FRIDAY

by JoLayne

EnyaJo@aol.com

 

RATING: G

CHARACTERS: Every single one of them in the show, and a few we've yet to meet, except Mandy. Can't think of anything to say about Mandy.

SUMMARY: Friday becomes an interesting day for all in the West Wing.

NOTE: This is my first foray into the world of West Wing fanfic, I hope I got everyone right. I'm optimistic, to some degree. The assassination attempt of the season finale is over, everyone's fine, except one. Leo's still laid up from a gunshot wound that grazed his collarbone.

DISCLAIMER: This is only for fun, all the characters belong to the brilliant Aaron Sorkin, not me, except the few he either hasn't introduced us to yet, or the ones I made up to tell the story.

 


 

WEDNESDAY

ZOEY'S DORM ROOM

The aftermath of the assassination attempt at the Newseum weighed heavily on both Zoey and Charlie, but for different reasons. Zoey had begun to close herself off, and Charlie was taking it personally. He finally decided to go unannounced to her dorm and confront her with why she was acting so different. Still standing by the door, she just looked at him, his lower arm still in a sling from when Gina forced him to the ground during the chaos, breaking it. "Are you serious?"

"I've never been more so, Zoey. What is your problem?"

Zoey incredulously asked, "My problem?" The slight, tight smile on her face told Charlie he was probably out of line, had done too much thinking about what he was going to say and how he was going to say it on the way over to her place. It all was coming out too fast, too gruff.

"Ever since the attempt on your father," he started again, trying to remember the perfect way the words flowed out of his mind as he waited for the light to change.

But Zoey interrupted him, "That wasn't an attempt on Dad, Charlie. That was an attempt to kill you. And me. And everyone else. It was because of us."

"You can't believe that. Do you?" Charlie's shoulders sunk, had to drop to her bed as if the rug had been pulled out from under his feet. It was finally spoken. The words had come out of her mouth. He was the reason all of them were in danger. That Leo was still on sick leave. That someone could have died. It was because two young people went on some dates and decided they liked each other, and someone couldn't see the normalcy of it.

Zoey wanted to take the words back, "I'm sorry, Charlie. You could have been killed. Leo... it's too dangerous for anyone to be around me. And I have nothing to do with it! Is it my fault my dad's president? That whatever I do or say is news? I never wanted that!" When she calmed herself, she moaned, "I don't want you to get hurt."

That seemed to clear the dread from Charlie's mind. She wasn't blaming him. But, she was blaming herself for something that wasn't at all her fault. He walked to her, "Zoey. The only thing that hurts is that you're not answering my phone calls, that you won't see me. Those were raving lunatics that shot those guns... They don't know us. They don't care about us. They only wanted to make their views heard. And if that is the only reason you shut me out of your life, they've won."

"Charlie," Zoey sighed as she wrapped her arms around him and held on tight. "I just don't want to be responsible if anything else bad happens." The talk with her father about her being kidnaped came to mind. He scared the shit out of her. She tried to be strong around her father, her family, his father's staff, some classmates, but she wasn't strong enough to deny her love for Charlie. She thought it would be easier to let him go if she didn't see him. Out of sight, out of mind. But it wasn't working. She did nothing but think of him, worry about him.

When her hand lingered on his cast, he pulled her head up for a kiss, that she gratefully returned. "Let's shut out the world, Zoey. It's just us. Nothing else matters."

She hugged him tight again, and softly disagreed, "Everything matters, Charlie. That's one thing my parents taught me. There are consequences for everything we do."

"What could be the consequence of eating my aunt's cooking?"

She looked up at him. "Huh?"

"That's mostly why I came over tonight," Charlie said. "My aunt and little sister really want to meet you and she's going to cook Friday night. I figured if I called to invite you, you'd just tell me you were busy and hang up like always."

Zoey lowered her head, ashamed for how she'd treated him since he got that cast on his arm. "I have been a little busy."

"Sure," he smiled, knowing she was just protecting him by staying away. He didn't like it, but her motives made him feel good. "Will you agree to come? I've told them all about you..." his smile took on a cocky glow. "And they still want to meet you for some reason."

Zoey smiled, knew he was joking, but said, "There's a dinner of some sort at Dad's on Friday night that I should probably be at."

Charlie knew about the CEO of Imperial Oil Company coming for the weekend, and waited for an invite from her. He'd already received one from President Bartlet. Charlie remembered the talk with the President, who also told him that he'd probably have more fun picking lint from his belly button than eating a meal with that blowhard guest. He even suggested that he take Zoey to a movie or something so she wouldn't be bored to tears with him and his wife.

Charlie waited. Zoey hadn't said a word or moved a muscle since she once again, as if by reflex, shut down a suggestion of his to do something together. He asked, "Do you really want to have dinner with those old folks instead of my little sister?"

"No," she said. Then looked up at him and smiled. "I'd love to meet your sister and aunt."

 

WHITE HOUSE RESIDENCE

Jed entered the bedroom as Abby was just stepping into a periwinkle blue silk ball gown and held it up to her shoulders, inspecting herself in the full length mirror in the corner. When she spotted him in the mirror, she asked, "Care to zip me up?"

Jed smiled as he walked to her, instead of zipping her, wrapped his arms around her waist. She giggled, "Careful, you'll wrinkle the dress."

Instead of heading her advice, he kissed her neck. "Did I forget something?"

"Probably," she smiled, caressing his head as she looked at the two of them in the mirror. "Be more specific."

"Why are you wearing this dress for a quiet evening in? I know we haven't had many since I took office, but casual wear would be fine with me."

"I'm going to wear this on Friday night, so I wanted to see if it still fits," she moved him, so she could straighten it. "Zip it, please?"

"You look incredible. I'll only be unzipping it in a matter of minutes."

Abby smiled, "Well, twice the fun. I bought it for one of your five inaugural parties, but didn't have time to change before we made our appearance at the last one. So, I've never worn it."

Jed zipped up the dress and tucked in the designer label. "How much was it?"

"Jed," Abby said. "When I say 'bought', it means someone gave it to me. It sounds better."

"Well, that's one of the perks. I have free ties I've never even looked at yet."

As she smoothed out the sleeves, Abby remarked, "I forgot who even made it. I'll have to know to tell CJ so the world can know."

"It's just a quiet dinner party on Friday."

"Since when is anything private in this house?"

"True."

"Now you can unzip me."

"Now you're talking." Jed smiled and took his time as he pulled the zipper back down to Abbey's waist.

Abbey spun around in his arms and said, "Before we start anything, there's been something on my mind."

"There's always something on your mind, my dear," Jed kissed her neck. "That's why you turn me on."

"Jed," Abby seriously asked, making Jed stop unzipping in mid-stream. "They aren't coming just because he made a humongous donation to the Democratic party, are they? That's the rumor."

"It's a rumor. It has nothing to do with the truth."

"Why are they staying the weekend?"

"They're old friends."

With that, Abbey laughed as if she just heard the best joke in the world. "I don't think a guy you knew one semester in college, and called him names by the way, could be classified as a friend."

"I called everyone names," Jed smiled to himself as he released his wife from the dress.

Abbey stepped out of it and put on her robe as Jed happily watched. "You know the mingling period, when everyone stands around like a bunch of idiots before dinner?"

"Yeah?"

"What sort of music should we have playing? The Beatles? I don't like it when the people who control the music try to be hip. Backwood Boys, Those Synchronicity Kids, I don't like it. Gimme the Stones!" Jed started strutting around the bedroom, singing, "I Can't Get No... Satisfaction... I can't get me no..."

"Jed?" Abbey stared at him in his nostalgic frolic, "If there's one person on this planet who's been satisfied, it is you, my dear."

The President of the United States had to concede, "That's true."

 

CHIEF OF STAFF BULLPEN

Josh sauntered with the extra swagger that being named Acting Chief of Staff in Leo's absence added to his gait as he made his way from Leo's office, looking for Donna. The place had started to clear out after the regular office hours and Josh wondered if Donna had called it a day too, but hadn't told him. That was odd. She always made sure he knew where she was every moment of the day. She'd been especially doteful since he gained the extra workload.

He dropped some files on her desk for her to refile and paused. Margaret's earlier phone call replayed in his head. She was at Leo's for her daily briefing to keep him up to date on everything and he stated, categorically, that he would be in the next morning. Josh would have to make the phone call to Leo himself to tell him everything's fine, that he should just rest and think only about himself. But then, why would Leo listen to him? He didn't heed those exact same words from the President.

Josh got to his office and felt his stomach rumble. It was only then that he remembered he hadn't eaten since a power bar he chewed down after rolling out of bed that morning. Along with his regular duties, he had extra meetings with POTUS, the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the National Security Advisor and gave an interview to Newsweek. After the full day, Josh actually couldn't tell his ass from a hole in the ground. He needed to eat something, and see some friends.

He plunked himself down at his desk and called Chung's Delivery. As soon as the words, "Sweet and Sour Chicken" left his mouth, CJ piped up from her office, "Get me some Egg Foo Young!"

Josh held the phone to his chest and yelled back, "Anything else?!"

"No, thank you!"

"How about for Carol?!"

"She left already!"

Josh told the woman on the other end of the phone, "Egg Foo Young, too." That's when he remembered where Donna was, at a meeting of the West Wing Assistants. Josh just hoped they didn't decide to turn union or want to strike or make waves on his watch. After the assassination attempt, there have been longer hours in the day, stress in the workplace for all of them, but it seemed that it was starting to calm down. He'd better be nice. He added, "And you'd better add a couple of orders of General Chow Chicken... and some..." He knew Donna and Cathy liked the Chicken, but what did Sam like? He couldn't remember. "Some... Lo mein... Veggie Lo Mein. I'll call down to security that you're coming and hopefully this time, our food won't be searched."

Josh hung up and remembered having to pitch his last order from Chung's. A new, over-zealous security guard fingered through his Beef and Broccoli. What he was looking for was anyone's guess. Josh was hungry and didn't want to have to go through that again. Although, he was hungry enough, he would eat anything, no matter if it had been man-handled.

He stepped to his and CJ's connecting door, "Carol didn't go to the assistant's meeting?"

CJ continued typing her notes for the next morning's press briefing and didn't stop to answer, "No. She has a baby shower tonight."

"They're not going to... do anything weird, are they?"

"At the baby shower?"

"No, at the meeting."

"I don't know. I wasn't invited to it. I wasn't invited to the baby shower, either. I never get to go anywhere. Did you ask for extra fortune cookies?"

"No. Can you do that?"

CJ stopped typing and spun her head around at Josh leaning against the door, "Why can't you?"

"We shouldn't do anything that could be considered extra treatment just because we work in the White House."

"So they charge extra," CJ shrugged. "What's the big deal?"

"I don't like fortune cookies."

CJ was going to finish typing her thought, but stared at him, "How can you not like fortune cookies?"

Josh quickly said, "I see, you're the type who always gets the "Fortune will smile on you tomorrow", or "You will meet a dark, handsome stranger", or "You're going to fall ass-backwards into money" type fortune cookies. I'm not one of the charmed few. I always get, "If you work hard, things will come to you", "What you reap today, tomorrow you will sow" type stuff. I know that already, I don't need reminding that I need to work for a living. And I don't like sowing."

After that monologue, CJ sat back in her chair and scrutinized the Acting Chief of Staff. "Are things going okay?"

"Yeah. Why do you ask?"

"Nothing," she said as she noticed the "new mail" icon blinking on her monitor. "I talked to Leo today. It sounds like he's healing up. He had that curmudgeon-type quality in his voice that we're all so fond of."

"He's been in a lot of pain."

"Really? He didn't confide that in me. He's still hurting?"

"Margaret told me. And Mallory told Sam."

"I guess I'm out of that loop." She hiked herself back up to her computer.

