In The Poppy Fields -

2. Defensive Strategizing
~
take a photograph
to remind you
of the things you know you will one day forget
take a side effect
as a measure of your progress
take what you give
and give what you take
and as you walk with your breath two feet in
front of you in the cold
take a photograph, to have and to hold
take a photograph
"Photograph", Something For Kate
~
[August 21, 2001]
I happen to know that there are four framed photographs in CJ's bedroom. That
fact would not be surprising to anyone who has ever been in her kitchen, where
photographs of the last three years comprise the basic decorating scheme. But
the pictures in the bedroom are the important ones, the ones that really tell
something about CJ if you know the back-story. They're the ones that could give
something away, so they stay where few people would see them. Three of them sit
on her dresser. The first one is a picture of a teenage boy sitting against a
large log with a very small girl balancing on one foot on top of the log. The
second frame holds a picture of two college age girls on a beach. One girl is
tall and skinny with strawberry blonde hair dressed in a sundress and sandals.
The other, brown haired girl is wearing overalls over a swimsuit and is curvier
and shorter than her companion. They've got their arms around each other's
shoulders and are slightly off balance as they aim bright sunny grins at the
camera. The third one is a group picture taken in a hotel suite. There are
several men dressed in very nice suits and one woman in a simple navy blue
dress. It has the feel of some sort of official portrait, but there are words
written at the bottom, half obscured by the frame, like a secret meant only for
her. The fourth picture frame sits on her nightstand, next to her alarm clock.
This frame is one of those hinged ones that hold two photographs. In the left
hand side is a picture of a young girl who is sitting on a stair, knees pulled
close to her chest, hugging herself. Her wide scared eyes set in her solemn face
make her look both older and younger than she probably is. The other half of the
frame holds a photograph of a woman wearing an extremely nice suit, standing
behind a podium in front of a blue background with a picture of the White House.
She's smiling excitedly, and has her arms spread wide, as if to say, "Look at
THIS!"
Each of these photographs has significance. The first one is the only picture
she has of her and her brother Mark, just as the photograph in her office is the
only one she has of her with both of her brothers. She was almost three when it
was taken, and her brother was 15. The second one is of CJ and her first actual
best friend, a girl named Grace. CJ and Grace were roommates as undergrads at UC
Berkeley. Grace died in a car accident in 1995, when her fiancé fell asleep at
the wheel and crashed their car into a concrete barrier, killing them both
instantly. The photo itself is slightly tattered, since Grace used it as a
bookmark in her day planner during their senior year of college. CJ got it after
the funeral, when Grace's mother gave it to her. The third picture would be
unremarkable, if not for the writing. As a matter of fact, I have a copy of the
same picture on my mantle in my apartment. Mine also has writing. It's a photo
of the senior staff on Inauguration Day before we left the Bartlet's hotel
suite. The President wrote a short note on each copy as a caption. I remember
CJ's says "To our very own indomitable Claudia Jean, the very definition of
grace under fire. I can't ever tell you how much you've done for me, for Abbey,
and for the rest of these boys, but I can tell you you're quite loved for it!
Love, Jed Bartlet."
The fourth frame is the most important. It is probably the last thing she
actually sees before she takes off her glasses at night, and the first thing she
can see when she puts her glasses back on in the morning. The left hand picture
is CJ at the age of 9, a week before her stepfather broke her collarbone and she
entered foster care for three years. The right hand photo is one of the two I
took of her on our first official day of work in the White House. I took it very
early in the morning, the first time she really got to be in the pressroom. I
know that this frame is her touchstone, her reminder of how very far she's come,
of everything she faced down to get here, and everything she lost. I'm probably
the only one of her friends who's ever seen it until now. I'm looking at it as I
sit on a bench in the ICU waiting to see her. I'm going to put it by her bed,
with her glasses, because I think it just might help in all this mess.

~
Even at a time like this when the morning seems so far
Think that pain belongs to you but it's happened to us all
It's all right to make mistakes you're only human
Inside everybody's hiding something
Take time to catch your breath and choose your moment
"Slide," Dido
~
[June 4, 2001]
"Ms. Cregg, I think we will begin with a few background questions," the special
prosecutor, Allen Gelernter began. I try to sit still and not fidget as I
nodded. "First of all, how did you become involved with the Bartlet for America
Campaign?"

This is an easy question. I take a deep breath and, in my calmest "grand-jury"
voice, answer, "Toby Ziegler asked me to join the campaign as a press liaison."

"Did you know Mr. Ziegler previous to this meeting?" Also an easy question, but
one that's slightly trickier. Only answer what you were asked, Claudia Jean.
Everyone had drilled this into my brain so hard that I'm finding it difficult to
speak unless I was spoken to first.

"Yes."

"How long had you known Mr. Ziegler at that point?" I pause a moment before
answering, knowing that I need to be as precise as possible so as to not get
trapped in some sort of lie. Giving the date I met Toby wouldn't work, because
that's not what I was asked.

"A little more than 6 years," I answer.

"You met Mr. Ziegler in 1991, then?"

I nod. "Yes."

"Why did he ask you to join the campaign?" Ah, now this could be difficult, for
both of us. Must be careful about this one.

"He told me that Leo McGarry was impressed with the work I had done with EMILY'S
List." I reply slowly.

"So, the fact that you were friends did not enter into the equation?" Gelernter
asked. That one really *is* hard to say. I glance at Babish and Ainsley, but
they look completely impassive.

"I would imagine it did." I answer, hoping I hadn't delayed too long. Rule 4 of
the grand-jury interrogation rules reads don't hesitate more than you have to,
because it makes you look like you're choosing between the truth and a lie.
Spin, here, apparently is seen as a lie.

