Actions

Work Header

Glass Lemons

Work Text:

And he would always have that bemused, I'm-lovin'-every-minute-of-this flicker behind his eyes, but he wouldn't be smiling. And somehow, even with the bemused, and the flicker, she always thought he was mocking her. For years she'd thought that.

He'd known her a long time, had brought her on the campaign because he said she was the best, but it felt like nepotism and it felt like a handout. She had these visions, these teeny panic attacks on the campaign trail where she'd come into the motel or the office or the warehouse or whatever and everyone would stop talking, and she'd know, she'd just know that they'd been laughing at her and Toby'd told them, "be nice, she's a friend."

"Be nice, she's a friend." And he'd wink at her when she sat down, bemused and flickery, but he wouldn't be smiling. And in a room full of boys, she always felt like everyone was cooler than she was.

On a Saturday morning, some time before noon, he came into her office in sneakers and handed her a glass of orange juice.

"Drink it, CJ, you need the vitamin C," he said.

She looked up from the computer and put her glasses back on. "Thanks." He wasn't sitting down, but he wasn't leaving either.

"So you're here."

She chuckled, holding back the plastic lid so she could take a sip of orange juice. "Yeah, I'm here."

"I have Melnick in an hour," Toby said.

"Toby?"

"There are, uh, bagels, too, I think. Margaret's here. With Leo. She's got bagels."

"Thanks," CJ said again. "It's a regular brunch party. What's Leo doing?"

"He's got a thing," Toby waved a hand. "Something went down in Hoynes' office."

She felt her antennae twitch. "A story?"

Toby shook his head. "Not a story. He'd've said something. Leo's got it."

"Toby, if this is gonna be something that I --"

"Look," he said. "I just wanted to bring you some orange juice. It's not a thing. Pretend I didn't say anything. I promise you, CJ."

She groaned. "Toby, contrary to popular belief, I don't come in here on Saturdays because the White House gets better cable reception. I've got at least four stories that are gonna break on Monday and I'm doing my job. I'm doing my job, Toby. So if Leo's got a thing, I think I should at least..."

He had cocked his head to the side and he was doing the flickery eye thing. He even toed the carpet.

"...I should at least get a heads-up," she finished lamely.

Toby cleared his throat, and it sounded like he was trying not to laugh. "CJ!" His eyes went wide and he held his hands out, palms up, in surrender. "It's nothing! Or if it is, I don't, I don't know a thing about it. It's not a big deal, CJ. Leo and Hoynes go way back, give a guy a break, all right?"

She put the orange juice down and turned back to her computer.

"I've got Melnick," Toby said. "I've got some prep work to do." And he left.

CJ leaned back in her chair and spun around so she could see the window. It was always like this, Toby playing in the know and making her feel stupid. Even wearing jeans on a Saturday she felt like the girl nobody wanted on the street hockey team because they were afraid she'd trip over her skirt. In an actual skirt, it was even worse. She turned on the TV, muted, with captions, and let MSNBC play out while she went back to her notes.

When she looked up an hour later, Leo was in her doorway.

"How...Leo? How long have you been standing there?"

"About three seconds. Did Toby talk to you?"

She pointed to the blue and white waxy paper cup. "He brought me juice."

Leo nodded. "Fabulous."

"Was he supposed to talk to me?"

"I dunno," Leo shrugged. "I can't figure myself what else he'd be doing here on a Saturday. But I'd rather it was none of my business."

"He said you had a thing with Hoynes," CJ said.

Leo laughed. "Yeah, sure I had a thing with Hoynes. It's his wife's birthday, he wanted to know where I got those glass lemons I gave Mallory."

"You gave Mallory glass lemons?"

"Some, uh, some artist in New York makes these glass lemons. They're apparently a really big deal, movie stars puttin' 'em in their houses and whatever. They've got words inside, you know, like fortune cookies. Of course, no one ever breaks 'em open, because they're like fifteen hundred dollars a pop, so it beats the heck outta me. But then again, I'm not an art person."

CJ stood up. "I'm not an art person either," she said.

"Mallory's was a quote from Amelia Earhart. It said 'courage is the price that life exacts for granting peace.' I thought that sounded right up her alley."

"That's nice," CJ said, thinking. "That's really nice."

Leo was looking at her now, sort of squinting and peering down his nose. "So Toby didn't talk to you."

"He's meeting with Melnick from the DOE."

"Hank Melnick?" This was clearly the first Leo'd heard of it. "Sam coulda done that. Hell, an intern coulda done that. Toby said he was taking that meeting?"

CJ nodded.

"You guys are all lunatics," Leo said. "I'm going home. It's Saturday, for cryin' out loud."