"CJ, you're not out of any loops."

"If you say so. Call me when the food comes, I'm starving."

"Will do." Josh walked out to the bullpen and looked over Donna's desk for any indication of what the meeting could have been about, and found nothing. Donna was a good assistant and kept things private. That could really get irritating. Josh had to face the fact that he was the one who had to go down to make sure the food wouldn't be sent through scanners and metal detection and personal inspection again.

CJ checked her new mail and didn't recognize the address, with a subject of "Long Time No See". Deciding within seconds that it couldn't be one of the latest viruses, she opened it and about fell over. It was from Robert Forrester, asking if she was okay after the assassination attempt.

Back in college, Robert showed signs that he would grow into the tall, dark, handsome, rich doctor that she heard he did became. After she got the position of White House Press Secretary, he left a message on her home answering machine of congratulations. She returned the call, only to get his 'Japanese Secretary', his Panasonic answering machine, thanking him for the congratulations. As much as she wanted him to return her call, he never did.

They had only one date in college. That evening they went to the football game, had some food, a little heavy petting, and then Robert married his high school sweetheart one month later. According to the email, he had divorced the year before and would like to get together with her. CJ sat back in her chair. Her mind was a whirl remembering just how good looking and charismatic he was, and how lousy her love life had been the last 10 years.

After re-reading the email for the fifth time, she decided that his intentions were just what she wanted his intentions to be and hit the reply button. And then stared at the blinking cursor on the 'Reply Mail' screen. For a woman who's career was finding the right words to express the President's thoughts and wishes to a ferocious press corp that would be beamed and reported to the world, a surprising thing happened. No words came to her. They were all elementary, silly. They were the quality of 'check this box if you're interested in calling me for a date'.

She needed to get a grip. CJ looked around her office at the mementos of her time at the White House, photos of her and Presidents, actors, movers and shakers in the world today. One little old doctor shouldn't make her feel like an idiot. She shook hands with Nelson Mandela, for God's sake! CJ thought about scanning the photo and sending that, just as an introduction to who she had become since college.

Instead, she typed out, "Thanks for the words of concern. We're all fine. I would love to meet and catch up with old times." Short and sweet. No way there could be anything embarrassing in there.

CJ pressed send.

Then she wondered if she should have used the word 'love'. Damn! Why didn't she just say, 'Let's catch up with old times'? 'Call me and we'll arrange dinner'? Why did she use 'love'? She should have sat on the email for a while and call him later that evening. When it came to her personal life, she was never good on her feet, off the top of her head.

"Oh well, it's done," CJ moaned. Josh wasn't in his office, so she wandered the halls to find someone to confide in.

 

WHITE HOUSE RESIDENCE

Abbey and Jed were having a quiet meal in. The White House Chef was fabulous and could whip up any gourmet meal they desired, but that evening, they wanted tacos. They hadn't eaten tacos since Zoey was 12 and demanded them for her birthday dinner. So, they had a cart brought into their bedroom for a nice, private night with no excess baggage of what Jed's position usually required.

Abbey asked, "Have you talked to Leo today?"

"Of course I have."

"How is he?"

Jed shrugged, "Fine, by the way he tells it."

"I'm not so sure," Abbey softly disagreed. "I had lunch with Jenny this afternoon."

"How are things on that end?"

"What do you mean, 'Things on that end'? What things and what end? Quit talking to me like I'm an advisor," she ordered as if asking for an IV drip, STAT.

Jed's eye twinkled as he cooed, "You are one of my dearest advisors, Abbey."

Abbey laughed, "I'd better be the most dearest, dear."

"What did Jenny say?"

"They're making headway."

"Making headway?"

"I figured you're more comfortable with that lingo." Jed smiled at her, and took her hand. She continued, "They've had some nice dinners and Leo's letting her take care of him." Abbey pulled her hand back and darkened, "Jenny almost lost him for good."

"Maybe she shouldn't have left him," Jed tossed out. He wasn't going to get into the close call they all had, that Leo was close to death, they had to move past it. The way Leo and Jenny broke up still grated on him.

"Jed," Abbey warned. "That's between them. All we can be is supportive."

"You know, it's because of me that she left him in the first place."

"That's true."

Jed bolted out of his chair, "What?!"

"I'm agreeing with you. That's what's called being a 'yes-man', right?" She crunched down on the start of another taco.

"I said that so you wouldn't agree with me."

"If you hadn't won the White House, Leo and Jenny might not have separated."

Jed wiped his mouth with his napkin and tossed it on the table. "Leo wouldn't have been shot in the neck if I hadn't won the White House."

"Jed," Abbey warned. "We have to be thankful that everyone is all right."

Jed nodded and paced. That was exactly what he thought, but that fact was too close to the surface and couldn't be quenched, no matter how hard he tried. Abbey added, "Leo's going to be fine. You can't take responsibility for his shooting."

"But I can for the breakdown of his marriage," he loudly accused his wife.

"No, I'm sorry I brought it up." Abbey suddenly didn't want to finish her food and looked at her wound-up husband, still pacing. "It was Leo and Jenny that broke up Leo and Jenny. He's a diligent worker and the best Chief of Staff this White House has probably ever seen. That's what broke up his marriage. You've been preoccupied, you ran for President, there were times I didn't see you for weeks at a time, I went to bed alone. I still do. But I'm still here. Leo came to you for the run for this office, you didn't go to him. He made his bed, and Jenny didn't want to sleep in it. I just hope they can find their way back to each other."

"I wonder if he'll be able to come to the dinner on Friday night."

"With Jenny," Abbey nodded. "She already accepted my invitation to them both."

Jed smiled, "You know, that's the best news I've heard in a very long time."

"What will you, Leo and Cameron be talking about after us ladies move to the other room after dinner?"

"Oh, I was going to tell you," Jed said. "Don't offer to move to another room after dinner."

"No cigars and brandy for the men's club?"

"No." He ran his hand through his hair and said, "I guess I should tell you..."

Abbey stepped back, ready for anything, "When you start a sentence with 'I guess I should tell you', it usually means 'Yes! You should tell me now'. And I usually don't like what you have to tell me."

"I'm more interested in Cameron's wife than Cameron."

Abbey took a step back. That was the last thing she expected to hear. "Excuse me?"

"Lola's got a bee in her bonnet about Web Censorship and she has the power to spearhead a campaign. Leo and I want to leave that for the next guy. We don't want to deal with it."

"So, you don't actually want to catch up on old times with Cameron, you want to make sure Lola doesn't start a crusade. 'Leave it for the next guy?' Since when are you afraid to tackle issues? I thought you were making sure you spoke on anything that comes across the table? What happened to that?"

"I'm not afraid, Abbey. It's just that if she really gets going on that hot button issue, members of Congress may pick it up and run with it and I've got more important issues to pass that I don't want clogged with crap."

Abbey stood and looked out the window. Then she softly said, "Lola may have a point."

Jed was stunned. "About Web Censorship? You?" He paced around Abbey as she stood still. "The Poster Woman for Freedom of Speech?" He turned her around to face him. "Did an alien abduct my wife and left a Stepford wife in Dr. Abbey Bartlet's place?

"Jed, boys...," she turned around. "Teenage boys took a pot shot at you, my daughter, her boyfriend, and most of your staff! Your best friend is still recovering. I just know those little asses got most of their ideas from the Internet. Hatred can spread fast when you find someone else with your same warped sense of what's right and what's wrong, and what's an easier way to find other ingrates than on the Internet?"

"We are not having this discussion. Didn't we agree to that?"

He was right, they'd say one thing and think another. The assassination attempt was so sudden and by kids, it was too hard to digest. Jed said, "You're too close to the... I was going to call it a problem. It's not even a problem. The Internet had nothing to do with two teenage boys."

"How can you be so sure?"

"Because I'm the president!"

"Thanks for reminding me, Sir," she said as she perfectly curtsied in front of him.

Jed had to smile. "I love it when you do that."

"I know. That's why I did it." She meet him half way for a hug, then whispered in his ear, "I love you Josiah Bartlet and I could have lost you and my daughter that night. I just think Lola may have a point. That's all I'm saying."

Jed kissed her cheek and whispered back, "Please Abbey, keep it to yourself. Just for the time being."

 

ROOSEVELT ROOM

Josh walked through the halls armed with Chinese food and zeroed in on Sam and CJ laughing in the Roosevelt Room. He hurriedly set the food down on the table, "What did I miss?"

Sam took one bag, CJ warned him, "The Egg Foo Young is mine."

"What did I miss?" Josh asked again as he sat down.

"When?" Sam took out a box and smelled, "Lo Mein?" Smiling, he said, "You remembered that I like Lo Mein?"

"Just a guess," Josh said, then again asked, "What did I miss?"

"Nothing, Josh," CJ started in on her food.

"But you were laughing."

"Isn't that allowed?" CJ passed a doodle Sam drew of the Speaker of the House with a sword and Gladiator outfit to Josh.

Josh scrutinized it. "That's not funny."

"It is, if you're starving," CJ said.

Donna came in, "I smell food."

Josh snapped to attention and pulled out a chair for her, "Yes, General Chow Chicken, ma'am."

"Thanks, Boss," she smiled as she took the seat.

Josh helped her push in the chair. "Since when do you call me Boss?"

"Never. I was trying it on for size," Donna said, pulling in her chair. "I don't like it. I'm not going to call you Boss ever again. Okay?"

"No problem." Josh sat next to her and asked, "How did the meeting go?"

Donna grabbed some chopsticks and dug into the chicken. "Fine."

"Good." Not getting anything else from her, he asked, "Ginger still here?"

"No, she left after the meeting. Is she still supposed to be on the clock?"

"No," Josh said, not wanting to make waves. "Cathy?"

Sam said, "She has a date tonight. Did you want something with the assistants?"

"No."

Donna asked him point blank, "Josh, do you want to know what happened at the meeting?"

"Yes."

Donna swallowed and said, "We decided we're going to go out for lunch together on Saturday for Mrs. Landingham's birthday. We made up a system where we're able to cover each other more efficiently when someone is out for the day, you know, sick, or whatever." She ate some more chicken and thought. "Um, we're going to pitch in and buy a new painting for the wall of the bullpen. None of us like the one that's there. And since Mrs. Landingham once again vetoed Casual Friday, we're going to have Surprise Friday from now on."

Josh didn't like the sound of that, he asked, "What kind of surprise?"

"We'll draw names on Thursday and whoever we get, we do little surprises for them all day long. But, nothing that costs money. Just little favors or compliments, or whatever comes to mind."

"That sounds nice," CJ said. "Can I get in on that?"

"Sure. I'll put you down."

CJ still hadn't had time to ask Sam about Robert's email and her stupid reply, and certainly wasn't going to do it in front of two other people. Either of Josh or Donna would be fine to talk to, but not all three of them at once. So, she put her mind back on business, "We should try to decide if there's going to be trouble to divert because of Friday's dinner."

Danny piped up from the hallway, "I'm sure there will be."

CJ cringed and turned around. "How long have you been standing there?"

"I want in on Surprise Friday, too," Danny smiled.

"Nope," Donna said. "It's only the West Wing staffers."

"Darn." After sauntering in, he continued, "I'm thinking the head of Imperial Oil has donated unheard of sums to the Democratic party, and that he may have paid more to sleep in the Lincoln Bedroom."

"Danny," CJ started.

"Are you going to calm my worried mind, CJ?"

"Beat it."

Danny's eyebrows rose and he shrugged, "Charming." Their relationship had definitely hit a roadblock, but he didn't know what it was. Or even, what kind of relationship he and CJ had in the first place.

CJ stood and went to the door, and Danny followed. "There's nothing untoward going on, Bernstein. They're just old friends. Quit looking for the next Watergate."

