Carol came into CJ's office to find her boss sitting at her desk, looking into Gail's bowl, a smile on her face.
"What do you think, Gail?" CJ asked.
"Everything okay?" Carol asked. CJ looked up, startled.
"Yes. What's up?"
"It's just that Ben was here and when he left he looked pretty angry. And then you seemed pretty angry. And then Josh was here and now you're talking to your fish." CJ leaned back.
"Some days Gail's the only one who understands me. What's up?"
"Well, I just wanted to know if you wanted me to take your lunch date with Ben tomorrow out of your schedule." CJ sighed.
"Carol, I had just managed to kind of put the Ben thing out of my mind for the afternoon. You know sometimes that sixth sense of yours is kind of annoying."
"It wasn't going to work," CJ stated.
"Did he break it off?"
"I did." Carol looked disappointed. After a pause, she asked, "How did he take it?"
"It wasn't the reaction I expected," CJ replied. She opened a folder of papers that was sitting in front of her. "I'll take the lunch out of my schedule. Can you tell Greg Brock I need to see him after the afternoon briefing?"
"Ok." Carol gave CJ a little smile on the way out the door. "You're ok?" CJ nodded.
That morning she couldn't have predicted the words "I'm great" would be coming out of her mouth that day. Even though she'd emailed Ben to ask him to come by, when he showed up her heart jumped into her throat. It didn't help that he'd turned up right after Greg Brock had left. She owed Ben more than a sloppy brush-off but her mind was elsewhere.
"Hey," Ben said, leaning in to give her a gentle kiss on the cheek. CJ pulled back.
"We had a State Dinner last night," CJ blurted out. Ben looked confused.
"Great. Did you have a good time?" he asked. CJ moved past him to shut the door, checking to make sure the blinds were closed as well.
"Yes, but I didn't invite you because you would've hated it," she elaborated. Ben smiled.
"You're right." CJ sighed inwardly. She put a hand on his arm.
"That's not the point. I lied to people and told them you were busy. And I didn't even ask you to go." Ben furrowed his brow. "I'm trying to say I'm sorry but I can't do this with you. I thought I was ready. You're great, but you're so nice. You deserve someone nicer than me." His reaction was not what she expected. He pulled back from her touch, hands clenched.
"You're crazy, CJ," he said, shaking his head.
"I'm sorry," she said sympathetically.
"I'm too nice for you?" His jaw was clenched.
"I know it doesn't make sense..." she began.
"You're right, it doesn't. I would've gone to the dinner with you if you would've asked!"
"That's the point, Ben! You would've done something you hate and not said a thing! It's the nice thing to do but it's also just a bit dishonest!" As soon as the words were out of her mouth, she regretted them. She had just broken her resolution not to raise her voice, to avoid laying blame unfairly at his feet.
"Dishonest? Because I would accommodate your job? You're the one who just said you lied to her coworkers and me because of some stupid event!" She swallowed.
"I'm sorry. I didn't mean that," she said softly. It was all she could say. Ben sighed.
"Can't we just forget about the dinner, CJ? I would've hated it. I'm not upset that you didn't tell me about it." CJ shook her head sadly.
"No. Don't just forget about it. Don't forgive me. You deserve someone who has more time for you." The way Ben nodded indicated maybe the idea wasn't completely new to him.
"What about you?" he asked after a lengthy pause.
"I'll be fine." They stood awkwardly for a few seconds, then CJ said, "Look. You should go. I'm sorry but there's this thing I really have to deal with. I was just working on it when you got here." She went around to the back of her desk and busied herself with some papers. Ben nodded.
"Ok. Well, maybe keep in touch," he suggested as he reached for the doorknob to let himself out.
"Yeah," CJ replied noncommittally. As soon as Ben had left she took a deep breath and tried to focus on the situation with Lau, trading the thought of one unpleasant situation for another. She headed to Senior Staff early, hoping she'd be able to catch Leo before the meeting started. But when she got to his office, Margaret said he was in the Oval.
"Is everything okay?" Margaret asked, and CJ realized she probably didn't look too happy.
"Well I'm the biggest jerk in the West Wing, but yeah," she said with a shrug. Margaret looked at her seriously.
"No. The consensus is that that's Josh. I mean we love him, but he's definitely the biggest." CJ smiled.
"Well, Margaret. I think I may have surpassed even Josh on this one. Anyway, I'll come back for the meeting."
"Toby's here already," Margaret volunteered. CJ looked in and saw Toby watching her. He gave a little wave. She headed inside and took a seat next to him on the couch.
"You're early," she observed.
"I was talking with Leo but he got called out. I thought I'd just wait. So did you hide Will's glasses again?"
"I'm just trying to figure out what makes you the biggest jerk in the West Wing." She rolled her eyes.
"I ran your underwear up the flagpole," she joked. He smiled but continued looking at her with a penetrating stare until she sighed.
"I broke up with Ben. I made him come here so I could break up with him between meetings."
"You're okay?" She nodded.
"Yeah. I'm okay, just a jerk."
"You had the courage to break it off when it felt wrong. That's something I've never been good at." CJ laughed.
