Something to Talk about
Dining Area- Main Lodge of Camp David
Josh was feeling pretty fuzzy as he entered the dining room Saturday morning. Sam followed a couple of steps behind sporting a rather distinctive hairdo. Josh had chosen to not inform Sam that he had a big clump of hair sticking straight up. Sam was a little fastidious and he wasnít in the mood to sit around while Sam took another shower or whatever he would think necessary to correct the situation.
The dining area was large. There was a beautiful, long mahogany table and a huge buffet spread out beside it. The room was empty save one Chief of Staff who was seated at the end of the table with the remains of a breakfast and at least three major newspapers in front of him.
"How many people did the staff think they were feeding this morning?" opened Josh gesturing at the large buffet against the wall.
"Good morning, you two." Leo responded with a rather stern look. "I would imagine that some of this food is for the many agents that are necessary at Camp David in order to protect the President from the two of you."
"He knows," Sam said matter of factly looking at Josh.
"Ah, Leo, we certainly didnít want you disturbed about a little thing like what happened last night." Josh said nervously.
"Four oíclock in the morning, Josh, an agent enters my room to inform me that two intruders were intercepted on the front lawn. He then gets word from his walkie-talkie that they had been identified as Josh Lyman and Sam Seaborn, or should I say a very inebriated Josh Lyman and Sam Seaborn." Josh tried to interrupt but Leo merely raised his hand and continued.
"The agent wanted to know what they should do with you two. You see, boys, I am not sure that the secret service has a great deal of experience dealing with important advisors to the President who get drunk and play catch with a cantaloupe on the front lawn in the middle of the night. "
Samís face got red. It was embarrassing for him that Leo knew. There was nobody he respected more than Leo McGarry. Plus there was the fact that Leo didnít drink anymore and was undoubtedly wondering about the sobriety of his staff. Sam chided himself for not showing more discipline especially when he was around Leo and the President. Leo knew all about discipline. Here he was, a man with a very painful hip injury, and because of his own past problems, he was going through his recovery without the benefit of pain medications. But you didnít hear Leo complaining to anyone about the hand dealt to him by that bullet.
"ÖSo I told the agent to have you executed. I thought it would be a good example to others who might be considering an act of lunacy in my presence. But then he starts talking to me about your right to be heard by a jury of your peers and to have counsel and all of that crap. And so I said, "Skip it, just send the Hardy Boys back to bed.""
"Sorry, Leo," said Josh contritely. "It was a little tense last night. I guess Sam and I were just looking to unwind. We found a pretty impressive wet bar in a study behind the main living room. I guess we sort of over-relaxed. We should have exercised a little more ..ah, whatís the word,Ö.restraint?"
Leo tried to maintain his severe gaze, but slowly as he listened to Joshís apology, his composure began to dissolve in favor of a grin.
"At least somebody had some fun around here last night." He said, eyes twinkling.
Sam began to relax and then remembered.
"Does the President know?" He asked with some trepidation.
"Sam, you have to remember that I am an old soldier. And any soldier worth his salt knows enough to keep a private store of ammunition. The two of you with your Laurel and Hardy act last night will keep me stocked for some time."
Sam wasnít sure whether to feel relieved or a little anxious that Leo was carrying the goods on him. He sat there with a fairly puzzled expression on face trying to weigh the various outcomes of this development. Josh was more a man of the moment. He had already moved onto the next topic.
"Speaking of the President, have you seen him yet today?"
"Oh yes. He and I had coffee together about 6:30 a.m. this morning. He can currently be found upstairs torturing his family members by phone." Leo said with a smile.
"Torturing, you say," Josh said with some interest.
"Well you know that the First Lady and Zoe are in California visiting his oldest daughter, Natalie."
"How are she and the new baby? Heís maybe a week old?"
"Just fine. Abby and Zoe are out there to give a hand with the two older ones while Nat gets on her feet."
"Okay, but the torturing part?"
"Well, it is 9:30 am. eastern standard time right now. And the President has been on the phone now for about half an hour with his family. Can you guess what time it is in California right now?" Leo asked.
"He has had them up since 6 a.m. on a Saturday morning?"
"He loves doing this to them. He tells them that he feels closer to them by making sure that they are awake when he is no matter what the time zone difference."
"I wonder how Charlie is doing in a house filled with women, babies, and diapers." Josh wondered aloud.
Leo just grinned. He knew the President was feeling lucky and grateful that none of the bullets hit his daughter or his body man, Charlie. The fact that Charlie was dating his daughter hadnít dampened the Presidentís affection for the young man. But the President wasnít a man to take luck for granted. He had been pouncing on opportunities like this all summer, a vacation in Maine, a diplomatic visit to Canada, anything to get Zoe and Abby out of the spotlight for a while. Charlie had become the Presidentís unofficial representative on these trips. Even though, Leo knew that the President had confidence in the secret service, he just seemed to feel better knowing that Charlie was there, keeping his best interests to heart.