When she stopped in the hallway and spun around to face him, he smiled and needled, "That's an unfriendly attitude you're using."

"Be more friendly and I'll think about being more friendly myself."

Toby walked by looking worried and went into the Roosevelt Room. CJ told Danny, "I have to deal with this. Bye."

"Good-bye is more friendly."

"Bye."

She walked back to the Roosevelt Room and shut the door, made sure Danny was gone. Toby fidgeted with his suit at the head of the table. "Is that your Wednesday suit, Toby?" Donna asked.

"Huh?" He pulled at the bottom of the left pocket. It was wrinkled and in dire need of ironing.

Donna stood up and adjusted his tie for him. "It's a nice suit, I haven't seen that suit before. Pinstripes. Very nice."

"It's... um..." Toby smoothed it out over his body. "It's my best suit. I got married in this suit."

"It looks like it's been on a hanger for a while."

"Yeah. Does it look all right?"

"It could use some pressing. I can take care of it," Donna offered. "I know people."

Josh piped up, "She does, Toby. But watch out, she'll try to put you into bright yellow waders."

Sam looked at him, "What? Am I missing something?"

"You didn't catch a glimpse of Josh in your foul-weather gear? It was a sight to behold," CJ laughed. "What's the big occasion, Toby, that you need to wear your wedding suit? Getting remarried?"

"Donna, I appreciate it," Toby said. "I'm going to meet with David and his family for dinner. What are you all dealing with? Did anything new break today?"

Sam said, "Hey, Toby... you can't tell us you're finally going to see your brother that we, I, didn't even know you had before his shuttle mission was in trouble, and not give us the details."

"What details? We're having salmon, I think," Toby quietly said, as was his way, then groused, "What are you all dealing with, besides Chinese food?"

Sam wouldn't be put off by Toby's brusk manner, "How did this crop up? You said you hadn't talked to David for years, forgot when he was going into space, you told me you were surprised you forgot he had another child, or his wife did, and now you're having dinner with them for the third time in a month, and you're wearing your wedding suit?"

Sam, CJ, Josh, and Donna all demanded, "We want answers."

Toby put up his hands in surrender and said, "I'm re-establishing a sibling relationship with my brother. Is that against the law?"

"No," Sam warmly smiled. "Not at all. When can I meet him?"

Toby observed Sam, and shook his head, "Are we dating?"

"Seems like it lately." Sam muttered and sat back down, knowing that Tight-Lipped Toby isn't going to spill anything.

"What's going on, I ask for the third time," Toby demanded. "Is third time the charm, or is it three strikes you're out?"

Donna said, "When's your dinner?"

"Eight."

"We don't have much time. Give me your suit."

"What's going on here?"

CJ informs him, "The dinner on Friday. We're trying to format a head-off strategy. Danny and Steve are sniffing for a story."

"It's dinner," Toby shrugged as Donna slid his jacket off. "Tell them what they're going to eat and anything else no comment."

"I have to be more diplomatic than that, Toby," CJ said.

"Why?" Toby sat down at the table. "Is there anything untoward going on?"

"No."

"Did he donate any more or any less than any other well-heeled Democrat to the Democratic Party?"

"No."

"Is he having an affair with the First Lady?"

"God, no."

"Then what's the problem?"

"The problem is," CJ said. "The press corp loves to find problems where there are none. And I have to head them off. That's my job."

"Let them go around in circles." Toby stood and grabbed a piece of Josh's Sweet and Sour Chicken and popped it in his mouth.

"Help yourself," Josh muttered.

"I already did."

Donna told Toby, "Give me your pants."

"I'm not giving you my pants, Donna," Toby stated. "We hardly know each other. I would appreciate it if you get the jacket pressed."

"Will do," Donna said, folding his pinstriped jacket over her arm.

Toby headed for the door, "I'll be in my office."

 

THURSDAY MORNING

The hustle and bustle of the West Wing was in full force that mid morning. Everyone rushing about, talking on the phone, talking and walking down the halls on their way to meetings and offices. But, one thing made them all stop in mid-stride and mid-sentence. Leo, helped by Margaret, walked from the lobby to the Yellow Hallway on his way to the office.

Josh was just coming out of Leo's office as they made their way to Margaret's area. "Oh, hey, Leo," Josh smiled and immediately took his other arm to help him.

Leo jerked both his arms away. "Will you both stop it? I've been walking just fine for over 55 years."

Margaret opened Leo's door to make a clear path ahead of him, "Enjoy the coddling, Leo, I'm sure it won't last long."

"I can't wait until everything gets back to normal," Leo muttered and went into his office, motioning for Josh to follow.

"Leo," Josh said, entering the office, "I put the briefs from Toby on your desk there. And I was just on my way to meet with the Ways and Means Committee Chairpersons."

"Okay, do that and give me a full report later." Leo was brusk and sat at his desk.

"You don't want to go to the meeting yourself?"

"I would rather serve my kidneys to grizzly bears than meet with Cal Lambert right now. Let me miss just one more meeting."

Josh laughed. "I see you're feeling fine. You know where I'll be."

"Be nice, Josh," Leo said before Josh could leave.

Josh backed into the office and tapped the door frame with his palm, "Hey, that's been my motto, Leo."

In Margaret's area, Josh cornered her and spoke softly, "Is it a good idea for him to be in so soon?"

"Everyone under the sun has been telling him that, Josh," Margaret whispered back. "He'll handle or not handle it, it's up to him."

"I'm only in for a half day," Leo yelled from his office, making Josh and Margaret both jump.

Margaret shook her head and said, "It's the acoustics in here, I swear he can hear every word I say."

"That I can, Margaret," Leo yelled again. "And get me CJ."

"Yes, sir," Margaret said aloud.

"See ya later," Josh made a hasty exit as CJ stuck her head through the doorway.

"I heard my name?" CJ walked in. Leo appeared at his door. CJ smiled and took his hand, "Good morning, Leo. I heard you made an appearance into work today."

Leo looked at his hand in CJ's and asked, "Is everyone going to keep treating me like it's my first day in Elementary School, or can we just get back to work?"

CJ dropped his hand, it was a little too much, "You're looking good."

"Thank you," Leo gave in. "You're not so bad yourself. Come inside, and Margaret, no calls, except for the President, who should be calling within 3 minutes if word spreads like wild fire as usual."

"Yes, sir," Margaret said, shutting the door of the office behind them.

CJ walked in and waited until Leo was situated at his desk before taking a seat on the couch. "You look really good, Leo."

"Thank you for the flowers."

"You're welcome. How are you feeling?"

Leo took a deep breath, "I'm fine, CJ, or I wouldn't be here." He looked at the closed door between his and the Oval Office. "About the dinner. The President and Cameron have never gotten along and he won't tell me what it's about."

"Maybe it really is nothing."

"Come off it. Don't coddle me. CJ, what do you know?

"There's nothing there, Leo. I've looked at it from every angle."

"Have you talked to DNC?"

"Yes. Talabor's donation was within the limits of protocol. It's just old friends spending a weekend together."

"Old friends, my ass," Leo spouted, shaking his head. "The President hated Cameron Talabor and he knows I know that. Hell, I hated Cameron Talabor."

CJ smiled, "Well then, it should be an interesting dinner for you all."

Margaret opened the door. "It took two and half minutes, Leo."

Just then, they all heard the President in the Oval Office, "Leo's in to work? What in all that is holy is that man thinking?"

Mrs. Landingham could be heard saying, "He's just like you, Mr. President, stubborn as a ten year old mule."

CJ stood, "I'll get out of your hair then. We'll brief later?"

"Yeah, thanks."

The connecting door to the Oval Office whipped open and the President walked in. "Good morning, Mr. President," CJ said.

"Morning, CJ," Jed said. "You couldn't talk him into following doctor's orders either, huh?"

"I knew better than to even try, Mr. President."

Leo interrupted them, "You know, I am in the room, you don't have to talk about me like I'm not here."

"Yes, you are here, Leo," Jed said, and walked to his desk.

CJ shut the door behind her and went back to her office. The phone rang as soon as she entered. She saw her assistant reaching for her phone, so CJ said, "I'll get it, Carol."

"Okay," Carol went back to her dictation.

CJ picked up the phone and professionally said, "CJ Cregg."

Then, she paused, and cleared her throat, sat back in her chair, spun it away from facing the door. "Hi," she smiled.

"How about that dinner," Robert said. "Is tomorrow night all right?"

CJ took a deep breath and nodded.

"Is that a yes?" Robert had to ask.

"Yes," she quickly replied, and smiled. "Tomorrow night would be really good with me." She sat back and cringed because of her vocabulary skills.

 

COMMUNICATIONS OFFICES

Toby drank in some of the bright sun pouring into his office window and had a moment of quiet reflection in the middle of the hectic day. He had been putting off Sam all morning, but it looked like he would no longer be able to. Sam walked into the office and said, "I want to know about the dinner last night."

Toby tossed the papers he held onto his desk, "Isn't there anything else we should be concentrating on?"

"No. I've got the responses to CJ and worked on the President's reaction to the latest in Kaddafi's theatrical way of dealing with internal affairs. What happened?"

Toby sat down at his desk, "We ate. We talked. I kissed my sister in law good bye on the cheek and thanked her for a wonderful meal. It was salmon, by the way. I patted the kid's heads and went home to watch the replay of Larry King."

Sam sat on the couch, "What did you talk about?"

"The mission."

"Really?" Sam leaned forward. "What about it?"

Toby looked at Sam and realized he really wanted to know, and didn't see any real harm in telling him. "He was scared, Sam. All those hours of waiting, not knowing if they were going to gain re-entry... it was long hours. David said he made his peace with God and... hoped I would be able to take care of his family for him in his absence... and... told me that he was glad we were talking again. He told me I was the only one he could trust to make sure his family was all right."

"Wow, that must have felt good."

Toby smiled and looked at his fingernail tracing the grain of wood on his desk. Just a little smile, but a smile nonetheless. "Yeah. It did. I didn't realize I left a lasting impression on my brother, we haven't really talked for years." He looked up to see Sam with a full blown smile on his face. "Don't tell that to anyone. It's just between us."

Sam was busting. "Toby... you confided in me."

"Don't make he rethink that."

Sam's good mood couldn't be swayed. He and Toby were really on the way to a good relationship, like a big brother. "My lips are sealed. Promise. Thank you."

"For what?"

"Confiding in me."

"You're welcome."

"It made my day, Toby. It really did."

"I see that. Get back to work."

"Sure thing. And if there's anything else you'd like to talk about... I'm here."

"I'm comforted with that knowledge."

Sam, standing at the doorway, felt a tap on his shoulder. He spun around to see Mallory. "Hi," he told her, hiding none of the surprise he felt.

"Hello."

"Are you here to see your father?"

"He's here?"

"Yes."

Mallory yelled, "That jerk!" then stumbled off down the hall, almost knocking over CJ, who had a pile of files in her arms. "Sorry, CJ," Mallory muttered.

"No problem," CJ said, bending over to pick up a file that fell. "Is something wrong?"

"My father," Mallory snatched a file off the floor and handed it to her. "Have you seen him?"

"Yeah. A little while ago."

"And you didn't tell him to get his butt home?"

They stood as CJ said, "I don't have the authority to tell Leo to do anything with any part of his anatomy." Mallory and CJ laughed, then CJ put her hand on Mallory's arm, "He's got a lot of people watching over him. He's fine."

After Mallory marched to Leo's office, CJ walked down the hall, with a little extra bounce as she was happy Robert either didn't notice, or didn't care about her juvenile replies on the phone. They were going to go to the Excalibor Room for dinner and nothing could spoil her mood.

Until she entered the Yellow Hallway and realized Danny was walking a step behind her. She stopped, took a deep breath, and asked, "What?"

