"Hey girlfriend! Whatís up?" Ginger inquired as she plopped down next to Donna in the White House cafeteria. A second later, Bonnie deposited herself across from the two women.
"The FDA should be informed about what they pass off as lasagna in this so-called cafeteria," she grumbled as she prodded the melted mess in front of her.
"And yet you order it every Tuesday like clockwork," Ginger commented, shaking her head as she watched Bonnie attempt to maneuver the noodles into a more appetizing formation. Donna ignored them. Bonnie and Ginger tended to do a lunchtime Laurel and Hardy routine. Bonnie was a finicky eater who was never happy with the few choices she allowed herself and Ginger, who never meet a meal she couldnít finish, provided ongoing commentary on what she liked to call, "Bonnieís daily food odyssey".
Ginger was about to launch into more helpful observations for Bonnie when she noticed Donnaís lunch. "Oh, Bonnie, there is definitely some trouble brewing over there," she said pointing at the food in front of Donna.
Bonnie was happy to focus on anything that took the attention from her own daily drama. "Two strawberry jello parfaits with bananas and NON-dairy whipped topping!" she announced with satisfaction. Surely, this would occupy Ginger for the rest of the noon hour.
"Jello always has been Donnaís cry for help," Ginger said thoughtfully.
"You guys!" Donna pleaded.
"Clearly, there is something wrong. I havenít seen two parfaits in front of her sinceÖwell, since the time she set Josh up with the French ambassadorís daughter, Rene," recounted Bonnie gleefully.
"Who, of course, turned out not to be his daughter at all," remembered an amused Ginger.
"But the ambassadorís son was cute, and he seemed more than happy to have a date with Josh," returned Bonnie.
They stopped for a moment to remember all of the lurid details of that particular fiasco. Donna sighed wearily as she waited for this production to conclude.
"You know," added Bonnie after some consideration. "If I recall accurately, that was really a three parfait situation."
"I think youíre right," Ginger concurred.
"Are you almost finished?" Donna demanded.
"You know, we are all about helping," Bonnie offered.
"This is a big problem, you guys. The only reason you donít see three parfaits in front of me right now is that the only kind left up front is the lime green stuff with the pineapple," she said scrunching up her face.
"Okay, spill," counseled Ginger.
"I donít know."
"Donna!" Bonnie growled.
"All right! All right! Here is the whole sordid mess. I will be losing quite of bit of Joshís money this weekend and the only way I can think to prevent it is if I find the right man," she blurted out to their immense confusion. They looked at each other for a minute before offering her twin looks of sympathy.
"Donna, my friend, I sense that the kind of help you need would be best provided by trained professionals," Bonnie said gently.
"Donít you worry, girlfriend. Weíll visit as often as we can," said Ginger reaching out to pat her on the arm.
"If you donít both stop acting like idiots, I am not going to tell you one thing more," pouted Donna.
"Itís just that we marvel atÖ" Bonnie began.
"Really we are in awe ofÖ" Ginger continued.
"Your ability to top previous hi-jinks with even more colossal calamities," Bonnie finished.
"What am I going to do?" she wailed. "Josh is not one to part easily with a buck. You guys know that."
"From the top, Donnatella," Bonnie instructed.
Donna took some time to outline the situation focusing on the outrage of Bettyís outlandish accusations regarding Joshís birthplace and his level of competence in the game of football. In them, she found kindred spirits who understood the need to protect their unsuspecting bosses from the machinations of unscrupulous Hoynesí staff. At the end, she gave another heavy sigh and reached for her long parfait spoon.
"She really said that Josh was from Connecticut? And she said this using the tone that you described?" asked Ginger incredulously.
"And Iíll bet he thought it didnít mean anything!" Bonnie predicted with meaning.
"Absolutely. He thought it was the most innocent comment in the world," Donna said shaking her head.
"Our guys can be so naÔve sometimes!" Ginger exclaimed. "They just donít understand the subtle undertones of the junior staff."
"Clearly she was casting aspersions on Joshís abilities as an advisorÖ" Bonnie began.
"ÖAs well as his manhood!" Ginger finished.
Donna winced at this.
"But, honey, I still donít get why you need a man to solve this thing," responded a confused Bonnie.
"I donít know anything about football! And I donít know if I can learn everything I need to know by the time I have to turn in the roster for this fantasy football thing. The best thing, I think, is to find a guy who lives for this stuff and he can do the roster for me," reasoned a distraught Donna.
