Just Five Minutes to Myself
By: Annmarie Daneker
Disclaimer: These characters were created by someone else, which means they belong to someone else. I mean no disrespect; I just want to have some fun too! This is my first attempt at TWW fanfic. If I step on somebodyís toes, I sincerely apologize. Enjoy.
Iím not sure if initials really count as a word, and frankly, I donít care. C.J. is the only word going through my mind right now. That and the faint sound of gunshots coming from outside the Newseum. My brain doesnít have to think about that though...Iím not stupid, I know exactly whatís happening. The President of the United States is outside on the sidewalk, surrounded by his entourage, Secret Service personnel and various straphangers. And somebody is taking potshots at them, using them for target practice.
From where I am inside the building, the gunshots sound like firecrackers: more of a playful popping than the actual menace that they are. My body is moving towards the main doors as fast as my feet will move, but I am slowed by the other bodies also moving outside. The flood of reporters, Newseum workers and people who just finished a long chat with the President are all running outside to see what is happening.
I know that she is part of the Presidentís entourage. She always is, hovering somewhere near him, joined by Josh, Sam, Leo, Charlie and Toby. They are a tight-knit group, the Presidentís advisors. Where one goes, they all go. What happens to one, happens to them all, and this time is no different.
Iím closer to the doors now and the gunshots have ceased. How many rounds were fired? I donít know, I didnít count. The silence means that the Secret Service has either subdued the shooters or they have given up and fled the scene. I see dozens of people around, trying to make sense of the confusion and noise. People are shouting, vehicles with flashing blue and red lights are pulling up while others with flashing yellow lights are moving away. I can make out the Secret Service agents, in their distinguishing Navy blue jackets, trying to stuff people into the open doors of those vehicles. I am trying to remember what color suit C.J. has on and I canít. I donít remember any color or if it was a skirt or a pair of slacks or even a pair of overalls. I canít even remember what color her hair is. Is she a blonde, brunette, or a redhead? The name of her hair color escapes me. More vehicles stuffed with people pull away from the curb and for the first time since the shooting started there is a deafening silence on the street. Some people are crying, a few are moaning, but after the shots and the shouting, this is peaceful.
My eyes scan the pavement where the vehicles used to be parked, where Iím sure the President and his entourage were standing when the shooting started. I see a few bodies lying prostrate in the street, another three on the sidewalk. Blood is seeping from underneath them. My mind canít make out whether they are male or female and for a few moments my mind canít remember whether C.J. is a male or a female. Nothing is making sense right now. I know that I am the senior White House correspondent and I should be handling this better, but in the eight years Iíve been covering the White House, thereís never been an event quite like this. Iím not trained for this. I feel so helpless.
Weíve been in the car a full five minutes and yet not a one of us has moved. We are all in the same position that we landed in when the Secret Service shoved us into the Presidentís limousine. Arms and legs are all intertwined and the only thing that distinguishes one body from the next is the color of our suits. I look around to the drained, white faces of my friends and realize that, like me, they are in shock. The shock and fear on all of our faces keeps us quiet. Our inside group is known for the playful banter we share, the way we talk and play with one another. But not right now.
The Presidentís firm voice breaks our silence.
"I want everyone to look around and make sure that nobody is injured. Check the person next to you and across from you. Check!"
"Do it now!" the President barks and we all jump an inch or two, the first sign of movement since we entered the vehicle.
I look around to Sam, who is immediately to my right. His nose is bleeding but he knows this: Josh has already handed him a handkerchief. Sam looks back at me and tells me that my forehead is bleeding. I follow his gaze to my left temple where my fingers are already touching. I pull them back and they are smeared with blood.
I look back at the President, who is being examined by Toby and two of the Secret Service agents. I look back at Sam and then Josh, and they nod their heads at me. My gaze goes towards Leo, who is crammed against the window opposite me. He looks pale and frightened, but he nods his head that he wasnít hit or otherwise injured.