"But he didn't mention that as a reason." It's more a statement than a question,
but I shake my head anyway.

"No. He did not."

"I see." He pauses to shuffle some papers. "And where did you go to school?"

"I graduated from University of California at Berkeley." I answer, unsure of
what that has to do with anything.

"Where did you attend high school?" I blink, but answer quickly:

"I actually went to 6 high schools."

"Six? That's quite a few. What were they?"

I take a deep breath, then rattle off, "New Madrid County Central High, Trinity
High, Chico High, Rim of the World High, Portola High, and John Marshall High."

"And are all of those in California?" he asked, with raised eyebrows.

I freeze for just a second before answering, "No." I have no idea where he's
going with this, and I'm sure it's not going to be good.

"I see." He glances down at a piece of paper in his hand. "Your name is Claudia
Cregg, yes?"

"Yes," I answer, forcing myself not to say my name is Claudia *Jean*. Not
Claudia. My mother used to call me Claudia and she always put such venom into
it. My father can call me Claudia, but that's only because he's my father and
because he convinced me he named me that because it was the most beautiful name
he could think of when I was born. I am CJ to most people, or Claudia Jean to a
select few, and even they don't get to call me that often.

"But it used to be Claudia Martensen?" he asks me.

I feel my eyes widening unconsciously. Stop this, stop it, Oliver...Ainsley,
someone stop this..."Yes," I say, trying to ignore the fact that my stomach
feels like I just swallowed glass.

"Were you married?" he asks.

"No," I manage around my fear. I attempt a deep breath in preparation of the
questions I will have to answer in this room full of strangers. Answers only one
of my closest friends know, answers my own father doesn't even know completely.

~
Ainsley gives me a glance as we drive back to the White House. Oliver didn't say
a word to me before we left. Ainsley only said I'd done a wonderful job, but
then she fell silent, and hasn't said anything since. I think she's embarrassed
that she now knows things that no one else knows. I think she's a little scared
of me right now, too.

When we reach the White House, Toby is waiting for us in the lobby. I see
Ainsley exchange a glance with him, apparently consigning my care to him, and
leave after squeezing my arm gently.

"How are you?" Toby asks, uncharacteristically solicitous.

I just look at him. "I need Josh," I say. Usually, I am very careful to keep the
fact that Josh and I are closer than Toby and I are out of conversations with
Toby, but right now, I can't say that I care too much.

"He's on the Hill at a Tobacco thing," Toby pauses, then says gently, "Leo would
like to see you, though."

"I need Josh first," I tell him.

Toby knows from long experience not to argue with the tone of voice I'm using.
"Ok," he says simply and follows me to Donna's desk.

She smiles sympathetically at me. "How was it?"

"When does he come back?" I ask, without answering her question. She and Toby
exchange a quick look, and I try not to be annoyed.

"I don't know. I can page him, if you want," Donna says, trying to be soothing.
I debate a moment, then nod. "Ok, hang on." She picks up the phone and dials a
number from memory, then another number. We wait silently for the phone to ring.
"Josh Lyman," Donna says into the phone. "Hey. When are you going to be done?"
She pauses then holds her hand over the phone. "He doesn't know," she says to
me. "Is it important?"

I think about it a moment, then decide it is. "Yeah."

Donna nods, and turns back to the phone. "CJ needs you...yeah, she says it's
important...she just got back...I don't know, Joshua, I just know CJ says it's
important, and she doesn't...right. Ok, hang on." She turns to me and points at
Josh's office. "Go pick it up in there, I'm gonna transfer you."

I pick the phone up as it rings. "Claudia Jean? 'Sup?" Josh asks, sounding
worried.

I take a deep breath and pray my voice won't shake. "Per our deal, including the
latest reaffirmation, I need out."

"What? Why?" he asks, knowing immediately what I'm talking about.

"Did you ever tell Leo about me?" I ask.

Josh doesn't say anything for a moment, then says quietly, "No. I never thought
it was necessary."

"They knew, Josh."

"Gelernter? How?" he whispers incredulously.

"I don't know, but they did. I..." I trail off, not sure what to say next, not
sure if I *can* say anything.

"Ok. First thing I want you to do is transfer the call back to Donna. Then I
want you to sit tight. Don't move. I will be there within 30 minutes, can you
hang in until I get there?" he asks.

"Yeah, but Josh, Leo wants to talk to me, and I don't know what to tell him, I
don't know..."

"Don't worry about that, we'll take care of it when I get there. I promise. We
will take care of it," he tells me, confidently.

"Ok," I mumble.

"All right. Transfer the call, I'm on my way." I nod, knowing he can't see me
and hit the buttons to send him back to Donna.

~
Toby watches me pace. I'm very tired of waiting, but I don't have a choice. I
told Josh I couldn't go through all of it twice in one day, so he said he'd talk
to Leo for me. I knew this day could come, but that doesn't make it any easier
now that it's here. Toby doesn't know what's going on. All he knows is Josh told
him to watch me. I have a feeling that this has something to do with some
agreement the two of them made a long time ago, but I don't really know.

"CJ, Leo would like to see you," Ginger says, poking her head into the office. I
nod at her.

"Come with?" I ask Toby softly.

He regards me for a moment, and nods. "Ok."

We walk silently down the hallway towards Leo's office. I hesitate before
walking through the door. Josh is leaning on the doorway to the Oval Office. Leo
is sitting at his desk and the President is sitting on Leo's couch. I swallow
hard and look at Leo.

"CJ," the President says gently. I turn to look at him. "CJ, I am so sorry you
had to do that today. Oliver tells me that you were the best first day witness
he could have hoped for, which is high praise, I'm told. As for the other, well,
CJ, I'm not sure what to say."

"I can have my resignation for you in an hour, sir," I whisper.