"Donna, those kind of guys are a dime a dozen. We would have no problem getting one of those guys, but I donít think itís what you need. I have been around for a few of these fantasy football things. Invariably, it is won by someone who doesnít know what the hell they are doing. Two years ago, when I was working at Justice, there was one of those office football pools and one of the women from the steno pool won it. Her "big" strategy throughout the season had been to "pick the guys with the most color coordinated uniforms," Bonnie informed her.
"So your advice to me would be to act as ditzy as possible and hope for the best," returned Donna in frustration.
"Not at all, Donnatella. My advice is to not go with one of those male couch jockeys that we all know and have unfortunately loved at one time or another. Most of these guys have what I would describe as an inflated sense of their own knowledge regarding the game of football," Bonnie offered sagely.
"Is she for real?" Donna asked Ginger.
"Iím afraid sheís making sense to me," Ginger admitted.
"I still donít know what to do," she said.
"The three of us will do the roster for this fantasy thing," Ginger informed them.
"None of us know that much about the game," Donna shot back.
"Weíll handle this like we would handle any research project," Ginger saw the skeptical look on Donnaís face and said, "Iím serious. Do you know any group of people on the entire planet who can pull the big picture together on an issue better or faster than the three of us?" For a minute there was silence as they all considered Gingerís question. Then a smile broke out on Donnaís face. Seeing this, Bonnie started to laugh and gave Ginger a high five.
"Do you really thinkÖ" Dona began dealing with the last of her doubts.
"Come on!" Bonnie said ignoring the vestiges of anxiety that still clung to Donna. "We have to go map this thing out."
"Weíre going after Hoynesí office, Donna. Make no mistake!" rallied Ginger.
Having made their proclamations, the two of them each hooked an arm under an elbow, and started pulling Donna down the hall and away from her parfaits.
"Margaret!" he exclaimed as he entered the outer room of his office. Margaret jumped at the surprise in his voice causing her to drop her elbow onto the keyboard of her computer. A quick flurry of numbers erupted and then the screen went blank. Margaret groaned for a minute at the empty monitor thinking about all of the hard work it had just eaten. She then turned to favor her boss with a dark look.
"I didnít expect to find you here," He said in his defense.
"I work for you," she said with a deadpan expression.
"Donít give me that," he growled. "You have been hiding from me since yesterday when I told you I wanted to talk to you."
"Yeah, well I stopped already," she returned. "There is only so much duck and cover one can do around here."
"And so now you honor me with your presence," he responded sarcastically.
"I seek nothing more in life than to assist you as you manage the affairs of the most important man in the world," she added in a matching tone.
For a moment, they competed for darkest look.
"Can that stuff be retrieved?" he asked in a conciliatory move.
"I have a back-up disc. Iíll get most of it back," she admitted.
"Come in to my office. I want to talk to you," he said gruffly and then disappeared inside his door. Margaret looked after him and sighed before getting up to follow.
"Margaret," he said when she was seated beside his desk. "Sam says that one of the cigarette men was talking to you yesterday. He thought you looked upset."
"Yeah," she admitted shortly.
"What was going on? Did it have to do with our meetings with these guys?"
"No, it wasnít about cigarettes."
"Okay," he replied waiting patiently.
"It was personal. I knew the guy from a long time ago," she admitted.
"Tell me about it," he demanded.
"You know, Leo. This has nothing to do with state business. I can assure you of that," she insisted.
"Tell me anyway."
"This is another one of those moments when the lines start to blur between us. Do you see that? Who are you right now? My boss. My father. My friend. Or what?" she delivered defiantly.
"Margaret, donít change the subject," He warned.
"Iím serious, Leo! This is the damnedest working relationship I have ever had with someone. You walk all over my life whenever you choose and Iím supposed to just live with it. I donít get it," she said in frustration.
"MargaretÖ" he began.
"You have me followed when you donít like who I am dating. You buy me martial arts lessons when youíre afraid I canít take care of myself. Whatís next? Do you have someone doing a background check on the guy in the hallway? Have you got that in motion yet, Leo?"
"I need to know things in order to make sure everything runs smoothly. This tobacco thing is important. I need to know if there is anything that this administration needs to know about your contact with that man," he retorted.
"All right, Leo. Hide behind the administration. That seems to work for you. Pretend that this is all you need in life. Work twenty hours a day. Then go home to an empty hotel room and wait for your wifeís divorce papers to come through," she said before she could stop herself.
