Author's Note: I hope you're all enjoying it. It looks like people are reading. Reviews are lovely.
"The Set Up"
CJ had developed a bit of friendship with Liz Bartlet when she joined the campaign. Liz was younger than CJ, but not by that many years and they had a camaraderie. Liz and her husband Doug didn't campaign that often due to the fact that they didn't like to leave with their daughter with sitters, but CJ was usually happy to see her when they did venture out.
Since the campaign was in New Hampshire for one more night Liz and Doug were along for the ride. CJ chuckled to herself when she saw how Doug seemed to think he had unique relationship with Josh. Josh had mentioned in passing that Doug had somehow decided that Josh was his best friend when he first started on the campaign. CJ figured that he simply gravitated toward him for the same reason Liz gravitated towards her. They were close in age and Doug probably just wanted some peer contact. Although Josh usually groused that Sam would be a better peer, age-wise, than he was.
It had been another long day of prepping and briefing and strategy planning and CJ was looking forward to grabbing a quick bite to eat and some sleep before they made their trek to South Carolina. Liz, however, had other plans.
"CJ," she called across the hotel lobby.
She approached her quickly and CJ already had a sinking feeling that she was about to get drafted for something.
"Hey Liz," CJ said.
"Are you done for the day?"
"Yeah," CJ replied. "Just a few last minute things to finish before we leave for South Carolina tomorrow."
"What are you doing tonight?" she asked.
"In a few hours," Liz clarified. "I thought we could grab dinner, maybe a drink. It's been nice having grown up company for the last few days."
"Oh, well," CJ stammered before Liz interrupted her.
"We won't be out late. I think Doug is recruiting Josh to come out too."
"Oh," CJ said. She had to admit that somehow the addition of Josh to the guest list made it a more intriguing offer. "Um, yeah, sure."
"Great!" Liz replied. CJ noticed how her face lit up and she couldn't help but feel happy that she had accepted the invitation after all.
"I've got some things to get together before tomorrow. What time were you thinking?"
"How about seven? We can meet you in the lobby."
"Sure, seven it is," CJ forced a smile.
Liz nodded and left her there. CJ turned and almost ran head-long into Toby.
"Hey," she said.
"Hi," Toby said. "You're going out with Liz?"
"Yeah," CJ shrugged.
"You really can't say no to her can you?" he asked with a small smirk.
"She's nice. I like her," CJ replied.
"Getting roped into a night on the town with her and Mr. Wonderful signals a lack of power to say no," Toby commented.
"It really doesn't," she replied.
"You've only known her a few weeks and she gets you to do things you normally wouldn't."
"I go out."
"You've been talking about how you wanted nothing but a glass of wine and your bed all day," Toby reminded her.
"Plans change," CJ replied before changing the subject by asking, "What are you up to tonight? Is Andi still in town?"
"Yes," he said vaguely. "We're…she can't make it to South Carolina so it'll be a while before I see her."
"Well have fun," CJ replied.
"You too. I'm sure Doug will be a font of incredibly stimulating conversation."
"I don't have to babysit Doug," CJ said smugly. "Josh was invited."
Toby chuckled. "Does he know yet?"
"Why, you want to see the look on his face when Doug invites him?" CJ asked with a smirk.
"Maybe," Toby replied. "Will you at least get a picture of the outing for me?"
"Shut up," CJ said good-naturedly as she turned to leave.
"Have fun," Toby called after her as she walked away.
CJ ignored him as she made her way to the elevator when she found Josh waiting there.
"Hey," she said as she came up behind him.
"Hi," Josh said as he turned toward her. "Going up?"
"Yeah," she said.
"Getting ready for your glass of wine?" he asked.
"No," CJ replied. "I've got plans tonight."
"Seriously? With who?" he asked. He tried to hide the surprise in his voice, but he didn't do a very good job. He hoped CJ didn't notice it.
"Liz and Doug," CJ said as the elevator doors opened.
