Set after "The Women of Qumar" ~~ previous / next

Women and Boys
by Sary and Heather

-- and Heather isn't here to read the final draft, so in case she hates it, please note that she's not the one who cooked up the stupid parts --

"Excuse me, sir. Am I interrupting?"

"Nah, Leo was just mouthing off. What do you need?"

"Mr. President -- Leo -- Which one of you did it?"

CJ stood motionless in the door of the Oval Office and spoke in a voice as calm as though she were inquiring after their health; but the cold fury in her eyes was inconcealable even as she looked upon the President of the United States.

"CJ?" Leo said with a warning in his voice, a warning he knew she wouldn't give a damn about.

"Which one of us did what?" The President asked somewhat irritably.

"Toby," she said. "Which one of you told Toby to apologize to me?"

Bartlet and Leo exchanged a glance, and Leo said, "Listen, if you two are still fighting, I don't really care, but the Oval Office is not the place for this discussion."

"If you would like to step into my office, we can continue this there," CJ said evenly.

But the President shook his head. "*I* told Toby to apologize to you. What of it?"

"For what?"

"For -- what?"

"For what did you tell him to apologize? Sir."

"For whatever it was that he did."

"And I imagine, Mr. President, that his response was -- he didn't do anything?"

Bartlet nodded. "It was."

CJ waited. When Bartlet didn't seem inclined to say anything more, she prompted, "And you told him to apologize anyway, sir?"

It was only then that Bartlet felt his gaze, of its own will, slip away from CJ's eyes. "I did," he admitted, and then he raised his chin, angry at being yelled at in his own office -- in this office -- at being yelled at in such a quiet, civil tone -- and only angry because he didn't want to start feeling guilty yet.

"CJ," Leo said, a little too loudly. "We can continue this in my office." His voice left little room for argument to anyone but CJ, who shook her head firmly.

"Mr. President," she said. "Due respect. But did you think I was simply ranting for the sake of ranting?"

"Well, as I don't even know what you were ranting about ..."

"You just assumed it couldn't be anything important. Sir."

Bartlet wanted to argue, and he was about to, but then he remembered telling Toby to apologize, telling him it didn't matter if he hadn't done anything wrong. And he would have argued anyway, except he'd let the pause go on too long, and CJ was looking at him with that look, the one the women always gave him when he did anything with Qumar.

"What were you ranting about?" he asked as if he didn't already know.

"Let's not go there," Leo said quickly.

But the President continued. "You don't think we should be selling weapons to Qumar?"

CJ shook her head once. "I do not."

Bartlet shrugged. "We need the base."

"We don't."

"CJ --" Leo interrupted, but Bartlet held up a hand to silence him.

"We need the base, CJ. We do. Why are you looking at me like that?"

"Like what, sir?" CJ asked calmly.

"As though I've -- No. Nothing."

The three of them stood silently for a bit, and then CJ seemed to realize where she was. "Anyway, I -- apologize for the interruption. Thank you, sir." She tried not to let her voice sound stiff.

She almost made it to the door in those short, controlled strides without letting anyone know how angry she was. But then the President said, "You're mad at me because I told Toby to apologize to you?"

She took a second to make sure her breath was even and then she turned to face the President again.

"I'm not mad at you, sir," she said hoarsly.

"Yes, you are." He shook his head and smiled. "It's okay. You're certainly not alone on that one."

"Mr. President," CJ said, and then stopped. She seemed to be struggling with a catch in her throat. When she spoke again, her voice was much quieter. "Mr. President, I'm not mad at you. And I shouldn't have come in here. Thank you, sir."

She turned to leave again, and could have even laughed at the sigh of relief she heard Leo release. But when she had gone, the President turned to Leo, who suddenly found himself holding his breath.

"I told Toby," Bartlet said, "that he should apologize; that it didn't matter whether he had done anything wrong."

"Okay," Leo said carefully.

"I acted as though CJ were an unreasonable schoolgirl, and she knows I did. Somehow she knows it."

