"Hmm?" Josh reached past her to pluck a bagel off Carole's desk.
"This is a real thing, Josh!"
"The stress thing?"
"Well, that too, but I'm talking about the voting thing."
"Since when is there a voting thing?"
"Since the beginning of the nation, Josh."
"I'm saying, when did voting get to be a thing?"
"Did you know that a President can be elected without the popular vote?"
"Yes, but since President Bartlet was elected, and as long as he's elected again, I don't really care that much."
"Guys?" CJ asked as they argued in her office, but they didn't hear.
"In 1876, Samuel Tilden and Rutherford B. Hayes ran for President, and the country still didn't know who its leader was by the end of the election."
"Donna, it was 1876. You were hoping they would broadcast the returns on Channel 13?"
"I'm saying, Josh, that there was no clear winner!"
"So we should do away with our current system because we don't know who won the 1876 election."
"Hayes received 48% of the popular votes. Tilden received 51%. More people wanted Tilden to be President than wanted Hayes to be President in 1876."
"A lot of things happened in 1876, Donna."
"And one of them was that Hayes was elected without the majority of votes!"
CJ tried again. "Guys?"
"Do you know what they called him?" Donna challenged Josh.
"Mr. President?" Josh guessed.
"They called him 'His Fraudulency'."
"How do you know this stuff?"
"Every piece of paper that was ever published?"
"It's fairly easy to access information about past elections, Josh."
"Josh!" CJ said.
Josh turned to her. "What do you need?"
CJ raised her hands. "You're in my office?"
"Oh. Right." Josh took a bite of the bagel, and Donna rolled her eyes.
"He's here because he wants you to leak a story to the -- Have you been crying?"
CJ looked up quickly. "No."
"Okay." Donna shrugged. "Because he wants you to leak a story to the media, who won't care anyway, because the story has local interest at best, and Josh only wants you to leak it because he thinks it's funny."
"Thank you, Donna," Josh said slowly.
"No problem," Donna said sweetly.
"Would it be possible for you to at least pretend to be supportive of --"
"You should have backed me up on the RSI," she said, and left him alone with CJ.
"CJ," Josh said. "I'm not asking you to leak a story. It's been leaked already; I'm standing here knowing about it."
"You're standing there knowing about it?"
"I'm saying I know about it, and it's no secret."
"And knowing has become an action verb?"
"Well ... wait, it's not a linking verb, so I think it would have to --"
"Do you think it --" CJ frowned. "Nevermind. What's the story?"
"I want you to let the press know about a story coming out of Charleston -- Hey, wait." He looked at her more closely. "You have been crying."
"What's the story?"
"Do you have a cold?"
"Have you been awake for more than 72 hours?"
"Then you've been crying."
"What's the damn story?"
Josh paused. "Okay. There's this protest in Charleston. That's West Virginia, by the way, not South Carolina. There are parents in a local school district in Kanawha county who are protesting the implementation of a new textbook into the classrooms because of a possible negative comment made within the pages about West Vir-- CJ, there's really no way you can convince me that you haven't been crying."
CJ sighed shortly. "You'll laugh at me," she said.
"Why will I laugh at you?"
"I've been crying."
Josh shrugged. "I know I can seem cold-hearted at times, but it's really not my way to go about laughing at people because they're unhappy."
"I've been crying because --" CJ shook her head.
"What?" Josh asked, a little more serious.
CJ drew a deep breath and at last admitted, "My goldfish died."
Josh paused for a long moment before saying, "That's why you're crying?"
"I swear, if you even say --"
"Why would I laugh?"
"I think it's sweet, you care about --"
"When I was 11, I had a pet turtle. I cried all night when he ran away."
CJ looked up at him. "Your turtle ran away?"
Josh hesitated. "Yes."
"You couldn't, like -- catch it?"
"Well, I didn't actually see him run away. I just -- I forgot to latch the door of his shoebox before I went to sleep."
"Still feel kind of guilty about --" Josh looked at CJ. "Nevermind. Here is the full report," he said. "Will you give it to someone?"
"If I think it's important," she said.
"So you won't give it to anyone?"
"Okay." Josh sighed. "I'm going to be in Sam's office going over the education thing. Don't forget you and the President will have to fly out of here pretty early tomorrow, so when you're finished reading, you might, you know -- what?" CJ had leaned back and clasped her head in her hands.
"That's tomorrow?" she groaned.
"He's got the education speech in Portland."
"It's been on the schedule for like 18 months, CJ," Toby said from the door. "You've told the press about it a total of seven times in the last four hours. How could you not --"
"I forgot," CJ said.
