"Well, I sure as hell hope you are all well rested. We have a pretty big mess to clean up," Leo announced as he entered his office. No one bothered to respond to his irritated tone. It was clear that no one had slept at all since Tobyís midnight meeting. Exhaustion and emotions left them all on edge. Sam and Josh had seated themselves as far away from Toby as possible who sat on the end of a couch against the wall with his head resting on his hand. His attempts at salutations had been rebuffed so he had resigned himself to his status as persona non grata. CJ sat in the middle hoping to facilitate some communication, but the hostile looks around the room convinced her to let it rest for the time being.
"CJ, how are they doing this morning?" Leo asked gruffly.
"We stayed up all night and talked. Donna is pretty shaky still. I am hoping that they went to bed after I left."
"Iím glad your slumber party went well. Now, weíre going to have figure out what to do about this fiasco," Leo said irritably.
"I talked to Joshís friend, Freida. Sheís going to meet with me this morning about Donnaís situation. Hopefully, we can go over and see Donna. Freida might be able to advise her on her options at this point," Sam said.
"Alright, Sam, you take that one. Maybe we can save Donnaís reputation if not her job," said Leo.
"Oh, so this has been decided," Josh jumped in angrily.
"We canít have one set of standards for one person and have another set for all the rest," said Leo pragmatically.
"Yeah, well, I seem to remember a certain staffer who leaked your CD treatment records to the Republicans who got to keep her job," Josh retorted.
"And if you recall, that turned out to be disastrous. The whole section froze her out. She quit within the month."
"This is completely different, Leo."
"Josh, Iím not going to argue this with you right now. Weíll deal with this on Friday after the vote."
"Iím not done with this. Iím not going to let this happen."
"Friday, Josh!" Leo said sharply. The room fell silent for a moment. Toby waded in cautiously.
"I have some ideas on we can handle the trade bill that I would like to share," he advanced.
"So now, you think youíre ready to share with us. Well, I am sure am glad. Now we will have a full three days before the floor vote. Thank you for that, Toby," Leo said sarcastically. Toby returned a look.
"Toby, Iím not sure I can work with you on this. I have an issue of trust with you right now," Josh said coldly.
"This is good. We can sit around here with our hurt feelings for the next three days. That should be helpful. Iím sure everyone will understand that the political process in this country needs to come to a grinding halt so that the Presidentís men can nurse their egos," Toby retorted.
"I really donít think you want to lecture anyone today, Toby," Leo said slowly.
"Great. Sounds good. Iím going to go now. If anybody wants to work on strategy for the trade bill, Iíll be in my office." Toby got up, his files in hand, and marched out of the room. CJ jerked a little as to get up and follow. But she thought better of it and sat back in her chair.
"Does he really expect us to just overlook his complicity in this whole thing?" Josh asked the room, shaking his head in disbelief.
"What did you say?" CJ said before she could stop herself.
"We know heís your boyfriend, but when we are at work, I expect you to maintain an objective stance on things." Leo said to her.
CJís mouth dropped. "And you guys would be my role models for objectivity?" she asked dangerously.
"We have a right to be mad," Sam said weakly. He wasnít as angry as either Josh or Leo, but he was feeling some allegiance to Josh right now.
"By all means, letís make sure your rights and the rights of all upper class white men are protected," CJ retorted.
"Donít go there, CJ," Leo said.
"I donít have to go anywhere. I am already there, 24 hours a day 7 days a week. You guys make me sick right now."
"CJÖ" Josh began.
"I donít want to hear it, Josh. In fact, I donít want to hear anything from any of you right now. You stand there all pompous and righteous about how youíve been wronged. You think you have some huge right to be mad. Whatís the matter with you?" CJís words tumbled out before her. The men in front of her were stunned.
"You have been patronizing and insensitive through this entire thing," CJ continued. "Margaret was right, Leo. You were very condescending to her. And Josh, you just need to get over yourself. Sam, I donít have much to say to you except that this is probably not the best time to straddle the fence."
"Who are you to tellÖ" Leo interjected.
"Iíll tell you who I am, Leo," CJ spoke with such fury that she ran over the Chief of Staffís words and never looked back. "I am a woman who lives in a manís world. I am not complaining. I made this choice and I love what I do. But there are times, Leo. Oh, there are times. And this would be one of them. Here all of you sit with your right to be angry, mumbling about how things would have been different if you had only been told early enough. You are all so full of it. You donít know the first thing about whatís going on. You sit around here trying to make a strategy, for Godís sakes." She paused for a moment.