"She knows it," Leo said with half a smile, "because if Toby really did apologize, apologize for agreeing with the National Security Adviser, the White House Chief of Staff, and the President of the United States -- if Toby apologized for anything, somebody had to have made it an order."

Bartlet shook his head and almost managed a smile. But something about having his Press Secretary so mad at him she didn't even raise her voice kept him from succeeding.

He needn't have worried. Out in the hall, CJ was raising her voice just fine.


Josh literally stepped back. "Uh -- forget it?"

"No. What?"

"I just wondered if you'd seen Leo. What're you --?"

"He's in with the patonizing --" She bit off her words, took one short breath, and amended, "He's in with the President."

"All ... right, then." Josh sidled away as if he feared for his life, and CJ continued her charge toward her office.

Halfway there, she wheeled around and careened toward Donna's desk instead. "Donna. Would you mind coming with me for a moment?"

Donna stood and skipped along with CJ as though happy for a break. "What's up?"

CJ stopped again, so suddenly Donna nearly ran her down. "On second thought, can I ask you to find Margaret, and Bonnie and Ginger? And Cathy? And bring them all to my office. Oh! And Miss DiLaguardia from personnel!"

"What's going on?" Donna asked again.

"I'll explain when we're all -- and Ainsley Hayes. She certainly deserves revenge. I'll explain when we're all in my office."

Donna raised her eyebrows at the word revenge, but she didn't ask any more questions, as Sam had suddenly appeared at her elbow and she figured if Ainsely Hayes deserved revenge on anyone, it had to be Sam.

"What's up?" Sam asked.

"Nothing." CJ put on her innocent face and smiled sweetly at Sam. He found himself smiling back in a confused sort of way, yet somehow frowning at the same time. The look on CJ's face -- he had seen that look before, but he couldn't quite --


Sam sighed, and then headed in the direction of Toby's bellow. Behind him, CJ nodded at Donna. "I'll be in my office," she repeated.

"Okay." Donna turned, very confused, and set off on her task.

CJ walked back to her office, not so fast now, enjoying the sounds of her colleagues working, talking, even arguing -- enjoying the sound of Donna's receding footsteps, because she knew it meant her plan was underway, and she liked to have a plan.

It was evening. Or, night, really, in the rest of the world, but CJ was just warming up -- just coming through the miserable fog that had enveloped her all day. She owed her newfound energy to her plan, which had appeared in her mind fully formed. She was determined to illustrate to her colleagues a point that they just weren't getting by hearing it explained. She needed to make it real for them, and she had just the thing -- just the office full of White House women ...

They arrived one or two at a time, and she invited them in, smiling vaguely at their questions, shaking her head when they asked what was happening. Carole stayed at her desk until everyone else had shown up, and then she joined them, closing the door behind her and grinning at her boss, on whose face she recognized the satisfaction of a brilliant plan.

"Is everyone here?" CJ asked. She surveyed her guests, and picked up the phone as something occurred to her. "Duane. It's CJ. Is Joey Lucas still around? ... Will you have her stop by my office at her convenience? ... Thank you." She hung up and then looked around her office. "All right."

"What's happening now?" Donna asked.

CJ was silent for a moment, thinking about the best way to explain this; at last she just plunged in hip-deep. "We're all women."

The women in the office looked at each other and snickered a little. "Yeah," Miss DiLaguardia said. "Thanks for the tap on the shoulder."

"And out there --" CJ pointed vaguely in the direction of the rest of the building --"are the men."

"Are we planning double -- or, well -- sept -- no that's seven -- are we planning a -- a -- a multiple date?" Margaret asked.

"What we're planning," CJ said, "is a little lesson for the boys."

She was interrupted by a knock on the door. Joey Lucas had arrived. But the interruption was no matter; CJ already had their attention.


Thirty minutes later, the door to CJ's office opened. Which was probably a good thing, since the paperwork outside it had piled so terribly high in the past half hour that the assistants all but needed compasses to find their desks amid the mess the boys had made.