"Iím sure that Charlie is doing just fine."
"Say, Leo, do you have any idea where they put our work?" inquired Sam.
"Well Sam, we came here to be away from work," chuckled Leo.
"Of course, Leo, I just need a couple of hours to browse through some memos on the transportation bill. Then I am your man." Reasoned Sam.
"Well you are out of luck then. The President sent all memos, briefs, laptops, everything, on a chopper back to The White House about two hours ago."
"What? Leo, youíre kidding, right?"
"No, the President had a whim this morning and he exercised it. You see, he was pretty sure that left to your own devices, most of you would disappear into your work."
"Leo, I have to be prepared for a senate hearing at 9a.m. on Tuesday."
"Sam, you are going to be fine. The President is serious about this weekend. We have all had a really tough climb the last few months. If we donít take some time to breath, we are not going to last until the end of the year."
"Oh my god, does Toby know?" exclaimed Josh imagining the potential for explosion once Toby learned he was without his work.
"Yes, he does. He came down for coffee about seven this morning. And no, there was no real scene. He made a few comments. Then he sat and scowled at the President for awhile prompting our Commander to lecture him about the lack of leisure time in his life and the obvious effect it has on his temperament. But all in all, it was a bloodless event."
"I bet he has some work hidden in his room." Sam explained to Josh with a look of envy.
"Speaking of our Communications Director, would either of you happen to know what the hell is going on between him and CJ? I heard about their fight last night. I know they mix it up from time to time, but I have never heard of them drawing blood before."
"I donít have a clue. They seem to be working okay together from what I have seen." Sam furled his brow for a minute. "But then Toby hasnít let me see much of anything. Heís beenÖoh, I donít knowÖoverprotective. He wonít discuss most of the gun control legislation with me. He just gives me minor speeches to write and hounds me about my health."
Josh looked down at the table. He didnít know how to explain how complicated life had been for the ones who were not hit. Clearly Sam and Leo had received the worst of the assassination attempt. They were the ones still struggling to recover from painful, serious injuries. It hardly seemed fair to try and explain what life had been like for the "lucky" ones.
He could remember another time when CJ and Toby had fought like they had last night. He could tell Leo and Sam about the other fight and how the two fights were probably related. But then he would have to talk about that night and there was still too much he didnít want to talk about with anyone least of all, Leo and Sam.
Tobyís words had helped focus him that night. He was the one who was going to think straight. Everyone else had been too close. This was how he was going to serve the President and Leo. When they arrived, The White House was chaos. Nobody knew anything useful. The President was in his quarters for the moment with Abby, Charlie, and a very shaken Zoe. Donna had accosted him the moment he, Toby, and CJ came into the West Wing. Her face was red and swollen from crying. He grabbed and held her for a minute. He whispered into her ear about how much he would need her help in the coming hours. This calmed her. She gave him a rundown on who was in the house and who wasnít. He gave her instructions and turned to find that Toby and CJ had disappeared.
He found them in the Communications area. Toby was speaking softly to Kathy, Bonnie, and Ginger about Sam. He was still holding CJís hand as if unwilling to let her wander off. Josh approached them. It was time to talk about a press briefing. They needed to let the country know that the President was safe and firmly in command.
Toby announced that he would do the briefing. CJ reacted. It was her pressroom. He argued that she was in shock and wearing bloody clothing. CJ accused him of wanting the press to see her as weak and ineffectual. Toby insisted that he would be able to set the necessary tone of calm and order.
CJ turned to him and spoke in a low, deliberate voice. "I will do this briefing as it is my proper role. I will wear a different blouse but the bloody pants stay. Let the press, no, Toby, let the world see that we have been affected by a senseless tragedy. Let them see that we are human. You would never be able to pull that off, Toby. Thatís why itís better that I do it." She headed out of the room and turned to him at the door. "I wonít break down. I will show them that humanity and strength can occupy the same space." As she rounded the corner, Josh stopped long enough to see the deep pain in Tobyís eyes as he stared after her.
"Well Josh, do you know whatís going on with those two?" Josh was still staring at the table when Leo spoke.
"Itís hard. I donít know what to tell you. I donít really know why they are fighting. It was a bad time. We thought you, both of you were dying. We were just trying to stay afloat. We werenít ourselves." Josh replied absently.
Sam and Leo were still staring at him when the President entered. Before they could get a chance to decipher Joshís statement, the President announced the dayís activities.
"Golf!" He exclaimed. "Itís a very presidential game, you know."
"Sir, I didnít know you were a golfer," Sam looked puzzled.
