Disclaimer: These characters do not belong to me; no copyright
"Sam, I've known Toby for nearly twenty years. In all that time, I have heard Toby say the word 'sorry' exactly twice." CJ said slowly. "Once was to Andrea on the day she left him."
"And the other?"
"Is not to be discussed."
CJ fiddled with her glasses as she tried to push away the memories Sam had evoked for her. What ever possessed her to mention, even obliquely, the Incident? She never, ever talked about that, and only rarely thought about it.
The Incident was always capitalized in her mind. She had tried hard to forget it, although she never could. The two others involved never, ever referred to it, either; at least, not to her. She doubted that they talked about it to each other.
She didn't even remember now exactly when it had taken place. The Incident had mercifully taken on a time and season of its own, not crowding out the pleasures of subsequent seasons and dates with unpleasant memories.
"I am so sorry," he had said, with painful honesty and genuine contrition. He had said it so softly that she did not hear the words as clearly as the emotion behind them.
It had been fall, she thought, remembering how cold she had felt. Or perhaps it was just fear that had chilled her to the bone. Maybe that was why she had fled to California and Isobel's well paying, mind numbing job. She had wanted that numbness, after.
It started with a flying visit to Washington, after her contract with EMILY's List ended. She had an interview or two and, naturally, she had looked up her old friends, the Wyatt-Zieglers. She had met Andy at their wedding and liked her a lot. Toby, she had known since high school. Her brother had brought him home one vacation from university and Toby's witty, sometimes cynical repartee had made him a family friend and, eventually, as much her friend as Steve's.
Andy was a welcome addition to the loose cadre of friends that CJ had gathered around her. Understanding how hard it was to join a well established friendship network, CJ had made the effort to make Andy feel as if she was not just Toby's wife, but welcome on her own merits. Andy responded to her overtures with frank offers of friendship and CJ counted her amongst her treasured friends.
The visit began well. It took nearly two days of gossip and laughter and conversation and reminiscing for CJ to realize that there were serious problems. Both Andy and Toby tried so hard, and so successfully, to hide it that it shocked her to find Andy in the kitchen early one morning, in tears.
"Andy?" CJ rounded the refrigerator and stopped dead. Andy, still in her bathrobe, was leaning on the counter, huddled over, her hands covering her face.
"CJ." Andy straightened immediately and turned to face the window above the counter. CJ went to her and put an arm around her.
"Andy, what's wrong?" She asked gently. Andy resisted.
"Nothing, CJ. It's just... nothing." Andy reached for a piece of paper towel off the roll to wipe her eyes.
"No, it isn't," CJ objected. "What's the matter, Andy? You and Toby having problems?"
"You could say that," Andy mumbled into the paper towel.
"You need to talk?" CJ offered, although she wasn't sure she wanted to know.
"It's not something you need to worry about." Andy shook her head. "We'll work it out somehow."
"Maybe I should go."
"No." The vehemence startled CJ. "No, that's not necessary. I'm glad you're here."
Oh, boy, CJ thought to herself.
"Last night was the first time that we've managed to go to bed without fighting," Andy admitted softly, still not turning around. "It's... easier with other people around."
"Talk to me, Andy," CJ ordered softly. "Please. Tell me what's wrong."
"Pretty much everything." Andrea finally turned to face CJ, tear tracks on her cheeks. "It's all wrong, CJ. How could we have screwed this up so badly?"
CJ steered Andrea into a kitchen chair, with a box of tissue at her elbow and proceed to make a large pot of tea. When it was brewed, she placed a cup before her friend.
"I am going to make coffee cake," she announced. "And then you're going to spill it. Got it?"
"Yeah." Andrea bit her lip. Then she poured herself a cup of the hot liquid and held it in both of her hands as if it could warm her.
CJ pulled out the mixing bowl and found flour and sugar and baking powder. Butter and eggs from the refrigerator, spices from the spice rack and raisins from the cupboard completed her mental ingredients list. She paused for a moment, trying to figure out where the baking pans would be, but suddenly remembered that Andrea didn't cook. Toby did.
"He's drinking." Andrea hurled the statement into the quiet of the kitchen, broken only by CJ's sifting. "He's drinking a lot right now."
"Is that the problem?" CJ asked carefully. She knew Toby could belt it back with the best of them, but he never seemed to be out of control.