"In the space of --"
"What do you need?" she interrupted.
"I need Josh," Toby said. "Josh, were you planning on showing up in Sam's office, you know, before the close of business tomorrow?"
"Hey, I told him I would be there when I got there."
"And as stunning as your logic is to me, we both assumed that you meant before the plane takes off."
"Why can't you help Sam without me?"
"Because this is one of the few issues on which you can actually speak clearly, and I don't want to fly to Portland tomorrow to fix Sam's speech on the plane."
"What's the problem with Sam's speech?"
"Many, many things."
"Teachers. His speech proposes we hire 100,000 new teachers."
Josh frowned. "Well ... but don't we need 100,000 new teachers?"
"Desperately," Toby admitted.
"Then what's the problem?"
"Josh, you know what --"
"We can't afford --"
They were both silent for a second, and then Toby said, "I really don't want to go to Portland at 4 in the morning, Josh. Let's go."
"CJ's fish died," Josh answered.
Toby didn't move or blink until Josh said, "Okay, I'm coming."
"Hang on!" Sam came in at a run, waving a sheet of paper. "I've got new numbers on the thing."
"The teacher thing."
"In Oregon. Several school districts in Multnomah County are experiencing record lows in the number of new teachers entering the district; meanwhile their enrollment is up by about 7%, and that number is likely to grow at the start of the new semester." Sam drew a breath. "What's going on in here?"
"CJ's fish died," Toby said, "and Josh is slow."
"Your fish died?" Sam asked CJ, and she nodded as if to humor him.
"I'm not slow. I'm ... respectful," Josh announced.
"He's slow!" Donna bellowed as she bolted by the office door, chasing Margaret with a memo.
"Hey, Margaret!" Leo's voice came echoing down the corridor. "Have you seen my staff?"
"In here!" Sam shouted, and Leo appeared at the door.
"I need one of you to do a thing with Gallaudet University. It has to be done before the plane takes off tomorrow. Sam?"
"I've got a speech to finish."
"What kind of thing?" CJ asked.
"I want you to tell them to settle down until after the Portland trip."
"Gallaudet isn't settled?"
"They want the White House to pay attention to a speech that was given this morning."
"By Hoynes. Apparently his sign language interpreter never showed up, and he didn't think to notice."
"He gave a speech at which there was no interpreter?"
"And you want me to tell them to cool off until Friday?"
"I wish you would."
CJ shook her head. "No, Leo. They have every right to be outraged."
"I agree. But if they bring it up tomorrow and the dean of the Oregon School for the Deaf, who will be at the President's speech, hears about it, the dean is going to want to have words with the President, then we're all going to have a good time."
"The dean of the Oregon School for the Deaf can't possibly blame the President for not personally ensuring that a sign language interpreter was there for John Hoynes to talk about tax fraud," Sam said. "Could he?"
"He could, he does, he may even be right in doing so," Leo said. "There ought to be interpreters at all these things. But somebody please ask the Gallaudet bunch to hold off making that point until after the speech."
"I'll do it," Toby said. "I have no problem pissing off ... who was it?"
"You'll be dealing with Stephanie Hayden. She's a senior at Gallaudet and the leader of the protest. Josh? Go with him, would you? You know more sign language than he does."
"Leo, I know 12 letters of the alphabet and how to say 'hot dog with everything' and 'bite me'."
"I've got to help Sam with this speech."
"So does Toby, but this will take a half an hour at the most."
"How come everyone assumes I need help with this speech?" Sam asked. "This speech is fine."
"Let me see it," CJ said.
"It's a good speech, CJ," Sam insisted as he handed her the papers.
"Josh," CJ said, handing him the story he'd given her with one hand as she took Sam's speech with the other. "I'm not giving this to anyone."
"What is it?" Leo intercepted the paper, and started to chuckle as he read it. "There's a West Virginia joke in a Stuben and Duiker history textbook?"
"Honest people are upset by that," Josh told him.
"What kind of joke?"
"'If the end of the world comes, I hope to be in West Virginia, because everything happens there 20 years later,'" Donna recited from the door. Josh started laughing, and Donna rolled her eyes.
"What happened to your 'honest people are upset by that,' Josh?" she asked.
"Who ever said I was an honest person, Donna?"
"This joke made it into, what, an 8th grade textbook?" Leo asked.
"A side-bar cartoon?"
"And the good people of Kanawha County are upset by this?"
"The word is outraged," Josh informed him.
"Are the protesters asking that we do away with the book altogether?"
"They don't want it in any school in their county or in West Virginia. They'd prefer the joke be taken out before the book is used anywhere in the nation, but I think they don't really think that's going to happen."