"Iím not." He replied cheerfully. "That will make it all the more exciting. We can discover the game together. The secret service has clubs and there is a little par 3 course set up for the previous presidents. Iím sure that the rules are easy. I understand that the different names of birds are used to connote your success at any given hole."
"Well sir, thatís not exactly right." Answered Sam. "Actually birdies and eagles areÖ."
"Oh Sam, this is no time for details. Grab your stuff. Come on Leo, Josh. We have carts, clubs, and balls. If we donít like the rules, weíll do something else with the equipment. We could have a joust! I have never done that before. Do you think the secret service will let you come at me with a golf club? Letís find out. Leo, you are riding with me. Youíll be safer in my cart. I hear these two are common drunks. I bet you didnít think I would find out. Oh and by the way, my new grandson looks just like me. Abby says that he is extraordinarily handsome."
President Bartlett kept up his cheerful banter as he headed down the hallway with Leo in tow. Sam and Josh exchanged anguished looks and then followed after their president.
CJ paced up and down the hallway trying to reason out what she would say. The nightmares of last night had seemed endless. Never before had the dreams assaulted her so intently. At least she knew why. Her fight last night with Toby visited her every time she closed her eyes. She knew the impact of what she had said. His damn eyes and their pain would follow her to her grave if she didnít do something.
The plan was simple. She knew he was in the study off the lake. She would knock, go in and apologize, explain that she had been out of sorts, that she hadnít meant it, and then she would go. No conversation. She would leave nothing to chance. She could then return to maintaining the fiction that her life was fine.
She continued mumbling and pacing in front of the study until she suddenly realized she was playing out this drama within a few feet of a man in a gray suit with dark glasses and electronics attached to his ear. The agent had been observing her dispassionately the entire time. CJ gave him a look.
"Whatever it is, you should probably just get it over with." He said to her.
She gave him a withering glance and opened the door to the study. "Damn," she thought, "Knocking was part of the plan." As with so many rooms at Camp David, this one was large, with dark wood and high ceilings. It reminded her of an exclusive hunting lodge. Toby was sitting in a chair near a stone fireplace with his back to the door. He hadnít heard her enter and she took a minute to watch him. She smiled to herself; Toby and his paper. In front of him there were papers spread out across a large mahogany coffee table. Wherever Toby was, there were always sheaves of paper in his arms. His office was a quagmire of paper. And here he was, intently studying pages of something while other pages lay strewn around him. She must have made a noise because his head jerked up in her direction.
"Iím disturbing you," is all that came out of her mouth. Her plan was out the window.
"I see that you somehow managed to thwart the Presidentís no work plan."
"Yes." He replied warily.
"How did you convince him?"
"I didnít. I figured that he might get clever about our work things and so I stashed the really important stuff in my personal baggage."
"Well, I see that you managed to land on top again."
"Toby, I am not here to pick a fight. I am here to apologize about last night."
"Donít interrupt. For once you are going to let me speak and you are going to sit there quietly."
He motioned her to sit, but she ignored him. So he sighed and sat back quietly waiting for her to talk.
"I was wrong. I was upset about being out of the loop. Your Danny comment put me over the edge, but thatís no excuse for the way that I spoke to you."
He looked as if he was going to respond and she paused for a minute to give him a "you promised to be quiet" face. He then tried to sit still. "This must be excruciating for him," she thought watching him shift uncomfortably in his chair.
"I donít like to see you hurt especially if I am the one throwing the punches. I used to think of you as a friend. And while, that seems to have changed, it doesnít mean that I donít careÖwhat happens to you. I didnít mean what I said."
She paused again as if trying to remember if this was everything she was supposed to say. Tobyís eyes never left her. He sat mute waiting for her to continue.
"Iím going hiking now. Bye." She said suddenly. Then she turned on her heel and sped out of the room.
Toby started after her and then at the door he remembered that he was leaving a table filled with sensitive material that he had basically smuggled into Camp David. He called after her, but she kept going. She quickly disappeared down the hallway.
Toby gathered up all of his stuff up quickly and went into the hallway. He spied the agent who was standing guard near the study.
"Where does a person go hiking at Camp David?"
"There is a good trail winding up to Whittaker ridge. The trail starts at the edge of the wood off the south end of the main lodge." Answered the agent.
"Are there bears?"
"Pardon me?" replied the agent.
"Are there bears in the woods?" Toby asked again testily.
"I donít believe so, sir."
"But you donít know?"
"Itís a secured area, sir." Concluded the agent with as much confidence as he could muster. Toby took this for the double talk that it was and headed off down the hall.
Twenty minutes later, Toby was on the south lawn eyeing the trail up Whittaker ridge. "This is a dumb idea," he mumbled to himself pacing back and forth. "Sheís fine by herself. She certainly doesnít need me chasing after her." Despite the seemingly solid argument, Tobyís pacing continued. He could hear shouts coming from the west and from their tone he figured that there wasnít much of a shelf life left to the Presidentís interest in golf.
