Title: A Man Walks Into A Bar
Rating: NC - 17
Category: CJ/Josh, CJ/Toby
Disclaimer: I didn't do it.
Summary: A horse walks into a bar and the bartender says, "Why the long face?"
Acknowledgements: My earnest thanks to August who sent comments eons ago and Jenny McD whose political knowledge prevents me from making a complete arse of myself.
The Campaign. Madness in Michigan - Day Two. 1.00 am.
It's another hotel room in a long line of hotel rooms. It's another city in another state and it's another night where they can't sleep only tonight they are in bed together and she's telling jokes. His hand in on her belly. He is on his side with his head resting in his other hand. In between jokes and laughter he is tracing a line from her navel to one of her breasts and idly playing with her nipple.
Her laughter is replaced with a soft moan. He moves his hand across her chest to her other breast.
"Wait - I've got another." She says suddenly. His hand halts its action on her breast momentarily while he listens. " There's this married couple who are stranded on a desert island. One day another guy washes up on the shore. He and the wife are attracted right away but they realise they're going to have to do some pretty tricky thinking if they want to actually do anything about it. The husband however, is like "oh this is good, now we will have three people to do shifts in the watchtower". The new guy is happy to help and so he volunteers to do the first shift and so he climbs up the tower to watch. The couple on the ground are gathering stones to make a fire and the guy yells down, 'Hey, no screwing!' They yell back, 'We're not screwing!' A few minutes later they are placing driftwood in the stones and the guy yells again, 'No screwing!' Again they yell back, 'We're not screwing!' Later they are putting palm leaves on the roof of their shack to patch leaks and again the guy yells 'Hey, I said no screwing!' They yell back, 'We're not screwing!' So the shift finally ends and the husband takes over the watch tower from the new guy. He's not even halfway up before the wife and her new friend are going for it. The husband looks out from the tower and says, 'Goddamn - from up here it DOES look like they're screwing.'"
He rolls his eyes and they dissolve into laughter again. Earlier there was alcohol and briefing papers and polling numbers mixed in with the jokes. Then it happened and then they were in bed and then they were laughing again.
They are stretched out next to each other, pale like two people who don't often see the sun. It's night outside and all around is quiet.
"CJ?" he says, his tone suddenly serious.
"Do you ever, you know, think about being in the White House?"
She raises eyebrows. "Seriously?"
"Yeah, well, of course. When Willey pulled out I started thinking 'this is it. We're a contender.' And then I started thinking about how I could be working with Toby for the next five years. It was frightening..."
They laugh again.
"I worry about it sometimes," she says, serious once more. " But I worry about losing more."
"We won't lose."
"You sound pretty sure of that."
"I am sure."
She sighs. "I'm holding you to that because I am not going back to Los Angeles. If we lose that's it. I'm going home to Napa, I'm going to marry the guy I dated in high school and I'm going to start working on my grandchildren, because this is it. If we lose, it's over. Everything."
"I'm a woman. I can do babies! Apparently..."
"We won't lose CJ."
He is looking at her with his earnest eyes and his sincere face. She believes him. She really does.
"We're good at this," he says.
She holds that look for a second longer before letting herself smirk slightly.
"We're OK," she says, slyly and he smiles as he catches up with her meaning.
And then they are laughing again.
She sighs loudly and closes her eyes. She shifts her position so she is leaning into his shoulder.
He can't explain, but sometimes everything just feels so right.
"I think I'm in love with you."
Her eyes snap open.
"Holy shit, Josh."
A Man Walks Into a Bar. 10.00 pm.
Toby wants to drink.
Toby wants to drink and she wants to sit somewhere where there is smoke and music and no reporters within a substantial radius. She's tired and in need of a diversion, and Toby wants to drink, so they find a bar near her apartment.
She spends more time at the White House than she does in her own home so she's not surprised to find a bar less than a block from her apartment, that she was unaware existed previously.
Inside CJ remembers that Toby likes to sit at the counter and she pulls up a stool at the bar. Toby hails the bartender.
"Can you make a decent martini?"
"Of course," she says.
"Two please," Toby says making a 'V' with his fingers.
"I'm not sure I like martinis," CJ says.
"Sure you do."
And soon they are both sipping martinis. CJ is pulling a face that doesn't indicate her verdict conclusively.
"It's got quite a bite to it..."
"Drink your martini CJ," he is half way through his already.
CJ lifts the olive out of her drink and into her mouth.
"So, what's up with you?"
He rubs his forehead with his hands.
"I've been listening to talk back."
"You shouldn't do that Toby, you have high blood pressure."
"Four out of five callers agreed that the President's speech is too wordy?"
"I know what 'wordy' means Toby, which speech are we talking about?"
"All of them."
Toby sighs loudly and makes a face.
"They should be talking about education and the number of teachers, they should be talking about international markets, they should be talking about deforestation and cattle grazing, CJ but instead they say the President's speech is too wordy."
CJ peers at Toby over the rim of her glasses which have slid down her nose and are balancing precariously at the tip. She wishes she had gone home to change into contacts. These glasses and these grey pants make her feel like a librarian.
