She considered slamming the door as she walked out of the ladies room, but didn't. After the things she'd said today, the way she'd spoken in the Oval Office, she had a feeling that she'd better bit a little more outwardly circumspect. Stiff upper lip and all that.
Once upon a time, she hadn't been so outwardly circumspect, and she'd slammed the door so hard that the frame had actually splintered. Toby had told her for weeks afterwards that she'd broken the White House. He'd teased her about it, taken great delight in not letting her forget it. It had taken all her willpower not to throw something at him on each such occasion.
He was the one who knew her the best in the White House, the one who had brought her here, the one who had come to her house, sat by her pool and waited for her. The one who had known her the longest, the one who understood her like no-one else, the one who would come to her and talk to her like he talked to no-one else in the West Wing.
And he'd come to her today and he'd talked to her, and once again she'd wanted to throw something at him. Once again, she hadn't.
Because she didn't understand why he wasn't reacting like she was, why he wasn't more upset. She'd known him for years. They had a history. Why wasn't he angry about it?
And he'd explained to her, or tried to, and she still didn't understand.
And now she had a briefing to do.
But it was hard to keep her mind on mad cow disease and weapons sales to Qumar and the problems of the present when all she could think about were the events of the past.
It must have been done on purpose, they would agree in years to come. Some things both of them were willing to accept as random accidents of fate. Chance, coincidence, divine intervention, whatever you wanted to call it.
Other things they knew, were the work of far more devious conspiracies.
Like the Berkeley Housing Department for example.
Because there seemed to be no way that they could have been randomly assigned as roommates. Someone must have done it as a joke, mustn't they, just to see what they'd look like together?
Little and Large they quickly became known as in the halls, to the great amusement of the other students. But they could laugh at themselves too, and had, and did, ever since the six foot tall Claudia Jean Cregg had walked into the suite on her first day at UC Berkeley and seen her there, reading a book, surrounded by cases and boxes.
She'd thought she was a child at first, the younger sister of her real roommate. When she'd realised her mistake, she'd been mortified, her cheeks flaming red. But the other girl had taken it all in stride, saying that she was used to it, and with a toss of her waist length ponytail, she'd looked up at CJ from her height of barely five feet tall and stuck out her hand.
"I'm Hope Edgars," she told her. "It's nice to meet you."
And CJ had laughed and taken her hand and they'd begun to move themselves into their rooms.
When their third room-mate, Andrea Wyatt arrived an hour later, she found the two giggling like old friends.
Later on that night, when they were almost finished their first pizza, and the second was on its way, it was as if they had always known each other.
They bonded quickly, the three friends, and by the time that Christmas rolled around, they were a familiar sight around the campus. CJ, so tall, so elegant, so passionate and driven, the communications major. Andrea, her red hair falling around her shoulders, quite the student activist, studying, not surprisingly, political science. And Hope, looking so out of place walking alongside them, her slight stature and long blonde hair making her look almost childlike as she wrestled with the books for her English and History courses.
Their first year passed in a blur of classes and new experiences, and when the summer rolled around, they headed to Mexico for a week with a gang of friends before going back to their respective hometowns to work for the summer. They'd talked about living together the next year, wondering did they want to put up with one another for that long once again. They hadn't had to weigh up the pros and cons for long before they unanimously decided yes.
The second year of college passed much like the first, but that February was the time when things began to change.
Because that was the time that Ben came into their lives.
It wasn't that any of them lived the life of a nun. But neither were any of them were exactly looking to meet the man of their dreams. They were too young for that they agreed, they wanted to live life a little before they settled down. Most of the guys they dated felt the same, but there were always one or two that felt differently, mostly about Hope. She'd complain about it sometimes, good-naturedly of course, and the other two would tease her about what a hardship it must be to be blonde and petite and cute and popular. And most of the time, she'd joke back, but occasionally, usually under the influence of alcohol, she'd mention how it would be nice to be with someone who appreciated her for who she was, what she thought, who loved her unconditionally.
She thought she'd found him in Ben.
The other two noticed that they were seeing less of her than they normally did, that she was spending more nights in his room than she was in her own, but they didn't pass any heed on it. After all, they were young, they were in love, and that was what young college couples in love did, wasn't it? And if Hope was quieter, more subdued when she was around them, then they just put it down to missing him. And if she hit the bars and clubs with them less than she normally did, then it was because they were single and she wasn't and she was out with her boyfriend instead of with the girls.