He stopped in frustration and thrust his hands into the pockets of his khaki pants, staring down at the ground. "Ziegler," he hissed to himself, "if you donít talk to her this morning, you will lose your nerve. By 5 oíclock tonight, you will have a hundred reasons why you shouldnít. Itís time. Tell her that itís not her, itís you. Youíre the reason. She did nothing wrong. Toby, youíre the screwed up one."
Toby kicked at the grass one more time. Then he took a deep breath and headed up the path.
As he climbed, he thought back to that night. He still feel the sting of her anger. She had done exactly as she said. She gave the briefing in a clean blouse and blood-stained pants. The impact was palpable. The press could see the grief on her face. And yet, she communicated nothing but strength and clarity. He could see the respect in the faces of the men and women of the press corps. She brushed past him silently afterward and Toby bowed his head in frustration. Looking after her, he sighed and went off to ready the President for an emergency briefing with the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
It was 2 a.m. before the things began to look calm. Josh was holed up in the Roosevelt room with various members of Congress and would be seeing different groups of legislators for the rest of the night. It seemed that nobody important in Washington was satisfied with merely watching the developments on CNN. The President had gone through a dozen mini-meetings of his own. Toby tried to play major domo, making sure that no one took more than a few minutes of the Presidentís time. He finally told Mrs. Landingham to admit no one further and told the President to return to his family.
When he got to CJís office, it was dark. He knocked anyway. He waited and then turned to leave. The door opened behind him. She was there, looking exhausted and so very sad. She quietly motioned him in and he followed.
"Do you know anything?" He asked softly.
"Mallory is going to call about both of them soon." CJ leaned against her desk. The lights of the city behind her softly illuminated her desk and set her off with a sort of hazy glow.
"I was wrong. You were right." Toby said hoarsely. "You were magnificent in that room. You accomplished exactly what you said you would."
"Toby, I was upset. I accused you of being heartless. I donít really think that about you." CJís eyes were teary. She paused for a minute and then continued. "Itís just that I am a woman. I donít know if you will understand this, Toby, but it takes a lot of energy to be the only woman on the Presidentís senior staff. I work very hard so that you and the others donít have to do anything differently for me because I am a womanÖso that you donít see me as different or less. When you said that you would take the briefing, I got angry. When it came right down to it, I felt that you were saying that I was only good for briefings that werenít important."
"I think I understand what youíre saying. You are right about two things. I do see you as different and I did want to do the briefing in order to save you. I wanted to save you from the hassle of dealing with the press corps." Toby scratched his head absently as he considered his next words carefully. "I have been trying to save you all nightÖever since your first scream. But I was soÖhelpless. When I finally got to you, I could do nothing useful except sit with you while they shot at us." She never thought that she would see Toby struggling to find words that fit his feelings.
There was a stillness in CJís office as Toby softly made his confession. CJ gripped the table behind her and tried, through her anguish and exhaustion, to understand what Toby was telling her.
"As a woman, you are different, but I have never seen you as less." He said slowly. "I wanted to save you because you are specialÖto me, very specialÖto me." They stood motionless looking at each other. Toby wanted to say more, to better articulate feelings for her, but he couldnít find the words. They were gone. For the first time in his life, Toby was without the language that he so desperately depended upon.
The phone rang causing them both to jump. CJ rounded her desk and picked it up. She said very little. Mostly she listened. He watched her intently trying to gauge her reactions for news about his friends. She looked at him at one point in the conversation and then turned away, speaking to Mallory in low tones. Finally she put the phone down on her desk carefully and turned to Toby.
"Leo is out of surgery," she said slowly. "His right hip was shattered. Theyíve removed the bullet and they will go back in a couple of days to put pins in. He is in serious condition. But it looks good."
"No, Toby, heís not dead. They brought him out of surgery about two hours ago. But he is bleeding again. They took him back in about 20 minutes ago." CJ hesitated for a moment. She put her hand on her right shoulder. "The bullet entered here, but it must have ricocheted or something. They are concerned that it may have caused damage near his heart."
Toby just looked at her. He started to sway a little and then she was there. He accepted her embrace gratefully. She cried softly on his neck and he could feel her warm tears. He wondered if she could feel his. He was so weary and sad. She urged him to sit down, and he did, never letting go of her hand, pulling her down beside her.
He held her and they spoke in whispers to one another about good times past, about friends, the campaign, The White House. When her eyes closed, he stopped talking and just held her, stroking her hair. It felt so right to be holding her in his arms. He even thought he could stop fighting his feelings. Maybe he wouldnít hurt her. Maybe it was possible that he could actually be good for her. Maybe Sam would be okay. Maybe he and Leo could return to work. Maybe they could all be together again. Toby prayed for all of these things as he closed his eyes.
