“CJ, have you seen Donna?”
“Why?” Her response to Josh was immediate and she looked up at him from her work, cursing her voice for giving her away; confident at least that her face looked nonchalant.
He frowned as expected – he had known her long enough to read her reactions. “I thought she was locked in here with you.”
“Yes, she was,” she confirmed. “She left when they let us out.”
“Oh…” He paused, glancing round the office as if making sure that she really wasn’t there.
“Anything I can help you with?” CJ asked him, hoping that maybe he would change the subject. She couldn’t shake the image of the hurt that had resided on Donna’s face throughout their conversation. Looking back, perhaps her delivery had been a little direct, but she still believed she had been right to say it. As a friend it was painful to watch Donna live for Josh, and watch him remain totally oblivious. She just wished she’d had a little more time, so they wouldn’t have parted on the uneven note that they had.
“No…” Josh was replying to her, still glancing around the office, as if, somehow, he couldn’t accept that Donna wasn’t there. “I just can’t find Donna.”
CJ observed the man in front of her – technically a colleague superior to her, but just let him try to enforce that! – and once more relived her talk with his assistant: And she reworded her earlier thought. As a friend, it was painful to watch them both live for each other, but remain totally oblivious to the requited nature of their affection. Perhaps she should take this opportunity to be direct with him also. After all, she had already begun meddling in this relationship.
“Maybe she went home. She does have a life outside of this place, you know? Her entire life doesn’t revolve around you.”
He laughed, and grinned, “Of course it does!”
She offered him a disapproving look, and he added, “Kidding!”
She nodded and looked down at her work. She shouldn’t make this easy for him. He should squirm a little, for being so oblivious for so long.
“CJ, what’s going on?” he asked her, warily, stepping closer to her desk.
“I’m just trying to figure out how to deflect the questions about how temperamental our security system is,” she told him, fully aware that wasn’t what he had meant.
“No… With Donna?”
He seemed concerned and for a split second, or two, she felt bad about trailing him on this journey of confusion; but he really could be an ass sometimes – especially with Donna – and as, this evening, she had done the same, she felt he should suffer a while in hopes that the outcome of this conversation would make amends for the tension caused by her earlier one. Either that or it was going to cause even more bad feeling. If that happened, not only would she no longer trust her instincts, but she would need another plan. But she would cross that bridge if she came to it.
She looked up at the Deputy Chief of Staff and, with a sombre expression, told him, “We had a little chat about her career.”
“Is she planning a change?” he asked, his brow creasing lightly.
“Well, I hope so.”
“What? I couldn’t survive without Donna – she knows that!”
“Yes, Josh. But she could survive without you… And she should.”
“She said that?”
“No. She would never say that. That’s why I said it.”
Now looking even more concerned and confused, he ran a hand through his hair. “What is going on CJ?”
“You’re holding her back, Josh. She should have moved on years ago.”
“But this is the White House! She doesn’t want to move on!”
“Has she told you that?”
“No. Did she say that she does?”
“No. Because she knows you’d be lost without her. And she wouldn’t do that to you.”
“Then why are we having this conversation?”
“Because I think you and Donna need to talk.”
“Because she thinks you’re giving her every opportunity you can for her to develop, when you’re really just trying to keep things the way they are… Because she thinks you care about her career.”
“I do care – ”
“You don’t, Josh.”
She could hear the anger in his tone now and his eyes were hard and telling her she’d better not have had this conversation with Donna.
“You care about Donna, Josh. Not her career… Her career would take her away from you, so you’ll do everything in your power to keep her here.”
“That’s not true.”
She smiled sadly. “You can tell me that lie, but do you believe it?”
In a heavy silence they just stared at each other, and she absorbed the anger glaring across the desk.
“CJ, is this the ‘chat’ you and Donna had?” he asked, waving quote marks in the air as he said ‘chat’.
She held his gaze, blinking a couple of times, before saying, “Not exactly.”
“Did you tell her I don’t care?”
“Not in so many words.”
“I told her she should find a life away from you.”
The two words were spoken so quickly they were almost amalgamated into one. She was certainly doing a good job of upsetting him as much as she’d upset Donna.
“Donna’s in love with you, Josh.”
And definitely as direct.
Josh paled. “What?... Did she say that?”
CJ couldn’t help but smile at his question – it seemed to be his signature response tonight. “I should point out that Donna said very little once I got started on your relationship… So, no, Donna didn’t say that either. But it’s obvious, Josh.”
“What? To who?”
“Apparently, everyone except you… But it won’t work, Josh – ”
“How can you say it won’t work? It would – ”
He stopped, obviously seeing the smile she could feel creeping onto her lips. “Well, that answers that question,” she smirked. “Josh, I messed up. And you need to go and fix it.”
“CJ – ”
“Josh! I opened the can of worms that is your relationship with Donna!” she said, stating each word carefully to make sure he fully understood what was happening this evening. “I didn’t tell her that you’re in love with her, and I didn’t tell her that she’s in love with you – though I’m pretty sure she knows I’m on to her – but it’s out there,” she waved her hands around to emphasise her point, “And you need to go do something about it.”
“CJ, I’m still not - … Donna’s in love with me?”
She stopped herself from snapping and took a deep breath before, calmly (or close enough), saying, “Do I really need to bang your heads together? Yes, Josh, Donna’s in love with you. And if you’re in love with her, then you need to figure something out. I’m surprised you’ve managed this long.”
“We’ve been fine, CJ. Explain to me why I have to fix this when you started it?”
“Because it’s because of you that the lid was so firmly on the can in the first place. You’re so smitten with her, and terrified of your own incompetence, that you won’t let her go, so you could actually be with her.”
“Firstly, ‘smitten’ is never a word that describes me and secondly, I didn’t know that she felt that way about me, so I didn’t know that I needed to let her go.”
CJ nodded, and allowed him that point. “Okay. I suppose that’s true. But not the part about ‘smitten’ – I will be using that again.” She smiled, and he smiled back, though it was still laced with worry.
“Why did you choose tonight to… clue us in?”
She shrugged. “It just came up… It wasn’t intentional, but once I’d started…” She trailed off, a rolling motion of her hand implying the rest.
“What should I do?”
CJ smiled at his innocent, genuinely unsure, expression and moved forward in her chair, resting her elbows on her desk. “I’d start by going over to her place. If she isn’t here, then that’s most likely where she is.”
“Okay. And what do I do? I can’t tell her to quit.”
“No. You can’t… Maybe ignore your work situation and see what happens. You’ll both have time to think while she’s in Gaza.”
He nodded, pensively. “That’s true.”
Seconds later, when he had made no move to leave, CJ smiled at him and prompted, “Well?”
“Oh. Yeah. I should go.”
She smiled again, conveying her encouragement this time and nodded, and he took two steps towards the door.
“Was it really that obvious?” he asked, turning back to her.
She feigned deep thought and pursed her lips, forming an expression that would let him think she was going to say, ‘Not really’. And then she actually said, “Yes.”
He gave a small laugh and then nodded again. “Right. I’m going. I’ll see you tomorrow.”
This time he did walk out of her office, but he stopped again just outside the outer office, and turned his body into profile. She frowned a little, wondering why he had paused, then he turned his head to look at her and smiled, widely, excitedly – the way he did whenever the President pulled out all the stops and impressed even his own staff – then he broke into a slight jog and disappeared.
She smiled to herself and rested her chin in one hand. The image of Donna’s earlier exit from her office flashed across her mind again, and her smile widened as she nodded to herself.
She wouldn’t be needing another plan: She’d made amends.