"Absolutely not," Leo says. "Absolutely not." I turn to look at Leo and flinch
at his angry look. "Oh, CJ," he says, softening. "I'm not angry at you. Not at
all. I'm angry about what happened, but not about anything you've done."

"I'm sorry, I'm a little lost here," Toby says, looking from Leo to me.

"Hey, Toby, there you are...Oh!" Sam says, coming into the room. "Oops." He
turns to go, but Josh tells him to wait.

Josh looks at me for a moment, and I nod in response to his unasked question.
"Sam, shut the door, would you?"

"Yeah, sure. What's going on?" he asks, shutting the door.

"CJ had a rough time today," Leo says, calmly.

"What happened?" Sam asks me.

I take a deep breath. I'm going to have to do this again and I really don't want
to go through this. Josh cuts me off. "The quick summary is, the special
prosecutor knew some things about CJ's background that aren't common knowledge
at all."

Toby looked at me and nodded. Sam just looked confused. "Um, CJ, what is he
talking about?"

Leo jumps in, quickly. "Sam, she's had to go through it once today. She does not
need to relive it twice."

"It's ok, Leo," I whisper. I take another deep breath, wrap my arms around my
middle, and look at Sam and Toby. "My mom had an abusive boyfriend. He got ahold
of me once and the consequences were not good. I wound up in foster care for
awhile, then when I got out, I eventually left my hometown in Missouri and went
and lived with my dad in California." I bite my lip and wait for the reaction.

"What?!?" Sam said incredulously.

"Sam," the President and Josh said simultaneously.

"What the hell did that have to do with your testimony? Why didn't Babish stop
it?" Sam asked.

"He couldn't, Sam," I said softly. "You know that. We had to show we could take
what they wanted to dish out today. You're the one who explained that to me."

"I know, but that's not what I meant. I mean, how irrelevant can you get?" He
pauses a moment, then continues, slightly flustered, "Not that it's
irrelevant...I mean..."

"It's ok, Sam, I know what you mean," I reassure him.

"Sam does have a point though," the President says calmly.

"It wasn't entirely irrelevant, sir," I say evenly. "It went to show character."

"I would think," Leo says gently, "That you showed more character in answering
the questions than in how they wanted to portray you."

I shrug. "I don't know."

"I do," Toby says, looking at me. I don't meet his gaze.

"At any rate, CJ, you aren't resigning. Not over this," the President says,
standing up. "I don't even want to hear that sort of talk from you or anyone."

"It could be a press nightmare," I protest.

"And if it comes to that, we'll deal with it. We've dealt with everything else
we've been attacked with, have we not? This will be just fine," Leo reassures
me.

I look around at the men in the room. They're all nodding in agreement. "Well.
Ok, I suppose," I manage. I feel very tired right now and I'm barely holding on
and hoping it isn't obvious. But of course, it is.

"Right now, I think someone needs to take you home," the President says gently,
reaching out to touch my shoulder. "Toby, why don't you take CJ home and make
sure she gets some dinner and something relaxing?"

Toby nods. "I'll meet you in your office in ten minutes," he tells me, glancing
at the President for permission to leave.

"Ok," I whisper.

He leaves and the President leans in to say something softly to me. "CJ, if you
need anything, you just have to ask." I nod in response, not sure I can say
anything to that and he walks back to the Oval.

I look at Leo, and say, "I don't know what I'm supposed to talk about tomorrow."

"Don't worry about that. Henry or Simon can take the morning briefing and we'll
figure it all out after that. You just go home now and get some rest, you
deserve it," Leo orders.

"Come on, I'll walk you back to your office," Josh says quietly. He and Sam
exchange a look and Sam squeezes my arm before stepping out of my way. Josh and
I walk silently down the hall. When we reach my office, Henry is waiting.

"CJ, do you want the recap for the day?" he asks.

"Henry, she really just needs to get out of here," Josh said. "Don't worry about
the recap for right now, you or Simon can handle things in the morning, and you
guys can get everything settled then, ok?"

"Yeah. Is everything ok?" he asks me.

"Everything will be fine," I say, attempting a smile.

"Ok, I'll see you tomorrow, then." Henry shrugs and walks away as I follow Josh
into my office.

"You going to talk to Sam?" I ask him.

"I think so. Is that all right?" he asks.

I nod. "If you think it would help, you can talk to Donna, too."

"We'll see," he says noncommittally. I nod again as Toby walks down the hall.

"Are you ready?" he asks. I look at Josh for a moment then nod. "Ok."

"Hey," Josh stops me before I leave and quickly hugs me tight. "I'll take care
of the rest of things, you just let Toby take care of you, ok?"

"Ok," I whisper.

"All right. I'll call you later, ok, sweet-tart?" I nod as I pull away and
follow Toby down the hall towards the lobby.

~
"You don't have to stay," I tell Toby, dully.

"Yes, but I'm not leaving you alone," Toby responds, loosening his tie.

"Oh." I wander back towards my bedroom as Toby starts looking in my
refrigerator. I hear him moving what little food there is around as I get
changed into my oldest shorts and the softest t-shirt I own. I look around the
room as though it's not even mine. I haven't been in my apartment in almost a
week. We've all been practically living at the White House, sleeping on couches,
or the cots in the Sagittarius room. I don't think I've spent a night here since
the press conference.

"CJ?" Toby calls from the front room. He knows I don't like people in the
bedroom, so he just stands at the top of the hallway and yells.

"Yeah?" I answer, standing up and leaving my room.

"You have no food. I just threw away everything that's spoiled," he explains.

I nod. "I meant to do that when I got clothes the other day, but I was in a
rush."

