TITLE: "Dance, Then, Wherever You May Be"
Dance, Then, Wherever You May Be
"Grated apricot sherbet with frozen date mousse, orange sauce, baklava, and rainbow marzipan." C.J. paused for breath. "Everyone got that?"
"What is grated apricot sherbet?" a reporter asked. "I mean, does it have grated apricot in it, or is the sherbet itself--"
"Well, I'm not exactly sure how you'd grate sherbet, Cindy, but I'll check on that for you." She raised her eyebrows and went on. "In addition to President Dogruyusever and his wife, special guests will include Ahmet Ertegun and Neil Sedaka. We're also expecting several of the Senators who worked on the education bill to attend. I have the list here somewhere... yes. Senators Dashowitz, Ford, Grace, Ramsey, Verrien and Wiley. I believe that covers everything?"
"I'm sorry, what kind of mousse?"
"For heaven's sake, Arthur. Date mousse. Apricot sherbet, orange sauce, baklava, and rainbow marzipan. All you can eat." The reporter chuckled. C.J. shuffled her notes and surveyed the room. "I think we're done. Thank you."
As she left the press room, Josh fell into step with her. "That went well."
"In two minutes, I'm going to have someone knocking on my door asking if it's orange sherbet and apricot sauce," C.J. predicted.
"I didn't know Neil Sedaka was invited."
"Well, what kind of party would it be without Neil Sedaka?"
Josh grinned. "Yeah, I might wear a special tux for that."
"Is that anything like your special Joey Lucas suit?"
He reddened. "For the tenth time, I don't have--"
"What's rainbow marzipan?" Sam interrupted, catching up with them in the hall.
C.J. shrugged. "Supposedly, Dogruyusever likes it."
"You don't know what it is?"
"Well, it's not like I'm the one cooking it."
"Hey, Sam," Josh said brightly, "Did you know we're going to have dinner with Neil Sedaka?"
"I did, in fact. I'm bursting with excitement."
"The two of you are going to drive me to do something desperate," C.J. warned.
Sam smiled. "Believe me, C.J., if you haven't partied with Ahmet Ertegun, you don't know how to get down."
Toby was waiting for them in the bullpen. "Bad news."
C.J. groaned. "You're going to tell me they really do grate the sherbet."
"The hell? No, C.J., I'm talking about real news."
"We're planning a state dinner," Sam said. "We're not doing real news today."
"We've become the E! network," Josh added.
"What's going on?" C.J. finally asked.
"Six minutes ago, there was a shooting over on the other side of town, at Stanton Elementary School."
The news silenced them, and they stared at Toby. Sam was the first to speak. "Casualties?"
"An eight-year-old boy's on his way to Providence in critical condition. A nine-year-old girl...." Toby hesitated. "Dead at the scene."
There was another pause. Breaking the stillness, C.J. drew a breath, turned, and headed back toward the Press Room.
* * *
Jed opened a door of the Oval Office and entered quickly. "Tell me about this shooting."
Leo was waiting for him. "We don't know much at this point, sir."
"Tell me what you know."
"Two children were shot outside the school." Leo had a sheet of paper in his hand, but didn't need to consult it. "The boy, Daniel Ripley, was shot in the left thigh and the right shoulder; he lost a lot of blood."
"Is he going to make it?" Jed asked quietly.
"It's too early to say."
"And the girl?"
"Single bullet to the head. Bernadette Bryson was her name."
Leo nodded. "Toby's preparing a statement. You'll be on the air in an hour."
"Do we have people at the hospital?"
"What about the shooters?"
"Last I heard, they didn't have anyone in custody."
"Do they have any ideas?"
Leo frowned. "They're fairly certain it was another student."
"A child in elementary school."
Jed shook his head and began walking around the room. "Charlie!"
After a moment, he appeared. "Yes, Mr. President?"
"Get me information on Bernadette Bryson and have her mother on the phone after the security briefing." Jed turned to Leo, and they followed Charlie out of the office. "Walk with me. About the state dinner."
"What about it?"
"There's something that I need you to explain."
"Good morning, Faith." Leo maneuvered around a staff member. "Well, sir, I don't know what I can tell you. Neil Sedaka is a very boring man."
"I'm not asking you about Neil Sedaka, Leo. I wanted to ask you about the menu."
"What in hell is grated apricot sherbet?"
"Honestly?" Leo looked at Jed. "I have no idea."
* * *
Toby strode purposefully into C.J.'s office. "I've got--"
She was on the phone, and held up a hand to quiet him. He waited, half-listening to her side of the conversation. "He's not. You're sure? Okay. No, I'll call you back." She hung up the phone and looked at Toby. "What have you got?"
"Nothing. It was just a scare, and that was years ago."
She stared at him. "Did you just make a joke?"
"Yes, I did. I've got your advance copy of the Stanton statement." He dropped it on her desk. "Extend our sympathy and prayers, and so on. Read it."
"Hang on, I'm still back on you making a joke." She smiled suddenly. "It
"I'm an endless source of hilarity. Read."
C.J. picked up the statement and sighed. "We have a problem."
"Somehow I'm not surprised."
"Senator Verrien rejected the invitation to the dinner."
Toby blinked. "He rejected the invitation?"
"I just spoke to his office. He's not coming."
"I know what 'rejected the invitation' means. Why did he reject his invitation?"
"You'll love this. He has a personal engagement."
"Well, that sounds like complete bull--"
"You think maybe he objects to the rainbow marzipan?" she wondered wryly.
