C.J. woke up the next morning fully determined to hand in her resignation. The events of the previous day had been awful, truly awful. She had received numerous pointed questions both in the press room and in the West Wing. Between that and the news cycle of the day her nerves had been at their breaking point.
And worst of all, Josh had known it. The sad looks. The sighs. It was nearly more than she could bear.
It was almost a challenge, she told herself. He wouldn't, couldn't do it directly, so he'd try to spur her to stay by the indirect method. She had to admit, as she rolled out of bed, that it was effective. Josh was such a bulldog that the indirect approach was something of a novelty to him.
And again, worst of all, he knew it.
She took her shower and dressed mechanically, preparing for her last day. She swore to herself. This would be it.
The traffic, strangely enough, was a breeze. She found herself flying up Dupont. Parking in the White House lot, she marveled that at least one thing was going right for her.
Once in the White House, she headed straight for her office. "Package for you, C.J." Carol idly walked in and laid a large box on her surprised boss's desk.
"What the hell?" C.J. said to herself. Slowly she opened the flaps, and lifted out the cargo: an ornate statue of a familiar-looking cat with a note attached. Opening the note, she read:
C.J. smiled to herself a little sadly. She'd miss Donna. Resolving to go round and thank the woman, she set the little cat on her desk and set about opening her mail.
It took some time but eventually she'd worked through the entire pile of reports on her desk. It was only then that it hit her: no one had bothered her during the entire few hours she'd been working.
She had to investigate. This was about as rare as anything could be. But when she poked her head out the door, the WestWing was just as hurried as usual. Assistants ran down the hall, the buzz of phones was constant and Toby stood in the middle of it all, yelling at everyone.
She approached him. "Toby, what's going on?"
"Oh, hi, C.J." Toby only half noticed her. "Can't talk, gotta get to the meeting with Seth Gillette."
To say C.J. was surprised would have been an understatement. "What!"
Toby looked at her as though she were stupid. "I said, I have to get to the meeting with Gillette."
"Are you out of your mind?" C.J. demanded. "Gillette hates you. He's a monumental pain in the ass out to make trouble even for his own party! Remember what happened last time? He called you a patronizing son of a bitch to your face! Besides," she added as a sort of anti-climax, "I'm supposed to be meeting with him." It wasn't like she was looking forward to it: quite the reverse. She just didn't quite understand why the hell Toby was volunteering to be shouted at.
Toby's face remained impassive. "I said, I have to get to the meeting." He strode off, leaving Bonnie and Ginger staring after him with armfuls of work.
C.J. did the same, shaking her head in wonderment. "Whatever." She turned back down the hall, only to run headlong into Sam. "Oh, sorry!"
"No problem." Sam adjusted his glasses. "Oh, I almost forgot. I have something for you." He gestured to a garment bag lying on a nearby desk.
"Okay." C.J. opened the bag and recoiled, quite thoroughly astonished. "Sam," she said, trying to keep her eyes in her head, "what the hell *is* it?"
"Oh, nothing." Sam couldn't keep the grin off his face as C.J. lifted the ice-blue Versace dress out of the garment bag. "Has Mark Gottfried called you, by any chance?"
"No, he hasn't." C.J. answered. But just as she was about to elaborate, the phone rang.
Sam did nothing as she answered the phone; just stood there smiling quietly. "Mark. Hello." A pause. A bitter-sounding, "No, I didn't have any plans to attend the press luncheon." Another pause. "Well it'd be better if you accompanied me, yes. Oh!" C.J.'s face turned to a pleased smile. "You enjoyed my speech. Thank you. Well, I'm glad somebody did." She turned to Sam as if to ask, 'are you hearing this?' "Mark, I have to ask: did you send me this dress?" Sam watched as C.J. laughed ruefully. "No, Mark, it's no one else. Just... a friend." C.J. caught Sam's eye. "Eight o'clock tomorrow, then. Goodbye."
C.J. hung up the phone and turned back to Sam. The two just held gazes for a while until Sam finally spoke. "C.J., have fun tonight."
She nodded. Sam turned to walk back down the hall, but was stilled by her voice. "Sam."
