Tribulations

Chapter 3


Note: I started this story long before "Stirred" aired. That tidbit of info doesn't apply to this chapter, but it does to the previous chapter and it will to future chapters. Carry on and enjoy. feedback to spitfire_politico@hotmail.com
~*~*
'Cause that day in my life...
That day in my life...
I dreamt tomorrow had a prettier face
I dreamt tomorrow would have better things to say
* * *
'Cause that day never should have taken place
'Cause this day in my life still cannot explain
Why I listened in the first place
to you
"That Day", Poe
*~*~*
I nervously smoothed my gray woolen skirt over my knees as I waited for Monique Damien to arrive. She'd called me last night and warned me not to wear a suit. Wear a dress, a skirt, but not a suit. And not to wear pants, which I'd rued when I walked out of my apartment building and felt the wind on my almost bare legs. Thank God that the heat worked in the courthouse, because I was still freezing.

"CJ, you ready for this?" Monique asked, sitting down in the chair next to mine.

"Yes," I said through gritted teeth.

"Ok, hon, you're going to have to relax. We won't be able to hear you if you talk like that," she said gently. I forced my jaw to unclench. "And another thing, don't be the calm sassy woman I saw everyday on CNN. This isn't a press briefing. It's not even a grand jury investigation. It's ok to get a little upset or be nervous in there. You're doing a difficult thing, and it'll be better if you're not stone faced. That bastard hurt you, and you need to let the jury know that."

"Right." I said, nodding. I'd told Josh I didn't feel anything and I was surprised to find it was still true. I felt utterly numb about Adam Cardington. I was more nervous about messing up somehow than about telling 15 total strangers about the biggest mistake of my life.

"Ok, then. When you're up there, take your time. You're allowed to take a deep breath, or a sip of water before answering a question, either mine or the defense attorney's." I nodded. "All right. One last thing. If you feel like you're going to completely melt down, or throw up or something, take a sip of water, but put the glass down by your left hand. Understand?"

"Left hand," I nodded.

"I can't guarantee I'll be able to get a recess, but I'll try, ok?" I nodded again. "Ok. We'll be calling you in about five minutes." She stood up and squeezed my shoulder. "Ready?"

"Ready," I said, taking a deep breath.

"You'll be fine," she said as she left. I bit my lip and began to pace around the hallway. Sitting still would be a challenge. I had wanted to go for a run so badly this morning, but thanks to Adam, I wasn't allowed to run unsupervised. And supervision is such a hassle that it's simpler to not run.

"Ms. Cregg, we're ready for you now," A bailiff said. I nodded and followed him down the hallway to the courtroom.

The courtroom was small and largely empty. My eyes skipped over the jury along one wall, Monique and her assistant, the defense attorney's table. I very carefully didn't look over there as I walked down the aisle to the witness stand. I couldn't help taking a look around the room, though, as the bailiff swore me in. My eyes locked with Adam Cardington. I don't think I could have possibly hidden the way my breath caught in my throat and my eyes widened. I wanted to stand up, tell everyone I was sorry, but I couldn't do this. Couldn't tell them all that happened with his eyes on me. Monique quickly stood up and walked toward me, catching my attention with the movement. I forced myself to focus on her face, even though I could feel Adam staring at me. This was one of our strategies- if he stares, focus on Monique, focus on her face, on what she was saying to me. I took an unsteady breath and answered Monique's questions about my address and my job, and how they'd changed since August. They were easy questions, orientation questions to let me get my bearings and find the rhythm of question and answer. I answered a couple more, and then she started in on the real questions.

"Ms. Cregg, do you know the defendant, Adam Cardington?" she asked.

I nodded. "Yes."

"In what capacity?"

I took a slow deep breath. I had the answers to all these questions memorized, but it wasn't any easier to say the words. "I was involved in a relationship with him this past summer."

"A romantic relationship?"

"At first, yes," I answered softly.

"When did you meet the defendant?"

"June 4th, 2001." Ainsley's birth date was now etched firmly into my mind. At least I've ensured that I'll never forget that friend's birthday.

"How did you meet him?"

