Disclaimers: The usual.

I apologize if this story is not too polished, but I only thought of the idea
on Friday and with Christmas preparations/celebrations, I didn't have a lot
of time to read it over. Still, I wanted to post it while we were still in
the Christmas spirit. Hope you enjoy it.

The writings in italics are the ghostly visions and the regular print is for
the present reality.


"CJ's Christmas Carol"

 

 

It was Christmas Eve at the White House. The President and First Lady had
already departed for New Hampshire and staffers were getting ready to head
out for a short Christmas break. The short Christmas break didn't allow CJ
enough time to fly out to California to visit her family. So, she chose to
stay in the office and work. She was in there working, when Danny came in.

"Hey," he said as his usual greeting.

"Hey back. What are you still doing here?" CJ responded.

"Just wrapping up a few things. My family is taking a big group vacation to
the Bahamas, but I have a story to finish. So, I'm here for the duration. I
thought maybe you would want to have dinner tonight."

"With you?"

"Yeah, sort of celebrate the one year anniversary of our last date."

"It wasn't a date. It was a business dinner."

"Whatever. So, do you want to go?"

"Danny, we can't keep going out with each other."

"I don't think once a year is asking too much."

"You know what I mean. We cannot get involved. It could mean both of our
jobs and possibly our careers."

"CJ, you know how I feel about this. I don't see any reason why a reporter
can't date a press secretary."

"Well, you know I have a problem with it and so do a lot of other people,
like the people who employ me and the people who rely on my briefings.
Danny, I can't go out with you tonight or any other night."

"Will you at least admit that you want to."

"No, I won't admit that because it wouldn't be true." CJ said, knowing that
she was lying, but hoping that Danny wouldn't notice.

Danny didn't know what else to say. He just stared at CJ for a moment,
hoping she would say something, anything, to take back the hurt she had just
inflicted. She remained silent. Finally, he walked over to her, bent down
and placed a gentle kiss on her cheek. "Merry Christmas, I didn't mean to
bother you," he said softly.

CJ was left alone with her thoughts. "Dammit, I am such an idiot. What a
lousy situation. If we had only met at a different time and place, I'd be
spending Christmas with Danny." She let herself fantasize about what it
would be like waking up next to him on Christmas morning, what types of gifts
they would exchange. She thought Danny was probably the sentimental type
that would give small presents that were meaningful, like goldfish food,
rather than lavish, impersonal gifts. She thought she would have liked that.
Oh well, nothing she could do about that. That would have been a different
lifetime. In this life, she had her work.

********************************

Later, cartons from take-out Chinese food and various briefing papers
littered CJ's desk. And smack in the middle of the clutter was CJ, sound
asleep with her head resting on her desk.

A man entered CJ's office and not-so-gently jiggled her shoulder to wake her
up. CJ woke up with a start and jumped out of her chair.

"God, Leo, you scared me to death. What the hell are you doing here? I
thought you left already." After taking a moment to look at the man staring
at her, CJ continued, "By the way, you don't look so good. You don't sound
too well either. You should go home and rest."

"I am not Leo."

"Well, if you're not, then your his identical twin. Of course, you're Leo."

"I am a ghost."

"What are you talking about? Even if I believed in ghosts, Leo's not dead.
Leo, come on. Stop fooling around."

"CJ, I told you I am not Leo. You might say that I am the ghost of Leo's
marriage. You know that Leo knows too well the perils of placing work above
all else, above love and family. I've come to teach you, so that you don't
make the same mistakes."

"I know, did Danny put you up to this?"

"I didn't come because of Danny. I came because of you."

"Okay, so it was Josh and Sam. Will those two ever grow up?"

"Josh and Sam didn't send me. They have enough of their own problems for
godsake."

"This is crazy. I must be dreaming."

"You're not dreaming."

"Then it must be the Chinese food. I'm not ordering from that restaurant
anymore. Do you know any other good places?"

"CJ, would you give it up. This is important. Throughout the night, you
will be visited by three ghosts, who will show you the error of your ways."

"Oh, come on," said CJ laughing, "I've read this book. You must be kidding."

"CJ, I am not kidding."

"Oh, so, will they be wearing chains and ripped clothing and talk like
thiiiiisssss?"