"No." Andrea clutched her cup even harder. "That's just a symptom. He's unhappy, CJ. The last two jobs were.... He got fired from Henderson's campaign. Nothing seems to be going right for him. He hates his current job and it's only a matter of time before he mouths off and gets fired again. He hates this house. He hates Washington and wants to go back to New York. He hates... me."
The coffee cake was good. The conversation was long and intense. Shying away from recalling the exact details, CJ remembered only that Andrea was desperately unhappy in her marriage, and that she blamed herself. Much of Andy's side of the discussion was peppered with 'if only'. If only they hadn't moved to Washington. If only she hadn't run for Congress. If only she hadn't won. If only.
CJ listened with a sympathetic ear, hating every moment of it. She didn't want to see her friend hurting like this. She did not want to see Toby through his wife's eyes. The temper, the cynicism, the drinking and the lack of understanding were all parts she knew Toby had, but where was the casual kindness, the humour, the wit and charm, and the deep, abiding, endless love?
CJ also did not like hearing about the intimacy of her friends' relationship. Andy, needing to talk more than she needed to be listened to, spoke on, heedless of her audience.
CJ tried very, very hard not to hear the ways in which Toby had made his wife his and how he was impossible to refuse; she concentrated on hearing the love that was in her voice as she spoke, and of the disappointment and anger that that was all that was left of a love story gone horribly awry.
Yet, she stayed and listened. And when the torrent of words aching to be said had been said, she hugged her friend and let her cry.
Later, when the storm was past and the cake eaten, she and Andy went shopping and took in the sights.
Much later, when Toby came home, tired but sober and pleasant, the three went out for dinner. CJ, her eyes sharpened, noted that they did not hold hands anymore. The little domestic intimacies were missing and both seemed pathetically grateful for her company. Both rose gallantly to her attempts at humour and the repartee was fast and furious. She could almost, but not quite, forget the morning and frankly enjoy herself.
Much, much later, the storm returned with greater intensity.
Andy had some work to do, so she excused herself. Toby and CJ stayed in the living room to talk. CJ didn't want to talk about the events earlier and she knew Toby didn't, either. So they talked about politics, taking a brief dip into literature and a quick side track into gossip.
Toby went to make tea, intending to bring a cup to Andy as well, and CJ waited. The whistle of the kettle came and went, but Toby didn't reappear. She went into the kitchen herself, wondering what was taking so long.
She found Toby staring at the remains of the coffee cake, its crumbs sitting forlornly on the two plates they had forgotten to clear away.
"You made coffee cake," Toby said quietly as she came in. There was something in his voice that made CJ afraid. She cursed mentally; Toby knew the Cregg family's habits. That coffee cake was made only as a comfort food, never for any other reason. CJ had made it automatically and Toby knew what it meant.
"We... I was hungry earlier," CJ faltered.
"She talked to you, didn't she?" Toby's voice still held that note.
"She's unhappy, Toby."
"She needed someone to talk to," CJ added, not liking the look on his face. He looked... betrayed.
"She needs to talk to me," Toby said quietly and left the room.
"Toby..." CJ reached out to stop him, beseeching. "Sometimes it's easier to talk to a woman about these things."
Toby allowed himself to be caught, but the effort at drinking a cup of tea was a complete failure. Both of them tried hard to capture the essence of their easy friendship, but Toby was too preoccupied with his anger and hurt; CJ trying too hard to ignore it.
CJ recalled wrapping a pillow around her head to block out the furious argument going on in the next room. Nothing would block out the feeing of guilt for having precipitated this. No matter how often she told herself that she was nothing more than a catalyst, if that, the feeling persisted.
The argument got louder. She could hear the bedroom door open and footsteps stomping down the stairs. Another set followed, accompanied by an angry shout.
"Andy, where the hell are you going?"
"Anywhere but here," came the furious reply.
CJ frowned, but stayed huddled under her blankets. The crash of something hitting the wall and the shattering of glass propelled her out of bed and into the hall. She knew Toby's temper and Andy's wasn't any calmer. They sounded like they were going to kill each other.
She peered down the stairwell. Toby was at the foot of the stairs, his back to her and Andy was facing him, about five feet away. The shards of the glass vase that usually sat on the faux fireplace was pooled at the foot of the stairs at Toby's feet. Andrea was fully dressed, with her purse slung under her arm, her face white and tense.
"I can't stay here anymore," Andrea said, low and fervent.
"Andrea." Toby's voice started out stern and angry, but it broke a little at the end. "I'm sorry."