They'd understood that.
It was still a bit of a surprise when that summer, she told them that she wouldn't be living with them the next year, that she and Ben were getting their own place together. CJ and Andrea had exchanged looks and asked her, together and individually, if she was sure that that was what she wanted, and Hope had told them that she had no doubts, that she loved Ben and that this was a decision that they'd reached together.
They'd understood that.
Just like they'd understood that she couldn't spend as much time hanging out with them, not with an apartment to look after, not with all the things that needed to be done there. CJ and Andrea had a small apartment of their own by this stage, and they didn't seem to be half as house-proud as Hope was, but they reasoned that it was because she was in a relationship, and therefore had to be a little more grown-up than two single college girls.
There were a thousand reasons why things had changed, and none of them the right one.
Things came to a head in their senior year at Christmas, when CJ and Andrea prevailed upon her to join them for a girl's night out. "We haven't been out together in ages Hopey," Andrea told her.
"And if Ben doesn't like it, tell him we promise to take real good care of you," CJ added.
"Unless that's what's worrying him," Andrea had quipped, and it was only later, much later, that either of them realised how slow Hope had been to laugh at the joke.
But she'd wanted to join them and had, and they'd had a wonderful night together. They laughed, they danced, and Hope behaved impeccably well considering that she was beating men off with a stick.
They laughed and hugged each other, promising to do it again soon, then they put her in a cab to her house and split one back to their own apartment.
When the phone rang scant hours after they'd gone to bed, it had rung for a long time as CJ and Andrea played the waiting game, each hoping that the other would get out of bed first. As so often happened to them, they both got out of bed at the same time, CJ reaching the phone seconds before Andrea. On the other end was a calm voiced woman, enquiring did they know a Hope Edgars, that she was a nurse from the local hospital, and would they come down quickly please?
It was the fastest cure for a hangover either of them had ever known, but not as fast as the sight that awaited them when they saw her.
Her long blonde hair was matted to her head with blood, with tufts sticking out here and there. Her lower lip was twice its normal size, her left cheek broken, her right eye swollen shut. One arm was in a sling, she had two broken ribs, and they were all crying when CJ and Andrea were told that they'd have to leave, that it was time to do the rape kit.
Arrangements to go home for the holidays were hastily cancelled, and they brought Hope back to their place, where she told them about every fight, every put-down, every kick and punch that she'd suffered over the past couple of years. How she couldn't bear to tell anyone about it, because she thought that it was her fault, that if she could cook better, if she was a better girlfriend to him, then he wouldn't do that to her. And besides, he'd told her that he'd kill her if she ever left him, and she had absolutely no reason to doubt him. They'd fed her and helped her manage with only one arm, and took turns in sleeping on the couch so that she could have one of their beds, more often than not ending up sharing the bed with her anyway once the nightmares woke them all up with her screaming.
If that was a nightmare, then the trial was straight out of the seventh circle of hell, as they sat in the courtroom every day, CJ on one side of her, Andrea on the other, Hope's parents in the row behind. They heard testimony from the next door neighbour who called the police after hearing Hope's screams. "It was so much worse than any of the other times," he said. They heard from the first police officer on the scene, the one who thought that she was dead, that she would have been had they not got there when they did. From the emergency room doctor who treated her. And from Hope herself, who told them everything that she'd sobbed to CJ and Andrea months before.
And when they found him guilty and jailed him for nine years, the only thing that any of them thought was that it wasn't long enough.
Hope's parents wanted her to come home after graduation, even before then. But Hope was stubborn, always had been, and didn't want this to derail her education. So she'd stayed at Berkeley, living with Andrea and CJ, and graduated with them, just as she'd wanted. After that, CJ was staying in California to do her Masters, Andrea was going back home to NYU to do hers, and Hope had no plans for grad school. Not that she hadn't been thinking about life after college, because she'd told them that she'd decided to go to New York over pizza one night in the apartment, and CJ had asked her if she was sure that's what she wanted to do. And Hope had nodded and smiled, telling her that she wanted a fresh start, a new life away from the place she'd lived in fear for so long. "Besides," she'd said, smiling over at Andrea. "I might as well have one of my sisters there with me, right?"
So CJ had taken them both to the airport and hugged them goodbye amid promises to write and call, and they did plenty of both. They shared details of their lives just as they had when they all lived together in college, talking about jobs and friends and events and men.