I managed not to roll my eyes at the silliness of our first meeting. Even now, I still think it's silly, despite the fact I know he had been stalking me for weeks at that point. "I was at an Italian restaurant celebrating a friend's birthday. I was attempting to walk across the bar to the hostess stand to ask how much longer before my party was seated. He bumped into me and spilled white wine on my dress. We exchanged names and numbers because he offered to pay for the cleaning."

"Did you call him?"

"Yes. I wanted to let him know about the cleaning. I also thought he was attractive and he...seemed nice. I asked him out for coffee," I admitted.

"Then what happened?"

"We went out for coffee, and he invited me to dinner. I told him I didn't know how much time I could devote to a relationship because I was very busy with things going on at work, but it didn't seem to bother him." I understand why, now.

"Did you pursue a relationship, then?"

"I wasn't sure, and I told him so, but he said we should try it, so I agreed," I said.

"How was the relationship at first?"

"It seemed fine. We went out to dinner, and I didn't think much of it when he invited me out again. We only saw each other sporadically, and after a couple of dates, I had a feeling it wouldn't go anywhere, so I didn't have any expectations."

Monique nodded. "Did any of your friends know you were in this relationship?"

"Not exactly. They knew I had gone out with him once or twice, but I gave them the impression that I had stopped seeing him," I replied.

"Why did you give them that impression?"

"At first it was because I didn't think I would actually be seeing him anymore because it had been a couple of weeks since he'd called. Later, though, it was because he threatened me and said I couldn't tell anyone we were...dating." I was hesitant to use that last word, since that wasn't what we were doing at all.

"When did your relationship change?"

"Shortly before the Fourth of July. He called me up and wanted to have dinner. I was free, so I agreed. We went out to dinner and he drove me home because my car was in the shop. I didn't invite him up to my apartment, but he offered to walk me to my door. I told him it wasn't necessary, but he insisted, so I gave in and let him. When we got to my apartment, he...invited himself in for coffee. I didn't want him to come in, and said so, but he ignored me. I asked him to leave, several times, and he finally did. The next day, he called me to ask if he could come see me at home. I told him I didn't want to see him again and that I did not appreciate the fact that he didn't listen to me when I asked him to leave my apartment. He asked if I would let him come over if he promised to leave when I wanted him to go. He said he really just wanted to talk to me and he felt it was important. I finally agreed, but..." I trailed off, biting my lip. "When he came over, he didn't come to talk."

Monique looked at me sympathetically. "CJ, I'm sorry, but I need you to tell us exactly what happened that night."

I took a shaky deep breath. "He came over. I was wearing shorts and a tank top because it was so hot. He came in and we were talking. He asked me a lot of questions about my job. What I did, how much influence I had. I didn't want to answer his questions because I didn't feel he needed to know that. I told him I wasn't comfortable with the topic and he could change it or he could leave." My voice sounded defiant in my head, but I could tell it was fragile and shaky in the courtroom. "He asked if he could use my restroom. I said yes and got up to refill my drink. When I came back into the room, he grabbed my arm and sort of flung me down onto the couch. He pinned my hands over my head and told me to answer his questions. I tried to struggle, to get him off of me, but I couldn't..." I frowned, trying to figure out how to explain. "I know self defense, and I know how to fight someone who outweighs me, but I'm not used to dealing with someone who is taller than me. I couldn't fight him off and he had both of my hands pinned with one of his. His other hand grabbed my chest and he held down one of my legs with his knee. I said I didn't want him to do this, I said no, I said to get off of me. He ignored me and undid my shorts." I heard a woman in the jury suppress a gasp and took another deep breath. "He raped me on the living room couch and told me if I told anyone he would get his hands on one of my friends and make sure she got similar treatment. He recited her home address and told me he would have no problem convincing someone to break into her house and hurt her too," I finished in a rush, hyperventilating slightly.

"What happened next?" Monique asked.

