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A Case Study in Exemplary Mental Health

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Charlie considered himself a master of pranks. He had put many hours into refining his craft, and each hour was worth it. Pranks could affirm that you were smarter than the target, pranks
could give you prestige in the office, but the best thing about pranks was that they made people laugh. Charlie had been working for C.J. for over a year, and he had noticed that she could
certainly use a good laugh. She seemed a little lonely, and while it was Charlie’s policy to not to dig too deep into the personal lives of his colleagues, he figured that a reminder of the fun they had back in the old days wouldn’t be out of line.

So he Krazy-glued her phone.

Charlie smiled to himself as she walked in. It was probably the start of their friendship, the night of the prank war. He found it amusing that she had ever thought she could best him, and she had found it amusing that he was willing to have a prank war with a member of the senior staff. His first piece of revenge had, of course, been Krazy-gluing her phone. While the original moment could never be replicated, he thought it would at least make her smile, and hopefully remind her that she still had friends at the White House, even after the unfortunate Toby problem.

“Good morning, Charlie,” C.J. said formally, rushing into the building with a folder in her hand, bumping into an intern while she read the contents and not stopping to apologize.

“Good morning, C.J.,” he said, trying to keep a poker face and failing slightly. Luckily for him, C.J. was still too engrossed in her folder to notice. “I finished the policy brief last night, and it’s on your desk. I think you should call the chairman of the Public Works committee when you’ve approved it so we can move on to the next part of the process.” Okay, we was definitely grinning now. Surely she would catch it.

“Sounds good,” she said simply, still not looking at him. He followed her as she walked towards her office, half to make sure he’d there when his brilliant plan succeeds and half to make sure that C.J. didn’t walk into a table with anything valuable perched on it.
“C.J., maybe you should put down the folder, you’re gonna bump into something,” Charlie explained.

“I can’t I didn’t finish reading this,” she fired back. “I slept late, I have to finish.”

“How much did you sleep?”

“Six hours. My alarm didn’t go off. Now I need to finish reading this or I won’t be ready for the staff meeting. And if I’m not ready for the staff meeting then the President’s going to be mad, and that will be worse for all of us, do you understand?”

“I think so.”

“Great. So if you could, you know, stop me before I walk into anyone important, that’d be great.”

“I can do that.”

“Good.” They reached C.J.’s office within the next minute and they both greet Margaret quickly. C.J. sat behind her desk and Charlie took a seat across from her, now grinning openly. “What?” C.J. asked when she finally put her folder down, looking at Charlie for the first time that day.

“I just think you should make that call now,” Charlie recommended.

“Well I have to read your brief.”

“It’s very good. I think you should just make the call.”

“Do you want me to get you before I make the call?” C.J. asked, exasperation in her voice.

“Yes.”

“Okay.” Charlie left, and the beginnings of doubts were forming in his mind. He thought about how C.J. was agonizing over having gotten six hours of sleep, and how ridiculous that was, yet also understanding how completely understandable it was, because it was the most sleep she had gotten in two weeks. Maybe he shouldn’t have played a joke on her. No, she was going to like it. He had even written a short message affirming their friendship and glued it to the receiver part of the phone. She would be happy, and she would laugh for the first time that month. Charlie was a good friend.

Twenty minutes later, Margaret went to get him.

“She says if you want to be on the call now’s the time.” Charlie rushed to the office, sitting down in the seat again as Margaret handed C.J. the number. She reached to pull the phone up and-

“What the hell?” C.J. hissed. She tried again to pick up the phone, and again failed. “Seriously, WHAT THE HELL?” she yelled again. “MARGARET!”

“What?” Margaret asked, barely entering the office.

“Margaret, find whatever stupid-ass intern decided a good use of his or her time would be slowing me down and compromising a crucial policy plan. Get their ass in my office so we can discuss DESTRUCTION OF WHITE HOUSE PROPERTY!” This was not the plan.

