5. Parley and Negotiated Surrender
~
Summer goes on and then dies quick
Without much warning.

All things ordinary.
Will you stay near me now,
Don't leave this town, until we've figured out,
Between the two of us we're strong enough-
I feel that in your touch.
"All Things Ordinary", The Anniversary
~
[August 29, 2001]

She's sitting on her bed staring out the window when I get to her room. She is so very thin- the scrubs they've given her hang off her hips and her shoulder blades stick through the back of her t-shirt. She turns when I knock and nods blankly when I ask if I can come in. I set my backpack down and sit in the chair by her bed, careful not to get too close. She's flinched away from anyone who's tried to touch her, something I suddenly realize had been happening before. We study each other. Someone had convinced her to shower since I'd been here last night, and her hair was slightly curled about her face. The hair and her new glasses made her look very young for some reason, and I wanted nothing more than to just gather her up and make all of this go away. For obvious reasons, I didn't.

"Where'd you get the butterfly?" I ask, finally, indicating the stuffed animal sitting on the nightstand.

"Sam brought it." She manages to meet my eyes, and I wonder how much effort that took her.

I nod. "So, they tell me they're releasing you tomorrow." She nods. "Where are you going?" I ask softly. She doesn't answer, but looks away. "CJ. Where are you going?"

"What do you mean?" she asks, hedging.

"I know you're not staying here. Where are you going?" I say, moving so I'm in her line of sight. I know I'm powerless to keep her here now.

"I'm resigning, Josh," she whispers, still not looking at me.

My heart almost feels like it's breaking as I whisper back, "I know, CJ." I'm finally admitting that I've known for months that she wouldn't make it all the way.

"I can't...I can't do this." She stands up and starts pacing slowly. I almost smile as I move back to give her room. Even as wiped out as she must be, she still needs to move in order to think. "Toby's right. LA was killing me. This was better, but..." she trails off and faces me. "I am not the person you think I am."

I cock my head as I look at her. "All right."

"I am not a public figure. I..." She takes a deep breath. "I loved working at the White House. I loved my friends. I loved the excitement and the way we felt when we did something right. I even loved the bad days when we didn't do things right. And sometimes, I even loved my job. But I never got used to my job, do you understand?"

"No," I reply, honestly.

"I was good at my job. I made a great spokesperson. I handled the press and made us all look good even when we screwed up but bad. But I never got used to being the girl on the TV. I never got used to being the first line of defense. I never got used to being a target." She looks at me with pure entreaty in her eyes, and I suddenly understand. She believes this would not have happened had she not been the public face of the administration. And the worst thing is, she's most likely right.

I nod slowly as she continues. "I tried to make myself into what you all wanted, what everyone needed. But I'm not that person. I can't do this anymore. I've never been that girl on the TV. I've always wanted to be her, but I'm just *not her*!" She's yelling now, her uncasted hand knotted in her hair. "I can't be the spokesperson. I can't be the public figure, do you understand? I don't know that I *want* to be! I don't know that I ever *did*. I just knew Toby needed me to come to New Hampshire. And once I got there, I just couldn't *leave*. I was tangled in this awful, beautiful thing and I couldn't break free of it, no matter how hard I tried. I was the girl on the TV, and how could I desert you?" Her knees buckle as her voice cracks. I'm out of the chair and catching her arm before she can even flinch. I carefully maneuver her back to her bed and back away slowly as she sits down.

There are tears trickling down her face now. She looks at me and I just nod. "I know, CJ. I understand. It's all right."

"Don't tell me things you don't believe, Joshua," she says through her tears.

"Oh, but CJ, I do believe. I do believe." I take a chance and move over to the bed, grabbing a tissue as I sit down next to her. She doesn't flinch as I gently wipe the tears away. "Don't you remember what I said about being glue?"

"Kinda," she says in a quivery voice.

"I told you I wanted to make you sticky enough to hold yourself together, didn't I?" I ask, brushing her hair from her face.

"Yeah," she nods.

"And I said forget about what we need and take care of what *you* need, right?" I ask, handing her another tissue as she sniffs.

She manages a nod as she blows her nose. "So then, what makes you think this is any different? Why would you think I would understand any less now than I did then?"

She shakes her head. "I don't know. Stupid, I guess."

"You are most definitely *not* stupid, do you hear me," I say sharply. She swallows hard and nods. "Good. I don't ever want to hear you say that again." She nods again. "Especially," I say, my voice softening, "since I spent a considerable amount of time defending your intelligence the other day."

"You did?" She asks, astonished.

"I most certainly did," I tell her. "Someone, I can't remember who, I don't think I was paying that much attention, but someone said they couldn't understand how stupid you could be to think that you couldn't have come to us for help. I lectured everyone in that room about the fact that you are a highly intelligent person who's had some hard knocks and was most assuredly not stupid. Claudia Jean, you may have done a somewhat unintelligent thing, but that does not make you stupid. I mean, if it did, then my IQ must be in the single digits, right?" She actually laughed at that. "See, there you go," I say, smiling.

CJ nods and suddenly reaches out, touching my arm "I'm going to California," she says, suddenly solemn.

"To see your ocean," I say, equally solemn. If she goes to California, I don't think she'll come back.

"There's a...place there. They have...they have a program," she says slowly, gauging my reaction.

"12 steps?" I ask, only half facetious.