"I've got some calls to make and then I'm out of here myself," CJ said. "I'll see you Monday, Leo."

Leo had already headed out, and he flapped his hand behind his back to wave goodbye. "Yeah, yeah, see you Monday."

Two hours later, she ended up outside Toby's office, and she knocked on the door.

"Yep," he called. She came in.

"Toby?"

He was standing in the corner, stretching his arms up above his head with his hands clasped. He exhaled loudly and let his arms drop. "Yeah?"

"Why -- Toby? Why were you meeting with Melnick?"

Toby crossed behind his desk and sat down, not looking at her. "For the, um, the New Mexico thing. You know."

"Sam could have done that, Toby," CJ said, sitting down across from him. "Leo says an intern could have done it. Why are you here on a Saturday?"

"Leo said that?" Toby raised his eyebrows.

"Why are you here on a Saturday, Toby?"

He took a breath and splayed his palms out on the desk like he was going to stand up again. "You liked the juice?"

"The juice was fine, Toby, the juice was splendiferous, it was the best damned orange juice I've ever had and I think I'm gonna move to Florida. Why are you here?"

He didn't answer. She leaned in a little more closely.

"I think I know why you're here, Toby," she said.

"Oh yeah?"

She nodded. "Yeah."

"Care to, uh, enlighten the rest of us?"

"I think you knew I'd be here," she said. "I think you knew it was a light weekend, but you knew I'd be here."

"I knew you'd be here," he said.

"I thought so," she said. She felt stronger, now, felt some momentum, and she kept going. "Hoynes was talking to Leo about glass lemons. These, um, these glass lemons that this artist makes. I looked them up on the web. They're really cool, as it turns out. Lemons, because they're sour. Glass, because it's fragile. With quotes inside, they have. Like, famous quotes. But what's cool about them is that they're these beautiful, awful, fragile things that you never want to break, even though all the good stuff's inside."

"Hoynes wanted glass lemons?" Toby rubbed his forehead.

"You're not listening to me," CJ said. "You took the Melnick meeting because you knew I'd be here."

"CJ!"

"I've known you forever, Toby. So I need to know two things. First, did you bring me on this campaign because you're in love with me?"

He sat bolt upright. "What? CJ? Absolutely. Absolutely not. No way in hell. I brought you on this campaign because you're good at what you do, you're the best at what you do, we needed you. And now --" He looked absolutely incredulous. "CJ, there's not a single person I know who could do your job half as well as you do. You are underappreciated, overworked, and, at times, the wobbly voice of reason holding this whole damned wagontrain together."

"Wobbly voice of reason?" CJ laughed. "And wagontrain, Toby? You don't write speeches that way, right?"

He chuckled. "You got me off-guard," he said. "It's Saturday."

"Well, anyway, good," she said. "Because you know I'd have to kill you dead."

"CJ," Toby said. "Get over it."

She nodded. "I'm over it. But I have another thing."

"Yeah?" Toby squeaked.

"*Are* you in love with me?"

He didn't answer as quickly as she'd anticipated. Instead he dropped his head into his hands and rubbed his skull. "Aw, CJ," he said. "It's complicated."

She reached out and took his hands. "It's not complicated, Toby."

He looked up at her, and he wasn't smiling. He wasn't flickering or bemused either, this time, but he was something else, something different and deeper...and almost sad. "It is," he said. "We've known each other forever. It is."

"You know," CJ whispered. "I used to think you were so cool, you so had your shit together. But you're just a basket case like the rest of us."

"I coulda told you that," Toby said.

"Hey," CJ said, reaching out a hand and tipping his face toward hers. "Kiss me."

He did.

He kissed her, and she was the coolest woman on earth. And nobody was laughing at her now.

"I've got something for you," she said, pulling away and reaching into her file folder for a piece of paper, which she handed to him.

"It's a lemon," he said.

"It printed in black and white," she said. "It's supposed to be yellow."

"It's a lemon, CJ."

"It's a glass lemon," she said.

"These things cost fifteen hundred dollars?"

"Not if you just print them off the website," she grinned.

"Well, thanks," he said. "What, ah, what does it say inside?"

"Mm, you gotta break it open and find out," she said. "Sometimes you gotta just bust through."

He stood up. "Thanks," he said again.

"So listen," she said, standing up as well. "I'm going out for lunch. And I think you should come with me. Because it's Saturday, and there's no reason for either of us to be here anymore."

"It is Saturday," Toby agreed.

"All right, then," CJ said. "I'm getting my stuff. And then you're coming with me."

"I guess I am," Toby said, and she was out the door.

On her way back to her office, nobody was laughing at her. Nobody was there at all, and she couldn't stop smiling. Because sometimes, just sometimes, she was the *only* one who knew what the hell was going on.