"Well, it means there's nothing here for me to make for you. I was going to cook
you an omelet or something," he tells me. I smile tightly. Toby is a better cook
than I am. He used to cook for me when I was in trouble when he lived in San
Francisco, and then when he convinced me to come to New York to finish writing
my thesis.

"It's ok. I'm not all that hungry anyway." I follow him back to the kitchen.

"You have to eat dinner. You didn't eat lunch." I give him a sharp look. "I
talked to Ainsley before we left."

"Oh." I shrug.

"So, you have a choice here. We can call for pizza or Chinese, or we can go get
something," he says, sitting down across from me at the kitchen table.

All I've eaten in the past three days is pizza and Chinese. "Go get something."

"Ok, what would you like?" I shrug. "Do you want Mexican?"

Mexican is my favorite, but Toby isn't too fond of it. He must be concerned if
he's willing to take me to eat Mexican. "There's that Chipotle place not too far
from here," I tell him.

"I haven't been there yet," he replies, standing up.

"They have burritos and tacos. Food you'll probably eat." I find a pair of
sandals under the coffee table and slip them on.

"You going to change?" he asks.

I shake my head. "I want carryout." Now that I'm home, I don't want to leave.

"No problem." He holds the door open for me and we walk down to his car.

"Toby?" I say softly after I'm holding a warm bag of burritos and chips.

"Yes?" he asks.

"I'm sorry I didn't tell you. I just..." I trail off, unsure of how to apologize
for not telling one of my best friends the biggest secret of my life.

"Claudia Jean," he says, twisting to look at me. I look at him, startled. He's
never called my by my full name before, even though he's known what it is for at
least seven years. "What made you think I didn't already know?"

I blink. "Grace told you?" She's the only one who could have, other than Josh
and I know Josh didn't tell anyone.

"No. She said some things about you once or twice, but nothing explicit. Andrea
and I figured it out on our own. You were just too skittish for there to be
nothing there," he replied as the light turned green.

We drive in silence as I contemplate Toby's words. "You always knew?" I whisper.

"Well, I didn't *know*. I knew something had happened to you, I assumed it was
some sort of abuse," he explains as he pulls up in front of my apartment
building. We're occupied for a moment as we walk upstairs and get settled in at
my kitchen table.

"Do you want to know?" I ask after a long moment. Toby looks up from his steak
burrito. "I mean, do you want the whole story?"

"Only if you want to tell it," he says softly. I think for a moment, then nod.
"Ok. Then I'm willing to listen to whatever you want to tell me."

I take a deep breath and close my eyes. Slowly I tell him about my childhood
until I finally am subsumed by sobs. He holds me until I'm quiet, and I realize
I've never cried over it. I've never cried about who I am, and what made me this
way. But somehow, tonight, it just strikes me as terribly sad. But Toby does
everything exactly right. He is just what I need right now. Someone to hold me,
then scoop me up and carry me to my bed. He lays me down amid the messy
blankets, tucks me in gently and kisses my forehead before my eyes drift shut.
As I fall asleep I realize just how strong Toby Ziegler is, and the thought
comforts me enough to sleep awhile.
~
I stumble towards the kitchen and stop short when I find that Josh is sitting at
my kitchen table.

"Hey there, sleepy," he says, smiling a little at me.

"What are you doing here?" I mumble, sitting down at the table. My head hurts
enough that I try to figure out if I had been drinking last night. No, just
crying, I decide. Josh smiles and gets up to put something in the microwave.

"You were sleeping when I called last night, and Toby told me that you didn't
have any food or anything, so I thought I'd bring you coffee and breakfast." The
microwave beeped and Josh set a steaming cup of coffee and a cobblestone muffin
down in front of me. "Did you sleep well?"

"No," I admit, tearing off a piece of the muffin. I remember waking up at least
ten times, now that I'm awake enough to remember the previous night.

"I'm sorry," he says sympathetically.

"It's all right. I probably got more sleep than I have in a week." The muffin
tastes really good and the coffee helps my headache some.

"I talked to Sam and told him some of the details, but not all of them. I also
talked to Donna and Carol. I know you didn't tell me to talk to Carol, but Sam
and Donna both thought she needed to know. Oh, and I know the President talked
to the First Lady, too," he tells me.

"That's ok. I don't mind if some people know now, I guess." I was starting to
feel a little better about the whole situation.

"Well, no one is going to say anything to someone else," he says, getting up to
throw his coffee cup away and the wrappers from his breakfast.

"Ok." I take the final bite of muffin and ask, "I don't testify again today, do
I?"

"Nope. They're taking Toby today. We knew that before you left last night," Josh
replies.

"Oh. When do I go again?" I ask.

"When they subpoena you again. If they do," he tells me.

"If?" I look up at him, confused. I'd been told to expect to face the grand jury
several times.

"It's possible that they won't want to see you again. It's not *likely*, but it
is possible, especially since they didn't hold you over to today," he explains.

"Oh." I glance at the clock and sigh. "I'm going to go get dressed."

"Sure. Take your time, you don't have the briefing, remember?" I nod at him as
he settles back into his chair to read the memo he had with him.

~
"Hey, CJ, wait up," I turn to see Sam trying to catch up with me in the hallway.

"Hey, Sam," I say, letting him catch up to me, trying not to cringe. I really
don't feel like talking to people today, but it's very unavoidable when your
whole job is to talk to people. But it's hard, when you're wondering what they
think about you now that they know your life was nothing like theirs. Nothing
like they probably assumed your life was like.

"How are you doing?" he asks.

"I'm ok," I reply, hoping he won't want to talk about it.

"Good. We should talk sometime, but it can wait, ok?" I nod, relieved, and he
continues. "Ok, well, I wanted to ask you if you had plans for tonight."