"I didn't tell anyone. I pretended it didn't happen. He got ahold of a key to my apartment- I don't know how, I certainly didn't give him one and no one else who has a key gave it to him, either. He continued to come and ask me questions and he would hit me and molest me if I didn't answer them. He usually forced me to have sex or...do things to him even if I did answer the questions. Finally, he told me that he worked for a left wing group that wanted to sabotage the election. He told me he had friends in high places that would make the grand jury investigation go away if I would give them information about the campaign. He also told me that if I didn't comply, he would have people attack my friends and make it look like I had hired people to do so and attempt to hurt the President's family. He gave me a day to decide and said to prove he could do what he said he could do, he'd fix it so the grand jury wouldn't find any evidence against us. The next day, the grand jury acquitted us, and he came over that night, forced me to have sex and gave me until sunrise to make my decision. I told him I would comply with his demands because I did not want him to hurt my friends and because I thought he would leave me alone if I agreed. He didn't. He continued to attack me. I tried to avoid going home so I wouldn't have to deal with him, but he would call and harass me at work, threatening me if I didn't come home. One day, my friend Josh came into my office when I was on the phone, and he found out a couple days later that Josh knew I was still seeing him. That night, he beat me and threw me down the stairs of my apartment building, breaking my wrist. About a week later, I decided I'd had enough. I wanted to leave Washington and simply disappear. I had collected information about his group, and I left the information on a disk for Josh to find and prepared to leave. I thought if I left and Josh had the evidence, including all the threats Adam made, they'd be safe and be able to do something about it. I had my bags packed and I was ready to go when Adam came into my apartment." I stopped, out of breath.

"Did Cardington try to stop you from leaving?" Monique asked.

I nodded. "I...I don't remember everything that happened. I remember he was drunk. I remember him telling me I wasn't going to leave. I know he grabbed my wrist, and I think he hit my head against the stove. I...can't remember anything after that, but I know more things happened."

"What's the next thing you remember?" Monique asked.

"They sedated me at the hospital. I have a hazy memory of telling Josh I wanted to go home, but I don't know when that was." I think hard, trying to separate the whispery ghosts of memories from when I was basically stoned out of my mind. I'd been able to hear people around me, but I hadn't been able to respond most of the time. And I hadn't been able to see anything at all. "I couldn't see him, I remember that. I remember praying, a lot. The first concrete memory I have is of my friend Toby telling me I'd been sedated for almost a week and that they thought I'd tried to commit suicide before Josh and my friend Leo found me on my kitchen floor. I was in the ICU, I think."

"Had you been suicidal?" Monique raised her eyebrows at me. I'm not certain I'd told her that before, but right now I'm not sure of much.

"No. I'd just wanted to leave DC. But the note I left for Josh made him think I was suicidal," I shook my head. It hadn't been the clearest note I could have left, but I didn't want anyone else to understand it.

"What were your injuries?" The next logical question.

"I had two broken ribs, a moderate concussion, and a broken wrist," I answered. "The entire situation also triggered an anorexic episode, which was the first time I'd been diagnosed as an anorectic."

"And what have the effects of those injuries been?" Monique nodded encouragingly.

I took a sip of water, being careful to place it by my right hand. I wanted out of here, but not quite that badly. "The head injury did lasting damage to my vision, making it worse than it had been. It also damaged one of my tear ducts, so I can't wear contact lenses any more because my eyes get too dried out. My ribs and my wrist healed, but I had to have surgery on my wrist and I now have a pin in it. The effects of the anorexia remain to be seen yet. I have an increased risk of heart problems and osteoporosis, but as of right now, there is no evidence of either." I pause, looking at Monique. I don't want to get into the gynecological aspects of this if I don't have to. She nods slightly and my mouth tightens. "There might be...damage to my reproductive system. It's unclear if that is permanent at this point. I also have restrictions on my physical activities because my anorexia also took the form of exercise addiction."

Monique nodded at me again. "Thank you. No further questions, Your Honor."

I swallowed. Cross examination had been my nightmare the past few days. The defense attorney stood. I felt Adam's eyes boring into me again. I'd been able to ignore it when I was focused on Monique, but I couldn't anymore.

"Ms. Cregg, when you became aware of your discomfort towards my client, why didn't you tell someone then?" the attorney asked.

I took a deep breath. "I thought I could handle it myself."

"When it became apparent you couldn't, why didn't you speak up?" he asked.

"I didn't because he threatened my friends," I replied.

"Have you been in other abusive relationships, Ms. Cregg?" I bit my lip and prepared to answer, when Monique stood up.

"Objection. That's not relevant."

"Goes to show frame of mind, Your Honor."

"It doesn't matter what frame of mind she was in. What matters is what your client did," Monique shot back.

"Approach the bench, both of you," the judge sighed. I didn't know if I was meant to not hear what they said, but I could hear anyway.

