Charlie didn't look up from the folder in his hands. "A steak?"
Jed looked sideways at Charlie. "What the hell ..."
Charlie shrugged. "You wouldn't usually mind a steak."
"But then I'm not usually able to rustle up a steak to mind, am I, Charlie?"
"What else wouldn't you mind, sir?"
"Well, now that you have so kindly brought it to my attention, I actually wouldn't mind a steak. I want a steak, Charlie."
Bartlet raised his eyebrows. "I beg your pardon?"
"I have my orders, Mr. President."
"I want it burnt, like you get at those 24-hour writing campaign speeches at the bar spilling your coffee and listening to Sam and Toby bitch cafes. Some potatoes on the side. And some pecan pie."
"What wouldn't you mind, sir?"
"I wouldn't mind some pecan pie, Charlie."
"Do you like pecan pie?"
"It's too sweet."
"It is not."
Charlie made a point of not rolling his eyes. "Mr. President."
"What wouldn't you mind?"
"Potato wedges. The spicy kind, with little bits of the skin still on 'em. And you know what else?"
"A triple bypass?"
"A tall, cold glass of milk."
Charlie frowned. "I thought you had coffee."
"I spilled the coffee."
"And you bought some milk."
"To go with my potato wedges and my pecan pie."
There was a knock at the door. "Hallelujah," Charlie muttered as he opened the door and held it open for CJ.
"Good evening, sir," she said.
"CJ! Do you like pecan pie?"
"Yes, sir, I do."
Jed looked smugly at Charlie. "See?"
CJ glanced between the two of them and attempted to hide from the President the look of sympathy she gave Charlie. "Sir, if I may --"
The President looked back at her. "Wait. You're still here?"
"We're -- mired, sir."
"In the question."
"Aah." Bartlet nodded, eyebrows raised. "The question."
"The big question."
CJ smiled a little. "Why do you want to -- keep being President."
Bartlet leaned back even further in his chair. "Why do I want to keep being President."
"Well, I don't know. There used to be perks."
"Like steak." The President threw a grumpy look at Charlie.
"Sir, as fun as this sounds like it would be to discuss, it actually isn't why I came in here," CJ said.
"Because I'm perfectly content to sit here and talk about the steak I should be having."
"The burnt kind, like you get at those 24-hour campaign stops on two-lane highways."
"Sir," Charlie cautioned, "The more you talk about it, the more you're going to want it."
"He wants a steak?" CJ asked Charlie.
"And he can't just call somebody up and say, hey, I want a steak?"
"Mm-mm." Charlie shook his head in warning.
"It doesn't work like that anymore?"
"Not during my wife's reign of terror and red meat deprivation, no," Bartlet lamented. "What do you need, CJ?"
"Dr. Bartlet won't let you have red meat, sir?"
"She thinks it's bad for me."
"Well -- yes."
Bartlet narrowed his eyes. "Are you agreeing with my wife, CJ?"
"And there's a question I'm certainly not going to answer."
"Of course she's agreeing with me!" Abbey announced as she slammed the door open with a crutch. "I'm always right and she knows it. CJ. What are you agreeing with me about?"
"Red meat," Charlie filled her in.
Abbey snapped around to scrutinize her husband. "Are you complaining about that again?"
"I want the steak and potatoes that are rightfully mine, Abbey."
"Jed, if you weren't an old man, you'd be a little boy!"
"I'd be young and idealistic. I'd be a little boy who wanted steak."
"You'd be a little boy with a heart that could stand up to things like steak."
"Burnt. Like you get at those 24-hour --"
"Pipe down. I came in here for a reason." Abbey settled herself on the edge of Jed's desk and reached across him to pluck a piece of candy out of the dish.
"Should I --" CJ asked, indicating the door, but Abbey waved her hand.
"CJ. Tell my husband what time it is, would you?"
CJ glanced at her watch. "Well -- it's one a.m."
"Dear, tell CJ what time you said you'd be home."
Jed rolled his eyes. "What do you need, CJ?"