"Um, no, not other than my usual work until some God-awful hour and fall asleep
on the couch plan," I say, frowning. "Why?"

"Well, it's Ainsley's birthday, and Leo's already told Josh he wants us all to
get out of here tonight. I thought maybe we could all go out to dinner and then
back to my place to hang out. They've opened the roof pool and the hot tub, we
can just go play up there," he says.

I think for a moment. Much as I still just want to hide from people today, I
know I really can't. Not these people, anyway. "Sure, Sam, that sounds like fun.
Does Ainsley know, or is this a surprise?"

"No, she knows. It was partly her idea. I was going to take her out to celebrate
anyway, but we couldn't think of a bar where we'd both feel welcome." Sam trails
off as his eyes get big. "Oh, shit, CJ, I'm sorry. We totally forgot about
*your* birthday, didn't we?"

I smile at him a little as I shrug. "It's ok, Sam."

"No, no, I'm really sorry. Are you upset?" he asks.

"Honestly, I'm not. Sam," I say, reaching out to touch his arm, "*I* forgot it
was my birthday. I completely lost track of time, and didn't even remember until
Toby brought me a cinnamon roll one morning and said happy birthday. I told him
it wasn't for another week at least and he said, 'CJ, it's May 21st, your
birthday was almost a week ago.' We'd just been too busy to worry about it. I
mean, it was the day of the funeral and the press conference, for crying out
loud. Turning 35 didn't even make a dent in my radar," I finished with a
strained smile.

"Still. We should have remembered. It's on my calendar at home, but..."

"But you haven't been home," I finish for him. "It's fine, Sam, honest."

"If you say so. We'll just have to make a big fuss over your Christmas," he says
with a grin.

I smile back. "Ok, I'll let you do that."

"All right. I'll see you later, then?" he asks.

"What time?" I ask.

"We're meeting at my place around 7, then going from there. Bring your
swimsuit!" he calls over his shoulder as he's dragged away by a shout from
Ginger.

~
I take a deep breath as I knock on Sam's door. It's almost 7:30 and I'm
extremely late, but I had a hard time convincing myself I really wanted to come.
Only the knowledge that someone would certainly call me and want to know why I'm
not there made me come. I'm just too scared to talk about yesterday. I managed
to make it through the whole day without having to face everyone all at once. I
also managed to be so busy that I didn't stop until Carol reminded me that I was
meant to leave at 6.

"There you are, we were just about to call you," Sam says, opening the door. I
glance around the living room where Toby, Josh, Donna and her boyfriend Ryan,
and Ainsley are sitting and talking.

"Sorry. I had trouble finding my swimsuit," I lie smoothly.

"It's all right. Hey, guys, everyone ready to go?" Sam said to the room at
large.

"Where are we going?" I ask as people start getting up and tossing soda cans
towards the recycling bin.

"This new Italian place Toby heard about," Josh says, coming over to stand by
me.

"Andrea said they had a very good vegetarian lasagna, and it's very casual,"
Toby comments.

"That's good," I say, glancing down at my sundress. I hadn't felt like dressing
up.

Everyone was eventually ready and we split up into two cars without much
discussion. The restaurant was quite busy for a Tuesday night. "So, Toby, how
many other people did Andrea tell about this place?" Sam jokes as he pulls into
a parking space.

"Hey, if it's crowded, that probably means the food's pretty good," Ainsley says
from the front seat.

"Man, Toby, you know how to pick them," Josh comments as we walk towards his
car.

"It's not like we're in any hurry tonight, Josh," Donna says.

"This is true," Sam replies, holding the door open for Ainsley and me.

"Good evening, folks, welcome to Mario's. How many?" the hostess asks Sam.

"Seven. No smoking, please," he requests.

"Ok, that's going to be about half an hour, is that ok?" she asks. We shrug at
Sam's questioning look and he nods. "You can wait up in the bar, if you like."

"Thanks," Sam says, and leads us towards the bar where we find one of the tall
tables in a corner to squeeze around.

"What does everyone want, I'll go get it," Josh says. After a flurry of drink
orders, Josh says, "Ok, let's see. Sam and Ryan want Rolling Rock or Sam Adams,
Toby and Donna want Heinekens, do you want something else if they don't have
that?"

"They'll have it," Toby says.

"Ok, then, Ainsley, you want a...pink squirrel?" he asks.

"Yes, please," she says, smiling at him.

"Um, ok," he says, managing not to laugh. "Claudia Jean?" he asks, and I realize
that I never gave an order.

Thinking quickly, I say, "Just surprise me."

"You got it," he says, and heads towards the bar.

"What exactly is a pink squirrel?" Ryan asks. It's pretty obvious he's also
trying hard not to laugh, and Donna shoots him a Look.

"I'm not sure, I just know it tastes good," Ainsley replies.

"Crème de Noyaux and white crème de cacao," I reply. Everyone looks at me.
"What? One of my friends from college was a bartender for a couple of years."

"So *that's* how you know how to make all those drinks!" Sam exclaims.

"Yeah," I reply.

"Hmmm..." Donna says. I can tell she's going to try and stump me. "What's in a
Hurricane Jane?"

I roll my eyes at the ceiling and hope I get all the ingredients. "Rum, gin,
vodka, tequila, blue Curacao, cherry rum, sweet and sour, orange juice, and
ice."

"Damn, that's pretty good," Ryan comments. "How about a Three Wise Men?"

"That's easy. Jimmy, Johnny and Jack," I reply.

"Who?" Sam asks and Toby laughs.

"Jim Beam, Johnny Walker, and Jack Daniels," he replies.

"Depends on where you are, though," I tell them. "Sometimes it's Jimmy, Jack and
Jose."

"Ick." Sam says.

