"On the Darkening Green" A Challenge Response
Adrienne said the story must be:
1) A NON romantic unusual pairing of two of the staff
2) Office gossip about said unusual pairing
3) A pair of tweezers
4) a special appearance by the First Lady.
Okey Dokey. Here's my story.
"On the Darkening Green"
Night time shadows had overtaken the day time ones in the hallways and the office spaces. It had been a subtle change. Those areas behind corners and under tables taking on a darker hue, the shade of carpet just that much more rich. Only under the harsh fluorescent lights in the bull pen did those shadows disappear, a severe barrier between the soft recessed lighting in the hallway and the illumination provided by the floor and desk lamps in a number of the offices.
Toby Zeigler preferred the night time quiet. Without the frenzy of staffers running to and from every direction, the West Wing seemed more the perceived center of controlled governmental policies rather than the rat race he was generally accustomed. He leaned back in his chair, with one leg propped on the corner of his desk and a coffee mug full of recently sharpened pencils seated on his thigh. Rubbing the bridge of his nose with the eraser of one of those pencils, he contemplated his next target.
Holding the pencil by its sharpened end, he lined up his target with the indentation of Ticonderoga #2 and with a sharp snap of his wrist let the projectile fly. The sound of pencil lead slicing through index card and half-inch poster board and was a satisfying one, but he didn't like the choice Fate had given him.
He chose another pencil. Best two out of three.
Taking aim once again, he was about to let fly when he spotted someone rummaging through Ginger's desk, right thumb held firmly in mouth as she moved from one drawer to the next. Toby sat forward, carefully placing his carafe of ammunition on the corner of his desk, and stood. Maneuvering around his desk, he avoided the litter of pencils that had bounced off his couch and had landed every which way on the floor. He leaned against the door jamb and watched with some amusement as the normally implacable Donna Moss desperately hunted for whatever she was looking for in his assistant's space.
He cleared his throat to announce his presence.
Donna turned in her chair, eyes wide. Pulling her thumb out of her mouth, she sat on her hand. "Toby."
"What are you doing here?"
"I work here. This is my area. Your area," he indicated, pointing into the ether-regions beyond his bull pen, "is that way."
"I was looking for some tweezers. I know Ginger has a pair somewhere."
Toby stepped forward into the bull pen, eyes slowly taking in the lack of people in the West Wing at that moment. "Why do you need tweezers?"
"I've got a sliver in my thumb." She half-waved the offending digit in the air. "Josh dropped,-- well, no, actually he threw a coffee mug this morning after his meeting with the Deputy Majority Whip. I was trying to pick the shards out of his trash can. I didn't think the cleaning crew would appreciate finding sharps in the recycling bin; at least, for the two months I worked in one of the biology labs in college we were told not to throw sharps out with the recycling."
"Donna, your diatribe ceased to have any meaning for me just after you said 'thumb.'"
"All right then. I'm just going to..." Donna waved her hand at the desk drawer she had been searching.
She looked up. Toby indicated with his finger that she should follow him into his office and plant herself on the couch.
"I don't need help."
"The sliver is in your right hand, correct?"
"And you are right handed, correct?"
Donna nodded at his logic. Standing up, she reluctantly followed him into his office.
"Watch your step," he warned, headed for his desk.
"Toby, why are there pencils all over your office?"
"I was working. Process of elimination." He straightened, a small first aid kit now in his hand.
Donna noted the numerous punctures in the poster board. Broad lead colored smears painted part of the white foam and glossy paper covering it. Some of the index cards that had been taped to the board were barely legible. "Why not get a dart board?"
"Somehow I don't think the Secret Service would allow me to have any sort of pointed object within 100 yards of the President after he has mangled one of my finely honed speeches." Toby grabbed the floor lamp and brought it closer to the couch.
"And they let you have this many sharpened pencils in here?"
"They don't stay sharp for long."
"What's written on the index cards?"
"Projects I don't want to do. Give me your hand."
"Do I want to know why you have a first aid kit in here?"
"Have you met the people we work with?"
"This may hurt a bit."
Margaret hunched conspiratorily over the edge of Mrs. Landingham's desk. "I'm telling you, that's what I saw."
