All characters belong to Aaron Sorkin, John Wells Productions, Warner Bros., & NBC. Standard disclaimers apply. Please send feedback. Things You Said That Day Violet
She's fallen asleep on his balcony.
This is ridiculous; he's barely stepped out on that balcony since he's lived in this place. Nothing is out there but an ugly, cheap canvas director's chair and dead leaves from last fall. But C.J. has her martini glass on the concrete and her ankles crossed on the wooden railing, her head tipped back over the top of the chair. From what he can see of her face, she even looks comfortable.
Toby slides the screen open and leans in the doorway, watching her. The sun is high and fierce; it hits her like a spotlight. Her eyes are shielded by oversized sunglasses, purple lenses that he thinks he would hate on anyone else. There is a blush on her face and on her shoulders, where one spaghetti strap of her tank top has slid down her arm. He takes a step forward, squinting, and stoops to pick up her glass.
"Not even in your dreams," she murmurs, barely moving her lips. "Give it back."
Surprised, he puts the glass in her hand, waits to let go until he's sure she has a grip. "You were sleeping."
She shrugs toward a straight sitting position, though she keeps her feet up. "My spider sense was tingling, Toby."
"I didn't want a fly to come and drown in it." He goes to lean on the railing, since there is nowhere else to sit, and it means he can face away from the glare.
"Nice try. Bugs don't like alcohol." She stirs the olive in her sun-warmed martini with a finger. "This is what separates us from the animals."
"Okay," he says. "Also, air conditioning."
She smirks and licks her finger clean. Maybe it takes her a little longer than necessary. "You only like people to think that you hate the outdoors, I think. It's part of your persona."
"I have a persona?" He raises an eyebrow. "And I cultivate this persona by pretending to dislike heat, humidity, insects, and inclement weather?"
"Yes," she says, straight-faced.
"That's pretty clever of me."
C.J. nods and drinks some of her martini. Sweat begins at the back of Toby's neck, and he tugs at the collar of his polo shirt. His blue jeans are in decent shape because he rarely has occasion to dress down; hers are worn almost white across the stress points above her knees. She looks at home lounging in the light, and he remembers how long she lived in California. Sun all through the year, the sinuous Pacific coastline, shudders rising from the deep core of the earth under her feet.
"Where's your drink?" she asks. He gestures toward the open door. She cranes her head. "Is the TV on in there?"
"No," he says.
"It should be." The chair is tilted back, rocking on its rear legs. "We ought to be at work, you know. There's--"
"It's a Saturday afternoon."
"--only a week until Congress goes home, and we're supposed to be stirring up some response--"
"It's a Saturday afternoon," he repeats, louder. He would never talk this way to Sam, never even talk this way to himself. "Let it go for"--he checks his watch--"thirty-nine hours, would you?"
"You still haven't written a good speech about stem cells," she says. Not quite a reproach, just a statement of fact, but it stings. "I'm going to go into the press room Monday morning with the same evasive maneuvers that haven't worked for the past four days."
Toby pushes himself off the railing and stands over her, arms crossed, his shadow falling into her eyes. "C.J.," he says.
"...Let it go?"
"Let it go," he agrees. He walks into the living room.
His empty glass has soaked a ring of condensation into tomorrow's New York Times. He picks it up and takes it to his kitchen, fills it from the half-finished pitcher of martinis. The jar of olives is still open on the countertop. He splashes one in. The drink would be better if it was fresh, or made with shaved ice instead of the crushed kind his refrigerator produces, but a mediocre martini is infinitely preferable to none at all.
He wanders back to the living room and finds C.J. standing in the balcony doorway, arms flung open across the space. Backlit, so that she glows around the edges.
"TV's staying off," he says.
"Spoilsport." He's not sure, but it seems like she winks at him. "No, I've given up. I've decided, for the moment, to be completely uninterested in and uninformed about the federal government and its labyrinthine ways." She waves her hand in an irregular circle. "Dig me, I'm Rob Ritchie."
He chokes on a laugh, the alcohol smarting in the back of his throat. "That, yeah, that definitely makes me wonder why I'm drinking with you."
"Really? It makes me want to get a gun, and a Bible, and a woman to cook and clean and bear my children." Her voice drawls into a remarkable Ritchie impression. "And send the Chinese a message: 'meet an American leader.'"
"Very good." He toasts her with his glass. "In fact, frighteningly good."
"When you watch his appearance on Oprah sixteen consecutive times," she says. She tosses her head and fixes the dangling shoulder strap so that it lies over her collarbone, over a spot where he has a sudden impulse to touch her.