"No. Not at this place, anyway. I've never heard of an Anorexics Anonymous, but Leo says there's 12 step programs for everything," she says, shrugging.

"Hmm. Interesting." I say. "Well, if anyone would know, Leo would."

"I know." She doesn't say anything for a minute. "Leo found it. He says it has a very good reputation."

"And your therapist thinks it's a good idea?" I ask.

"Kris says that if Leo hadn't found it, she would have found one for me. But I have to be willing to go," she says, slipping her hand into mine. I find it strangely comforting and disconcerting all at once to feel her too skinny fingers around mine.

"Are you?" I ask.

"I am now. I wouldn't have been until now," she says, quietly. "This is about more than what happened."

"I know," I say quietly.

"It's like a trigger, does that make sense?" she asks.

"Yo-Yo Ma," I reply, smiling sadly.

"Or bagpipes," she said, with the same sad smile.

"Exactly," I say.

She looks at me for a long moment, then says, "Kris says I don't have PTSD."

"I didn't think you did," I tell her.

"I thought I did," she says, looking down.

"I could understand why," I say, following her gaze to her hands.

"I've never been this thin," she whispers.

"Good," I say. She looks up startled. "I don't mean it's good that you're this thin, although, CJ, thin is not exactly the word I'd use."

"I think Sam wanted to say emaciated, but he didn't," she says.

"He probably did. I give him credit for not saying it," I tell her, as gently as I can. "I'm just glad that you haven't done this to yourself on this scale before."

"I never thought I was fat, Josh. It wasn't that," she explains.

"Ok." I don't know a whole lot about eating disorders, but I mean to look into it. Donna probably knows something, or where to look, because I bet she already has.

"I'm scared," she admits.

"Me too," I say.

"Leo says it will be the hardest thing I've ever done. He says it'll be humiliating, and painful, and I'll have to work very hard." she says. "But he says I'm a tough kid and I'll make it if I want to."

"You are and you will," I agree. I hesitate, but then ask, "How long is the program?"

"I don't know yet. At least a month. Probably two months, judging from what I read on the website," she says.

"So what happens in two months?" I ask, aware that it's probably a pushy question, but I really want to know what she plans to do.

"I'm not sure yet." She looks out the window. "I don't know that California is home anymore."

"Where's home?" I ask softly.

She shakes her head. "I don't have an answer for that." Turning her attention back to me, she says, "I would have thought this was home, but I don't want to be here right now. But I don't know that I want to leave forever." She looks out the window again, focused on something I can't see. "You were right when you said it was time to stop running. That's not any less true now that I'm 35."

"Ok," I say, not wanting to push further. She looks at me, and gives me a smile that's faintly reminiscent of the wry grin she often favors me with.

"Just because I don't know where home is, doesn't mean it's not here," she says.

"You can have more than one home," I tell her.

"Yes. Yes I can," she says, in a strange voice. I look at her carefully, but don't respond. We sit quietly, her hand still in mine. When she finally speaks, I'm startled. "I want to leave now, but I want to come back, too."

"You can always come back," I say, softly.

"Can I?" she asks, and I'm surprised at the uncertainty in her voice.

"Definitely. I promised you'd never be alone, didn't I?" I say, squeezing her hand.

"You did," she agrees judiciously.

After a moment, I reach down and grab my backpack. "I have some things for you," I say, pulling a grocery bag out of the pack.

"You do?" she asks, confused.

"Yup," I tell her. I hand her the bag and she hesitates.

"Even though I'm leaving?" she asks.

"Because you're leaving," I reply.

"Even if I said I wasn't coming back?" She looks at the bag in her lap and lets go of my hand.

"Especially if you said you weren't coming back," I assure her.

"Oh." She opens the bag and pulls out the first package.

I watch her study the small flat package. "That one is from both Donna and me. She'll probably come by later, but we wanted to make sure you got it."

She nods, and carefully tears off the wrapping paper. It's a small book called "I Hope You Dance." Donna and I found it at the card shop while looking for a get-well card. I watch her open it and read what Donna wrote on the first page: "This is for CJ from people who love her because she needs to know." CJ flips a few pages and blinks at the words she encounters. They read "This is from me to you. This is the truth." She takes a deep breath and turns the pages, reading some carefully, and only glancing at others. Finally she looks up at me, and whispers, "Thank you."

"You're welcome. There's more in there," I indicate the bag.

CJ turns her attention back to the bag and pulls out the largest package. It's soft and she unwraps it to find the shirt from the set of pajamas she gave me when I was convalescing. "It's going to be much too large for you," I warn.

"I don't mind," she says, looking up at me with wonder in her eyes.

"Read the note," I say quietly. She looks at the note I had attached to the front of the shirt. It read "Armor for the battle." "The President and I spent a long time talking about battle this past week while we waited for you," I explain softly. "He says he's been thinking a lot about things like Ancient Sparta where they sent warriors out telling them to come home with their shield or on it, and that sort of thing. Well, you know how he is, and he'd just finished reading some book about the history of armor and armament, so we talked about it quite a bit."

"I see," she says, rubbing the soft cloth. "Thank you." Her eyes are saying more than her words and I find my own eyes fighting back tears.

"Open this next," I say to distract myself, pulling a third package out of the bag.

"Ok." She complies and unwraps another book, this one being rather battered and bent. "The Elegant Universe," she reads.

"A very good book," I say, with my own wry grin.

