Please see disclaimer and notes in part 1.
Flamingo Falling, Epilogue (3/3)
"Donna's going to take me. I know you're busy."
"And that's why they make laptop computers, CJ. Of course I'm going to take you. We're a team now. Ziegler and Cregg."
"Cregg and Ziegler."
"We'll debate that later." He pushed her wheelchair to her. "Let's go."
Toby wasn't in the waiting room when CJ emerged with her brace and cane, feeling a completely new sense of freedom. Except for the fact that her ride had disappeared.
"Ms. Cregg?" the receptionist asked. "Your husband said he was just going to be a couple of minutes. He'll be right back. Have a seat."
She had gotten so accustomed to people referring to Toby as her husband in these situations, that she didn't even think about correcting the woman. "Thank you." She carefully lowered herself in to a chair.
Toby entered in a huff. "Hey, sorry that took so long. Ready?" He helped her stand and walked beside her, looking ready to catch her should she start to fall.
"Toby, I've been walking for quite a while. I know how to do this."
"And what got you in to this mess to begin with?"
CJ's mother was sitting on the couch reading a magazine when they returned from the appointment. "Mother, we need to talk. You need to go home now."
"What are you going on about, Darling?" She looked up.
"I'm sure you have plenty of things waiting for you in California. I appreciate your coming when I was in the hospital. But I'm fine now and I think you should really go home."
"There's nothing there that won't hold until you're ready for me to leave."
"Mother, I love you. I really do. I've been ready for you to leave since you got here. Let's face it. You and I get along together better with a continent between us."
"I'm wounded. Toby, look at how my daughter treats me."
"Stop, Mother. I've never been the daughter you wanted. I accepted that years ago. I never will be. It's time for you to accept that now."
"I resent that. It's just that I think you focus a little too much on how important you believe your job to be."
"And I don't think *you* realize how important your daughter's job *is*!" Toby had finally snapped. "She is the public face of this administration. She's our first line when anything happens. She is exceptional at her job. Beyond that, she is intelligent, beautiful and witty. She can hold her own with kings and presidents. And I should think that you would be proud to have raised such a daughter."
"I am offended by the fact that you seem to think I'm not," Mrs. Cregg said indignantly.
"Mother, you have never once told me you're proud of me."
"Of course I'm proud of you! I'm your mother! I shouldn't have to tell you. You should just know."
CJ looked at Toby. He shrugged and loosened his fists.
"That having been said I'm obviously overstayed my welcome. It's time I return home."
"One more thing, Mother. I lied to you."
"When I told you that Toby and I were living together. We aren't." She glanced at Toby, who had closed his eyes. He rubbed his left hand over his face. That's when CJ noticed it. She felt her heart quicken at the sight of his bare, left ring finger. He opened his eyes and met her gaze.
"I have evidence to the contrary," Mrs. Cregg said.
CJ dragged her attention back to her mother. "Toby and I have been friends for years. Yes, since before he divorced. A divorce in which I was *not* involved. I can't stress that enough."
Mrs. Cregg turned again to Toby. "You're ex-wife is a lovely woman, Toby. I got to meet her yesterday."
"I heard. She thinks you're something as well." Although he stared at his shoes, CJ still caught his grin.
"Toby, stop. Can we please focus on me?"
"Of course, Darling."
"Toby and I were friends, but that's it, Mother. Over the years you have put so much pressure on me about having a man in my life, that I invented a relationship to placate you."
"So this was all a ruse?"
"That's right," CJ confirmed.
"Well, I have some bad news for the two of you," she said.
"What's that?" Toby asked.
"You are blind as bats. The two of you are so obviously in love that I can hardly stand to be in the same room with you." Mrs. Cregg didn't miss the look that passed between CJ and Toby. "Ah, you've figured it out all on your own!" She clapped her hands. "How wonderful! Well, now that I know all is well here, I believe I'll call the airline and see if there's a seat on a flight tomorrow." She rose to exit the room. "Toby?"
"I've always been fond of a fall wedding for my daughter." She left before either of them could respond.
Much to CJ's relief, Toby chuckled. "You are the exact color of a flamingo right now," he said. "Just raise that one leg a little higher."
CJ swatted at him with her cane, causing her to temporarily lose her balance. Toby caught her, still laughing.
"I haven't heard you laugh this much in all the years I've known you," CJ said, dropping her cane and wrapping both arms around his neck. "It's very out of character for you, but I think I like it."
"Just don't tell anyone I know how."
"They wouldn't believe me anyway."
"And about that fall wedding," Toby said.
CJ started to pull away. "Toby..."
He pulled her back and quickly kissed her. "Fall is a lousy time for politicians to get married. I was thinking of spring."