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Observing C.J.

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“They beat women, Nancy. They hate women. The only reason they keep Qumari women alive is to make more Qumari men.”

To say that C.J. is fuming would be an understatement. She practically spits her words at Nancy in a way that she would never dare to do were she not so… Nancy can’t even begin to describe what’s come over C.J. today – she has never seen her like this. There is open anger and hostility in her posture – in the rigidity of her shoulders and the set of her jaw. The fact that her breathing is so shallow, so constricted, suggests to Nancy that perhaps there is something more to C.J.’s outburst than empathy for women’s suffrage, but she can’t quite figure it out. Sure, the way the women are treated is upsetting, but the trade off with Qumar is necessary. She knows that C.J. knows this and would ordinarily understand, even if she does make her displeasure known about it. But this… this is unheard of, especially from C.J.

“God, Nancy! What the hell are we defining as the right people?!”

Nancy glances back at the open office door, regretting that she hadn’t had the foresight to shut it after C.J. had entered the room. Outside, Ginger tries to remain as quiet and inconspicuous as possible as she rifles through Carol’s desk, looking for a particular memo that Toby had requested. C.J.’s question – or rather, the volume at which she had voiced it – had startled her as she’d been searching, causing her to drop the stack of papers she’d been holding against her chest as she searched. It was obvious to anyone with eyes that C.J. had been on edge all day, but it was Toby’s concern for her that made Ginger question why C.J. had been so upset by the news about the Qumari women. Knowing her boss as she did, she wondered what it was that had sparked his worry for C.J., even if he was adept at hiding it. Looking closer at C.J., she noticed that there was something different about the usually level-headed woman she knew and liked. Sighing, she got back to rummaging in Carol’s papers, hoping to find the memo before Toby took her head off.

“They’re beating the women, Nancy.”

C.J.’s voice cracks, and the tough façade of simple rage she has been wearing all day shatters ever so slightly. Nancy can hear it in her voice; can see it in the tears brewing on her bottom lids: somehow, this is personal for C.J. The idea of women being beaten – how many times had she used that word today? – seemed to drive her to distraction. Nancy wonders if perhaps there is more to C.J.’s anger than a sense of misplaced justice once more. Truthfully, she doesn’t know much about the other woman; apart from her title, sense of humour, and (usually) calm attitude, C.J. is an unknown. But right now, her behaviour – the emphasis on the fact that women are specifically being beaten – suggests to Nancy that whatever it is that C.J. has been struggling with, the trade off with Qumar is not the cause of her emotional outburst, but rather a catalyst or contributing factor.

“Sometime Tuesday, you’ll be briefed at the Pentagon. The D.O.D will be announcing that we’ve renewed our lease another ten years at the Khalifa air base in Qumar. I understand they’ve promised to paint and add new carpet.”

Behind the podium, C.J. is the consummate professional, regardless of her personal stance. Observing her quietly from the back of the briefing room, Toby can see that her ire and frustration are still present. She masks them well; she relaxes into the podium and adopts her usual tone as though comfortably at home. But for someone who knows her as well as Toby does – knows her tells – all of the indicators are present. There is a tightness to her jaw, and her face is eerily devoid of its usual playfulness and levity – enough that Toby’s heart aches to see it, but not so much that her audience of reporters can tell that anything at all is amiss.

Yes, she is a wonderful actress and the perfect professional. It’s just a shame that Toby can see right through her. As she glances over and catches sight of him, he makes a small sign of appreciation at her professionalism. Or, at least, that is what it might look like to the casual onlooker; a sort of code-sign between colleagues. In reality, Toby has known since the President first asked him about how C.J. might react this morning that she would not just be irate, or enraged, but deeply distraught. And, try as she might, she knew that Toby could see right through her.