.. CONTINUED FROM PART 3


Several hours later, dinner was over and Rachel had just finished putting
away the last of the leftovers. Several empty wine bottles were scattered
about the apartment and the mood was very relaxed. Toby and C.J. were on
the couch, deeply engrossed in an argument about their favorite R&B music.

Rachel walked past them into the dining room and smiled as she heard Toby
exclaim, "Stevie Wonder, you've got to be kidding me!" She decided dinner
had been a success. Toby actually seemed to be having a good time and
Rachel had enjoyed talking with C.J. and Josh.

She glanced out into the courtyard and saw Josh sitting alone, staring into
the fountain. She walked out into the cool night air and made her way over
him. "Mind some company?" she asked.

Josh looked up at her and smiled. "Course not," he said, scooting over to
make room for her on the bench. "It's really nice out here."

"Yeah. It's the main reason I chose this place," Rachel agreed.

"Are Toby and C.J. still talking about Marvin Gaye?"

Rachel shook her head. "I think they've moved on to Stevie Wonder."

"I guess Toby's enjoying himself after all."

"I guess so." Rachel agreed. "I hope you are too."

"I am. Thanks for including me."

"Can I ask you something, Josh?"

"Sure."

"How's Toby doing?"

Josh looked over at Rachel, considering her question. Finally he said,
"He's not great, but he's not terrible either. I guess you could say he's
doing as well as can be expected."

"Does he have any friends? Does he let anyone get close to him?"

"You know Toby. He tries to push people away, but he's got more friends
than he thinks. I don't know anyone who wouldn't go to the ends of the
earth for the guy."

Rachel looked relieved. "I'm glad. I've been worried about him since Ruthie
died. He always did keep everyone at a distance. Ruth was one of the only
people who could get past his armor and I was afraid after she was goneŠ"
She trailed off, leaving the statement unfinished.

Josh could sense her concern, and knew it wasn't totally unfounded. He took
her hand in his and squeezed it warmly. "He's got people who care about him
and we're keeping an eye on him. And he already seems to have loosened up
since you moved here."

Rachel smiled. "I hope so."

"You guys seem pretty close," Josh added.

"We were. We haven't talked much since Ruthie died, but I've known him
since I was in high school. Ruthie was a lot older than me and our parents
died when I was still in college. She and Toby sort of looked out for me."

"You don't have any other brothers or sisters?" Josh asked.

Rachel shook her head.

"So Toby's your only family."

"Yeah, you could say that."

"And you're his," Josh said.

"He's got a brother down in Houston. But I don't think they're very close."

"It must have been pretty hard on you to lose your sister like that."

"It was, but I've always been resilient."

Josh studied Rachel for a moment. It was obvious she was glossing over her
feelings, but he didn't want to pry. Loss was something he was all too
familiar with and he didn't like to talk about it either. It was probably
easier for Rachel to worry about Toby than about herself. Suddenly Josh
noticed she was shivering. "You must be freezing," he said. "You didn't
bring a coat out here."

"I was hot from the kitchen. I'm fine," Rachel protested.

"Your teeth are chattering. Here, take mine," Josh said.

"No, then you'll be cold."

"Don't be stubborn," he said, draping the coat around her shoulders. "You
sound like Toby."

Rachel smiled. "Thanks," she said, looking over at Josh gratefully.

Josh sat back down and put his arm around Rachel to try and warm her up.
"So, how are things in Cumberland's office?" he asked.

Rachel snorted in derision. "Oh, just great," she said sarcastically.

"You don't like it?"

"Senator Cumberland is a horse's ass, as you know full well, Mr. Lyman."

"Well, yeah, but I thought maybe you hadn't figured that out yet."

"Gimme a little credit. I knew he was an idiot before I ever took the job,"
Rachel said.

"Then why are you workin' for the guy?" Josh asked incredulously.

"Because I wanted to move up to the national level. I'm hoping if I suffer
through this long enough I'll be able to move on somewhere better."

"What's better?"

"I don't know. Working for a politician I respect. Someone who's actually
fighting for some of the things I care about and isn't just trying to grab
the nearest spotlight by whatever means necessary. You're really lucky to
be working for Bartlet. But I guess you probably suffered through your
share of stinkers too."

"A few," Josh admitted. "You know what? You were right. I am cold."

"Wanna go back inside?"

"Maybe."

Rachel stood up and offered Josh her hand. "Well then, let's go."

Monday, Nov. 27
7:40 A.M.

Leo was not in a good mood this morning. Being forced to spend his
Thanksgiving sharing Mallory with Sam had left him somewhat cranky. That
and the approaching Healthcare Summit, which he was beginning to worry they
were not going to be prepared for.

"Tell me you've got something more than that, Josh," Leo said with a sigh.

"We don't need something more," Josh insisted, unconsciously running his
hands through his thinning hair. "It's a good plan."

"Josh these are not politicians crawling for presidential favors," Leo
explained. "They're powerful HMOs and they're used to getting their way.
You can't just steamroll them. You're gonna need to sweet talk 'em a little
bit."

"I think it's safe to say that sweet talk isn't exactly one of Josh's
strong points," Sam said.

Leo just glared at Sam. But the kid was right. This was turning out to be
more than they could handle on their own. "I'm afraid we're going to have
to bring someone else in on this," Leo said.

"Leo!" Josh protested. "I can handle this."

"Face it Josh, we need help on this one and we can't afford to screw it up.
Toby?"

"Leo's right," Toby admitted. "We should bring someone in. We've barely
been keeping our heads above water as it is with Mandy gone."

"Fine," Josh said. "But I get to decide who."

"That depends on who you want," Leo said. "Did you have someone in mind?"

"Rachel Fischer," Josh said, looking straight at Toby.

"No way." Toby said, shooting Josh an evil glare.

"Toby-"

"NO. WAY. Absolutely not."

"Will someone please explain who the hell Rachel Fischer is?" Leo asked
helplessly. C.J. and Sam looked uncomfortable but kept quiet.

"Rachel is a personal acquaintance of mine," Toby began, "and I do not want-"

"You said yourself she was the best negotiator you've ever seen," Josh cut in.

"-I do not want her in this office. It is out of the question."

"What do you mean, personal acquaintance?" Leo asked. "What's the big deal?"

"She is my late wife's sister and it would be completely inappropriate for
her to join the staff here," Toby said in a strained voice.

"Come on, Toby," Josh pleaded. "She's smart as hell, she's completely
wasted working for a hairdo like Cumberland, and you know she'd be great."

"I can't believe you're even proposing this, Josh."

"You badgered me into hiring Mandy."

"That was completely different-"

"Yeah, at least you and Rachel get along. I'm not suggesting we hire
someone who hates your guts," Josh said.
"All right," Leo cut in. "Everybody out. I need to talk to Toby alone."

Everyone filed out, grateful to be making his or her escape. Josh looked
like he wanted to say something else, but decided to keep it to himself.

After they were gone, Leo fixed Toby with a pointed stare.

"What?" Toby finally said.

"It's your call, Toby. I won't force you into this, but under the
circumstances I'm sure you'll make the right decision."

"Damnit, Leo, don't do this to me."

"I'm not doing anything. It's completely up to you."

Toby sighed, knowing he wasn't going to win this one. "Fine. But she works
for Josh, not me."

"Whatever you say."

"I mean it Leo. I don't like the idea of working with a family member. I
want as little contact with her as possible."

"Sure," Leo agreed. "You wanna tell Josh or should I?"

"I'll tell him. That way he can gloat to my face," Toby grumbled.


TO BE CONTINUED...

 

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