TITLE: The First One Hundred Days, Part Three
AUTHOR: Luna (lunavudu@a...)
NOTES: See part one. Feedback is fantastic.

Oh, God, I can't stop laughing
This sense of humor of mine, it isn't funny at all
But we sit up all night talking about it
Just being alive, it can really hurt...
- Kate Bush, "Moments Of Pleasure"

Monday, April 9th: Day Eighty

Sam was running late, and he hated it.

A hundred times -- every New Year's, every time he got waylaid at a
red light, every time his phone started shrilling when he had a foot
out the door -- he'd resolved to become a punctual person. He'd set
his watch and his alarm ahead ten minutes, tied strings around his
fingers, asked for wake-up calls and warnings. None of it worked.
The problem was chronic, and the damnedest thing was that it wasn't
always his fault.

He hurried through O'Hare, anxiously checking his boarding pass and
luggage and the time. It wasn't his fault, this time. It had been
kids, grad students, a group of them who had attended all eight of
the lectures he'd given at the University of Chicago. They'd come to
the discussion afterwards, trying hard to pretend they didn't believe
that the world was an essentially good place. Three of them -- a
redheaded political science major named Tabitha, a brunette law
student named Holly, and an education major named Kyle who had
bleached his dark hair blond -- had been fairly obvious in flirting
with him. Sam thought he should be flattered, but he was unnerved.
They were young enough, technically, to be his children, and they
would have gone to bed with him. The thought made him want a long
shower and a long night's sleep.

They'd gathered him into a discussion of cancer research at a coffee
stand just off the campus. He'd managed to disentangle himself from
the group, but the sixty-minute grace period he'd allowed himself to
make his flight on time had somehow evaporated. Then he'd gotten
stuck at the tail end of every possible long line, and of course his
plane was at the farthest terminal. Airports were like hotel rooms;
they were all alike and they were rarely above awful. The boarding
call crackled over the intercom. He groaned, slipped past a couple
of stodgy gray-haired women who were standing still and dashed down
the moving walkway.

Predictably, as Sam sprinted off the end of the belt, he lost his
footing and fell face forward, landing in a jumble on the cold tile
as his briefcase skittered out of his hands.

He sat up, dazed. Several adults snickered. At least two children
pointed and giggled outright. "Serves him right," he heard one of
the matronly women say as she walked by. For several seconds, his
mind was blank. He knew, of course, who he was and where he was
going, but all that seemed irrelevant in the pure absurdity of the
moment. The floor was cold under his hands. His elbows were
definitely bruised. Everything was the white of reflected
fluorescent light.

Then everything in his head became very clear.

He seized his carry-on and scrambled to his feet, rummaging
frantically for his cell phone. The number flew off his fingertips,
and rang and rang until he felt like a schoolboy counting down until
recess. Finally, there was an answer.

"Josh--"

"Put Josh on," Sam said automatically, before he even heard the voice.

"Dude, it's me. You caught me right on my way out the door."

"Hey, sorry. I thought you'd be Donna."

"I promise you, I will never be Donna." Josh sounded drowsy. "I was
heading home. It's like nine-thirty here."

"That's early," Sam observed.

"Only in our sick little world. What's up?"

He paced a few steps toward the wall, away from the flow of human
traffic. "I'm lucid."

"Okay," Josh answered warily. "Is this one of those times like when
people say they're sane and it means they're too crazy to know
they're crazy?"

"No, I'm really lucid."

"Also, I thought you could only be lucid if you had been unconscious
for a long time," he continued. "Like, 'How's the patient?' 'Oh, she
woke up from the procedure. She's lucid, but she can't eat yet.'
And then the other guy says--"

"Josh? Can you stop doing a one-man rendition of St. Elsewhere and
listen to me?"

"I'm a little punchy," Josh apologized. "So, you're lucid?"

"I'm like O.J. Simpson in the old Hertz ads," Sam declared.

"I have to tell you, O.J. Simpson is the last person that I think of
when I think of you."

"Are you going to stop interrupting?"

