"Standing Tall"

By Sheila

 

Disclaimer: These characters are the property of Aaron Sorkin and whomever signs his pay checks.

Warning: This is a story with strong themes in it that include sexual assault, and physical assault. These themes are not introduced gratuitously. They are contained in a larger story about violence against women. I would suggest an age limit except that the story is really about the hope and strength of women who are survivors of assault. And on the face of that, I donít suggest an age. Please donít read the story if you are concerned about the themes. I have worked in crisis work for thirteen years and I have tried to put in as much sensitivity as I can from the many stories I have heard.

 

Thanks: AJ, Dani Beth, and Chelle for taking the time to read and critique. A special thanks to Volterra who went so far as to correct all of the grammar. I am so grateful. And to Cherryice, who has taken me on as a project. She is trying to teach me how to understand the internet. She is a very patient soul.

 

Story: The story is in 15 long chapters. It is currently all finished. I will post three tonight and one or two every day thereafter. Each chapter has its own title.

 

 

Chapter 1 

Just an ordinary day

 

"Margaret, come shopping with me tomorrow," said Donna walking fast to catch up with her friend.

 

"No Donna. Go away now." Margaret sped up in an effort to lose her. They turned the corner at such a clip that Ginger had to dive for the wall to avoid a collision.

 

"Margaret, slow down. You are not going to lose me. I have better shoes than you." Donna persisted. Margaret halted and pulled Donna into Samís office.

 

"Donna, we have talked about this many time," Margaret hissed. "I hate shopping with you. I have told you this and you have sat before me nodding attentively as if to indicate understanding. I remember all of this distinctly. And yet you continue to stalk me. What have I done to deserve this?"

 

"Margaret, you are my very dear friend. There is no one else with whom I would like to spend a beautiful Saturday afternoon in DC. Weíll talk. Weíll gossip. Iíll tell you what Josh says about Leo behind his back. Youíll tell me what Leo says. Itíll be fun."

 

"Donna, shopping with you is not fun," Margaret whined. "And donít start telling me itís your astrological sign. I donít give a damn. Besides, you being a Libra does not even begin to explain your shopping neuroses."

 

"Margaret, you are being overly dramatic about this."

 

"I am not! Donna, one purchase for you takes like, eight hours. Itís excruciating. You find something at one store and then we have to go to five more stores just to make sure that there isnít something better. Then you stand there for twenty minutes asking some poor salesperson for all the details on the turtleneck you have in your hand. Itís like you assume that they do laboratory research on the merchandise in their spare time or something. They hide when they see you coming, Donna. Iíve seen it."

 

"Margaret, I have a date tonight. And I thought that a little shopping trip would be the perfect opportunity for you to pry some of the details out of me."

 

"Thatís blackmail, Donna," Margaret said searching for some high moral ground upon which to stand.

 

"No, Margaret, itís not. Itís just that I have to find one simple, black, silk, sleeveless shell for underneath my new tan jacket. I really need this item. And this would probably be the only time I will have the entire weekend to talk about anything. Although, I suppose it could wait until next week sometime," Donna said innocently.

 

"This item is not a hard thing to find, Donna. It really shouldnít take a long time, you understand. And so I might be willing to go, but I would need a few assurances," Margaret said carefully.

 

"Name them."

 

"You do not ask any questions about the silkworms themselves. You do not ask the salesperson about the working conditions of the seamstresses who produced the garment. And we only go to three stores. Those are my conditions."

 

"Well, those are important questions," Donna said considering her position carefully.

 

"There is no room for negotiation." Margaret was standing firm.

 

"All right, Margaret, Iíll do it."

 

"Donna, who are you going out with tonight?" Then she saw the mischievous look on Donnaís face and cringed inwardly. She could tell Donna was in the frame of mind to prove a little point to a certain somebody.

 

"You wouldnít happen to have a date this evening with someone from Senator Shermanís office, would you?" Margaret asked warily.

 

"Yup."

 

"Donna! Josh told you not to see him."

 

"Did you hear yourself, Margaret? My boss thinks he can dictate my social life. My boss wants to tell me whom I can and cannot see. My civil rights are being violated."

 

"Senator Sherman is a ranking Republican. This is not a good idea."