"Mr. President, I believe that everyone is okay."
He looks at me and nods his head and, like Sam, his gaze goes to my temple. I can feel the weight of the blood on my eyebrow now. The President reaches inside his suit jacket and pulls out a handkerchief. He hands it to me and I place it on my temple.
The car jerks around a corner and I yelp.
Although I had used my left hand to wipe my brow, I hadnít noticed the pain in my wrist until I bumped Joshís shoulder. The pain is sharp and bitter and jumps right up into my shoulder.
I donít know who asked the question. I would be willing to bet that they all did.
"Iím fine, everyone. I do believe that Sam tackled me and I landed on my wrist. Itís probably just bruised."
As I am talking I stretch my wrist out in front of me, using my right hand now to hold the handkerchief to my head. Itís badly scraped from wrist to elbow, but not bleeding. Itís sore, but I can still flex my fingers, which means itís not broken.
"Sorry, C.J. Iíve always had this fantasy of playing tackle for the Redskins."
His playful remark lightens the somber mood in the vehicle and suddenly everybody is talking at once, trying to piece together exactly what happened.
I can suddenly hear Tobyís voice above everyone elseís, directing a question at the President.
"Sir, where exactly are we going?" I realize that Toby is literally buried under the President and another Secret Service agent and cannot turn his head to see outside. Heís also almost lying on the floor so his view over my shoulder is of the dark night sky.
"I donít know. Andrew? Where are we going? And I want to know who was hit back there. And I want to know now!"
"Sir," the agent behind the wheel of the limousine said over his shoulder, "We are heading back to the White House since none of you seem seriously injured. I donít know who was or wasnít hit back there..."
"Andrew," the President interjected, "I am the President of the United States of America. I want to know who was hit and I want to know now. And I want to know where ZoŽ and Charlie are."
Up until that moment I hadnít noticed that Charlie wasnít in the human pile. Charlie, who never leaves the Presidentís side. And ZoŽ. ZoŽ isnít here either. For the first time I see true fear on the Presidentís face. Although he is mostly in shadows, I catch glimpses of his face when we pass under streetlights or another vehicle. His brows are deeply furrowed and his eyes are moist. I try to imagine the anguish and frustration of not being able to help your daughter, of total strangers shoving you inside a vehicle and taking you away from a scene that you want to desperately be a part of. I canít. I have no experience.
"Mr. President, the First Daughter and your Aide are in the vehicle directly behind us. Iím happy to report that they are shaken up but uninjured."
"And Gina?" the President asks, the same question that we are all thinking.
There is a moment of silence as Andrew turns a corner.
"Iím sorry, Mr. President."
Once again the silence falls over us. An agent, trained to take a bullet for another person, dies in the line of duty.
We are all in the Oval Office but still sitting as close together as we were in the limousine that brought us back to the White House, as if we are afraid to break that bond. Donna, Ginger, Carol, Bonnie, and Mrs. Landingham have joined us and they have mixed into the group, trying to offer help. Mandy and Joey have appeared from somewhere and are sitting on either side of Josh, rubbing his shoulders. ZoŽ and Charlie are here. The circle is complete, but we are all still in shock.
The Naval doctor and his staff assigned to the President are thoroughly checking each of us out, one at the time. My head wound is minor. In fact, itís not even bleeding anymore. My wrist is bruised, sprained, and now wrapped from the tips of my fingers to my elbow. The doctor informed me that my chances of playing professional ball are over.
I listen carefully as the doctor moves from person to person, mentally writing down the injuries. I hear one aide tell Leo that Mallory is on the White House grounds and another aide tells the President that the First Lady is already on a plane back from Alaska.
"Sir, I need to prepare something for the press."
