking back.
His eyes hard, the President stared him down. "Stop the car, now."
Coming to an abrupt halt, Ellie grabbed the door, and scrambled out of the backseat. Clutching her stomach, she vomited and heard the sound of cars going past, slowly, once in awhile.
Standing, she cursed, and then smiled as Henry handed her a bottle of water, which she took a sip from and then spit out what was in her mouth.
"Are you pregnant?" her father asked, watching her closely.
With wide eyes, she let out a cry. "No! Dad, what the hell? I haven't had sex...Oh, well, Jesus..."
Holding back a laugh at her sigh, Jed shook his head. "Then what's wrong? That's the second time you threw up in front of me. Do you need to go to the hospital?"
"Nothing...it's just...nerves probably," she whispered. "I get nervous around you and the rest of the family so much that it upsets my stomach."
Guiding her back into the car, he asked, "You up for some food?"
"Food would be good," Ellie nodded.
"Hey, James, stop at the nearest restaurant!" he yelled up at his driver.
"Oh dear God," Ellie mumbled, putting a hand to her head. "Dad, we can go back to the Residence and eat something there, okay? Let's just go..."
Holding up his hand to stop her, Jed gave her a look and said, "No. Listen, I've been ignoring you for years, and back at the Residence are people that you-and to let you in on something, I-don't want to see right now. So, we're going to wait until the Secret Service does their little check thing and then we're going to go and eat some..." He checked his watch. "Brunch, I guess."
Nodding, Ellie whispered, "Okay."
Smiling, Jed rested back and nodded back to her. "Okay then."
The few people in the restaurant stopped eating as the President and his daughter walked into the place, smiles on their faces.
Breathing in the air, Jed wrapped his arm around her shoulder and followed the stunned hostess to their table. "You smell that Eleanor? Garlic."
"Good Italian food."
"Ever eat here before, Daddy?" she asked, sitting down.
"Nope, but I heard it's good," he told her, grabbing a menu.
A waiter appeared instantly and asked in a stuttering voice," Si..Sir, wh...what can I ge..get you?"
"A bottle and two glasses of your best wine for now, we're still looking," the President told him calmly.
"Of...of course, Sir."
Leaning in, Ellie giggled, "Wouldya look at that? I'm not the only one that thinks you're intimidating."
Raising an eyebrow, Jed asked, "Who, me? Intimidating? Nah."
Putting the styrofoam containers in the fridge, Ellie took out a piece of pie and took off the plastic wrap. Spinning around, she stopped and stared as her mother stood there, hands on her hips.
"Where's your father?"
"Thought he went to you," she said, rolling her eyes slightly.
"Don't use that tone of voice with me."
"What tone!" Ellie cried, staring at her mother. "Jeez, I say one little thing the wrong way and you go all freaky on me."
"Where did the two of you go?" Abbey wondered, sitting on one of the stools.
Not wanting a fight, Ellie sighed inwardly and sat next to her. "To an Italian restaurant."
"Was the food good?"
"Um-hmm. There's some leftovers..." She stopped as her sisters and niece walked into the kitchen.
"Hey Mom," ZoŽ smiled. Her face softened somewhat and she seemed to hesitate when she said, "Hiya Ellie."
"ZoŽ," her older sister nodded. Grabbing the plate that held the pie, she took a fork from a drawer and walked out the door, only to bump into her father. "Dad."
Smiling happily, he ushered her back into the kitchen. "Look at this, my family, in a room together and not tearing at each other's throats."
Glaring at her sister, Liz said, "I have stuff that I need to do." Brushing past Ellie on her way out, she stopped as her father growled,
"Get your ass back in her Elizabeth Anne."
Gasping, Annie cried, "Granpa!"
"What?" he snapped, staring down at her. "Look, we're finally in a room together and we're not fighting. I repeat, we are not fighting. And another thing, we're going to show each other some respect, is that clear." At the nod of the five women in the room, he stared down his granddaughter. "Starting with you. From now on, you call Eleanor *aunt*."
Whimpering, Annie went to her mother's side.
Nibbling her lower lip, Ellie murmured, "Dad..."
But he didn't stop. "And you ZoŽ, no more phone calls when we're having our family time. I'm getting sick and tired of having your friends phone you and then we're waiting forever to start with the bonding process. You should know that by now.
"Don't think I forgot you Ellie," Jed said in a lower voice. "Your room is not going to be your hiding place anymore. I expect to see you out with us on a regular basis."
Nodding, she lowered her head and took a bite of the pie.
"Jed," Abbey began, but stopped when he held up his hand.
"And you," he pointed. "Show your middle daughter that you do actually know she exists. That was an evil thing you did to her yesterday, Abigail, making plans and then leaving her hanging."
A heavy cloud of silence blanketed the Bartlet family until a man entered the doorway.
