Author's Note: Well, I finally got it done. Here's the last chapter. I hope you enjoyed the story and I hope you like this last part.
Thanks to all who read and reviewed! kisses
For anything else, see first chapter…
If The Whole World Would Stop Looking…
/-/-/ Sixth Year Of Office /-/-/
The moment was almost surreal. She stood, a cardboard box at her feet. She stared down into it, seeing the collection of pictures and other personal items.
She let out a slow breath, looking up from her couch. Two more boxes were stacked on her desk, one another off in the corner. She had labeled it the miscellaneous box. It was either things she couldn't find an owner to, or a name to.
Blinking slowly, CJ's eyes returned to her desk. A few stray folders were splayed over her desk, the one box of folders and files, and a couple pens in the holder. Nothing else. She couldn't get over how fixed a thing Gail had become. She was home, of course, swimming around on CJ's living room coffee table. She didn't like her there. She was thinking about moving her to her home study, if she actually started spending time there. Maybe into her bedroom. She hadn't decided.
Glancing out the window, she looked around for Carol. The woman wasn't there. Probably rounding up the press corps.
There was a box outside at Carol's desk, but CJ didn't know what was in it. A woman was standing out there. CJ couldn't remember her name, but she seemed nice enough from the few times they had talked.
Moving around the desk, she looked down at the files. Flipping open the top one, she skimmed over the contents, briefing herself one last time. Itching her nose, she looked at her notes in the margin and Carol's notes scribbled on sticky notes. Sweeping up the files, she walked to the door. She slowed as she reached the threshold. Slowly, she turned back around.
Moments flashed through her mind. Their first day of office. Vigils held waiting for results, during filibusters, and sleepless nights. Stolen kisses. Silent moments between her and Danny. Fights with Josh and Toby. Planning sessions. Take-out dinners. Eating Chinese food with her feet propped on the desk, watching old movies with Danny. She smiled at the memories, lips trembling as the sorrow hit her. She bit her bottom lip and rubbed her cheeks.
She pulled her eyes away from her office, gazing instead down the hall. Danny stood leaning against the doorframe of the pressroom talking to Jake. Jake nodded at something then excused himself into the pressroom. Danny rubbed his face, turning farther into the wall. She smiled shyly as she watched him. After a long moment, he looked up, catching her eye. He smiled at her, gesturing with his head towards the pressroom. She nodded, sighing. His grin broadened before he disappeared into the room.
She sighed again, frozen in her place. She needed to get in there, but she didn't want to move. Carol rounded the corner, walking up to her. CJ watched her for a moment, smiling faintly at her friend.
"Yup," she nodded.
Their dates had never been fancy. Dinners out, candlelit dinners in, dance clubs- none of that had even been for them. They had never been able to do any of that. A date for them was an hour alone sitting on some warehouse floor talking, eating takeout, stolen kisses. It wasn't much, but it was them.
Even after Bartlet won, they didn't have much time for that stuff. There were nights they had time to have dinner together, but it was always at home. Kisses became less stolen as they spent nights together. Mornings weren't lonely, though many times Danny went to bed alone, CJ joining him much later.
They had managed for over six years like that. Danny told her he was fine with it, she didn't always believe him. She missed him too much too often to believe it. However they weren't unhappy, not with each other.
That was why it surprised her when Danny left her a message inviting her for a night out. They had never had "a night out". She had smiled at the note, daydreaming that day about what she might wear. He had mentioned to wear something nice, something fancy.
Danny knew she was leaving earlier that day just as she knew he was working at him. He wasn't there when she got home. He arrived later, dressed smartly in his tux, rose in hand. She smiled as he gave it to her, smelling its sweet scent. Placing it in the vase near the door. Giving her his arm, he led her out the door.
He teased her about her excitement as they pulled up to the restaurant. She had mentioned it a few times to him that she had always wanted to go in there- she didn't need to actually eat or anything, just say she had sat inside. He was grinning madly as they got out. It didn't dissipate even once they were seated.
CJ was too wide eyed at first to even notice her menu. Danny chuckled at her, skimming through his own menu as she rambled on for a bit longer. Finally he convinced her- by listing aloud everything he was considering- to open her own.
Drinks came, followed by dinner. Danny enjoyed it at first, but as their food disappeared, CJ noticed that he became more anxious. She smiled, her mind flying in several directions about the cause of his behavior.
The waitress returned, taking their plates. CJ looked across the table, leaning her elbows against the hardwood, smiling at him. Danny wet his lips, glancing around the room. He hadn't noticed her intent gaze on him.
"Hmm? Yeah. Yeah, I'm fine. Why?"