"Really?" Josh asked. "You're going too?"
"Liz found me in the lobby," CJ explained.
Josh kind of chuckled. "I'm sorry your evening is ruined, but can I say that I'm glad I won't be there alone."
"I figured," CJ replied. "When did Doug get to you?"
"After the afternoon briefing with Leo," Josh said shoving his hands into his pockets. "So we're meeting in the lobby at seven?"
"That's what Liz said."
"You want me to knock on your door so we can go down together?" he asked.
"You don't want to be there alone for even a minute do you?" CJ asked with a knowing grin.
"Don't get me wrong," Josh started to defend himself. "I like Doug, mostly. I just…"
"I get it," CJ said interrupting his thought. "Believe me, I understand."
The elevator doors opened and they got out on their floor. "I'll see you at seven then," CJ said.
"See you then," Josh replied.
They each walked to their separate rooms and Josh couldn't help but feel a twinge of nerves, as if the outing was more of a double date than an ordinary night out.
"How did this happen again?" CJ asked Josh as they made their way downstairs to meet Liz and Doug in the lobby.
"We're both suckers unable to say no to relatives of the governor?" Josh countered.
"Oh yeah," CJ added. "I was really looking forward to silence and wine tonight."
"It won't be so bad, right?" Josh asked. "Besides, you can still have wine, just not so much with the silence."
"I guess the upside is that since we're a foursome there isn't any danger of Liz trying to set me up with anyone."
"I thought Abbey was the one always trying to snag you a man."
"She has inherited her mother's zeal for matchmaking," CJ replied.
"Lucky you," Josh snickered.
"What? It's interesting."
"It's not interesting."
"I'm glad guys aren't like that," Josh said.
"Like what? Obsessed with setting each other up?" CJ asked.
"I don't get it. Is it DNA that makes women think that once they've coupled, everyone around them should be coupled as well?"
"I really don't have an answer for that," Josh said as they approached Liz and Doug who were waiting for them in the lobby.
"Hi," Liz said cheerfully. "I'm so glad you could make it."
"We needed a night out," Doug added.
"Not that we don't love being parents," Liz quickly added.
"No, of course not," Doug agreed.
"It's just nice to have a night out with people our own age," Liz said.
"With people who don't consider cartoons the most important thing in the world," Doug said.
"Oh I don't know about that," Josh said. "I could get down with Fraggle Rock."
CJ chuckled. "Wasn't Fraggle Rock puppets?" she asked.
"You know this how?" Josh retorted.
CJ and Josh exchanged a look that indicated a challenge as well as good humor. Doug took the opportunity to break it up by saying, "Well, shall we?"
The foursome made their way out of the hotel to a bar down the street that Liz and Doug had frequented many times. Liz and CJ walked ahead of Josh and Doug and each twosome engaged in their own conversation.
"So there's a guy who might be here tonight," Liz said to CJ.
"Oh, Liz," CJ said. "I really don't…"
"It's not a set up," Liz interrupted her. "He's just a successful state representative who I thought you might hit it off with."
"He's from New Hampshire?" CJ asked.
"I figured New Hampshire might the home base even if you're only here every so often."
"Right," CJ said.
Josh overheard the conversation and suppressed a smile. It turned out that CJ was pretty good at reading people. Doug was talking about the governor's chances in the next wave of primaries and Josh half-tuned him out.
"I was telling Liz that I think Abbey might be an asset in more liberal-leaning states," Doug said. "She's a successful doctor in her own right."
"Yeah," Josh said. "We're definitely planning on using Abbey down the road. Though probably not a whole lot in South Carolina."
"Because she won't play well?" Doug asked.
Josh tried to mentally prepare himself for an evening with Doug. In truth he did like him, but he hated talking about politics with him. He always got the feeling that Doug was a bit out of his element when it came to politics. He'd rather talk sports with him if he was honest.