“C.J., don’t you think you might be overreacting, it’s just a joke-”

“Charlie,” C.J. began, “it is not *just* anything. I can’t work if I don’t have a phone. And if I can’t work, then that has lasting impacts on the President’s agenda. We’ve only got a few days left to do any work at all, and I have enough problems without having to waste two hours finding a new phone because someone thought they’d try to be funny.”

“I could probably unstick the phone if it means that much… and I don’t think you should fire anyone over this...”

“Charlie, did you Krazy glue my phone?” C.J. asked in an unreadable tone.

“Yes,” Charlie admitted.

“Charlie, I just don’t understand how you thought that would be appropriate,” C.J. sighed, putting one hand on her forehead.

“Well, I thought since you’d be having a rough time, it would make you laugh.”

“You thought wasting my time would make me laugh?” C.J. asked, handing the phone to Charlie.

“It did during the primaries in 2002.”

“You mean when I was Press Secretary, and had infinitely less work?” Most of the anger was gone now, and C.J. wasn’t really looking at anything.

“It was stupid.”

“Yeah, it was.” The formality was back now, and Charlie managed to wrench open the phone.

“C.J., are you sure you’re doing okay?” he asked.

“I’m doing amazing, Charlie,” she said after a pause.

“Are you sure?”

“Yes, I’m sure. I’m not going to fire you, but don’t do anything like that again, are we clear?”

“Sure, C.J. And you’ll tell me if you need anything?”

“Yeah.”

“See you later.” Charlie had not expected that outcome. She was supposed to laugh. She had been angry. She had been so angry she had ignored that it was a solvable problem… and then she had just seemed off. But it wasn’t Charlie’s business. He worked for her, and while they were friends, they weren’t tell-each-other-life-secrets friends. He understood that. And he figured he knew someone who she could talk to.

 

“Mr. President?”

“Charlie! How are you doing?”

“I’m doing well, Sir, but I was wondering if you had a moment to talk.”

“Of course, of course. Sit down. Did C.J. send you?”

“No, Mr. President, but I was wondering if I could talk to you about C.J., Sir,” Charlie said quietly, not knowing what the President’s reaction would be.

“Is she being too rough on you? I’ll definitely talk to her about it Charlie, it seems like she’s been a bit of a jackass to everyone lately.”

“No, Mr. President!” Charlie said firmly. “Well, I was going to ask if you could talk to her, Sir, I’m worried about her.”

“C.J. can take care of herself, Charlie,” the President said, a bit of an edge in his voice.

“I know she can, Sir, but I think she’s having a rough time.”

“Aren’t we all?”

“Of course, Sir, but I’m really worried about her, and I know that you care about her, so I think you should talk to her. You know, make sure she’s okay.”

“C.J. would tell me if she wasn’t okay.”

“No she wouldn’t, Sir.”

“Of course she would,” the President said dismissively.

“Has she ever before, Sir?” Charlie asked.

“No.”

"And do you really think she’s gone the entire eight years without any suffering?” The President looked down and Charlie knew his point had landed.

“Why wouldn’t she tell me?” the President fired back.

“Well, between you thinking that she was the leak, and Leo dying… I think she just didn’t want to let you down, Sir, or be a burden.”

The President paused. “That does sound like C.J.”

“Yes, Sir.”

“I’ll talk to her, Charlie. Thank you.”

“Thank you, Sir.”

Charlie left the Oval Office, once again confident in his plan. This one would work. He was a good friend, and dammit, he was going to make C.J. feel better.

 

C.J. really wished Charlie hadn’t done this. It was 10:00 and she had had to cancel a meeting and she really didn’t see the point of bothering the President so late. She told Margaret to go home, and told Margaret to also tell Charlie he could go home, because she really didn’t feel like talking to Charlie. She took a deep breath to collect her thoughts before she stepped into the Oval Office.

“C.J.!” The President greeted her with a smile that was so pleasant it was definitely forced.

“Mr. President,” she said, looking down at the rug. It was a nice rug. Blue, with an eagle on it. That was interesting. She could focus on that.

“C.J., is everything okay?”