"Psychics," she says under her breath.

I don't say anything about it, but give her a long suffering look. "It helped things make more sense somehow."

She reads the blurb on the back and nods. "Maybe it will."

"Maybe." She puts the book down. "There's one more."

CJ unwraps the small box and sits and stares at it. It's obviously a jewelry box and I nod to her. "Go on, open it. It was meant to be your birthday present. I've had it since January." She gives me a quizzical look. "Just open it."

She does so, and pulls out a simple silver necklace with a charm and stares at it. The charm is also silver, with a lily carved into the flat surface rimmed with small green stones. "You were watching me," she says, astonished.

"Of course I was." In January, we had taken a trip out to New Mexico, and CJ and I had slipped away with Sam and Donna to an outdoor market during our lunch break. Donna had always said if she went back to the Southwest, she was going to buy herself some turquoise jewelry, since she hadn't been able to during the campaign. Sam had wanted to get his mother a birthday present, since her birthday was in February and he wasn't going to be able to go home and see her. So, we'd spent some time at a jewelry seller's table. CJ had looked at this necklace for a very long time, and I could just see her weighing her available money and her budget. I thought she might actually buy it, but the seller only took cash and she didn't have enough. It wasn't very expensive, about $25, if memory serves, but I knew she thought it was probably too expensive for the necklace itself.

"I didn't think you'd bought anything," she said, frowning.

"Well, Donna dragged you off to look at another table while Sam was paying for the pin he bought for his mom, so you weren't standing there when I bought it. I got Sam to get you to look at a blanket to distract you and I gave it to Donna to put in her purse. I told her to make sure it got in my luggage without you knowing about it, and she did." I hesitate a moment, then continue. "For the record, I remembered your birthday. I had planned, before everything went to hell, to take you out to the Tequila Grill for either lunch or dinner. Clearly, that wasn't going to work, but I was still going to give you this. When I got to your office, though, it was pretty obvious that it wasn't the right time, and then it really never was. I got the impression you didn't want to do anything about it, so I just kept quiet and decided to save the necklace for Christmas. I didn't find out that you hadn't even remembered it was your birthday until later, when Toby mentioned it."

"Wow," she says.

"Here," I say, and take it from her in order to put it on. "It looks good," I say, trying to ignore the way it just falls between her prominent collarbones. "I thought you might need it more now than in December."

"Josh, thank you," she says, looking overwhelmed.

"You're welcome," I say quietly. She looks exhausted, and I smile. "Come on, let's get you back into bed, yeah?"

"Mmm, yeah," she says, through a yawn.

"Ok, come on," I say, standing up to help her pull the covers down. I tuck her in gently and kiss her forehead. "Sleep tight."

"Josh?" she asks, almost asleep.

"Yeah?" I smooth the sheets carefully.

"They said you can't come with me tomorrow." She sounds a bit scared and a bit regretful.

"I know. That's why I came tonight," I explain.

"'M sorry I yelled." She's fighting sleep to make sure all this is all right.

I reassure her. "I'm glad you yelled. I've been waiting months for you to yell. It's all right. I'll be here whenever you need me."

"Ok," she managed.

"Go to sleep. You have a big day tomorrow," I say softly.

"Miss you," she says, just before her eyes close completely.

"I'll miss you too," I whisper. I watch her sleep for a moment, then leave quietly.

~
The things we do to the people that we love
The way we break it is something we can't take
Destroy the world that we took so long to make
"The People That We Love," Bush
~
"Adam, really, I'm going to be here really late," I say into the phone. It's already late, but I have so much to do that there's no way I am going to be leaving here until at least 2am. I'm chasing a rumor that no one seems to know how or where it started. Someone apparantly thinks we want to dump Hoynes from the ticket and add someone else. While I won't deny that the thought has crossed our minds, we aren't ready to deal with that idea just yet, and we're certainly not ready to discuss possible replacements. It doesn't help that one of the people the rumor mentions is Andrea Wyatt, which creates allegations of nepotism. Toby was livid, Andrea is reportedly not pleased (although, if we were to offer it, she probably would have taken it before this)and Leo just looked at me and said "fix this". I hate these sort of things.

"No, I'm not just saying that. I really *am* busy," I sigh. "That is really unfair," I say annoyed.

"I am *not*!" I yell. "No, don't...please don't. Fine, do what you want, you will anyway." I turn at a noise behind me, and find Josh standing in the doorway between our offices. I hadn't thought he was still here. I give him a Look and wave him away but he doesn't go. I give him my death look as I say to Adam, "At least 2, probably later...It's called doing my job," I sigh. "I can't promise that...Fine. I'll be there before sunrise. Yeah. Bye." I manage not to slam the phone down as I glare at Josh. "What?"

"Who was that?" he asks.

"Why do you want to know?" I mutter as I turn back to my list of people to call. "I'm busy, Josh."

"Not so busy to call someone and say you'll be late," he comments.

"He called me, and did I listen to your conversation with your mom this morning?" I ask, irritated.

"Enough to know I was talking to her and to tell me to say you say hello," he replies.

"You told me it was her when I walked into the room. *I* wasn't eavesdropping," I retort.

"You knew I was talking to her," Josh waves dismissively. "That's not the point. The point is I don't think I like the way he was treating you."

"What?!?" I say, incredulously. "Just how is that *any* business of yours?"

