...all life is only a set of pictures in the brain,
among which there is no difference
betwixt those born of real things and
those born of inward dreaming,
and there is no cause to value one above the other.
- H.P. Lovecraft

********

Jan. 18, 1993
CJ's office
303 Hart Senate Office Building
Washington, D.C.

Everyone in politics has an 'Ego Wall.' This is where they display to visitors their highly impressive credentials to be allowed into such elite company, or so they like to believe.

In many ways, CJ's 'ego wall' resembled everyone else's. There hung her diplomas from the Univ. of California at Berkeley; a framed clipping from the State Journal-Register of a profile on her her and her position on Congressman Tolbert's staff; and a few autographed pictures; her and Joe Tolbert, her and her current boss, Roy Hayden, and one of CJ and the President that was taken when he was campaigning with Hayden in Ohio.

The only difference between her wall and others was its placement in her office. Many had theirs behind their desks, as to give visitors plenty of opportunity to be impressed as they met. Some chose the wall opposite the door, so it was the first thing people see as they enter the office. CJ's 'ego wall', on the other hand, was a two and a half wide space between a bookcase and the southeast corner of the room.

The wall opposite the door to her office was decorated with a few prints of her favorite paintings and an old campaign poster. Behind her desk, was a window with a file cabinet on one side and another bookcase on the other. Candid snapshots of her family adorned her desktop.

It was the day before Roy Hayden would be swore in as Ohio's newest U.S. senator and she was busy getting ready for her official first day on the job as a Senatorial Press Secretary. Her back was to the door as she organized her file cabinet with files she pulled from one of the few remaining boxes in the room, when she heard her assistant call her name.

"CJ, there's a man here to see you."

"Who is it," CJ asked, her mind preoccupied.

"I'm with 'Better Homes and Offices,'" a new voice said. "And I give this office four out of five stars."

He watched bemused as her back immediately straightened and her hands stopped shuffling through files. Though she didn't turn around, he could still hear the smile in her reply.

"What's keeping me from that elusive fifth star?"

"Well," he paused and glanced around the room, "I don't see any pictures of me anywhere."

CJ finally turned around to see him standing there, his onyx eyes twinkling. "Toby."

"Madam Press Secretary," he acknowledged with a small nod and tried not to let his amusement show. She looked like a little kid left alone in a candy shop.

"What are you doing here," she asked, as she crossed the room to greet him.

He raised his eyebrow at her words. "Obviously not being very welcome," he replied, his tone wry.

"No," she laughed. "I'm just surprised to see you. I didn't know you were in town."

"I've been in town for over a month now," said Toby as they sat down.

"What," CJ said, shock and confusion coloring her voice.

"I'm the new White House Liaison for the Labor Department," he explained. "And as soon as she finishes a case in New York, Andy is accepting a transfer to Deputy U.S. Attorney for the D.C. district."

"Toby," she yelped, throwing her arms around him. "Congratulations. This is great!"

His battle to keep from smiling was lost when he saw the look of pure joy on her face. "Can I buy you dinner?"

"Absolutely." Forgetting her files, she let Toby help her with her coat and she grabbed her purse. "We can celebrate."

"Yes," Toby said. "We can also discuss some of the more questionable decisions of Hayden's campaign. I'm particularly interested in the reasoning behind the Bowling Green speech."

"Toby," she groaned good-naturedly as she flipped off the lights and shut the door behind them.

********

March 23, 1993
CJ's apartment
Bethesda, Maryland

CJ closed the door as three more guests of her dinner party left and she turned around to regard her two friends. She smiled to see Andy relaxing in a CJ's favorite rocking chair and Toby standing with a glass of scotch in his hand, studying the pictures on the wall. They had invited CJ to their townhouse several times during the past couple months and had always made her feel comfortable. She was glad she was finally able to do the same.

"CJ, that was delicious," proclaimed Andrea. "I think you've missed your calling as a master chef."

"Thanks," said CJ. "Although, and I say this with great affection, the two of you would probably consider anyone who could boil an egg the next Wolfgang Puck."

"True," Andy laughingly conceded. "I hate to say this, but do you mind if I use your phone? I want to check in at the office."

"Of course not," CJ shook her head. "You can use the one in the den. It's the second door on the left."

"Thanks."

CJ watched to make sure Andrea found the right room, then walked over to where Toby stood. She followed his gaze to a photo of her and her brothers. It had been taken the day she graduated college. She stood between them, facing the camera with an unadulterated smile on her face. Her brothers were on either side. They weren't looking at the camera, rather at each other, the corners of their lips curled up. "Those are my brothers, Ryan and Curtis."

"What did they do right after this picture was taken?"

Her head snapped to look at them in surprise, then her expression softened and she smiled ruefully, looking back to the photo. "They picked me up and tossed me into the pool."

Out of the corner of her eye, she saw Toby grin and look at a different picture. It was another of her and her brothers, this time after a Halloween party. They had decided to go as cross dressers. Ryan and Curtis were wearing two of the ugliest dresses and wigs they could find in a used clothing shop in San Francisco. CJ had done their makeup and had way too much fun, they decided. The two paid back the favor by painting a mustache and full beard on her face. She wore an old denim leisure suit of her father's they had found in the attic. The three of them were passed out on the couch, exhausted and slightly drunk. CJ's head resting on Ryan's shoulder and Curtis resting his on her shoulder.