“Everything’s just wonderful, Sir,” C.J. said, smiling what she hoped looked like a genuine smile.

“C.J… There are people on your staff who are worried about you.”

“Charlie.”

“Yes. And Charlie’s a very smart man. So, I want you to tell me what’s wrong.”

“Nothing’s wrong.”

“C.J….”

“Mr. President, you should be sleeping,” she began, “and no matter how many times you say my name I’m still not going to tell you the problem!” she said a little louder than she meant to.

“So there is a problem…”

“Sir, you aren’t my therapist.”

“No, but I am your father.” That got C.J.’s attention.

“You aren’t my father, Sir.”

“For all intents and purposes I am, now tell me what’s going on.”

“Sir, nothing’s going on.”

“Well then let me just say this, C.J. I still trust you. For a little while there I was suspicious but I’m not anymore. What’s more is that you could never be a burden to me. You could have a twenty two hour anxiety attack every other day and you still wouldn’t even begin to be a semblance of a theory of a burden. You are my family. You are also an incredibly competent Chief of Staff, and not a day goes by where I don’t thank God that Leo named you as his replacement. You do good work, and you make the world a better place through your work. Whatever is troubling you, I will help you through it, even if I have to use all of my powers as President to do it.” C.J. stared at the floor, at the eagle, the eagle with the olive branch. As long as she stared at the eagle she wouldn’t cry… she wouldn’t cry…don’t cry… dammit.

“It’s… I just… I miss them…” she got out, lifting her hands to her face to swat at any tear that the President could in theory see.

“Toby?”

“Yes, Sir…” she waited for him to yell at her, to tell her Toby was a traitor.

“Claudia Jean, did you think I’d be mad at you?” the President asked softly. C.J. decided speaking would make her sound like even more of a sniveling mess so she just nodded.

“Yes, Sir,” she repeated, pulling herself together for a few moments. The President reached over to hug her when C.J. heard a door open.

“Jed, why aren’t you in bed?” the First Lady asked, looking into the room, eyes narrowing when she saw C.J. “C.J., why isn’t my husband in bed?”

“I, Mrs. Bartlet… Ma’am… we were just talking, I was going to leave soon,” she said, desperately hoping no more tears were visible.

“Damn right you’re going to leave soon. He should have been in the residence a half hour ago.”

“Yes, ma’am.”

“Abbey, I can take care of myself, and I can decide who I talk to, when I talk to them, and about what!” the President said firmly.

“Oh I’m sure you can! By all means stay up all night talking to the staff about whatever the hell you want!”

“That’s what I’m going to do! And I’ll have you know Abbey, that you and I aren’t the only people in the universe, and when I need to help my family work through a problem, I’m damn well going to do that, and the entire Secret Service couldn’t stop me!”

“C.J.!” Abbey turned around, looking directly at C.J., “What was so important that you decided my husband, the President of the United States, should risk his health?”

“Well ma’am… we were just talking about… well… I’ve been kind of.. I don’t know… sad lately… and I just wanted to talk to someone…” Whatever came of this, C.J. would not throw Charlie under the bus. She had agreed to go, and she had risked the President’s health to talk about her own insignificant problems.

“Oh, you’ve been sad? Do you want a cookie, dear? Do you want a hug and to be told how special you are?” the First Lady hissed.

“No ma’am…” C.J. said. She figured she might start freaking the eagle out, with how much she’d been staring at it.

“Well good. News flash. Everyone’s got problems. Me? My husband has multiple sclerosis. My oldest daughter? She just got cheated on by her husband. My younger daughter’s been kidnapped. But not one of us has jeopardized the health and safety of the President to complain.”

“Abbey… stop it…” the President said.

“This makes me crazy, Jed. How many nonsense things have you been spending your time on…”

“Abbey…”

“She’s right.” C.J. said, looking directly at the President, no emotion in her voice. “I wasted your time, Sir, it won’t happen again.”

“C.J….”

“You were very nice, Sir, but the First Lady’s right, you should be sleeping, and anyway, I’m doing fine.”