"I'm just looking out for you," he explains.

"And what makes you think I need looking after?" I ask, crossing my arms.

"Well, CJ, you don't have the world's greatest track record for taking care of yourself," he replies with insufferable calm.

"Not your life, Joshua," I reply warningly.

"No, but I don't think you're seeing the big picture here. I don't think he was treating you right. Who is he, anyway?" he asks.

"It's none of your business who I talk to, or who I go out with," I say slowly, trying to keep a rein on my temper.

"Claudia Jean, you've picked some real winners in the past. I just want to make sure he's not going to hurt you," he says, attempting to be soothing.

"I'VE WHAT?" I ask. "*I've* picked some winners? And you haven't?"

"CJ, come on, you went out with Tad Whitney," he snaps, getting annoyed.

"I was 29. 29, Josh. 6 years ago, Joshua. I think I've managed to grow up a little since then," I grit out though clenched teeth. "And I'm only not saying what kind of winners *you've* picked because we decided we weren't discussing her anymore."

He knows who I mean, and his mouth opens to say something about Mandy being different, but he stops. "CJ, come on, you must be crazy..."

I cut him off before he can finish the sentence, "Oh, and you would know from crazy?"

As soon as the words leave my mouth, I regret them. The color drains from his face, and I feel no satisfaction at scoring a direct hit. I don't say anything, but I'm about to cry and he's got to be able to see that. "Hey, can I go home?" I hear Donna say as she comes up behind him. She stops short when she sees the looks on our faces. "I'm sorry, I'll just wait out here," she says, but Josh turns to stop her.

"No, what did you want, Donna?" he says, turning away from me.

"I'm gonna go home if you don't need me," she says, uncertainly.

"Yeah, ok, just tell me what you've got on McNeely first, I want to finish that memo," he says, turning and shutting the door behind him. The door between our offices is almost never shut. Only when Josh is having a high level discussion and I might have press in my office, which is unusual, since most high level discussions happen other places than Josh's messy office. I stand and stare at the closed door for a very long moment. I consider apologizing, but decide not to. He won't listen now, and I'm not the only one who scored a touch.

About 20 minutes later, Donna pokes her head into my office. I still hadn't managed to pick the phone up and start making calls. "You all right?" she asks, softly, glancing at the closed door.

"Donna, I didn't mean it," I whisper.

"Of course you didn't. He knows that, let him get over being stung and it'll be fine. Besides, he knows he got you too, otherwise you wouldn't have said it," she says gently. "It'll be all over by the end of the week, you'll see."

I feel relieved that she's not giving me grief for hurting him, since Donna can be awfully protective of him. "Yeah," I say softly.

"Good luck on the hunting," she says, sympathetically before she ducks back out.

"Thanks," I say, as I pick up the phone again.
*

It wasn't over by the end of the week. Josh is avoiding me completely, and it's driving me nuts. The President, Josh and Toby are going to Seattle today- I was meant to go, but Leo decided he wanted me here instead. I don't know if it's because of the fight with Josh, or if he has something else in mind, but I really wish I was going because it would be a legitimate excuse to not be in town so I wouldn't have to deal with Adam. I've been not going home, and someone's going to notice soon, I think as I walk down the hall to Toby's office. I want to know where Josh is, because I don't want him going all the way across the country before I can apologize.

"Toby? Are you busy?" I ask as I walk into his office.

"What do you need?" he asks, looking up at me.

"Where's Josh?" I squirm a little as I ask.

"He's on the Hill, he'll be meeting us at Andrews." Toby gives me a close look and puts down the papers he was reading. "Ginger," he calls out, "I'm going to lunch."

"Ok!" She yells back.

"Oh, Toby, I told Carol I'd be back in a minute," I protest as it becomes obvious he means for me to go eat with him.

"And tell Carol CJ is with me," He yells at Ginger again. "There. You're covered, come and eat."

"I'm not hungry," I explain as I follow him down the hall.

"I am." he says, simply. We're quiet as we reach the mess. He gets the daily special- tortellini with alfredo sauce- and looks at me expectantly. I sigh and tell the waiter I want chicken soup and a salad. I'll have to eat it too, because Toby won't let me get away with just picking at it.

"So," he says as the waiter moves away. "Tell me about it."

"There's not much to tell. He said something I don't think he meant the way it sounded and I said something I didn't mean at all." I shrug.

"And now he won't let you apologize," Toby sums up.

"Yeah." I swirl my straw in my water like a 5 year old.

"There is a solution to your problem," Toby says after a moment.

I look up. "What?"

"You could write him a note, and I could be persuaded to give it to him on the plane," Toby says slowly.

"Persuaded?" I ask. I want to know what I'll have to do, first.

"If I give him the note, you have to try and eat your lunch." Toby says, looking at me directly.

"I'm eating, Toby," I say, responding to the unsaid charge.

"I didn't say you weren't. I said you have to eat your lunch." I wonder how much he knows and what he wants to do about it.

I think for a moment. "Ok," I sigh.

"Ok, then." Toby regards me for a long moment. It's the same look he used to give me when he wanted to make sure I wasn't lying to him. I look back blandly. I've gotten better at keeping things off my face. Politics has been useful for something.

The food comes, then, and I proceed to eat my chicken soup slowly. I have to take what recourse I find, and I don't want this to continue. The soup actually feels reasonably good going down, even though it's August. I always feel cold now, despite the heat.