"Sir, I wanted to talk to you about the --"
"Excuse me, Mr. President," Josh said as he stepped through the open door. "Oh. Good evening, ma'am. Am I interrupting?"
"Just me," CJ informed him.
Charlie sat on one of the sofas and put his head back, marveling at how adept he had become at sleeping sitting up while still following a conversation. At least he hoped it was sleep, because if it wasn't, he hadn't slept in six weeks. CJ sat on the arm of the opposite sofa and glared mildly at Josh.
"Didn't you come in here to ask him about the thing like twenty minutes ago?" Josh asked her.
"I'm getting to it."
"She can't get a word in edgewise because my husband is moaning about red meat!" Abbey didn't look up from the desk as she spoke. She was apparently busy tracing the woodgrain with one finger in a bored sort of way.
"What thing did you come in here to ask me about?" asked the President.
"Sir, there's a meeting tomorrow of a group called Virginia Citizens For School Choice, and we think they're going to address --"
"Virginia! That was her name!" the President shouted.
For just an instant there was actually quiet in the room, and then Abbey demanded, "That was who's name?"
"The waitress! The woman at the diner!"
Charlie briefly opened his eyes. "You've been talking about a specific diner this whole time?"
"Oh, there were a thousand like it, but there was this one, in ... I don't know, some state. And this waitress asked me --"
"Jed, these kids have questions for you so they can get to bed," Abbey chided.
"And this waitress asked me if I was going to raise the minimum wage if and when I took office."
"I, yeah, I remember that," Josh laughed. "You ended up buying her a cup of coffee and leaving her a twenty-eight cent tip because you'd spent all your pocket money on pecan pie and her coffee. It was in Delaware."
"You like pecan pie, don't you, Josh?"
Josh shook his head. "Too sweet."
"Do you suppose Virginia of Delaware voted for me?"
"Well, sir, if she wasn't planning on it, I'm sure the twenty-eight cent tip brought her to her senses."
"The Virginia Citizens For Whatever It Was You Just Said are meeting tomorrow, and you need to know ...?" Abbey prompted in a loud voice.
CJ hid her grin. "We need to let the President know that there's almost certainly going to be a negative comment about the state of public schools today."
"Isn't there a negative comment about the state of public schools today every day?" The President asked.
"And aren't those comments justified in entirely too many ways?"
"Then what --"
Josh took over. "This group is part of the special club that likes to begin sentences of complaint with 'Thanks to President Bartlet,'" he explained.
Bartlet shrugged. "What do you want me to do about it?"
"You have the press conference in the morning," CJ said, "and Josh was thinking --"
"Sam and Toby were thinking it would be a good time to get into a failing-schools argument."
"I thought we were gonna do that by mail," Leo said from the door.
"Well, we are," Sam piped up, materializing behind him. "But I think we should be the ones to open the topic, instead of the Virginia Republicans For Bartlet-Hating. I mean, there's just this wide-open door for introductory comments, and I think we should run through it. But that's not why I'm here. Mr. President, I needed to ask you. Do you -- enjoy having the power to appoint ambassadors?"
Only because he was interested in the topic was Charlie able to stifle a snore just then.
"You know what I wouldn't mind?" said the President, and Charlie came awake.
"I wouldn't mind it if you'd finish your work and come home before dawn!" Abbey told Jed before he could say more.
"Hark! Is that an angelic voice from the Heavens I hear?"
"Would you answer Josh and CJ so they can --"
"We should start discussing schools tomorrow?" he asked them.
"We think so, sir," Josh said.
"All right. I'll be ready. CJ."
"Sam and Toby have been working on it."
Bartlet looked at Sam. "What sort of answer could you possibly have for why I want to be President again?"
"I mean, if you figure it out, you'll let me know, right?"
"Still, I think there's really only one person who can truly answer that question." Jed paused and then turned to look at at his wife. "Honey Lips?"
"He -- wants to be President so nobody can tell him to shut up when he starts bitching about steak!" Abbey ranted.
"I think you've got that covered, there, Dr. Bartlet," the President said.