Every head in the room swivels toward me, including the doctorís. For a moment they act like I just said the stupidest thing in the world. Of course they are all expecting me to hand the conference over to an assistant, and I have every right to, but I canít. The President of the United States of America asked about us...asked about our health and welfare, before inquiring about the life of his own daughter. If he can do that, I damn sure can gather my wits together and conduct a press conference to tell the world that we are, in fact, all right.
"Sir," I drop Leoís hand, stand up and move towards the President. "Itís been an hour since the shooting. The press, not to mention the world, is going to want to know something. Iím surprised they havenít mutinied already, demanding to know whatís going on."
I am now standing in front of the President. He looks tired but at the same time relieved.
"C.J., Iím sure that we can get someone else..."
"No, sir. The White House press corps deserves to hear this from me. Iím fine. Honestly, I am. Just a little shocked and sore like the rest of us. But Iíll be fine. I just need...I just want...I need..."
I donít know what I need, aside from the obvious notes and reports that the Secret Service is obviously putting together right now.
"What do you need, C.J.?"
"Just five minutes to myself."
I turn to leave and look over the room at the faces sitting here. Right now we are a select group of people. Tomorrow the nation and the world will be talking about the assassination attempt on the President, but they will unknowingly be including all of us in their conversation.
As I leave I wonder where Danny is. I know that he was at the Newseum, but I havenít seen him since we returned to the White House. For a moment I think that I should try his cell phone, but I canít remember the number. Before I can sit still long enough to think of the numbers, Carol is by my side, giving me the details she got from the Secret Service.
I canít believe how long it took me to get back to the White House. After the Secret Service cleared the area, I couldnít find my ride. I donít know what happened to Sheila, but she was gone and I had no idea where she had parked. She had dropped me off when we arrived and left to run another errand. In fact, she hadnít even returned until the moment the President had taken off his suit jacket.
Even though the halls are dim from the evening sky, the air is filled with an electrical jolt. I feel like my skin is on fire and my hair is standing on end. People usually walk around the White House at a quick pace, but tonight they are running. I had listened to the news on the cabís radio on the way over, but all they had said was that there had been a shooting at the Newseum during the Presidentís appearance but at the moment there was no word from the White House.
So that meant C.J. was either getting ready to brief the press, or that she couldnít.
As I round a corner I see the color of the hair that I had desperately tried to remember just one hour ago. Brunette. And the color of her suit, with pants, is blue. How could I have ever forgotten that she is a female? Sheís walking briskly in the direction of her office, a trail of assistants in her wake. Sheís giving them directions: who to call to find out who had been hit and what their status was; what information she wants on the gunmen; hospital reports of those that had been hit yet survived.
My voice is mucher higher than I wanted it to be, but thatís just a byproduct of the stress Iíve been feeling. Up until a moment ago, I didnít know if she was dead, alive or somewhere in-between.
"Danny, Iím a little busy right now, Iím preparing a briefing. Give me ten minutes..."
"No, I want to talk to you right now. In your office."
I donít wait for an answer. I plow right through the sea of men and women working in the area and head into her office, not even sure if she is following me or not.
And as soon as she closes the door she lays into me.
"Danny, who the hell..."
I cut her off by putting the palms of my hands on either side of her face, caressing her cheeks with my thumbs and pulling her towards me. She doesnít say anything as she steps into my arms and allows me to press my body against hers.
"Please...just let me hold you and know that you are okay."
She presses her forehead against mine and puts her hands on my wrists. I am puzzled by a strange texture and I realize that her wrist has been wrapped with a bandage. Then I look at her face and see for the first time that she has a small cut just above her left eye.
"Iím fine, Danny. Honestly. Just a small cut and a bruised wrist. Sam tackled me."
We share a deep hearty laugh that really isnít a sign of humor and draw each other into a full hug. Her hands are rubbing my back. I hear a sniffle.
"Iíve never been so frightened in all of my life."
"Me neither. All I kept thinking about was you. Were you hit? Were you hurt? Had the Service gotten you away?"