Hope had been there for a year, teaching in an elementary school when she first mentioned him to CJ. She'd met him at a political speech of all things; Hope didn't have much interest in politics, but Andrea was volunteering on the campaign and had dragged her along that night. She'd been standing at the back of the room and he'd come up to her ranting and raving about something that wasn't where it was supposed to be, and it was only when he realised that she wasn't wearing a campaign badge that he'd stopped, in mid-sentence and admitted his mistake, that he'd thought she was one of the college volunteers. He'd looked adorably flustered, she'd told CJ, and she'd told him that there were no hard feelings. But he'd asked her out for a drink to make up for it anyway, and she'd found herself saying yes to him, and they'd been dating for two weeks when she told CJ all this. She sounded as if she was crazy about him, and CJ had been more than a little nervous for her. After all, this was the first man that she'd been anywhere near serious about since Ben, and she was saying all the same things about him that she'd said about Ben when first they met. So she did what any friend would do in that situation and called Andrea up, asking what she thought of Hope's new boyfriend.
"You know him, you work with him," she'd told her. "What he's really like?"
"He's nice CJ," Andrea had told her, but CJ hadn't been quite convinced.
"That's what we said about Ben."
"He's nothing like Ben," had been the instant response. "He adores her CJ, and in a good way. He's a really sweet guy." CJ didn't know what to say to that, and in her silence, Andrea continued. "Look CJ, you've got to come out here. You'll come with us to the headquarters; you'll meet him there. He's our issues director, and there might be some yelling, but that's just the campaign talking. You'll meet him and you'll see it. They're perfect for one another."
That had been enough to partially reassure CJ, but she'd withheld judgement until she'd done as Andrea had suggested, and seen the guy for herself. And within five minutes of meeting him, she'd found that everything Andrea had said was true. She'd heard him before she'd seen him, arguing with the campaign manager over the content for an upcoming speech. She'd guessed that it was him when she saw the fearful looks that Hope and Andrea were exchanging, probably knowing what she was thinking. As they looked, the campaign manager walked away from him, and at that point, she'd been all ready to walk out of there, dragging Hope with her if necessary when he'd turned around and seen them standing there. The change on him had been instantaneous. His face had lit up with a smile and he'd come over to talk to them, kissing Hope on the cheek, smiling warmly at Andrea and shaking CJ's hand. The four of them had gone out to dinner where he had been funny and witty and charming and by the end of the night, CJ had been converted. It was clear that Toby Ziegler worshipped the ground that Hope walked on, just as it was obvious that she thought the world of him. At the end of the weekend, CJ had taken Hope aside and told her that she liked him, and that she wouldn't totally hate it if Hope continued seeing him.
Hope had hugged her, and CJ remembered thinking that she'd never seen her friend happier.
She'd kept on thinking that every time that she saw Hope and Toby over the next two years, and she kept on thinking it until the day that she and Andrea walked side by side up the aisle, turning when they reached the altar to see a resplendent Hope walking down the aisle on her father's arm. And when she and Toby promised to love each other for better or worse, until death did them part, she remembered thinking how great it was that after all she'd been through, Hope had got her happy ending, had found a man who loved her for who she was, for what she was, unconditionally.
The next few years had been full of happiness for the three friends. Their careers went well, and for CJ and Andrea, men came and went, some for longer than others. For Hope and Toby, married life suited them down to the ground. She continued to teach elementary school, he worked on political campaigns, in New York where possible, although his work did involve large amounts of travelling. When she could, Hope went with him, but being apart was something that they had to deal with, and made the times that they were together all the more precious. That was what Hope had told CJ one weekend that she visited when Toby was out of town. "Doesn't it get to you?" CJ had asked her, and Hope had shaken her head, saying that the only thing that she'd change about the separations was that they didn't want to have kids when Toby's future was so up in the air. "When he finds the real thing," she told CJ. "And they settle down for an administrative term, that's when we've decided." CJ had told her that that was a good idea, and that those were going to be the luckiest kids in the world.
Toby was still looking for his real thing when the inevitable happened.
CJ was home one night when the phone rang, and Hope was on the other end, her voice quiet and far away, sounding as uncertain as CJ had ever heard her sound. Despite repeated denials that nothing was wrong, CJ had kept at her and finally Hope had begun to cry. Not cry, rather sob, and frightened then, CJ had demanded that she tell her what was wrong. Toby had taken the phone, telling CJ as gently as possible that a letter had arrived that morning, that Ben was going to be released in the next month, that they were contacting their lawyer the next morning, seeing what exactly their rights were, and that things were going to be fine.