"Toby, if the worst they can say about the President is that his speech is a little verbose, which it is, even when you're not writing for him, then I'm sleeping easy tonight. Perhaps next time you and Sam write a speech you could including some four-letter words like I know you can."
"Speaking of four-letter words, next time the President attends a meeting of talk back radio hosts, don't be surprised if I attempt to include the words 'bull' and 'shit' in his address."
She smiles and pushes her glasses back up her nose again.
Next to them three drunken barflies are attempting to sing the words to Barbara Ann. Toby pulls a face and takes another swig from his martini.
CJ eyes him suspiciously.
"Are you trying to get drunk Toby?"
"I've heard that drinking copious amounts of alcohol can give one the appearance of being drunk."
"OK, Oscar, what's the occasion?"
"The country is full of morons."
"More so than usual?"
"Do I need a reason to drink CJ? We work in the White House, we work for the President. I get drunk on occasion. You see a pattern here?"
It gets late. He orders his fifth when she orders her third.
One of the three singing barflies sleeps with his head on the bar, the other two having disappeared some time ago. The bartender pokes the sleeping customer and he jolts awake.
"Whassup?" he says, loudly.
"I'm calling you a cab," the bartender tells him.
"Hokay," he says and he puts his head back down on the bar.
CJ laughs quietly before risking a glance at the Johnnie Walker clock above the bar. She groans.
"That's your last one Zeigler, it's way past your bed time and it's most certainly past mine."
Toby harrumphs and takes a long swig of his fifth drink.
"You sound like my mother."
She scowls and leans her elbow on the bar so she can rest her head on her hand. She eyes Toby's drink sideways and, after a moment's hesitation, steals the olive his glass and downs it quickly. He glares at her.
"It's considered poor form to steal someone's martini olive, CJ."
"It's justice Toby, you've been an ass pain all night."
"As opposed to my usual position as life of the party."
"Toby..." Only Toby could make a drink after work an ordeal. "Would it be that hard for you to talk about something other than your sorry life?"
He looks thoughtful. Both his hands sit at the base of his manhatten glass and his index finger on his right hand tapped the bar rhythmically. Suddenly it stops and he turns towards her.
"I cheated on Andi."
She freezes. She becomes vaguely aware of noise around her. The squeak of the bartenders clean linen polishing cloths against glass, the hum of the air conditioner, a Joni Mitchell song playing in the background, and the whispers of a couple having an argument at he other end of the bar.
"When did you do this?" she says. Her voice is almost a whisper.
"Two years before we broke up."
"Does she know?"
"Is that why she left."
He shrugs. "Who knows. She insisted that it wasn't."
"Was it someone I know?"
CJ pauses for breath. She lets it out in a puff.
"Wow," she says. The room is warm and her cheeks flush. She thinks about Toby in Los Angeles looking tired and drawn over dinner and telling her how Andrea went to Boston one weekend and never came home, Toby asking in a faltering voice over the phone if she knew where Andi was, Toby carrying baggage for his ex-wife well into the campaign.
"Why today?" she asks.
"Why did you tell me today?"
"I spoke to Andi today. She reminded me of it."
In their friendship Toby is rarely so frank. He is slow to open up, reticent to divulge. And there are days when she tells herself she is all he has. She finds herself wondering what that means.
She feels the need to confess.
"I slept with Josh during the campaign," she says.
Toby's drink pauses on its way to his mouth. He looks at her like she's just turned green and is about to sprout.
The room gets smaller. CJ's head swims waiting for Toby to say something. The bartender signals a bouncer to collect the sleeping barfly as his cab pulls up at the door. There is a commotion as the barfly struggles and the bartender moans about clientele who leave their drinking buddies to fall asleep in bars.
CJ waits. She waits like she waited for the President's job approval figures. Like it's not just her job riding on this one, it's her life.
"You slept with Josh?" his voice is low and unaffected. His martini is still midway from his mouth to the bar.
"Yeah," her voice cracks slightly. She has a sudden impression that this is all very, very wrong.
"Josh Lyman, Deputy Chief of Staff of the White House?"
"Toby I think we've established that we both know who I'm talking about."
"I know who your talking about CJ I'm just hoping that if I say it often enough you'll tell me it's all a big joke."
"It wasn't a big deal. It was just once during the campaign and we've forgotten about it."
Toby's drink finally finds a resting point as he slams it on the bar shattering the glass and sending shards and gin flying across the bar and onto them both. They sit staring at the mess for what seems like hours but is just long enough for the bartender to arrive and ask them if they are hurt.
Toby looks at his hand like he's just noticed it's there. Small cuts ooze blood from its side. CJ takes his hand in hers for a closer look. She turns it over and checks his palm. The cuts are more prominent than deep.
"Well, it looks like you've escaped serious injury..." she says after the inspection.
The bartender hands her a First Aid kit from behind the bar.
"Should have some band-aids in there," she says. "Can I get you a cloth?"
CJ looks down at her gin soaked pants while plastering Toby's cuts. "Uh, yeah."
Toby's gaze wanders outside into the street. CJ follows his look only to give up when she sees nothing. She pats the gin on her pants and nudges Toby when it's his turn.