"You and your brothers are close," Toby said, more of an observation than a question.

She nodded wordlessly, her eyes grazing over all of the random photographs decorating her wall; her friends and family over the years in various gatherings.

"Do you miss them," he asked, his tone low.

"Yeah," she said softly, then turned to him about to say more, when she saw in his eyes their was nothing more to add.

"Come on," said Toby, breaking the silence. "I'll help you with the dishes."

When Andrea emerged from the den, she heard voices coming from the kitchen. Peeking in, she saw CJ and her husband standing in front of a sink full of soapy water. Toby was placing the last plate in the rack to dry on the counter, when just as he turned back CJ splashed him with water. Momentarily shocked, he quickly retaliated.

Andy raced back to the den and grabbed the camera she saw sitting on CJ's bookcase. By the time she returned to the kitchen, they were engaged in a full blown war. CJ's hair dripped with water and Toby's beard was spotted with soapy bubbles. They were completely oblivious until they heard the camera, then they both froze and glared at her.

"Put the camera down."

Startled by CJ's unusually sharp tone, Andy missed the mischievous glances they exchanged as she turned to sit the camera on the table. She didn't see the plastic cups full of water until it was too late.

********

June 14, 1993
Sheraton Centre Hotel
AFL-CIO Dinner

The room erupted in applause as the Secretary of Labor, Leo McGarry, finished his speech. Shortly afterwards, Toby was standing at the bar when he heard the voice he had been waiting for.

"I didn't realize writing speeches was included in your job description as White House Liaison."

He turned around. "Only unofficially."

Her glorious smile lit CJ's face. "It was good."

Suddenly, Toby's mind flashbacked to five years earlier, when she said those same words in regards to another speech he had written. Five years ago, when he was a lonely bachelor and she was a beautiful, mysterious woman with a voice like red wine. He blinked and was back in the present; a present where he was married to the woman he loved and she was one of his best friends.

"It was a dry policy statement," he replied.

CJ shrugged. "This is the AFL-CIO," she said, as if that were all the explanation required, and it was. "It was clear, concise, and I didn't fall asleep listening to it. Besides, McGarry has a better ear for your writing than Henning did."

"Marginally," grunted Toby, prompting CJ to roll her eyes in amusement.

"Where's Andy?"

"Court."

"When you see her tonight, could you ask her if we could move our plans on Saturday back an hour?"

His eyes narrowed. "What are your plans on Saturday?"

"We're going to TP the White House, then we plan to head to Phoebe's for brunch," she answered, mocking his suspicious tone. "We're going shopping, Toby."

"I'll tell her you want to move it back an hour."

"Thank you," she smiled. "Just tell her to give me a call and let me now if that's okay. Now, if you'll excuse me, I need to mingle. It was a good speech," she said, patting him on the shoulder reassuringly. Then lowered her voice and in a slightly menacing tone that belied her smile, she said, "and when we're not in a room with a couple hundred other people, we'll have a little chat about what wasn't included the speech."

With that promise serving as a parting shot, she left him standing at the bar as she befriended a reporter from the Post.

"Great," sighed Toby, not entirely in sarcasm.

********

Sept. 6, 1993
CJ's apartment

"I really have to go," he said for the fifth time as their lips parted.

"Okay," breathed CJ.

"I'll call you tomorrow."

"Okay," she smiled and kissed him once more. "Goodnight."

"Goodnight."

CJ waited five full seconds after she closed the door before skipping into the living room like a little girl. Falling down onto the couch, she closed her eyes to enjoy the quiet, when the phone rang.

"Hello."

"They're going to swallow it."

"Hello to you, too, Toby," she replied. "How are you?" Before he could respond, she continued happily. "I'm great. I had another date with Brian tonight and-"

"CJ," he groaned.

"Yes, Toby," she asked sweetly.

"Did you watch Larry King?"

"As I saying, I was on a date tonight-"

"Mullany all but said they're going to swallow the rider on 526! He-"

"Toby, is Andy there? Can I talk to her for a moment?"

"CJ-"

"Just a moment, then right back to you, I promise."

"Hey, CJ," came Andy's voice.

"Is he kidding me with this," she asked good-naturedly.

Andy laughed quietly. "I'm afraid not. Are you busy?"

"Unfortunately for me, but fortunately for Toby, I am not," CJ replied with a smile. "Okay, you can put him back on." She reached down to remove her shoes and waited for him to come back on the phone. "Toby, it's the only way the bill's going to pass. It's compromise."

"It's selling out, CJ-"

"Wait a second, I'm going to put you on speakerphone." She pushed a button, then started to unzip her dress. "Okay."

"What are you doing?"

"I'm getting undressed."

"Well, we won't tell Andy that."

"Keep arguing. I'm listening," she said as she headed for her bedroom for a pair of pajamas.

She stopped for a moment as she saw a photo on the wall that was crooked. It was of her and Toby at a press event, though now she couldn't recall what it was about. He had just said something funny, his eyes were twinkling and his smile was not quite disguised by his facial hair. She was leaning on his shoulder, laughing.

CJ paused to straighten it, then continued to her room, taking off her earrings on the way. Toby's voice followed her, filling the apartment.

"It's crap, CJ! It's political grandstanding just to prove they can get away with it..."

 

 

Home        What's New        Author Listings        Title Listings