"Your Honor, if she was abused by other people, she should have known to speak up," the defense attorney said.

"It doesn't matter if she knew to speak up. Of course she *knew* she should speak up, that's not the point. The point is your client assaulted and raped her," Monique gritted through her teeth. "And threatened to hurt her friends- who she considers family, by the way- if she told. Of course she's not going to tell."

"It's not rape if she submitted," the attorney retorted.

"All right, all right," the judge interrupted. He gave me a speculative look, and I tried to look like I hadn't heard their discussion. "Objection sustained. Keep it to the present counselor," the judge said, motioning them back to their places.

The defense attorney looked angry, but when he asked his next question, his voice was calm. "Ms. Cregg, did you submit to having sex with my client?"

I frowned, but answered, "Under duress."

"Define duress for me, Ms. Cregg. I don't understand what you mean."

"I mean that I submitted because I had no other option. If I did not submit, your client would beat me," I replied slowly.

"You didn't fight back?" the attorney asked.

"I could not physically fight back. Your client had at least fifty pounds and four inches on me," I answered.

He looked at me speculatively. "Did you try?"

"Yes." Until it became clear he'd hit me.

"Were you drinking alcohol the first night you claim my client attacked you?" he asked.

"No," I replied.

"You said you got up to refill your drink. What were you drinking, Ms Cregg?" he replied.

"Water," I replied.

"You're certain of that?" he asked.

I nodded. "Yes."

"How can you be so sure?" he asked again.

"Because I had to be at work at 5 am the next morning and I don't drink on nights when I need to be at work that early," I replied.

The attorney nodded and moved on. "You said you can't remember the last incident. How can you be sure it was my client?"

"Because I remember everything up to the point that I hit my head," I answered.

"Can you trust those memories? You had a head injury," he reminded me.

"I trust my memory," I said shortly.

The attorney raised his eyebrows. "You trust your memory after a head injury and several days of sedation?"

"Yes." I said, stubbornly.

"You are aware that sedation and head injuries can cause false or confuse memories?" he asked.

"I am aware that many people with head injuries have lapses in memory." I replied.

"Do you have any such lapses?" he asked.

I hesitated, but answered, "Yes."

"So how can you be sure you remember what you remember?" he asked.

I blinked. "Because I remember it." I was aware that sounded like a stupid answer. I was also aware that there wasn't a good answer to that question.

"You remember. I see." He locked eyes with me for another moment. "Nothing further, Your Honor."

I blinked. I hadn't expected him to finish so quickly. "You can step down, Ms. Cregg," the judge said kindly. I did so, glancing at Monique. She shrugged imperceptibly. "We're going to break for lunch now," the judge continued. "Court is adjourned until 1:30 pm. Dismissed."

I followed Monique down the hall to her little room. "You did great, CJ. Honestly."

I nodded. "Is that all?"

"Pretty much. I'm going to rest when we get back to the courtroom. They've already heard from the cops. My guess is the defense figured they weren't going to be able to get much more of a handle on things with you. They couldn't shoot too many holes in the cops' stories and what you said jives pretty well with what they said. There's not much for them to work with. I think they'll probably have to put Cardington on the stand now. I don't know who else they'll get to testify after the cops said they were certain his alibi was false." I nodded. "Do you want to be in the courtroom when he testifies?" she asked gently.

"Do I have to?" I asked.

"No. I think it would be ok if you weren't. The jury already has a good sense of what he did to you and what the effects have been. You were very good with that. They connected to you very well, I could tell. I think it would be understandable if you weren't there. You've already gone through it once today, it would be reasonable to expect hearing his side of the story to be a bit much," she said judiciously.

"Then no," I said. "I don't...want to seem...cowardly, but I honestly don't think I could handle it."

"Then you don't have to. Why don't you go home and relax, and I'll call you later and fill you in on what happened?" Monique suggested. "If it goes to the jury today somehow, I'll call you, so if you want to be here for that part you can."

"All right," I said. I gathered my coat and my bag. "Call my cell phone, ok? I probably will go up to the White House."

"That's fine. I'll talk to you later. You really did do a great job today, don't forget that," Monique said, smiling at me. I managed a small smile back and left the room.

~End Chapter 3~