"I've had enough," he says suddenly and he gets up.
"OK," she says, and she rises to join him.
CJ thinks she knows the words for every occasion but for some reason a joke wanders round in her head without explanation.
A horse walks into a bar and the bartender says 'why the long face?'
The Campaign. Madness in Michigan - Day One. 11.00 pm.
Josh Lyman is beautiful, she thinks. Beautiful in a Greek-tragedy way. Sad and tragic and beautiful. He has his eyes on the floor, deep in thought, while one hand rubs the back of his neck. CJ is trying to watch CNN while occasionally lifting a glance over the television to stare at Josh who seems deeply undecided about something. She'd interrupt him to ask if she could help but this tragic Adonis transfixes her with his tie undone halfway down his chest and his shirt in disarray - one sleeve rolled and the other hanging from his wrist.
He catches her staring.
She shakes herself out of her revelry and turns her attention back to the television. In the UK the police seize a backyard Ecstasy manufacturing plant that is estimated to have produced over one million of the little white tablets for the rave population. Someone's weekend just took a downturn.
She hasn't slept for two days. Last night they were in Ohio and only two days before they were in Kentucky. With twenty electoral votes to be won in Michigan they'll spend four days here and she's grateful for the stagnation however brief. The Governor's party will arrive tomorrow and tonight they have some respite from the chaos of the campaign.
It might be the lack of sleep but she finds herself idly imagining Josh unbuttoning his shirt and draping it across the back of the armchair in her hotel room. She opens her mouth to let a small sigh escape. It is suddenly slightly warmer in the room.
Josh is waving a hand in front of her face.
"CJ, you've got to talk to the Governor. That joke he made about Tobacco growers in Kentucky? Schindlers List got more laughs."
CJ shrugs. "Talk to Sam, he writes the speeches."
"Sure, I'll talk to Sam. He can write 'do not, under any circumstance, insert lame and insulting joke to which your audience will no doubt take offence here' at the top of the page. That should stop him."
She groans and leans her head back against the bed. "I'll talk to the Governor when he gets here. I've really got to get some sleep Josh."
"How can you sleep, CJ? With Super Tuesday only days away and the Governor telling bad jokes to tobacco growers?"
"Take one of these and call me in the morning." She pulls two small bottles of Jack Daniels from the fridge and tosses one to Josh.
"CJ, that's kind of an expensive way to get to sleep."
She makes a dismissive gesture.
"We replace them in the morning from the cheap liquor store two blocks away. Trust me Joshua, I'm an experienced hotel drinker. Cheers." CJ nudges Josh's bottle with her own before taking a long draught.
"What are you a wuss?"
"Never, never call me that," he says mockingly and he lifts the bottle to his lips. He takes a long swig and swallows quickly. His eyes bulge.
CJ laughs and swigs once more from her bottle.
Headers in Part One.
Empty bottles litter the floor an hour later. CJ tells Josh there are sixty six words in the Lords Prayer, one hundred and seventy nine words in the ten commandments, thirteen hundred words in the US Declaration of Independence and twenty-six thousand, nine-hundred and eleven words in the US Government regulations on the sale of cabbage.
Josh laughs. They both laugh. Josh is lying on his back on the floor with his head propped up on a pillow. CJ is cross-legged next to him. He gazes up at her, hypnotized by her voice and the way she laughs like there's no one around for miles. He tells her about Hoynes.
"He's a nice guy. Smart too. Too smart maybe," he shrugs and takes a long swig of a bottle, "He should have listened to me."
"I've got one about Hoynes!" CJ yells suddenly. "Hoynes and his driver are out driving in the country one night when the driver hits a pig. The driver notices a farmhouse nearby and Hoynes tells him to go tell the farmer that they've run over his pig. Hoynes waits for over an hour when finally the driver gets back, blind drunk and smoking a cigar. 'What happened?' says Hoynes. The driver just looks bewildered and says 'I don't know, the farmer gave me a bottle of scotch and a cigar, his wife cooked me dinner and their daughter offered to marry me.' So Hoynes says 'What did you say to them?' and the driver says, 'I'm Hoynes' driver and I just ran over the pig.'"
Josh slaps a hand against his forehead.
"CJ, I've heard that one about every Governor, Congressman and President from Nixon to Bartlet!"
CJ throws back her head and once again laughs loud enough to wake the entire floor of their hotel. Josh marvels at the smooth skin of her throat. His thoughts wander and he idly imagines her similarly throwing her head back in other more intimate circumstances. He is mildly disturbed to find his body encourages the thought and he shifts his leg slightly to hide the movement.
Somewhat ironically he is rewarded by the sight of CJ maneuvering herself out of her seated position and onto all fours so that he gets a pleasant view of her behind as she crawls over to the bar fridge.
"Looks like we're onto the Brandy," she says mournfully.
"We did the vodka."
"You know, we're going to regret this in the morning," Josh says wistfully.
"Yeah," says CJ. "Rest assured, I'm keeping well away from the cameras tomorrow."