*
"M'Garry," A sleepy voice silences the telephone ring. I swallow and manage to say,

"Leo?"

"CJ?" He sounds more awake now, and I feel bad for waking him. "What's wrong?"

"Um, I'm at the ER," I start, but he cuts me off.

"The ER? What happened? Is Sam hurt?" he asks, rapid fire. Sam, Leo and I are the only ones in town. Toby and Josh are still in Seattle with the President.

"No, Sam's fine, I think. I, um, fell." I explain.

"Fell? Are you all right?" There is no mistaking the concern in his voice, and it makes me want to cry.

"Sort of. They think I broke my arm," I'm half dizzy from the pain. "I'm sorry to call, but..."

Leo cuts me off again. "Which ER?"

"Georgetown," I reply.

"Hang tight, I'll be there in about 15 minutes," he says in a tone that I know better than to contradict.

"Ok," I whisper.

I must have dropped off somehow, because I'm curled up fetal on the examining bed when the nurse brings Leo into the room. "How do you feel Ms. Cregg?" the nurse asks.

"It hurts," I admit.

"Well, I have something for that, if you like," the nurse said, holding out a cup of pills. I raise my head to take the cup and swallow them quickly. "Good. The doctor is looking at your x-rays now, someone should be in soon."

"Thanks," I say, and look at Leo.

"Hi, kiddo," he says, sitting down in the chair.

"I'm sorry to wake you up," I apologize. "Sam and Ainsley went out to dinner tonight and I didn't want to.." I trail off, because I realize I just implied that Leo wouldn't have had a date.

"No, no. I don't mind in the least. I'm glad you called," he reassures me. If he's insulted by my implications, he doesn't show it. "What happened?"

"Oh, it was so silly," I say, aiming for blithe, and hoping that if I'm falling short, it's not in the range of scared. "I was going down to the storage room to get something out of a box and I slipped on the stairs, tumbled down and landed wrong."

"Stairs were probably wet, it's been raining off and on," Leo says, nodding. I nod back, relieved he accepted the lie. It's a reasonable lie, even if it hadn't been raining. We may tease Sam about being clumsy, but I'm honestly ten times clumsier- I mean, so far as I know, Sam hasn't walked into a swimming pool...twice. I think everyone just tends to ignore my clumsiness because I just *look* graceful. "How did you get here?"

"Ambulance. One of the people who lives on the first floor called 911 for me, but she couldn't leave her baby, so she didn't come with me," I explain. That part is honestly true. No one was in the stairwell when Adam pushed me down, and no one would have noticed the yelling from my apartment, or at least no one would think it unusual- the walls are soundproof enough that you can't make out words, so no one would have heard what we were saying. Even without Adam, loud voices from my apartment aren't unusual, since Toby or Josh often come over, or I talk to them on the phone. We weren't yelling by the time we reached the hallway. It would arouse suspicion.

"Oh, ok," Leo says. He looks about to say something else, when the doctor comes back into the room.

"Ok, Ms. Cregg, you've managed to fracture your arm right below your wrist. That's pretty good news, actually, since you won't have to have a cast all the way up your arm. Dr. Reynolds, here," he says, indicating a blonde woman who followed him into the room, "is going to take you to the plaster room and get you all taken care of, ok?"

"Yeah, ok," I say, and get into the wheelchair that Dr. Reynolds pushes in front of me.

"I'm sorry, sir, but you'll have to wait here," Reynolds says to Leo.

"Right," Leo says. "You gonna be ok?"

"Yeah, I'm fine," I say, hoping he can't see through my bravado.

"All right then. I'll be here," he says, as Reynolds pushes me down the hallway.

"We call it the plaster room, but that's something of a misnomer," she tells me as we turn the corner into a well lit room. "You're actually getting a fiberglass cast. They're lighter and more comfortable."

"Oh," I say as she wheels me over to a table and motions me to put my arm up on a board.

"Ever broken a bone before?" she asks absently as she gently unwraps the ice packs and splint from my arm.

"My collarbone," I say, wincing as she lifts my arm up from the splint.

"No cast for that one," she says, laying my arm down as gently as she can. "Sorry."

"It's ok," I say, trying to relax.

"Now, usually, I let my little patients choose a color," she says, smiling at me, "but most adults opt for the basic white."

"White will be fine," I agree.

"Easier to coordinate with," she says, nodding. She works quietly for a moment, and I try not to wince too much. I'm very glad they gave me the painkillers before this little operation. "So what happened?" she asks.

"Fell down the stairs," I say blandly. "They were wet."

"Yeah, what with the rain," she says. I'm not lying about what happened, just about the circumstances under which it happened. Completely different things, nothing to arouse suspicions in anyone. Keep your mouth shut, Claudia Jean, you don't need any more trouble than you've already got.

"Did you hit your head?" she asks.

"I'm not sure. It doesn't hurt much." I reply.

"Well, how about I ask you some quick questions, just to make sure you're all intact up there, ok?" she asks, as she starts winding the fiberglass around my hand.

"Ok," I say, uncertainly.

"Did you eat breakfast?" she asks, and I immediately see where this is going.

"Yes," I lie.

"What did you have?" she asks.

"Coffee, yogurt and a Danish," I say without thinking too hard. It seems a reasonable breakfast, and I really did have the coffee.

"How about lunch?" she asks.