Toby looks at me speculatively. He knew about Jack being a bartender, and knows
that I know a lot of mixed drinks, but I don't recall us ever playing stump CJ
on the drinks. "Tom Collins."

"Toby, come on," I say shaking my head. I know why he chose it, though. It's
Andrea's favorite drink, and he knows she thinks I make the best Tom Collins.
"Gin, lemon juice, powdered sugar, club soda and ice."

"Still won't tell me the secret?" he asks. I smile. Andrea always swore there
was a secret to the way I made them, but I would never tell them.

"Ok, ok," I relent. It's been 10 years, anyway, and it would probably distract
people from wanting to bring up yesterday. "I always threw a dash of vodka in
it. You make a vodka Collins the same way, just with vodka instead of gin. If
there was Absolut Citron, I used a splash of that."

"And we always had Citron," Toby nods.

"Always. Need it for the lemonade," I reply.

"Um, what are you talking about?" Sam asked.

"It's an old joke. When we used to get together back then, I always played
bartender for the same reason I do now- Jack taught me how. Andrea loves Tom
Collins, and she could never get one in a bar that tasted the way I made them.
It was a joke that I wouldn't give up the secret to the perfect Tom Collins," I
explain.

"Right. And we always had the Citron because *CJ's* favorite drink was this
lemonade thing," Toby adds.

"Citrus Bay Lemonade, and it's quite good, I just can't find anywhere out here
that serves it." I say.

"We used it with something else, though, I thought," Toby frowned.

"Grace's drink," I say shortly.

"Right." Toby nods, knowing not to say anything further. They got me talking
about Jack, but I don't do as well with Grace.

"I see. So how did you get on the grasshoppers?" Sam asks, teasingly.

"I like a wide variety of drinks, Samuel," I say, trying to sound indignant. "It
just so happened that night I was in the mood for crème de menthe. You've never
heard me order it again, have you now?"

"I haven't," Donna said, affirmatively.

Sam grinned at me. "Hey, there's the man," Ryan said, as Josh came back to the
table.

"Ok, here we go. Sam Adams for Ryan, Sam Adams for Sam, they didn't have Rolling
Rock," Josh says, setting bottles down in front of Sam and Ryan. "Heineken,
Heineken," he says, setting glasses down in front of Toby and Donna.

"Wow, they had it on tap?" Donna asks.

"Yep. Ok, now here's the thing, Ainsley. They knew *how* to make a pink
squirrel, but they didn't have the stuff to do it. So, they made you a pink lady
instead. If you don't like it, we'll get you something else," he says, placing a
cocktail glass down in front of Ainsley.

"Well, I'll try anything once," she comments. Sam shuddered visibly, but I know
it's because he doesn't like gin.

"And CJ, here is your surprise." Josh sets a glass down in front of me, and I
study it for a moment.

"Don't tell her what it is, make her guess," Ainsley suggests.

"Oh, that was the plan," Josh nods.

It's kind of red, and I guess that it has cranberry juice in it, since I don't
smell tomatoes. "Am I allowed to taste it before I guess," I ask wryly.

"Sure." Josh takes a pull off of his own Sam Adams.

I taste it slowly, hoping it's not Everclear or something like that. I don't
think Josh would be that mean, and I also am not sure that Everclear is legal in
the District. "Oh," I say. "Tequila Canyon."

"Yup," Josh says, grinning. I smile back. Josh, Sam, Donna and I had one very
memorable evening during the campaign with a bottle of tequila. I think I made
us every tequila drink I could remember. Josh was pretty gone after about three
drinks, even though I made his half strength, but the other two hung in there
with me pretty well.

"Are we going to be picking her up off the floor," I hear Ryan say softly to
Donna.

"CJ? No. Josh, perhaps," she whispers back, glancing at me. I bite my lip to
hide a smile. I'm used to people figuring I can't hold my liquor. Toby told me
once that because I'm so thin, people figure I get drunk quickly. Actually, I've
outlasted Toby before. At a party once, I heard Leo comment that I could have
probably matched him drink for drink at his most alcoholic point. Toby is the
only person here who has ever seen me so drunk that I needed someone to take
care of me. It doesn't happen often.

We sat and talked, finishing our drinks, when it occurred to us that we'd been
waiting for at least 45 minutes. "I'll go and see where we are on the list," I
volunteer. I start to make my way across the crowded floor. Being tall and thin
helps in a crowd sometimes, but I still have trouble getting through the mass of
people congregated around the bar. Without warning, someone bangs into me and
the next thing I know the front of my dress is all wet.

"Oops, I'm sorry. Are you all right?" I look up and see a tall man standing in
front of me. He probably has three or four inches on me, since I have to look up
at him, which is somewhat unusual.

"Yeah, I'm fine," I say, shaking my head.

"Here," he says, handing me a napkin. I blot at the front of my dress, but it
doesn't help much. It smells like white wine, and I'm just glad it's clear so it
won't stain too badly. I'm also glad the dress is yellow and not white. "Oh,
man, I am so sorry. You send me your cleaning bill, ok?"

"Ok," I say, distractedly. This dress is wash and wear, so I'm not worried about
cleaning it.

"It would probably help if I introduced myself, wouldn't it?" he says, smiling a
little. "My name is Adam Cardington."

"CJ Cregg," I reply, shaking his proffered hand. He's not at all bad looking,
with green eyes and close cut dark hair.

"Well, CJ Cregg, here's my card. You call me when you get that dress back, you
hear?"

"Sure," I say, nodding.

"Great," he says, smiling as he hands me his card. "Are you here with someone?"

"Just some friends. We've been waiting quite awhile for our table, so I was
going to see how much longer it would be," I explain.