Leo stared at her in shock. Margaret was struck by its nakedness. She wished she had continued to stay out of circulation.
He turned his head away from her and waited for her to leave. Margaret slowly walked up behind him and spoke quietly. "Not so long ago, I sat in this room and told you about a young man named Steve who had hurt me badly. Yesterday, I ran into him in the hallway of this building. I didnít imagine that anything like that would ever happen to me. I was a bumbling mess. I was an idiot. Finally Sam stepped in. I have no idea what I would have done if he hadnít. I have to figure this out, Leo. And I am not ready to talk with anyone about it. Maybe Iím not as done with this as I thought. I donít know."
Still looking out the window, he nodded slightly. She knew that he sought his privacy now. Without a sound, she turned to leave. At the door, she hesitated. She held onto the doorframe while she considered the wisdom of her next action. Finally she took a deep breath and spoke. "Leo, itís not a crime to want to protect me. Just be clear with yourself about why you feel such a need to do it because I gotta tell you, I am pretty confused by it." With that, she disappeared from his office.
Leo sighed deeply as the door shut gently behind her. He wondered about the same thing she did, but he wasnít sure that he was ready to know.
"Sam, stop! I need to talk to you," CJ pleaded as she hurried after him.
"CJ, I canít right now. I have the farmworkers in the Wilson room. Iíll talk to you later," Sam said over his shoulder.
No, you donít," she retorted.
He stopped and turned to look at her.
"They left half an hour ago, Sam," she reported. "Donít worry. Josh sat down with them. Itís fine."
He let out a sigh and looked down at the various files he was holding, "I had my meetings plus Tobyís. I barely knew who I was talking to all day long."
He looked pale and drawn. CJ knew that he was suffering more than just the effects of a long day. "Letís go to your office and sit down," she advised.
"I have a ton of things to write down right now," he countered.
"Well, itís going to have to wait. I need to talk to you. Besides, you donít really look like you have a clue about what even happened today," she observed.
"Thanks a ton, CJ," he said mustering up a little indignation.
"Come on, big guy. Letís go," she said latching onto his forearm and guiding him into his office. Sam opened the door to his office and was greeted with a surprise on his couch. Josh jumped up from where he was laying and immediately started in. CJ grabbed a front row seat for the proceedings.
"I have been waiting here for half an hour," he accused.
"Well, who told you to do that," Sam retorted.
"I took care of the farmworkers," he offered.
"Yeah, I know. Thanks."
"Whereís Toby?" Josh demanded.
"How the hell should I know?" Sam said defensively.
"You look like shit," Josh observed with interest.
"Thanks," he growled and then found the seat behind his desk.
"Are you two finished exchanging sweet nothings?" CJ said dryly.
"What are you after?" Josh threw in her direction.
"I want to know where Toby is as well."
"Well, I donít know. All I did was speak with him on the phone this morning. He sounded fine then," Sam lied.
"Last night, you called his place in the dead of night as panicked as Iíve ever heard you. He goes after you and thatís the last Iíve seen of him. So donít give me any crap about how everything is fine," CJ accused.
"What the hell are you both talking about and why donít I know about it?" Josh shouted. CJ threw a briefing memo at him and pantomimed that he should keep his voice down.
"I was not panicked!" Sam defended.
"All right! All right! Clearly we have all established ourselves as the most unpleasant people on this planet right now. Can we get a hold of ourselves long enough to figure out whatís going on?" The two of them could see that her question was not really a question. They allowed themselves a moment of silence designed to gather their thoughts.
"Sam, tell us what happened last night," she directed. He shot her a sharp look.
"Screw secrets, Sam! Tell us what the hell went on!" Josh added leaning forward.
"Josh," she warned. He looked at her and then settled back into the couch with his arms folded.
"I donít really know. Thatís why I called him. I went out to dinner with an old classmate and his fiancťe, which I thought was a very innocent thing to do. The next thing I know is I wake up on my living room couch with no idea how I got there. Clearly I was drugged. Toby came over to help me figure it out. There was a matchbook cover in my shirt. He thought it might be from where I had spent the evening," Sam said as he carefully left out the part about the blood stained shirt. "He left to go and see what was going on. I wanted to go with, but he wouldnít let me. The next time I heard from him was this morning when he called. He said that everything was fine and that he was not coming in."