Heads turned and the man sighed.
"Eleanor," he started. "There's a phone call for you."
"Who is it?" she asked, following him.
"Someone by the name of Meghan Gull. She told me to tell you it's utterly importante that you take this call." At her raised eyebrow, he shrugged. "Those were her exact words."
Rolling her eyes, Ellie mumbled, "Yeah, sounds like her." Taking up the phone, she said, "Hey Megs."
There was soft breathing on the other end until she said, "Oh, good God Els, you're missing one hell of a par-tay!"
Hesitating slightly, ZoŽ walked quietly into the room where her sister was reading and smiled. "Ellie?"
Looking up, the young woman nodded. "Yeah?"
"Can I...um...can I talk to you?"
Startled, Ellie nodded and set down her book. Patting a spot on the couch and putting her feet below her, she stared at her younger sister. "What can I do you for, darlin'?"
Nervous, ZoŽ sighed. "What did your friend want the other night?"
"Meghan? Oh, she called to rub my face in what's going down in Miami." Seeing her sister's discomfort, Ellie stared into her eyes. "Listen, if you want to tell me what's on your mind, let it out girl. I have all night."
"It's kinda complicated."
"Honey, everything is in this family."
Shaking her head, ZoŽ felt tears run down her face. "I never got to know you when I was younger. And, it felt really weird, Ellie! My friends were always talking about the fights that they were having with their sisters and then about how they would go shopping with them, but I never had that with you. Liz, sometimes, but she was older. You, you were-are-closer to my age and it feels as though you're so far away in so many different aspects."
Swallowing a hard lump in her throat, Ellie licked her lips and waited for her to go on.
"I want to get to know you. Hell, with that little talk that you had outside the Oval Office waiting for Dad, Charlie knows more about you than any of us." ZoŽ bowed her head. "I looked up to when I was younger."
Letting out a laugh, Ellie asked, "Why?"
"You were so sophisticated! You dated a Senior when you were a Sophmore in High School! Do you how that looked to a seventh grader?" ZoŽ's eyes were wide. "And all those times you would debate with Dad on politics? Little did I know at the time, you two were having a full out fight, but at the time it didn't seem like anything. And then, when you were eighteen, and you went off to college and all, you just had this aura to you. I wanted....I wanted to go with you, to get inside your head 'cause you were so out there."
"ZoŽ," Ellie started, her voice on the edge.
"No, there's more." She paused. "Okay, so then I grew up some and listened to Liz more and became a bitch to you. Actually, I was probably a bitch to you a lot growing up, but look at the role models I had."
Bursting out laughing, Ellie wrapped her arms around her sister and kissed her cheek. Throwing her head back as she let go, Ellie brought her hands to her chest. "You, doll, are the best. You have made my day a little brighter."
Pleased, ZoŽ wondered, "Really?"
"Daddy?" she whispered from the doorway.
Looking up from papers, Jed motioned Ellie in with a wave of his hand. "Ah, Eleanor, I want to tell you the plans that I have..." he stopped at her fallen face. "What?"
"I'm leaving tonight Daddy."
"Why?" he asked, his voice hard.
"There are many things that I need to do in Baltimore. I have to study for a quiz on Monday, homework, which includes an incredibly long paper that's due soon and I haven't even started it, and I really need to collect my thoughts." Smiling, she told him, "A lot has happened over the last few days."
Clenching his fists, Jed mumbled, "We have much catching up to do."
Kissing his cheek, Ellie nodded in agreement. "That's true. But it'll take more than a weekend. And please don't tell me that you possibly thought that that in one weekend we would end up a big, happy family? 'Cause, that's not going to happen. It's going to take Mom, Liz and I a long time before we can walk into a room together without giving each other a glare. You and ZoŽ were the first of many steps of my feeling loved in this family." Kissing his cheek once more and hugging him tightly, she whispered, "I promise to call, write and visit as much as I possibly can." Before leaving, she slipped something in his palm.
With tears in his eyes, Jed Bartlet watched as his middle daughter walked out of his office and grab her bags.
Wiping away the tears hastily, he stared down at a envelope. Opening it, he read silently to himself,
I have seen that after the years of empty shouting that went nowhere, we have finally become a family of sorts again. We have made a bridge that will make our future one that is much brighter.
Your grandchildren, my children, ZoŽ's children and Annie, have a grandfather they can be proud of. (This does not mean that I or ZoŽ are pregnant, so don't think of killing Charlie, please.)
I want to apoligize to you and Mom for all the years that I have brought to you distance. I never meant for my relationship with the two of you to become so rocky and twisted. I hope that soon, Mom and I can become close.
Daddy, I love you and the rest of the family. Please, remember that.
With all my love, your daughter,
Eleanor Abigail Bartlet