Toby grimaced. "Could we please get off the damn food?"
"What, you're the only one who gets to make jokes?" She quickly skimmed the papers he'd brought her. "This is good."
"We're going to have to meet with Todd Verrien."
"Oh, yes, we are. I'll set it up."
Toby nodded. He lingered just inside C.J.'s door for a few seconds, long enough that she looked up at him again.
"Showtime in twenty minutes," he said, leaving. She tilted her head thoughtfully and reached for the phone again.
* * *
"Ladies and gentlemen, thank you for coming. The President will be out shortly." C.J. stepped from the podium and noticed Sam beckoning her from the hallway.
"What's the deal with Verrien?"
"Ask me again after I meet with him." C.J. stood next to Sam but faced straight ahead, watching the President take the podium and give his statement.
"...Profoundly shocked and saddened this morning. I've asked the Attorney General and the Secretary of Education to stand ready to assist local law enforcement, as well as the community, in this time of terrible sorrow." Jed's voice was quiet and powerful.
"That's good," Sam murmured.
"At this time," Jed continued, "we do not know the exact details of what
Sam wrinkled his nose. "Very violent? As opposed to what?"
"I think he added that himself." C.J. consulted her copy of the statement. "Speaking of, are you finished writing his remarks for tonight?"
"And the toast?"
"Is it going to be funny?"
"No." Sam looked at her. "Do you think it should be?"
"I'm going to talk to Leo. I think we need a humor consultant on staff."
"Hey, guys." Josh stepped between C.J. and Sam. "I just saw Todd Verrien
"Was he alone?" C.J. asked.
"He had two aides with him. What's going on?"
C.J. looked at Josh. "What are you doing in ten minutes?"
"Yelling at Donna?"
"Come to this meeting with me."
Josh's eyes lit up. "You got it."
"As parents, we must reach out to our children, and as Americans, we must reach out to each other."
"That's good, too." C.J. fingered her necklace self-consciously. "On the
Sam nodded. "Yeah, between this and the President taking a bullet...."
"Not to mention my near-death experience," Josh added lightly.
They heard Leo sigh behind them. "Do you really think this is an appropriate conversation for you to be having? And, for God's sake, don't you people have any work to do?"
"C.J. and I were just on our way to meet with Senator Verrien." Josh grabbed her arm and they began walking quickly down the hall.
"And what about you?" Leo looked at Sam.
"I'm working on tonight's toast."
"Well, go do it!" Leo watched Sam retreat. He hesitated for a moment as Jed wrapped up his speech, then made his way back to his office.
* * *
"Don't be nervous," Josh admonished C.J., as he hurried her along.
She stopped short. "Why do you do that? You know I hate that."
"You tell me not to be nervous, and that makes me feel like I should be nervous, and then I completely lose my concentration."
Josh looked askance at her. "When I tell you not to be nervous, that makes you more so?"
"You're really perverse, you know that?"
She rolled her eyes. "Let's go in."
Josh opened the door to the Mural Room, and C.J. went in ahead of him. "Senator."
"Miss Cregg." Todd Verrien stood to greet her and indicated the two staffers he'd brought. "This is Rick Pomerantz, Gillian Hastings--"
"You know Josh Lyman." C.J. inclined her head towards him as he stepped into the room.
Verrien seemed slightly dismayed that her support outranked his. "Yes. What can I do for you?"
C.J. folded her hands. "Frankly, Senator, we're disappointed that you've declined to attend tonight's White House dinner."
Verrien smiled falsely. "I believe Gillian already spoke to you on the subject. I have a personal engagement."
C.J. nodded. "Due respect, sir, your personal assistant informally confirmed your attendance a week ago."
"She should have spoken to me first."
Josh sat down on the couch. "Senator, you crossed party lines to support the Russo-Silverberg education initative, and the President appreciates it."
"It was a good bill," Verrien said. "I would have backed it, no matter which side of the aisle it came from."
"You were part of the fight," C.J. countered. "Why wouldn't you want to be part of the celebration?"
"Think back four months."
C.J. glanced at Josh. "I'm not sure I understand."
The young aide raised his head. "The Supreme Court decision."
"The Supreme Court decision," Verrien said bluntly. "They struck down a partial-birth abortion ban in my state. The decision went five-four. Without Mendoza...." He shook his head. "Five-four. The people of Nebraska believed in that law, and I believed in that law."
"Due respect," C.J. repeated, "that law wouldn't have held up under the previous Court."
"And I can virtually guarantee you that the topic will not come up over dinner tonight," Josh added.
"We're talking about the wholesale murder of unborn babies." Verrien's voice was icy. "I have a wife and two daughters who agree with me that choice is not the issue here. I am open-minded on the topic of education. I compromise on the budget. This is non-negotiable. And in two years, when my party's in the White House, I'll say so to the President. For now, don't offer me your respect--" he glared at C.J. "--and don't expect me to break bread with you."
Verrien turned and walked out briskly. His aides followed. "He has an interview with the _Times_ this afternoon," Gillian informed them, as a parting shot. "I expect the topic will come up."
C.J. shook her head in disbelief. "Wholesale murder?"
"That was messy," Josh agreed. "At least you didn't seem nervous."
"Unprepared, but not nervous."
"Thanks," she said sarcastically, starting for the door. "Hey, next time, let's just make it simple and not invite any Republicans to the party."
Josh's eyes twinkled. "Pun intentional?"
She looked back at him over her shoulder. "No."
* * *
To be continued in part two. Please send feedback.