October 20, 1991
Jock's Tavern

"I'll have the beer cheese soup and a sparkling water."

"Hot turkey on rye and ginger ale."

The lunch crowd had begun to thin out. The busy hustle of the waiters and waitresses slowed, the loud calls for drinks at the bar stopped, the conversations between patrons and staff grew quieter. It was if someone had turned the volume of the entire room down three notches.

The small pub was, by no means silent, however. The sound of glass clinking emanated from the bar where an older man replaced bottles of liquor into their assigned berth. A subdued buzz of dialogue between the small number of diners left in the room continued, with an occasional clatter of dishes from the kitchen, punctuating the air. Underneath it all; serving as an anchor to the world; was the rich, soulful voice of Van Morrison singing 'Irish Heartbeat.'

*
Oh, won't you stay
Stay a while with your own ones
Don't ever stray
Stray so far from your own ones
*

They sat in the small booth. Neither spoke, but the quiet between them wasn't awkward, rather organic in nature.

She tried to remember if his black hair was longer than it was three years ago. She thought so, since she didn't recall it curling softly at the nape of his neck as it did now. There was definitely less on top, she knew. He had grown a mustache to go along with his neatly trimmed bread, which she thought fit him quite well. There were a few new lines at the corners of his eyes that she didn't recall. His eyes, however, were exactly as she remembered: dark, almost opaque; yet a window to the passionate and intense emotions behind them.

She looked exactly the same, he decided. Her hair was slightly lighter than before, but the style was the same. And her luminous green eyes sparkled just as he remembered.

*
For the world is so cold
Don't care nothing for your soul
You share with your own ones
*

"Thank you."

The break in the silence was startling. It took CJ a few seconds to recognize the voice as her own, speaking the words she had been wanting to say to him for the last three years. "For the congratulations when we won the election," she quickly clarified. "I wanted to thank you, but you had disappeared without a trace. I wondered if maybe I had conjured you up from my imagination," she said with a small chuckle.

His eyes dropped to the table. "I had to come back to New York," he replied vaguely, looking slightly uncomfortable.

CJ immediately realized his uneasiness and didn't push him for more. Her gaze rested on his hands that were fiddling with the pepper shaker. The gold wedding ring on his finger reflected the softened daylight, looking slightly out of place. There was a strange dichotomy, she realized, between the innate understanding she felt for this man and the stark reality that she knew very little about him.

*
There's a stranger
And he's standing at your door
Might be your best friend, might be your brother
You may never know
*

"Tolbert needs to get off Foreign Relations, or he's going to get screwed."

This time it was Toby who broke the silence, his quiet voice muting the harsh words. Surprisingly, it worked to dissolve the tension between them.

"He is getting off Foreign Relations," she responded. "That's what my whole trip was about, to position him for the Rodriguez's spot on Judiciary."

"Rodriguez isn't going to retire until he can handpick his successor."

"What about-"

He shook his head. "He's got some problems with some stocks or something. IRS opened an investigation yesterday. He's done and word is unless Rodriguez can find someone else and groom them in the next two months, he's running again."

"So, we wait another term," she shrugged her shoulders. "We know that Kaffee will leave in '94 to run for the Senate."

"Tolbert needs to get on another committee now."

"He likes Foreign Relations," argued CJ.

"His constituents could give a damn about foreign relations or what he likes," Toby retorted. "They-"

"35% of his constituents are connected to the U.S. military in some way-"

"Then get him on Armed Services or Veterans Affairs."

"They have a stake in the United States relationship with the rest of the world," she finished.

"And as illogical as it is," he argued, "most military do not believe that nation building and diplomacy, two strategies of which Tolbert are a big advocate of in Foreign Relations, is the best way to deal with the rest of the world."

"Tolbert served in the Army," countered CJ.

"Whoever runs against him will have, too."

"It wasn't an issue in his last election."

"He ran against an inarticulate moron who couldn't connect with his own mother in his last election. Your boss is moving up on the GOP hit list, and the Illinois twentieth is a district where they have a good foothold." Toby paused, then said, "He needs to get on another committee and sidestep the issue."

CJ was quiet as their waiter arrived with their food, then sighed in reluctant agreement. "He should get on Budget or Transportation."

"He's got a better shot at Transportation."

"Yeah," she agreed, "but he'd to hate it."

Toby raised his sandwich to his mouth. "It's only for two years, then he can move to Judiciary. Until then, he can send plenty of pork back home and be canonized by his district."

They sat quietly for a few minutes as they ate. Suddenly, CJ froze, the spoon of steaming soup halfway to her lips. "So, I just spent three hours with 'Red' Wittmer for nothing."

"He's right, you are a smart cookie." He feigned innocence as she glared murderously at him, then snatched a french fry from his plate.