And lesson one, indeed, was to call them boys. Because honestly, which of these women hadn't been called a girl too many times?

Lesson two, Donna reflected as she strolled innocently back to her desk, was appreciation, and part of that was the half-hour break they'd just taken in the middle of the evening. She found Josh near tears in his office.

"It's about time!" he whined when he saw her.

"Yeah, 'cause I didn't have anything -- important to do," Donna sniffed. "What do you want?"

"A loyal assistant."

"You might check with Miss DiLaguardia; she's been interviewing tons."

Josh looked up. "To replace Mrs. Landingham?"

"Well, to put together a short list to show Leo so he can show the President, anyway. Of course the President will make the final decision." As she spoke, she spun in a whirlwind around the office, straightening up, fixing the things he'd got out of order. "Is it, like, out of the realm of possibility that you'll ever file just one thing if I'm not here to do it for you?"

"I don't know how to file. I have an assistant to do that. Sometimes," he said pointedly.

Donna rolled her eyes as though it were the silliest complaint she'd ever heard, and left his office for her desk. From there she could see Toby, standing baffled in the hallway with a hand pressed to his forehead.

"Something wrong?" she called to him, knowing gleefully the answer.

"I -- think Ginger just told me I've got nice legs," he said dazedly, and he wandered back into his office.

Ginger winked at Donna and went back to work, marveling about the fast success of lesson three: Inappropriate Workplace Comments. Although she reflected, this lesson belonged more to Ainsley than to anyone.

Ainsley was indeed at that moment sitting on Sam's desk, her legs crossed, her long blond hair swinging a little as she shook her head in disapproval at everything he said. Sam himself was staring in mild shock, having just been called a Democratic stud muffin by the woman sitting calmly in his workspace.

"What -- the hell are you --"

But not for nothing was Sam the valedictorian of both his high school and his college graduating classes. Nor had he forgotten the embarrassment he still felt when he remembered he'd made the President call Ainsley Hayes a Republican sex kitten. He was a smart guy, and he narrowed his eyes at Ainsley.

"I've got to go," she told him primly, standing up, when she realized he was onto her.


"I have important work to do," she said, and disappeared before he could stop her.

In the hall, overcome by mirth, Ainsely sat at Cathy's desk. It was unoccupied at the moment because Cathy herself was in the Ladies' room with Joey Lucas, trying to get her over her furious giggles.

They had a plan of their own. An idea, really, a brilliant idea that would really bring home one of CJ's lessons for the boys. But they would have to wait until morning to introduce it.


"What in God's name did you do to my office?"

Kenny had to fight back laughter himself as he interpreted for his gleeful boss. But Joey Lucas controlled herself and smiled serenely at Joshua Lyman.

Donna asked me to help out, she told him calmly. She picked out the lotion herself. St. Ives. Good stuff.

The lotion, of course, was in a pink bottle, which nicely complimented the potted pansies beside it.

"I -- don't care who picked it out," Josh said, with a look on his face that said the rules of his entire world had changed. "I want to know why -- what is it -- I don't understand."

I have work to do, Joey told him. I have to go save your boss' job. Enjoy your office!

She walked coolly, professionally, until she was out of sight of Josh, and then she collapsed into Kenny, gasping for breath.

Left behind in his office, Josh stared in disbelief at the pansies and the lotion. He did not understand. Not one minute of this morning.

First it had been Donna, who had, he realized, been acting strangely last night, too. She had met him this morning with the words, "You have a meeting with the CJ and the boys." And by the boys, she'd meant the senior staff and the President of the United States.

And then there'd been CJ, at the meeting. She no longer seemed furious at Toby. In fact, she seemed -- the word was superior. She had this air of I'm-tolerating-you-although-you're-a-lesser-mind rolling off her in waves thicker than the smell of the St. Ives lotion under his nose.

Josh's thoughts were interrupted when Margaret knocked on the doorframe. "Nice pansies," she commented without a change in her expression. "Leo wants to see you. In his, you know, unscented office."