I lower my body weight to the floor, dragging her with me. The couch provides me a backrest as I sit cross-legged on the floor with C.J. cradled in my arms, her face buried into my chest, her legs draped over my knee.
"I have to give a press conference in 10 minutes."
"There isnít anyone else?"
"No. This has to come from me. If I donít say the words, then it isnít real to me."
For several minutes we sit in silence on her floor, her legs still stretched out over mine. The only movement is our breathing.
There is a brisk knock at the door and before either of us can move, Leo McGarry is standing inside the office. He looks down at the two of us but there is no expression on his face. C.J. tilts her head up to look at him. There is a silence between the two of them, a silence filled with tens of volumes of words. Leo is trying to make her assign the press conference to someone else while C.J. is fighting to make sure that nobody takes the podium but her.
Of course C.J. wins. Leo backs down without one even one word being spoken between the two of them.
"Get cleaned up, C.J. The briefing is in 5 minutes."
"Danny," Leo acknowledges my presence with a slight nod.
"Leo. Good to see you."
He leaves and we are alone again. C.J. leans back and looks at me. I run my fingers through her hair and some dust and small stones fall onto her shoulder.
"I need to get cleaned up."
The press corps is unusually quiet, considering the background noise that could literally wake the dead. Every seat in the briefing room is taken and more correspondents are standing all around, getting in the way of the camera operators and causing more confusion. Since I am the senior correspondent, I tell those in the way to move around, that the cameras take precedence over everybody else. Around me a hush fills the room and I realize that C.J. has stepped into the room.
Her hair has been brushed and she has fixed her make-up, but she still has the same clothes on. Someone has brushed the dust and dirt off of her jacket.
She makes her way through the crowd and steps out onto the podium. The entire rooms breaks into a round of applause. C.J. looks shocked for a moment, then smiles in that way that she does that melts the hearts of even the most cynical journalists.
"Good evening everybody. Please
let me start out by saying that this is, without a doubt, the most difficult
press conference that I have ever had to give.
You all, and the rest of the world, are waiting to hear about the
President, the leader of this country, someone who is a virtual stranger to you.
I am up here talking about my friends.
Those gunmen were shooting at my friends, people that I care for very
deeply. So please forgive me if I
get a little emotional."
The group claps again and again C.J. smiles.
"Tonight, at approximately 10:30 p.m. Eastern time, two gunmen
opened fired on the President of the United States..."
As C.J. speaks I watch her intently, trying to catch a slip or a gaff. I know there wonít be one because she is, of course, the most professional of professionals. Sheís calm and sheís cool and she will pull this off without a hitch. Her bandaged wrist doesnít even get in the way as she shuffles the note cards she holds in her hands. As her words are spoken, Iím grateful that I have a recorder going, because Iím not listening to a word she is saying. My editor has already called me four times, trying to get information and sheís still not going to get anything out of me. Iíll just have to play the tape over the phone for her.
Iím still watching C.J. and ponder what I feel for her. Itís not any one thing that I love about her; itís a combination of many things. The way she carries herself without slouching, as tall women tend to do. Her warm alto voice and the soft laugh that comes straight from her belly and rings for hours in the ears of those who are lucky enough to hear it. Her strength. The rest of the Presidentís entourage can hide from the world right now and let their emotions come under control before they have to face anybody. But here is C.J., just one hour after being shot at, telling the world that the President is fine, that two Secret Service agents are dead, six more are wounded, and that five civilians were also injured.
And right now the entire country, and possibly the world, is tuned into her, listening to her and seeing how brave and strong she is. Theyíre seeing what I see every day. Probably most of them wonít even remember C.J. by tomorrow morning, but they will never forget the words that sheís saying, never forget why it was they actually took the time to watch a White House press conference.
"...at this moment two of the agents are undergoing surgery at Johns
Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore. As
soon as I get an update I will pass it on to you..."
C.J. is going to be just fine.