"Did he sound okay?" CJ asked.
"He sounded a little strange," Sam admitted.
"And that didnít mean anything to you," she charged.
"I was hoping he was just tired," he returned weakly.
"Sam, you should have been in my office early this morning with this whole pathetic mess. No, wait. Actually I should have been in your apartment last night standing right next to Toby," Josh said bitterly.
"I know. This is bad," Sam admitted looking at down at his desk.
Ginger popped her head in. "Sam."
"Not now, Ginger," he said never looking up from his desk.
"I just talked to Toby," she said innocently.
His head shot up and everyone leaned forward.
"What line is he on?" Sam yelled.
"Heís not on the phone anymore."
"Ginger, I told you that I needed to talk to himÖ" he began.
"Yes, I know," she interrupted. "But he didnít want to talk to you."
"What did he say?" CJ asked impatiently.
"He wanted to know how everything was going. He wanted to know if all of his meetings were attended. I told him everything I knew. Then he wanted to know where everyone was and I told him that all of you were in Samís office yelling at him right now. He told me to tell you all to get back to work and to leave Sam alone."
"What else?" Josh demanded.
"Nothing really," she said.
"How did he sound?" Asked CJ.
"Like the swell guy he always is. Since he is taking a sick day, I asked him how he was feeling, and he told me to mind my own business. When I told him you had missed the farmworkers meeting, he suggested that we were all a bunch of idiots. Stuff like that. Iíd have to say that he sounded pretty normal to me," she said before shutting the door on them.
"I donít know what to think," CJ said softly.
"Yeah, well, he always pulls this kind of crap, and I, for one, am sick of it," said Josh. He stood up and faced Sam. "You better have a complete report of this fiasco by the morning. We are taking the next half hour Leo has. Oh, and see if you can locate your bearded sidekick. He should be there as well." With that, Josh got up and marched out of the office.
"CJ, itís going to be okay," Sam said trying to assure her and himself in the same breath.
"Iím going to go and see if heís at home," she said getting up. She stopped in front of Sam before she left. She could see something in his eyes, something that mirrored what was happening inside her own self. She felt like Sam was the one person who truly understood that Toby wasnít the kind of person you could casually walk away from. Getting close to him required an investment of oneís self and soul. And along with that investment came the fear of one day having it all wrenched away. She knew Sam understood this fear. She could see it in his eyes.
CJ entered the dark apartment slowly. She had hoped that he would be there waiting for her. She had promised herself on the way over that if he was there, she would put aside all of her anger and frustration with him for just this one night. If he was there, she wasnít going to need any words for him, she only wanted to go to him and hold him until the reality of a new day forced itself upon them.
Her disappointment at finding the apartment still and dark settled deep in her stomach alongside the nebulous fear that had been steadily growing within her ever since he had left the apartment the night before. Instead of searching for a light, she stood in the middle of the room and tried to acclimate to the dark shadows. It fit her mood much better than the bright lights of a well-lit room.
From out of the shadows, she noticed the flashing red light of the answering machine. She moved carefully around the dark shape of the coffee table and settled in the couch. She hesitated a moment. It was not her habit to listen to his messages. She worked hard to respect his privacy, but today, she also needed some peace of mind, and she knew no other way to get it. She hit the button and listened as the tape quickly rewound and then played.
"CJ, I hope you are there and listening to this messageÖI am sorry Iím not there. I wish I could beÖI wish I could talk to you and tell you everythingÖBut youíre right about me. I am not that kind of man. I guess I am governed by different rulesÖAnd right now, those rules have me seeking for answers only from withinÖCJ, I know youíre worried. Part of me is convinced that I can actually feel your worry from where I am sitting right now. I wish I could do something about it. I wish there was a way to guarantee that I wouldnít hurt you...The only thing I know I can promise you now is that I wonít lie to you ever again. And because of that promiseÖI canít be there with you now. I donít know if that makes any senseÖIt probably doesnít. You should know, Claudia that I am okay and I will be at work tomorrow. After that, I donít whatís going to happen. And you should know that you have brought me such joy as I have never felt before or ever hope to feel again. I am so sorry, Claudia JeanÖI love you."
The beep that ended the message startled her and she reached over quickly to save it. Then she slowly brought her knees up to her chest and hugged them tightly. His words echoed over and over through her head as she sat there quietly on the couch. There would be no sleep for her tonight. She absently stroked her arm as she waited for the night to slowly pass.