"I didn't -- those aren't mine." He pointed at the flowers.

Margaret stared dispassionately at him until Josh shook his head, sighed, and walked past her. Margaret waited until he was gone before she helped herself to some hand lotion. The pansies had, until this morning, actually resided in her apartment. She would quite miss them -- she was resigned to the fact that they wouldn't likely survive their visit to the White House -- but it was worth it to see the look of utter bewilderment on Josh's face.


Margaret turned to see Donna, happier than she had been in weeks, looking at her.

"Where's my flowery boss?" Donna asked.

"With my frustrated one, and unless I'm mistaken, they're discussing women in the military." Margaret's face gave nothing away, but she confided, "I doctored the schedule. Just a little."

"I've just finished with Josh's morning," Donna countered. "He's going to be meeting with Kris Price in an hour on economic equity for women." Donna winked; her face gave everything away. "Kris'll kick his ass."

Even Margaret found it hard not to snicker.

Donna and Margaret left Josh's office, Margaret heading for Leo's corner of the building and Donna setting off to find Miss DiLaguardia. There were plans to be made.


"Day three," CJ wrote in what would eventually be a memo on Toby's desk but was today a secret journal. "You guys are so fun to set up! Do you really think I think you have a great body, Sam? I mean -- I'm not saying you don't -- but that's just my point. Is that honestly the sort of thing we ought to be saying to each other in the White House?"

It amazed her, once she started listening for it, how many times her own appearance came up in conversation during the day. As she was sure it was surprising to the White House boys how many times their own appearances had come up in the last three.

She put down the secret journal. Beside it on her desk lay a note from Miss DiLaguardia -- "I can only come up with seven totally qualified people."

"Seven's good," CJ muttered, somewhat maniacally, to herself. "Seven's plenty."

"Seven what?" Sam asked, having arrived unannounced in the doorway.

"Brides. That's plenty, because there are only seven brothers, you know."

Sam, who had been seriously considering calling in a psychologist to see to most of the west wing employees in recent days, only shrugged. He was growing rather used to the crazy things that were being said around here.

For instance, just this morning, when he'd asked Carole if CJ was in, Carole -- sweet, polite Carole, whose face was more expressive than he'd ever realized before -- looked at him as though he were the most bothersome creature who had ever stepped up to the desk.

"CJ, can you see Sam?" she'd shouted into the office behind her.

"Not unless he's armed with financial data on the Elizabeth Cady Stanton exhibit," CJ shouted back.

Carole had looked up at Sam, and when he didn't say anything right away, she'd sighed long and loud before asking, "Are you armed with financial data on the Elizabeth Cady Stanton exhibit?"

So he hadn't seen CJ, until now, when he'd managed to sneak up on her -- but even now she was acting pretty strange.

"CJ, I wanted to talk to you about --"

"Hang on." She held up a hand distractedly. Her eyes were glued to the television ... which was apparently tuned to ESPN2 ... which was apparently airing ...

"What is that, a horse?" Sam asked.

CJ didn't take her eyes from the screen. "Almost hard to believe environmentalists are a little bit scared of us."

"I'm not sure that's valid," Sam argued. "I mean, a horse is biological, but it's going a little far to consider it a part of the environment ..."

He got quiet when he realized CJ wasn't listening, also that he souned almost as crazy as the women.

Come to think of it, it was just the women who were acting ...

His thoughts were interrupted when CJ shouted suddenly, "YES! All RIGHT, David!"

Carole swung around the doorframe. "O'Connor go clean?"

"He went clean," CJ squealed, and the two of them proceeded to dance around the room, completely ignoring Sam's existence.

At last their little ... horse ... whatever went to commercial, and CJ turned to Sam. "What did you want?"

Sam stared at her. "I honestly can't remember."

"All right, well, call me when you've got it." She turned back to Carole, who jumped right into a discussion about this O'Connor and his horse. But when Sam started to leave, CJ stopped him. "Hey."