"No, don't be silly. That was in Victorian times. Ghosts are much more
elegant these days. I'll see ya later. Have fun AND pay attention."

When CJ was alone, she began muttering out loud. "Well, he's just lost his
mind. Guess the holidays are getting to him. Of course, I am the one
talking out loud to myself. Hmmm. Maybe, I've lost my mind. Well, I am
going to finish my snooze." CJ sat in her chair again, but before she could
drift of to sleep, there was a knock on the door.

"Well, at least its a polite ghost. Come in."

"Good evening, CJ. I am the ghost of Christmas past."

"Nice to meet you. By the way, very nice suit. I guess the Ghosts' Union
must be paying better than in Dicken's day."

Ignoring CJ's remarks, the ghost told her "Come here and look in the goldfish
bowl and you will re-visit a Christmas from not so long ago."

Giving the ghost a sideways look of disbelief, CJ said "Look in the bowl?
I've seen that fish before." The ghost just glared at her and finally did as
she was told. As CJ looked in the bowl, Gail disappeared and the water
became foggy. Suddenly a familiar scene appeared. There was CJ in the White
House Press Room dressed in a winter white, wool pants suit.

"Okay, everyone, the lid is on. Have a merry Christmas."

"Merry Christmas CJ."

"Hey, I recognize this scene. This was last Christmas."

"That's right. Watch what happens next."

CJ walks down the aisle of the press room and bends to whisper to Danny.
"Hey, Fishboy, follow me." Danny follows her out the door. As she walks, CJ
says "Answer me this and when you do bear in mind there's a lot riding on
it."

"Riding on what?"

"Your answer."

"What's riding on it?"

"A date with me."

"Shoot."

"Don't you think that imposing additional penalties for hate motivated crimes
sends a powerful message by society against intolerance?"

"No. A crime's a crime. No one murder is any worse or better than another."

"Boy, was that the wrong answer."

"Punishing people for their beliefs is the beginning of the end. What's
more, you agree with me."

"I don't agree with you. Take me out tonight and convince me."

"What'd you say?"

"You heard me."

"No, I didn't. There was a.....I was distracted by a thing."

"I'm not going to say it again."

"Then, I'm going to assume you asked me out." Danny walks away and CJ
follows him.

"I didn't ask you out. You asked me out about 49 times and I'm saying yes to
one of them."

"Okay."

"You understand this is just dinner?"

"I understand."

"This is not a fling."

"I understand."

"This is business. In fact, bring you're notebook."

"Okay."

"My secret service name is Flamingo."

"That's a nice bird."

"I have to feed my fish."

"Okay, ghost. So, what's your point. I had a business dinner with him."

"Come on CJ. Geez. Would you stop calling it a business dinner already.
Look in the bowl again, wouldya."

There in the bowl were CJ and Danny eating dinner at an intimate restaurant.
They were sitting at a candlelit table for two, leaning in close to each
other, talking and laughing. At one point, Danny reached over and covered
CJ's hand with his own. They stopped laughing for a moment and their eyes
met. Slowly he removed his hand and then called the waiter for the check.
Later, he took CJ back to her apartment. As they said "Good bye," Danny
placed a gentle kiss on her cheek. CJ stepped inside her apartment and was
greeted by her cat. She picked the cat up and told it of her evening.
"Well, Berkeley, he's a pretty special guy. I had the best time on a date,
ahhhh business dinner, that I have had in a long time. But, you and I both
live in the real world, right Berkeley. It's impossible between Danny and
me."

With that, the fish bowl water cleared again and Gail reappeared.

The ghost said, "So, you had a good time, huh?"

"No, I just said that to make the cat jealous."

"You're a tough nut to crack. Anyway, I've gotta go. I've got at least
three more people to haunt before midnight. Merry Christmas."

After the ghost left, CJ again started muttering to herself. "Wow, that was
weird. Maybe I just imagined it. I probably just was remembering last
Christmas because Danny asked me out again. Maybe I only thought the fish
bowl turned into a crystal-ball-sort-of-thing because my eyes are bleery.
With that, there was another knock on the door.

"Come in" CJ shouted.

"Good evening, CJ. I am the ghost of Christmas present. Come look into the
fish bowl."

"Again with the fish bowl?"

"Hurry up, would you. I haven't got all night."

