She didn't even really say the "I". Just started with "think," as though to downplay her role in the conversation. He glanced up at her and quickly back down at his notebook.
"Nobody's doing anything till I find that quote."
That elusive quote. The one that he just had to find, for absolutely no reason; the one he just couldn't go on with his day until he'd found. He was certain he had written it down in one of these damn notebooks ten or twelve years ago and it had got stuck in here when they'd moved.
"It's a black notebook. A binder, maybe. Full of loose leaf college ruled -- aw, hell, it's got to be here somewhere."
CJ stood uncomfortably in silence for a while and then cleared her throat. "Maybe it's in the, um -- attic?"
"Attic's full of Abbey's stuff. My junk's out here."
"Sir, I think this would be a good time for me to --"
"There's such a thing as a 'good time' for you to resign?"
Jed shook his head, his glasses slipping down his nose. "There is no good time for that, CJ."
"Mr. President, I've talked to Leo, and --"
"Leo told you not to do this, right? Not to bring it up with me?"
"Well, yes sir, he did, but --"
"And Toby told you the same thing, didn't he?"
CJ's eyes widened. "You've talked to Toby about this?"
"It is possible that the subject might have come up."
"Wh - When?"
"When he barged into my office demanding that I not accept any resignations from you."
CJ stared at him for a full minute before she shook her head to clear it. "Mr. President."
"A black three-ring binder. Mead, maybe. It's got to be here."
"Mr. President, there are like fifty of those notebooks in here." She was looking past him at the box he'd overturned.
"I've got to have it, CJ. It just -- I need to read over it."
"Do you mind if I ask what it is, sir?"
"Nah, go ahead."
"Well ... What is it, sir?"
Jed smiled a little. "It's good sense, Claudia Jean. From an outstanding source. Help me look."
"Sir, I think this would be an opportune time for me to step out."
"Look, I know the shed's messy, but it's not that bad, you just dust off the cobwebs with an elbow, and --"
"Of the administration. Is what I meant. Sir."
Jed straightened up slowly, one hand on his back. He felt old when he saw how many notebooks were on the floor.
"Yes, I know what you meant, CJ," he said.
"Well, there's a reason I made you tell me yourself. There's a reason I didn't accept it coming from Leo or from Toby."
CJ glanced uncomfortably to the side and back at the President. "What reason?"
"So I could see how you would word it. And what you would do with your hands when you did."
She glanced self-consciously at her hands, which were nervously gripping each other with white knuckles.
"And now I'm more certain than ever that it's a stupid idea," he told her, "one of the few stupid ideas of your career. Now help me look for this. It's probably two inches thick. Plain white college ruled paper. The cheap kind. And I think blue ink. Quote takes up half the page. More of a paragraph, really."
Reluctantly, CJ knelt with the President beside the haphazard array of notebooks he had spilled onto the floor. A moment later she looked up. "These are all two inches thick with blue ink paragraphs on college rule."
"You're not going to resign." The President shook his head firmly. "I need you here."
"Sir," her voice shook a little, "what I did ..."
"No, it isn't."
"It's in the past, CJ."
"I couldn't fix it, sir." Her eyes widened, but she wasn't exactly looking at him. "I was standing there, in front of the press, and I just -- I was stone. I couldn't fix it." Her eyes dropped, her hands dropped, and then she picked up another notebook.
"What if that happens again?"
"What if that happens again, sir?"
"Then you'll fix it the next time you brief."
"Sometimes it can't be fixed; this couldn't be fixed. I just --" She raised one hand to illustrate the words she couldn't find, and used the other to balance a stack of binders on her knee.
"You messed up," he said. "CJ. You messed up, that's all."
"This isn't a place where you can mess up," she sighed.
"My storage barn in Manchester isn't a place where you can mess up?" He was smiling a little, and she looked up smiling too, but her eyes were bright.
"My job isn't one you can keep if you mess up like that," she said more firmly.
Jed looked down at his papers. "Nonsense. Everybody in every job messes up."
"Not like that."
"I'm the President of the United States," he reminded her. "And we wouldn't be having this problem if I had just done what I should have and been honest from the beginning."
"If you had been honest from the beginning, we wouldn't have had you as the President at all," she said, and then she slowly put a hand over her mouth. "Oh, God, I just did it again."
But Jed was chuckling. "Nah, you just told me what forty-some political analysts have been trying to get Leo to tell me for a month. We can't win if I'm sick."
She stared at him. "Then why are we here?"
"You know why." He flipped in aggravation through another bunch of notes.
"Sir, I --" She shrugged, and then thought about it. "Because you've had one term, and you've got the spotlight and the floor. You have the opportunity educate the voters about MS, an opportunity you wouldn't have had running for a first term."
"I'm not just a governor with a disease nobody knows anything about this time," he confirmed. "You see? I need you here."
She shook her head. "A first-year poli sci student could have told you that. Sir, a first-year phys ed student could have told you that."
"Yeah, but a first-year phys ed student couldn't take out the trash every Friday. Or keep so many headaches away from my office. Or speak so firmly and so brilliantly for gun control, right to choose, right to privacy .... I need you working for me, CJ; we wouldn't have survived the first campaign without you, and this is the big one. This is the It Can't Be Won But Let's Win It Anyway campaign. This is the campaign to end all my campaigns, because this is the end for me. This is my last one. And I'm not done being President yet." He shook his head. "But I'll lose it without you. Without any one of you: Leo -- Toby -- Charlie -- Josh -- Sam ... Abbey .... and you."
CJ knelt in place for a long moment, staring at him while he went through those notebooks. Outside she could hear Josh and Sam, arguing over their game of Frisbee. Everyone was enjoying Leo's strict time-out this evening. They were taking an hour, but their spirits were too far up to let them rest. They were trying to hide it, for her sake, but they were on an unmistakable campaign high.
"A-ha!" the President shouted suddenly, stirring up dust and smiling into a particularly thick black notebook. "Gotcha!"
"Did you find it?"
He began to read. "May 7, 1989: 'Look, I wrote a book, Dad! It's about you and Mom and I was going to make you be superheros and you come out at night in cloaks masks and fly around on this magic carpet, you know, the one in the dining room, 'cause it can fly, I've seen it, only Liz doesn't believe me. She says I was dreaming. I can write better than Liz, though, can't I, Dad? But that's what I was going to do, but Ellie was talking about she wants you and Mom to be President, so I made it about that. But anyway --'"
The President looked at CJ over his glasses. "Here's the best part, CJ, listen up -- 'But anyway, Dad, here's the thing. I didn't know how to spell President. So I just drew a picture every time I needed that word, and pretty soon there were all these different pictures. So now we're all the President, okay?'"
CJ smiled. "That was Zoey?"
"She was, oh, eight or nine at the time." He smiled back and shook his head. "I don't know what made me think of it," he said. "But I just really wanted to find it."
"Well. Yes, sir."
"She was right," he said, and for a moment he was thinking about the effect of his career on his family, but then his eyes found CJ and he thought about his staff. "We're all the President, CJ. You're not going anywhere, are you?"
She hesitated, and then shook her head once. "If you're sure this is what you want," she offered.
"Well, then. I'm going to go kick some ass at Frisbee, sir."
"Don't step in anything. This is the country, you know, and I'm not sure just how thorough the Secret Service gets." He dismissed her with a nod and watched her turn away, her steps carefully controlled. She walked as far as the door and then stopped.
"You're welcome," he said before she could speak. "Now go away."
She beamed at him over her shoulder and then stepped lightly, energetically, into an unmistakable campaign high.