Disclaimer- see chapter 1
Warning- Themes of violence
Nothing is ever as it seems
"How many votes, Margaret?" Leo yelled from inside his office. She appeared at his doorway.
"You know how much I hate this running to the door every ten seconds with a new count for you. Why donít you watch it yourself?" she scolded with her hands on her hip.
"You know why," he growled.
"Yeah, and I just love your cute little Irish superstitions. Itís a miracle you can cross the street by yourself."
"Whatís the vote?!" he shouted at her.
"So I should be running back and forth for you with my injuries," she retorted.
"Well, you look fine to me. Youíre barely limping on the cast and your face doesnít scare many people at all anymore," he reasoned.
"You are a very funny man, Leo McGarry," she said giving him a glare. She started out the door. Then she turned on her heel and said, "By the way, check your own damn vote."
"Margaret! What did I say?" Leo yelled in all innocence. He got no response. "How am I going to find out what the vote is?" he complained to himself.
"When are we going to meet with him?" Donna asked anxiously. Despite her newfound strength, she desperately wanted to keep this job.
"After the vote," Josh said He could see the worry on her face. "Donít worry on her face. Iím going to be a rabid dog in there if he tries to do anything to you."
"Josh, donít push it. Leoís just trying to look at the bigger picture. He doesnít luxury of just looking at my situation. Behave yourself. Promise me," she insisted.
"Yeah, okay," Josh shrugged his shoulders. He had no intention of being reasonable with Leo.
"Weíre ahead by two!" yelled Sam out his office door.
Josh grabbed Donna by the arm and headed into Samís office. "We are not going to miss this," he enthused.
"Are you listening to me?" she demanded.
"CJ! Howell and Ingraham just voted yes. I didnít think I would ever see them voting for a Jed Bartlet bill. Amazing!" Toby shook his head.
"The President is sending me to Minneapolis tonight. You did hear say that, didnít you?" she was becoming frustrated with him.
"Yeah, but you are coming back tomorrow, arenít you?" he said. "I work Sunday, but we can have part of Saturday night together. So itís really no problem, right?"
"He is sending me to schmooze a heavy contributor. Says the guy has some sort of crush on me. Says that the guy promised to double his contribution if I would have dinner with him." She looked carefully at him for his reaction to all of this.
"The President said that?" Toby asked in surprise. CJ nodded. "Really? Boy, is he something else or what? But really CJ, Iím not worried. I trust you."
"You are not bothered by the President using me to raise money in this way." She was beginning a slow burn.
"Well, I donít know. We certainly could use the money. And you are a hot babeÖ"
"Toby!" she scolded looking around to see if anyone had heard them.
"Oohh, we lost Magruder. How the hell did that happen? We needed him," Toby whined as he watched the count continue on his office TV.
"Toby, you are so on my shit list right now," she threatened.
"Iíll talk to him. I promise. Next week should be soon enough, donít you think?" he inquired innocently.
CJ gave him her most serious glare. Then she shook her head and stormed out of his office. Toby watched her go with a practiced look of oblivion on his face.
"Mrs. Landingham! My television is blurry. I canít read the names!" yelled the President from inside the Oval Office. When she got to the door, she could see him in front of the TV fiddling with the remote.
"Now it shows everything in Spanish. And thereís the closed captioning. I donít like the closed captioning. Was that Stephens voting? Itís too blurry for me to tell." Pushing buttons on the remote, He began assaulting the television with various electronic impulses. "Now it wants me to tape a show!" he exclaimed as the congressional vote was replaced with a blue screen and VCR instructions.
"Sir, if you could just hand me the remote," she was trying to get it out of his hand.
"Itís not the remote, Woman! Iím not doing anything wrong. Something is wrong with the TV." He protested. "Itís broken! The President of the United States doesnít even have a working television!"
"Well, Iím sure youíre right. Nevertheless, if you could just hand it to me for one minute, Iím sure I could do somethingÖ" she made another dive for the device.
"Oh, all right!" he said as she latched onto it and began a gentle tug of war with the leader of the free world. "I donít know why you canít just trust that the machine is broken. You know Iím missing the most important vote of the year. I wonít even know who to be at mad at unless I see this!"
Mrs. Landingham quickly reprogrammed the set. Within seconds the session was broadcasting in English with no closed captioning. She ventured a looked at the perplexed Nobel Laureate.
"What is that look?" he exclaimed. "Itís still broken. See! Itís blurry." She let out a long sigh and walked to his desk. She returned to him with his glasses in hand. He glared at her for a minute and snatched them out of her hand.