"WhaÖ?" Toby tried to open his blurry eyes, breathing hard from the shock of waking suddenly. Josh was hovering in front of his face. In that second, he remembered that he was not resting alone on this couch. CJís head stirred slightly on his chest.
"Sam," He said foggily.
"He came out of surgery about 30 minutes ago, Toby. He is in critical condition but Mallory says the doctors sound hopeful." Josh said quietly. CJ started to raise her head. Toby gently sat her up as he rose to a sitting position.
"Heís going to be okay, Toby." CJ briefly rested her head on his shoulder. Toby was acutely aware of Josh in the room. He wore a look of surprise on his face as he watched his two friends untangle themselves from each other. And even though, Toby would have worn the same look on his face if the reverse had happened, he felt his defenses rising.
"What time is it?" He demanded.
Toby realized that he had let himself sleep for hours. "While Samís fighting for his life, youíre busy sleeping. And when youíre not sleeping, youíre coming onto CJ." Toby thought bitterly, feeling disgusted with himself. CJ felt him shift away from her on the couch.
"Okay, well Iím glad that you got a little sleep, guys." Josh smiled nervously. "We have a big day ahead. In fact, I would have let you sleep longer except that thereís a visitor for you, Toby."
"Itís Andrea. She got in with the last group of congressmen about two hours ago. She has been looking for you ever since the meeting broke up. She says that she wonít go until she sees you."
Toby didnít look at CJ. He muttered an expletive at the ground and gruffly asked Josh where his wife was. Josh pointed toward the communications area and Toby left without a backward glance.
Toby sat on a large rock overlooking a lush valley. He had walked for a couple of hours, but hadnít found her. He decided to sit for a few minutes admiring the beautiful view before he made his way back to the lodge. He felt awe at the majesty of this green valley in full bloom. He knew that he should feel more than that, a connection maybe to the land. But he didnít. He would always be a city boy. His touchstone would always be the brownstone buildings of Brooklyn, people calling to one another out of windows, playing on the sidewalk, sitting on the stoop with his friends. He sighed from the memory of simpler times.
He not only had chosen a complicated life, he had chosen to live it in a complicated way. He never returned to CJís office that day. Once he was able to get Andrea out of the building, he jumped into the chaos of The White House after an assassination attempt. CJ held several briefings that day. Each time he prepared with her, he avoided her eyes. When he finally found the courage to see her pain, to explain what he was feeling, it was too late. She had withdrawn from him as if nothing happened.
Within a week, he could tell that she was seeing Danny. In the gun control bill, he found salvation. He poured all of his energy, anger, pain, and frustration into his work. If pain was the only thing he seemed to offer the people around him, maybe this bill was his chance to do good, to show himself that his life was more than just an open wound.
The sound of a crack came from the trees behind Toby. He grabbed a large stick he had picked up at the beginning of his hike, and tensely searched for movement among the trees. "Bears!" He thought. Since he was a kid, he had worried about bears. He had spent many hours in his youth at the Bronx Zoo imagining their ferocity. He dreamt about bear attacks. Nobody was going to tell him that bears were not a threat.
A musical laugh wafted through the trees. A laugh Toby hadnít heard in a very long time. CJ picked her way gingerly through the bushes until she was standing in front of him.
"What did you think I was, Toby? She laughed merrily. "You should have seen yourself looking all GI Joe with a big stick in your hands. Would you be under the impression that a button down shirt and khaki pants are appropriate hiking attire? And what kind of hiking boots are those?" She said pointing to the basketball shoes on his feet.
Toby felt his face getting red, but he couldnít help grinning a little. It was worth having it be at his expense to hear her laughter again.
"What are you doing up here?" She smiled quizzically.
"I was looking for you."
"Is there something wrong?" Her smile faded.
"There is no emergency. I needed to talk to you."
"What do we need to talk about, Toby?" CJ said cautiously.
"I want to tell you some things. I want to apologizeÖ"
"You donít need to say anything. Weíre okay, Toby."
"I want to explain things."
"No, letís go." She turned to leave.
There was something in his voice. She stopped and looked at him. He gestured her to sit on the rock beside him. She gave him a long-suffering look and sat down. There was silence for a minute. They sat side by side on the rock staring out onto the valley. Toby prayed for inspiration.
"Iím a difficult man, CJ." He began.
"Whoa! Is this your newsflash, Toby? Do you think that this is new information for me?" She gave him an incredulous look.
"Letís have a rule like back at the lodge but in reverse where only I get to talk." Toby rolled his arms as if to further define the reverse nature of his request.
"Whatever." She said folding her arms and looking back out onto the valley. He sighed deeply and began again.