"Yeah, but--" Josh stifled a yawn. "You have to get to something
like a point soon."

"All that time we were running on a moving walkway," Sam said,
running his fingers through his hair. "Like the Hertz ad. We were
going with the direction, and it was all the time, and we never
thought about it. We never realized how fast we were going. And
then we went right off the end and our legs were moving way above
normal speed, and we're out of control and we have to catch
ourselves."

"So let me get this straight," Josh said. "You fell down at the end
of one of those people belts in the airport."

"No," Sam said defensively. "Well, yes, yes, yes, but that's not the
point. It's a perfect metaphor, you see?"

"There is nothing more dangerous than you with a perfect metaphor."

"We went flying off the thing," Sam persisted. "That's why
everything keeps spinning away from me. That's why everyone's lost
and confused and crashing into things."

"Yeah. So." Josh hesitated for a heartbeat. "You're coming back
here, then."

Sam didn't know it, hadn't decided or realized it until he was
speaking. He filled his lungs with air and let it rush out of
him. "Yeah."

The sleepiness left Josh's voice with speed. He was alert now, Sam
thought, and awake and alive. Lucid, and pleased about it. "It'll
be good," Josh said.

Sam realized he had to look ludicrously, stupidly happy. "It will!"

"It'll be great. It'll be really -- it hasn't been the same here."
Josh sounded infinitely relieved by just saying the words. "I mean,
it has, but it hasn't. It'll be good now. Within a week we'll be
painting the town red."

He tried to stop smiling, found he couldn't, and wondered if his face
had really frozen that way. "Columbia's gonna be pissed when I don't
show up."

"You cash their check yet?"

"No."

"Then let 'em eat cake," Josh said gleefully. "Now we're in
business."

Sam bounced up and down on the balls of his feet. "You think
Georgetown'll have me?"

"They'd be fools not to. Plus, we have connections."

"We *are* connections."

"And after you do that for a while -- you don't have to, you know,
commit to anything," Josh told him. "I don't want this to be like
you got the wind knocked out of you and it seemed like a good idea to
go back."

"No, no." Sam shook his head as if Josh could see him. "It's more
like when amnesiacs in movies get hit on the head and remember
everything."

"You sure?"

"Yeah." He turned up his forearm to inspect it. "I tore my jacket."

Josh's laughter was warm. "Honest to God, Sam, how do you even get
dressed in the morning?"

"I don't know!" He whirled around. "I gotta -- I gotta go find the
ticket counter again and see if they'll give me some of my money back
when I change this."

"They won't."

"I know it." The phone was hot against his ear. He pulled it away
for a second and looked at it. "Do you think this thing is giving me
brain cancer?"

"Who cares? You're coming back!"

"I am!" Sam took a few steps forward. "It really is this simple."

"Everything should be. So I'll talk to you again soon. I'll *see*
you soon. It's gonna be good, Sam. Hard but good."

"It takes a nation of millions to hold us back," Sam agreed
cheerfully. "We'll talk later."

"Proud of you," Josh said.

Sam thought of the students that had flirted with him, the ones that
had listened to him, the ones who had simply tolerated his presence
for extra credit. He could see Mallory chiding him, and at the same
time Leo's steady gaze over lunch, both -- he knew, now; it was all
so clear - saying the same thing.

"I am too," Sam said. "Later."

He hung up the phone and stuffed it back into his briefcase, striding
through the terminal -- and avoiding the moving walkways -- with the
oversized smile shining from his face.

* * *

Saturday, April 14th: Day Eighty-Five

"So the long and short of it is--"

C.J. put a hand over her eyes and leaned back against her
pillow. "You're back in Washington. I know."

"You don't sound surprised," Sam said, disappointed.

"Danny told me yesterday afternoon."

"Danny Concannon?"

"The once and future Fishboy," she confirmed. "People keep me in the
loop."

"So it can all become grist for Sweeps month?" he teased.

"You know, it's not like I'm putting your words in anyone's mouth."

"I still think Jake should ask Julie out."

She gritted her teeth. "Jake is still not based on you."