"God, what now?" He was careful to make sure she only heard the last two words.

"I need you to track down Toby. I need to talk to him about birth control."

This was too much for both Carole and Sam. Sam nearly choked to death on his tongue as he stopped breathing; Carole stopped breathing too, but for a different reason, and had to leave the room before she totally cracked in front of Sam.

"You need to talk to Toby about --"

"Birth control. Or, more specifically, the failure of health insurance to cover it."

"Okay," Sam said.

"Sam, it's ridiculous."

"I believe you."

"Health insurance covers Viagara, but not birth control. Boy, some people sure love people."

Sam started to leave, but stopped in the doorway. "You know, you have a point," he said, and then he was gone, and CJ, behind him, realized she had another pet peeve to address.


"Day five,

Don't say a word about my wrecking your date with Water Balloon Woman. I owed you that one, Joshua. I owed you that one and two years' worth of ruined dates, and you know it, so don't you dare bring it up. I don't care that it was Sunday and it was your one day off, because you owe me a few hundred Sundays, too, so shut up.

And thanks for writing that position paper, it was really beautiful.



Toby ran a hand down his forehead and sighed heavily. He was arguing with CJ, which is to say he was arguing while CJ watched, vaguley amused and completely unresponsive. He had made six valid points already and she had, six times, rolled her eyes and shook her head. At this point he barely remembered which side of the argument he was on, although he did remember the subject of the argument -- public breast feeding -- because it was something he had never argued with anyone about before.

Toby took a deep breath and had another go at it, explaining exactly what sort of compromise they would theoretically be able to reach with the ridiculous people who opposed breastfeeding in public. To his amazement, CJ responded with a look of stunned approval.

"That's good," she said, sounding completely shocked.

"You think?" Toby said shortly, but he said it under his breath.

In Josh's office, meanwhile, Josh and Donna were discussing a constitutional equality amendment for women.

"It's the ERA," Josh commented, studying the leaflet that had quite mysteriously appeared on his desk.

"Yeah," Donna said, as though that should have gone without saying.

"But they're not calling it the ERA," Josh attempted to justify his statement.

Now she looked at him dully until he came as close to blushing as he ever had. "I'm saying -- Nevermind. We've been trying, Donna."


"Since like 1923. What do you want me to do about it?"

Donna fixed her boss with the most patronizing gaze he'd ever seen. "Nothing," she said in a pitying voice.

"Donna, I can't single-handedly ratify an amendment."

"Of course not, Josh." She sighed again, one of those long, what-a-burden-it-must-be-to-be-you sighs, and left his office, shaking her head. Josh shook his head too, and reached out automatically to dispense a bit of the hand lotion that he had never got around to doing away with.


Leo sat in his office without moving for perhaps 30 seconds after Margaret was gone.

He wasn't sure. But he thought his assistant might have just called him a "bright boy" and then made fun of the way he typed.

Something was going on here, really. Everyone had been acting strange, all week ... but he didn't have time to think about that now. Miss DiLaguardia from personnel had finally sent him her short list of candidates to fill Mrs. Landingham's seat outside the Oval.

It was a tough thing to do, picking up the list, because he knew nobody on it could hold a candle to Mrs. Landingham. But the President had finally, finally, finally given him the okay, after ending up in a meeting with the wrong stack of paperwork and no coffee once too often.

So he picked up the list and scanned the seven names on it.

Thomas Usuda
Emily Branford
Jason Trager
Ruth McGowan
Elliot Reed
Jane Carter-Davies
Michael Ryan

It took him a minute past realizing they were arranged boy-girl to understand that there were that many men on the list. He scanned it again. Four, and three women. He figured he'd better start the interviews right away ("Margaret! Set up an interview with --" "Tom Usuda is on his way!" "... All right, then!") if he wanted to get the position filled before Christmas. No point in accidentally sending the President to Camp David for the holidays when he was supposed to be in Manchester instead. There had been too many mix-ups across the President's desk of late.

Margaret appeared in the doorway. "You have staff right now," she reminded him patiently, in an oddly parental sort of way.