"CJ, you werenít so wrong last night, you know. I did drive a good woman away. I didnít want that to happen to you. Not that Iím saying that, you know, anything would have happened that night. But I said some things. I told you some things that I shouldnít have. You donít know what itís like getting involved with a guy like me."
"Well, I guess you were able to save me that night after all."
"I thought we had a "Only Toby can talk" rule."
"Okay, but rule number two is that rule number one doesnít apply when you say really stupid things." She said matter-of-factly.
"What! I am explaining things to you."
"Your explanations reveal you to be a complete idiot, Toby."
"This is not going well." He said morosely.
"Toby, exactly what kind of a dangerous character do you think you are? You say I wouldnít know what itís like getting involved with a guy like you. Whatís the mystery? Whatís your evil secret?"
"Is it that you are cynical?" She began.
"Is it that youíre moody as hell?" She continued.
"Is it that youíre nervous as a catÖon a good day?" She added.
"Is it that youíre the biggest pain in the ass in Washington? Nope, that canít be it because the wordís out on that one, Toby." She said sarcastically.
Toby sat next to her quietly like a chastened schoolboy.
"Oh, and I really like that you felt the need to "protect" me from you. I donít need to make my own decisions because youíre around to make sure that I donít fall into your dastardly clutches."
"Toby, let me ask you something? Did you mean what you said that night? Tell me the truth now. Donít put on your superhero cape and try to save me from anything."
"Yeah." He said softly looking at her.
"Do you know how I feel about you?"
"Neither do I. You never gave me a chance to find out."
"Are we going back to where youíre mad at me for a very long time?"
"No," She said giving him a look. "Being mad at you is not, in fact, the fun-filled adventure that you might imagine it to be."
Hoots and hollers erupted again from the other end of the room. Leo looked up from the book that he was reading to throw another annoyed look at President Bartlett.
"This is not very relaxing." He informed the President.
"Let them be young." The President advised peering at Leo over his reading glasses.
The yelling exploded again before Leo could respond.
"Iím all for encouraging youthful exuberance," Leo was finally able to reply. "But Nintendo? Really, Jed." Leo tried a disappointed look this time.
"I didnít know we had it here. Those two are just like my Aunt Ethel. You left her alone in a room for five minutes and sheíd rifled through every belonging in the place."
"At least, letís send them to another room."
"No Leo. The theme of this weekend is togetherness."
"Well then how does that explain spending the whole day without Toby or CJ?"
"They are exhausted. They need a little peace, both of them. Besides can you picture Toby on a golf course? Somebody would have buried a club in his skull by the 7th hole. And that would have messed with the whole rejuvenation theme of the weekend."
"I thought the theme was togetherness."
The President ignored him.
"Do you think the secret service were ever able to get that cart out of the swamp?" He asked innocently.
Leo annihilated him with his eyes.
What! Leo! I have told you about 7 million times already that I didnít understand the juxtaposition of the forward as opposed to the reverse."
"Yeah, a golf cart is real rocket science."
The President gave him one of his "seeking forgiveness" faces and Leo softened. His mouth, in fact, started to curl up into a smile.
"Agents fully clothed jumping into the water after us. Will you ever forget that?" Leo chuckled.
"How about Josh wading out and offering to throw you over his shoulder like some fireman? Thank God, Butterfield showed up with that little raft thing. I canít imagine having to suffer the indignity of being carried out of a three-foot pond."
"We ended up being the only two dry ones on the course."
"I did get a little tired of my protection smelling like yesterdayís fish."
"Hey guys." Emerged from the doorway. Toby entered with CJ behind him. The President gave Leo a look. Who would have expected the two of them to arrive anywhere together after last night?
"How was your day, Mr. President?" Toby began.
"Wet. How was yours?" Toby gave him a quizzical look before responding.
"Not bad actually. I even got in a little hiking."
"Dressed like that?"
"You should have seen him, sir." CJ jumped in. "He was like a preppy Grizzly Adams. And you missed the stick. He carried a big stick all afternoon. I couldnít convince him to bring it in."
"What did you need a stick for, Toby?" The President looked amused.
"Yeah, Toby." CJ teased. "You never would tell me."
Toby reddened and looked down at his feet, embarrassed. The last thing he wanted to do right now was to explain his childhood fear of bears.
"Oh, leave him alone, you two," came Leo to the rescue. "Heís in a good mood right now. Letís see if we can stretch it out a little."
"Any crises or anything that we need to address today?" CJ looked at Leo and the President.
"There are always about a thousand things that need to be addressed. But there isnít anything that requires our presence in Washington right now. Well, except for one thing. And because of that one thing, we are going to have to return to Washington tomorrow." Leo said cryptically.