"Well I'm practically an expert by now."
"Now you just have to find the courage to go after it when it feels right," Toby continued. The words struck her and a thought came into her mind. She grabbed Toby's hand and squeezed it.
"Thank you!" she effused. Toby looked quizzically at her.
"Okay...?" As he said it, Leo walked in, looking harried, Margaret at his heels. CJ quickly became serious, remembering why she'd come early. One thing was for sure: nobody was going to be happy about the news she had.
"You feel good about Rivera?" Josh asked CJ. They were sitting at a table on the sidewalk patio of a little Mexican restaurant in Arlington, where they'd gone for dinner after work.
"I feel great after how he handled himself in the press conference today," she confirmed, "Did you see how he fielded that question about affirmative action?" Josh nodded and pushed his sunglasses up onto his head.
"Yeah. We got ourselves a winner. Too bad he'll only be in for a year and a half." CJ frowned.
"You think the Republicans will win the next election?" Josh considered while he took a sip of his mojito.
"Even if they don't, I can't see Russell re-appointing him. He was pretty pissed about Caroline Black." CJ nodded, then laughed.
"Did you see Toby's face when he told Will?" she said. Josh grinned.
"I think if he thought it'd stop Russell from winning, Toby'd run against him himself." Their food came and CJ took a couple of bites of her chicken flautas. Josh looked at his enchiladas and sighed.
"Everything all right?" CJ asked. Josh blinked and looked up at her.
"Yeah. It's just that we've gotta find someone else. It can't be Bingo Bob." CJ reached across the table and took Josh's hand. "All the stuff we haven't finished…" he trailed off, brushing the back of her knuckles with his thumb.
"I know. It'll happen." Josh squeezed her hand gently in response.
"Let's talk about something that's not related to work," he suggested. CJ raised her eyebrows.
"Well that's something I'm not very good at. What did you have in mind?" Josh considered.
"I don't know. Usually with a girl I just think of some argument I don't really agree with and then let her shoot me down," he joked.
"It's a wonder you're still on the market." She took a sip of her pina colada. She didn't know why she felt nervous now that they'd left the subject of work. She didn't remember feeling as nervous with Josh before, but this time she didn't have the same luxury of pretending this wouldn't go anywhere. "So have you heard from Donna?"
"She's sent a couple emails but I didn't really read them that closely. Seems like she's enjoying it."
"Good. Did your neighbour come get her cat?" Josh rolled his eyes.
"No. Three more days." CJ gave him a sympathetic look. "He liked you," he continued, "You should come over. You can distract him so he doesn't shred my bath shower curtain." CJ paused, suddenly slightly uncomfortable.
"Was that you asking me to play with the cat, or play with you?" Josh laughed in disbelief.
"CJ, I don't know. It's not like I drew up a contract for the evening." CJ frowned, suddenly self-conscious.
"I'm sorry. This is exactly what I was doing a few nights ago, isn't it?"
"Yeah. Pretty much."
"I'm not good at this." Josh smiled.
"Well this works out well, then."
"So do you want to come over for a bit?" Josh asked after they had paid and CJ was grabbing her coat and purse. CJ touched Josh on the arm.
"I have so much reading to do this weekend. They're going to be scrutinizing Rivera's memos and I want to make sure I find anything before they do."
"We had people look over them. We're still having people look over them."
"I know." Josh pulled her to him and wrapped his arms around her waist.
"Do it tomorrow." CJ leaned in and gave him a quick kiss.
"Ok. But only because I like the cat."
It was starting to get dark as they exited the Metro. Josh pointed to a corner store and said, "Um. I have to grab something really quickly." CJ nodded and they crossed the street.
"I'll just wait outside," she said, "It's a nice night." Josh nodded and headed inside. CJ checked her phone to make sure she hadn't missed any calls. Then she folded her arms and turned to face the street, where she noticed a familiar face coming down the sidewalk towards her. She looked around hastily to see if she could make a quick getaway, or maybe just duck into the store, but he'd seen her and he knew she'd seen him.
"CJ?" said Ben. He looked tense but she knew he was too polite to not attempt at least a friendly conversation. CJ forced a tight smile, feeling a mixture of guilt and anxiety. She knew she was probably the last person he wanted to see, and he couldn't have picked a worse time to run into her. God, she prayed, let him leave before he sees Josh.
"What are you doing all the way out here?" he asked. CJ mentally cringed.
"Oh. I was just out for dinner with a co-worker." As if on cue, Josh came out of the store, carrying a small package of toilet paper.
"Ok, we're set," he said, coming up behind CJ and putting a hand on the small of her back. CJ froze with mortification. "Oh," he said, suddenly noticing who she was talking to. He dropped his hand from her back. A mixture of emotions crossed Ben's face and CJ shut her eyes momentarily, wishing this wasn't happening. "Hi again," Josh said.
"Well I'd better get my laundry detergent," Ben stated, brushing past them into the store.
"Good night," CJ said tentatively to his retreating figure. Then she looked at Josh, who was looking as awkward as she felt. They began to walk towards his place and as soon as they rounded the corner, she said, "Well that was bad timing. He had to be stopping at the same store. Now he's going to be thinking I broke up with him because of you."