"Going," he said, and stood up, leaving the list behind him on the desk. When he walked into the Oval his mind was on the meeting ahead, so much that he didn't even look over his shoulder to see Margaret surveying the list of candidates and grinning widely.


"Day Six,

And before you bring it up, Leo, don't you even dare say we oughtn't to be dealing with personnel. Tom Usuda and Jason Trager were already on Miss DiLaguardia's list, and the other two are plenty good enough at what they do and have been working in the White House for long enough to earn a promotion.

And besides, have you glanced at Margaret lately? Or at Bonnie or Ginger or Cathy or Donna? No, you probably haven't even been able to see them, because they're buried in loose paper, trying to cover the extra work around here. And then there's Charlie to consider, attempting to study for finals while balancing the President's entire day. It's about time we got somebody new to help out.

Of course, I think we should hire Lord John Marbury, but if we can't ...



"Toby, it's two a.m."


Bonnie rolled her eyes. "Can I go now?"

Toby looked up at her distractedly. "Yes."

For the first time all week, Bonnie felt the tiniest stab of guilt. But honestly, there was nothing she could do to help Toby get through all this work, just by hanging around the bullpen not getting any sleep.

Not that she planned to get sleep. She and the other White House women were going out for drinks instead.

Rescuing Donna was difficult. Josh had really latched on to the women in the military thing, and was seen to be writing position papers well into the night. Donna's conscience wouldn't let her leave while he was working on an issue she'd helped put him onto, especially on one this important, so she waited around till 2:45 before giving her conscience the slip and making a run for it. After, of course, making noisily and obviously certain that he could handle it himself without her guidance.


"Day Seven, Unbelievable. Haven't you fellas any powers of observation? ~Margaret"


Toby sat stiffly, prepared for anything but wishing it wasn't against protocol to bounce a rubber ball in the Oval Office. On the sofa beside him sat a sweet-smelling but hung-over Josh -- Donna hadn't been around last night when he'd started drinking, and so he'd kept on for far longer than she would have ordinarily let him. And on Josh's other side lounged the Democratic stud muffin, who had spent the whole week trying to catch up with Ainsley Hayes.

Across from them sat CJ, and the smug expression on her face was unbearable. None of them even knew what battle she had won; they only knew they'd had a horrible week, and this smug smile had something to do with it.

They had been patronized this week. They had been called 'boys' all the time. They'd had their good ideas ignored until the very last possible instant of an argument, and then made over as though it was amazing and unheard of that they had come up with a good idea at all.

And then there were the televisions. All week, the assistants, plus CJ and Ainsley, had taken to watching equestrian sports. Every day, at every spare moment, they were watching, discussing, even obsessing over David O'Connor and Custom Lane. Or Made. Or something like that.

As if it wasn't bad enough that the girls were all watching horse ... whatever ... they were also laughing at anyone who ever got wrong a name or fact. So it wasn't even safe to join a conversation about this horse thing, except that CJ kept inviting them to watch, and then mocking them about it.

Even now she seemed to be mocking them, just with her sweet smile, as they waited for the President and Leo.

Leo was in bad spirits, too, when he held the door open for the President. Not only had he been forced to listen to Bartlet's history-of-toothpicks commentary over lunch, but then there was the way Margaret was acting, as though he had dome something to offend her.

He watched his staff stand and wait for the President to take a seat. Most of them looked about as cheerful as he felt; only CJ and the President seemed happy.

"Good afternoon," the President fairly sang to his staff.

They answered in a chorus of mumbles, which Bartlet would have normally noticed, except that CJ's voice, ringing "Good afternoon, sir!", covered up for their lack of enthusiasm.

Or anyway, it would have covered up, except that the President liked enthusiasm entirely too much to be distracted.

"That was pathetic!" he chastised. "The fourth-graders from PS 118 did better than that this morning. Come on, good colleagues! Out with it!"

The sound of rolling eyes was probably louder than their voices, but the staff chorused obediently, "Good afternoon, Mr. President."