********

Two and an half hours later
Payton Institute
Downtown Manhattan

"This is a nice office."

"So I can expect the CC seal of approval in the next edition of 'Better Homes and Offices'," Toby asked sarcastically as he shuffled through the cluttered stacks of files on his desk.

"CC?"

He looked up with a small smile. "Claudia Cregg."

"Okay, call me that again, and I'll pop you one," she laughed, then said, "No really, I give it four out five stars."

"What's keeping me from that elusive fifth star?"

"How do I put this," she paused, searching for the right words, finally settling for, "It looks like you've been robbed and they trashed the place to cover up what they took."

His hands paused for a second, then continued to sort through the assorted papers. "Well, I hope that's not the kind of diplomacy you use on the press."

"Toby."

They both looked up as a man entered Toby's office. "Do you know-" He stopped abruptly when he saw CJ. "Please, excuse me," he said, his voice immediately switching to 'charm mode.' "I didn't mean to interrupt. I'm Will Detrixhe."

"CJ Cregg."

"A pleasure," he replied and kissed her hand, causing Toby to roll his eyes. "What do the initials stand for?"

"My name," she grinned.

"Ah, a woman cloaked in mystery," flirted Will.

Toby cut in. "What do you need, Will?"

"I don't want to interrupt," he said.

"You're not," reassured CJ.

"Okay," he replied and flashed a smile before looking back to an annoyed Toby, now going through his file cabinet. "I was wondering if you know what Nina did with the Homewood Report."

"It's right here." Toby grabbed a file off his desk and tossed it to him.

"Thanks," he said and turned his attention back to CJ. "So, do you live in New York?"

"Just visiting." she answered.

"She works for Congressman Tolbert in Illinois," said Toby, hoping to speed up the inevitable twenty questions.

Will grinned. "Now I see why you follow the Congressman so closely, Toby. How long are you in town for, CJ?"

"I leave tomorrow to meet my boyfriend in Boston for a few days," she said smoothly.

"Well, I hope you enjoy your trip," Will said, his smile never faltering. "I should get back to work. It was a pleasure to meet you, CJ."

"Likewise."

Before Toby could make a comment on Will's quick departure, CJ said with an amused expression, "I never knew you held Joe Tolbert in such high regard."

"I only said that the Party Leadership holds Joe Tolbert in high regard," responded Toby. "Besides," he added, dropping his gaze, "a politician is only as good as his staff."

"Thank you," she said, her soft tone coaxing Toby to meet her eyes for a brief second before looking back down to his files.

"Here's the study I was telling you about," he handed her a thick folder. "Reading material for the plane."

"Are you sure you don't need it?"

He shrugged. "If I do, I can get another copy."

"Thanks."

An uneasy silence settled between them as they wondered what happened next.

"What are your plans for the night," Toby asked. "Sightseeing or shopping?"

CJ wrinkled her nose. "I don't really feel doing either," she replied, "especially in the bitter cold outside. I think I'll just go back to my hotel, order room service and watch C-SPAN."

"You could come to my place." Toby ducked her questioning look and continued quickly. "I don't know if we have any food, but we could order out. We can watch C-SPAN there. And," he added almost as an afterthought, "Andy should get done with her deposition soon and she would be disappointed if you had to leave before she could really talk with you."

CJ smiled sincerely, her green eyes sparkling. "I'd like that."

********

Toby and Andrea's apartment
Brooklyn, New York

Toby scoured the kitchen cabinets for something to eat, as he listened to CJ's phone conversation in the next room.

"Jason, we can't wait another term. We need to get him off Foreign Relations now... Yes, I remember his reaction the last time I brought it up, that's why I need you and Anna to back me up on this. We'll gang up on him." She sighed heavily, "I wasted three hours with the guy, Jason... Easy for you to say. He called me cookie... Okay, I'll be back on Tuesday... Bye."

She was hanging up the phone when Toby emerged from the kitchen and handed her a beer. "You agreed with me the entire time," he said.

"Yes," she replied evenly and took a drink.

"Why'd you argue with me, then?"

CJ smiled impishly. "You're fun to argue with."

"I'm afraid we don't have much to eat," he said after a moment. "Do you like goldfish?"

"Do I look like a fraternity pledge," CJ replied, following him into the kitchen.

He laughed for a second. "Crackers, CJ. Little cheese crackers. They were on sale when Andy went to the store a few days ago, so she got some to try. It's that or mixed nuts."

"Shelves are pretty bare, huh," she smiled. "Yeah, I'll try them," referring to the crackers.

Toby grabbed the goldfish for her and the nuts for him and carried them into the living room. She was studying their record collection. "Quite an eclectic assortment," she observed and looked up. "Who is the jazz enthusiast?"