With practiced patience, Mrs. Landingham leaned on one arm, head held up with her hand. "I'm sure that's what you saw with your eyes. It's the conclusions you're coming to that I'm having a problem with."
"Well, what else could it be? Toby was holding her hand. Donna had tears in her eyes."
"Margaret, stop looking for office conspiracies. Besides, I happen to know --"
Abbey Bartlet breezed through the door that connected the Oval Office to Mrs. Landingham's center of operations.
"Good evening, Mrs. Bartlet."
"Good evening, Mrs. Landingham, Margaret. Do I hear another addition to the office rumor mill being discussed out here? The East Wing doesn't have nearly enough juicy gossip. Do spill."
"Margaret seems to think that the latest office romance involves the Communications Director and the Deputy Deputy Chief of Staff."
"Toby and Donna?!? Now there's a pair I never thought of. No, no, no, no. This just will not do. My office's betting pool won't tolerate another off the wall pairing. I'm going to go put a stop to this one."
Abbey left the two women with stunned expressions and headed for the Communication Director's office.
By the time she arrived, there was no sign of Donna. Toby was seated once again behind his desk. A legal pad was propped on his knee, his leg was resting on the corner of the desk. She spotted the first aid kit on the couch. That at least explained what Margaret saw as she passed in the hallway.
"Practicing medicine without a license again, Toby?"
"Call me that again and you may want to use that kit on yourself. Someone have a boo-boo?"
"You could say that. Have a seat."
She brushed many of the pencils that were still lying on the couch to the floor. "What are you trying to do here? Set up a man trap with pencils and rubber bands rather than a sapling and spikes?"
"I stuffed the body in Sam's office. You may not want to go in there."
Abbey crossed her legs and leaned back for the long haul. It had been a long time since she had a chance to talk with any of the people that helped to get her husband elected.
"How have you been doing, Toby? We don't talk anymore."
"I'm polishing the State of the Union Address."
Abbey noted the blank page in front of him. "I see that you're getting a lot accomplished."
"I've had a lot on my mind."
"Anyone I know?"
"Don't go there, Abbey."
She pouted. "You're no fun."
"What are you doing here?"
"Squashing rumors." She idly picked up the makeshift dart board and stared at its near destruction with distaste.
Toby twirled the pencil in his hand like a miniature baton. "I'm in the rumor mill?"
"You're always in the rumor mill. But I don't see any horns or pitchforks and you do seem to be casting a reflection, so I think many of them can now be eliminated."
"You heard about the drop-in."
"How could I not? Most people agree with you, but not your method of madness."
He shrugged his shoulders. "Doesn't matter."
"Of course it matters. Toby, if no one else has told you, your motives are admirable."
"Admirable will not buy me the shirt on my back."
"You're not in danger of losing your job. You've been here for two years, you're about to start your third; you haven't let that fact sink through your thick skull yet?"
"Old habits die hard."
"Tell your habits to get on the next train to Georgia."
"I did. They've returned by cab, demanded I pay the fair, and are freeloading on my couch."
"Then start charging rent. Maybe that will scare them off. Your angels will win if you give them a chance."
"My angels aren't used to backing a winning team."
"So you admit you're part of a winning team."
"I admit nothing."
"You live to go against the grain. This office sees the glass as half full while you alone see it as half empty. Doesn't it tire you, swimming against the current?"
"Someone has to."
"I doesn't always have to be you."
"Yes, it does."
"Toby, you are a singular character. Do you realize that your colleagues have taken it upon themselves to burn the image of Ann Stark in effigy?"
Toby raised an eyebrow in response.
Abbey amended, "Well, not really. Someone found an old Operation game, I don't know how and I don't know where. You are familiar with the game, right?" At Toby's nod, she continued. "CJ got a picture of that woman for Josh and Sam to place over the face. They are currently going head to head to see who can get the most pieces out. And I think they've made it into some sort drinking game. Miss and you chug a beer? I think CJ will soon regret letting them use her office for this little foray into frivolity."
"The batteries have to run down by some point."
"I don't think that's going to stop them." Abbey laughed softly. "Maybe it's a metaphor. Don't work too late, Toby."
With that, she left his office.