"Well, that's somewhat better. And CJ! Might I say you're looking quite alive compared to these fellas! What did you do, win a bet?"

"In a sense," CJ smiled, which only baffled the disgruntled staff more.

But the President's happiness only lasted until a few minutes after Abbey Bartlet was wheeled unexpectedly into the room.

"Good afternoon," she said airily in the general direction of her husband.

"Hello, Abbey."

"How's it going, dear?" she asked.

"Just fine. What do you need?"

She looked at him with an expression that had become familiar to every other man in the room this week. "I stopped by to listen in. If that's all right." Her tone stated quite explicitly that it was.

"Well, of course," The President started to say, but he realized his wife was already talking.

"Looking handsome today, boys," she announced to the senior staff, who stuttered responses which she couldn't have heard, as she was already on the other side of the room, re-organizing the President's desk.

They watched her in bewilderment, all of them; or anyway, most of them, and they were impressed with her ability to manipulate the Oval Office. In just seconds it was obvious she was a fan of Martha Stewart. Also that she had been practicing wheelchair racing in her spare time.

"Abbey," said the President slowly. "Can I ask -- what you're --"

The President stopped speaking when his wife stoped moving. She fixed him with a stare that spelled out plainly just how dangerous was the territory he was in.

"I'm decorating, dear," she said, in a tolerant, maternal sort of voice. "You don't mind, do you?"

"Well, Abbey, I'm sort of -- in the middle of --"

And again he stopped, but this time she didn't even look at him. "Oh, don't let me interrupt," she said. Somehow even this was in a vaguely superior tone.

"All ... right, then," the President agreed, but he had no sooner turned again to face his staff, most of whom were watching the First Lady with frowns of confusion and suspicion, than she had once again started to speak.

"On second thought, I think I'll leave. There's an eventing competition on at three, and David O'Connor is riding. I just adore Custom Made."

And she was gone, wheeling herself back out of the office, while her husband stared, bewildered, and every other man in the room started slowly to smile. They knew a good practical joke when they saw one, and one was sitting right in front of them, grinning smugly.


They had a good party, once the guys figured out they were finally able to relax. It began as another meeting in CJ's office, but eventually took them out for drinks, all of them, even the assistants who didn't usually come along, even Miss DiLaguardia, and Joey Lucas and her interpreter.

CJ had a few too many grasshoppers, since nobody was inclined to mock her about them in the face of what she might do as revenge; and Donna, having proven she was more than Josh's watchdog, allowed him to get way too drunk for the second night in a row.

They stayed out late, but CJ didn't forget she had to be up early if she wanted to fit in a run before work. So she started out to catch a cab before the rest of them were ready to go.

Her breath misted in the cold air. She had forgotten it was winter, it was so hot inside the bar. She pulled her coat a little tighter as she waited for the taxi to fight its way through traffic to the curbside.

And eventually she became aware that somebody was standing right behind her, and she didn't even need to turn around to know who it was. Sam wore cologne, and she didn't smell that; and Josh, of late, smelled strongly of lotion and flowers; and Leo, of course, wasn't with them, so that left Toby, who was the only one, anyway, whose very breathing she could recognize.

"Want to finish up an argument?" she teased.

"Not till we're sober," he said, and his voice carried a hint of amusement as well. She finally looked at him, and he was smiling wider than usual, almost widely enough for it to be recognized as a smile even by someone who didn't know him.

"What do you need, Toby?" she asked as the taxi reached her.

"You made your point," he said, with that odd expression still on his face.

"Did I?" she asked lightly, and his nod was serious.

"Yeah," was all he answered, but it was a more meaningful apology than anything else he could have said.

"I'll see you," she replied, and climbed into the taxi to go home. She found she was looking forward to tomorrow.

~Sary and Heather

Back to Wednesday Night Rants / Back to The Western World

Back to The Dark Side of Tuffy's Mind

Set after "The Women of Qumar" ~~ previous / next