The President and Leo were grinning. The noise in the background had ceased. Josh and Sam joined them. Sam was wearing a smile that size of a Cheshire cat.
"Whatís wrong with you?" Toby asked Sam suspiciously. "You didnít give him more alcohol did you?" He threw Josh an accusing look.
"Toby, I got a call this afternoon from Mike Rosenbaum." Said the President.
"The Republican congressman from Nebraska?" Toby looked confused.
"It seems that he and a small group of his Republican peers want to come out of the closet."
"What do you mean?"
"They have been watching you all summer. They liked your bill, but didnít want to buck their leadership. They figured you might have a chance of pulling it off without their votes. They have been sitting in the weeds all this time. They can see now that itís not going to work waiting around for someone else to do the right thing."
"How many are there?" CJ was barely able to contain her excitement. Beside her, Toby was staring at his president.
"Only five. Itís not enough to swing this thing. But we have a much better chance of getting the compromises we want. The President looked at Toby. "They want to meet with you tomorrow afternoon. Theyíre ready to do shows, town meetings, whatever you need."
"Am I dreaming?"
Everyone started to laugh. Toby gave a whoop and a holler. Without thinking, he grabbed CJ, picked her up, and twirled her around. Then he remembered where he was and put her down.
"We did it." He said smiling into her eyes.
"Sam," He turned to younger friend. "Are you ready to be a healthy person? I am going to need you. I can already tell that these guys are going to need a babysitter, someone to make sure that they still feeling okay every night before they go to bed. They are going to have to deal with a lot of bullying from the bigger kids. Are you my man, Sam? CJ, you too. They are going to need to know how to cry in all the right places."
"Whoa there, partner. Weíll save the strategizing for tomorrow. Tonight we celebrate." The President said. "I want to tell you all something." The President had everyoneís attention.
"Weíve come through a hard time together. Weíve had some dark nights. Weíve all worked ourselves into a state of exhaustion. And I want to tell you that everyone in this room is a hero in my eyes. All of you fought as hard as I ever seen. And even though, some of us had different kinds of battles," He paused for a minute to eye Leo and Sam, "Not one of us gave up even for a moment. Iím a lucky man. I have surrounded myself with the best and never have I been more aware of that than in the last three months.
"Your strength," The President stepped to Josh.
"Your compassion," He continued turning to CJ.
"Your tenacity," reaching to touch Samís arm.
"Your integrity," looking into Tobyís eyes.
"And your courage," He turned to his best friend.
There was a silence. It was a much different one than had visited them the night previous. There was warmth and connection this time. Everyone sat quietly for a while unwilling to disturb the peace that had descended. But thereís always gotta be one in the crowd. Sam jumped up.
"Pizza! Beer! Poker!" He announced and added. "Itís sort of my idea of heaven."
"Sounds good." Josh said clapping his hands together.
"Iím not sure you need any more beer." Toby said to Sam.
"Please Mom!" Sam playfully begged Toby.
"Oh, so this is a thing now, you calling me, Mom. You do back at the office and Iíll bury a pencil up your nose. I promise you that." Threatened Toby with a twinkle in his eyes.
There was more laughter while everyone worked to set up for an evening of poker. Josh stood back for a minute and smiled. He had been the one standing behind the fence that night. Completely helpless, he had watched his friends fight for their lives. It had been excruciating. There seemed to be nothing that he could do for them. He had watched some of his friends continue their fight in hospital, struggling for the very right to breath. He had also watched his other friends battle through the summer about issues of justice and about their feelings for one another. And while theirs was a less tangible fight, he knew the stakes were just as high.
In this moment, he wanted to remember that night. He felt unafraid of those memories. "We have overcome so much," He thought with a sense of triumph. We are back and better than ever." He shook his head in amazement for a moment, and then trotted off to rescue Sam who was being yelled at by Toby for trying to drag a table across the floor using his bad shoulder.
CJ woke leisurely. No nightmares had visited her sleep. She looked at her watch and saw that it was 6:30 a.m. She remembered that she hadnít gone to bed earlier than midnight, but 6 Ĺ hours was a good stretch of sleep for her. She smiled to herself. The poker game had been wonderful. Everyone had played hard and laughed hard. It brought many memories back for her, memories that she had forgotten in the last three months. She remembered dropping Sam and Josh off at their rooms and continuing on with Toby. Toby was full of laughter and teasing. It had been so long since they last had fun together. Even so she hadnít expected to be as affected by his good humor as she was. She had found herself reluctant to leave him at his door. But after she got back to her room, she found something nagging at all of her good feeling. She couldnít remember what it was in that moment and had gone to sleep. Now she stretched herself out long and laid back on the bed trying to remember what it was.
She sat up suddenly remembering and without another thought, she grabbed her robe and headed out the door. She hurried down the hall and rapped sharply at his door. He opened it in a t-shirt and pants, looking freshly showered.