The air-conditioning whirs mindlessly behind him, coolness leaking out around them to vanish in the summer day. He twists the stem of his glass in his fingers, hides a smile behind its rim. "Ritchie wouldn't know how to pronounce 'labyrinthine'," he says.
"Truthfully, I wasn't even sure I was right." Again the almost-wink, and she downs the last dribble of her martini. "See? You're not the only one who has a persona."
He blinks. "And yours, you've decided, is a fifty-five-year-old Republican guy?"
She chuckles a little, but it trails off too soon. "Sometimes I don't know," she says. "You know, I always had an interest in certain issues, but I never got immersed in it the way I am now before I worked for the President. I never followed every move of every Democrat in Congress, never felt like if I missed Wolf Blitzer one afternoon I'd be lost in, well, the labyrinth. I would certainly never have watched Oprah sixteen times; I hate Oprah."
"You never had to," he says, though it seems like he should say more.
"Or maybe I was always like that, but my time was occupied by other things. You know, I had PR jobs. Friends who worked forty-hour weeks. Boyfriends." Her eyes dart to his momentarily, and then away. "Maybe I was just pretending to be good at anything else. Sometimes I don't know."
Quiet slips between them like the sun through the slats of the balcony rail. He narrows his eyes to fight the light, and to see the details of her shaded expression more clearly. Often he knows her thoughts as well as he knows his own; today he needs to study her face, the way her mouth is curving toward a frown. Today he needs to preempt it.
"You can be good at more than one thing." He keeps his voice light, almost sarcastic. "In my experience, you can be very good at quite a number of things."
She scoffs and turns her back on him, moving out to the balcony. "This, from someone who hasn't had a dinner date since the Dukakis campaign." Her feet are bare, sandals long since kicked off by his front door. Her toenails, he notices, are painted a glistening candy pink. The color is unusually playful for her; he wants to praise her for it.
Instead, he shuffles just a little closer, standing at the threshold. Staying tongue-in-cheek. "How do you know I don't avoid dinner dates on purpose?"
"Could be part of the persona."
"Sure it could." She leans forward on the railing, dropping her chin. Her shoulders shift, rosy and gleaming in the lowering light. Strong and fragile. "What happens to us when we can't tell the difference?"
Toby is acutely conscious of the cold blast of air conditioning at his back, and the simmering air between them. He can sense the shape of all the other things between them, too. It seeps in through his pores like the feeling of being followed, on an unfamiliar road, in the dark. He knows he can't shake any of it. And he knows what the next best thing to do would be.
He steps out onto the balcony, pushing the chair out of his way. He switches the martini glass to his left hand and places his palm, cool and slightly damp, on C.J's back. His fingers graze the back of her neck. "As long as it doesn't mean one of us becomes Richard Nixon, I don't really care."
A tremor begins under his hand. She hides most of her face in her shoulder, but he sees the quirk at the corner of her eye and realizes that she's trying very hard to hold in a laugh. It's a relief.
"That was then," she says, and the humor bubbles over into the words. "This is now. It's trendy to be conservative again. All the cool kids are doing it."
"I've never been cool."
She peeks at him again over her shoulder, still struggling to keep a straight face. "I wouldn't in a million years have guessed."
Her hair is taking on a loose wave from the humidity, and it's the easiest thing in the world to let a tendril twine around his finger. "We're not going to lose, you know."
"Of course not," she says.
The doubtful tone lingers, drifts away into a wry silence. "And if we did," he says, after a moment, "I'm sure you would find gainful employment with some of your other talents."
"Right." She draws the word out as if she's tasting it. "What would you do?"
Beyond here there isn't much of a view to look at, just a street that's fairly quiet at this time of day; apartments and offices on the opposite sidewalk. Dullness seems to intensify in midsummer. But his fingers are in her hair. "I could always go on Oprah," he says.
"Would you be giving book recommendations to Bible Belt housewives?" she teases. "Or marital advice?"
He glances down at himself. "Weight loss tips."
Now she laughs for a long moment, delicious and clear as clean air and a cloudless sky.
She stands up and twists out from under his touch to face him. Her hips are braced against the railing, tilted subtly forward.. "Oh, no," she says, pushing the purple sunglasses up to the top of her head. "You're much too... something for Oprah."
He pretends to consider this. "...Smart?"
"Smug. You would be better as one of those Machiavellian politicians in the background of an Oliver Stone movie."
"Back and to the left," he says. He watches a stray strand of her hair; it clings to her eyelashes, curls against her cheek.
"Dark suits," she says cheerfully. "Long shadows. They'd even let you have your cigars."
"White hat or black hat?"