"You didn't. Although I am hoping you think I'm a bit of an improvement," he joked.
"I don't know. Am I to take from your purchase that you were out of toilet paper at home?" she asked with a grin.
"Donna usually reminds me to go shopping for that kind of thing."
"Yes. What a catch you are," CJ teased, nudging him with an elbow. They walked up the steps to his door and before he put the key in the lock he turned to her and pulled her into a deep, lingering kiss. She brought her hand up to tangle in the hair at the back of his neck, feeling warmth spreading through her as he deepened the kiss. After a minute they pulled apart. CJ felt almost light-headed. She'd told herself she wasn't going to rush in and sleep with him again but here she was at his door. She wanted this.
"Mmm. What was that for?" CJ asked as Josh put his key in the lock.
"To make you remember why you picked me." CJ smiled.
"There's that and how good you look in a tuxedo." They stepped inside and as CJ was slipping off her heels, the cat came running up to her and rubbed at her ankles, purring. CJ bent down and scratched him behind the ears. Josh rolled his eyes.
"Do you want a drink or anything? I have beer and wine." he asked as he put down his keys and the toilet paper.
"I'd go for a beer." Just then, Josh's phone rang and he went into the kitchen to pick it up. CJ went and sat in the living room, followed by Winston, who curled up beside her on the couch. From the kitchen she could hear Josh's end of the conversation and she could tell he was talking to Leo.
"You know, you're kind of cute. I could get used to you. But I don't think Gail would like you," she said softly to the cat. She heard Josh hang up and he came into the living room a minute later with two bottles of beer. He seemed less happy than he had before the phone call. "What's up?" she asked, taking a bottle from him. He sat down next to her, shooing Winston away.
"So you know how on Sunday we had plans to maybe go for a walk?"
"Leo says the Majority Leader's having someone introduce a bill on Monday to derail the President's nuclear platform."
"Ok. So you've gotta get back there," CJ said understandingly.
"Not tonight. But yeah, Leo needs me for the rest of the weekend." CJ didn't reply immediately. She took a sip of her beer and snuggled in closer to Josh on the sofa. He put his arm around her. "What are you thinking?" The tone of his voice made her wonder if he thought she was mad at him. She moved back to look at his face. She put her bottle down on the coffee table then, without responding, took his bottle out of his hand and set it down. Then she climbed up so she was straddling him on the couch.
"I was thinking about why my idea to date like normal people was really stupid."
"It wasn't stupid," Josh began but his words were smothered on her lips as she bent down to kiss him slowly, as if she was memorizing his lips. He slipped his hands up underneath the back of her shirt, pulling her towards him, reminding himself how soft her skin was. She began to unbutton his shirt, fumbling fingers working their way down. She pulled back for a minute to look at what she was doing and Josh whispered. "But this is good, too." She smiled.
Josh's fingers found their way to work on the clasp of her bra under her shirt. She pulled away for a moment to yank her shirt off, her bra coming with it. He used the moment to shift positions and lay her down on the sofa. She gasped as Josh's hand closed over her breast. She reached up and took his shirt off him, pulling it down his arms as quickly as she could. Josh moved down to kiss her neck. CJ glanced to the side and noticed Winston the cat was perched on the armchair, watching them, tail twitching back and forth.
"Um, Josh?" she said. Josh looked up and CJ nodded towards the cat. "Can we go into the bedroom?"
"Sure." He climbed off her and led the way into his room. He pushed a book and some papers off the bed onto the floor as CJ shut the door behind them. "Sorry," he said, gesturing to the mess.
"Don't worry about it," she replied, wrapping her arms around his waist. "Mine's not much better." With a wicked grin on his face he gripped her hips and lifted her up onto the bed. Her body glowed with sexual anticipation and her fingers danced down his chest as he moved on top of her. She reached down to undo his pants, pulling them down his legs. He bent down to take off his socks as she began to wrestle with the clasp at the back of her skirt. She got it undone and as she slid it off he bent down and took a nipple in his mouth. She pushed herself farther into his mouth. He moved back so he could see and ran a hand down her firm stomach to her hips, where he pulled off her underwear. She could feel him hard against her thigh through his briefs and she reached a hand down, making him moan.
"CJ," he said, voice husky, and he slid a finger into her. She threw her head back.
"Oh God," she whispered, pulling off his briefs. He stopped touching her for just an instant as he got a condom from the night stand. And then the distance was closed. They rocked against each other in a frantic pace almost shouting each other's names, their throats sore. CJ came first and he followed close behind, collapsing on top of her momentarily before rolling off. He tossed the condom in the garbage by the bed then lay back down and took her in his arms. They lay there, spooning and CJ whispered, "I wish you didn't have to work tomorrow."
"I still want to go on dates with you," she clarified.
"Good. Me too."
"I just couldn't hold off on this part."
"Me neither." CJ turned around to face him and returned his smile.
"I could say pretty much anything right now and you'd agree, right?" Josh shrugged.
"Well I was telling the truth on those things, but yeah." She smirked.
"I'll have to remember that."