Author's Note: Takes place during Election Day Part I, with a little callback to Election Day Part One. Reviews are appreciated. I can't believe this story is almost finished.
Things in the White House were moving at a frantic pace, as usual, but there was something in the air. It felt like finality to a job that wasn't quite finished. I wasn't sure why, but the impending election seemed to mean different things to people around the White House.
Charlie seemed to think it was time to start looking for new opportunities; specifically, that CJ start to look for new opportunities. He'd been by CJ's office a few times with briefs and binders and job offers. I guess this meant that CJ wasn't going to be Chief of Staff once the new president was elected. It was funny that I didn't really understand that until the job offers started pouring in.
Even though it seemed like CJ was the most popular girl in the White House, she seemed to be in denial about the whole thing. Charlie prodded her to look at the offers and she blew him off or changed the subject. Whereas Charlie saw the end to the White House gig as an opportunity, I guess to CJ the election meant she was out of a job and aimless. I couldn't tell if she was looking forward to that or not.
In the end, the actual election didn't really seem to matter because something really bad happened on election night. CJ was in the office late. She had intended to stay until they called Texas. I heard her tell Margaret that earlier in the day. Everyone around the White House seemed like they were going to stick around so it wasn't odd when the phone rang just before the election results started trickling in. What was odd was that Josh was on the other end of the phone.
"CJ Cregg," CJ answered her own phone on speaker.
"CJ," Josh said. His voice sounded funny. It had an edge to it that was more nervous than I'd heard before.
"Josh?" CJ asked, surprised. She clearly thought it was odd for him to be calling on election night as well. "How's it going? They're just about to start calling states."
"CJ," he said. "I don't…it's Leo."
"What's Leo?" CJ asked.
"He collapsed," Josh replied. "Donna and I are on the way to the hospital now. I don't know what…I don't…"
CJ's eyes widened in alarm and she picked up the phone to take Josh off speakerphone. As much as I was upset not to be able to hear the whole conversation, I was more upset at the thought that there was something wrong with Leo. He'd collapsed before and he almost died. I couldn't wrap my mind around the fact that it was happening again. Apparently CJ couldn't either. I could see her eyes looked glassy, but she was too strong to allow the tears to drop.
"Which hospital?" CJ asked. Josh must have answer and then CJ said, "I'll let the president know."
Josh was talking again and CJ was listening. I saw her bite her lower lip. I wasn't sure if it was an indication of her nerves or if she was biting it to keep herself from crying. As it was, I knew she was thinking the worst.
"He's strong Josh," she said finally. "Please keep me posted and drive safe."
She hung up the phone and sat there for a moment. She was collecting her thoughts. I thought I heard her whisper, "Please don't take Leo," as she gazed upwards briefly. After that she called Margaret into the office. She asked for the first moment that the president had available. He was supposed to be with his daughter and her cheating husband in New Hampshire, but I guess he came back early.
Before CJ let Margaret leave her office she said, "You should know that the call I just had was about Leo."
Margaret nodded, but from the look on her face I could tell that she was internally bracing herself for bad news.
"Josh said he collapsed," CJ said clearing her throat. "Annabeth found him and they're on the way to the hospital now."
"Thank you for letting me know," Margaret said. "Will you tell me if Josh calls with news?"
"Of course," CJ nodded.
Margaret nodded back and left the office while CJ sat there alone in the dimly-lit room. I wondered what she was thinking about at that moment. Leo had been the president's confidante and friend for so long. I knew that CJ thought of herself as a poor replacement for Leo as Chief of Staff. I assumed she wasn't looking forward to being the one to tell the president that Leo had collapsed.
CJ reached out and picked up the phone. She punched in three numbers quickly, then a fourth more slowly and finally a fifth number before she hung up. I wondered who she was going to call and then it dawned on me that she was thinking of calling Toby. I don't know how I know, I just do. After living with someone for so long they sort of become an extension of you and if I were CJ I'd have wanted to call Toby to let him know too. It made me sad for so many reasons to think that she couldn't.
A while later CJ was sitting at her desk watching the television reports on the election. I could tell that she was only half-paying attention to the television and to the work she was pretending to do. I knew she was anxiously waiting to hear from Josh, but the phone didn't seem to ring…until it did.
She was expecting important news so she didn't put it on speakerphone. She just answered it.
"CJ Cregg," she said.
The look on her face said it all. I didn't need to hear the news delivered to know that Leo had died. If I had tear ducts I would have cried. Instead, all I could do was float to the bottom of my bowl and remain still in a moment of sorrow for Leo. I didn't know him as well Josh, Sam, Donna and Toby, but I knew he was important to CJ and that was enough.
"Thanks Donna," CJ said. "I'll let the president know. How's Josh?"
So Josh wasn't the one to deliver the news. I knew that Josh had known Leo just a little better than everyone else and I assumed he must have been crushed by this news. The fact that Donna was one who called CJ only confirmed this for me.
"Tell him I'm thinking of him," CJ said. "Take care."