With them perched on his nose, he was able to see everything perfectly. He pretended that she was not still standing next to him. "Whatís going on? Where are they at?" He asked impatiently. The vote appeared to be finished. But he couldnít tell what had happened. Just when he was ready to start yelling again, he heard a noise. A collective cheer floated in from the halls and doorways outside of this office. It grew in strength and sounded through the West Wing like a victory cry after battle. His eyes widened.
"Mrs. Landingham, do you realize that you work for a winner today?" he shouted. Then he grabbed her by the waist and twirled her around the office. A flustered Mrs. Landingham found herself deposited on a couch. "Hey Mrs. Landingham, letís celebrate. Get me a beer. NoÖwait, itís only 11 in the morning. Make that an orange juiceÖno, maybe something a little racier than that. What are those things called with the OJ and champagne? Itís a MimiÖno, a MirandaÖno, a MimolaÖis that it?"
She suddenly remembered what the end of the vote signaled. She got up off the couch and headed out the door. The last thing she heard as she headed down the hall was, "Mimosa! Thatís what it is. I want one of those. Hey! Where are you going?!"
"Was that not amazing?" Leo exclaimed as Josh and Donna entered his office.
"How would you know? You didnít see a single thing," Margaret grumbled from the doorway.
Leo ignored her. He gestured for them to sit. And then he gave Margaret a look that clearly told her to leave and shut the door behind her. She gave Donna a supportive nod and reluctantly left the room.
"Leo, this is really ridiculous," Josh began.
"Donít start, Josh. This is not easy for me either. Donít make this any harder than it already is."
"There were extenuating circumstances!" Joshís voice was rising. Donna put a hand on his arm in an effort to calm him.
Leo turned his attention to Donna. "If I make special rules for you, then what happens? Doesnít it change your relationships with the people around you? Donít you think that everyone will be able to report special circumstances when they break policy?" Leo asked.
"Yeah, I think it does. I was careless and there is no excuse for that. I really donít want to make anything harder for you. I donít want to create a problem for this office," she said haltingly. Her throat was feeling thick with emotion.
"LeoÖ" Josh began.
"Josh, if you canít hold it together, you need to leave. Iíll talk to Donna alone." Leo said severely.
Josh shook his head in frustration, but managed to hold his tongue.
"Donna, I have thought long and hard about this. This is not an easy decision to make. I hope that you will believe that," she nodded at him, her face getting red.
"The conclusion I have come to is thatÖ"
Leoís sentence was interrupted by a knock at the door. He wanted to ignore it, but it persisted. "Margaret, you will be the death of me," he murmured under his breath.
"What is it?!" he shouted.
The door opened and Margaret entered. "Mrs. Landingham is here to see you," she said nonchalantly.
"Canít you see that Iím in the middle of something!" he raged.
"She says itís important and you know that if Mrs. Landingham says something is important, it generallyÖ"
"God in heaven, Margaret. Let her in," Leo had capitulated.
Mrs. Landingham entered Leoís office. Without invitation, she found a seat. "We have a problem, Leo," she announced.
"Mrs. Landingham, perhaps you and I could deal with thisÖproblem as soon as I am finished with this meeting," Leo suggested respectfully. Getting loud with Mrs. Landingham never seemed to work in his favor.
"Iím afraid this is related. Itís about further transgressions regarding this officeís policies," she informed him. Donna and Josh exchanged looks of concern.
"What kind of transgressions?" he asked suspiciously.
"Serious breaches of policy," she elaborated.
"Can you be more specific?" he asked impatiently.
"Well I can do better than that. Ginger!" she called.
Ginger entered meekly.
"Ginger, can you please tell Mr. McGarry what you did? She directed.
"Well, I took a document home last night that I shouldnít have. I guess it could have been damaging to this administration." She hung her head.
"Is this some sort of epidemic?" Leo cried.
"And, thereís more." Mrs. Landingham said dramatically. "Bonnie!"
Bonnie came in tentatively. "Iím afraid I spoke to a member of the press when I was not authorized to do so."
"My God!" Leo raged. Josh and Donna watched as the circus unfolded before their eyes.
"Nancy!" Mrs. Landingham yelled.
"Mr. McGarry, sir, Iím afraid that I talked about something I overheard the President say to my family," Nancy confessed. Leo gripped the edge of his desk for support.
"Carol!" she shouted.
"Sir, I am sorry to tell you that I took West Wing supplies home for my own personal use," Carol stood for a minute and then joined the others at the back of the room.
"Mr. McGarry, I regret to tell you that I lost my office keys some time ago, and I never told the Secret Service as per policy," she stood before him with her hands behind her back.
What? She didnít do anything," he insisted before she could confess her sin.