"Excuse me, Mr. President." Toby elbowed his way into the overcrowded office. "Bruno's asked no less than twenty-seven times, so, if only to shut him up -- Are - are you planning to tackle issues you campaigned on last time that haven't been completed -- you know, before you campaign again?"
For only the second time that night, there was one single beat of silence. And then CJ, from her own little world on the sofa, asked, "What rhymes with 'necklace'?"
"The time is now one seven-teen a.m.!" Dr. Bartlet announced.
"Which issues haven't I completed I'm not already working on?" the President asked.
"Just -- in general, sir."
"Well, you tell Bruno to dig me one up, Toby, and I'll tackle it. In the meantime, my wife is about to kick you all out, so what do you say we work on emptying this office, huh?"
"Necklace," CJ was saying in an undertone to Josh. "I'm -- I need it for my song."
"The one that's been stuck in my head all day. I can't remember all the lyrics and if I don't make some up --"
"You won't be sexy enough?"
"Well, I was going to say I'll lose my mind."
"Actually, sir, if I may," Leo said loudly, shooting an annoyed glance at CJ and Josh, "I did come in here for a reason."
Abbey glared at him. "What?"
Caught off guard, he looked at the First Lady. "W- ell, I -- If the two of you -- It can wait."
"Sam," said the President. "I do, as a matter of fact, like appointing ambassaders, especially when it involves bringing them here and having them make fun of Leo. But that isn't necessarily why I'm running for re-election."
Sam, being Sam, made a note in the margin of his legal pad. "Thank you, sir."
"CJ? Lay off The Question and I'll get you an answer myself. In the meantime, we have doors to go through. You should get some sleep first. Oh, and, reckless."
She blinked, and stood. "Well. Thank you, sir."
"Toby, if I haven't kept my campaign promises, I expect you to get me the details as soon as possible."
"Josh, I will indeed be prepared for whatever question happens to come my way in the morning. In the meantime, I'd like to get a little sleep."
There came, from the sofa, the softest of snores.
"Okay. Good night, everyone." The President waited.
"Good night, sir." "Thank you, sir." "Thank you, Mr. President." They nodded to the President and the impatient First Lady as they crowded the door for escape.
When the door had closed behind them, Jed looked at Abbey.
"Jed," she said.
"Why -- why do you want to do this again?"
"You know, I'm pissed I missed my last filing day," he blatantly avoided the question.
"Why do you want to do it?" she insisted.
"Because I do. Because it's what I do. Because I think ... We're on the verge of ... We're standing at a ... Abbey, it's just what I do."
"Jed." She took his face in her hands. "Why do you want to be President?"
"Because -- Charlie? You're awake? You can go home now."
Charlie was sitting up, groggy, blinking at his surroundings, which were much less populated than when he'd closed his eyes. "Oh. Excuse me, sir. I didn't mean to --"
"It's fine. It's late. Go home."
Charlie stood and straightened his jacket. He made it as far as the door before the President stopped him. "Hey, Charlie."
"Why do you want to work in the White House?"
Charlie's tired eyes found the President's gaze. "Because this is the place from which all the help or all the hell in the world can break loose," Charlie said. "And I want to do my part to make sure it's the first one."
"Well." The President nodded. "Too bad they aren't going to ask you."
"What was it you wouldn't mind?" Charlie asked one last time.
"I wouldn't mind another filing day," Jed told him. He shook his head. "Filing day's gonna be important to you when you're my age, Charlie."
Charlie smiled a little as he caught his boss' meaning. "Thank you, sir."
"Good night, Charlie," Abbey said.
"Good evening, ma'am." Charlie nodded to them both and left them alone.
The President stood, and Abbey slid off the desk picked up her crutches. "Jed, you never stopped being young and idealistic." She kissed his cheek. "Let's go to bed."
"All right." He nodded. "I'm coming."
She smiled and went to wait for him outside, leaving him to take his last look around, as he did every evening of late. She knew with every step that she would never miss this place, but she also knew her husband missed it already and there was nothing she could do about that.
The President stood behind her studying the upholstery on the sofa as though he would never see it again. When he had it memorized, he followed Abbey home.