"Thatís enough, CJ" began Leo.
"Is it, Leo? Do you know what itís like to be assaulted? Itís not about the sex, you know. Itís about the power and the control. Subjugating another person, to conquer someone, to bring them into total submission. Thatís what assault is, gentlemen. Thatís what happened to Donna last week. Do you know what thatís like?" She paused again for a moment. No one moved to interrupt her. "I know what itís like." She began softly. "I know about the helplessness and the shame and the anger. I know about all of that."
"I didnít know," Josh said in disbelief.
"I didnít tell you. It was a long time ago. I was young. Letís just suffice it to say that the police wanted to know more about my motives for reporting than they did about the actual incident itself. I took the first available opportunity to get out of my hometown and Iíve never looked back."
"You think weíre screwing this up?" Sam inquired.
"I think that Donna has had her fill of control and anger. And she certainly doesnít need more of it from any of you. The same goes for Margaret."
"Letís all well and good, but we have other accountabilities here, CJ. We canít just pretend that everything can happen based on her comfort level," Leo reasoned softly.
"I know. This is what all of you are using to justify your impatience and anger with Toby. He didnít follow the rules, did he? He didnít take charge. Instead he let them make the choices. He didnít treat them like they were fragile or irrational. And you might think Iím defending him right now, but Iím not. He didnít do this because he has some special sensitivity. All of us in this room know better than that. Iím sure he was just sitting there in the tall grass with no clue about what to do except listen to them. My point here is that you all could use a little of that kind of humility right now." CJ was finished. She looked around at the men in her life. She didnít want to hurt them. They were good men and she was proud to know them. But she was also not about to apologize for what she felt in her heart to be true.
"I gotta go work now. Are we finished here?" she asked after a minute.
"Yeah, weíre finished here. Letís see if we can come up with some strategies regarding the trade bill. Josh, I want you working with Toby on this. And Sam, see what you can find out for Donna. Then weíll talk to her and find out how she would like to proceed." Leo said in an oddly reflective voice. CJ shared a grateful look with him before leaving.
Josh slammed his phone down. He had been trying for two hours now and still no answer at CJís. He had wanted to go over there with Sam, but Sam made it clear that this was not the time for Josh to resolve his feelings. Sam said that Donna would need to concentrate fully on discussing her situation with Freida. Josh wanted to argue with him. He wanted to tell Sam that he was ready to go in and not present any further stress for Donna. But the truth was that he wasnít sure he could trust himself yet. He had never dreamed that last nightís reaction would have been possible and, yet, it happened. So he let Sam go there without him. At the time, it seemed like the thing to do, but now he was finding that he couldnít work, he couldnít think. He needed to know what was going on and he needed to know now.
Sitting at his desk waiting for a call wasnít doing anything for him. He couldnít stand another minute of it. He needed to do something, anything. So he got up and abandoned his office. Soon, he found himself pacing outside of the communications area. After some minutes of this, Bonnie came out and regarded him with hands on her hips.
"What!" he said to his audience of one.
"Is this some sort of sporting event? Will there be others joining you?" she asked him in a slightly amused tone.
"Mind your own business," he shot back.
"I love to. Only I canít concentrate with your head bouncing back and forth in front of the window. Youíre like the duck shot at my county fair."
"Leave me alone," he mumbled.
"Heís in his office, you know. And I would say that his mood is every bit as black as yours."
"I suppose you could continue pacing out here while he sulks in there. It would probably solve a lot of things. It certainly appears to be productive." Bonnie knew she was walking in a minefield right now, but she soldiered on. She was feeling impatient with the pouting of two grown men.
Josh gave her a glare and then walked past her into the communications area. He walked right up to Tobyís open door and then stopped. Inside he could see Toby engrossed in his work. In that minute, he wasnít sure he was ready to talk to him and so turned to leave.
"Do you want something?" Toby asked his retreating back. Josh stopped not at all sure how he wanted to respond.
"Are you coming or going?" Toby persisted.
"I wanted to know where you were with the bill," Josh mumbled.
"All of my ideas are single cells at this point. Nothing has germinated."
"You want some help?"
"You sure you want to work with one of Satanís minions?"
"Itís hard for me to accept that you were there for her. I was out of the loop. I should have been there."
"It was not my decision to make."
"Iím beginning to understand that."
"Itís just that I canít reach her right now."