“Thank you, C.J. You can go,” the First Lady said, and C.J. gave her a quick nod before returning to her office.

 

She heard the yelling from inside her office. The yelling she had caused. The stress she had caused. Stress was bad for M.S. She had endangered the President. The Secret Service should open a file on her. Not to mention maybe now the President would be worried about her and that would disrupt affairs of state. This was her fault. What was she thinking, bringing her nonsense into the Oval Office? Do you want a cookie, dear? She had wanted a hug, she was really that pathetic. Her one job was to handle things, keep things off the President’s desk and she had failed, she had failed, maybe the President hadn’t been lying to her about her being good at her job, but he had at least been mistaken-

“C.J.?”

“What do you want?” C.J. groaned, her head on her desk.

“I heard some noise and I wondered what was going on,” Josh informed her.

“Everything’s perfect, Josh,” she said, but she still didn’t have the energy to lift her head off of the desk.

“C.J., what just happened?”

“Nothing happened.”

“C.J., you aren’t doing so well.”

“What clued you in?” Fuck denials, she might as well be pathetic.

“Your head is still on your desk,” Josh said, laughing a little bit.

“You’re hilarious.”

“And you’re miserable.”

“And together… we fight crime!” C.J. said, waving her hand around. They both laughed weakly.

“Did Mrs. Bartlet yell at you?”

“No.”

“C.J.?”

“Yes.”

“What’d she say?”

“Oh you know, all your problems are myths, that sort of thing.”

“Do you believe her?”

“I don’t know.”

“C.J…”

C.J. snapped her head up from her desk. “I swear to God if someone ‘C.J…’s me one more time I’m going to wreck my entire office.”

“You don’t know if you believe her?”

“No? I don’t know! I know that my problems are nothing compared to hers, I know I shouldn’t have brought it up in the Oval, I know they weren’t worth keeping the President up… but they feel real. They feel painful.”

“Yeah.”

“Yeah?”

“That sounds like it does really suck.”

“Why don’t we talk anymore?” C.J. asked suddenly.

“We’re talking now.”

“I mean when there’s light in the sky and we’re both in our right minds.”

“Neither of us is insane.”

“Not according to Mrs. Bartlet.”

“Mrs. Bartlet is doing what she claims she hates when people do. She interrupts something important to complain about her own problems and makes everyone else feel terrible. She’s also tired and stressed and so she lashed out, she’s not a bad person, but she’s wrong here. You’re not insane.”

“Thanks.”

“We don’t talk because I didn’t think you wanted to.”

“Really? Why wouldn’t I want to?” C.J. asked.

“I don’t know, I thought you were still pissed at me for leaving so suddenly.”

“Yeah, that was a dick move.”

“It had to be done.”

“We can debate that tomorrow,” C.J. sighed. “I really wanted to talk to you.”

“Why?”

“I miss having friends.”

“We’re still friends.”

“Do you miss me?” she blurted out suddenly. “I mean, when you’re out on the campaign trail, do you ever miss the days when we would all sit over there,” C.J. waved around to a table and multiple chairs, “and Leo would sit where I’m sitting now, and we’d all bicker at each other. Do you miss it at all?”

“I miss it all the time," Josh admitted. "Look, I think I might actually be becoming friends with Lou Thornton…”

“Really?” C.J. laughed.

“Yes, but as I was saying…”

“You used to hate Lou Thornton, you would tune in every time she gave commentary to rant about how she was leading the party in the wrong direction…”
“Are you going to let me finish?” Josh asked.

“Fine,” C.J. muttered, but she was smiling for the first time in what felt like years.

“What I was trying to say was, I’m making new friends, and Donna and I are… something… but I do miss you guys every day. Sometimes I wonder what the hell I was thinking when I left.” There was a long pause, and C.J. leaned back in her chair.

“Do you think I’m good at my job?” C.J. asked. “You called me on the phone one time during the investigation to complain about how I wasn’t managing anything correctly, and I just wonder if your views have evolved at all since then.”

