TITLE: "Trouble Me"
There are two things that Toby knows for sure about C.J., and the second thing
This does not make it easy to walk beside her, on the way out of a typically
He has organized his thoughts, planned his argument as precisely as he can
"The White House social season should be glittering and gay."
Toby blinks and stops walking, leaning against the open door. "What?"
"It's a song." C.J. laughs mildly. "Loretta Lynn. Here in Topeka, the
"Sure. It's country. If you prefer, the flies are a-buzzin'."
"You don't like country music."
"I can't like a song?"
He begins to lose any hope of controlling the conversation's trajectory. "You
"I like that song. Anyway, I'm saying it's really spring now. The weather's
"Tonight? You consider that picking up?"
"No," she admits. "But things will."
"Things are going to--" He breaks off abruptly and stands aside as two
"The parties always get better when everything else gets worse," she informs
"Rome wasn't burnt in a day, you know."
He puts a frustrated hand to his brow. "How much did you have to drink?"
"Not that much." Her voice is suddenly serious. "Go ahead."
She folds her arms. "You're getting into the stance you use when you've got a
Toby studies her face and takes a breath. "Things have been...." But the
He raises his eyes again. "What?"
"You know, if you're going to stand there and not say anything, that makes it
So he has no choice, and he says it. "Things have not been easy, and you're
C.J. raises her eyebrows. "Am I?"
"We are." He gestures at something invisible in the air between them.
She lets her arms fall. He isn't sure if she tightens her hand on the door
"You weren't going to interrupt."
"It was making life better than bearable," he continues, starting to find the
"Is going to be an ordeal," she finishes for him.
"I am right."
"I said that." She smiles wistfully. "I know how it's going to be."
"You cannot be an aspect of my life that makes living harder." He sighs as a
She nods slowly, holding his gaze. "I've been thinking about this too."
He is slightly surprised by her lack of surprise. "Yeah?"
"And you're right. If we're just causing each other more trouble, it isn't
"Yeah." His throat feels uncomfortably dry. He swallows painfully.
C.J. opens the exterior door. The damp, dark air rolls into the entryway. "Do
"I'll take the Metro." Toby takes a step toward her. "We can pick this
"When things aren't so crazy?" Her smile turns ironic.
He shrugs. "We can pick this up later."
She bites her lip, looking sad for the first time, and nods again. "Let's go."
C.J. holds the door for him. As she follows him into the parking lot, her
* * *
Ten days later, Josh walks into her office without knocking. "Fred Stockton
C.J. leans back in her chair. "Yeah?"
"He says the President's education plan is irrational, possibly
Josh tilts his head. "You okay there?"
"I meant me."
"You're irrational, possibly unconstitutional, and resilient?" He grins.
"All right." He places his hands on the back of one of her visitor chairs.
"Suffering the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune."
He squints at her. "Are you turning into Sam?"
"Never mind." C.J. stifles a yawn. "Stockton again?"
"He's an idiot. What bothers me is, why is he starting this now?"
"You think he knows the President--"
"No," Josh says quickly.
"Or because he's never been particularly close with the Majority Leader."
He nods. "He's ankling. He's tiptoeing farther right."
"Well, after all, it is fundraising season."
"It's always fundraising season," he points out.
"You don't have to tell me that." She sits up. "I'll handle Stockton."
He drums his fingers on the top of the chair, watching her with concern. "You
"I've got it. I can handle things, Josh."
"Right. 'Cause you're resilient."
"I was born a coal miner's daughter."
C.J. picks up a pencil. "Not really."
He stands straight. "Are you, then, a honky-tonk girl?"
"Go away," she orders, and Josh obeys her.
* * *
A week goes by, and Sam is sitting on Toby's couch one morning when he walks
"You're in my office."
Sam stands up. "I mean, why are you already growling at me?"
"You're in my office," he reiterates.
"I have some notes for you on pharmaceuticals." He holds out a folder and a
"These notes have to be -- you brought me breakfast?"
"Yes," Sam says proudly. "It's a carton of orange juice, and a cheese thing."
"It's got cheese. It's got bread. It's been baked. There may be some kind of
Toby raises his eyebrows and regards Sam suspiciously. "What have you been
"Take the breakfast, Toby. You need it."
He takes it and goes to stand behind his desk. "I need the cheese thing?"
"Everything always looks better when you've eaten," Sam declares.
"No, everything always looks better when you don't have a lunatic in your
"You need it," Sam says again, his expression turning solemn. "The last
"Thanks," Toby says grudgingly.
Sam beams at him. "No problem. You'll enjoy the cheese thing."
"You know, the last couple weeks--"
"Rome wasn't burnt in a day," Toby says abruptly.
Sam pauses in the doorway and looks at him quizzically. "It's 'Rome wasn't
He furrows his brow. "Yeah."
"I'm assuming they burned it faster than they built it."
"I'll be in my office. If you need anything."
"Go away," he orders, and Sam obeys him.
* * *
Five more days pass, and Toby is alone in his office, early on a Saturday
"Another gala event," she says dryly.
"The White House social season," he replies.
"You remembered I said that?"
He shrugs, fingering his tie awkwardly. "If I remember right, you didn't say
"You're a strange bird," she tells him, shaking her head.
"I'm a bird?"
She stares at him strangely across his desk. "You have to know I'm biting down
He meets her gaze. "Thank you for that, flamingo."
The tension holds for a few seconds, but then she laughs, and he takes a
"So." C.J. adjusts her wrap -- it's black, he notices, trimmed with red --
"Still?" Toby wonders. "He didn't shut up yet?"
"Stockton's not going to shut up for awhile. He's still trying to stick a fork
He picks up a memo from his desk and scans it. "We're going to have to do
"He wants to be in the next Republican cabinet," she says.
"He can wait another six years."
She mulls this over. "You believe that?"
"Yeah," he says. Then, more firmly: "Yes."
"Okay. How have your meetings been going with the drug people?"
"Children are still dying of measles and meningitis in Nigeria."
"That well, huh?"
"I think I hate those people," he mutters.
"Well, I'm sure they're wild about you."
He frowns. "Things have been difficult."
"I know." She presses a loose strand of hair into place. "Tonight may be
He is having trouble keeping his eyes off her. She's standing in his office,
"Penny for your thoughts," C.J. says.
Toby keeps his eyes down. "I charge more than that."
They live in a world where nothing is ever simple. Trouble comes and goes.
"So," she teases, "we've established what you are, and now we're just
"You are the tallest woman I've ever loved," he says offhandedly.
Her posture freezes and her eyes widen. She does not speak.
"Also," he adds, "The only one who's fallen into a swimming pool. Twice,
"Once," she manages to contradict him. "I was... pushed, the other time."
"It still stands."
She looks at him steadily. "It does."
"You've never--" she begins.
"Don't do that."
"Okay." She shakes her head. "We have to go to this thing. I mean, we
"It's an important fundraiser."
"That, and I'm all dressed up."
"That you are," he agrees, smiling into his beard. "Go ahead. I'm going
"Okay." She steps uncertainly toward the door, then turns back. "You
So C.J. leaves. Toby closes his laptop, puts away a folder, and suddenly she's
"It was crooked," she tells him earnestly, her eyes twinkling.
Reluctantly, he lets her hand go. "We can pick this up later."
She nods. "The night--"
"Yes. And it has a thousand eyes."
He chuckles. "Go."
And she is gone.
* * *
End. Any comments would be deeply appreciated.