"You look happy," he commented.

"I am. What do you want?" Then she stuck her finger in his face and said, "I'm going to tell you right off the bat, that nothing you say will spoil my mood."

"I have my work cut out for me then," Danny smiled. "Because I just found out that there's a top scientific researcher for Imperial Oil in town. His name is Robert Forrester. You don't know anything about him, do you?

CJ shifted the files in her arms and stared at Danny, a man who she was at one time interested in, and maybe still was, but was so irritating that she couldn't take him seriously. "I'll comment at the briefing."

"What is your problem?"

"Go away."

"What did I do? I thought we were progressing."

"That's the problem." CJ looked around and then motioned for him to join her back in her office.

As soon as they were inside, she shut the door and said, "You are a White House reporter. I am the Press Secretary. It is not going to work. The sooner we realize that, the better off we'll both be. Now, I'm not going to resign, so if you can't have a professional relationship, I suggest you do."

"Whoa, whoa, who's not acting professionally?"

"You come back here whenever you feel like it, you flirt with me without exception, it's getting on my nerves."

"I wasn't flirting!" He paused, "Okay," Danny murmured. "Maybe a little. I won't do it anymore."

"Good."

"Fine."

"Wonderful."

CJ opened the door, and waited for him to leave. Danny knew his time had come, he tapped Gail's bowl and said, "I'm going to leave now."

"Okay."

"See ya."

As soon as he left, CJ shut the door again and leaned against it. There couldn't be two Robert Foresters in DC at the same time. That had to be the reason he looked her up, got in touch with her so often over the span of two days. Cameron is probably going to ask the President for a favor, and a way into the West Wing was through her. Or there was actually something else going on.

She slammed the files on her desk and paced. There was something going on! No one, absolutely no one had told her! She couldn't talk to Leo in his condition. Didn't want to talk to Josh. She was tired of being kept in the dark. This should have come from the top, and it didn't. CJ decided off the cuff what she was going to do, she wasn't going to be a doormat any more.

 

SAM'S OFFICE

Sam was surfing the web for vacation spots, just in case he ever did actually get to go on a vacation. One can never to too prepared, even if it was pie-in-the-sky. There was a tap on his ajar door and he looked up to see Laurie. Sam smiled and stood, a little more than stunned, "Laurie? How are you?"

"I'm..." she walked in and kissed him on the cheek. "I'm fine." She nervously said. "I was just in town for a short while and wanted to thank you personally for all you did in my job search."

"How did you get in here?"

"Cathy gave the go-ahead to the guards and I asked her not to tell you, so I could surprise you."

"It worked! Sit down." They sat on the couch. Sam asked, "How's the firm working out for you?"

"Working out for me?" She lightly giggled. "I'm working out for them. I like the job. It's a good, respectable firm and I fit in."

"Good," Sam smiled, putting his hand on her shoulder. "I'm really glad."

"I'm still a lackey now, but... things could be looking up soon." Laurie fidgeted and then worked up the courage to say, "Sam, the reason I'm--."

Mallory walked in. "Oh," she said. "I didn't know you had company."

Sam's head spun around. "Mallory. You're back." He looked between Laurie and Mallory and the silence was deafening. "Mallory, this is Laurie."

They both stood, as Laurie shook Mallory's hand. Sam continued, "Laurie, Mallory."

Laurie had so much she wanted to tell Sam, mostly that she hated Boston and wanted to move back, but only if there was a chance they could see each other again. It didn't look like Mallory was going to give them any privacy, so she said, "I see. Well..." Laurie took Sam's hand. "Thank you again for everything."

Sam kept a hold on Laurie's hand. "Hey, you just got here. We haven't even had time to talk. Where are you going?"

"I'm in town for a seminar and staying at the Holiday Inn. Give me a call if you have some free time. I'll be going back to Boston on Sunday."

Mallory shifted to the other foot when she realized who the woman was. She was all over the newspapers for three days, in a picture hugging Sam. When Sam saw Mallory's arms hook together under her chest, and the corner of her mouth tighten, he figured it was probably best Laurie left for the time being.

Laurie said, "I'll see you. Nice to meet you, Mallory."

"Likewise," Mallory muttered as Laurie walked past her, out the door. Mallory shut the door and faced Sam, "Are you completely insane?"

"Not to my knowledge, but then again, the insane don't know that they are insane. That's one of the things that makes them insane."

"Are you still seeing her?"

"No. Of course not. She lives in Boston."

"That's not too far away for a little quicky."

"Quicky?" Sam laughed. "Mallory! I barely have time to make it home at night before eating whatever's in the fridge or takeout and fall into bed... alone. I can't be making trips to Boston."

"No, you can't," Mallory was adamantly agreeable. "You should stay away from her."

"Nothing was her fault, and we weren't seeing each other."

"She's the hooker you slept with... that you confessed to me before you even knew me, isn't she?"

"Laurie is a lawyer who lives in Boston." Sam walked past her to his desk. "End of discussion, Mallory."

"Okay."

Mallory's hand was on the doorknob when Sam said, "Wait. What did you stop by if it wasn't to see your father?"

Mallory debated on going through with her plans, then turned around and said, "I came by to see you. I have an extra ticket to the Matchbox Twenty concert, and I thought you might enjoy that more than the Chinese Opera, which you never did go to. You chose to write a birthday card instead."

"Happen to have an extra ticket?"

"Yes. Do you want to go?"

Sam sat down at his desk and took a deep breath. "No. Take a friend."

To say Mallory was confused was an understatement. She thought they were getting closer, Leo wasn't even having fun with them anymore. "Why not?"

"I want to go out with you when you have to guts to ask me out, not by telling me 'I happen to have an extra ticket'. I've asked you out many times and something's always come up."

"I couldn't go to the thing because I did have to grade test papers."

"Come on!" Sam stood up again. "Ask me out properly and I'll think about it. Ask me as an excuse to use up an extra ticket so you're not out 40 bucks, I'll pass."

Mallory looked down and straightened the blouse under her blazer. She softly said, "I don't have an extra ticket. I specifically purchased two. One for you and one for me. Will you come with me?

Sam gazed upon her manner and diverted eyes and asked, "When?"

"Tomorrow night."

Sam smiled and sat back at his desk, "That's short notice, Mallory. I don't have anything to wear."

Mallory walked to his chair and swung it around, then sat on his lap, "Please?"

Her perfume smelled like a taste of heaven and he put his arms around her waist, felt her body heat, "Well, since you put it that way..." He didn't have to a chance to finish his sentence because Mallory covered his mouth with a kiss.

Cathy burst into the office, "I'm sorry to interrupt, but...

Mallory and Sam break apart and both stood. "What?" And "We weren't doing anything," was what they said as they straightened their clothes.

"Leo," Cathy said. "He fell."

"Fell?" Mallory asked as she stomped past her.

Cathy followed Mallory down the hall, Sam right behind, "Or collapsed, I don't know for sure. I just know Margaret called an ambulance for him."

"Oh, God," Mallory groaned. Sam grabbed her hand and they ran to Leo's office.

 

LEO'S OFFICE

Josh leaned over Leo, who was out on the floor. As he loosened Leo's shirt and tie, Mallory ran in, "Dad?" She knelt down and rubbed her father's face. "What happened?"

"I found him like this. He may have just fainted," Josh said, taking hold of Leo's wrist and counting the throbs. "His pulse is steady."

Leo came to and wasn't too thrilled to be on the floor, and have people hovering over him. Mallory demanded, "Dad? What happened?"

"I... I don't know," Leo sat up, then got dizzy and let Mallory help him back to the floor.

Josh crumbled his jacket and laid it under Leo's head. "Easy there."

The President walked through their connecting doors and said, "What's going on in here?" While CJ appeared at Leo's door, asking the same thing.

"My idiot father thinks he's Superman," Mallory spouted. "If you would have just--."

EMT's came in with a stretcher, making Leo groan more. "Oh, come on," he moaned. "I'm fine. I just..."

"You came back to work too soon is what happened, Dad," Mallory said. "Why can't you let people take care of you?"

Leo saw everyone around, and shook his head. "This is embarrassing enough, Margaret. Did you have to call an ambulance?"

"Damn right, she did," Jed declared. "You go to the hospital and get checked out."

Abbey, who was standing just behind Jed in the doorway said, "I'll call Jenny to meet you there," then went back into the Oval Office.

An EMT wanted to take Leo's blood pressure, but Leo brushed him away and blurted out, slurring a little, "I'll go to the hospital to make everyone happy, but I'm not going on a stretcher. Just give me a minute to orientate myself and I'll walk to my car and Mallory will drive me."

Mallory shook her head, "So help me God, Dad, if you don't get onto that stretcher right here and now, we're going to hog-tie you to it."

Leo didn't like the dizziness in his head, he felt like he just polished off a fifth of scotch, but hadn't had a drink in six years.

"I'd listen to her, Leo," Jed grinned. "Go get well. Abbey and I will visit tonight."

Josh took his arm, "Leo? Please?" Then motioned to the stretcher.

CJ said, "I'll clear out the back portico to make sure there aren't any cameras, Leo."

Jed stopped CJ before she left, "And then meet me in my office. Mrs. Landingham said you scheduled a meeting."

"Right," CJ said, wishing the President had a more lacksidaisical secretary than the thorough and professional Mrs. Landingham, who had to have told him of the last minute scheduled meeting as soon as he came back to the office. The meeting was planned on the spur of the moment, in a moment of anger. She'd have to think of something else to talk about as a fall-back position in case she changed her mind about the reason for the meeting.

Leo wanted to make sure there weren't any beady-eyed staffers loitering around to see his body ceremoniously taken out of the West Wing, so Margaret made sure that didn't happen.

The EMTs got him situated on the stretcher and wheeled him through the halls as they could hear Margaret telling everyone, "Just go about your business. There's nothing to see here.."

"Oh, God," Leo shook his head, closed his eyes, and gripped Mallory's hand on the way to the ambulance.

 

OVAL OFFICE

Abbey hung up the phone and told Jed, "Jenny's on her way to the hospital. Does anyone know what happened?"

"He might have just fainted, overworked himself today."

Abbey cleared her throat. "You act like that's a foreign concept to you."

"Don't start with me. I'm in good health."

"Thank God," Abbey said.

CJ hovered at Mrs. Landingham's entrance to the Oval Office, not wanting to disturb the First Couple. Then wondered if she should have called the meeting to talk about such a selfish thing when, obviously, there were more important matters happening at the moment. Before she could tell Mrs. Landingham to tell the President to forget it, Abbey said, "CJ. Come in."

CJ smiled and entered as suggested, but she was far from comfortable. "Yes, CJ," Jed said. "Our meeting. Come in. Sit down."

CJ looked at Abbey and asked, "May the President and I speak in private, ma'am?"

"Sure," Abbey said. "Okay. Is it about anything earth-shattering?"

"It's just my career," CJ tossed off without thinking of holding that thought back. Or maybe it was good she got it off her chest. She really wanted to get all it settled once and for all.

"Earth-shattering? What's wrong?"

"I'm sure he'll tell you later."

Abbey nodded, "He will. I hope everything's okay."

Jed says, "You have me dismayed, CJ. Are you thinking of resigning?"

CJ paused, didn't know where that came from. Was that an option he wanted to come true? Abbey said, "I'll leave you alone." She lingered by CJ long enough to say, "We're all proud of your good work, CJ, don't forget that."

"Thank you, ma'am."

Abbey told Jed, "I'm going to go meet Jenny at the hospital."

Jed told her, "Call me as soon as you know anything," as she left. He then looked to his very uncomfortable Press Secretary and motioned for her to have a seat on one of the couches. "Well... your career. I don't like the sound of that. Not one bit." He sat next to her and settled in. "You haven't been offered a great job in the private sector, have you? I can't pay you more than they can, but I'll sure make a hell of a fuss."