"Do they think the White House bought the book for them and demanded that they use it?"
"Then why am I looking at this?"
"Because Josh likes to tell the joke," Donna said. "Leo, if you see Margaret, please give her this." She handed him the memo.
Leo glanced at it. "What's this?" he asked.
"It's the voting thing."
"What does Margaret want it for?"
"She wants to run it by you."
"We've got people upset over the electoral college again?"
"They want us to ... what?"
"They want us to do away with the electoral college," Toby said.
"Is that up to us?" Leo asked Sam.
"I don't think so," Sam said.
"Then, again, why am I looking at this?"
"Because Margaret wants it and she's a hard person to catch."
"You should send Josh after her," CJ said, monotone, from her desk. "He's good at catching things."
"I actually didn't chase the turtle," Josh repeated.
"CJ, you look like you've got the flu or something," Leo said.
"She's been crying," Josh confided.
"Shut up, Josh," CJ said.
"Her goldfish died," Sam explained.
"Would it be possible for you people to meet somewhere that isn't here?" CJ pleaded.
"We like it in here," Sam said. "It's cozy."
"Cozy? Could we maybe try to fit one more person in here? Where's Ainsley?" CJ asked Sam.
CJ glanced up. "Hmm?"
"Why would I know?"
"I don't know."
"You don't know what?"
"I don't know where Ainsley is."
"Why were you asking me?"
"There's no reason I should know where she is."
"I'm just saying, if you were asking me because you think I've been spending an unusual amount of time with her --"
"Just because she convinced me on small businesses doesn't mean I should know where she is at all times."
"She's in her office."
"Well -- okay."
"I just know that because --"
CJ held up a hand and said, "I don't really care that much, Sam."
"Good, then." Sam stopped for breath. "What were we talking about?"
"What's happening with your speech?" Leo asked.
"Toby thinks I should burn it and start anew."
"I didn't say that. I said I think you're going to be on the plane in the morning, still writing it," Toby said.
"Sam, pack something in case that should happen," Leo cautioned.
"Can't," Sam said.
"Just give Cathy your key and --"
"I mean I can't go with him to Portland."
"Of course you can."
"I've got to go with Josh to that meeting."
Leo pursed his lips. "Send Ainsley," he said at last.
"Send Ainsley with Josh. You go with the President."
"I'm not going to need to go with the President," Sam said. "I can finish the speech tonight."
"No, you can't," CJ said as she finished reading.
"I'm not sending Ainsley with Josh."
"Sam, you are light years away from being finished with this thing."
"I can finish it," Sam swore, leaving the office with the speech held over his head.
"Well, get to it, then, but if I were you, I would pack something," Leo called.
"Iím not going to need to!" Sam shouted over his shoulder.
"Is he going to need to?" Leo asked.
"Oh, he's definitely going to need to," Toby sighed.
"Okay." Leo shook his head and left the office.
"Toby, when you're ready for Gallaudet, come find me. I'm going to find someone who will take these people's concerns seriously," Josh announced, holding up the paper and laughing a little when he caught sight of the joke. He and Donna followed Leo out of the office.
Toby started to leave, turned back as if to speak, and then started on his way again. At last he made up his mind and faced CJ.
She rubbed her temples and glanced up at him. "Yeah?"
"I'm sorry about your fish."
CJ smiled. "Thanks."
Toby nodded. "Well, I'm going to finish up," he said, "as I will undoubtedly see you on the plane at 4 a.m."
CJ laughed aloud this time, and Toby left the office.
Long after he was gone, CJ sat staring blindly at her desk. She had a plane to catch at 4 a.m., and a herd of sleepy reporters to direct. She had no doubt Sam would be on the plane, and Toby too; meanwhile Josh and Ainsley would meet with the Congressman.
Die-hards, these people. These people, and Danny, who would get off the plane with the rest of the press corps, who would not give up White House reporting any more than she would ever give up her job as press secretary.
It wouldn't work, and she told herself again. She wasn't comfortable with it, so it wouldn't work; it was that simple.
But maybe if she --
No. It wouldn't work.
Sam's speech proposed hiring 100,000 new teachers, and by the time the plane landed in Portland, that number would be significantly smaller. No one had interpreted the Vice President's speech this morning, textbooks were offending people, the majority vote might not elect leaders, and she was crying over something that had never even happened.
Other things should be important right now. One hundred thousand new teachers.
CJ dried her face and stood. To hell with it, she thought. She would bury the fish. She would get back to work. And she would prove that if the country made it through 1876, she could certainly make it to Portland without crying.