Author's Note: This is the prequel to my other story, "The In-Betweens." You don't have to have read it since this story pretty much tells you how "The In-Betweens" came to be. I just couldn't let these two go after I finished the last one. As always, I own nothing and no infringement is intended. Reviews are always welcomed and appreciated.
"Where It Began"
"Hey," Josh said approaching CJ's table in the diner.
"Hey yourself," CJ replied with a smile.
They were having lunch together. Alone. It wasn't that they hadn't had lunch together before. They had just yet to lunch alone. They'd been working on the campaign for about two months and although Josh would classify CJ as a friend, this one-on-one lunch was a first. He felt slightly nervous about it and he wasn't sure why. He almost felt like this was a first date.
Josh couldn't deny that when he first met her he'd found her attractive. She was just his type. He liked a woman who knew who she was and what she wanted. CJ struck him as just such a woman. The fact that she had legs to the sky also didn't hurt. Still, he mentally pushed away thoughts of attraction and tried to concentrate on lunch with a co-worker and friend. Josh took a seat across from her.
"You're late," CJ said when he finally sat down.
"Leo was talking to me about a thing," Josh replied, pulling a menu out from the holder on the table.
"And then you forgot about our lunch," CJ said.
"I didn't forget," Josh protested feebly. "I may have gotten distracted and it slipped my mind for like a minute."
"You need an assistant," CJ informed him.
"Maybe once we're really contenders we can afford one, until them I'm fifteen minutes late."
"I already ordered for you," CJ said.
"You ordered for me?" Josh asked surprised.
"You were late. We've got a tight schedule. You're getting a burger, fries and iced tea," CJ shrugged.
"You ordered for me," Josh said as a statement rather than question. "Did you order the burger—"
"Burnt; shoe leather on a bun," she replied. "I know we haven't known each other that long, but your lunch habits don't deviate.
Josh smiled as he placed the menu back in the holder. There was something about CJ knowing what he ate for lunch that was flattering. He felt like she'd been paying attention.
For her part CJ was a little nervous about ordering Josh's lunch. It was true, they were running late and they did need to eat quickly, but she wasn't sure if he'd be okay with her ordering his lunch. Some guys were funny about things like that. She was glad to see that Josh wasn't one of them.
"So, to what do I owe this pleasure?" Josh asked with a grin. His tone seemed softer somehow. Was he flirting with her?
"Sorry?" CJ asked with a nervous giggle. Was he flirting with her? Did she just giggle?
"Lunch," Josh said clearing his throat and adopting a more formal tone.
"Oh, uh, the South Carolina speech, I'm going to have to talk to a few reporters afterwards. Since the speech is on domestic issues I wanted to go over a few things with you."
"They know we're packing up and moving to South Carolina? We're not leaving for a week. Good news travels fast. What reporters will be there?"
"A few small town papers, but the guy from The Post will be there. That's a little intimidating."
"Who are they sending?"
"Yes," CJ replied.
"Wow," Josh said as the waitress dropped off their drinks.
"I guess this means we're big time."
"He should be covering Hoynes. Hoynes is the front-runner."
"Maybe he doesn't think Hoynes has what it takes."
"Don't we all," Josh said.
CJ suppressed a grin. She knew that Josh had worked for Hoynes. In fact, it had been pretty big news when he defected from Hoynes to run for Bartlet. She didn't know Josh extremely well but she knew that he didn't really regret leaving Hoynes. She couldn't say she blamed him. She had her own sordid past with the senator and she didn't begrudge Josh his attitude.
"Anyway, since Danny Concannon is on a grander scale than what we're used to I thought you and I could go over the domestic portions of the speech so I don't have any gaffes."
"You haven't destroyed our chances yet," Josh said.
"That's sweet, but I mixed up the Attorney General and Surgeon General last week and let's just say it's not something Toby is going to let me live down. I'm surprised you're letting me get away with it."
"Lucky for us the mistake was behind closed doors. If you'd been quoted then you'd hear about it."
"Don't worry, it won't happen in public," CJ said confidently.
"You can promise that?"
"For the moment," CJ said with a grin. "So, how do you think the first speech is going to go in South Carolina?"
"Run of the mill," Josh shrugged. "I'm a little concerned about the audience, but it should be fine."
"I'm glad you mentioned that. I'm very concerned about the audience," CJ said.
"The audience," CJ said again. "I'm worried about it."
"We're going to be in South Carolina."
"So typically South Carolina isn't a state that feels all warm and fuzzy about a liberal-leaning Democratic governor," CJ explained.
"We're not stumping for the Republicans CJ. It'll be a Democratic audience," Josh reminded her.
"It will? Well I learn something new from you every day Josh," she mocked him. He gave her a face. "I'm just saying there's something that isn't sitting right with me about this speech. I'm concerned."
"Yet you can't seem to pin down your concern," Josh countered.
CJ sighed. "Honestly, I think the governor seems a little stand-offish. I don't think that's going to play well in South Carolina."
"You'd be surprised how much South Carolina folk can get behind surly. Besides, he's great at these town hall things," Josh replied.
"Except for the times when he isn't," CJ said.
"He isn't antagonistic. It's more folksy," Josh shrugged.
"Just promise me that we'll cover it at the prep."
"You're really worried about this?"
"Call it feminine intuition," CJ replied.