"I can't believe Danny told you I was back. I wanted to tell you."

"You want to tell everyone," C.J. guessed. "You want to stand on top
of the Monument and bellow it to the assembled masses. You're pretty
pleased with yourself, Sammy."

"I am," he said without humility.

"Are you getting fêted?" she asked. "The return of the prodigal,
that kind of thing? Are you the toast of the town?"

"'Hey, you're that guy,' is what I mostly get," Sam said. "Well, and
Donna's happy because now when Josh feels the need to show up at
someone's door at two a.m. and rant, he has twice as many victims in
the neighborhood. How are you doing? How's California?"

She massaged her left temple lightly with two fingertips. "It's
great. We're both great."

"I know it must've been weird for you," he said softly. "I mean,
you're in the loop. You hear things. I know it must've been weird."

C.J. fought the urge to slam the phone down on him, and managed to
finish with a friendly goodbye instead. She was alone in the unlit
bedroom, curtains blotting out the sun as she nursed the migraine
she'd awakened with three hours earlier. Jeff was asleep somewhere
downstairs on her couch. He spent half his nights there and half in
his apartment, to which, after a month, she had never been.

Jeff had brought her home the day she'd booted her guts out on the
studio lot, had patted her hand and made mint tea in her kitchen and
not once questioned why a bad bagel was wrecking her so thoroughly.
He'd called her the next morning, to make sure she was okay and
invite her to dinner. He didn't know anything about politics. She
supposed that was fair, because she didn't know anything about sound
editing. There wasn't any pressing need for either of them to
learn. But he was a nice guy in all kinds of ways, and so
uncomplicated that she felt like she was constantly getting away with
something.

They'd fucked on her back porch after their second date, drunk and
starry and hysterically amused by some comment on the weather. It
wasn't amazing; it wasn't a letdown. It was simply nice. Over burnt
coffee and greasy omelets the next morning, he told her he'd grown up
in Ohio and liked to smoke pot. She told him her real age; he took
it in stride.

That was how it proceeded, easy and casual and mildly decadent. She
was significantly older and smarter than he was, but it didn't
matter. And the most delightful thing was not to have to worry about
who saw them together, or whether they felt each other up in
doorways, or where they ate breakfast, because neither of them were
names on marquees and nobody in the world cared. Los Angeles was
beautiful that way.

Her head hurt. She wanted water, but her glass was empty and it was
a toss-up whether getting out of bed and walking to the bathroom
would be worth the pain. She wanted to rest, but between the ache,
the cars passing on the street, and the mid-morning sun trickling
through at the windows' edges, it seemed impossible. She wanted to
pass out for an hour or a day or about four years.

The phone rang again.

"Shit," she said, and wished that Jeff would pick up the extension,
although she was glad he never did that. She pulled herself up
straight, reached for the receiver, and mumbled her name into it.

"Well, you sound awful as all get-out," a lively voice greeted her.

For a few moments she couldn't quite place it. "Um."

"Headache?"

"Mm hmm."

"Drink fruit juice and take Advil, not aspirin," the voice advised.

It clicked into place then. "Hi, Abbey."

"Hello, C.J."

"I'm sorry, I'm kind of out."

"So I gathered."

C.J. leaned back across her bed. "How are you? How's the family?"

"I'm perfectly fine. My husband, however, is threatening to go build
his library with a load of lumber and his own two hands." She
snorted. "And I wish he'd go do that and stop walking around the
house ranting about how he can't find the right translation of
Quintus Smyrnaeus's 'The Fall Of Troy'."

"Smyrnaeus Quintus," a distant voice in the background corrected her.

She sighed. "You see?"

C.J. furrowed her brow. "I didn't think Presidential Libraries had,
you know, regular books. I thought it was for historical
documentation."

"Well, *some* people don't seem to have gotten that through their
heads. Zoey's arguing her first court case in a couple weeks."

"I'll send her flowers."

"She'd appreciate that," Abbey said. "But I called to see how you
were. We haven't heard from you in a while."

"I know. I'm sorry."