 

"I have heard all of this, Margaret. In fact, my boss, Josh, was even so good as to tell me that Tucker Grey, my date, is only interested in what kind of information he can get out of me. This would be the only reason he would want to spend time with me according to the Great Lyman himself."

 

"Oh boy, youíre pretty mad at Josh, arenít you?" Margaret asked anxiously.

 

"Yeah, but I think Iím gonna feel better in just a few minutes," Donna said with a gleam in her eye. Margaret was starting to think this would be a good time for her to go home or to, at least, take cover. Before she could do either, a familiar voice sounded done the hallway.

 

"Donna! Donna!" The volume increased with each bellow of her name.

 

"Oh boy.í Margaret said anxiously. She sank down in one of Samís chairs in an effort to make herself smaller. Donna looked supremely unconcerned. She yawned a little and waited for Josh to locate her. When he stormed through the communication area, she sprang out of Samís office.

 

"Josh, I heard you calling for me. Is everything okay? I only left my post for a moment," said Donna showing dramatic concern on her face.

 

"Oh there you are. Itís my lovely Donna. Always around when I need her." Josh gave her a smile. Standing behind Donna, Margaret thought it was probably the most dangerous smile she had ever seen.

 

"At your service!" Donna stood at mock attention.

 

"This is retribution isnít it? Why not? I mean, I should have expected it, right? We all know how perilous it is to try and tell you anything. Why would I think you would just listen to me and understand?" Josh threw his arms up in bewilderment.

 

"Why donít you just tell me what you want, Josh?" Donna remained unimpressed.

 

"I thought maybe you could tell me why the wives of five Republican congressmen are seated in my office."

 

"MaybeÖ they were tired of standing." Donna pretended to consider this carefully.

 

"Donna!" Joshís voice rose. Margaret jumped a little and she wondered how Donna was able to keep her composure. "You know, I have a Öthing, a business consultant meeting thing, this evening. I donít have time for this nonsense."

 

"Thatís what he calls his dates with Joey Lucas." Donna turned her head a little to inform Margaret who wished Donna would leave her out of it.

 

"I am not datingÖDonna, would you please go and remove the Republican wives from my office?" Josh was exasperated.

 

"No, I wonít." Donna stood firm before him with her arms folded across her chest. "It wouldnít be right. This morning you told me that sometimes you just have to suck it up for the team. Thatís a sports metaphor by the way," she added as an aside for Margaret. "Aging athletes love to use them." She ignored Joshís glare. "Well I thought about that for a long time while I was walking down to the EOE to file a civil rights violation against you for trying to dictate my personal life. But then I stopped suddenly and realized that youíre right. Sometimes, you do have to take it in the cojones for the team." Josh winced. "So I came back. Thatís when I heard that someone had screwed up an appointment for these wives. I thought that this would be a perfect opportunity for you to join me in taking one for the team. Wasnít that great of me?" Donna cocked her head at him. Their eyes met in a mutual glare. After a minute, Josh silently turned and marched out of the communications area brushing past Toby who was standing there annoyed at the theatrics being played out on his turf.

 

"It shouldnít take long. They are upset about school prayer or something. You should be done by 10, 11 at the latest," she called after him.

 

"Are you really sure you should have done that?" Margaret inquired meekly.

 

"No." Donna looked miserable for the first time. "But I couldnít let him get away with being an idiot. Iím just glad that I have the weekend to figure out how to fix this."

 

"Okay."

 

"Tomorrow, 3p.m. in front of Nordstroms, okay?"

 

"I would suggest that you really enjoy yourself this evening, Donna. You paid a high enough price," Margaret said softly to herself as Donna walked away. Margaret had no idea how high that price would become.

 

 

 

 

 

"What the hell was that?" CJ exclaimed as Toby entered his office. He wasnít surprised to find her there, lounging comfortably on his couch.

 

"I am not completely sure. Those two have been having mixing it up all day. Bonnie and Ginger say it has something to do with some Republican she wants to date. They say Josh put his foot down and now her rights are being violated or something. Ginger and Bonnie themselves were getting a little indignant about the whole thing so I told them that I didnít give a crap who they dated. Told them to find a boyfriend from the Hezbollah for all I cared. Anything to get some work done around here." Toby didnít come to join her on the couch. He went to sit behind his desk and eyed her warily. She knew she would have to approach this carefully.