"Really?"

"Of course!"

CJ took a deep breath, then realized she didn't want the conversation to continue. But that could have been just lip-service, which was good, too, for the moment. Her mouth was dry and Robert's occupation and reason for being in town and Danny's smugness all hit her at once.

"There's something wrong, CJ, and I want to know what it is."

CJ shifted in her seat to face him, "Are you satisfied with my performance, sir? Honestly?"

"There have been some bumps," Jed shrugged. "But we've all made mistakes. We're learning, but getting better all the time. You've fixed whatever you've messed up, and you've covered MY butt many times. Yes, CJ. I'm very satisfied with your job performance. Is that what this is about? You aren't leaving me?"

"I wasn't planning on it, sir."

Jed nodded, good. Then he looked around that historical office during this quiet time. Usually the office was filled with people, one meeting of importance after another, it never seemed to stop. "I wish I could tell people individually more often when I'm proud of them, but sadly, it's only when they come to me with doubts that... I have to reassure them. I'm sorry for that. I'm going have to make of point of singling out good people and good work more often." The President looked at her and remembered all the hard work, impossible situations that CJ had been able to handle for every member of the White House staff at one time or another.

Her finest hour was so clear to the President as he sat next to him. How could she have doubts about her place, her usefulness? "This administration," he began, "wouldn't be where it is today if not for you. After the shooting... there was chaos. There was panic. We were all flying by the seat of our pants. We were all worried, pacing up and down the hospital corridors, not knowing what to do or what to say. But then, I looked up at the TV set in the waiting room as l was waiting for word on my best friend's and personal assistant's conditions and... saw your face. You were standing at your podium, confident. I heard your words of information and reassurance to the country, in a calm, collected manner. That was only... an hour after the bullets flew. You had to have been shaky, upset, running on adrenaline, scared... but you commanded your briefing room with all the confidence and talent in the world. I have to tell you, CJ, at that moment, I got chills. I swelled with pride that I hired you. I knew for sure then, at that moment, that I am in good hands. And so is this administration."

"Sir..." CJ started, but couldn't speak as she was overcome.

He gripped her hand, "We can't move forward without you, Ms. Cregg. Please tell me you're happy here."

"Yes. It was silly, I guess," she said.

Jed rocked her hand and vehemently shook his head, "It isn't silly if you doubt yourself or the people you work with. There's no need. Leo and I have promised you that you will never be lied to for our purposes again. We haven't."

"Do you know of a man named Robert Forrester?"

"No. Should I?"

"He works for Imperial Oil."

"It's a big outfit," he shrugged. "I don't know it's entire personnel file. Why?"

"I got a tip I'm going to check out. What is the meeting about tomorrow night?"

"It's a dinner, CJ. It's not a meeting."

CJ nodded, and knew he was holding back something. "Yes, sir."

"Okay, I'll tell you. Remember when we discussed that we didn't want Web Censorship to be problem for us?"

"Yes."

"Lola Talabor's husband runs Imperial Oil, and we don't want her to speak up. That's what the dinner is about. Okay?"

"Yes, sir. Why couldn't you tell me that?"

"I don't want to make a big case out of it. There isn't anything untoward going on."

"Of course not, sir."

"What about Robert Forrester?"

She paused, then only said, "He may ask me for a favor tonight."

"A favor that I'd be interested in?"

"I have no idea."

"Well, let me know when you do." The President tapped her leg and said, "Back to work. Don't you have a briefing in a couple of minutes?"

"Yes, I do."

They stood. "Give 'em hell, CJ. I know you can."

"Thank you, Mr. President," she said as she walked out of the office.

CJ paused outside Mrs. Landingham's area still moved by the President's words. Charlie passed her on his way to his desk. "Hey, CJ," he said. When she didn't answer him, he repeated, "CJ. Hey."

"Oh, Charlie. Hi. Sorry."

"Is everything okay?"

"Yeah," CJ smiled. "Pretty good. How about yourself?"

Charlie shrugged, "Can't complain. Zoey is going to meet my little sister tomorrow night for the first time."

"Great. Have a good time."

CJ felt a better, like a weight had been lifted from her shoulders knowing that the President had faith in her capabilities, and confided in her, as she made her way to the Briefing Room. The only other thing she had to deal with was Robert's intentions. At that moment, she decided not to call off the dinner. She'd have to keep her mind open and scrutinize every word he said to her, but why not get a free meal out of the deal? Carol thrust some notes into her hand before she entered the room and CJ scanned them.

 

BRIEFING ROOM

During the briefing, CJ purposely allowed everyone's questions but Danny's. She didn't need to have him ask about Robert in front of a room full of people. She just knew he would, it would be so like him, and didn't want to run the chance of blushing in front of reporters and cameras. That would really be good copy.

When she was about to wrap up, Danny raised his hand like the good kid in school and said, "Ms. Cregg? May I ask a question, please?"

CJ put up her walls of defense and stared him down. Other reporters turned to look at Danny, then back at her. CJ had to say, "One."

"Okay," Danny smiled. "That's all I wanted to ask."

"What is it?" She fully expected a Robert Forrester question, and had an answer in mind to tell him as soon as the question left his lips.

"Is the President thinking of stepping up our military presence in the Mediterranean after the latest round of Libyan fire on it's own people?"

"He's just..." CJ spouted, before she comprehended Danny's question. She shifted her weight and scanned the notes once again. That was from left field.

"Who's what?" Danny had to ask.

"What Libyan fire," could be heard from one reporter to another. "When did that happen?"

"The President is, of course, monitoring the situation with his top advisors, and if any final decisions are made, you all will be the first to know."

"The first?" Danny asked.

CJ smiled, "Okay, maybe the second or third. That's all, folks, have a delightful evening."

She stepped off the dias and met up with Carol in the hallway. Carol said, "You aren't going to call a reporter back for a follow-up?"

"No," CJ said, as she marched down the hall.

"Okay," Carol mused, then shook her head at Danny, who was waiting in the aisle in the Briefing Room. He shrugged and walked to his cubicle.

When CJ got back to her office, Donna walked by with an upside down straw hat with a border of red, white and blue. "Pick one," she said, sticking it out in front of CJ's face.

"What?"

"Pick a name for Surprise Friday."

"Oh, yeah," CJ smiled. "Okay." She stuck her hand in and read, "Donna."

Donna clicked her foot to the floor. "You can't tell people who it is, especially not the person who's name you drew. Put it back and draw another one."

CJ grinned, "Well, your reaction was quite a surprise. You don't want me to do anything for you tomorrow?"

"Half the fun is figuring out who has your name."

"Oh, sorry," CJ put the slip of paper back in the hat, but held onto it. She shuffled her hand around, keeping Donna's name. She pulled out the paper and looked at it, very covertly, so Donna couldn't see her own name.

Donna said, "Have fun with it, and don't spend any money. That's the rule. Or at least too much money, because rules are always broken."

"Is my name in that hat?"

"If it isn't, that only means someone else has already drawn it."

"Good," CJ smiled, and entered her office. Things were definitely looking up. Danny wasn't an ass at the briefing, the President had faith in her, she was going to eat a nice meal at the Excalibor the next evening, and someone was going to be surprising her.

 

FRIDAY MORNING

MARGARET'S OFFICE

Margaret came back to the West Wing after reporting to Leo at the hospital, who was being kept for more tests to find out why he collapsed. She set her briefcase on her desk and pulled out some folders to be filed away when she smelled chocolate. Pecans. Fresh baked cookies! On her hutch was a china plate filled with Chocolate Chunk Cookies, with a note that there was also a quart of milk in her fridge. "Bless you, Mrs. Landingham," she smiled as she took a big bite of a top one, then had to sit down when the chocolate melted in her mouth.

 

COMMUNICATIONS BULLPEN

Ginger walked to her desk to see a teddy bear with a big bow tied around his neck sitting on her chair. "For cute!" She picked him up and tested his fluffiness by holding it to her chest. "But we weren't supposed to spend money."

Cathy walked by and said, "Well, you have a collection of them, and that one was from my youth. I'm sorry it's old but, I like it."

"I can't take your childhood teddy bear," Ginger said, holding it out to her.

"Well, he was just sitting in the back of my closet," Cathy smiled. "You'll take care of it, right?"

"You bet I will."

CJ walked into the bullpen to announce, "Whoever got my name, thank you! I love Toussant's food. Did you see that feast on my desk? There's enough for everyone. Come, enjoy!"

They filed into her office to see quite a spread of French food. "Wow," Ginger said. Donna came in with paper plates and forks. CJ asked her, "Did you do this?"

"Are you nuts? I can't afford all this."

Carol hovered by the door, kept mum about giving CJ's name that she picked, to Danny. Those two were sweet together, were on the same plane, should give it a try. She just hoped CJ wouldn't be mad about it, she flew off the handle for anything that had to do with Danny lately. But then again, Danny ending up with CJ's name did qualify as a surprise, and Carol herself didn't spend a dime. CJ handed her a plate and told her to dig in.

 

MRS. LANDINGHAM AND CHARLIE'S OFFICE

Mrs. Landingham went back to her desk after an update with the President and saw a framed picture standing on her desk. She gasped and put her hand on her chest and slowly sat in her chair. Charlie walked in and saw her manner, she seemed stunned. "Mrs. Landingham? Are you all right?"

"Yes, Charlie," Mrs. Landingham sighed. "I'm fine."

She slowly traced her finger along the wood frame, and then brushed it over the young faces of her sons in the photograph. Simon, the older one by just minutes, and his twin brother, Andrew. They were dressed in uniform, arms over each other's shoulders, smiling at their father as he took their picture the night before they left for Viet Nam. Mrs. Landingham remembered that night vividly. That was the last family gathering they ever had. That was the last time she was able to touch her boys, when she individually hugged each and didn't want to let them go. It was the last time she was able to cook for them. It was the last time she was able to tell them she loved them with all her heart, and was so proud of them.

Charlie walked around Mrs. Landingham's desk and put a hand on her shoulder, "Mrs. Landingham? Are you all right? The President is calling for both of us."

"Oh," Mrs. Landingham brushed her cheeks and stood, tried to recollect where she was. "Tell the President that I will be right in."

Actually, the President beat her to the punch, he stalked into their area and spouted, "Do I have to call out the National Guard to have you two walk that ten feet into my office?"

"No, sir," Mrs. Landingham slipped the framed photograph into her top desk drawer and wondered how they got that picture. Her husband must have had something to do with it, and she was going to give him a piece of her mind when she got home. Along with a big thank-you kiss. It was a wonderful surprise. That photograph had been sitting in a photo album since it was developed. It was time it had been blown up and displayed.

"What was that," the President asked her about the photograph.

She shut the drawer and said, "Do you need to know everything?"

"Yes, I'm the President of the United States."

"Tough. What do you need?"

Jed took a step back and scrutinized his assistant, then at Charlie, standing by his desk, eyebrows raised at them both, a little confused at their easy banter. In a very dramatic fashion, Jed produced a box from his jacket pocket and delicately set it on Mrs. Landingham's desk. Then, he took another box out of the other pocket and stepped next to Charlie, to place it on his desk.

"I wanted to do this in there," he pointed to the Oval Office, "so both of you would know that you were both getting the appreciation of the President, but... those are your surprises from me."

"Sir?" Mrs. Landingham looked at the light blue box with a white bow sitting on her blotter.

"It's Surprise Friday, correct?" he asked. When they both nodded, he said, "Those are yours from me. After a talk I had with CJ yesterday, it's about time I did a little something for two qualified, hard-working, appreciated people. Keep up the good work."

"Sir?" Mrs. Landingham picked up the little box and knew it could have only come from Tiffany's in New York City. Her engagement ring years ago came in much the same sort of box and it was their trademark. "We weren't supposed to spend money for Surprise Fridays."