"We've been hearing from everyone else lately. I'm sure you know
that Josh and Sam are giddy as schoolgirls."

C.J. squinted up at the ceiling. "Like Thelma and Louise without the
crime spree."

"Yes. Sometimes they remind me of a couple of other guys I know."
Abbey was silent for a moment. "But how are you?"

"I'm good." She rested her hand just above the collar of her T-
shirt, tracing a finger along the scar on her throat. "You know, I'm
having a lot of fun out here."

"With the TV thing?"

"Yeah. They're interesting people." That much was true; the story
meetings and table readings were charged with humor and enthusiasm.
Sometimes she would argue for realism and lose it in favor of drama,
but when she was overruled, sometimes it was a relief. And if
everyone was a little too smug about their own cleverness, that was
the most realistic touch of all.

"I have to say, everyone was pretty thrown when you left before the
curtain call."

"Well, you know, it wasn't like there was much left for me to do.
And I wanted to get settled out here for New Year's."

"Even so."

"Most places don't measure time by elections," she mused. "I'd
almost forgotten that."

"Yeah." Abbey sounded concerned and a little impatient. "C.J., how
are you doing?"

"I told you, it's good. It's just, my head hurts."

"Josh told Leo that he's been worried about you. And frankly, that
makes me worry too. You've been, at least, a fellow soldier." She
chuckled wryly. "I have three daughters, and the mindset sticks with
you. We don't hear from you, and we only hear a little about you.
Which is all by way of saying, cut the crap and tell me how you are."

"Abbey, really, it's not like I live in South Central. I'm not in a
red vinyl miniskirt out on Sunset."

But it all seemed kind of dissipated, when she tried to picture
herself from the outside. There was this not-young (middle aged, she
forced herself to admit) woman with a job that required minimal
mental exertion, a too-young stoner sex partner and a cellar full of
wine. She had been on the Senior Staff, and it sounded like Los
Angeles was debauching her. Or maybe the other world had been the
pretense, and this was who she'd always been.

"C.J.--"

There was a scuffle on the phone line. She closed her eyes briefly
against the pounding in her head, and waited for Abbey to speak
again. But it wasn't Abbey who spoke.

"C.J."

She gulped. "Yes, sir."

His voice was stern, gentle, paternal. "You know, I am so sick and
tired of being called 'sir' by my friends. I could never get
called 'sir' again and I'd be happy."

"I'm sorry," she said, and then couldn't help herself, "sir."

"You know what you are, C.J.?"

"I honestly have no idea."

"'The tireless war-god's child, the mailed maid, like to the blessed
gods,'" he said.

She raised herself up on her elbows. "I am?"

"Smyrnaeus Quintus," he told her proudly. "Some people with plebeian
tastes don't appreciate it."

"Well, I certainly don't understand them."

"Claudia," he said, lowering his voice. "What are you doing?"

He spoke quietly, but it resonated, and it made her wince. She sat
up straight in the middle of her bed and looked at the pale gold
streak of light between the curtains. Without intending to, she held
her breath, and she could hear Jeff stirring downstairs. She could
hear the house settling as houses did when they weren't far from
fault lines, and she could hear her cat bumping for the millionth
time into the unfamiliar walls.

Her throat closed up so much she could barely speak. "I don't know."

"I don't like it when people lie to my wife," he said, not unkindly.

"I know."

"You sound pretty miserable there."

"I'm not," she protested weakly. "I mean, I'm not completely. There
are things about this place that are great."

"There are things about Peoria that are great. I don't see you
packing your bags."

She studied her hands in the dim light. "No."

"C.J., transitions are difficult and ugly and no one handles them
with as much grace as the speeches and handshakes make it seem. But
they have to be made, and like most important things in the world,
they require far more than a day of your time."

Her vision blurred, but she wasn't sure if it was tears or the
headache. "There's a chance," she said, her voice
faltering. "There's a chance I've done some very stupid things."