 

"Well you certainly are a sweet fella, you know that?" She tried a little gentle teasing to loosen him up.

 

"Yeah," he said glumly. "Youíre here so we can have the conversation, right?"

 

"Yeah, but to look at you, a person would think I was here to harvest your organs or something."

 

"You got so mad at me the last time we had to talk about this." Toby looked a little anxious.

 

"In two days, you and I have a little vacation planned, three days is all weíll have, and yet we have no idea what to do with that time. Itís time to figure this out."

 

"Yeah. Should I assume that you havenít warmed to the Yankee stadium idea? Theyíre having a great three game series against the Cubs. I think, you know, I could help you see Baseball in a whole new way."

 

"Sure, Toby, but we both need some time away doing what relaxes us the most. And I do not see the Yankees doing that for me. Itís bad enough when they are on the TV, you with the shouting and the running commentary."

 

"Well, Iím not sure that I really want to sleep on the cold ground under a piece of nylon."

 

"Yes, I know" CJ began slowly. She was going to have to play this just right. "So I have a solution."

 

"What?" he replied warily.

 

"Well, Toby, we both need a rest and some time for reflection, so I suggest that we each do the thing we want to the most."

 

"Separate vacations? Isnít it a little early in this relationship for us to be needing time apart?" Toby wore a concerned look.

 

"Absolutely, but this would not be time apart because of the relationship. It would be time apart so that we each can enjoy ourselves." CJ reasoned carefully.

 

"Oh."

 

"I can go camping and you can sit at Yankee stadium. Problem solved."

 

"I would sit at the stadium by myself?" Toby looked miserable.

 

"Sure. And then I could hike and sleep under the stars."

 

"By yourself?" Toby was beginning to circle around the bait.

 

"Yeah. I have done it a lot, Toby. I know what Iím doing."

 

"You would be sleeping inside the nylon thing?"

 

"You know, Toby, in really sophisticated circles, we call it a tent."

 

"The only thing that would be protecting you from whatever lurks in this forest will be a thin piece of nylon." Toby was ignoring her attempts at education.

 

"I know what Iím doing." CJ assured him. Toby was beginning to nibble.

 

"Well, you canít go alone," he announced. CJ waited to hook him tight. "Youíll just have to find someone to go with you," he continued. CJ sighed deeply as she watched him swim away.

 

"Who do you know?" Toby was going to help her with this. "How about that blonde person from Justice?"

 

"Paula Miller, you mean. Well, I think her husband and four children would need a little more notice." CJ was beginning to be annoyed.

 

"There is that Sharon woman from the GAO."

 

"Toby, Sharon is in Europe right now with a nice boyfriend who compromises with her." CJ pointed daggers at him. Toby was beginning to sense that he was in trouble again and he grew silent. CJ was ready to jump off the couch and storm out of the office, slamming the door for effect, when she suddenly hit upon it.

 

"Donít worry, Toby. I think I know someone who could make some time for this." CJ got up and started to gather her things together.

 

"Is it anyone I know? Is it maybe one of the brunettes you talk to out of the pentagon?" Toby was curious.

 

"Youíre amazing, Toby. You always remember where they work and their hair color. Other than that, they all sort of run together for you, donít they?"

 

"So Iím flawed. This is news to you?" Toby said a little impatiently. "Tell me, which girlfriend are you taking?"

 

"None of them. Iím going to take Josh," she said nonchalantly starting to walk out the door.

 

"CJ! Sit down." Then he saw the look on her face. "Please!" She sat down looking up at him expectantly.

 

"Why would you want to take Josh? Heís no good for a thing like this."

 

"He wants to go. I talked to him earlier. You should be happy. Iíll definitely be safe with him around." CJ hoped that her bluff would do the trick.

 

"Maybe so. Maybe so. I just didnít know that he was a camper. He has equipment and everything?"

 

"Well no. But thatís okay because I have everything. And my tent is big enough for the both of us." CJ played her trump card.

 

"Iíve seen your so-called tent. Remember, you put it up in your living room to annoy me after we had the fight. It is not a very big thing. Itís certainly not big enough for the two of you," said Toby critically.

 

"Itíll be fine, Toby. Besides it might get cold at night and so itís better that it be small so that we can share body heat." CJ pretended to be oblivious to his growing discomfort.