Andy looked as if he had struck her. CJ felt as if he had as well. In all the years she had known Toby, he had never apologized to anyone. She had never heard that word pass his lips and, based on the look of pain on Andrea's face, neither had she. The tableaux froze, the only motion being the tear that was slowly trickling down Andy's left cheek.
Then she turned and went out the door, shutting it very softly behind her.
CJ stood frozen to the spot. She wanted to rush down the stairs and pull Andy back, to pull them back from the brink. She wanted to run down and hold Toby, to give him warmth to melt the ice he seemed to be encased in. She wanted to run away, far and fast, away from this tragedy enacted before her outsider eyes.
"No." The broken whisper decided her. She took in the sight of Toby sitting heavily on the stairs, his head in his hands, his shoulders shaking with emotions she did not even begin to understand. She fled to the safety of the guest room and contemplated seriously the possibility of climbing out the window and into her car.
She must have slept sometime that night. She could hear the bird chirping outside with their maddening cheerfulness and she slid out of bed and slipped to her knees. She prayed unselfconsciously and fervently for the strength to face what was waiting for her downstairs, to face the broken hearted man she cared so much about. She prayed for the words and the courage to say the words that might bring comfort. She prayed for the courage to be the friend to him that he had always been to her. As always, prayer calmed her soul and she rose from her knees, dreading the scene she was about to face, but firm in her resolve to face it unflinchingly.
The glass at the bottom of the stairs was swept up and, as she wandered through the house looking for Toby, she found it immaculate. It was as if Andrea's leavetaking had taken all the life out of the house, leaving it cold and clean and sterile.
Toby must have worked out his anger and hurt by cleaning, she thought approvingly. Housework did the same for her. She stopped in the kitchen, calling for Toby softly. The kitchen was clean, with the remnants of the accursed coffee cake absent.
She finally found Toby in the study. He was lying on the couch, his eyes closed and perfectly still. She noted the bottles on the side table, all of them empty. She frowned and approached. One of Toby's arms was hanging down, his fingers brushing the carpet. Next to his fingers...
"Jesus," CJ whispered, panic rushing through her. She ran to the couch and picked up the small vial. She looked at it for a long moment, then at Toby's ashen face. She touched his forehead gently. It was cold, and clammy, and the panic rose exponentially.
"Jesus Christ, Toby, what have you done?" She felt frantically for a pulse at his neck. It was there, weak and thready, and as she touched him, she felt the rise of his chest. Thank God; he was still alive.
She looked around for the phone. It was an eternity away, an endless three feet.
"I'm gonna call 911, Toby," she said hurriedly. "You'll be okay. I promise." She rested her hands lightly on his chest, to balance herself to stand up. She jumped as his hand moved to cover hers.
"No," he breathed softly, his voice feeble. "Please, no."
"Christ, Toby..." She swore, with rising hysteria. His voice, weak though it was, still held a tone of command that she knew so well.
"Leave me be, CJ." Toby's eyes opened a crack. "Please."
"No. I can't let you do this," she insisted, but his hand resting on hers held her trapped as effectively as manacles. She searched her memory frantically, harkening back to her girlhood first aid training. She tried to pull away, but there was more strength in the hand holding hers than she would have thought possible. Instead, she pulled him up and the first aid lessons slammed into her consciousness with full force.
She caught him as he stared to fall back. Keep him moving. Keep him awake. She forced him to sit up and held him there, thankful for her height and the leverage it gave her.
"Sit up, Toby," she commanded. "You have to sit up." He stayed sitting and she pushed until she could get his legs to fall on the floor. His head fell forward and she lifted his chin with her free hand, then slapped him smartly. He snapped his head up and his eyes opened a little wider.
"That's right," she said briskly. "Keep your eyes open." She stepped away and snatched up the phone.
The ambulance seemed to take forever. She was trembling with fear. She had to slap him twice more to bring him out of the torpor for at least a few moments and the desire to slap him as hard as she could was very difficult to quell.
She filled out the papers at the hospital while he had his stomach pumped and wondered how to get in touch with Andrea. Her cell went unanswered and she didn't knew where else to try. She left a half a dozen messages at her office and waited.
CJ felt nothing when the doctor praised her for her quick response; between the alcohol and the pills, Toby had been in grave danger. He must have taken the pills not too long before she got up. Another hour and she would have found a dead man.