C.J. crossed the room in quick strides and folded him into a tight hug. "Thank you for the dress. It's gorgeous."
"No problem." Sam grinned. "Tell Mark if he messes with you I'll sic Josh on him." He walked away, calling over his shoulder, "No one messes with the White House's number one girl."
"All right." C.J. walked back down to her office, lost in thought. 'The White House's number one girl.' Was that who she really was? And if she was why did they keep screwing with her?
She resolved to at least reconsider her decision as she unlocked her office door. The day had helped. She did feel better.
Opening her door, she walked into her office and was about to sit down when she saw it: a folded sheet of white paper was on her desk blotter. Wondering, C.J. opened it and glimpsed a single sentence:
Come to my office. J
C.J. looked around at her cluttered office, down at the note, and shrugged. What the hell. She'd see what he wanted.
Donna wasn't around when she arrived down in the communications bullpen, and C.J. was sorry. She'd have liked to say thank you for the Bast statue, and wondered what was going on. Knocking on the door, she called, "Josh?" A pause. "Josh, it's me, C.J."
There was no answer, but the door was open just a crack. Thinking he might be asleep, C.J. opened the door slowly and gasped at what she saw.
Josh reclined on the edge of the desk, resplendent in white tie and tails. In his hand he grasped a bouquet of perfect roses. When he saw her he smiled gently. "The idea was to wear the dress, you know."
C.J. smiled in return, though she was a bit nervous who was this man and what had he done with Josh? "You should have told me that."
"Well, maybe you'll change later." Josh wasn't smiling, though his words were light. He moved to her and handed her the flowers. "Here, C.J. I know these won't make up for the past, but it's a start."
C.J. took the bouquet. "This is an apology?"
"From everyone." Josh smiled ever so softly. "It was my idea but everyone jumped on board. The statue, the meeting, the dress everything."
Dumbfounded, C.J. could only ask, "Why?"
Josh beamed, a smile that had very little of his usual swagger in it. But as soon as he spoke C.J. knew why. "Because, C.J. I finally figured out why you should stay, and why we should beg you to stay."
"Why's that?" C.J. asked warily. Now she wasn't sure just *what* to do.
"Because if you're gone, we can't function." Josh's tone did more talking than his choice of words. "We're going in a circle. We don't have anyone to guide us. We're all talk and no substance. You might not know everything all the time, but it's only because you don't need to know. But we're sorry for the credibility questions you're getting."
This was unlike anything C.J. had ever heard from Josh before. He was passionate, but never like this. "Josh," she began.
He cut her off. "No. I'm sorry, C.J., but let me finish." Josh took a deep breath, and his final statement came out in a rush. "The reason you need to stay is that we need you. You're important. You're imperative. And I can't live without you." He sucked in his breath sharply after the last sentence, as if C.J. would ignore what he had said.
She didn't. In a voice hard with a questioning tone, C.J. repeated. " *I* can't live without you?" Her eyes filled with tears. *I,* not *we?* Could this really be happening? "Josh..."
He stared at the floor a moment, then his eyes came snapping back up. "No, dammit," he said to the room at large, "I'm not gonna screw this up." And before C.J. could react, he took her in his arms, bent her body backwards, and kissed her with a ferocity that made her brain dance a mad Colombian tango.
When he finally let her go, C.J. had to search for her voice. "Josh, are you saying..."
"Yes." He grinned, swagger returned. "I'm saying, that in addition to all the professional reasons I described... well, dammit, C.J., I love you."
It was real. She was needed. Desired. And loved.
"But the press is mine."
"I mean revenge, here."
"I need to get my credibility back."
"You'll have all my assist-ive powers." Josh blinked. "If that's a word."
"Who cares?" C.J. kissed him one more time. Later they would agree to take it slow and tell only who they had to, but at that moment there were more pressing concerns on her mind.
Josh backed away from the kiss. "You got any more work to do?"
"Not at the moment."
Josh smiled that secret grin; he knew something she didn't. "Well, what are you waiting for?" he said. "Go get your Versace."
C.J. smiled. "Okay."
She left the room considerably more fulfilled.