 

"What! I donít like the sound of this." Tobyís brow had furled so tightly his eyebrows were almost touching.

 

"Toby, weíre just friends. This is nothing for you to be concerned about." CJ was trying not to enjoy herself too much.

 

"Nevertheless, I think we should rethink this whole separate vacation thing. Itís unnecessary. Surely, a compromise can be reached."

 

"No Yankee stadium. And I want to go camping." CJ said firmly.

 

"This is your compromise?"

 

"You should not have spent the last two weeks being stubborn, avoidant, and difficult. At this point in the process, this is the best I can do."

 

"CJ, you donít understand. I have no idea how to be a camper. It will be embarrassing for you to have me there. I will not be helpful. Iím sure to end up cranky and difficult. I will wear the wrong clothes and then youíll laugh at me. I have no clue as to how to build your nylon tent with the sticks. Plus I will be no good when it comes time to gather food or fish or whatever we have to do in order to feed ourselves." Toby was looking miserable again.

 

CJ was having some trouble maintaining her composure. She tried to control her face, but was unable to keep up with the quivers that kept erupting all around her mouth. She wanted to respond to his concerns, but she was afraid of letting go. When her eyes began filling with tears of laughter, it became too much for her and she fell to pieces. Collapsing onto the couch, her laughter exploded. She was laughing for so many reasons. She was laughing because he thought they would have to forage for food. She was laughing about his outrage at the idea of Josh camping with her. And she was laughing because he was the sweetest, funniest, and most cantankerous man she had ever met. It took a minute for her to pull herself together again. She could see him sitting behind his desk scowling at her.

 

"Are you finished yet, Claudia? Perhaps, I could do a little dance for my next number," he said irritably. It was work for him to maintain his frown. Although he wasnít happy that she was laughing at him, her beautiful laughter was so infectious that he always found himself softening in the face of it.

 

"Toby, youíre such a sweet man," she began. " And I am very sorry to be laughing so rudely." She gave him her best look of apology. Toby continued his hangdog look. He was hoping to retain his victim status for a little while longer.

 

"Toby, I think we can put your worries to rest." CJ said. "First off, the tent will take me only about fifteen minutes to set up. There will be stakes to pound in and that can be your job. Secondly, in regards to the food," CJ had to swallow the waves of laughter that continued to threaten her composure. "This time, I think weíll bring all the food weíll need. I have a lovely camp stove and you would be surprised at what we can cook up in the wild." She could see that he was looking less distressed so she continued.

 

"As for clothes, Toby, we do have to get you a few things."

 

"I donít have time to do all kinds of shopping this weekend. I have to work so that Iím not behind when I get back."

 

"I know. Iíll take care of everything. All you need to do is give me your cash card."

 

"Youíll buy me things that Iíll hate." Toby complained.

 

"No, I promise to buy you clothes in the most drab colors available."

 

"Donít buy me shorts. I donít like my legs out in the sun."

 

"Well, I donít know why. You have lovely legs."

 

"CJ!"

 

"Okay! Okay, I wonít buy you shorts," she said reaching for the card he had so reluctantly removed from his wallet. "Am I going to see you tonight?" she asked.

 

"I donít know. I want to finish this draft before I leave. It could be very late."

 

"I really like waking up next to you." CJ gave him a soft smile.

 

"It wonít disturb you too much if Iím coming in very late?"

 

"Not at all."

 

"Okay." He got up from his desk to see her off.

 

He gave her a quick good-bye kiss and she whispered into his ear. "I bought a sleeping bag for two, you know, and I have to tell you that Josh is really not the person with whom I wanted to share it."

 

"You get to sleep in tomorrow. Itís Saturday." He returned into her ear. "Iím just saying this because there is a chance that you might accidentally wake up when I come over tonight."

 

"And if I "accidentally" wake up?"

 

"Well, if you are awake, we might see if that sleeping bag is really big enough for two people. Donít you think?"

 

 

 

 

The lights in the West Wing were dimmed. The hallways were empty and all of the machines of the computer age were dark and silent. It was 4 a.m. and there were almost no sounds to be heard except for the occasional footsteps in the hallways of Secret Service agents and cleaning staff. It felt different to see this place so quiet. She associated the West Wing with energy, the sounds of people everywhere shouting, talking, laughing. Right now, she needed the West Wing to be a place of safety and comfort. Instead, she was having a hard time recognizing the rooms in which she spent 70-80 hours of every week. They seemed so devoid of life.