The President shrugged, and said, "So sue me."

"Not on your life," Charlie said. "Thank you, sir."

Jed winked at Charlie and said, "You have fun with my daughter this evening." Before he could disappear into the Oval Office, he stopped and looked at Charlie again. "But not too much. Remember, she is MY daughter."

Charlie smiled, "I hear you loud and clear, sir."

Charlie and Mrs. Landingham looked at each other, then ripped open the boxes. Mrs. Landingham immediately hooked her new butterfly pin on her lapel, while Charlie made sure the tie clasp was straight. They looked at each other's new accessories, and pronounced, "I think we're both looking mighty fine."

 

CJ'S OFFICE

CJ entered her office to see Danny sitting on a chair. "Hey," he lightly said.

"How did you get in here? I thought you weren't supposed to gallivant wherever you want anymore."

"I was just leaving," he said, standing. "I wanted to let you know that I won't be at the 4:00 briefing and I didn't want you to worry."


"Why won't you be there?"

"I have something..." he flipped his hand for her to forget it. "Dave McAlister will be in my place and please be nicer to him than you have been to me lately."

"I will."

"Okay," he smiled, then went to the door. And shut it, then the door to Josh's office so he could speak privately. "Have fun on your date tonight."

"How did you know I have a date tonight?"

"I'm the press, we have ways of finding out."

"Huh, hm," she sat at her desk.

Danny stood at the other side of it, and put his hands on the desk in front of her. "CJ. Really. Look out for yourself."

"I always do, Danny."

 

CHIEF OF STAFF BULLPEN

Josh just left Margaret with instructions from Leo and had to find Donna. She was at her desk, admiring her own bracelet sitting on the desk that she loaned to CJ months before and hadn't gotten back. That woman, Donna had to smile and shake her head. She kept her name in her hand after all. Donna slipped it on her wrist and heard Josh.

"Donnatella Moss," Josh said as walked in.

"Yes, Boss," Donna said, snapping to attention.

Josh leaned back on his heels. "Huh? I thought you weren't going to call me that anymore. It's jarring."

Donna chuckled, "Well, it's Surprise Friday. Did I surprise you?"

"Yes, you did. And I have a surprise for you."

"Oh, oh," her mood suddenly darkened, and could read Josh like a book. She warned, "Tomorrow is Donna's Free Day Saturday."

"No," Josh countered. "It's Donna Has To Work With the Acting Chief of Staff Saturday. Margaret's going to join us, too. Leo was hoping he could meet with the Feds himself, but since he's back in the hospital, it's me. The meeting's at 11 am, you'll be able to shop or whatever it is you do after that. But, be here at 6 am?"

"Yes, Boss," Donna sighed. Josh's extra workload meant extra hours for her and there wasn't anything she could do about it. Or wanted to do about it. She sat at her desk and watched Josh walk into his office and the thought came to her. Just two years ago, she was hired to be his assistant as they made a run for the Bartlet's Presidency, and now she was the Acting Chief of Staff of the United States of America's Assistant. There were times she just couldn't grasp that she was the right arm of the second in command of the country. She saw the pile of work on her desk and realized that she had work to do to keep that job.

 

FRIDAY NIGHT

ZOEY'S DORM

Gina knocked on the door to let Zoey know it was time to roll out. Zoey opened the door while putting on a vest. "Come in," she hurriedly said on her way to the vanity. "I still have to get my makeup on."

Gina motioned down the hall to her partner, Mike, that it would be a few more minutes and walked into the dorm and shut the door. "So, you're going to meet Deena tonight."

Zoey, while putting on mascara sighed, "Yeah. And Charlie's aunt...." she put down the mascara stick. "I forgot her name! I have to know her name. I'm so nervous."

Gina massaged Zoey's shoulders and said, "You'll be fine. Her name is Helen."

"That's right. Helen. Of course, Helen."

Gina smiled, "Zoey, you're so clenched up. Don't worry about anything. They're going to love you. Just be yourself."

"Okay," Zoey tried again at putting mascara on while Gina sat on the bed and listened to the tune on the radio. When finished, Zoey picked up lip gloss, and stared at Gina through the mirror. "How are you doing?"

Gina was surprised. "I'm fine."

"I've been worried."

"About what? That I can't protect you?"

"No," Zoey was adamant. "No. It's not it. You saved my life. How does that feel? To save someone's life?"

"It's something I don't dwell on. I'm honored to protect you, Zoey."

"Couldn't you wear a bullet proof vest or something?"

Gina shook her head, "I need to blend in."

"You'd think if we can get palm pilots and... DVDs, they could make bullet proof vests more pliable."

Gina smiled, shrugged, "I'd think so, too."

Zoey finished putting on her lip stick and stood. "How can you have the job you have? You have to know that every day you could get shot at, would have to... you know..."

"It's not every day, Zoey. It's just in case. That was one time, and I don't think it will ever happen again. Don't worry about it." Gina stood by the door. "Maybe we've become too close. Maybe you're thinking of me too much as a friend and not as a guard. Should I have a talk with your father?"

"Do you want to be transferred?"

"No, but I will if it's what would make you feel better. More comfortable."

"I don't want that. You are my friend. I just worry about you."

"That's... maybe why I should take myself off the case. You shouldn't worry about me. I don't want you to."

"Don't leave me. Don't talk to Dad." Zoey hugged Gina. "I just worry about you."

Gina hugged the young lady back and said, "Zoey, you don't have a bull's eye painted on your back. Nothing will probably never happen again. I'm here fulfilling a security requirement. And I'm your friend. Okay? Don't worry. You live your life."

Zoey could only nod in agreement and had to put the thought that everyone could have been killed because of her. Leo was back in the hospital, after everyone thought he was doing better. She thought she should pick up the phone and called off the evening with Charlie's family. It would only make matters worse. They should all stay away from her.

Gina opened the door and handed Zoey her purse. "Come on," she said. "There's a wonderful family waiting to meet you."

Zoey choked back her indecision and decided to just live each day at a time and see what happened. She did want to meet Deena and Helen. She just had to take her purse from Gina and walk out the door. It was a huge step, but Zoey did it.

 

EXCALIBOR ROOM

CJ walked in wearing a casual pant suit. There was no need to dress up when she was probably going to tell Robert to go to hell, after eating dessert, and stomping out because this whole charade was to use her to get his company's ideas to the President. When she saw Robert sitting at the bar, she had to take a breath. That man was the most gorgeous man she had ever laid eyes on and the years since college hadn't dampened them at all. As soon as he noticed her, he smiled and walked to her. "CJ," he kissed her cheek and took her hand. "It's so good to see you."

"Thank you," she replied, a little embarrassed at the show in front of others. "Nice to see you too." Really nice. He was astonishingly good looking, and smelled great.

"Our table is ready," he said, then motioned to the Maitre D'. They were placed at the best table in the restaurant. Not by the front door, or the kitchen, in a quiet nook where no one else could overhear their conversation. CJ sat down, with help from the Maitre D', and wondered how much Robert had to tip to get such a great table, and if he'd put it on his expense report. It was going to be expensive, she would make sure of it.

 

SAM'S OFFICE

Sam was in the middle of tightening up a brief for the President since he figured with Leo in the hospital, and he hadn't been able to get a hold of Mallory all day, their date was history, once again. To his surprise, Mallory appeared at his door. "Why are you still here? The concert starts in an hour. I was waiting for you at home to pick me up."

"But..." Sam stood and looked at her casual wear, the first time he had ever seen Mallory in casual wear, and she looked darn cute.

"But what? Are you standing me up?" She looked at the laptop in a word processing program. "You have another birthday card to write?"

"No," Sam laughed. "I thought since Leo's in the hospital..."

"He kicked me out of his room this afternoon. Something about my hovering. Mom's with him. He's so damn stubborn."

"Runs in the family," Sam muttered under his breath.

"Excuse me?"

He stated clearly for her, "You come from a good family."

Mallory smiled. "That's what I thought you said. Come on, let's go. Even though you are still wearing a suit."

Sam pointed to a dufflebag on the couch. "Give me 5 minutes to change and we're out the door."

"You're on." She walked to the hall and shut the door to give him privacy.

 

HELEN'S

Charlie walked in as Deena was at the kitchen table cutting carrots as Helen formed the dough at the counter. Charlie kissed his aunt on the cheek and said, "What are you making? Don't make a big fuss. Zoey hates that."

Helen said, "Well, this is the first time I'm making this dish, so I hope it turns out all right."

"Why are you making something new?"

"The daughter of the President of the United States is coming to dinner in case you haven't heard," Helen said, with a smile.

"Her name is Zoey and her favorite food is pizza."

"I'm making Deep Dish Veal Casserole."

"What?"

"The recipe looked good."

Deena piped up, "It sounds gross."

Charlie said, "I'm with you. Zoey isn't a gourmet connoisseur, Auntie."

Helen got her fingers out of the dough and looked at her niece and nephew. "Pizza?"

"Yeah," Charlie smiled. "You make excellent pizza. Zoey likes Canadian bacon and pineapple."

"Canadian bacon and pineapple pizza?"

"Yes, it is actually pretty good."

"Then what am I knocking myself out with this for?" Helen shoved the dough across the counter and announced, "CB and P Pizza coming right up. Deena, get out a can of pineapple rings, darling."

"All right!"

 

OUTSIDE

Three men in their forties were slowly driving by the house in a black 80's van. They felt protected from the blacked out windows and that they were wearing black, but the one in the passenger seat said, "There's gotta be more security. We just can't see it."

"I don't want to die," the one in the back said.

The driver checked out the house and said, "We won't."

"Tell me again why we should go after Zoey Bartlett and not Trump's kid? Or one of Spielberg's? Don't you think that the President would have tight security?"

"We can't afford tickets to New York or Los Angeles to take them," the driver said.

"I heard Spielberg lives in the Hamptons," the passenger seat guy said. "We could drive there."

The driver shook his head. "It's too far. With gas prices, we can't afford it."

"We can after we get that ransom."

"I'm going to park in the Walmart parking lot. We should be able to see when Zoey gets there."

The one in the back thought this was a great idea. Times were tough for them, even though the country was experiencing a solid economic foundation. His kid was in a class with Zoey and mentioned that she overheard her making plans to go to the neighborhood to meet Charlie's family. He felt bad because he knew Helen, Deena and Charlie. Yes, all the planning seemed like a good idea. They'd get some easy money and let her go, no one would get hurt. But sitting there, waiting, he changed his mind. He got even more nervous when the driver pulled a gun out of his coat pocket to check it for bullets.

"A gun," he asked. "Guns?!"

The driver looked back at him. "You think she's going to come with us if we just suggest it to her with a pleasant voice?"

"Oh God," he moaned. "This isn't good."

The passenger seat guy said, "Tommy, it will be all right. Just follow our lead."

 

WHITE HOUSE RECEPTION ROOM

Abbey straightened Jed's tie as they stood at the top of the stairs. They looked astonishingly elegant for their dinner with the Chairman of Imperial Oil and his wife. She was dressed in that periwinkle blue ball gown and Jed looked handsome in his dark blue tuxedo. They were going to eschew all formality, but then Jed figured it would be nice to put one up on old Cameron, and show he was indeed President of the United States, and all the fanfare that came with it.

Jed fingered Abbey's pearl drop earring and said, "Hey, I haven't seen these since I won New Hampshire."

"You just haven't been looking. They're my favorite earrings."

"I've always loved them." Jed smiled, "They're like a good luck charm."

"Worked for New Hampshire, didn't it?"

"I didn't have anything to do with that win?"

"Of course, dear," Abbey kissed his cheek. "And Leo. But it never hurts to have good luck to fall back on."

