Author's Note: My own fiction pursuits have distracted me, but I swear I intend to finish this story! One episode left and I it will be written…eventually. This chapter takes place during season seven's "Institutional Memory."


"Baggage"

It was almost ten on a Tuesday night when CJ finally turned off her lamp. She'd been proofreading the budget and impatiently awaiting a bunch of memos. I wasn't exactly sure what a memo was, but CJ sure seemed hell-bent on getting her hands on the ones she was looking for. Margaret was still in the office, but she was oddly persistent about CJ leaving for the night.

As if she heard the light click off on CJ's desk, Margaret appeared in her doorway. "Knocking off for the night?" she asked.

CJ looked up, surprised. "Do you have a hot date tonight, Margaret? You've been in here every fifteen minutes for the last hour asking me if I'm leaving."

CJ had been a little testy lately. She looked as tired as I felt and she'd been snapping at people in a very un-CJ-like manner for the last few weeks. I wasn't even sure she knew what she sounded like anymore.

"No," Margaret replied. She seemed to have gotten used to CJ's little comments. "I thought I heard your light go off, is all."

"You've got some hearing," CJ mumbled.

"What?"

"Nothing," CJ said, as she tossed her enormous binder into her bag. "I am headed out for the night. I'll see you tomorrow."

"Goodnight," Margaret said. She watched and waited as CJ exited the office. Normally Margaret stuck around to tidy some folders on CJ's desk, but tonight she grabbed for the phone. "Charlie? She's gone."

At this point I wondered if they were throwing CJ a surprise party or something. They threw Josh one once. I didn't get to be there, obviously, but I heard some of the plans. The planning often involved clandestine phone calls when Josh wasn't around, but it wasn't anywhere near CJ's birthday so I wasn't really sure what was going on.

After Margaret hung up the phone she got busy opening filing cabinets. That was a little odd, considering CJ was the only one I ever saw open those drawers. Shortly after that Charlie entered the office with a large box in his arms. It turned out his box was full of other, flattened, boxes.

"How long do think this will take?" Charlie asked Margaret.

"Does it matter? We've got to get it done before she comes in tomorrow. Maybe she'll be happier with a little less…baggage hanging around her office."

Baggage. I thought it was an odd word choice, but it seemed, oddly, appropriate. CJ's office was suddenly strewn with piles and piles of old files, baggage, from her past. Even though they were packing them all away, I had the sudden feeling that even though they were out of sight, they'd always be in the back of CJ's mind.

"You don't think she'll notice that we've packed away all her files?" Charlie asked.

"Maybe not." Margaret didn't even sound convinced of her own statement.

"Yeah, because when does CJ ever go into her files?"

"What else are we supposed to do? She's stressed out lately. She wouldn't even talk about packing all these files away last week. I think she's having a hard time with the transition."

"You think?" Charlie asked. "I think she'd have an easier time making Mandarin the official language of the United States than the transition."

"She had to know this was coming," Margaret said. She started assembling a few boxes while Charlie filled them.

"She's had a lot on her plate," Charlie replied. "I think this is the first time she's had time to really see what her life is going to be like once this all ends."

"She's got a meeting with someone from Hollis Industries tomorrow," Margaret informed him.

Charlie seemed intrigued by that. I could tell by the way his highbrows rose when Margaret mentioned it.

"Do you think she'll be interested?" Margaret asked him.

"It's hard to tell. Nothing seems to pique her interest lately."

"Do you think she's waiting for an offer from Santos?"

"No," Charlie said, almost a little too quickly. I wondered if he was suddenly thinking what I was, that maybe CJ was so resistant to leaving the White House because she didn't want to leave at all.

I'd never really heard people talk about CJ behind her back like this before. It was odd. In a way, it was nice to commiserate with others. In another, it sort of felt like I was betraying CJ in some way, listening in on a conversation that I wasn't really supposed to be a part of.

"She doesn't want to stay here," Charlie said again. "She's done. She's been disengaged ever since…"

"Since?"

"Since Toby got fired," I thought.

"Well, for a while," Charlie finished.