"Yes Josh. - television crew? News item? We're doing the whole 'Bartlet is coming' thing? You know, I write these memos and I pass them around to the campaign staff. You should read one some time," CJ says. "Anyway, they'll wander around the campaign office, shoot some footage, talk to some of the local guys, and hopefully, if he's in a good mood, we'll get Bartlet coming into the office amid rapturous applause. You should be there for that." She points a finger at him threateningly.
"Great..." Josh says.
"It will be great. We'll get five minutes on the evening news, and that's five more than Hoynes will get. Don't forget to wear a tie."
She hands him a tiny bottle of brandy and keeps one for herself.
"What shall we drink to this time?" he says.
She looks thoughtful, pursing her lips.
"To America !" She says with flourish.
He lifts his bottle in salute.
"To America, who incidentally, needs us."
"And how!" CJ says and feeling momentarily mischievous, she winks before lifting her bottle and taking a long swig. Brandy dribbles down her chin and neck and she grins sheepishly.
She reaches for the towel on the bed.
"Wait," Josh says and then he is leaning forward to lick the film of brandy on her neck
She laughs at the feel of his tongue on her skin. She thinks she should do something only the only thing that comes to mind is lifting a hand to his neck to pull him closer. She places a hand hesitantly on his arm instead. His mouth moves onto her ear. He has such broad shoulders. They are directly in front of her, invading her vision. She can't take her eyes off him.
Her head is dizzy. Foggy. She feels drunk. She withdraws slightly, and Josh, noticing her reticence, pulls back to study her face. The fog lifts.
"What are you doing?" She says quietly, smiling a little.
He blushes, bright crimson creeping into his cheeks, making him look younger than his already youthful looking self.
"Sorry CJ," he says, "I got carried away."
They fall apart. She gets to her feet and wills herself to concentrate while her body goes wild with the memory of Josh's mouth wet and warm on her neck.
She sighs. "I should get some sleep."
Josh has raised himself from the floor and is running a hand along the back of his head. He takes in the mess surrounding them and feels confused. Next to CJ he is impetuous and clumsy. She is the woman with experience, older and wiser and compelling.
She is bending down to pick up empty bottles.
"Let me help you with that," he says.
He bends down as she rises leaning forward to place her weight on her left leg. They crash, chin to cranium, Josh letting out a loud groan and CJ putting her hand to her head.
"Owwwww!" she says. They catch sight of each other. He cradles his jaw in his hand and she rubs her head. They grin and break into giggles.
Josh looks naked laughing through his pain. In sympathy, CJ places her hand on Josh's tie to stroke the synthetic fabric, once, twice. And then she is grasping his tie, pulling him toward her to kiss him insistently.
He forgets his pain and grasps her shoulders, his fingers presses against her shoulder blades. She laughs, her mouth open against his. He laughs too.
She pulls him toward the bed and they fall down in a heap together. Her legs are wrapped around his. His groin is pressed against her side and she laughs when she feels him hard and pushing against her thigh. He fumbles with the buttons on her blouse finding he needs two hands instead of one, and she gets his shirt off before undoing his tie which still hangs loosely from his neck.
She laughs as he divests her of her pants and underwear, pulling her toward him, pushing her legs apart and positioning himself between her thighs.
"Stop me if you've heard this one before..." he says, and she shrieks with laughter as his tongue tickles her where she is most sensitive.
All Work and No Play. Part One. 7.00 pm
In the West Wing it is late evening and Charlie and Josh are playing waste paper basketball in Josh's office. Sam is leaning against the door, the only spectator to the sport.
"How's it going?" CJ asks as she walks by.
"5 - 2 in Charlie's favour," Sam answers before yelling, "Foul! Foul!"
She shakes her head indulgently and continues her walk up the corridor. She pauses outside Toby's office and knocks.
Toby sits behind his desk, his head down and his fingers on his brow. He doesn't look up.
She enters without invitation.
"What are we doing about the Taiwanese border situation?"
He waits for a moment before answering. His eyes remain on the document in front of him.
"Nothing?" She takes a step closer. He looks up.
"I just spoke to Leo, Toby, he said I should check with you before you leave tonight."
"There's nothing happening CJ, it's a non-story but if you really need to know Leo's been talking to the DOD and he can fill you in, if there's anything to fill you in on which there isn't because it's a non-story."
His eyes return to the papers in front of him. She lingers in the doorway moments longer before giving up and returning to her office.
He looks up when she is gone, and stares at the doorway. After a while he sighs and leans his head against his hand.
The Campaign. Madness in Michigan - Day One. 11.00 am.
The Detroit campaign office is alive with activity. Expectations have risen and everyone is on edge.
"CJ!" Donna appears amidst the chaos and follows CJ who is wandering around the room looking lost.
"CJ what's grey?"
CJ throws her a look. Donna answers regardless.
"A melted down penguin."
"I could have gone all day without that one Donna."
Donna shrugs. "Josh laughed".
"Josh has a poorly developed sense of humour. Has Toby arrived yet?"
"You're looking for Toby?"
"Yes, Donna, that's why I asked if you knew if he'd arrived yet. Has he arrived yet?
"Well, sure, he got here this morning."
CJ stops in the middle of the office.
"Donna, where the hell is Toby?"