"Yes, it's quite busy in here, isn't it?" he comments. I nod and am about to say
something when I feel someone's hand on my elbow. Jumping, I turn to see Donna
standing behind me.

"CJ, they just called our name," she says.

"Oh, ok," I say. "Well, thank you for offering to pay for the cleaning," I say
to Adam.

"Not a problem. I'll be talking to you then?" he asks.

"Yeah, I'll be in touch," I say, turning to follow Donna. "Have a nice night."

"You too," he says as Donna leads me away.

"What happened?" she asks me.

"He bumped into me and spilled his drink down the front of my dress," I explain.

"He's cute." Her eyes are dancing as we walk into the dining room.

"He is that," I say as we approach the table.
~
"Hello, may I please speak to Adam Cardington," I say to a receptionist two days
later. Donna and I figured that two days was a reasonable amount of time to have
waited to take something to the cleaners. Donna had said that it wasn't
deception to call the guy and tell him the cleaning was a couple of dollars, but
that he could repay me by meeting me for coffee instead. I'm not sure I agree,
but I don't know how to explain that the dress was machine washable, but I
wanted to see him again.

"One moment please." I wait through lousy hold music and jump when he answers.

"Cardington."

"Hi, I'm CJ Cregg, we met at Mario's on Tuesday?" I say, uncertain that he would
remember.

"Oh, right, I was clumsy and spilled my drink. Was the dress a pain to get
cleaned?" he asks.

"No, not at all. It's not even going to be all that expensive to clean." This is
completely true. If I have it figured correctly, it'll probably cost less than
50 cents to throw it in a load of laundry.

"Good, I'm glad," he says.

"Yeah. So, I was thinking, that since it's not going to be much at all, maybe
you could meet me for coffee instead of paying the cleaning bill," I ask
hopefully.

"Yeah, I could do that," he says. "When would be good for you?"

I think quickly. Leo told us the other day that he wants us to quit wasting our
rent money and go home to sleep, at least most of the time. I think I could get
out of here at a decent hour tomorrow, but probably not the next day. "Is
tomorrow ok for you?" I ask.

"Sure, if we do it later in the evening. I have a meeting until 8," he explains.

"That's fine, I usually don't leave work until then anyway," I say.

"So, do you do Starbucks, or would you prefer somewhere else?" he asks.

"Um, do you know where the Xando Cosi's on Pennsylvania Avenue is?" I ask.

"Don't think I've heard of that one, but I can probably find it," he says.

"Ok. I can give you directions, probably, if you need them." Xando Cosi is my
new favorite coffee place in DC, and it's fairly close to the White House. We're
all starting to like it better than Starbucks, if for no other reason than you
can get sandwiches there as well. We discovered that they'll deliver until 5 and
the sandwiches keep well, so when we get tired of pizza and Chinese, we order
from there.

"Thanks, but I'll find it all right. I know where Pennsylvania is," he replies.

"Great. So, tomorrow, at 8:30?" I ask.

"Sounds like a plan to me. I'll see you there," he says.

"Good," I say.

"Looking forward to it," he says. "But I have a meeting to get to, right now."

"Oh, sure. I do too, actually," I say, glancing at my watch.

"Then I will see you tomorrow," he says.

"See you tomorrow," I reply, and wait for him to hang up before replacing my
phone.

Donna is walking past my office as I stop to talk to Carol before heading to my
meeting. "So?" she asks. Carol looks interested too.

"So, I'm meeting him for coffee at Xando Cosi's tomorrow night," I tell them.

"Good choice," Carol says, nodding approvingly.

"Definitely." Donna agrees.

"Glad you two approve. I need to get to this meeting," I say, over my shoulder
as I start walking.

"Good luck!" they call after me. I wave back at them, so they know I heard.

"Good luck on what?" Josh asks me as he falls into step with me as I race down
the hall.

"I'm meeting this guy I met the other night at Xando Cosi's tomorrow night," I
reply.

"The guy who spilled his wine all over you?" he asks, holding the door of the
Roosevelt room open for me.

"That's the one." I nod.

"Well, good luck," he says quietly as we take our places at the table for a
meeting about the tobacco case.

~
"So I hear you had a date last night," Toby says as I walk into his office two
days later.

"Yeah," I admit, blushing a little.

"Did you have fun?" he asks. I look at him closely. Toby and I get flirtatious
every once in awhile, but we both know it won't ever go anywhere. It would be
too weird, what with my being friends with Andrea and the fact that he's still
in love with her and I know it. Sometimes, though, I wonder about us.

"Yeah, I had fun, but I don't really see it becoming a relationship," I tell
him.

"But you want to see him again," Toby says, knowingly.

"He's taking me out to dinner next weekend. I told him I have too much work to
go tonight," I explain.

"Good." Toby nods.

"You think?" I ask.

"Of course," he says.

"Well, ok, then," I say. "What do I say about the Tobacco case?"

"Say what you've been saying. We're committed to this fight, etc, etc, yadda,
yadda." Toby shrugs.

"Gotcha," I say, writing as I leave his office again.

"CJ," Sam says, grabbing my arm to stop me.

"Hey, Sparky," I say, looking at him.

"Your date went well?" he asks.

"Yep. He's taking me out again." I smile a little.

"Congratulations. Listen, I need to ask you something," he says.

"Sure," I reply.

"Would it be a big problem if I asked Ainsley out?" he asks quickly.

I think for a moment, but shrug. "I don't really see one. It's not like you work
in the same department, or are in a boss-subordinate position."

"It's just that she's a Republican," Sam says.

"No kidding?" I say, sarcastically. "Seriously, Sam, I don't think it's a
problem. If you want, I'll ask Leo, though."

"Mmm, no, I'd better do it myself," he says.