"Oh, black hat, definitely." She smoothes a wrinkle out of the front of his shirt. A gentle pat before she takes her hand away. "The good guys in Hollywood don't smoke. Anyway, like I said, people love Republicans. And you could never play a compassionate conservative."
The syllables roll from his tongue: "È migliore da essere temuto che amava." His pronunciation is acceptable, though it's better when he's been drinking good wine.
She stares at him. "You know the smug thing? This would be why."
"Machiavelli," he explains. "''It's better to be feared than loved.'"
The strand of hair wafts too close to her eye; she raises her hand to flick it away. She touches his hand, reaching for his martini glass, running a finger around its rim. It doesn't ring. "I've always wondered how much that's true."
It seems that the sunlight is aimed directly into his face, targeting him. Hurting his eyes. When he looks down, he finds himself concentrating on the pink of her nail polish, the fraying cuff of her jeans. These things are much more real than the impossibly blue sky. He shrugs. "I don't know. I'm pretty scared of you."
When he looks up, her eyes are shut. She's smiling, the kind of secret smile he's never sure is meant for him. But then, and quickly, she places her hands on the railing, gets a good hold and swings her legs up around his waist. He's kissing her without another thought, a hand under her thigh and one in her hair again, tipping her slightly backward. A long spell of vertigo.
Just as he's running out of oxygen, she pushes him back so she can stand on her feet. She rubs the back of her leg. "I'm not twenty-five anymore," she says, a little sheepish.
His head is reeling. He can't think of one word to say to that. So he just cracks a smile and hooks a finger in the waistband of her jeans. Mouths meeting, promise, plunder and release; kissing her makes him younger and more forgetful. They step on each other's toes, easing into the living room in something like a waltz.
He thinks he's steering her toward the bedroom, where it's coolest, but along the way he has to stop, to pin her between himself and the wall so he can taste that spot on her collarbone. She squirms against him, not unhappily, but with a little groan, protesting, "Sunburn, sunburn."
Reluctantly, he steps back. She takes the hem of her tank top in two hands and pulls it over her head, one smooth motion, and then she twirls it to the floor. Irresistible. Under his lips her breasts are softness over firmness, tasting slightly of salt. The slow rise-fall of her breaths. The rapid tense-release of her pulse. He obeys this rhythm, kissing all the way down to the button of her jeans. Her zipper comes apart under his fingers. He yanks the jeans down with her panties, lilac lace; he wonders how much of this she had planned. Her hand settles on the back of his neck, and he doesn't ask.
On his tongue the taste of powder, dusted faintly over her own liquid flavor. He doesn't need air now; he's either drowning or he's breathing her. When he ignores her little signals, little shoves at his shoulder, her hips come off the wall toward him. She always needs less support than she thinks.
It surprises him when she wriggles out of his grasp, stepping lithely around him, and he realizes that his knees are killing him. He scrambles after her, gets her to the opposite wall this time, lets her pretend she's pushing him away while she's pulling his shirt over his head.
Playful. He doesn't know how long it's been since she's been this way. It's a veneer over something, over everything, but as long as it lasts, he doesn't care.
She takes advantage of the time he spends getting his belt undone, and dashes, actually laughing, to the bedroom. He goes after her before he's even finished undressing, stumbling like a clown, and she's flung herself, breathless, backward across his bed. Her body is hills and valleys, pink and pale, corner and curve: the infinite series of contrasts that renders every woman beautiful.
She reaches up as he moves toward her, twines herself around him and he loses track of everything else the instant he's inside her. Loses track of everything beyond his arms holding her, her legs holding him. He has to nip at that spot on her shoulder again, and she winces a little and scolds, "Careful." He's never careful enough; his hands press into her waist as if he's trying to mend her bones.
The room spins; she's above him. Rocking gently, opening further, moving faster, until the tension of her is almost enough to explode him. With a great effort, he sits up to meet her, one hand on her cheek to bring her face to his. They are moving in a whirlpool; the kiss is an anchor. She knows when to slow down without being told. He couldn't have told her, can't speak, except that he hears himself repeating her name, over and over. Because all women are beautiful, but this is C.J., and he's more than aroused, more than amazed, by the simple fact of her.
Her head drops, a flower closing in the last rays of the sun, forehead against his neck. He inhales the honeyed scent of her hair, skims his hands over her thighs, is not done yet. Pushing, now, into a final rhythm familiar as a signature. So that they are almost one person. Soft, and hard. This is the last thing he thinks. His breath rustles into her ear, the shape of her name still formed on his lips; he is empty of everything else.
After some gasping and rearranging, they are lying the right way across the bed, limbs still knotted together, filmed in evaporating sweat. He closes his eyes so that she exists only where she is still touching him. She sighs a little, weakly, and sooner than he'd like she moves away. He doesn't open his eyes; he knows she's leaving and he doesn't want to watch.