"I'd say there's more than a chance." His tone changed somehow,
lighter but still firm. "For a long time you've been working hard at
being brilliant. You're entitled to get the stupid things out of
your system, but that's all you're entitled to, young lady. And
Abbey may yet kick your ass for lying to her."

Everything still hurt, and the room was still too bright, but she had
to smile. "Yes, sir."

"For the love of God, stop that. I'll let you go. But if you don't
call back, Abbey won't be the only one gunning for you, is that
clear?"

"Crystal." She swallowed the 'sir', but he noticed it and laughed.

"Maybe you should think about whether you want to pack your bags," he
said. "And I'm not talking about Peoria."

"I'm thinking about it," she promised. She wouldn't have said it a
day or an hour before, but it would have been true then too.

"Good girl," he said, and hung up.

C.J. lay still by herself in the dark for a little while. Eventually
she wiped her face off on the corner of her sheet and took her empty
glass down to the kitchen. She was still very thirsty.

* * *

Wednesday, April 25th: Day Ninety-Six

"I've been looking up statistics," Donna said, draping her jacket
over the back of a chair. "And we are definitely not normal."

C.J. looked at her curiously as they sat down at the table. "You had
to look up statistics for that?"

"Sixty percent of former White House staffers move on to non-
political jobs."

"Really? Sixty percent?"

"I made that up. I couldn't find numbers." Donna unfolded her
napkin. "But it's got to be a lot more than the ones that stay,
right?"

"I guess so. Otherwise the place would be overrun. Like the deer
population. They'd have to pick us off one by one by sending in
radical Republicans and heavily armed teenagers." C.J. paused and
covered her mouth with her hand. "That was so completely not funny."

"But here we are," Donna murmured. "Josh and Sam and you and me."

"That's not so very many," C.J. observed, accepting a menu from the
busboy. "I mean, Leo's retired--"

"He's still armchair quarterbacking. C-Span on television and Josh
on the phone."

"Well, at least he's good at it."

"The greatest. And Margaret will basically work for him forever, no
matter where it takes her."

"Yeah." C.J. began to tick people off on her fingers. "And Carol's
at CBS, and Ginger's editing at Avon, and Bonnie's getting married in
a couple months."

"Ainsley's writing a book."

"Really?"

"She couldn't get a job." Donna tried not to smirk. "Republicans
won't hire her; Democrats certainly won't hire her. So she huffed
off to a publisher and got a six-figure advance."

C.J. whistled. "Well, if she writes the way she talks, that'll be
cheaper than paying her by the word."

"She's not a bad person, but--"

"--But I can't say I miss hearing her voice," C.J. finished for her.

"Exactly." Donna flipped through her menu. "Oh, wow, tortellini."

"I'm having a Caesar salad."

"That's all?"

"I was..." C.J. tucked her hair behind her ear. "I ate too much in
California. And drank too much. And... and everything, too much."

"Why?"

"All kinds of reasons," she said cryptically. "It's California."

"Then I'm glad you're back," Donna said warmly. "And you can have
some of my tortellini if you're still hungry after that salad."

"I may not stay," C.J. said cautiously. "I mean, I don't know that I
want to be here now. It's just that I left too fast. And it's not
like anything here is ever that long-term."

"Right, because Los Angeles is the capital of permanence? Sam says
the same thing as you, you know."

"And?"

"...And I'm glad you're back, that's all." Donna set her menu
down. "So there's a thing I'm going to ask, and you're going to yell
at me."

She took a deep breath. "No, I haven't been talking to Toby."

"How did you know?"

"I knew," C.J. said simply. "And it's none of your business."

"I just don't understand why, why you wouldn't--"

"Because it's--" She looked at the tablecloth, idly realigning her
silverware. "It's just been easier this way, is all."

"What has?" Josh asked, making them both jump a little as he sidled
up to the table.

"Nothing," C.J. said quickly.

"Keeping secrets isn't nice," Josh scolded.

"You caught me." C.J. rocked her chair back. "I'm really a man.
All this time I've been a drag queen. Does that explain everything?"

"Well, the height. And the heels. And -- I'm going to stop now
before you kill me with a butter knife."