CJ heard this without really comprehending it. She thanked the doctor and asked if she could see Toby. The doctor consented, adding that the staff psychiatrist would probably want to talk to her. She nodded dully and followed the doctor.
Toby was propped up in a bed, looking ghastly. There were still remnant of the charcoal used to expel the pills on his face and running into his beard. He had his eyes closed and looked exhausted and sick. She bit her lip, trying to hold back the angry, bitter words that were trying to force themselves out of her mouth.
"Toby...?" She said instead and was surprised to hear how gently the word came out. He opened his eyes and looked at her, then looked away.
"How are you feeling?" She tried again and was gratified to see that the gentleness was still there.
"Stupid," Toby replied softly, his voice raw. "Hurts."
"It isn't a pleasant experience, having your stomach pumped," she agreed, artificially cheerful. Having successfully quelled the anger, she was at a loss of what to say. What do you say to someone who just tried to commit suicide?
"No," he echoed.
"I, um, tried calling Andrea, but I don't know where she is," CJ said quietly. "I left messages with her office."
"Don't." Toby shook his head. "Don't tell her about this. Please."
"She'll be here for you, Toby. She'll come back." CJ said soothingly.
"Yes." Toby nodded feebly. "Yes, she will. I don't want her to see me like this."
CJ started to protest, but the words fell away.
"I'm already a failure in her eyes," Toby whispered painfully. "If she comes back.... Not like this."
Before anything could come to mind, CJ noticed the door open and a woman of about her own age came in. CJ straightened and stepped back a pace.
"Mr. Ziegler?" The woman consulted the chart. "I'm Erica Danford. I'd like to talk to you, if I may?"
Toby looked at CJ quickly. Both of them knew she was a psychiatrist; it was standard to call one in on a suicide attempt. CJ glanced at her, then back at Toby and gave an inward sigh. His face was blank and closed; he wasn't going to talk to her, no matter how hard she tried. She knew Toby's stubbornness and it would take a lot more than a busy, overworked hospital psychiatrist to break through.
She tried. CJ had to admit she did try. Finally, after many questions and no response from Toby, CJ bent over him and whispered fiercely to him.
"Say something or she'll lock you up for the rest of your life," she hissed.
"Go away," Toby told the doctor.
"Mr. Ziegler..." Danford gave him an exasperated look. Toby sighed.
"Last night was... very bad," Toby replied, slowly and reluctantly. "It was... an impulse..." He broke off and looked at CJ for help. CJ nodded slightly and motioned to the doctor.
Out in the corridor, the doctor looked at her, puzzled.
"Are you Mr. Ziegler's wife?" she asked, looking at the chart.
"No, no, I'm not," CJ assured her. "I'm a friend. A close friend. Dr. Danford, Toby's wife left him last night. It was... bad."
"Ms..." Danford began.
"Cregg," CJ supplied.
"Ms. Cregg, unless you can convince me otherwise, I am going to admit Mr. Ziegler for psychiatric evaluation," Danford said gently. "He's obviously depressed..."
"With cause," CJ inserted.
"Yes, with cause," Danford agreed. "He needs help."
"Toby is very, very stubborn, Dr. Danford," CJ said carefully. "And not willing to cooperate. Is putting him into a hospital really necessary?"
The doctor thought for a moment.
"Is there a family member who can be with him?" Danford asked quietly. "If Mr. Ziegler will agree to outpatient care, I can release him into the custody of a family member."
For the first time, CJ blessed the chronic lack of psychiatric beds in city hospitals.
"His brother is in Florida. I'll see what I can arrange," CJ promised.
It took a little bit of time to find David Ziegler. When she did, David told her he'd be there by the next morning. David was honestly shocked at the news and asked her not to say anything to his parents until he got there. Knowing Toby felt exactly the same way, she agreed.
Not knowing what else to do, she went back to Toby's house after assuring herself that Toby was in good hands in the hospital.
The answering machine was blinking when she got there.
"Hi, it's Andy." Andy's voice was cold and stiff. "CJ called to say there was some kind of emergency. Unless it's a matter of life and death, please don't call me again, Toby. I'm not ready to talk to you yet. If CJ wants to talk to me, she can call me at work."
CJ erased the message and sat down to think. She wanted to scream. She didn't want to be in the middle of this and she had no one to talk to about it, no one to lean on for support.