"Salad and a sandwich," I say, thinking a little harder.

"Mm-hm, and dinner?" I bite back a curse as she moves my thumb. "Sorry,"

"It's ok," I grit out. "I had a chicken Alfredo frozen dinner," I say, once I've caught my breath. I really did, too. Sam microwaved 2 dinners because we were working on something and I managed to choke most of it down, despite the fact I wasn't at all hungry.

"You're not much of an eater, are you," she comments generally as she winds the cast up over my wrist.

"It was a busy day," I say.

"Looks like you have a lot of those," she says, looking me up and down. I just look at her and hope I don't look too defensive. She doesn't say anything further, just keeps working on my cast. "There, all done."

I look at it for a moment. "Thanks."

"You're welcome. Now, you want to keep it dry, but don't worry if it gets a little bit wet. It's somewhat waterproof, so don't worry about washing your hands or being in the rain. But you need to wrap a grocery sack around it or something when you take a shower or a bath. Or if you were to go swimming," she explains as she wheels me back to my room.

"Right," I say. "How long does it need to be on?"

"Well, that depends. Probably about 6 weeks. Some people say it helps if you take a calcium supplement and eat dairy foods, but the jury is kind of out on that one. I say, if it makes you feel like you're doing something, it can't hurt. Also, if it starts to itch unbearably, take your blow-dryer, set it on the coolest setting and aim it at the opening. It helps a lot. Don't get anything underneath the cast though- if you do, it can get the skin underneath infected," she warns.

"Ah. Ok." I look up at Leo as we reach my room. "All done," I say, trying on a smile.

He's on the phone, but he smiles back. "Yeah, she just came in, do you want to talk to her? Yeah...ok, I'll let her know. Yeah, see you tomorrow. Oh, ok. Here," He holds the phone out to me. "The President wants to say hi."

"You called Seattle?" I ask incredulously. He nods and I don't have time to say anything before the President is talking to me.

"Claudia Jean? You're all right?" he asks.

"I'm ok, sir. It was just a slip," I explain, trying not to feel lousy about lying to the man who sees me as one of his daughters.

"Well, you take care of yourself and do what the doctors tell you, all right? Don't get all stubborn on them," he chides me gently.

"I won't, sir," I assure him.

"Good, because my wife is in DC and I have no qualms about siccing her on you if I hear it's necessary!" he says, but I can hear the warm smile in his voice.

"No sir, I'll behave." The First Lady would have my secret out of me in minutes. I really would rather she was somewhere like...oh...Kazakhstan.

"All right then," he says. "Oh, Toby wants to say something."

"Ok," I say, and wait to hear Toby's voice.

"So, you're causing trouble," he says with his characteristic quiet indifference.

"A little, I guess," I answer, in kind.

"For someone who hates hospitals..." he lets the sentence trail off, and just sighs slightly theatrically.

I grin, just a little. Every once in awhile, Toby is a sweetheart. "Yeah, well."

"Ok. Just wanted to check," he says, suddenly serious.

"You've checked," I say.

There's a pause, and I get the feeling Toby has turned away from the tableau I can picture in my head. "I gave Josh your note."

"And he doesn't want to talk to me." I say softly, having gathered that from Leo's end of the conversation.

"He says he hopes you feel better soon." Toby's voice is strangely flat, as though he disapproves of Josh's response.

"Thank him for me, if you would." I know he probably won't, but I feel like saying it.

"Right," Toby says in the same flat voice. "I'm going to let you go, ok?"

"Yeah. I'll see you tomorrow." I don't say goodbye, but rather hand the phone back to Leo who listens a moment and hangs up.

"Josh says," he starts, but I cut him off.

"I know."

"Yeah." He looks at me speculatively. "Are you two going to kiss and make up or what?" he asks me in a burst of unusual spontaneity.

"Not my decision." I say quietly, ignoring Leo's actual words.

"So, you've apologized and he hasn't accepted," Leo surmised.

"Not exactly. I wrote him a note, which Toby graciously offered to give him on the plane, and he has not responded to the note as yet. In the note, I said I would be quite willing to apologize in person for what I said, if he would give me the chance." I look down at my hands because I know what Leo is going to say.

"You don't want an apology from him?" Leo asks. Apparently the script of the argument has made its way to him. Just what I need.

I manage not to say that Josh is pretty much right in saying I've picked up losers before and Adam *was* treating me badly. "I would, but I'd feel better if he'd just talk to me at all."

"Mmm," Leo says, and I get the feeling that someone will be giving Josh a talking-to and I feel bad for being the cause of it. It doesn't help that I figured I'd be the one on the receiving end of a lecture, but apparently, I'm not.

I'm released about an hour later with a whole list of instructions and some pain pills. Leo helps me into his car and starts driving towards my place. "Do you want me to stay?" he asks.

"Hm?" I ask sleepily. "Oh, no, I'll be fine."

"You're sure?" he asks.

"Yeah, I'm sure." I look out the window at the passing buildings.

"Ok." I'm glad it's Leo. Sam wouldn't have been able to let it drop. When we reach my apartment, he gets out of the car. "Let me get what you wanted from the basement, ok?" he asks.

"Oh, don't worry about it, I don't even know what box it's in," I tell him. "It wasn't anything important, like for work or anything."

"It's no problem, CJ, I don't mind looking in a couple of boxes for you," he says as I punch my code in.