It was strange because while I agreed with Charlie, I disagreed too. CJ seemed emotionally detached from the job, but mentally, she was here all the time. I'd see how she'd come in the morning, her mind racing with thoughts she'd had overnight about this problem or that. She might not have an emotional attachment to anyone here anymore, but she was certainly mentally engaged as ever.

"We've got hurry up," Margaret said. "I don't think there's any way we'll finish by morning at this rate."

"Who knew she had so much paperwork? I wonder if she had this much when she was press secretary."

"We'll have to ask Carol. I imagine it was more."

I was the only one in the room who would know, but I wasn't really sure which job produced more files. CJ had hundreds of briefing books in each position. Margaret and Charlie worked in silence for the next three hours and then they decided they needed to get home and get some sleep. Margaret was right. They didn't finish getting all the boxes packed away. I was half asleep when I heard Margaret tell Charlie that she was going to distract CJ with a muffin or a walk the next morning. I didn't have a lot of faith that CJ was going to be kept in the dark about the boxes.

The next day came and, as I predicted, Margaret was unable to keep the box situation from CJ. But the notable thing was that there were a lot of visitors. Andi dropped by to talk about Toby and something called a pardon. CJ seemed genuinely thrown after that meeting. She rested her head on the back of her chair and sighed when Andi left. She sat there for a few minutes in silence. It also reminded me of her reaction the night she had Toby escorted from the building. Whatever Andi asked CJ to do, it seemed to be a tough decision for her. In fact, I'd say it messed with her head for the rest of the day.

The day also included a job proposition from a guy named Franklin Hollis. I thought I'd seen him on the news once before, but I didn't get to meet him in person. She met with him in the Roosevelt Room. She seemed intrigued after her meeting. It was the most enthusiasm I'd seen from CJ in weeks, probably since she started seeing Danny again. Although later that same day I got the impression that Danny's presence wasn't the happy thing it used to be.

He dropped by the office to take her lunch. I tried not to be hurt by the fact that he didn't acknowledge me because he seemed upset and CJ seemed weird and their conversation was tense. I didn't like seeing them that way. I wanted my memories of CJ and Danny to always be happy. Sure, they'd had some fights in my presence before, but at least they seemed invested in each other when they were yelling. Today, CJ seemed like she didn't want to be bothered by a conversation with Danny at all.

I assume that their lunch didn't go very well. When she returned to the office she was visibly upset. She seemed bothered by a visit from President-Elect Santos, though she put on a happy face. She even snapped at Kate later in the day about the memo, which she still hadn't received. CJ was having a hard time and there was nothing I could do for her. I only hoped that she might find someone who could. I didn't have to hope for long because suddenly she was on the phone.

"It's CJ Cregg," she said. "I need to make a few stops on the way home tonight. I wanted the agents to be aware."

CJ had been tailed by a Secret Service contingent for the last few weeks because of heightened security concerns. She wasn't happy about it, not after what happened with Simon years ago, and she kept everything very professional, while keeping the agents at arms-length. I'm not even sure she knew their names.

I hoped she was going to go see Danny and make things better, but something told me she wasn't. I'm sure if Greg Brock wasn't in jail he might have been on the list of people CJ would meet with that night. I don't know why, but that's how I felt about it her mood. It was a little unsettling to see her so adrift. I'd seen her confused and upset before, but this was different. It was the perfect storm of emotions that she'd kept in check for so long. Her job was ending, Toby was back in the picture because of a deadline on a pardon, Danny was pushing for more from her and CJ wasn't ready to change. She wasn't ready to leave all the baggage in her office. She seemed content to drag it with her from place to place, never letting it go.

I was glad that Margaret had finally gotten all the boxes removed from CJ's office. Maybe it would help her clear her head. Maybe she'd feel a little less stifled by her old life if it wasn't packed up in cardboard cartons around her. Maybe I'd finally see the flash of the old CJ; the one I met almost eight years ago. Maybe she'd finally figure out what she wanted from the rest of her life. Regardless, she had less than two weeks to figure it out, whether she was ready or not.

As for me, I'm not sure what CJ's job ending meant. Did I stay there? Did I got with her? Would she even care to take me? CJ might have had issues, but I was swimming around with baggage too. It felt heavy and I was tired from the weight of the unknown.

TBC