CJ hung up the phone and this time I could see the tears beginning to pool in her eyes, but she still had one more thing to do before she could grieve. She stood up and walked over to the door that separated her office and the Oval Office. I didn't relish her position to be the one to tell the president that his best friend had died. Then, again, Leo was a boss, confidante and friend to CJ as well. I mostly just wished that this night hadn't happened at all.
CJ returned from the Oval Office faster than I would have thought. I didn't hear any yelling or crying from the president, but then, that would probably be reserved for later when he was alone with Abbey.
CJ closed the door to the Oval and walked over to the door that separated her office from Margaret's area and she closed it as well. She walked over to her chair, sat down and her shoulders collapsed as she began to cry. It as well passed quitting time and she felt comfortable letting go of her emotions. If I could have jumped from my bowl and given her a hug I would have.
I hadn't seen her cry like this since Toby's betrayal. Almost seven years with her and I'd only seen her lose it like this a few times. It was devastating every time though. Her shoulders shook and her head was bowed close to her chest as she wept silently. I wished she'd had someone to comfort her, but there was no one left, save the president, who knew how Leo had touched their lives.
Almost as if an angel above had heard my prayer, CJ's phone rang. She looked at the phone, tears streaming down her face and she sniffed. I could tell that she didn't want to answer it, but she thought it might be something important, as if anything could be more important than the passing of Leo. She must not have had the strength to hold the receiver because she hit the speakerphone button.
"CJ Cregg," she said. Her voice was thick. Anyone who knew her would know there was something wrong.
"Hi CJ," he said. "It's Danny."
At the sound of his voice and his name I could see the tears steam down her cheeks freely, as if Danny was one of the few people she could be herself with tonight.
"Hi," she said, trying to make it sound like she wasn't crying.
"Look, I don't know how to say this," he started. I could tell he was going to broach the subject of Leo and I wondered, horrified, if it was for a story. But instead he said, "How are you?"
CJ chuckled, as if she were cracking under the emotion of it all. "Awful," she replied honestly. "How are you?"
"So it's true then," he said. "Leo…"
"Are you calling for a story?" she asked, a little meanly.
"No. No, I'd never…I read something online and I thought if it was true that you'd need someone."
CJ nodded to herself and the empty room. "It's true," CJ confirmed. Once, she wouldn't have been so quick to confirm it to a reporter, but Danny had ceased to be a reporter for a while now, even though she occasionally tried to keep him kept in that box.
"I'm so sorry."
"How's the president?"
"He took it better than I thought he would, but we had a heads up that it might happen before we really knew. I still have to tell Margaret and I don't know how I'm going to do that."
"I don't know," CJ said reaching for a tissue and wiping her eyes. "I talked to Donna. I'd assume that means not well. Tonight was…is supposed to be his night."
"It still could be."
"I'm not sure it'll mean as much," CJ replied.
"It'll mean more," Danny assured her.
"I don't know what I'm going to do for the next few months," CJ admitted. "I've always had Leo in my back pocket in case something went wrong. Who can I call now?"
"You can do it without Leo. He taught you well," Danny reminded her.
"It's so sudden. He's so young," CJ said.
"Yeah, he was."
Suddenly, as if she remembered that she was talking to Danny the reporter, she said, "Danny, I can't…this isn't on the record. You know that, right?"
"Of course I know that Claudia Jean," he replied. Use of her full name indicated his annoyance at her accusation. "I'd never take advantage of you that way."
"I know," CJ said timidly, as if she knew that she had offended him. "I'm sorry. Tonight has just been…"
"I know," he interrupted her. "Has anyone talked to Toby?"
"I don't know," CJ sighed. "I can't. Josh is the only one who talks to him and I don't know how Josh is doing. He's got a millions things going on."
"It'd be a shame if Toby heard it on the news," Danny said.
"Yeah," CJ agreed.
"Do you want me to call him?" Danny offered.
I thought I saw CJ's eyes finally focus and soften, realizing what Danny would do for her. She didn't even have to ask. Her lips curled into a sad smile.
"No," she said. "But thank you. You don't know what it means that you offered."
"Are you sure?"
"Okay," Danny replied. "Well, I don't want to bother you. I just wanted to check in and see if you were alright."
"I'm not," CJ said. "But I will be."
"I'm glad to hear it."
"Danny," she said. It was one of those moments where I just knew that CJ was getting ready to say something. I'd seen it a hundred times before and I knew that she was going to rethink it and say nothing, as she usually did. But on this night she surprised me.
"It's good to hear your voice," she said. "I've missed it."
There was silence on the other end of the phone for a moment and I wondered if Danny was trying to process what he'd just heard. "Really?" he asked.
CJ actually laughed a little as she replied, "Yes."
"I've missed you too," he said, taking her declaration a little farther than she'd implied, which he often did. The funny thing was that tonight, CJ didn't correct him. I wondered if losing Leo made her rethink her position on waiting for the perfect moment with Danny. I'd learned over the years that perfect moments were elusive. I wondered if CJ was learning that lesson now.
"I'll talk to you soon Danny," she said. "Thanks for calling."
"Hang in there CJ," Danny replied. "Leo might just get elected Vice President yet."
The call disconnected and CJ said quietly, "From your lips to God's ears Danny Concannon."