"I am," he answered. "Andy likes it, too, but..." he trailed off as CJ started to look at the pictures on the bookcase.

CJ fingered the metal frame of a old black and white photograph. It was of a man and a woman in their twenties. They were both dressed in what was probably their finest clothes. Her curly black hair was blowing in the wind, a bright smile decorating her face. His arm was wrapped tightly around her waist, happiness reflected in his eyes. She could see Toby in them. "These are your parents, aren't they?"

"Yeah."

"They look very happy," she looked at him and smiled. "What are their names?"

Toby cleared his throat as he broke his gaze from the photo. "Isabel and Benjamin."

"Your mother has a beautiful name."

"Yes, she did."

CJ paused as she noted the past tense he used. She glanced over to him and met his black eyes.

"She was the reason I left Illinois," he said, his voice lacking emotion. "She had breast cancer."

"And your father," she asked softly, hoping she wasn't pushing him.

"He died when I was in high school."

CJ held back her words of sympathy. She knew he didn't want them. Her eyes moved to another picture. It was his mother, again. This time she was much older. Her smile wasn't quite as lighthearted. Her eyes held a sadness in them. With her stood two young men. To her left, was obviously Toby. Although he could only have been about sixteen years old, she saw something in his eyes. It reminded her of her grandmother talking about an 'old soul.' Toby was an 'old soul.'

She looked to the other man. He was the mirror image of Toby's father. "I didn't know you had a older brother."

"David," said Toby.

Before she could say anything more, he moved away and grabbed the remote control. Flipping on the television, he changed the channel to CNN. Recognizing the signs, CJ sat next to him on the couch and started to watch.

********

The first thing Andy heard as she opened the door to their apartment was a chorus of 'boos' and Toby yelling, "Go to bed!" Cautiously, she walked around the corner to the living room. There, she saw CJ and Toby siting on the couch watching 'Capitol Beat.' On the screen was the Deputy House Majority Whip talking in opposition to the Democrat's gun control bill. "The Second Amendment-"

"That's not what it says," Toby exclaimed, throwing a goldfish at the television set.

"Stop throwing my crack-" CJ started, when she stopped and looked incredulously at the screen. "Did he just say what I think he said?"

"You're dropping the ball," yelled Toby at the spokesman for the White House responded.

"How does this guy get elected," CJ asked in amazement.

"Hello."

Toby jumped up from the couch. "You're back," he said, taking her coat. CJ looked away as they kissed. "How was the deposition?"

"Fine," Andrea smiled. "CJ, I'm glad to see you here."

"I invited her for dinner," explained Toby. "She's leaving town tomorrow."

"My boyfriend took a few days of vacation," said CJ, "so I'm going to meet him in Boston."

"That sounds nice," Andy commented. "What does your boyfriend do?"

"He's a sports anchor in Chicago."

"He also writes an occasional column for the Sun-Times," Toby added to CJ's surprise. "Where he declared the Yankees were over-rated."

Andy laughed and patted his back. "Well, we all have our flaws, honey. What are we going to do for dinner," she asked, concerned. "I don't think we have anything."

"CJ and I already ordered pizza."

"You didn't get anchovies, did you?"

"He tried, but I wouldn't let him," CJ said with a smile.

"Bless you," replied Andy as the doorbell rang.

"Pizza's here."

********

CJ wiped the tears of laughter from her eyes and glanced at the clock. Ten o'clock. "I've got to go," she said reluctantly. "My flight leaves tomorrow morning."

"CJ, please take the goldfish," said Toby.

"Are you sure?"

"Yes," they answered at the same time. Andy smiled. "We don't really like them."

"Okay," laughed CJ. "I'll keep them for the plane ride. They're better than the pretzels. Thanks for dinner and everything. I had a great time."

"I had so much fun talking with you," agreed Andrea. "I hope you give us a call next time you're in town."

"I will. And I gave Toby my phone number and address, so if you're ever in my area, let me know."

"I'll walk you down," Toby said, helping CJ with her coat.

"It was nice to meet you, Andrea," she said.

"You, too."

Neither spoke a word as they rode the elevator down and walked outside. It was if they could say more to each other without talking. CJ shoved her gloved hands into her pockets. Small white pufts of air appeared with their every breath. After several minutes, a cab pulled up to the curb. Toby opened the door and she set a foot inside before turning to look back to him. "It was good seeing you," she said softly.

"It was good to see you, too, CJ."

"Is it going to be another three years before I see you again?"

"No."

"Are you lying?"

"I don't know," he said truthfully.

"Okay," she smiled, prompting a small grin from him. "I'll see you later, Toby."

"See you later, CJ."

 

 

Home        What's New        Author Listings        Title Listings