One afternoon almost six months later, CJ was in her office when her phone rang again. This time it was Andrea.
The words that she said had CJ hurriedly booking a flight to New York, throwing clothes into a suitcase, just about remembering to cancel her dinner plans with Kevin. She'd spent the whole flight wishing that the plane could move faster, her rosary slipping through her fingers as she murmured the prayers that she'd long since thought she'd forgotten.
She'd taken her glasses off on the plane, slipping them into her bag, so when she walked into the arrivals hall, she didn't see Andrea until the other woman gripped her by the arm, saying her name. And when she turned her head to look at her friend, the look in Andrea's eyes, the tears rolling down her face said everything that needed to be said.
"No…" CJ moaned, shaking her head as tears came to her own eyes, and all Andrea could do was nod before she dissolved into sobs.
The two women sank to their knees in the airport terminal in one another's arms, heedless of the crowd of people moving around them, thinking only of their friend.
The only blessing, they would agree later, was that she hadn't suffered. As near as anyone could tell, Ben had waited until Toby had gone to work and she was on her way to school, slipping up from behind and bundling her into his car. They'd been found in the late afternoon, in the garage of a house three blocks away from Toby and Hope's. He'd been renting it all that time, watching them all that time, and they'd never known a thing about it. There was a hosepipe running from the exhaust into the car, and she was found in his arms, his possession in death as she'd never been in life. The autopsy found large amounts of sedatives in her bloodstream, leading them to believe that she'd never known what was happening to her. There wasn't a mark on the body, and when they saw her, wearing a red dress that Toby had said was her favourite, the chain he'd given her on their wedding day around her neck, her lips turned up in a peaceful smile, it was hard to believe that she wasn't just sleeping.
When the funeral was over, CJ had stayed with Andrea for a week, before going back to L.A. She kept in touch with Toby too; they would chat maybe once a month, meet for dinner if she was in New York. If he was in LA on business he'd call her up and they'd go out. She couldn't help but notice how much more subdued he was, how much more cynical; how much more driven he was about his career. Just as she couldn't help but notice that he drank more than was usual for him. She knew that Andrea kept in touch with him more than she did; that was natural after all, they lived near one another, and Andrea had been a frequent visitor to the house when he was married to Hope. She knew that they'd grown closer, helping each other to deal with losing her.
How close she didn't know until they called her up to tell her that they were getting married.
Even though they'd been living together for a while, it was the first time that poor Kevin had seen the full force of CJ Cregg's temper, and he was quite shocked. "It's disgusting!" she railed to him. "Hope's only been gone for two years, and they're shacking up?"
"Wouldn't she want him to be happy?" Kevin had asked, and that had set CJ off on another rant about how it was practically incest, how she couldn't believe that they were a well suited couple, that it would never last.
"What am I going to do?" she'd asked, and he'd gone to her, set his hands on her shoulders and talked to her firmly.
"You're going to go to New York. You're going to smile. And you're going to dance at their wedding and be happy for them."
She'd given him one of those looks that told him that she hated it when he was right, and grumbled, "I give it a year."
In actual fact, they'd lasted two, but CJ still wasn't surprised when Andrea called to tell her that Toby had moved out. She'd known that the marriage was in trouble, and had been sympathetic to both parties, trying not to favour one side over the other, trying not to say I told you so.
It was hard though, especially the night that their divorce papers came through and Andrea called her to tell her. "We never should have married," she admitted. "But I missed Hope so much…and so did he. You've seen the change in him CJ… maybe some part of me thought that I could help him through this…and that he could help me too. We loved her so much…I guess we thought that if we loved each other, it wouldn't hurt so much. Does that sound crazy?"
"We spent so much time together talking about her… wishing she was there with us. And when we were together, it was almost like she was, you know?"
"Yeah. I know," CJ had agreed. "I miss her too."
And she did, every day. For so long, she and Andrea and Hope had been each other's friends and comrades and sisters, and now one was gone, and the relationship between the other two was strained. Even though the words had never been spoken, Andrea had felt CJ's disapproval of her marriage to Toby and had never quite forgiven the other woman for it, although they still called themselves friends.
Things were just different now.
Andrea moved more into political life, and ran a successful campaign for Congress. CJ did some work on various campaigns, working with Emily's List for a while, got engaged to and broke up with Kevin before taking a job in public relations at Triton-Day. And Toby continued to look for his real thing, throwing himself into his work.