“Well I had just gotten out of an insanely difficult primary, and half the country thought you were the leak, so I was a little on edge, but you’re great at your job, C.J., really great. You’ve really been a good sparring partner. Do you want to know what Matt Santos said the first time I talked to him after you got the job?”

“Sure.”

“He said that it was good that I didn’t get it, because I like the political fight too much, that I wouldn’t be able to do the kind of fighting I enjoy from the Chief of Staff’s desk. And he was right. You are better at this than I ever could have been.”

“He called you unfit to be Chief of Staff and you left to work for him anyway?” C.J. asked.

“And I got him elected.”

“I wish that wasn’t so relatable.” They both laughed again, and C.J. felt the sting of the First Lady’s words beginning to fade.

“Sometimes I wonder how I’m going to handle being Chief of Staff,” Josh admitted.

“You’ll figure it out.”

“Sure. And I’ll also call you 500 times a day, so look out for that.”

“Please do, if this night’s proven anything it’s that I’m an attention whore.”

“You’re not,” Josh said seriously. “You know that you aren’t, right C.J.?”

“Sure.”

“It’s important to me that you know that you aren’t.”

“You’re very sweet, Josh, but it was just a joke.”

“No it wasn’t C.J., and I want you to know that you aren’t.”

“Josh, are by any chance planning to fight the First Lady?”

“If I said yes would you report me to the Secret Service?” Josh asked.

“It’s a possibility.”

“Then I would never dream of it.”

“Good.”

“You should go home, C.J. Get some sleep.”

“It’s early.”

“It’s 11:00.”

“Ahhh, so you mean around lunch time then?”

“C.J., I’m going to walk you to the car, and make sure the Secret Service drives you home.”

“You will do no such thing.”

“It’s what Donna did for me when I left the White House after my first therapy appointment.”

“I wasn’t shot.”

“You might as well have been, for all the good it’s doing you.”

“That’s a very healthy way of looking at it, Josh,” C.J. said.

“Well you and I are two case studies in exemplary mental health,” Josh joked. “How many of these folders do you need to take home?” he asked, waving his arm at her folders.

“Oh… all of them.”

“How about three?”

“Five.”

“Fine.” They walked through the hallways in silence, halfway through Josh awkwardly put his arm around C.J.’s shoulder. “You’ll do better, you know. I mean, I don’t know exactly what’s wrong, but eventually you will do better.”

“Thanks.”

“And I’ll come by your office, and we can talk.”

“About?”

“About whatever. About old times, about the Nats-”

“About you and Donna?” C.J. asked mischievously.

“About you and Danny?” Josh fired back.

“A conversation for another day,” they said simultaneously.

“We can delay the conversation but if he hurts you I’ll rip his arms off,” Josh said.

“Josh, I don’t think you could pin one of Danny’s arms behind his back.”

“Are you calling me weak?”

“Yes I am.”

“And Danny is stronger than I am?”

“Yes.”

“I’m just saying the man’s been eating a lot of pizza since I last saw him.”

“Josh!”

“Sorry.”

“Thank you.”

“Thank you for what?”

“For apologizing sort of, but mainly for the talk, I needed it.”

“Any time, C.J.” They hugged quickly and awkwardly, because neither of them was the hugging type, and then Josh waved to the agents and walked off as they escorted C.J. to her car.

 

The next day at work, Charlie met C.J. as she walked into the building.

“Good morning, C.J.,” Charlie said.

“Good morning, Charlie,” she said, looking up at him.

“Are you feeling better C.J.?” he asked, because he had been wondering ever since he left.

“A little bit better, Charlie.”

“Well, good then.”

“Thank you, Charlie.”

“No problem, C.J.” “The thing with the phone was funny, when I think about it. I shouldn’t have been such an asshole to you.”

“We all have bad months.” C.J. rolled her eyes

“Thank you Charlie,” C.J. said again, making eye contact. Charlie smiled. He was a good friend of C.J.’s. One of many.