They finally arrived at the bar and CJ ordered her glass of wine, which she drank rather quickly. Ever since Liz mentioned that there was a man she wanted to set her up with she seemed to be watching the door. But, after an hour she finally relaxed and conversation between the four of them flowed nicely. Once Josh got Doug off the topic the campaign, things settled down and they all seemed to be having a genuinely good time.
"Josh, you're a good guy, but you're delusional if you think the Mets have any chance this year," Doug said.
"The Mets have a great team," Josh insisted. "I was down at training camp last year and they had some top recruits."
"You go to Mets training camp?" Liz asked, a little surprised.
"Yeah," Josh replied as if it was the silliest question in the world.
CJ and Liz exchanged a glance and chuckled. Liz looked down at her watch after a moment and her eyes bulged. "I had no idea it was getting so late," she said.
Josh glanced at his watch and saw that it was only ten, but he figured that for the parents of a younger child, ten was pretty late.
"We should probably go square up the bill," Josh said.
"I got it," Doug said standing up.
"No, come on, I've got it," Josh said.
Instead of haggling at the table they took the issue over to the bar and left CJ and Liz at the table.
"Men," Liz commented.
"Josh likes to play chivalrous when he can," CJ commented.
"I'm actually kind of glad they took the fight to the bar," Liz said.
"Why is that?" CJ asked before getting a sinking feeling in her stomach.
"Because the guy I wanted to introduce you to walked in about ten minutes ago," Liz replied.
"Oh Liz, really," CJ tried to protest.
"It's not a big deal CJ," Liz said. "I just want you to meet him."
Before CJ realized what was happening Liz was standing and approaching a man a few tables over. CJ turned and tried to flag down Josh, but he was immersed in conversation with Doug at the bar. It was too late for CJ to get a reprieve.
Josh and Doug were settling up the bar tab when Liz approached them from behind.
"Hey," she said wrapping her arms around Doug's waist. "You about ready? We have to get home to Annie."
"We're just settling up the tab," Doug said tossing some bills to the bartender.
"Where's CJ?" Josh asked.
"Oh, I introduced her to a state representative. Give her a few minutes before you leave huh? She's getting to know him."
Josh scanned the table where they were sitting and saw CJ's back. He couldn't be sure but he thought her posture looked uncomfortable. "Sure," he replied.
Liz and Doug said their goodbyes and Josh stood at the bar pondering what he should do. He knew that CJ was dreading an introduction to the guy she was currently talking to. Suddenly he had a thought that seemed a little crazy, but possibly brilliant.
"You all set?" the bartender asked.
"You know what?" Josh said. "Give me two more beers."
"Sure thing," the bartender replied.
Josh looked over a CJ again. He wished he could see her face, but knowing that she was dreading a set up, he figured she wasn't too happy. He saw her turn her face and glance around the bar. Josh assumed she was looking for someone she knew to extricate herself from the situation and he felt better about what he was about to do. Luckily the bartender returned with the beers.
Josh took the bottles and made his way over to CJ and the unnamed man. He walked up behind her and handed her the bottle over her shoulder.
Josh leaned in closely to CJ's ear and said, "Sorry that took so long. There was a line at the bar." He then turned his attention towards the man and extended his hand. "Hi. I'm Josh Lyman."
"Brent Westwood," he said extending his hand. "Third district."
"Oh yeah," Josh said letting go of his hand. He took a seat next to CJ. Josh took a sip of his beer and casually rested his hand on CJ's upper thigh as he continued to talk, "You won pretty big in the last election."
CJ glanced briefly at Josh's hand on her leg and took a sip of her beer before placing her hand on top of Josh's. On impulse she intertwined her fingers with his and she was happy to see that he went along with it.
"Yeah," Brent said vaguely.
Brent Westwood didn't seem like a bad guy, but CJ wasn't looking for what he had to offer. Brent surveyed the body language that was happening and wondered why Liz introduced him to CJ since it seemed pretty clear there was something going on with her and Josh.