Which is what had brought him to CJ's house one day when she'd broken her glasses, couldn't get her contact lenses in and had been fired from her job. She'd fallen into the pool and he hadn't even reacted, which was to be expected because he'd seen much and heard more in the years that he was her best friend's husband. And he'd told her why he was there, and that he was offering her a job, and he'd told her that they were impressed with her, that McGarry wanted her on board, that he thought she could do this.
She'd asked him if Jed Bartlet was a good man.
He'd said yes, but he hadn't looked at her and so she asked him again.
This time, he looked up at her, and she saw the look in his eyes that she'd often heard Hope mention, the look he got when he believed in something, when he was utterly passionate about it. He'd had it on the night that he proposed to her, she'd told CJ, and CJ had recognised it when she stood beside Hope at the altar, watching them exchange vows and rings.
That was the look that he had in his eyes that day by her pool.
And she knew then and there that Toby had found his real thing.
It wasn't a hard decision to join the circus, although the voice in her head listing all the reasons she should do this wasn't her own. The more time she spent with Toby and Josh and Sam and Leo and the Governor, the more she was convinced that it was the right one. When the election was called in their favour, and the party was in full swing, she found him standing at one wall, a glass of scotch in his hand, a small smile on his face, and she'd known what he was thinking. Who he was thinking of.
"She would have loved this you know," she'd told him, sidling up to him, and he'd looked across at her, his smile widening ever so slightly in acknowledgement.
"This one was for her," he admitted, looking back down at the liquid swishing around in his glass. "She was there for so many of the losses. I just wish…"
"She never stopped believing," she told him when his voice trailed off and he couldn't continue. "She always knew you'd find the real thing." The notion that if she were here, Hope would undoubtedly be thinking of how many children they could have in four years flitted through CJ's mind and brought a lump to her throat. She forced it back as she said, "Can you imagine what she'd be like if she was here now?"
Toby chuckled as he took a sip of his drink. "Up on the tables, leading us in song."
"Speaking of…" Toby reached over to the table beside him, to the bag that he had there, pulling out a CD and handing it to CJ. "Guess what I found." There was a teasing smile on his face and CJ only realised what he was getting at when she read the track listing, and the smile faded from her face.
"Toby, I can't…" She was shaking her head, but he just shrugged.
"Sure you can." He took the CD from her hand, grabbing a passing staffer, telling her which song to put on and when he turned back to CJ, she was still shaking her head.
"Toby, I haven't…" There were tears in her eyes. "Not since she…"
Toby nodded, meeting her eyes, and the pain she saw in there was equal to her own. "Then you're overdue."
"CJ… for her."
She'd taken a deep breath and nodded, and the first familiar strains of music had filtered through the loudspeakers. Suddenly, she wasn't CJ Cregg, who had just helped get a man elected president, and she wasn't in a hotel suite in Manchester. She was in a dorm common room in Berkeley that was just as crowded with people, and there was a blonde sprite in front of her, urging her on with whoops and hollers as the first vocals of the song were heard.
"Did I ever tell you about the man who changed my life?"
She didn't take her eyes off Toby for the whole performance, and when the room erupted in cheers and catcalls and people tried to hug her, he was the first one that she went to.
They never spoke of his second marriage and rarely of Hope. So rarely that she could remember each exact time.
It happened twice.
The first was when he apologised to her. It was an easy time for her to remember, because Toby never apologised. Ever. It was something that Hope used to complain about, and CJ had teased her over it. "He's stubborn, you're stubborn, how do you ever get along?" she'd asked her and Hope had blushed red to the roots of her hair and told her that they had their ways. CJ had decried that as far too much information, but the conversation came back to her years later, when she'd been sent into the press room uninformed about India and Pakistan and got the question. She'd had to prise the words out of him, and he'd smiled when he'd told her that he hadn't said "Let's not tell CJ", that he'd said it nicer than that. She'd noticed, as he sat on her couch, that he kept on looking at his wedding ring on his left hand, and she was struck by the oddness of the gesture. He and Andrea had been divorced for years, and she'd never understood why he still wore the ring.
That night, for no reason that she could articulate, she asked him.