The shower turns on. Always a strange sound, his shower running when he's not in it. He resists the impulse to get up and join her. Slits of light shine through the blinds; the summer heat gets in through all the cracks. He pulls the second pillow over and tucks it under the back of his neck. He dozes, or he doesn't. The shower turns off.
He listens for the faraway squeak of his front door hinges, the thud when it's pulled shut. Over the endless hum of air, he hears nothing. He decides that he's missed the moment and begins to prepare, in the back of his mind, for seeing her at work on Sunday afternoon or Monday morning. They will both be preoccupied, with their jobs and their grievances, with the future and their own equally precarious history. He won't have had enough sleep, but if there are rings under her eyes they will be discreet. She covers well, sometimes almost perfectly.
Already he is seeing her this way. So he doesn't expect her to step back into the room, doe legs stepping delicately over a trail of clothing. Her hair is wet and curling, and she's wearing his tattered blue terrycloth bathrobe, open over still-damp skin. She balances one martini glass in each hand, taking a sip from each of them to keep from spilling, and perches on the foot of his bed.
"I made a new pitcher," she says. She licks her lower lip. "It's possible I'm better at this than you."
He sits up, slides over to her, and takes a glass from her hand. He allows himself the luxury of stroking her forearm, up to the cuff of the bathrobe's sleeve. The moisture on her skin is as cold, as soothing as his first sip of the fresh martini. She's better at this than him.
"When was the last time you went to a movie?" she asks. Apropos of nothing, not looking at him, which makes him wary.
"On a date?" He remembers back to last winter. Christmas Day, and they sat in the movie theater in the town where she grew up, eating popcorn slimy with fake butter and suffering three hours of bad film as an antidote to eight hours of Leo in front of Ways and Means. He remembers her hand, insistent on his knee.
But she says, "No, I just meant, what was the last movie you saw?"
The answer is the same. "That horrible thing, with the guy with the face."
"How frightened should I be that I know you mean Jim Carrey?" She fusses at the front of her hair. "I went to see the new Star Wars movie one Saturday. In May. Weather like this, actually."
It has, in fact, been a worse summer than usual. Even for Washington. "I'm not much on talking puppet movies," he says.
She purses her lips over the rim of her glass. "The Star Wars saga is modern-day mythology, Toby."
The bathrobe is drooping down over one of her shoulders. He lowers his eyes. "Was it any good?"
"No." She flashes a rueful smile. "Well, maybe. I didn't exactly see all of it."
He fishes the olive out of his martini and eats it while he waits for her to go on. But it takes longer than he thought it would. She leans back on her elbows, careless about the bathrobe falling away. The shadows of the blinds pattern her body like an intricate tattoo.
"CGI, for your information. Talking puppets." She shakes her head, looks at his ceiling or through it. "It starts off with the Jedi guarding Natalie Portman from death threats. And--I walked out."
He has a feeling it was worse than that, less dignified. And he has no right to ask.
This has the feeling of an ending, all of this, from the spots where her hair has dripped on the comforter to the burn in his throat. He shivers and wishes for something to say. What he wants to do is take her, press her into the mattress, drink the rest of the martini off her sunburned skin. He scratches his chin, looking at the ridge of her hipbone. Easy does it. He turns his glass in his hand.
She looks him in the eyes and sees, perhaps, everything about him, everything he's ever seen in her. Her mouth settles again into the rueful smile. "Put the TV on, Toby."
So he finds the remote on his nightstand and does. He sits against the headboard; she scoots up to rest her back against his knees, terrycloth a buffer between their separate skins. Rob Ritchie is on CNN, shaking hands in Arizona where at least the heat is dry.
"It's moral values like these that make America great," C.J. twangs, with the television.
"I'm telling you. Fuck Machiavelli. This guy's persona that goes over. Moral values. Flag-waving." She tilts her head, looking at their clothes tangled by the door. "We could really use a wife."
She doesn't see him nod. A news alert comes on, with an urgent theme song and a spinning satellite graphic, and yesterday's news.
He started missing her a long time ago. It isn't--won't be--new. He understands why she walks away from him. Ridiculous, and true: those are the moments when he finds her the most beautiful.
What sunlight there is slants longer now, later and richer and sweeter. His martini is almost gone and he can still taste her. He notices that her eyelids are flickering shut, that she's slipping slowly toward sleep, away from him.
He takes a chance and touches her hair, cool water on her fingertips. "C.J.?"
Lazily, she raises her glass. "Here's to not being an insect."