Donna jumps slightly at CJ's raised voice.
"He had to meet someone. A congresswoman."
Donna brightens visibly. "That's the one."
CJ looks deep in thought, she throws a glance out the window as if looking for an answer she expects to find outside.
"Thanks Donna," she murmurs. Donna smiles a don't-mention-it smile and wanders off. CJ makes a fist with her hand and presses it against her forehead.
She doubts they are talking politics which means that as far as meetings go this one will result in one pissed off individual and she has a feeling that individual is not likely to be the Congresswoman.
All Work and No Play. Part Two. 9.00 pm.
He stares at his carpet for what seems like ages. He has a cleaner come around on a regular basis so the floors are clean, the carpet is dust free and the balcony outside is clearly visible through the wiped windows. Andi never let him smoke inside so occasionally he enjoys putting his feet on the coffee table and smoking a cigar to remind himself that being a divorcee is not always a bad thing.
He has an apartment that looks well lived in which is surprising because he never actually lives there. He sleeps, showers, and occasionally pins news items to a cork-board in the study where he has pinned headlines from the day they won the election.
The cleaner probably spends more time in his apartment than he does.
He's home now. He wonders whether he still owns a menu from the Chinese delivery two blocks over. He wonders whether the Chinese Delivery is still there.
He jumps when the phone rings.
"I didn't really believe I'd find you there, but Sam insisted you'd gone home." CJ is on the phone berating him for leaving early.
"I've decided the country can function without me for a night."
"Well, Toby, bearing that in mind, we need you back here."
He rolls his eyes.
"That non-story on the Taiwanese border?"
"It's a story?"
"It's a good one."
"Spare me the dramatic recreation."
"Just get your ass over here."
He hangs up and she jumps at the sound of the phone slamming down at the other end. She looks at the receiver blankly for a few moments before replacing it in its cradle. When so much is going on around her she finds it strange that she can focus on the smallest things, the inflexion of a voice, a slightly elevated tone, and it's difficult to understand how these things can occupy her thoughts when there are other matters of great importance that she really should be thinking about.
"Did you speak to Toby?"
Josh is hovering in her door. She wonders how long he's been there. Whether he saw her staring at the phone.
"He's on his way."
"Is everything OK?"
"Sure. Fine," she says too quickly.
"OK," he says and leaves her alone in the office with Toby's disdain lingering in her office despite the length of a telegraph wire separating them.
All Work and No Play. Part Three. 11.00 pm. Crisis Over.
"Toby!" He moves fast when he's in a mood, and God, he's in a mood. She runs a little to catch up with him.
It's late but intelligence in China has only just reported on casualties from the skirmish on the Taiwanese border. Conflict makes them all so very tense. They're not good during these situations and she thinks it would be worse if they were.
"You're pissed at me."
"I'm not pissed at you."
"I don't believe you."
Sam, Josh and Donna spill into the corridor. CJ and Toby are immediately silent, turning their gaze on the floor.
"I'm just saying, I don't mind getting food for you Josh, but Sam has his own assistant who can get food for him. If you're asking me as a friend you might want to give me a good reason why I should get dinner and not Sam or you. I have work to do to you know."
"Donna!" Josh yells.
"I can get my own..." Sam says throwing up his hands.
"Donna will get it, won't you Donna."
The debate doesn't seem to notice them. Their three colleagues blaze past in a fireball of one-liners and put-downs.
"CJ, now is not a good time," Toby says when they're out of earshot.
"I say it is," she says defiantly.
Toby doesn't stop. She follows him into his office and he closes the door behind her. He goes to sit behind his desk but instead leans onto his hands placed flat on the desk.
"Well Ms Cregg..." he begins. His tone is patronising he knows. He just can't seem to stop himself.
"Save it Toby," she says as she folds her arms, "just... just don't start."
He looks at her pointedly.
"You know, you've been like this for the last two days Toby and I can't help thinking there's something I'm supposed to get here. You broke a glass in a bar and now you're not talking so I figure you want me to guess why it is you slammed your martini glass so hard against the bar you've now got trophy scars, only you don't want me to guess because you don't really want me to know, so what you're hoping is that I'll know but not say anything and then I can feel sorry for whatever it is I don't know I did and you can feel justified knowing that I know you like you think I do," she takes a breath. His expression is unchanged. "Only I don't know, Toby. If this is what you want, if this is the reaction you're expecting then I really don't know you at all."
She thinks that it's true, she doesn't know him. If she did, she'd know what he hid behind that look, the one he was exhibiting to her now.
She'd know what the hell it was she was doing.
"Have you finished?" he says quietly.
She nods, although she's not sure she has.
"Good," he says, "get out."
He raises his hands off the desk and curls them into fists. He was home two hours ago and now he's about to go back there again.
And he wonders whether he sent her away because she was right or because she sounded just a little too much like his ex-wife just before the split.
He decides, after giving the matter some thought, that it's both.
A Man Walks Into A Bar. Part Two. Two Days Later. 11.30 pm.
The bar on CJ's block hasn't forgotten Toby. The bartender asks after his hand and Toby glances at it briefly before telling her that it's fine and stitches were unnecessary.