He'd taken a deep breath, let it out slowly, before speaking so quietly that she wasn't sure if she was hearing him right. "It's not Andrea's ring," he confessed, and he'd repeated himself when she'd asked him to, sliding the ring from his finger to prove it to her. The metal had been warm in her hand and she'd turned it around, knowing what she was going to see inside, the inscription reading "Love Forever, Hope." Hope's ring had been the same, a simple band of gold, with the inscription, "Love Forever, Toby," inside, and her breath caught in her throat.
She handed it back to him without a word, her hand going to her neck then, fingering the chain she wore around her neck. It had been a gift from Hope; both she and Andrea had one exactly like it, a thank you present for being her bridesmaids. Hope had given them the necklaces on the morning of her wedding, and only the thought of the work that it had taken to apply their makeup kept their tears in check.
That was the necklace that she was wearing that May night when the world went mad outside the Newseum in Rosslyn, the necklace that had fallen from her neck when she fell to the ground. She hadn't been able to think straight between the shock and the blow to her head and the worry about Josh, but she'd felt sick when she thought of losing that chain, and she'd never told Sam how grateful she was to have it back, or why it meant so much to her.
The second time they mentioned her was today, when she found out that the United States were selling weapons to Qumar. Toby got the job of telling her, and he knew how she was going to react, and she couldn't understand why he was being so blasé about it. She'd told him that, loudly, when he stormed into her office after she'd told him off in the hall.
She'd jumped when he slammed the door, and she was pretty sure that she wouldn't be seeing Carol for the next half-hour or so, but consideration for her assistant paled when he launched into a tirade about her unprofessional behaviour, and letting her personal feelings get in the way of her work. That had done it for her, and she'd stood up, banging her hand off her desk. "How can you Toby, you of all people stand there and condone a regime that condones violence towards women? You!"
"This isn't about me CJ, this is about military strat-"
"We don't need a base in Qumar. There are other bases, other countries. We can do without this one," she'd objected. "There are other countries we could go to, countries where women don't live in fear, where women aren't told what to do and where to go and what to wear and who they can be friends with and who they can't -"
"CJ..." His voice was gentler now than it had been all day, but she didn't stop.
"-And we can make a stand against it Toby, a principled stand…"
She stopped talking then, taking a deep breath, running a hand over her face. "Do you know what it's like for those women Toby?"
"Yes." And his voice was quiet, the way it always was when he was serious about something. "But we're not talking about those women now, are we?"
There was a long pause, and because it was him, because it was Toby her friend, not Toby her boss, and it was just them, she was able to acknowledge that he was right. "You didn't see her the night it happened. She was always so pretty Toby." CJ closed her eyes against the memory. "And I could have walked by her that night and not have recognised her. But the worst thing was the look in her eyes…she was so defeated."
"I saw that look." His words surprised her. "She would have nightmares. Around the anniversary. And just before…when we heard that he was...ah…" He waved his hand in lieu of words. "She would wake up screaming, and it would seem like hours before she went back to sleep. She'd just cry, and I couldn't do a thing about it. The first time that it happened, I grabbed her by the shoulders, tried to make her realise that it was me. She screamed even louder and pushed me away. Told me not to touch her. She apologised later, of course. Never did believe me when I said that she didn't have to."
"I never knew that," CJ said. "I thought she'd put it behind her."
"She had. Most of the time."
CJ sat down heavily at her desk, pushing her hair back with her hands, noting idly that she'd have to put it up before the briefing. "I don't know how you can switch off like this Toby," she muttered. "I really don't."
"It's just business," he said, his knuckles white as he leaned on her desk. "And my wife wasn't Qumari. She wasn't murdered for wearing the wrong clothes, or for committing adultery or being raped. She was murdered by a white, middle class American man, who couldn't stand the thought that she'd rejected him." He shrugged, straightening up. "One has nothing to do with the other. It's not personal. Just business."
He didn't slam the door on the way out.
"Just business," CJ muttered, looking down at her table. "Just business."
If possible, his words had confused her even more, preying on her mind for the rest of the day, and when she was in the ladies' room, all she could see in the mirror was the same lost look that she'd seen in the mirror on the day that they'd buried Hope. She pinned her hair up as she walked down the hall to her office, in the hopes that if she didn't feel together, she might at least look together, but it didn't seem to do the trick. Not when she got into her office and had a conversation with Nancy McNally, who was calm, collected, resolute in the face of crisis, everything CJ usually was. "They're beating the women," CJ had told her, trying to make her understand, but instead of Nancy, all she could see was Hope.