"I mean it, Abbey," Jed said, taking her hands. "Don't leave me alone with Cameron Talabor. You never know what I'm going to say."

"Maybe I should take Cameron with the ladies and you can talk to Lola."

"I can't stand her even more," he disagreed. "After a couple of glasses of wine, she should be open to my confronting her with stopping her crusade, so back me up. I wish Leo could be here."

"You know he would be if he could."

Down the stairs, David Ziegler and his wife, Terry, couldn't have been more nervous. His little brother had been working at the White House for over a year, and this was the first time they ever stepped inside. He heard they had planned a welcome home for the space shuttle crew, but the assassination attempt mangled those plans. They had enjoyed his vacation time in the nation's capital, and didn't really think they would have dinner there after all. When they received a hand delivered invitation on White House stationary, it was a chance of a lifetime. Nerves couldn't be an issue. Terry looked like she was going to faint at any moment.

It was only when Toby arrived, greeted them both, and patted David on the shoulder did they somewhat relax. "You made it. Good. I'm sure you didn't need directions," Toby smiled. "I just got out of a meeting."

"I've known where this house was located all my life."

"How do you like it?"

Terry Ziegler beamed, "It's more beautiful than I ever pictured. They let us wander the Hall of Presidents earlier. When will President Bartlet get his portrait hung?"

"I suppose," Toby said, "as soon as he sits still long enough for anyone to paint it."

David whispered, "How many are going to be here tonight, Toby?"

"The President and Mrs. Bartlet, Mr. and Mrs. Talabor, us. Oh, and Josh Lyman. Have you seen him around here yet?"

"So, this is a private dinner. No celebrities or anything?"

"Nope. Just us."

Terry was thrilled, "Then I'll be able to talk to Mrs. Bartlet. I love her. Oh, and David, you and the President both enjoy American History. I heard he's a whiz in American History."

Toby took her arm, "Please, don't get the President going on American History. Please."

Josh sauntered down the hall and joined Toby and his guests. "Hi," Josh said, sticking out his hand to David. "I'm Josh Lyman."

"Good to meet you," David said, returning the handshake. "I'm David, and this is my wife, Terry."

Jerry commented to Josh, "You look better in person than on TV."

"Thanks, I guess."

"I'm sorry. This is just so overwhelming. Who would have thought my husband was a whiz at math and it would lead us to dinner at the White House?"

Josh said, "Well, it's not space, but it's one of the best things here on earth. I'm glad you made it back safely, Mr. Ziegler. We were all very worried."

"Thank you, Mr. Lyman."

"No, Josh," he firmly said, with a friendly attitude. "I'm Josh."

 

EXCALIBOR ROOM

CJ and Robert enjoyed their meal and took their time reacquainting themselves to each other. They hadn't talked any farther than when they were in college. The whole time, CJ thought through every word he said. He seemed light and sociable. Drop dead gorgeous. She pushed her plate back after finishing the lobster and looked at the dessert menu. "Oh, they have Strawberry Flambe. They actually set fire to your food at the table?"

"I suppose, I've never had it."

"Do you mind if I do?"

"Not at all. How about another bottle of wine?"

"Sure. Rothschild..." she looked at the empty bottle he held up to get the waiter's attention. "That's an expensive wine."

"Ah," he shrugged, no biggie, then told the waiter to get another bottle, and Strawberry Flambe.

 

HELEN'S

Two black cars drove up to the house. Gina stepped out and looked around. Mike got out of the passenger seat of the first car and also looked around. He had made a thorough search of the area and sketched the landscape to prepare for Zoey's meeting his Charlie's family. Nothing seemed out of place, so Gina motioned for Zoey that the coast was clear.

She got out of the second car and walked to the door. As she went up the steps, the door opened and Helen and Charlie were there to greet her. The men in the van, slouched down in their seats and in the dark, watched Zoey greet Helen and walk into the house. The two cars stayed. To the driver, it didn't seem to be too much to handle. The passenger seat guy went along with his assumption. Tommy in the back, only closed his eyes and wondered if he should just get out of the van and walk the two blocks home.

"Bob," the passenger seat guy said to the driver, "There only seems to be those two cars, three people. That's not bad."

The driver, Harry, checked his gun, cocked it. "Well guys, it's now or never."

Inside, Zoey was brought into the kitchen and Deena was standing there smiling. "Hello, Ms. Bartlet," she said, holding out her hand. "It is a pleasure to meet you."

Zoey couldn't help but smile, half expecting the girl to curtsey. She shook her hand and said, "I've been looking forward to meeting you too, Deena. And my name is Zoey. My mother is Ms. Bartlet."

"Okay," Deena smiled, then looked at her proud brother. "I made popcorn balls. Do you want one?"

"Sure," Zoey took one and pulled off a chunk.

Helen said, "Don't spoil your appetite, now."

Charlie said, "I got her to make your favorite."

Zoey's eyes grew wide, "Canadian bacon and pineapple pizza?"

"You got it."

Mike was walking behind the back of the house when he heard the bushes rustle. There wasn't a breeze that night and knew there was a dog next door. He put his hand on the gun on his side and slowly walked to the noise. He clicked the mic with his other hand and whispered, "Heard a noise at 8 o'clock. I'm checking it out."

Gina put her hand to her ear as she was in the front and knew that the front door was decided to be 12, and tapped the arm of the other officer, leaning against the car, ready to pull out a cigarette. Gina told him, "Go around to 3 o'clock, please." He could take the other side of the house as both Gina and Mike would cover 8 o'clock. She walked around the side of the house quietly as to not make a sound. It could be nothing, but they had to check it out.

 

EXCALIBOR ROOM

They did indeed set their desserts on fire at their table, and CJ enjoyed the process and eating it. She sat back in her chair not knowing if she had ever eaten so much in one day in her life. First the French lunch, then the lobster dinner. She lifted what was left in her wine glass and said, "That was an excellent meal, Robert. Thank you."

"You're welcome, ma'am," he said as he clinked his glass against hers.

It was finally time to get to the heart of the matter, and all the wine she had drunk made her come right out with it. "What are you in town for?"

"I'm thinking of moving here. I have a final interview at Walter Reed on Monday."

"Move here?" The way she said it was like it was the stupidest idea she ever heard.

"Yes." Robert choked down his wine. "You don't like that idea?"

CJ shook her head, not knowing what to say. "You work for Imperial Oil, in Texas." She shrugged, "They don't pay well?"

"I haven't worked for Imperial Oil for..." he thought. "Five years." He sat back and smiled at her. "How did you know I worked for Imperial Oil?"

"I'm a Press Secretary," she said, trusting Robert to be speaking the truth, and cursing Danny for making her paranoid.

"Nobody never could get anything by you," he told her, a little touched that she had researched his life.

"So, you're not in town because Cameron Talabor is?"

"No. I didn't even know he was in town. I think I saw something in the paper, but whenever I see his name, I tune out. He's a jerk."

CJ laughed. Either he was a fabulous liar, or Danny was needling her because he was jealous. "I'm sorry. So, you wanted to see me because you wanted to see me."

"Yes. Why else why I ask you out for dinner?"

CJ drank more wine and ignored the question. She didn't act like a normal person in front of men anyway, she didn't need to explain Danny to him. "Never mind. It is really nice to see you again."

Robert took her hand and looked into her eyes. CJ thought he wanted to lean in for a kiss, and she was right. He did.

 

HELEN'S

There was something on the other side of those bushes. Mike just knew it, but it was too dark to see well. When Gina joined him in the back yard, he motioned for her to go to one end of the bushes and he'd take the other.

Gina crept around the bushes and looked up at the neighboring house, with it's lights on in what had to be there kitchen. A dog started barking and Mike walked around the other end of the bushes. The German shepard appeared out of no where and ran to them, barking, and hooked onto a leg of a man wearing black jeans and work boot.

Simultaneously, Gina and Mike pulled their guns and trained them on the source of the howling, from the man who's leg the dog chewed on. Mike yelled, "Get out of the bushes!"

Gina said, "Secret Service, we are armed. Crawl out of those bushes and put your hands up," as she situated herself next to Mike, eyes not leaving the dog.

The neighbors turned on their yard lights and saw the two with guns. The wife cowered back into the house and told her husband, "When they were here this afternoon, they didn't say they'd be pointing guns around!"

Mike grabbed at the dog and pulled him by the collar back. Gina moved forward with her gun trained on the whimpering man and saw three pairs of hands tremble. "Crawl forward. Keep your hands in the air."

The husband stood on the back stoop and called to the dog, "Killer! Come!"

The trained dog ran to his master and licked his lips, then looked back at the five people in their yard as if to say, See how good I did? Then to show his authority over that yard more, he stood stiff and growled to them.

"Heel, Killer. Come," the guy said. Killer walked over and sat down next to where his master was standing, but ready to pounce on them again if he needed to.

Gina pulled one of the men out and saw the gun in his hand. She kicked it away and pushed him to the ground. "Keep still." She looked at the other two, "Come out, now!"

The other officer ran to the fray with his gun out, then he and Mike pulled out Tommy and Harry. When they were all laying on the grass, the dog hovering, the wife mortified, the husband controlling the dog, Gina and Mike collected the guns and pulled wallets out of their back pockets.

"It was their idea," Tommy cried. "I didn't want to do this."

"Shut up," Bob commanded.

"That's right. You'd better be quiet," Gina said as she looked at Tommy's driver's license, "Thomas Manfield. You have the right to remain silent." She finished reading them their rights then each Secret Service Agent took a guy and moved him to the cars.

It was only then that Gina saw Charlie standing at the back door. He glared at the men, and looked back to see his family and Zoey staying back in the living room. He motioned that he'd be right back.

He followed Gina and Tommy to the car. "What's up?"

"Nothing. It's taken care of. Go back inside and enjoy dinner."

Charlie said, "What am I supposed to tell Zoey?"

"They were trying to break into the house next door. Go back inside."

The other two were thrown into the back seat of the front car and Mike grabbed Tommy from Gina and threw him in also. He slammed the door and said, "I'll go with to bring them in. You need back up here?"

Gina paused, leaned against the car. Then shook her head, "No. I'll be fine."

"I'll be back as soon as these clowns are in lockup."

She patted his arm, "Good work."

 

RECEPTION ROOM

The dinner had gone well. They all asked David about his job with NASA and told the latest jokes they had all heard. The evening was pleasant and everyone was on their best behavior. Abbey wondered when and how Jed would bring up the object of the dinner, and then she could call it a night. Although she enjoyed Terry Ziegler. After she got over her initial nervousness, had something to eat, and drink, she was a sparkling conversationalist.

Abbey kept looking to Jed to make a move, or motion to her on how to proceed, but since he hadn't done much of anything but talk to David about American History or laugh at Josh's jokes, she decided to make a move.

"Lola," she asked. "Terry? Let me give you a personally guided tour of the West Wing."

Terry said, "Oh, I'd love that. I'd love to see where Toby works."

Jed said, "Ah, maybe later?"

Abbey stood. "Why? You boys have a fun time while us girls catch up."

The women stood, making the men stand to be chivalrous, and they left the room. Jed sat back down and looked across the table at Cameron Talabor. He cleared his throat and leaned over to David to his right, "How about that George Washington, my predecessor, crossing the Delaware, huh?"

Toby put his head in his hands and shook his head.

 

EXCALIBOR ROOM

CJ and Robert stood and collected their coats. She thanked him again for a delightful meal, and staggered a little from all the wine. He caught her arm and didn't let it go until she took her arm back when they reached the sidewalk.

Robert said, "I'm serious, CJ. I want to see you again."

She looked dreamily into his eyes as he leaned in to kiss her again, she wrapped her arms around him, pulling him closer. At that moment, she couldn't care less what his motives might be, she was drawn in. He was just a new guy in town, reaching out for an old friend. That's what she told herself when they got into a cab and he told the driver to bring them to his hotel.