The bar is fuller than it was two nights ago. By the end of the week resolutions to spend more time at home are given up as office workers extend their after work drinks into the night. It's Thursday and no one can wait for the weekend.
The music is barely audible underneath the voices but he recognizes Nancy Sinatra singing "Sundown". He saw Nancy Sinatra sing at a WSO concert in Vietnam. She had incredible legs and a seductive voice and he cheered and whistled throughout the concert with the rest of his regiment. It's a long way between the young man whistling at Nancy Sinatra and her scantily clad back up singers and this dour man in his later forties who works for the President of the United States and it isn't just distance and it isn't just time. It's a metamorphosis.
He laughs a little, out loud, when he realizes that comparison makes him a butterfly.
A woman next to him politely asks what he is laughing at. She wears pants suit, and a black turtle neck. She is possibly forty-ish. Her hair is tied in a loose knot. Another worker who never made it home.
"It's nothing," he says, " a joke I heard today."
"I'd like to hear a joke," she says hopefully. She is swirling neat brandy in a balloon with one hand while the other cups her chin. She is smiling through neatly made up lips which feature a ginger red lipstick that matches her hair.
"You want to hear a joke?" he says.
"Yeah," she says, "make my night."
"OK..." he says, "OK, I've got a joke for you. There's this... there's a man and a woman who, after knowing each other for a long time, end up working together on a very important project. During this project this woman chances to spend the night with one of their co-workers. She tells him about it two years later. He gets angry and they fight."
She waits for him to finish. He doesn't.
"Lousy punch line."
He thinks for a moment.
"I didn't tell you the punch line," he says.
"OK, what's the punch line?"
"The punch line is that they're both highly intelligent and they should know better."
His companion lets her gaze drift as she thinks about his answer.
"It's not very funny," she says finally.
"I guess you had to be there."
"And I take it this woman is not your wife?" She gives a slight inclination of her head towards his hand wrapped around his Jack Daniels, still proudly exhibiting a wedding ring.
"My wife and I are separated."
She gives him a 'tough luck' look of sympathy.
"It happens," she says, "It happened to me, although I'm not still wearing my ring as you can see." She waves the fingers of her left hand in the air. The only decoration on her hand is a silver watchband that hangs from her wrist like a bracelet.
"I'm over it," he says with a wave of her hand. "And you? You're obviously over it."
"Why do you say that?"
"You have 'feelings' for another woman. They sound misplaced but you did say they were there."
The word 'feelings', he thought, was a little vague and uncertain. It wasn't a bad word but he usually did better. He thought about it for a while before admitting that perhaps 'feelings' was indeed the best word for it. Vague and uncertain and appropriate.
His drinking companion arches an eyebrow at him. A very attractive woman. He wondered whether she was flirting with him. He'd met women in bars before. He was actually good at meeting women in bars.
He met a woman in a bar once, who took him home.
"What happened to your husband?" he asks on an impulse.
"He was an overbearing arsehole and it took me nineteen years to work that out."
She rolls her eyes. "You remember your twenties don't you? How many wise and informed decisions did you make?"
"So you left?"
"I threw him out. What happened to your wife?"
He raises his eyes to the Johnnie Walker clock above the bar and he tells himself he should go home soon. This is twice this week. Andrea would have been unamused. The thing is, of course, that he really doesn't have anyone to answer to. Not really.
"I was not an overbearing arsehole who made her life miserable if that's what you're thinking."
"She left because..."
In the months after Toby's indiscretion was revealed, Andrea spent weeks at her sisters house while they communicated by phone. He remembered they had desperately tried to fix their broken romance.
When Andrea left for good, two years later, there was no talk of reconciliation. There was a lot of confusion and frustration and nights spent yelling at her friends when he was drunk because they too, were unable to offer insight.
"She left because I wasn't any fun."
The woman at the bar frowns.
"Is that true?"
"It could be. I'm not."
She waves a hand dismissively. "Sure you are. I bet you could tell a real joke or two if you put your mind to it."
He gives her a pointed look. She sighs loudly. "OK.. I'll tell you one. This woman's husband is slipping in and out of a coma for months, yet she had stays by his bedside every single day. One day he wakes up and get her to come closer. She sits beside him an he says to her 'You know what? You have been with me through all the bad times. When I got fired, you were there to support me. When my business failed, you were there. When I got shot, you were by my side. When we lost the house, you stayed right here. When my health started failing, you were still by my side... You know what?' 'What dear' she says and he says 'I think you're bad luck...'"
The bartender, having caught the joke end of their conversation laughs.
Toby pulls a face. "My joke was funnier. "
The woman shrugs. "Horses for courses."
Toby thinks about scoring points off Sam and Josh for entertainment. When they laugh, they laugh at each other.
Headers in Part One
The Campaign. Madness in Michigan - Day One. 9.00 pm.
It's late when CJ finally reaches their Three Star Hotel. She spies Josh on the phone in the lobby saying 'yes' repeatedly to whoever is on the other end. He waves her over.
"I've got your numbers," he says.
"What kind of numbers?" she asks, and her eyebrows lift hopefully.
"You'll like them."
