Every act of creation is first an act of destruction.
- Pablo Picasso

********

March 29, 1992
CJ's apartment
Springfield, Illinois

Opening the door to her apartment, her hand immediately reached for the light switch where it lingered for several seconds before dropping back to her side without turning it on. The last remaining rays of the setting sun filtered through the cotton blinds, casting the room in spiritless shadows. It was as if the room had been draped in a colorless silk; its straight lines now dulled, distinct planes obscured.

She closed the door behind her, twisting the lock out of habit. Mindlessly, she walked to the kitchen and fixed a glass of water, then returned to the living room turning the radio on on her way. As the low, haunting blues rhythm filled the air, she sat down, tucking her long legs beneath herself and rested her head against the back of the couch. Her deep breaths slowed to match the beat of the music.

She closed her eyes and tried to clear her mind, before finally judging it impossible as thoughts kept slipping past her defenses.

Dan wanted to get married. This wasn't exactly a new revelation. They had been dating for seven years, the topic of marriage had come up a few times. She knew Dan wanted to get married. He wanted a wife, children, a cat, and a dog. He wanted the white picket fence, the happily ever after.

And it wasn't as if she was completely adverse to any of those things. In fact, they all sounded like pretty nice things to have someday. She just wasn't sure she wanted them now.

So far, she had been able to keep their discussions on the subject on a purely hypothetical basis, a 'sometime in the future it might be nice' discussion. Last weekend, however, Dan had decided it was time to take the hypotheticals out of the equation. Tonight, she decided to take their relationship out of the equation.

She loved him, of that CJ had no doubt. And she knew he loved her. She just didn't think she could promise him to be with him forever. Not yet. And he deserved someone who could. He said he could wait. She knew he couldn't. So, they ended their relationship.

There were no tears. She was sure they would come later. Now, it was just... numbness. She felt so tired.

CJ didn't know how long she had sat in the darkness when the phone unexpectedly rang. Startled, she opened her eyes to see it sitting innocently on the coffee table. She groaned as it rang again.

Her every impulse told her to ignore it. She didn't want to talk to anyone, she just wanted to stay here in the shadows, this odd limbo where the real world had no jurisdiction. Whoever it was and whatever trivial thing they wanted to talk about could wait.

It rang for a fourth time, but she wasn't going to answer. On the fifth ring, a second before her machine picked it up, her body betrayed her and picked up the phone.

"Hello."

"CJ, it's Toby."

Three words. Three simple, very harmless sounding words and she felt as if her world went twirling of its axis. Then again, maybe it wasn't the words that did that. It's quite possible it was the voice that spoke them. Perhaps, inching towards the probable.

There was really no way to adequately describe his voice. Some might be inclined to call it short or thick. If they fancied themselves poets, they may even use the ever popular 'whiskey stained' phrase. CJ finally determined those were too pedestrian for something so unique. It was rough, yet could turn amazingly soft; clear one moment and opaque the next. It could be all at the same time. There was simply nothing in the world like it.

"CJ?"

"Toby," she repeated softly.

"You sound like I caught you off guard. Is this a bad time?"

"No," CJ replied quickly. "I was just a little surprised to hear from you." She smiled. "It's only been five months. I didn't expect to talk to you again for at least another year and a half," she said, causing him to chuckle.

"Well, I hate to be predictable," he joked.

"I don't think you have anything to worry about."

They were quiet for a few moments, when he said, "I heard about Tolbert."

She sighed lightly. "He's announcing tomorrow."

Tomorrow, at ten a.m., Joe Tolbert, the Democratic Congressman for the Illinois Twentieth, would stand in front of dozens of reporters and several camera crews and announce that he would not run for re-election.

Tomorrow, the Democratic Party would be disgruntled that not only were they losing a rising star, but also a seat in the House, as it would be for all intents and purposes impossible for a democratic candidate to step into the campaign at this point and win.

Tomorrow, the public would be surprised and a majority would be disappointed.

And tomorrow, CJ would be out of a job. She wasn't really upset, though. The reasons he would give the press would be generic and vague. Most of his staff knew his real motivation, however, though no one would talk about it publicly. Joe Tolbert was giving up his seat in Congress to come back home and work on putting his marriage and family back together after discovering his wife had had an affair. She had to admire him for that. It was the right thing to do.

"Speculation on what caused his hair-pin change of mind is reaching a fevered pitch," Toby commented.

"Do you really want to know?"

"I could honestly care less."

CJ paused. "Couldn't"

"What?"

"You couldn't care less," she said. "Saying you could care less, indicates that you do actually care in some way."

He was quiet for several seconds before finally clearing his throat and saying, "The Governor of Ohio, Roy Hayden, is looking for a new Press Secretary for his Senate campaign."

CJ's eyes narrowed. "I hadn't heard that. What happened to his old Press Secretary?"

"He's going to fire him as soon as he hires a new one. Which is why you haven't heard about it," he explained. "They are trying to keep it as quiet as possible."

"How did you hear?"

"Uh-" Suddenly, CJ pictured him rubbing his forehead tiredly. "Do you remember the guy I work with named Will?"

"Don Juan?"

"Yeah," sighed Toby. "He heard it from the Governor's younger sister and he thought you might be interested."

"Will thought I might be interested," CJ repeated skeptically.

"Yeah."

He was lying.

"Anyway," he said, sounding more than slightly uneasy, "Hayden is leading in the polls, but he isn't running the tables. The state has become a battleground over gun control and the proposed minimum wage hike. It sounds like a fun campaign."

CJ snorted. "You have an interesting idea of fun, Toby."

"So I've been told."

Silence fell over them. It began comfortably, but somewhere along the line turned a corner into something deeper. She felt the smile slowly slide off her lips, and tried to ignore the growing lump in her throat.

She had thought the reason he could read her so well had something to do with his eyes, or maybe his voice, but now she knew it was something else, something indefinable. She felt more exposed in the dark silence that surrounded them. When Toby finally spoke, his voice was low, almost inaudible. "CJ-"

"Do you think I can do it," she asked suddenly, cutting him off.

Toby was quiet for a moment, then said softly, "Yes."

This time he wasn't lying.

After several seconds, he said, "It'll be a fun campaign. You may even get to talk about prayer in school."

She laughed for the first time that day. She shook her head. "You are unpredictable, Toby Ziegler."

"Really?"

Something in his voice made her pause. CJ thought for a minute, then replied quietly, "No, not really." When he didn't say anything, she continued softly. "Thank you, Toby."

"Yeah," he said, suddenly uncomfortable. "I should let you go."

"Okay," she smiled. "Good night."

"Good night, CJ."

She hung up the phone and leaned her head against the back of the couch as she had before. His words, spoken and unspoken, looping continuously through her mind. After a moment, she made up her mind and reached up to flip the light on.

 

 

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