"Sam and your friend are meeting with her."
"I want to know whatís going on. Iím tired of being left out."
"I can understand that."
"I have to be patient."
"They should have let you get some practice at it first."
"Very funny, Toby."
"Anything I can do?"
"I need to do something. Tell me where you are on the bill."
"We have lost the element of surprise. The Republicans now know who is voting in what direction. They know whoís jumping the fence."
"I know. I should get down there and start to get our team back on board."
"Forgot it, Josh. That ship has sailed. Nobody will want to see you right now. They are all too angry that the word is out."
"You are absolutely positive that Sherman has the memo?"
"Yeah," Toby agreed. "Iíve been reading everything I can find on anything for two days now. I need a way to sneak up on them."
"You have nothing solid?"
"I have one thing I like, but itís very risky."
"Josh, this idea has about as much chance of succeeding as me turning twenty dollars into a million bucks at the blackjack table."
"Then why are you wasting your time?"
"Because itís devious and mean-spirited."
"Give me a hint."
"Remember when the President wanted to add that clause about farm subsidies to the trade bill?"
"Yeah. We had to talk him out of it. Paying farmers not to plant has gone way out of style."
"Right, but this was different. The President wanted to start an investment program for farmers that would technically be a subsidy, but would be a lot less expensive."
"And do you remember that we decided that we would never pass this bill with it in there. We were looking for a bi-partisan effort. Fiscal conservatives do not care what package a farm subsidy is wrapped up in, they are going to vote against it."
"And they knew we were going to be bi-partisan on this. They knew the President wasnít going to put in anything that would ruin that. They were very confident on this. Lead Republicans came to the White House and met with the President. Everybody decided to work hand in hand on this. We were like brothers. It brought tears to my eyes."
"Toby, we knew they were going to try and screw us."
"And they did. Giving speeches all over their home state talking about how hard they were fighting to get the President in line for a fair trade bill. They would vote for this one, but there was too much in it that would hurt the American people. They promised to put their own package together for the next session."
"They hated that the whole bill was President Bartlet. It would make him look too good," Josh added.
"Do you know what Sherman said at a luncheon of the South Carolina Agriculture Association?"
"He said and I quote, "The American farmer is the heart and soul of this country. Subsidies are not a handout. They are designed to protect our commitment to agriculture. If the President would have the courage to present a subsidy package, I would vote for it." Toby stopped and looked at Josh.
Heís such a horseís ass. The President doesnít add the subsidy because Sherman wonít vote for it. So then he makes it sound like itís the other way around."
"Isnít politics grand?"
"I still donít get what you are up to."
"I want to put Sherman and a few other senators who have said similar things out on a ledge. I want to see if they jump."
"You mean you want to add the subsidy language again to corner them into putting their money where their mouth is."
"Well, it wonít work. First off, theyíll just say itís a bad package. Itís too late to launch a media campaign. And secondly, we canít add anything to the bill, itís been through committee already. The majority leader will never approve an amendment at this late date."
"And you are right. They must be feeling awfully smug about now."
"So?" Josh stayed confused.
"So, I think you should go see Donna," Toby said.
"Right, but Iím here to help. You asked for help."
"And I do need help, but not right now. Today, I am going to have to bring my Machiavellian idea to the President. He can be just as black hearted as I can. Iím hopeful that he sees this beauty in this. Together, weíll tweak it a little. And Iím definitely gonna need you. Because tomorrow, Iím going to unleash you and your tough guy persona onto an unsuspecting populace."
"I hope I understand it better by then."
"Go see her. She needs you."
"Thanks for understanding what I did."
"Donít thank me. It was CJ. She took us all to task like a bunch of schoolboys. And we deserved it. When she told us about her own experience with an assault that sealed it for us. What you were doing started to make great deal of sense."
"What assault?" Toby asked breathlessly.
"The one that happened to CJ whenÖ" Josh caught the look of shock on Tobyís face. "You donít know. I figured she would have told you of all people."
"It was a long time ago, Toby."
Toby stared at him.
"Toby, she seems just fine. Donít worry about her." Josh still wasnít getting any response. "Sheís okay. Donít worry, Toby." Josh looked at Toby one last time. He looked lost. Josh wondered if he should stay, but he could see that Toby was going to need time before he was ready to talk. Josh knew that what he really needed was some time with a certain female press secretary. So he quietly left his stunned friend still standing in the middle of his office with a blank look on his face.
Feedback appreciated- Sheila