"Great," she smiles, "Call me later OK?"
"Sure. See you then." He goes back to the phone. "Yes...yes..."
She presses the elevator button more times than she has to. She takes the ride to their floor and finds a 'do not disturb' sign on the door of Toby's room. She knocks anyway, and when he doesn't answer she knocks again.
He opens the door and looks at her, the sign on the door, and back to her again.
"Yes?" he says.
"We're trying to get a guy elected to the White House Toby, you can't put a 'do not disturb' sign on your door in the middle of an election campaign."
"Wishful thinking," he grumbled. "What do you want?"
She swallowed and looked at the floor and she worried that this might be one of the strangest things she'd done since the campaign started and there were a few.
"Donna said you met with Andrea today."
"How was that?"
For a moment he looks amused.
"You came here to ask about my meeting with Andi?"
She folds her arms and shrugs.
"My former wife is charming and intriguing as ever. What else would you like to know?"
"Toby I'm thinking..."
"You really shouldn't."
She scowls and continues on regardless.
"I'm thinking that this is a pretty rough time for you and maybe, it might not be so ridiculous to, you know, talk."
"Talk with you?"
"That would be the general idea, yes."
For a moment she thinks she can see his expression soften. She wonders whether it's a result of a feeling of indebtedness towards the man who most recently changed the course of her life or whether it's something else. Something unexpected. Their friendship is the result of too often being on the same side of arguments at dinner parties and intimacy is a place they never go.
She thinks from time to time that they should change that, and she wonders whether it is so ridiculous to think that time might be now.
"There's really nothing to talk about CJ," he says, and his tone is not harsh.
She could push. She could push a little a harder.
"Are you sure?" she says weakly.
"I think I'll just... turn in early," he says, nodding slightly.
She unfolds her arms. She clenches and flexes her hands unconsciously as they fall to her sides. She feels awkward.
"Well, I'm... I'm just up the hallway," she says leaning to the side to indicate with the her head, "if you need me."
"I don't think that will be necessary."
"Ok," she nods, "well... I guess I'll be going..."
"Goodnight CJ," he says, and for a moment she thinks she can hear a crack in his voice. He closes the door and she stares at it blankly for a few moments before heading back to her room.
She thinks she might be a fool because it's that shamefaced hurt that sends her to her room at a pace that is almost a run that makes her think she might have made an ass of herself.
Inside she switches on the Late News before going into the bathroom to splash cold water on her burning cheeks. She potters around the room opening and closing the laptop on the desk before falling backwards onto the bed and staring at the ceiling cornices. Tomorrow night they will be sharing rooms with the rest of the entourage but for tonight she has the big double bed to herself. In her head she adds up the cost of hotel rooms for the last three months. It's extraordinary. It's a gigantic gamble to not pay off and when it's not driving her frantic with worry the magnitude of it causes her head to spin.
She really should lie down more often.
She leaps up when she hears a knock at the door. She knocks over her bag sitting in the middle of the floor in her rush to answer it. It's contents lie scattered on the floor and she contemplates cleaning the entire mess up before answering the door.
The door wins out. She opens it and finds she is mildly disappointed to see Josh standing there with four newspapers and a manila folder.
"Hey CJ, is this a good time?" Josh waves the folder in front of her to indicate the business like nature of his visit.
"Sure," she says, and it is. It really is.
Josh enters and throws his jacket over the single chair in her room. CJ contemplates sitting on the bed before grabbing a bottle of water and sliding onto the floor where there is a better view of the television. She sighs loudly.
"Are you OK?" Josh pauses in the middle of sorting his pile of papers.
She swallows. "Fine. Why?"
"You look a little flushed," he makes a gesture indicating his cheeks.
She looks thoughtful for a moment.
"I'm fine," she says.
The Campaign. Madness in Michigan - Day Two. 1.15 am.
She leaps out of the bed. She grabs at clothes strewn about the floor of the hotel room and fails to come up with anything that belongs to her. She grabs at the sheet Josh is lying on and pulls at it.
"Hey!" Josh jumps out of the bed as CJ pulls the sheet around her.
"God Josh! I mean... God! What were you thinking?"
He mimics her search for clothes and finds her bra on top of his pants. He looks at it confused for a moment before tossing it at her. She rolls her eyes as it lands on the floor.
"Shit," he groans, "CJ...CJ, I'm sorry". He stands on the leg of his pants in his rush to dress himself and almost topples. "I got carried away."
"Damn right, you did! Jesus..." She finds her blouse and pulls it over her head. "Of all the things... I mean, why, Josh?"
"I don't know," he throws out his hands, "I'm sorry. It's not... it's not that it's not true..."
She looks pained. In his mind Josh back pedals. Moves back to the time of his outburst. He wades through the quagmire of thoughts and feelings until he finds his defense.
"CJ," Josh takes a deep breath, "It's not that it's not true, it's just not relevant. And I'm sorry."
She seems placated.
"God, Josh, you don't even know me," she says quietly.
"Yes I do," he says, halfheartedly.
CJ shakes her head, silently berating herself. She's seems to be making a series of bad choices lately.