"Well Leo, I failed to inform you of a possible breach of security. That canít be excused."
"What is this?" he stormed.
"It just seems that weíve been letting things slide and so I interrogated all of the girls and was able to uncover these crimes." Mrs. Landingham said frankly.
"So you want to fire everybody!" he exclaimed.
"These are all offenses that merit termination." she said.
"Were there any special circumstances existing in any of these situations?" he inquired.
"Special circumstances can get awfully dangerous, canít they? Josh offered. He was beginning to see the plan. Leo shot him a glare before returning to Mrs. Landingham.
"I hadnít thought to consider special circumstances," she said thoughtfully. "Do you think it matters that Gingerís sensitive document was Tobyís kosher food preferences? And Bonnieís conversation with a member of the press corps had to do with a soul food restaurant in DC? And come to think of it, Carolís theft of supplies was actually two boxes of Air Force 1 M&Mís for her nephew. But a theft is a theft, I suppose. The circumstances shouldnít matter. Kathy did accidentally drop her keys into the Potomac with Sam as a witness. Do you think that may have been why she didnít feel there was a security concern? Nancy told her family that the President says, "I love you" to his wife on the phone. And Margaret was trying to support a friend, someone she knows to have the best interests of this office at heart."
"Are you having a little fun with me, Mrs. Landingham?" Leo asked her impatiently.
"Never, Leo. I just thought you might need a little context before you make a decision. You see, there is no one in this room who would misunderstand if you gave Donna a break on this. We know what went on and we feel that she handled herself admirably. We also think she went to extraordinary lengths to try and protect this office." She looked at him steadily as she said all this. Donna was in shock. She wasnít sure how to process all of what was happening in front of her.
"Everyone in this room has done office work at home, some time or another. Once I looked into my bag and realized that I had taken home a draft of the Presidentís memo on Russia. Can you imagine what would have happened if that had gotten into the wrong hands" I donít suggest that we excuse everything that occurs. You know me to be a stickler for policy. However, I do think that there are exceptions and this is one of them. And I believe that everyone in this room agrees with me." Around the room, heads nodded in support.
"How will I know that you all arenít going to do this every time someone needs to be disciplined?" Leo challenged.
"You could trust the integrity of your staff," she returned. Leo felt many eyes on him.
"Special circumstances," he grumbled aloud.
"There are situations," she assured him.
"And this has the full support of the room?"
He was answered with a chorus of "Yeses".
"Okay, But I want all of you to understand that it is unacceptable to take a document home without the permission of your supervisor. Do you have any questions about that?" Everybody shook their head.
"Then get out of my office, all of you. That means you too, Donna. See if you canít find some work to do." The room was suddenly filled with smiles and laughter. Everyone clustered around Donna offering her hugs and words of support. Before leaving the room, she turned and mouthed a thank you to Leo. He smiled at her and waved her out of the office.
When the room emptied, he sighed and sat down to a memo on toxic waste. After a minute, he sensed a presence and looked up to find Margaret leaning on his door frame.
"What?" he demanded.
"You were never going to fire her."
"Last night, you had the termination paperwork on your desk. This morning I checked. It was gone. You tore it up and put it in recycling."
"Then why did you let Mrs. Landingham proceed with her production?"
"Sometimes I just get bored. I thought it would liven up the day."
"What exactly does the government pay you to do anyway?" he asked with a glint in his eye.
"You were just going to scare her a little and maybe Josh too," she concluded ignoring his question.
"No one will ever know. Your little posse saved the day," he responded with a shrug.
"I will always know," she said.
He gave her a conspiratorial grin and then returned to his memo.
"The government pays me to work for the most courageous, just, and compassionate man I will ever know," she said to herself softly answering Leoís previous question. She watched for another minute and then turned and left him to his work.
"Hey, how is everybody today? I am so glad that you were able to visit us one more time before you all went home," said the President entering the room with exuberance. Abbey entered behind him with a broad smile on her face. The girls were scattered on the chairs and couches of the Oval Office. Sam and Freida stood near the Presidentís desk with grins on their faces. Having the President offer these young women this kind of attention was a tonic that could never be bottled.
"I hope that you had a nice visit. It made our week to have you spend time with us," Abbey said sweetly standing beside Serenity with a hand on her shoulder. "I have a little secret for you. My husband was up until 2 in this morning reading your stories last night. I had to let him sleep in a little this morning. You are all very talented and we have been so touched by your words and your presence."
"Thank you, Maíam," Latasha responded. "We will never forget your kindness and your hospitality. I never imagined that something could change my life as this has. And believe me, I know about life changing events." The rest of the girls nodded in agreement.
