Author's Note: I apologize for the extremely long delay in chapters. I promise I will see this through to the end. My own fiction and real life have conspired against me, but maybe I just don't want this story to end. This takes place during season seven's "The Last Hurrah." CJ isn't in it much so this chapter isn't very long, but I hope it's a little entertaining anyway.
CJ called Margaret into her office just before ten in the morning on a cold December morning. There seemed to be less to do lately, but this conversation showed that CJ's duties weren't officially over just yet. Although she was working hard on trying to avert war halfway around the world, it seemed that being in Transition gave her other, more mundane, activities to deal with as well.
"Why is Helen Santos on my schedule?" CJ asked Margaret.
"The First Lady's Office called to set up the meeting," Margaret explained. "Mrs. Bartlet is traveling with the President to-"
CJ cut off Margaret with the wave of her hand. "So, I'm on babysitting duty."
"Mrs. Bartlet thought having a high-profile representative take her place would make it look better for the press since she couldn't be here."
"So it wouldn't look like the snub it is?" CJ asked, wryly.
Margaret shrugged in response. I knew she agreed with CJ's off-the-cuff assessments of situations more often than not, but every the dutiful assistant, she never vocalized her agreement, or disagreement.
"Josh had the right idea taking a vacation," CJ commented.
"I believe that was a forced vacation," Margaret said.
CJ swung her head around and raised her eyebrows. "Really?"
"It's what I'm hearing."
"Who forced him?"
"That's a little unclear. Some people say Sam gave him an ultimatum, saying he wouldn't entertain the thought of coming back if he didn't calm down. Others say it was the President-Elect himself."
CJ nodded. "Interesting. Is there some kind of underground assistant's newsletter that has this kind of information?"
Margaret smirked. "Not exactly."
"What are you telling people about me?" CJ wondered.
"People might know that the way to your heart is a Cobb salad from that deli in Georgetown, but that's all," Margaret replied.
"Did you tell Danny that bit of information? He had one of those salads waiting for me the other night."
Ever evasive, Margaret replied, "You have a meeting with Nancy McNally in ten minutes."
"Thanks," CJ replied as Margaret left the office.
I was a little surprised to hear CJ speak Danny's name in public. I hadn't heard much of anything about him lately and I wondered if that indicated that their relationship was once again back-burnered. She hadn't made time to call him in the late hours from her office, but maybe she didn't need to talk to him because she was seeing him. I wished she'd call him from the office again. I missed being a fish in the bowl for those conversations.
A few hours later Helen Santos visited with CJ. Unfortunately, they didn't hang out in her office for long. CJ spirited her away to meet the staff. I wondered if that meant she'd meet Charlie, Will and Kate, but the more I thought about it, they weren't really sticking around after the big Transition as far as I knew. I guessed there were other people around behind-the-scenes that I didn't see. Maybe that's who she was meeting. All I know is that when CJ returned from wherever she went, she seemed highly amused. She had a smirk on her face and everything.
"Margaret?" she called.
"Yeah?" Margaret asked, sticking her head in the office.
"I need ten minutes for a phone call. Can you keep the hounds at bay?"
"Sure thing. Do you need me to put a call through?"
"No, I've got it."
Margaret shut the door and CJ settled into her chair. She punched a few numbers into the phone and I waited impatiently. She had the phone to her ear, which meant another one-sided conversation. I hated having to guess what was being said on the other end of the phone. But, the upside was that I knew this was a personal conversation because CJ only warned off Margaret when she didn't want to be interrupted with work on a personal call.
"Hey, it's me," CJ said. Clearly whoever was on the other end knew CJ by voice alone.
"Oh you know, global crisis, avert war, introduce the new First Lady to the staff, all in a day's work." The person on the other end of the phone must have made a joke because CJ chuckled. "I once told Toby and Sam that I felt like the Thanksgiving Cruise Director around here. Now I just feel like the Cruise Director. I'm not sure anyone knows what my real job is anymore."
She was joking, but in usual CJ-style, she was joking about something that mattered to her. I could tell by the sound of her voice that she wasn't joking when she said she didn't think anyone knew what her job was anymore. I knew it by the look in her eyes when Margaret told her that Helen Santos was stopping by. She was annoyed, but mostly she was hurt that her job didn't seem to be hers anymore. She was just keeping the seat warm for Josh. I think that realization probably stung a little bit.
The person on the other end of the phone was talking and then CJ said, "I was joking. I am joking. It was a joke to make you laugh."
"Yeah, I'm laughing," she lied. "It's quiet laughter. I can't be too careful with Margaret around here. It might end up in her newsletter."