"Ok. Good luck," I tell him as I walk back towards my office to finish getting
ready for my briefing.
***
Adia I thought we could make it
but I know I can't change the way you feel
I leave you with your misery
a friend who won't betray
I pull you from your tower
I take away your pain
and show you all the beauty you possess
if you'd only let yourself believe that
we are born innocent
Adia, Sarah McLachlan
~
[August 19, 2001]
Sam and Ainsley walked into the waiting room to find Leo and Toby talking to the
police. "What's up?" Sam asked.

"You're Mr. Seaborn?" one of the cops asked.

"Yes, that's me," he replied.

"When was the last time you saw Ms. Cregg?" he asked.

"Earlier today," Sam answered. "Probably around noon or so, I guess."

"Did she seem depressed or upset about anything?" the other cop asked.

Sam shrugged. "She was doing a press briefing, she better not have seemed
depressed."

"Sam," Leo said, gently.

"Leo, the only time I saw CJ all day was on the television," Sam sighed.

"I know," Leo nodded.

"She's been like that for a week," Sam said.

"I know," Leo said.

"So, you haven't noticed anything out of the ordinary?" the cop asked.

"Define ordinary," Toby muttered.

"Ok, I have just one more question. Do you know who her boyfriend is?" the cop
asked, apparently deciding he wasn't going to get any good information right
now.

"Never met the guy," Sam sighed.

"Do you know his last name?" the other cop asked.

Sam thought for a long moment. "I don't remember. His first name is Adam,
though."

"Yes, Mr. Ziegler and Mr. Lyman remembered that. Well, if you think of it..."

"We'll call," Leo interrupted. The cops nodded and left.

"What's going on?" Sam asked.

"The cops need to find her boyfriend. They want his alibi," Toby said without
looking up from his hands.

"Where's Josh?" Sam asked, looking around.

"In another room with a laptop. He's looking though the green box- it's a bunch
of disks and stuff," Leo explained.

"Oh." Sam and Ainsley sat down across from Toby. "How's she doing?"

Leo shrugged. "Well, she's still unconscious, and they aren't exactly sure when
she's going to wake up."

"But she's going to wake up, right?" Ainsley asked.

"Oh, yeah. Yeah," Leo nodded.

"So, the cops don't know what happened, I take it," Sam said.

Leo shook his head. Toby looked up and said, "It finally got her, is what
happened."

"What got her?" Leo asked.

"CJ has been spoiling for this for years, Leo. It was bound to get her
eventually." Toby sighed. "I expected it before now."

"She's been suicidal before?" Sam asked incredulously.

"I wouldn't call it suicidal. Self destructive, perhaps." Toby looked at them.
"CJ has been lost for years. She was beginning to get it together, since she
left California, but still." He paused then continued softly, "You should have
seen her at 27. This is not the first time she's scared me."

"What did she do then?" Sam asked.

Toby sighed and closed his eyes. "Her roommates died in a car accident. She had
to identify the bodies. Andrea and I had to convince her to come to New York to
finish writing her thesis, because she had a tendency to forget to eat unless
someone reminded her. She lived with us for two months, and I don't think she
slept the night through the whole time."

"I don't think she sleeps much now," Leo said.

"Or eats. She looked really thin when I saw her the other day," Ainsley said.

"I know," Toby sighed. They all sat quietly for a moment.

"Did anyone call her dad?" Sam asked, finally.

"No one has the number," Leo sighed.

"Carol doesn't?" Sam asked incredulously.

"Nope. It's not in her rolodex, no one can find it in any of her files," Leo
explained.

"Shouldn't it be on her personnel file?" Ainsley asked.

"It's not though," Leo said.

"I've been CJ's emergency contact at every job she's had since she was 28," Toby
said.

"Why isn't it her dad?" Ainsley asked.

"Because she doesn't think she can trust him," Sam said softly. Everyone looked
at him. "CJ and I had this conversation, sometime around Easter, when I was
still wasn't really talking to my father. Some of the things she said when I
was telling her how betrayed I felt made me think something had happened to her
at some point, but it's CJ. I don't ask her questions like that, you never get
an answer."

"Right," Toby said, nodding.

"Well, after the grand jury, we had another talk, and I told her that now I knew
she had known what I was talking about earlier. And then," Sam paused for a
moment, as if choosing his words carefully. "I asked her how she got over her
dad just leaving her and her brothers. She said she never did. She still feels
like she can't count on him being there if she ever needed him," he finished.

"I could understand that," Leo said softly.

A woman knocked on the door and walked into the room. "You're all here with CJ
Cregg?" she asked.

"Yes," Leo said, as they all started to stand up.

"Oh, keep your seats. I'm sorry. I'm not a nurse," she said. "So far as I know
nothing has changed. I'm the shrink. My name's Kris Lasters."

"Nice to meet you," Leo said politely.

"I just have a couple of questions. I know you talked to Dr. Janus, but since
she'll be staying, they transferred her care to me," she glanced around. "I'm
told that you guys want to keep this quiet, and I guarantee you, I won't talk to
the press or anything."

"We appreciate it," Leo said.

"I'm just wondering, how long has she been like this?" she asked.

"We're not sure," Sam admitted.

"I am," Josh said, entering the room with Donna. Donna looked like she'd been
crying and Josh was pale. He held up a sheaf of papers and looked at Leo. "You
might want to look at this. It's a letter she wrote to me. It's not pretty."

Leo took the papers and started to glance at them. He swallowed hard and turned
to Toby. "Do you have the card the cops gave us?"

"Yeah," Toby said, digging it out of his pocket.

"Go call them. Tell them CJ's boyfriend's name is Adam Cardington, and they
should talk to us before they go after him," Leo said in a soft deadly voice.

"Yeah," Toby said softly, leaving the room.

 

 

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