But she was a professional, so she went inside and started the briefing. And she was looking around the room when she caught sight of Toby and she met his eyes, and he did something that nearly caused her to lose her composure entirely.
One hand went up to his chest, over his heart, and then he rested the other on top of that, before both tapped his chest lightly.
Then his hands went back down again and he seemed to nod slightly.
And suddenly, CJ could hear Hope's voice in her head, and for an instant, she was sitting across the couch from her, as she had so many times. "I never thought I'd do it Claude," she said to her. "There were so many people there, all my family…I wanted to kill Chris for asking me to do it."
"I think your only brother has a right to ask you to read at his wedding," CJ had told her, leaning back on the couch with a glass of wine. It had been one of the weekends that she had flown to New York to visit them and Hope was telling her all about her brother's wedding the month before. "Although I'm surprised that a woman who has no problems leading a dorm room in song at a party can't stand up and speak in public."
"I'm a woman of contradictions," Hope had told her, shrugging.
"So how did you manage?" CJ had asked, and Hope had looked down and shaken her head.
"It was the sweetest thing CJ. I was up there, in front of everyone, and my hands were shaking, and I really didn't think I could do it. And then I looked at Toby. Because he'd told me that if I got nervous, just to pretend that I was talking to him. Of course, that didn't help me once I was up there; I still couldn't say a word. And then, he did this thing…he put his hands over his heart, one at a time, and then he tapped his chest, looking right at me. And he just nodded, like he knew that I could do it. And I knew that I could too." She'd shrugged, shaking her head and looking up to Heaven. "That sounds pretty sappy huh?"
"No," CJ had told her. "It sounds nice."
It was late when she went to his office, walking through the almost deserted bullpen, closing the door behind her, sitting down on the couch, leaning back and closing her eyes. She felt the shifting of the couch when he sat down beside her, and when she opened her eyes again, there was a glass of scotch in front of her, and she took it from him, taking a large sip of it, even though she hated the taste of scotch.
"This is the good stuff, right?"
He nodded. "Only the best for her." She raised an eyebrow and he smiled slightly. "She never drank much, you know that. Mostly because she couldn't handle it, and because she didn't like the taste. But this…this she liked the taste of. The woman couldn't drink worth a damn, but she loved the taste of thirty year old scotch."
CJ swirled the liquid in her glass. "A woman of contradictions."
He was silent for a moment, intent on his own glass. "I know why you were upset today CJ," he told her quietly. "And I can see why. But I don't equate the two situations. It's not that I'm condoning violence to women. Or that I don't miss her. That I wouldn't do anything…" He shook his head, taking a sip of his drink, obviously unable to continue with that line of thought. "You think I don't know that she would have kicked my ass over this too?" Something that was almost a chuckle escaped him. "You'd both have ganged up on me and I wouldn't have been able to say a thing to calm you down."
"Especially since you know we're right."
There was no rancour in CJ's words, just a quiet resignation, and Toby's next word held the same note. "Yeah."
"You ever wonder…" CJ began. "What she'd make of all of this?"
"Only when the day ends in Y," he told her. "She's in my head…every proposal I read, every speech that I write, I wonder how she'd react to it. What she'd say. There have been times when Josh or Sam have done something, or you, and I can't wait to tell her about it." Another sip of his drink, then a shrug. "Three years into the administration? We'd definitely have one kid. I would have wanted a girl, she wouldn't have cared. With any luck at all, she'd be pregnant again, and I'd be hoping that the kid didn't come along when we were on the campaign trail. Unless of course, we'd abandoned that plan and already had an army running around after us… she mightn't have wanted to wait. Either way, you, of course, would be the godmother, and you'd spoil them rotten, especially since you'd practically live with us…"
"For her cooking?" Because CJ was a kitchen disaster, and Hope had tried to teach her to cook more times than either of them could recall, before giving up in disgust. "The one student I ever failed with," she would say, a teasing twinkle in her eye.
"True." CJ felt tears come into her eyes, and she fought them back, because Toby didn't need to see her cry. And she kept the tears back, but the words slipped out. "God, I miss her."
He stared straight ahead, not looking at her, and she had a feeling she knew why. But she was looking at him and she saw him nod, saw his Adam's apple working furiously, and heard him whisper, "Me too."
There was another moment of silence, then Toby held his glass out to her, the light from his desk lamp shining through the amber liquid. "To Hope," he said quietly, looking at her.
And she looked back at him, and tapped her glass against his. "To Hope."