"Oh, I don't know, you just got quiet all of a sudden."
She watched him. His face cracked into a small smile before it fell back into a serious look. He took a deep breath. CJ's smile brightened, knowing what he was about to say. "I know my first proposal wasn't… at all romantic. I just needed to say it to you. But, this time, I'm doing it right." She smiled, shaking her head, reminiscent of that day six years ago. "You've already said yes and the past six years make me feel like we're already married, but… I'd love to hear it again… Claudia Jean, will you marry me?"
"Yes," her eyes were rimmed with tears, her head bobbing quickly. Danny rose out of his seat, circling around the table. He stepped behind her, his hands trailing around her neck, moving her hair away from her neck. He kissed the spot on her neck, making CJ giggle at the ticklish sensation. For the first time since it was put around her neck, Danny removed the necklace, dropping to his knee as he let the ring slid out onto his hand.
He smiled up at her and CJ shakily stretched out her hand to him. He took it, massaging the skin with her thumb. The ring slid on perfectly, glittering in the low light. It looked perfect there, where it was supposed to be.
He rose off the ground, just enough to be eye level. CJ placed her hands on cheeks, pulling him to her. He laughed against her lips, his breath tickling her face. She smiled, staring into his grey eyes. It was happening. It was really happening.
She looked up at the bright lights and cameras. She blinked at the flash of someone's camera, smiling out at her audience out of reflex. It looked casual. It felt casual. But, on the inside, CJ was trembling.
She glanced down from the podium. Chris sent a smirk her way before she sat back and readied herself for the brief. Katie crossed her legs in her normal seat in the second row. Danny smiled encouragingly from his spot in the forth row. CJ's gaze fell behind her, catching Carol's eyes. Her loyal assistant of nearing seven years smiled back at her, nodding just slightly. CJ could tell she was more than nervous, but CJ was proud.
Looking back out at the crowd, she opened her mouth and began to talk and the room filled with the long familiar voices.
Had someone asked five days from then- five minutes from then- CJ would not have been able to tell anyone what she talked about during that briefing. She wouldn't be able to remember the joke she had worked on the entire day, or whether or not anyone laughed. She wouldn't remember how quickly she managed to maneuver around a particularly difficult topic. She wouldn't remember how long she paused before she said, "I have one last announcement to make…"
One week before
CJ tried desperately not to look up at the President's words. She knew, for he had done it every day for the past six years, that he was glancing them all over waiting for someone to say something. She knew, also, that Josh's gaze was fixed on her. She knew he was waiting for her to speak up. Because she said she was going to. She didn't know if Toby was watching her. He knew, but he was often unpredictable about some things. This was one.
She still wasn't looking. She heard the round of "Thank-you, Mr. President" from all but herself and Josh. She heard the President stand and walk away; she heard the rest getting up around her. Only she wasn't moving.
CJ looked up at her name. No one else was in the room any more except for the President standing over his desk and Leo paused at his door. She took a breath and stood, eyes never wavering from the President's- though she honestly wished to shrink back into the couch.
"I…" She let out a breath, knowing it wouldn't make it any easier. "I actually have something else to say."
"Well?" the President asked when she didn't immediately continue. Leo was stepping back into the office, walking casually back over to her and the President. CJ stayed where she was.
"I… I'm quitting."
Leo and the President spoke at the same time and she wasn't all that sure who had said what. The President had pulled off his glasses and was now looming over his chair, watching her. CJ couldn't bring herself to look at Leo.
"I- I do love the job, don't get me wrong. I loved the White House, but… I have to do this."
"CJ," she heard Leo say. She had heard the tone before. That scolding tone, the one that made her feel like a child again, sounded like he was chastising and comforting her at the same time. Finally she looked over at him. She knew he was shocked. "Are you sure about this?"
"Is there some kind of problem? CJ, you can tell us if you need help."
She just shook her head. "There's nothing… nothing wrong, I just can't keep working here."
"I can't… no- I don't want to explain myself. Please, just," with a deep breath, she pulled out her letter of resignation and handed it to Leo- only because he was closer to her. "Take this and don't ask."
"I can't accept this, CJ. I can't. Not until I have a good reason."
CJ had to look away from Leo's steady gaze. It hurt- she had considered him something like a father figure. She had come to think of him as a friend. But she could never handle feeling like she had betrayed or disappointed him. "I have one. I just… can't tell you it."
"Well, that convinced me," the President joked, walking around his desk to bridge the gap between himself and the others. "What's wrong, CJ?"