"No, no, really. It's just a book I wanted to look at, I can get it later," I assure him.

"Ok, then." We walk up the stairs silently. I'm praying Adam isn't in my apartment, but I assume he's smart enough to know that someone would be bringing me home. The whole fight was over the fact that Josh knew about him.

"The place is a mess," I mutter as I try to maneuver my keys into the lock. Leo takes them from me gently.

"Here, let me. I'm sure it's fine," he tells me. He fumbles with my lock for a moment, and I'm about to tell him the trick of pulling the knob up and in when he figures it out for himself.

"Thanks," I say softly as he follows me into the apartment.

"No problem." Leo glances around, and I'm glad we weren't throwing things tonight. That would have been a little obvious. "You call me if you need something. And don't worry about coming into work, you hear?"

"Leo, I can..." he interrupts.

"No, you can't. What you can do is curl up on that sofa and watch TV all day. I'm sure I can get the First Lady to second that order if need be."

"Yes sir," I mumble.

"There's a girl," he says. "You get some rest, ok?"

"Yeah," I say, sitting down on the chair.

"Ok. I'll have someone check up on you later, all right?" he says.

"Yeah. Thank you," I add.

"You're welcome. Go to bed," he says, his hand on the door. I nod. "Sleep tight," he says as he pulls the door shut behind him. I lock up awkwardly because of my arm, and then go crawl into my bed, hoping for sleep.

~
I'll need some information first.
Just the basic facts.
Can you show me where it hurts?
"Comfortably Numb," Pink Floyd
~
"So then," Leo said, looking around. "Where are we?"

"Josh will be here in a little while," Carol said, looking a bit stunned at participating in a senior staff meeting.

"He just wants to make sure she's calm," Donna said, slightly more relaxed.

"I thought they drugged her," Toby said.

"They did. He didn't want her to be alone until she fell asleep again," Donna replied softly.

"That's fine. I imagine he'll be there a lot. Donna, you should work with Ginger, Bonnie and Margaret to give some of his meetings to Toby or me. Reschedule anything that's not urgent." Leo directed. Donna nodded.

"Did the DC police call?" Sam asked.

"Yeah. They've arrested Cardington because his alibi didn't check out, and one of CJ's neighbors saw him come into the building about 45 minutes before we got there. The neighbor didn't see him leave, but the estimate is that she was unconscious for about 15 minutes before we got there. He's not cooperating yet, so they don't know exactly what happened." Leo explained.

"Until CJ can tell us," Sam said.

"She may not," Donna pointed out. "Ryan told me that head trauma usually erases short term memory."

"True," Toby nodded.

"What happens if she can't tell the police what happened?" Carol asked nervously.

"It depends," Sam replied. "They have the letter she wrote to Josh. It may be enough to make the case for assault or..." he trailed off, not wanting to complete the sentence.

"The other is unlikely," Toby said, also unwilling to use the word rape. "By her own admission, she submitted," he growled.

"Under duress," Donna said, looking back and forth between Sam and Toby.

"No physical evidence. It's hard enough to make that sort of case with evidence." Leo said gently. "They will likely get him on assault, since there's corroborating physical evidence."

"Too much of it," Toby muttered.

"How long can he get for that?" Donna asked.

"It depends. The more counts there are, the more potential time," Sam answered.

"Oh, God, there's going to be a trial," Leo sighed.

"Yeah. She'll love that," Toby said quietly, knowing CJ's complete lack of comfort describing her personal life to her friends, let alone to strangers.

"Maybe they can plea bargain," Sam said.

"And let him go free?" Carol asked, slightly incredulously.

"Ok, folks, let's not deal with this right now," Leo said firmly before Sam could reply. "There will be plenty of opportunity to discuss this later. Right now, we need to take care of today."

Simon Glazer knocked on the door as he came in. "Well, no one picked up the story," he said.

"Good," Leo said. "Let's not lie, but there's no need to give the press every last detail."

"CJ was assaulted last night, someone has been arrested in conjunction with the attack. She's currently in stable condition and expected to make a full recovery," Toby said to Simon. "You don't answer any questions about who the guy is, where it took place, or anything else."

"Right." Simon said.

"In fact," Sam said, "Don't say anything unless they ask."

"I'm sure they'll start asking as soon as they discover CJ's not in the building," Toby pointed out.

"They asked when she broke her arm," Simon said, nodding.

"Well, protect her privacy as much as possible," Leo directed.

"We don't comment on the personal lives of White House staffers usually seems to work," Carol said quietly.

"Right. Except we're gonna comment, because it's going to be a matter of public record," Leo explained.

"But we can still control the story," Toby said.

"And we will," Leo said. "Believe me, we will be in control of this one."

"Ok," Simon said. "Is there anything else for me?"

"Did CJ leave briefing notes last night?" Toby asked.

"Yeah, they were on my desk this morning," Simon replied.

Unsettled, Leo was about to say something, when the phone rang. "Yeah?" he said, picking it up. He listened a moment, and said, "Yeah, we can do that. Would you like to come here, or is it better for us to come there? Sure. Ok, thank you," Leo said, hanging up the phone. "That was the psychiatrist. She's going to come over because she wants to ask us all some questions."

"When?" Sam asked.

"Now. She's coming with Josh." Leo replied. Sam nodded. "Anything else urgent right now?" Leo asked, looking around at tired and worried faces.