"You're a wise man," C.J. said, letting her shoulders slump.

"Did you know that two-thirds of former White House employees get out
of politics when their term in office ends?" Donna asked Josh.

"Does that make me weird?"

Donna nodded at Josh and glanced at C.J. "Welcome to the freak show."

* * *

"They don't even have jobs," Toby said, and slammed his newspaper
down on the coffee table with one hand. "I mean, Sam's corrupting
the American youth or whatever the hell he calls it at Georgetown.
And--"

"C.J. will have a job," Andi said quietly on the phone.

If he heard her, he did not show it. "It's bullshit. Like you go
back to Washington waving your little flag and that somehow cures all
ailments. Like the Reflecting Pool is a fountain of youth. And it's
not like they were rode out of town on the rails. They left. But I
guess that's just some kind of footnote now."

"Toby, if you can't talk about this calmly--"

"It's not like they have that much credibility, for crying out loud.
They have no idea what they're doing and, oh, yeah, they don't have
jobs."

"They have jobs," Andi reiterated.

Toby leaned back on the couch, glaring into space. "She does not
have a job."

"She will when she decides to find one."

"Yeah," he said bitterly. "She's clumsy and capricious and she's
been in politics for a hell of a shorter time than most people. I
feel sorry for the bastard that hires her."

Andi snapped. "Well, I'd hire her if she'd work for me, you
overblown jackass!"

He was silenced for a few seconds, wordless. "I'm a jackass now?"

"You are *the* jackass, Toby," she said, loudly enough that he moved
the phone away from his ear. "You are the champion jackass of the
entire Eastern seaboard."

"I think--"

"Shut up. Do you not remember how to be a person anymore? You don't
even have a job yourself. Pot, kettle."

"I think it's none of your business," Toby said coldly.

"You called *me* up in the middle of the afternoon to complain about
*your* friends and it's none of *my* business?" She laughed
harshly. "I guess your big brain got up one morning and went on
vacation from your bald head."

He raised his voice. "It doesn't have anything to do with you. And
you're not better, somehow, better than me, so--"

"Oh, do you need to turn this into a dick-slinging contest? Because
I think we've established conclusively, many times, that mine's
bigger."

"I'm going to hang up on you," he said.

"No, you're damn well not. I've listened to you for three months
now, which is a lot more than enough. And I'll never not care about
you, Toby, but I'm sick and tired of this crap. And I'm not as big
an idiot as you, so listen."

He said nothing, held the phone where he could see it but still hear
her, and waited.

When she spoke again, the sharpness of her voice had diminished to a
determined edge. "Since the inauguration you've been doing your best
imitation of someone who never cared about anything. And maybe most
people can even be convinced that you didn't, but there are some of
us you're not fooling."

"Or maybe I stopped," he said.

"What?"

He brought the receiver up again. "Never mind."

"I don't like you this way," she said, suddenly vulnerable. "And
there have been other times when I haven't liked you much, but --
this is bad, Toby, so beneath you. You're going to wind up as some
cautionary tale they tell in the wee hours of election nights. And I
know C.J. Cregg, and I've seen what you see when you see her."

"That was really regrettable sentence construction," he said.

"That's a cheap debate tactic." Her voice was hard again. "Do
something, decide not to do something, that's not my business.
You're right. But get up off the mat already, you big baby."

"You know, I thought you got to keep the ultimatums in the divorce
settlement, and I got to keep the right to, you know, live."

"Community property," she said wearily. "Look, what you've done so
far didn't work. And not for nothing, Toby... she's a good woman and
capricious is the last thing she is."

He hung up on her. She did not call back.

In retrospect, he knew the outburst had been a long time coming,
legible in the shape of her mouth and the movements of her hands.
There were things she would always make him pay for. The anger,
directed at no one and at everything, sizzled in his veins and
knotted in his hands. But he let the sound of ice cubes cracking in
alcohol substitute for putting his fist through a wall or a window.

It had happened very fast. The night passed very slowly.

* * *

Concluded in Part Four.

 

 

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