TITLE: "Back To The Night"
CATEGORY: General/rated G
SUMMARY: "After all this time, you still haunt my mind."
NOTES: We don't own 'em. Big ups to les femmes d'or, CS Lewis and Ivorytown. Big downs to the curse of not being able to pick a title. Please have pity and feedback our story.
Back To The Night
Josh rolled his eyes and kept walking. "No."
"Pretty please?" Donna persisted, as she followed him down the hall.
"Did you turn seven today?" Josh inquired teasingly. "Look, I'm not going to do it."
"You don't understand my family. Every year my aunts send me the same thing. Every year since I was eighteen! My aunt Bridget sends me a plate of sugar cookies and my aunt Kirsten sends me--"
"Fruitcake," Josh finished for her. "I get the dynamic, Donna, I just don't get why you want me to eat the fruitcake for you."
"Because I hate my aunt's fruitcake! I don't even like fruitcake in the first place. Every year, I dread having to eat it, and she always calls me to ask how I enjoyed it."
He shook his head. "Honestly, why don't you just throw it out and tell her you loved it?"
"I can't lie to my aunt Kirsten," Donna protested. "She senses these things."
Josh threw up his hands in frustration. "Go home."
"Yeah, I'm just gonna go get my stuff together. You can go."
Donna nodded and went to put on her coat as Josh headed towards his office. She paused and called after him. "Pretty please with sugar on top?"
"Maybe if you put the sugar on top of the fruitcake." Josh grinned and walked on. When he entered his office, he found C.J. sitting on the edge of his desk.
"Hey, did you know the Adashek conference was pushed back? I've been preparing for the damned thing all night and then Leo--"
"What are you doing?"
"At the moment, I'm complaining."
"No, what's--" Josh gestured. "What's that in your hand?"
"Well, Josh, it's a children's book that I saw on your shelf when I came in here looking for you." She held it up opened, as she had found it. "_The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe_? Is Toby making you write a book report?"
"Give it to me, C.J.," Josh said softly.
"Are you actually reading this?"
C.J. regarded Josh quizzically and slowly placed the book in his outstretched hand. His fingers curled around the cover and he quickly checked to see if C.J. had lost his page. *It's still on page 89. Oh, it's still on page 89.*
Josh maneuvered around C.J. and sat down in his chair. She stood and watched as he very deliberately placed the book face down in the same spot where she had found it. She waited for him to look up at her, and when he didn't, she spoke.
"Yeah?" He was still staring at the book.
"What just happened here?"
"It got pushed back because the committee--"
"You know that's not what I mean."
"Sorry," he mumbled vaguely.
"Joshua." He managed to pull his attention away from the shelf. She looked him in the eye. "You can tell me."
He considered it silently for a few seconds, then drew a breath. "I was nine years old."
* * *
He didn't bother to look at her. "What?"
Joanie stretched out on the other end of the sofa. "Come on, go get me a glass of juice."
"Do it yourself. I'm reading."
"But you're closer," she kidded, nudging him with her foot.
He stared at her over the top of his book. "No way. You always make me do everything for you."
"I do not." She laughed. "You do it because you love me."
"Right." Josh's eyes drifted back to the page.
She yawned, then jumped to her feet. "It's time for you to go to bed, anyway."
"No fair," he protested. "When Mrs. Hansen comes, she doesn't make me go to bed at nine."
Joanie wrinkled her nose. "Mrs. Hansen makes us eat gefilte fish."
"True." Josh made a face. "Come on, I want to finish this."
"You just started reading it."
"It goes fast."
"Yeah, but you know what? If Mom and Dad get home and you're asleep on the couch, I'm the one who's going to be in trouble." She looked suspicious. "Is this homework or something?"
He shook his head. "It's just a really good book."
She hesitated. "Okay. But if I'm not allowed to babysit anymore, you'll be sorry."
"Yeah, sorry I have to eat gefilte fish."
Joannie smiled. "I'm going upstairs." She reached over and ruffled her brother's hair.
He ducked. "Quit it!"
"Good night, George Joshington."
Josh scoffed at the old, familiar nickname. "Night."
He was already getting caught up in his book again as she left the room. The children had stumbled into a magical world, but the White Witch had Narnia under a spell, and it took maybe a little longer than it should have for Josh to smell the smoke.
* * *
Josh rubbed his eyes.
"And then what happened?" Somewhere in the middle of Josh's story, C.J. had taken his hand.
"I grabbed the book. I grabbed my book and I ran outside and my sister..." He shook his head. "My parents took me to the hospital, to make sure I was okay. The doctor gave me a grape lollipop." Josh looked up at C.J. "I hate grape."
"I know you do."
"Afterwards, we stayed with my grandparents in Ivorytown. I thought everyone hated me."
"Why would they hate you?"
"Because I killed Joanie."
"No, I don't think that now." Josh closed his eyes. "But she wanted me to go into the kitchen, C.J. If I had gone, maybe I would have noticed it before it got so bad. I should have gone upstairs--"
"You were nine."
"Josh, you were nine."
He looked at his desk, at their hands. "I know."
"I'm sorry I moved your book," she said, squeezing Josh's hand.
"No, it's not. I shouldn't have been looking through your stuff and--"
"When I'm alone in your office, I look through your stuff." Josh smiled.
"Why am I not surprised?" C.J. looked at her watch. "Are you going home now?"
"Yeah, it's getting late."
"Do you need a ride?"
"I'll be fine."
C.J. stood. "Because I thought maybe we could go get something to eat if you're hungry."
"I'll be fine," Josh repeated. "And anyway, I think Donna left me some fruitcake."
"Are you sure?"
Josh nodded. "Yeah."
"Okay." C.J. gathered up her notes. "So, we'll talk about the Adashek stuff tomorrow?"
"Yup." He paused. "C.J.?"
She stopped in the doorway and turned. "Yeah?"
"Nothing. See you tomorrow."
--End. Please send feedback.---