"No," Toby replied.

"All right then. We'll talk later," Leo said, dismissing everyone.

"When the psychiatrist gets here?" Sam asked while everyone got up to go.

"Yeah. You'll know," Leo assured him.

"Right," Sam said as he left.

*
"So how long have you known Claudia?" Kris asked Josh as they drove away from the hospital.

"It's CJ. Not Claudia," Josh corrected firmly. "The only person allowed to call her Claudia is her father and she doesn't even like it when he does it."

"I see. Why not?" she asked.

"Why not what?" Josh asked absently as he made a left hand turn.

"Why doesn't she like her name?" Kris clarified.

"Oh. I don't really know," Josh admitted. "She just doesn't. And well, people tend to respect CJ's wishes on these sort of things."

"Ok. So how long have you known CJ?" Kris asked.

Josh sighed, "About 4 years. Since late 1997."

"Really? I would have thought it was longer. Is that how long all of you have known her?" she asks.

"No, Toby's known her forever. But the rest of us pretty much met her around the same time I did. Leo knew of her, and I think he might have run into her a couple of times, since she did a lot with Democratic candidates and he's big in the party." Josh glanced over at Kris, who was looking straight ahead. "It's been a very intense 4 years, though."

"Oh, I bet. Where is she from?" Josh sighed at the question.

"If you ask her where she's from, she'll tell you California, and she won't be lying. She lived there for almost 15 years. But she lived in Missouri until she was 15." he paused. "I wouldn't necessarily get on her case if she tells you California. She's only openly admitted to living in Missouri to me and to a grand jury. No one else knew until after the grand jury investigation."

"Why doesn't she acknowledge Missouri?" Kris asked. It was a reasonable question, but one that set Josh's teeth on edge.

"Because, it's not who she is anymore. Look, I'll tell you about Missouri if you want, if it means you won't hit her with it immediately. I don't want to betray her confidence like that, but if it means you won't ask her, I'll do it," he finished.

"I'm not asking you to break a confidence, although, I obviously won't be discussing it with anyone else," Kris explained. "And I can't really promise I won't be asking her about Missouri. If she keeps it that well hidden, then it's obviously something important."

"I'm not denying that," Josh sighed. "It is important, but it's also difficult and painful."

"Most important things are," Kris told him.

"I don't know how it has anything to do with this, though." Josh retorted.

Kris looked at him as they pulled up to a red light. "It may have everything to do with this. Look, this is stretching confidentiality here a bit, but I'm going to do this anyway. From the incredibly sketchy medical records I've been able to get on CJ, this has been an ongoing problem. Not the abusive boyfriend, the self-destructive behavior. As near as I can tell, she has never weighed more than 150 pounds. Now, 150 pounds might sound like a lot to you, but for someone CJ's height, it's really not. You're probably about as tall as she is, right?" she asked.

"Just about, yeah." Josh admitted.

"And you probably weigh, what? 180? 190?" she asked.

"About that, yeah," he said.

"And that's about right for a man your height. Now, men tend to have more muscle mass than women, and therefore their weight ranges tend to be higher, but it would stand to reason that a woman CJ's height shouldn't weigh much less than you should. 150 is probably the *least* she should weigh. It should probably be more in the 160-170 pound range. Now, it seems that she was always thin, and some people are genetically programmed to be very thin, but my guess is that she's at least 15 pounds, possibly more, underweight right now. Have you ever met any of her relatives?" she asked.

"Not in person. I spoke to her father on the phone once when she was in the middle of a briefing and he called her cell phone," he explained.

"Well, if her family tends to be tall and thin as well, then she might just have a predisposition to being thin. But it's still pretty obvious that she's been doing some damage to herself. And this sort of thing has very serious consequences." Kris warned him.

Josh was quiet for a moment. "She doesn't eat. She doesn't eat, but she runs like there's no tomorrow."

"How long does she run?" Kris asked gently.

"It depends. Let's just say that Sam Seaborn went for a run with her exactly once. Now, Sam isn't a bad runner- he's in pretty good shape and fairly fast, and when she asked if he wanted to go for a run, he figured he wouldn't have any problem keeping up with her. He neglected to ask her how far she planned on going, and how fast she actually runs, and this turned out to be a tactical error on his part. He did manage to keep up with her for the first 2 miles, but after that, she was on her own. Sam told me she ran the first two miles in about 15 minutes, which is about a 7 minute mile. I don't know a whole lot about running, since I hate it, but I'm told 7 minute miles are incredible. We were waiting for her at the hotel when she got back about an hour and a half later. She didn't know how far she'd run, but we guessed it was about 10 or 12 miles. This is not uncommon," he explained. "The more stressed she is, the farther she runs and the less she eats."

Kris didn't answer as they pulled into a parking space near the White House. "Ok," she said finally. "Thank you for telling me that."

"I'm just worried about her," Josh said softly, before they got out of the car. "She's a lot more fragile than she looks, but she won't let anyone treat her like she's anything other than steel."

"People who think they're steel are often porcelain," Kris said quietly. "They won't break unless they get dropped."

"She's been dropped. More than once," Josh admitted.

"I know." They got out of the car and walked towards the entrance silently. As they walked through the door, Kris turned to Josh and said, "Maybe it doesn't have to be like this."

"But maybe it does," Josh said softly as he pulled his ID out. "And then what?"

 

 

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