"Alright, alright, I'm coming."

Again, the fish bowl got cloudy and Gail disappeared.

In the bowl, CJ saw her apartment. Out of the bedroom door, shuffled CJ
wearing a thick bath robe and fluffy slippers. She went immediately to the
coffee pot and made some coffee. After the coffee was ready, she went to the
poinsettia plant under which she had left a gift for herself and for Berkeley.

"Here Berkeley. Merry Christmas. Come on; open it up. Its your favorite
cat nip. Now, tear into it. At least one of us should have a good day."

Then she opened her own gift to herself. A lovely pair of diamond earrings.
She said out loud to herself, "Oh, you shouldn't have. Thank you so much,
CJ. Oh, you're welcome, CJ. You know, nothing is too good for you." She
laughed at her own little joke. Then she opened another present; a book on
the care and feeding of goldfish. She smiled softly to herself, thinking of
Danny. Later, after her shower, it was late enough to call her family on the
West Coast.

"Hey, Mom, hey Dad. Merry Christmas."

"Merry Christmas to you to dear."

"So, is everyone there? Did Bob and Susan come with the kids?"

"They're here. We all miss you. What are you going to do today?"

"Oh you know me. Big plans. I have at least three parties to go to." CJ
hated lying to her parents, but she didn't want to ruin their Christmas by
having them feel sorry for her.

"That's great honey. Have a good time. Well, the kids want to open their
presents, so we better go."

"Okay, Mom. I love you."

"We love you too."

After she hung up, CJ felt lonelier than she ever had. She got ready to go
into the office.

CJ was snapped back to the present when the ghost said, "So, CJ, why a
goldfish book?"

"Ahh, because I love goldfish. Everyone knows that."

"Are you sure you were thinking of just the gold fish? Did you have someone
else in mind also? Someone who might have given you as sweet a present had
you allowed him to?"

"Since when are ghosts into psychoanalyzing people? Things really have
changed since Dicken's times."

"Take another look in the bowl, okay?"

CJ looked in. The setting had switched to Danny's apartment. Danny came out
of his bedroom in ripped sweatpants and a tee shirt. He too headed straight
for the coffee pot. While the coffee was brewing, he opened the refrigerator
and grabbed the leftover take-out Chinese food from the night before.
Without bothering with a plate, Danny ate the cold food straight from the
box. He sprinkled fish food in his tropical aquarium. As he ate his food,
he read the paper and softly hummed Christmas Carols.

While she was watching Danny, the water cleared. CJ said, "Wait a minute.
What's he going to do the rest of the day? His Christmas looks even more
pathetic than mine."

"Oh, you know, same old, same old. He'll work on his story. Watch 'Its a
Wonderful Life.' What do you care?"

"Oh no reason. You know, just curious."

"I see. Well, gotta go. Have a good time tomorrow." With that the ghost
let out a loud, hearty, ghostly laugh knowing that CJ had a pretty miserable
Christmas day ahead of her.

"Gee thanks. Everyone's a comedian."

After the ghost left, CJ sat down again to work. Again there was a knock at
the door.

"Oh, for godsake. Come in," CJ shouted.

"Hi. I guess you know who I am."

"Yeah, yeah, yeah, the ghost of Christmas future. Want me to look in the
fish bowl?"

"How'd you know?"

"Lucky guess."

CJ looked in the bowl.

The scene was a retirement community in California. An elegant elderly woman
sat alone on a terrace.

"Hey, is that me? I aged pretty well don't you think?"

"Just look in the bowl and be quiet, okay?"

The woman was opening Christmas cards. There was one from Josh and Donna.
A picture of them with their adult children and grandchildren on a cruise
around the Greek Isles. The form letter chatted on about the latest
accomplishments of their extended family and of the pleasure they were
getting from retirement. The next one was from Sam and Mallory. Again, the
obligatory picture and form letter. Even Toby had sent her a card, wishing
her a Happy Chanukah.

As she was looking through them, an elderly gentleman sat down next to her.
He told her, "My grandkids are going to pick me up to take me to their house
for Christmas."

"That's very nice for you, Frank."

"How about you? Your kids coming to get you?"

"Frank, for the last time, I don't have any kids. I never married."

"You never married? A tall drink of water like you? Oh, well, what are you
going to do today?"