 

OVAL OFFICE

Jed really wanted to rub it into Cameron that he was having dinner with the President, and not just the guy who lived down the hall while they were still in college. He brought them into the Oval Office for cigars and brandy, and made sure uniformed military guards were at the door. If it could work for Barry Haskell, it would work on Cameron.

The first instance that Jed wanted to wring Cameron's throat was when he sat down on the couch and looked at the end table, "Hum, a glass ring. Such a shame."

Jed said, "Are you suggesting that I'm not taking care of the White House?"

"Not at all," Cameron said, but that was precisely what he meant.

"I'll have you know, that watermark came from the glass Winston Churchill drank from as he sat in that very spot while visiting with Franklin Delano Roosevelt during World War II, my friend."

Josh looked at Toby, who shrugged. It was best not to interfere with the President when he was spouting facts, whether they were true or not.

"I didn't say you put it there, Jed," Cameron said. "I was just commenting."

David rubbed his hand along the couch, "I wonder who else has sat on these couches."

"The list is long, David," Jed said, sitting next to him. "Would you like the list?"

Josh and Toby grumbled, but stayed put.

 

MURAL ROOM

The First Lady and her guests arrived and wandered around the room. Abbey was able to tell Terry about the murals and Terry gingerly touched them. Lola warmed herself by the fire and admired the candelabra.

While Terry was enthralled by the murals, Abbey took the opportunity of being able to talk to Lola alone and stood alongside her. "This is a beautiful home, Abbey. You should be so proud."

"I am. Thank you."

Since Lola had been pleasant all evening, Abbey decided it was time to have that talk that Jed couldn't seem to take care of. "Lola," she whispered. "I have something to ask you."

Lola gave the First Lady her full attention. Abbey bit her lip, then said straight out, "The President and I would appreciate if you didn't go forward with a campaign of Web Censorship."

Lola stepped back, "How on earth did you know I was involved. I haven't become public on it yet."

"We have our ways," Abbey gently smiled. "The President and I would consider it a favor if you stayed out of it."

Lola looked at the woman she'd known for over 30 years and thought things through. A favor from the President would be a handy thing, but she felt too vehement about it and wanted to lend her name to the cause. "I can't do that, Abbey," she said. "Children are bring turned into monsters."

Abbey had to swallow that, "Children can get research for school reports on the Internet. They play games, they read the latest gossip on... Ricky Martin or Brittany Spears, whoever's in vogue."

Lola couldn't believe that Abbey was telling her that, after what happened to her husband and daughter just a month before. "Kids gathered at a web site called, Wipe Out the Enemy, and shot at your husband and daughter."

Abbey looked at Terry, who was standing back, but listening. "We have to take the bad with the good."

"I can't believe you're saying that. Jed could have died."

"Yes. But Jed lives for children and their growth, for the forward movement of technology and making sure it's used for good. You are a powerful woman and lot of people listen to you," she said, stroking Lola with words. "But it shouldn't be that much of a surprise, Lola. I'm a leading proponent of Free Speech."

"What if he would have died?"

"Jed would have been a martyr, and the issue would become an issue on the forefront. But the President is not dead. He has things to do and he can't take that on. You have a lot of friends in Washington. Please don't talk to them about this."

Lola looked down her nose at Abbey, in a way that Abbey didn't like. "Why do you care what I do? Web Censorship is an issue that should be taken care of."

"Why don't you take up the cause of feeding the homeless or say no to drugs. It really would be a more productive way of making sure you don't rot in that mansion in Dallas."

Lola opened her mouth in shock. Abbey quickly said, "I'm sorry. That wasn't diplomatic at all. But I feel strongly abut my husband and he feels strongly about this."

"You know, Abbey," Lola slowly said. "In college, you were the star. You were the one everyone looked to because you would be somebody. On your own. Now... you're standing so far behind your husband, I can't even see you."

Abbey walked closer to her and said, "Look at my face, get out."

Cameron barreled down the hall and spotted his wife in the Mural Room, he came in and announced, "We're leaving!"

"Damn right," Lola agreed.

"It would be nice if I can get that donation I made back," Cameron grumbled.

"A check will be personally delivered to your hotel room tomorrow," Jed said. "You egotistical pain in the ass!"

Cameron was floored at the accommodations of the evening, he expected to have his ass personally kissed by that twit who sat in office. The donation was supposed to clear the way for additional land stripping, as the Senator from Texas had assured him it would. That was the only reason he wanted to come to the White House that evening. It's not like he hadn't seen it before. He had been a guest of both Reagan and Bush. He didn't need to be treated so badly by an arrogant Democrat! He grabbed his wife's arm and they were out the door.

Josh and Toby stood helpless and wondered how everything unraveled so quickly in front of their eyes. Toby had enjoyed the little diatribe both men let out, but Josh was taking it personally. Leo wouldn't have let it happen, but then he enjoyed a different relationship with the President.

David walked to Terry and said, "Maybe we should call it a night, too."

"Yeah," Terry nervously said.

Toby assured them that dinner usually didn't fall apart like that, and Jed looked at them, and was devastated. "Mr. and Mrs. Ziegler... I am so sorry you had to witness that." Jed lightly laughed, "We're old friends..." Then solemnly said, "I'm sorry."

David smiled, "He was pompous pain in the ass, Mr. President."

Jed slapped his back in brotherhood and they all laughed. "Don't take off so soon. Let's have a quiet talk. Just the six of us. Up in the residence." He stopped and excitedly pointed at them, how he does when a great thought pops into his head. "Or, maybe you want to watch a movie. We have the whole shootin' shebang downstairs. Sometimes we get movies before they hit the theaters."

Terry said, "That would be an honor, Mr. President, Mrs. President."

"Abbey and Jed," Abbey smiled. "As you can plainly see by our behavior, we're just people who live in a big house."


HELEN'S

Charlie had come back into the house after the car drove off with the men who tried... something, but he didn't know what, to see Zoey, Helen and Deena wondering why Killer next door was so loud. He assured them that everything was fine and they enjoyed the pizza. Gina walked into the house after Mike came back to see the three of them playing Old Maid at the kitchen table.

Bookbag was safe, the men, whatever they tried to do, were in custody and Charlie was happy Zoey and his family melded so well. She waved at them that everything's fine and take as long as they want. Enjoy their evening.

 

GEORGETOWN UNIVERSITY HOSPITAL

Leo threw the newspaper on the floor and grumbled, "I wonder how the dinner is going."

Jenny tore her eyes from the gripping TV that Leo insisted on watching, CSPAN, and looked at her husband, then smiled. "If I know our President... not well. It's almost a shame we couldn't see the fireworks."

"He wouldn't be that stupid. He can't let Cameron Talabor get mad at him. I should be there."

"You should be here so you can get well. There will be many more instances where you have to cover for Jed's temper in the future."

Leo looked at the oxygen clip on his finger and the machinery he was hooked up to and laid back. The fainting episode was scary, but the battery of tests the doctors insisted on performing on him scared him even more. He just had to get better. He felt the scar on his neck from the shooting and wondered what other damage it could have done to his system.

Jenny saw his mind working, and that he was thinking about the shooting and his health. She took his glasses off and set them on the table. "What?" Leo said. "I have a couple of more briefs to read."

"Tomorrow," Jenny lightly said. "There's always tomorrow." She kissed him on the cheek, then laid down next to him and held his hand. "Remember that, Leo. There's always tomorrow."

 

SCREENING ROOM

Jed and Abbey were in the back row with his arm around her, watching "The Way We Were" for the 10th time since he took office. It had been their favorite movie and made sure it could be called up at a moment's notice. Terry and David were sitting a couple of rows in front of them, and couldn't get over that they were watching a movie in the White House. The buttered popcorn and soda tasted better than they'd ever had, just because of the surroundings. Terry wouldn't ever be able to watch the movie again without remembering the wonderful evening. Even when it resorted to name calling, she enjoyed every part of it. Those two deserved to get a piece of someone's mind. There weren't many people she didn't care for right off the bat, but Cameron and Lola Talabor were definitely among that group.

Josh looked at Toby in the room in front of him. "Hey, Toby," he said. "I'm going to get out of here. I got a meeting in the morning."

Toby said, without taking his eyes off the screen, "I have one too, but I've never seen this film."

Josh stopped, "You're kidding me."

"No. Why would I?"

"Everyone's seen this movie."

"Obviously not everyone, when I just said I haven't seen it."

Jed interrupted them, "Shut up."

They both said, "Yes, Mr. President," as Toby gave his full attention to the screen and Josh made a hasty exit.

 

DANNY'S APARTMENT

Danny just turned off the game and was ready to call it a night. He shut the police scanner off and made his way to the bedroom when the doorbell rang. He looked at the clock and it was too late for company. Looking out the peephole, he saw CJ's face.

He opened the door, "Hello," he lightly said, certainly surprised.

She walked in and shut the door, "You bought that French food today, didn't you?"

Danny looked her over and said, "I refuse to answer on the grounds that it may incriminate me."

"I'm not a cop, or a judge."

"But you are something."

CJ nodded and paced his apartment. "It had to have been you. I remembered what Donna said, that she couldn't afford it. Toussant's is the most expensive place in town. I don't think any of them could have. Hell, I'd have a hard time explaining that spread to my accountant."

"Did you enjoy it?"

"Of course I enjoyed it Danny. That's not the point."

"What's the point?"

CJ searched for words. "You surprised me."

"It was Surprise Friday."

CJ corrected him. "It still is." She looked at her watch. "For another 10 minutes anyway."

"How was your date?"

"Good. There wasn't anything to the date except, Robert wanted to see me. Me. Not the Press Secretary for the President of the United States."

"I know."

"How do you know so much? How did you know he was in town and.... sent me an email! Are you stealing my email?!"

Danny put up his hands, "No!" That didn't calm her, so he said again. "No. No. I was Walter Reed the other day and ran into Mr. Forrester. He recognized me as Senior Correspondent to the White House and that I probably know you, and your email address. He asked me for it. I asked why. He told me. I didn't like it. I researched him. I found out he worked for Imperial Oil, and... I didn't want you to go on the date."

"You're quite the reporter there."

"Thank you."

"You didn't want me to go on the date?"

"Of course not."

"Why?"

"Do I really have to answer that?"

"No." CJ already knew why. And it was what she was fighting against for months. "It would never work out."

"Us?"

"Yes."

"Why not?"

"I'm the Press--."

"Secretary and I'm the press," he finished it for her. "I know. I don't think it's that big a deal. In your wildest dreams, CJ, do you ever picture yourself slipping me information when you shouldn't?"

"No."

"I certainly wouldn't do it either. I would never ask for special treatment. That's not my style." He smiled, "And knowing you, you wouldn't give it to me anyway."

"Okay," CJ hesitantly said, starting to get used to what he was suggesting.

"My only condition is that you don't treat me like I have the plague or something. We wouldn't even have to talk politics when we're together."

"What would we talk about?"

Danny shrugged, "Who your best friend was when you were 5. How you first learned how to ride a bike. What sports teams you root for. There's a world of things out there that don't include the White House or newspapers. And," he continued. "I can tell you all about my 10th grade science project that I won at State with, because I know you're dying to know."

CJ stared at him. "You know what's scary?"

"What?"

"I would like to know about that. You won State?"

Danny nodded, "I still have the ribbon."

They moved closer to each other and wrapped their arms around the other's waists. "Why did you come over tonight?"

"I was in Robert's hotel room, and..." she softly said. "I realized that I wanted to be here more."

Danny smiled and caressed her cheek, then brought her mouth to his. CJ knew at that moment, that she made the right decision to come over.

THE END

 

 

 

 

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