"Iím going to go back and tell my mom and all of the people in the neighborhood that you are the least criminal president there ever was," announced Janice with conviction.
"I would be forever grateful if you could do that for me, Janice," the President said with a look of amusement.
"Weíre going to miss you, Sir. I think everything that Latasha said and more," Pi-Ying was getting a little teary. The President felt his throat thicken a little. He and Abbey had talked about how many disappointments these girls had faced and how many significant adults had failed them. He knew it was important to remember this, important that he not join the ranks of the adults who had hurt them.
"No matter what happens to me in life, Iíll always be proud that I talked to the President of the United States," Heather said softly.
"I believe, Heather, that you and your sisters have a bright future ahead of you. You know your strength and youíve explored your heart. I have never met stronger girls before. And, believe me, I know all about strong young women. I raised three of them."
Jed Bartlet leaned against his desk facing all of them.
"Did you all know that Sam and Freida have been pretty busy since you all went to bed last night?" he asked. The girls looked surprised.
"They wrote me a twenty page memo on the Violence Against Women Act. I read it over breakfast this morning. They did some pretty good work there," he glanced over at them. Sam looked surprised. "I bet you didnít think that Iíd jump right on it, did you, Princeton." Jed said regarding him out of the corner of his eye. He turned his attention back to the girls in front of him.
"They made some recommendations for me to consider. What they donít know is that I really donít need time to consider any of them. All of you were able to convince me that violence against women as a hate crime has not been adequately addressed at the federal level. Your stories have shown me that there is still a great deal of insensitivity and ignorance in the legal system and in our own societal perceptions about violence. We canít let this sit," he smiled at Janice who sat before him with her mouth wide open in astonishment.
"Sam and Freida are hearing this for the first time so I hope that they are prepared to do the work." He looked in their direction. "Because by next Friday, I want twenty of the most vocal advocates against domestic and sexual violence in my office. Weíre going to take the morning to talk about a summit here at the White House in November. It will be a hate crimes summit and it will focus on women. We are going to put off the reauthorization of the bill until we have this summit. Sam, I also want every sympathetic legislator to have a copy of this book on their nightstand before they fall asleep tonight.
Freida, I would like you to talk to your girls and their guardians over the next couple of weeks. I want them to be a Youth Advisory Board for this summit. It will mean that they will have to come here to meet with me a few days out of every month for the next year. It may also mean some publicity. I want the network newsmagazines telling these stories so the rest of the nation knows whatís happening. No one here will have to tell their stories unless they are absolutely ready. I promise you." The girls stared at him as if in a dream. Freida found herself speechless for the first time in a long time.
"Freida, I want you and Sam to co-chair this summit and to lead the fight on the Hill. And Sam, when I say that you guys are in charge, I mean it. You both report directly to me. Freida, you may want some time to think about this. Itís going to be a lot of work. I donít have to worry about Sam. Heís already used to sleep deprivation. You may want to think about all of this," he offered her.
Freida felt chills running through her body. She didnít trust herself to speak. Sam put his hand on her back in support. She finally got her chin to stop trembling. Then she looked Jed Bartlet with wet eyes. "You donít know what this means to us," she said huskily. "I would be honored to work on thisÖand it will be an honor to work for you."
The girls cheered. Abbey found herself swallowed up in the arms of young women. Another contingent was busy wrapping themselves around the President. Sam took Freida into a bear hug and let her cry on his shoulder.
"Hold it! Hold it!" Jed Bartlet called. "You should realize something. You know you have a lot of work ahead of you. You are going to spend a lot of the time feeling frustrated, angry, and tired, sometimes all at the same time. It wonít be an easy fight. There are a lot of people out there who will not want us to meddle with their way of doing things." He warned. They all nodded in understanding, but their eyes lost none of their excitement.
"Two people came to me right before this meeting. They want to help. We are lucky to get them and you guys are really going to like them. They can each do the work of about three people," he reached for his phone and asked Mrs. Landingham to send them in.
Margaret and Donna didnít quite know what to expect, and they certainly never imagined the warmth with which they were received. Within seconds, Janice had Margaret by the hand, and was telling the amused redhead all about her young life. Donna was led to the couch so that she could be bombarded by five girls all talking at the same time.
Abbey extracted herself from the cluster of girls and made her way to her husband. He held out his arms in welcome and she settled into him. He rocked her gently for a minute while they surveyed the excitement and warmth filling the room. "This right here, Jed. This is why we are here. Letís never forget that," she whispered gently to her husband. He responded with a tender kiss to her forehead.
Feedback is appreciated. sheila