CJ then went on to explain what Margaret had said about Josh's vacation being forced and her theory about Margaret's underground newsletter that elicited a real, honest laugh from her. "She said the worst she'd sell me out for is the Cobb salad I like from that place in Georgetown."
A response from the person on the other end and then CJ said, "I knew she told you! I knew I'd never mentioned that salad to you before." Ah, so it was Danny that she was talking to. I was happy to hear CJ let loose for a minute. The president was gone and it seemed like everyone else was on auto-pilot. I thought CJ deserved a mental break from her job too.
"What else has she told you?" she asked.
For the first time in weeks she looked relaxed. She played with the phone cord, wrapping it around her finger. I wondered if this is what CJ looked like as a teenager, talking on the phone to a guy she really liked.
"I'm sure she's said more than that. It's fairly well-known that Margaret is a font of inside information when you need it."
CJ chuckled and said, "Maybe Leo had something on her. Apparently she'll give me up for a low-calorie muffin."
There was a knock on CJ's door and she shifted in her chair. Margaret poked her head in the office and mouthed "Helen Santos." CJ rolled her eyes. I could tell she didn't relish being the personal aide to Mrs. Santos and I couldn't say I blamed her. Surely there were other people who could show the new First Lady around the White House. CJ had an important job…although I guess it was just dawning on me that her important job included taking to her boyfriend on the phone at the moment.
CJ looked at Margaret and said to Danny, "Hold on a minute, okay?"
"Give me two minutes, Margaret," CJ said.
"No problem," Margaret replied. "Mrs. Santos is in the Roosevelt Room."
CJ nodded and turned her attention back to her phone call. "Apparently the Cruise Director is needed in the Roosevelt Room," CJ said.
Danny was talking now and CJ listened intently. "I didn't look like a deer in headlights," CJ said, finally. I wondered if Danny was describing CJ's face to her the first time he saw her react to the trappings of the White House. "Maybe I was slightly intimidated but…"
I smiled to myself thinking about CJ on her first days in the White House. I wondered what she was like. Knowing her now, she was assertive, dominant and together. I wondered what she was like before I knew her. I'd seen her at times of uncertainty and confusion, but I wondered if she ever had the look that she described on the face of Helen Santos. I couldn't imagine it. But, apparently Danny had seen it. I always seemed to forget that he was there on the campaign trail with CJ years ago.
"It was awe, not terror," CJ corrected Danny. She laughed at whatever he said to her. "Okay, maybe a little terror. God, do you remember my hair? I had this thing about not blow-drying."
She laughed throatily at her own memory. It was the first time in a long time that I heard CJ laugh like she meant it. "I appreciate that you're trying to tell me how good I looked, but you're also sleeping with me so it's required."
She looked so relaxed and happy as she spoke to Danny that I wondered what it would be like to be with her outside the White House. No stress. No drama. No late nights unless she wanted them. Part of me wondered whether I'd go with her when she left. I assumed so, but Sam had an old phrase about assuming and I didn't want to fall into that trap myself. I hoped I would go with her. I'd like to see her this at ease every day.
I must have missed part of the conversation because when I came back to it, it sounded like CJ was fake arguing with Danny. "You do not have my first press conference on tape," she said. "You're lying. We're not watching it Danny. No, we're not."
Suddenly her demeanor shifted and I saw that she wasn't as genuinely jovial as she'd been a moment ago. I frowned. Something made her put up the wall again. I'd seen it over and over when she was conversing with Danny. She was so close to just letting herself go. So close to allowing herself to be happy in the moment with him before she'd shut it down. It had happened at least twice in the last few weeks and it was happening again.
It seemed to happen when she was talking to him about future plans. I assumed he'd mentioned watching her first briefing later that night when, inevitably, he'd invite her over. I wasn't sure why, but lately, there was a marked difference in her demeanor when the future came up in conversation with Danny. Although I lived with her for years, CJ was still an enigma to me when it came to men. Maybe she always would be.
"Danny," she said. I could tell she cut him off. "I have to go. Helen Santos is waiting for me."
He must have given her some advice in terms of Mrs. Santos because she seemed to brighten and she said, "I'll keep that in mind. I will advise her against a perm."
"I will," she said in response to whatever Danny said. "Bye."
She hung up the phone and gave me a look. "I thought my perm looked good," she informed me. I'd seen a few videos of her perm back in the day and I'm not sure I agreed. My silence must have tipped her off because she said, "Okay, maybe it didn't."
CJ left the office to deal with Mrs. Santos and I wondered if Danny's advice had translated to CJ. She was once fresh-faced and wide-eyed and she turned out okay. Now I wondered how that was going to translate to her future with Danny. I still wasn't sure.