"It'll be fine. Don't worry about it," he assured her. "The advance team is already gone to get things ready in two other states. Nothing is going to happen in South Carolina that's going to mess things up for us."
CJ smiled at him. "Okay."
The waitress came by with their food and CJ began to pick at her fries while Josh bit into his burger.
"Oh," Josh moaned. "Perfection. This burger…"
"Looks like a hockey puck," CJ finished for him.
"And tastes fantastic," Josh grinned at her.
While they ate they discussed a few of the details of the speech. It was mostly a domestic speech and Josh was the go-to guy for perspective on how people would respond. As he walked her through it, CJ couldn't help but realize how smart Josh was. Sure, she knew he was intelligent, but normally he hid his intellect under a façade of jokes and impish charm. Once she got him alone and explaining something on which he was an expert, she was truly taken with him.
For his part, Josh liked playing the role of teacher. Although CJ was a very knowledgeable woman, there were holes in what she knew and Josh was more than happy to explain things to her. But, he found that she was an incredibly quick study and they still had a plate of fries between them once they'd exhausted the topic at hand.
"Well," CJ said as she nibbled on a fry. "I appreciate you taking the time to go over this with me."
"Anytime," Josh said dipping his fry into the ketchup.
"I hope Mandy doesn't mind me taking you away from a lunch date," CJ said. Josh and Mandy had been dating for a while and she knew that they often lunched together when she was in town. Although lately it seemed like they'd been fighting more than usual.
Josh scoffed. "Mandy and I aren't really together anymore," he informed her. "She left last night to go back to D.C."
"Really?" CJ asked surprised. "I'm sorry to hear that."
"I'm not," Josh replied.
"You two were having problems?"
"Come on, you've heard us fight."
"Yeah, but I just figured it was your thing."
"Every couple has a thing."
"And we were the openly hostile, on the verge of meltdown couple?"
"Something like that," CJ chuckled. "So, what happened?"
Josh sighed. "Who knows? She's been mad at me for the last month."
"That's not true, is it?" CJ chimed in.
"Well she's been mad at me because she's got it in her head that I should tell Leo to hire her as a consultant. She's been on about it for weeks and she was leaving to go back home for the week and I guess I wasn't sufficiently destroyed that she was leaving and we got into this blowout. She said she was glad to be leaving because she needed time to decompress, I said she didn't have to worry about seeing me again and she left."
"That was it?" CJ asked.
"You're not over."
"You're so not over," CJ insisted.
"She said she was leaving I told her fine, there was no need to worry about seeing me again."
"And you think that means you've broken up," CJ clarified.
CJ chuckled. "Okay."
"Josh I think the two of you have had that conversation twelve times already," CJ said.
"This time was different. I've moved on."
"Moved on from what?" Sam asked interrupting the conversation and sitting next to CJ in the booth.
"Hey," CJ said.
"Hi, we've been looking for you two," Sam said. "So, what have you moved on from?"
"Mandy," Josh replied.
"Except he hasn't."
"I have," Josh whined. "We're done."
After Josh had explained the situation to Sam, Sam stole a fry from the plate and said, "Yeah, you're so not over."
"Thank you," CJ said smugly.
"Much as I appreciate the fact that two people from outside of my relationship still think I'm still in a relationship, it's not true. Mandy and I are over. She's gone for good," Josh replied.
"Okay," Sam said skeptically.
CJ finished off a fry and looked at her watch. "Oh my God, it's late," she said.
"It's why I came to look for you guys," Sam said. "We thought you were going to be in the prep meeting."
"We are," Josh said glancing at his watch. His eyes bulged out a bit when he saw that he and CJ had sat there and had lunch for two full hours. It had flown by. He had no idea it was so late.
"I have to go," CJ said scooting Sam out of the booth while trying to fumble for her wallet. "I've got a sit-down with the local news in fifteen minutes."
"Don't worry about it," Josh told her picking up the check.
"You sure?" she asked.
"Yeah," Josh waved her off. "Get to your interview."
"Thanks," she said flashing him a smile. "I'll see you guys later."
She made a swift exit and Josh watched her go. Sam looked at Josh quizzically. "What's that about?" he asked.
"Hmm?" Josh asked turning his attention to Sam.
"You and CJ," Sam said.
"There's nothing," Josh said, though his tone sounded a tad defensive. "We were having lunch."
"Okay, but you both seemed to lose track of time."
"The legislative agenda is complex process Sam," Josh replied.
"She has heard of it. How much explanation could it require?"
"Danny Concannon is coming to the speech. She's a little nervous about it."
"Danny Concannon? He's from The Post isn't he?"
"Yeah, we're big time," Josh grinned.
"I guess we are," Sam smiled back and reaching for another fry.
"Satisfied?" Josh asked a little smugly.
"I still think you were acting a little weird," Sam said.
Josh was silent for a moment as he contemplated Sam's comment. Part of him knew he was right. Josh was behaving a little oddly and the only reason he could come up with was that he was taken with CJ. Of course that explanation wasn't one that he could share with anyone.
"I wasn't," Josh said. "Don't we have a meeting to get to?"
"Yeah," Sam said standing. "Those fries were pretty good. Cold, but good."
"I'm so glad you enjoyed them," Josh replied.
Sam walked out of the diner and Josh looked back at the table one last time before he paid the bill. He wasn't quite sure what had happened in two hours time, but he was fairly certain that he found himself intrigued with CJ and looking forward to spending time with her again soon.