Josh made sure to run his thumb over her leg a few times just in case Brent hadn't gotten the message. He also tried not to enjoy the feeling, though that was next to impossible. The more time he spent with CJ, the more he realized he wanted to see her more often. Playing the role of boyfriend was no more a chore to Josh than helping run Governor Bartlet's campaign.
After a few more minutes of inane conversation Brent took the opportunity to ask a question. "I'm sorry, this is awkward, but I have to ask…Liz made it sound like she was trying to set us up," he said uncomfortably.
"Yeah," CJ said equally uncomfortably. "I'm sorry about that. You seem like a very nice guy. Liz doesn't know about this."
"We're both working on the campaign," Josh piped up. "It might be awkward. You understand."
"Sure," Brent replied. "Well, it was nice meeting you both, but I think I'm going to get going."
"It was nice to meet you too," CJ said extending her free hand. "I'm really sorry about this."
"It's okay," he replied.
"If you could keep this to yourself," Josh added. "We'd really appreciate it."
"Sure," Brent replied. "Have a good night."
Brent made a hasty exit and Josh and CJ waved as he walked out of the bar. Once he was gone they turned to each other, Josh's hand still firmly placed on CJ's leg, fingers interlaced.
"I did the right thing here didn't I?" Josh asked.
CJ gave him a Cheshire Cat smile and replied, "Josh, I could kiss you right now for saving me."
"Tongue and everything."
Josh's eyes widened a little at that comment and he realized that they were still holding hands and they were resting on CJ's upper thigh. As much as he lamented having to do it, he awkwardly moved removed his hand from CJ's and rested it on the armrest of the chair.
"I get to cop a feel and I'm rewarded with a kiss with tongue," Josh mused. "I'd chalk that up to good night even if Doug Westin was part of it."
He smiled at her, but he couldn't help but feel something deep down. He couldn't, or didn't want to, put his finger on the feeling, but he if he forced himself to think about it he'd have to say the feeling was attraction. The thought startled him. He had finally, consciously, put a name to the thing he felt when he was with CJ. He wasn't sure what to do with the information so he said nothing and hoped he didn't act too spastic.
"So, do you think we're going to have to explain this to Liz?" he asked.
CJ pondered his question for a moment. "No," she said finally. "I don't think he'll say anything. But then I spin for the media every day so coming up with something to tell Liz shouldn't be too hard."
"You could just tell her you're hot for my body," Josh joked.
"You started it," CJ scoffed.
"I did? You were looking all over the bar for a way out. I helped you."
"Yes, it seemed very self-sacrificing when you were feeling up my leg," CJ reminded him.
Josh smirked. "Can we just chalk it up to a win-win situation?" he asked rhetorically.
"I can't believe Liz," CJ said changing the subject. "If there is a single guy within a ten mile radius she finds a way to introduce me."
"You know Brent didn't seem all that bad," Josh said.
"He wasn't," CJ shrugged.
"So why were you scanning the bar for an escape hatch while you were talking to him? He's a state representative. You could do worse."
"He's not what I'm looking for," CJ said. "I want someone who wants me, not my political cache. And, with the campaign going on, I'm not in a prime spot to start dating someone anyway. Besides, whoever I managed to date would have to be pretty understanding. I spend all my days surrounded by attractive, powerful men."
The minute the words were out of her mouth CJ wondered if she'd said more than she should have. Yes, she was surround by powerful men and they were attractive, but lately, with Toby and Sam locked away perfecting the stump speech, she'd been spending most of her time with Josh. Sure, she thought he was attractive and powerful, but did she really need to articulate it to him?
"You know what I mean," CJ added awkwardly.
"Sure," Josh said sipping his beer, even though he wasn't really sure what she meant. He wondered if she was really calling him attractive, but he didn't want to dwell on it. "So, if you don't want to talk politics on a date, what do you talk about? Deep dark secrets?"
CJ chuckled. "Well yeah, deep dark secrets are usually the first thing I want to know about someone. In fact, we never talked about our deep dark secrets. We should do that now."