She let herself smile, but it was small and looked more like a grimace. She took a breath and said, "I have to leave. I…" she trailed off. She had almost said it, but she couldn't. She wanted them to know, but she knew how disappointed they would be in her. How upset they would be. How furious… She would never have their trust again if they knew.
She caught the President's eye and she could have sworn that something clicked for him.
"Would you leave us alone for a few minutes, Leo."
"Give us a moment."
CJ didn't look, but she knew Leo had nodded and walked away. She knew he must have looked back at them before walking into his office.
"Now, CJ, why do you really want to leave? Another job offer?" CJ shook her head. "Then what are you going to do when you leave?"
"I, um… I do have a few job… possibilities."
"Whose Press Secretary are you going to be?"
CJ looked up at him. Jed had seated himself back in one of the chairs and was looking up at her. "No one's… I'm planning on getting out of media relations."
"Yeah… I don't know…"
"CJ," he asked, a sigh in his voice as he shifted his weight in the seat, "This wouldn't have anything to do with a certain reporter, would it?" Her breath caught, but she tried to hide it. "I can't say that I never suspected something, but I didn't realize you were willing to give up your job to have something with him."
"I am, sir." She said it before she realized that she had just agreed with the President. She covered her emotions, but Jed smirked.
"Sit down, CJ."
"Yes, sir." She took the seat across from him, sitting stiffly on the edge.
"How long has something… let me rephrase that, has anything actually happened between the two of you?" CJ didn't know whether to laugh or be panicked at the comment. Instead, she just looked down at her hands. "CJ, is that a yes?"
"Yes," she said softly.
"For how long?"
She sighed, closing her eyes and wishing that the whole thing could have gone smoother. Wishing that they could have just said okay and let her leave. She wished she could have been better at lying and told him "not long" or "a short time" or that "nothing had happened yet". But she knew she couldn't. It wasn't because he was the President of the United States. It was because, after everything they had been through, she thought of the President as a friend.
"Roughly?" she said it just to stall, she knew, but the President nodded his head and she tried to make herself continue. "Um… six… six and a half… years." CJ kept staring at her hands. She couldn't look at his face. She imagined it some where between shocked, angry, and amused.
"Six and a half years? CJ, that means-"
"Some times during the first campaign. Yes, sir."
"And… no one knew?"
"No, sir. Only the few people we told."
"Well… like Josh, Toby, and Carol." She still wasn't looking at him, but she imagined he was nodding right about then. Thinking over what she had said. Trying to keep his anger down, maybe.
"The press never found out?"
"No," she said in a whisper. He sounded amazed. "We were… careful. I don't think they were really looking."
"No… This must have been hard."
"Yeah," she sighed.
"I'm sorry it's been… so hard for you… I would guess this question would sound ridiculous, but do you love him?"
CJ finally looked up. At that moment, she knew, he was just Jed, not her President. He was a friend looking out for a person he cared for. "Yes, sir, I do. Very much."
"Has he proposed, yet?"
CJ smiled, letting out a small laugh. "The day you were elected."
"You've been engaged for… wait, two or six years?"
CJ felt herself blush. "He said… that he didn't need a piece of paper and a big ceremony to know we'd be together for the rest of our lives."
"That's very sweet."
"Yes, it was… I know he'd wait the two more years. I know that, but…"
"You don't want to wait?"
"Yeah. I hate sneaking around. So… I want to resign. I want to go have a normal life."
"And you two deserve it."
"I have one last announcement to make." The room quieted some around her. CJ bit her lip, eyes gazing slowly over the room, looking over old friends and new friends, old and new annoyances, before finally settling on Danny. He smiled reassuringly at her and gave her a small nod.
She tried to force herself to smile, taking a calming breath before she continued. "I would like everyone to welcome Carol to the podium. I know you all know her, she puts up with you all much better than I've ever managed… She will be the new Press Secretary, starting tomorrow." Immediately noise erupted, her name on everyone's lips. Raising a single hand was enough to silence them. "Yes I resigned, yes I have a new job, no I'm not telling you what it is, and no, Chris, I'm not pregnant." The room gave a quick chuckle at the end; Danny seemed to be the only person in the room curious as to why she had answered that particular question.
She smiled at him before turning her attention to Carol, beckoning the woman forward. "Be kind to her and she might still find time to bring you guys cookies on Friday." A collective laugh went around the room as Carol blushed. CJ just smiled brightly at the woman. She stepped aside, letting Carol take the podium. Carol spoke shortly, finishing up the briefing, but CJ wasn't listening. Her eyes were sweeping the room, remembering every moment she ever had standing where Carol stood. Recalling every face, every day she had once thought had blurred together with several others. She let out a single breath, whispering a soft good-bye.