She curled up on the sofa, with a rueful smile. Toby was the one she leaned on. She would call him sometimes at odd hours, needing a shoulder to cry on. Toby always gave her practical and unsentimental advice and Andy always added her sympathy and moral support. They were both such good friends to her.
She did not return Andy's call.
David arrived early, but CJ hadn't slept anyway. She had met him only once, and she felt awkward and shy in being there in this family crisis.
"Thank you for being here, CJ," David told her quietly as they drove to the hospital. "When you called yesterday, I was shocked, but not as shocked as I would have been if you hadn't been there in time."
"Yeah." CJ leaned back in her seat. She was exhausted, physically and emotionally. The thought of her being too late was just too much to contemplate. David glanced at her and fell silent.
Toby was dressed and ready to go by the time they had finished filling out the paperwork and David spoke to the doctors. CJ's eyes filled when she saw him. Gone was the proud and monumentally difficult pain in the ass that she knew, replaced by a broken, shamefaced man who could barely look at her.
"David." Toby's voice, almost always quiet, was now inaudible.
"CJ called to tell me that Andrea walked out and you lost it a little," David said, with characteristic Ziegler bluntness. "Let's get out of here."
That was all that was said, but CJ could tell that there were layers of undercurrents there. Toby was hating David being there almost as much as he wanted him to be there. David was a little too careful to not say anything that might upset his brother. Both of them spoke very little, but seemed to say a great deal to each other.
The next two days were very hard on everyone. Toby was still feeling a little weak and he was so ashamed of that moment of weakness that he barely spoke. CJ never thought she'd be happy to hear Toby roar about something that roused his ire, but she missed it. She wondered if she's ever hear it again.
David, on the other hand, was a little too talkative, too obviously cheerful. It did not go well with the lines of worry around his eyes.
It was even harder on CJ when she received a call back from Andy. Andy was apologetic about the fight and spoiling her visit and hoped she wouldn't lose her friendship over it. CJ hoped so, too, but she couldn't speak naturally to the woman who had hurt Toby so much. CJ was afraid to say anything, lest she let the suicide attempt slip out, so she said very little. Sensing the aloofness, Andy apologised again and hung up. CJ hung up, mourning the loss of a dear and valued friend. She could never explain to Andy and Andy would think she had taken Toby's side.
The second day brought a phone call from Isobel Whiteley, a PR consultant out of Beverley Hills. She breezily offered CJ a job at an obscene salary, with full benefits if only darling Claudia would come out and help her out of a muddle. Isobel was just so busy with clients that she needed someone fresh and new...
CJ jumped at the offer. It was in California, far away from Washington and politics and the sad atmosphere of this place. She could get away from this, take her frayed and fragile feelings somewhere where it was warm and artificial and shallow. She had quite enough of depth and reality for right now.
She promised Isobel that she'd be out as soon as she could and hung up. Then she paused. How could she go halfway across the country when a dear and valued friend needed her?
That evening, she sat silently at the dinner table, pushing her food around on her plate. Toby was doing the same thing, as was David. Meals were a dismal affair.
"CJ." Toby spoke suddenly, with something like his old strength. "I just wanted to say... CJ, I am so sorry about all of this." The words were very, very soft.
CJ looked up at him. He looked back at her, his dark eyes as unreadable as ever. She wasn't sure what this meant, but David suddenly pushed back his chair and breathed out a sigh that sounded like relief. Toby said nothing else, but began eating with something like an appetite. David followed suit.
CJ picked up her fork, wondering what just happened.
"Everything will be fine now," David told her quietly as he helped her load the dishwasher.
"Really?" She looked at him sceptically.
"Yes. Toby said he was sorry."
"And that makes it okay?"
"No. It means he won't try again," David said, his voice going soft, very like Toby's. "To him... To all of us, to apologize means we won't do it again if it is humanly possible. Toby doesn't apologize often, but when he does, he means it."
CJ nodded. Now she understood why Andy had looked so stricken; it wasn't surprise. It was pain, and hope.
CJ flew out to California, armed with the hope that Toby would be all right. She got a call from him soon after she started working for Isobel, and they talked as they always did. He told her about the new campaign and how it wasn't going to work and she told him about how much she hated Hollywood. They did not refer to her visit, nor did they talk about Andy.
Later, he called to tell her about the divorce and suggested she call Andy. She did, and they talked for a long time, almost dissolving the coolness of the past. But she did not see him again until he was waiting at her poolside in California and offered her a job. And in all the time since then, they had never talked about the Incident.
They never would.