CJ was kidding, but Josh either didn't pick up on it or he was a little inebriated because he replied, "I missed the Dean's List two semesters in a row in college."
CJ looked at him and laughed. "That's your deep, dark secret?" she asked.
"It was a blow to my fragile ego," Josh said a bit sullenly.
CJ laughed happily and loudly. Josh noticed how her eyes scrunched up and her whole face got brighter. He wasn't sure he'd seen her laugh with such abandon and he found it very endearing.
"Seriously?" she asked after the fit of laughter passed.
"Yeah, why is that funny?" Josh shrugged.
"I'd say your ego is anything but fragile, mi amour," she replied.
Josh felt a secret thrill by her use of the nickname she'd given him.
"So, what's your deep, dark secret then?"
CJ got serious and for a moment she thought about telling him the truth. She took a long pull on her bottle of beer. "No, uh-huh," she replied.
"You're not gonna tell me?"
"Your deep, dark secret isn't shameful," she replied.
"Yours is?" he asked, suddenly very curious.
CJ squirmed a little. She certainly had a deep, dark secret. One she hadn't shared with anyone before except Toby and for a moment she almost thought about telling Josh, but at the last minute she decided to tell him her other secret. "I didn't have a real boyfriend until I was twenty," she replied.
"That's not shameful," Josh said. "Although I have to say that I'm a little shocked by that."
"You're shocked that I was twenty before I had my first boyfriend?" she asked.
"Yeah," Josh said as if it was obvious why. "You're attractive, smart, funny…where were you hanging out is all I'm saying?"
CJ smiled. "Well thank you," she said as she took another sip of her beer.
"You shouldn't feel ashamed of that Claudia Jean," Josh said using her full name. CJ felt a little thrill with her full name on his lips. In fact she looked at his lips, giving them her full attention and found herself wondering what it might be like to kiss them. When she realized what she thinking she pushed the thoughts away as quickly as she could.
"I don't, really," CJ replied as she peeled the label off her beer bottle. "I just have high standards."
"And you've got your sights set on something more than a state representative from the fine state of New Hampshire?" Josh asked with a teasing tone.
"For the moment," she smiled as bit her bottom lip.
"So, who is it? Who is the ideal candidate for CJ Cregg?"
"Oh I don't know," she replied. "Intelligent, that's on the top of the list, but funny, someone who doesn't take things too seriously all the time. Someone interesting. I guess superficially, tall would be on the check list."
"Well you're a tall woman," Josh said.
"Exactly. What about you?"
"What about me?"
"What's your ideal candidate in a woman?"
"The same I guess," he replied finishing his beer. "Smart, funny, interesting. Tall isn't so much a consideration for me, but I guess laid back."
"You want someone who's laid back?"
"More laid back than me," Josh said picking at the label on his beer. "In case you hadn't noticed I'm a little intense sometimes."
CJ laughed. "At least you recognize it," she replied.
"Yeah, well," Josh let his thought trail off. "I might be channeling the voice of my mother when I say that."
"I love that you listen to your mom," CJ said.
"It's sweet," she replied.
Josh had to control every impulse within him, including the voice in his head that was telling him to lean forward and kiss her. He sat there for a moment with a strange look on his face.
"Are you okay?" she asked.
"Yeah I was just thinking that it's getting late," Josh said. "We could probably make it back in time for you to have glass of wine."
"Oh, I think I've had enough for tonight," she said placing her empty bottle on the table next to Josh's bottle. Both had peeled the labels of their bottles. CJ had heard once that peeling the label off a beer bottle indicated sexual frustration. They both ignored the implications of the bottles sitting on the table naked and exposed next to each other.
"Well," Josh said standing. "I guess we should get back then."
"Probably," CJ said, although she silently thought that she could sit there and talk to Josh all night.
They made their way out of the bar and into the darkness, neither one ready to admit that they enjoyed each other's company much more than friends normally did.