"CJ?" He said with some surprise.
She walked past him into his room and sat on his bed.
"I have a question for you." She announced.
"Okay," He said putting some distance between himself and the half-clothed woman on his bed.
"That morning when Josh told you that Andrea was here, do you remember?"
"Yeah," He said warily. "Am I going to be yelled at again?"
She waved away his question.
"You swore, got up, and left. Why did you do that?"
"I donít know. I suppose it had something to do with Andrea."
"Toby, I know that it was about Andrea. Getting divorcing was very hard on you. Everyone knew that. You still wear the ring. When you ran off that morning, you were mad. You were mad that you were with me while Andrea was looking for you. You were mad that you might miss an opportunity to re-connect with her, right?"
"Why are we having this conversation?"
"Because I want to know. I want to know the truth."
"I loved my wife very much. The idea of a divorce was repellent to me."
"She came to you that morning."
"Yes she did. Being divorced doesnít mean you stop caring about a person. She saw that I was okay and then she left."
"You wanted something more, Toby."
"CJ, I am not sure what to do with this conversation."
"Dammit Toby, do you still want her?"
"CJ, when are you going to notice this?" He extended his left hand, a hand devoid of any jewelry.
"How long?" She said staring at him.
"No way. I would have noticed."
"I think you were just used to seeing it there." He shrugged. "Besides you and I havenít exactly been hanging out this summer."
A knock startled CJ.
"What the hell kind of drop-in am I running here?" Toby murmured before yelling, "What!" at the door.
"Itís me, Sam. Can I come in?" came a muffled reply.
"No!" CJ said.
"CJ, are you in there?" came the door.
"I am having a meeting with Toby now. Come back later." CJ returned.
"Oh," Sam sounded surprised. The quiet suggested that Sam had moved on. There was a moment of silence during which CJ and Toby returned to their respective staring.
"I really need a document that Toby has." Insisted the door. Tobyís eyes rolled back in his head.
"Sam, if you donít go away right now." CJ yelled.
"Okay," said a muffled Sam slowly. "Oh, and CJ, could you bring your briefing schedule down to Leo? Heís at breakfast now."
"Why?" The President was sure right about tenacity when he was talking about Sam thought Toby.
"Because I am not dressed right now!" Shouted an exasperated CJ oblivious to the picture now forming in Samís head. Tobyís eyes widened.
"Iím going," Sam sounded alarmed.
"Are you sure you want to tell him that?" Said Toby. The realization of what she had said dawned on CJ.
"Sam, Wait!" She yelled but Sam was gone.
"Oh my God, Toby. He thinks that I spent the nightÖwith you!"
"Well, you sure gave him a lot of reason to think that." Toby tried to suppress a grin. "You could chase after him in that robe and whatever is on or not on underneath."
She spotted the amusement in his eyes and glared.
"Toby, this is a disaster. Think of the rumors this will start."
"I know, CJ, but I am a guy. These kind of rumors tend to work in my favor."
"This is not funny!" She threatened.
Sam slipped back into the dining room trying to look nonchalant. Josh, Leo, and the President looked up from their coffee at him.
"Where is the file, Sam?"
"I didnít get it, Sir," Sam said nervously.
"Because Toby was busy." Sam dived for the coffee to avoid the Presidentís eyes. Leo and Josh got interested. Samís inability to deceive effectively was legendary. His evasive, monosyllabic answers were always a dead giveaway.
"Whatís he doing?" Inquired the President patiently.
"Having a meeting," Sam tried to hang on to a semblance of calm. Josh grinned. He began to suspect that there was a reason that CJ was not at the table.
"Sam, do we really have to play twenty questions?" asked his exasperated Commander-in-Chief.
"No," Sam said miserably. The table leaned in to hear Samís tale.
CJ was pacing back and forth. For once, Toby was the calm one sitting in a chair tracking her progress.
"You should sit down." He suggested.
"You should be more helpful." She returned.
"I wasnít thinking about Andrea that night. You were the only thing in my head. The divorce may not have been my idea, but Iíve adjusted. Iíve moved on." Toby said. CJ stopped her pacing to listen to him.
"Since then?" She asked softly.
"Against my best advice, my ex-wife has now begun to date a series of dubious characters. But she likes that. Thatís how she hooked up with me. I wish her the best, CJ." She sat down on the bed as he said this. She looked at him for a minute.
"What are we doing to do about this?" Not indicating which this she was thinking about.
"The rumors?" He asked.
"I have only one suggestion," He said softly. With that, he went over and sat on the bed next to her.
"Whatís that?" She said looking into his eyes.
"Letís give them something to talk about." He brought his hand up to softly brush her cheek. She closed her eyes and waited to feel his mouth on hers.