Even though it was summer, she wore a light coat over some running clothes she found at the back of her closet. And now, she sat at her desk quietly waiting to explode. At least thatís what she thought might happen. After all, in the space of the few hours, her life had been turned completely inside out. It would never be the same again. What else are you supposed to do when your life appears shattered before you? She found herself being curious about this question is a detached sort of way.

She continued to wait. She wondered why this should be the place for her to be right now above all others. She couldnít answer that for herself. Nothing really made much sense. Although at the back of her mind, thoughts nagged at her. Things she knew she should or could do. She knew they were there, but she couldnít find a way to reach them. So she sat and waited some more.

 

 

 

 

In the communications area, Toby was packing up his things. He finally had a draft that he could give to the President. He was aware of the quiet as well. But he was used to the West Wing at night. He liked the dark and empty hallways. Some of his best thinking happened when he waited until everyone else went home. He would fall deeply into his projects and this produced some of his best work.

Toby usually stayed a little longer after he finished something. He might review a position paper or read background on an issue. It helped him transition after the fierce concentration he used to complete work for the President. But he no longer reached for this wind down projects. For the first time in a long time, he had something in his life other than work. That something, in fact, had made some very interesting suggestions to him before she left 8 hours earlier. And he found himself quite eager to further explore the nature of these suggestions.

All packed up, he headed out of the communications area, the sounds of his footsteps in the hallway taking center stage in a way they never could in the loud din of a West Wing day. His head was filled with thoughts of the amazing woman who was filling his life with feelings that he thought were dead for him. In his distraction, he almost missed the presence of another person in the section next to his. He did a double take and stopped to look more carefully. It wasnít unprecedented for someone else to be working late or coming in early, but he was curious. He wanted to make sure that there wasnít a crisis unfolding. His interest faded when he saw only one head sitting at a desk. He would have walked off, but then he noticed that there was no light on in front of this person.

Toby put his things down in the hallway and walked into the room. As he got closer, he could make out a blonde head in a light jacket with her back to him.

 

"Hello," he said softly. The woman jerked a little when he spoke. He wondered if he had woken her. He approached her and made out what he thought was a familiar face.

 

"Donna, is that you?" he asked.

 

"Oh, Toby," she said shaking her head a little.

 

"What are you doing here in the middle of the night?"

 

"I thought it was almost day." She looked disheveled and unfocused. Toby was confused.

 

"Have you been here all night?"

 

"No," she said cryptically.

 

"Josh doesnít have you here at 4 a.m. for any reason, does he?"

 

"No."

 

"Donna, is there something wrong?"

 

Donna thought for a minute. There was most certainly something wrong, but it was not clear to her what she should do about it or who she could tell. She needed more time to think. She needed to stop feeling like she was in the middle of a bad dream where everything was beyond her control.

 

"Donna?"

 

"Iím okay, Toby. I guess Iím just very tired right now."

 

"Why donít you go home? I would be happy to take you. Get some rest." Toby had a worried look on his face. Through her daze, she noticed it. She was used to Angry Toby, Impatient Toby, and Anxious Toby. She had very little experience with Concerned Toby.

 

"Iím okay," she assured him.

 

"Let me at least walk out with you." When she got to her feet, he guided her to the door before him. He was pretty sure that this was more than exhaustion, but she didnít want to talk so there was nothing he could do. He started to ramble a little hoping that something he was saying would hit home.

 

"If Josh is working you too hard, I want to know about it. I used to do that to my assistants too, you know. Then one day, I looked around the office I was in at the time and not one of the staff had been there for more than a month. I had driven them all away. And the new ones already were looking like zombies. If Bonnie and Ginger worked for me five years ago, they would have been the Living Dead too. Not that they donít feel like I work them too hard sometimes. I guess I do sometimes, but itís only when I have to, you see. So if this is whatís going on here, I know what to do about it. Iíll just take Josh aside andÖ"

 

"No Toby, really, this is not about Josh. Please, I just need to go home." She looked away from him as she said this. Toby thought about saying more, but she seemed supremely uninterested. "So much for trying to be Mr. Nice Guy," he grumbled to himself as he followed her out the door.

 

Standing Tall - 2

 

 

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