"Me? I'm just staying here. I've got some reading I've been meaning to do."

"Oh well, looks like you'll be the only one. Should have a lot of peace and
quiet."

"Yup. Looking forward to it," CJ lied. Then she thought, "seems like I'm
always lying on Christmas Eve. Probably not a good idea."

With that a car pulled up and three people in their twenties came up to the
elderly man. They all hugged him and seemed so happy to see him. "Come on
Grandpa. Mom's cooked your favorite for Christmas Eve dinner. Then, we're
going to midnight mass. Tomorrow, Uncle Tom and Aunt Joan are coming over
with their kids. It should be a great family Christmas. Let's go."

"Alrighty. Can't wait to get started. Have a very Merry Christmas, CJ."

"Oh, I will, Frank. You too."

After he left, CJ was left alone with her thoughts. Never married. Why was
that again? Oh yeah, never met the right guy. Or did I? CJ walked slowly
back to her small apartment. Next to her bed was a small photo album from
her days at the White House. She flipped through the book until she came to
the picture she had been looking for. A picture of a much younger CJ. The
photo was of her and Danny Concannon. They were both laughing. "What had
they been laughing about?" CJ wondered. What did it matter. He often made
her laugh, even if she didn't always admit it. She remembered how he had
continually pestered her for dates, which she continually refused. Suddenly,
he stopped asking. When was that? Oh yeah, around the end of their third
year in office, right around the end of the year or around Christmas,
something like that. Guess she was finally successful in convincing him she
wasn't interested, even if she never convinced herself. By the end of the
Bartlet administration, he had married someone else. It was too painful for
her (and, she sensed, for him too) to continue being friends after he
married, so they fell completely out of touch. Although she had heard many
years later that he and his wife had divorced, she always figured it was too
late for Danny and her. She never believed the rumors that his marriage
failed because his wife always felt that Danny still carried a torch for CJ.
Too ridiculous.

So, there she was, a lonely old woman. Only her memories to keep her company
on this Christmas Day.

Once again, the water cleared and Gail reappeared.

CJ was still staring into the bowl when she said "Man alive, that's a pretty
bleak picture you paint of my future. Couldn't I at least have another cat?"

"Hey, I just call 'em like I see 'em. Well, gotta go."

"No! Wait! What am I supposed to do now?"

"I think you know what to do."

"I guess I do. You don't think its too late?"

"You'll never know until you try."

With that the ghost left.

***************************************

Cartons from take-out Chinese food and various briefing papers littered CJ's
desk. And smack in the middle of the clutter was CJ, sound asleep with her
head resting on her desk.

Suddenly, CJ woke with a start. "Huh, huh. Who's there, uh, what happened?"
Realizing she was alone, CJ thought perhaps it had just been a dream.
Still, if it was a dream, it was a pretty scary one. Even more than that, it
was a pretty meaningful one. She loved her work, but she wasn't going to
give up her entire life to it. She didn't want to get to the end of her life
and look back on a host of lost opportunities. She looked at her watch--6:00
a.m. Christmas morning. "Well, I guess there's some slim chance he might be
up by now. Maybe, like a little kid, he still gets too excited to sleep
late," she thought. She quickly dialed Danny's number.

After a few rings, a very sleepy Danny answered, "Hullow."

"Hi, do you want to have Christmas breakfast with me?"

"CJ?" Danny asked, as he sat up in bed.

"Yeah. So, do you?"

"Well, I don't know....?"

"It beats cold Chinese food."

"How did you know my plans?"

"Just a lucky guess. So, do you?"

"Well, even though you woke me at this incredibly early hour on the one day I
am assured of not having to follow the President, I would love too. What
changed your mind?"

"Let's just say that some friends were able to convince me that there are
some things more important than my work and that you are one of those things.
I guess I'm just finally willing to risk it if you are."

"I'd risk anything not to eat cold Chinese food for breakfast. Seriously,
CJ, this is the best Christmas present I could have ever hoped for," Danny
said as he jumped out of bed to start getting ready.

"Me too. See you at my place in a little while."

After they hung up, CJ was suddenly horrified to realize she had to make a
romantic Christmas breakfast from the current contents of her
refrigerator--an opened can of cat food, two black bananas and some sour milk.

The End.