She shuffles across to the side of the bed and sits down still wrapped in her sheet. Josh is quiet. The entire hotel is quiet. The clock next to the bed tells her she will be waking up in just under five hours if she goes to sleep now. She doubts that is going to happen.
Josh sits down beside her on the bed. He places a hand on her shoulder and she turns to toward him, her gaze settling on his face after quickly glancing at the hand on her shoulder.
"CJ, if it helps, I have to tell you that I'm pretty drunk and I think I got a little swept up in the moment," he looks sheepish.
"You know," she says thoughtfully, "weirdly enough, it does help. Tell me Joshua, do you do that often because I'm expecting a trail of broken hearts across the country if that's one of your finishing lines."
He swallows. "Uh...it's not."
She reaches up to take hold of the hand on her shoulder. She squeezes it lightly and smiles.
"Well thanks for the offer of a whirlwind but ultimately futile romance. We must do this again some time," she says sardonically.
Josh's look is distant. "Yeah," he says quietly.
He shifts himself away from her and begins pulling on his shoes and socks. She watches him and feels guilty for once more thinking that he is an attractive creature to look at.
"It's been quite a night Josh," she says.
"Yeah," he says in agreement.
"I mean, it's funny how things turn out."
"You know, things never happen the way you expect them to..."
"What are you talking about?"
She smiles ruefully and looks away. Outside she can see the lights of the city adding a romance to an otherwise comical scene. How lucky it is, she thinks, that such scenery prevents their lives from being truly ridiculous.
"It's nothing," she says. "Just something that happened earlier - I'll tell you about it some other time. It was...funny."
A Man Walk Into a Bar and Walks Out Again. 2.00 am.
She raids her cupboard at two in the morning. She's sure she bought cocoa once. She finds the packet and sniffs it gingerly, wondering whether powdered chocolate can go off. She places the packet on the kitchen bench next to the milk and opens the next cupboard looking for a third ingredient. She's never really given much credence to the remedy of a glass of warm milk for insomnia but she knows that a little brandy in the mix can change the brew entirely.
She scowls realizing she doesn't have brandy. She has Scotch and she has vodka. She wieghs her alternatives for a while before deciding on the scotch.
She is placing the whole mix in the microwave when she hears the knock. She recalls momentarily that there are very few people who would knock on her door at two in the morning.
She pads over to the door and takes a quick look through the peep hole before throwing it open and facing Toby with raised eyebrows.
"What am I - 'open all hours'?" She says.
"You were up?"
She groans. "Yeah."
"Are you going to let me in?"
She steps back and waves him in. "Come in. Please."
He does. He stands just inside her door with his hands in his pockets.
She thinks about the sleep she doesn't get and the possibility of getting a seven hour rest some time in the coming days. She read somewhere that the resulted stress of worrying about not getting enough sleep can be just as tiring as lack of sleep itself. The knowledge is mostly useless.
Toby looks uncomfortable. He clears his throat and takes a hand out of his pocket momentarily to scratch his beard. "You know CJ, and... ah... this might be an apology..."
He is quiet, a silent plea for her to listen.
"I was asked to tell a joke tonight. Has anyone ever done that to you? Said 'tell me a joke'? I must have heard a thousand jokes in my lifetime. Many of them were surely...well I'm sure some of them were funny." He rubs his temples and shifts his weight from one leg to the other. "I can't remember any of them. If I think of something funny I think of irony, the juxtaposition of the ridiculous and the sublime, being shot at prevents us from legislating against firearms, having integrity means exposing ourselves as liars, making changes that enable progress means risking the position of power that allows us to enact change..."
"It's like rain on your wedding day, get to the point Alannis."
"I want to know: Why is irony funny?"
She looks at the ceiling and notices cobwebs for the first time. She wonders why Toby thinks she is most receptive to his musings and she wonders whether she is grateful that he does so.
"Irony," she says.
"Why do we laugh at irony?"
For a moment she thinks he is insane. For a moment she thinks he might be making fun of her and she should really throw him out and let him take his chances with the District Taxi services. Then she realizes she knows the answer.
"Because we don't know what else to do?" she says.
Toby looks thoughtful. "Yeah," he says.
"This is your apology?"
She thinks about that for a while. She thinks about Toby with his hands in his pockets and his perpetual frown.
"You didn't laugh."
"I should have."
She stares at him longer than is comfortable. She wonders whether collecting 'should haves' operates on a points system. She should have told Toby earlier, she should have gone to bed that night that Josh came by, Toby should have talked when she asked him to....
"You didn't," she says.
The silence descends again. Toby continues to shuffle nervously. CJ's pyjamas aren't warm enough and she shivers a little. She thinks about her scotch spiked cocoa and how much more she'd be needing it now.
"This is going to sound a bit superfluous Toby, but you've got a way of making a point."
He shrugs. "Yeah."
"And when you slammed that glass down on the bar, that was some point," she catches his eye and holds it. He stops shuffling. "Are you backing down on that point?"
"Do you want me to?"
"For now? Yes, but..." and it is funny that she thinks this now, when she's cold and tired and thinking about a warm drink laced with scotch. It's funny.
"Just don't forget it," she says.
Fini. 12.00 am.
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