***Warning: Mature themes. This may be difficult for some people to read. The general idea should be fairly clear in the first couple of paragraphs, so consider yourself warned.
Beginning to Blur
Toby is absolutely the last person I should go to with this. Not only is he my boss and notoriously bad at interpersonal communication, but I'm pretty sure Jeff would kill me if he found out.
Of course, it's not like I have much of a choice right now. I can't very well stand in a hotel hallway in my pajamas bleeding into a scrap of a t-shirt all night. I think that might draw some unwanted attention my way. Loathe as I am to admit it, I need help and my options are limited. The Governor and Mrs. Bartlet, Leo, CJ, and Sam are at the speech, and Josh and Donna left for Austin this morning to meet with some key Texas Democrats. Besides which, Toby's the only one here that I know well enough to trust.
Conveniently, Toby is in his room finishing up tomorrow's speech. Or, as he put it, "rescuing my clear, concise oratory from the flowery purple cesspool into which Sam's attempt at polishing plunged it." This is the man I'm turning to for help?
I really have to do something, though. I'm bleeding, terrified, and I think my wrist is sprained. Which doesn't bode well for my job, to be quite honest. What good is an assistant to the speechwriter if she can't type? I'm scared of what knocking on Toby's door right now means for me, for Jeff, and for this campaign. We can't afford a scandal.
But I'm not sure I can afford another night like this one.
I jolt awake and sit up in the anonymous queen bed. My brain is sluggish when I first wake up, and it takes a minute to remember where I am. Texas, I think. Waco?
"Ginger!" Jeff repeats, his voice muffled by the hotel room door. A niggling sense of recognition slithers through me, leaving my skin prickling with goosebumps.
I know that tone. I want to stay here and hide under the covers. I want him to leave me alone, just for one night. But it's been almost a year, this thing between us, and I know him too well. He'll stand right there in the hallway and raise hell if I don't let him in. He'll go to the desk and convince them to let him in. They're not supposed to, of course, but he'll invent a plausible excuse--that I'm suicidal, like he did in Denver, or that I'm pregnant and he's worried I may have passed out, like he did in Oregon.
Jeff is a very convincing liar.
And this time, the hotel room is actually his. So I take a deep, shuddering breath and answer him. "Yeah, Jeff. One second."
My legs tremble a little as I head for the door, and I feel quite vulnerable in my tank top and loose-fitting pajama bottoms. But he's got that tone in his voice, which means piling on more layers will only result in more ruined clothes. He's already torn a couple of my favorite things.
I think he does it on purpose so that he can replace my clothes with things he's picked out. He says my clothes are too revealing. I disagree, but I learned fairly early on to hold my tongue.
I open the door and he grins down at me. He really is gorgeous: 6'1" and a bit on the thin side, but still muscular, with features that, taken independently, would be too much. Eyes a little too blue, nose slightly too aquiline, and chin just a bit too prominent, but together, his features coalesce into a handsome face. I couldn't quite believe that a man like that would be interested in me the first time he asked me out.
I mean, a pale, scrawny redhead with absurdly large eyes and freckles all over? Yeah, I'm just a magnet for hot men.
Maybe that's why I was so damn susceptible to his charms early on. He was wonderful to me--he sent flowers, he showed up at odd hours to surprise me, he wanted to move in with me after a month. I was just swept off of my feet by his passion for me. Then he got a job working for CJ on the campaign, and we were together pretty much twenty-four hours a day. Which to him was heaven, but to me was a bit stifling.
I once made the mistake of saying as much.
"Hi, honey," Jeff says, leaning in to kiss me. I can taste the cigarettes on his breath. "Lost my key," he says with a shrug, pushing past me into the room. "Were you asleep?"
"Yeah," I say. I can feel it, coiling under the surface. I hate this part.
The sickeningly sweet, apologetic Jeff makes my stomach turn, and the bruises are a pain in the ass to hide; I've never been particularly talented at the art of makeup. But the part I hate the most is this--the interminable time when it's building up, when I can feel the explosion coming.
Waiting around for Jeff to finally lose his temper and get the meanness out of his system is not something I enjoy. I am not a patient person; I am from Jersey. Since I no longer harbor the illusion that he won't do it again, sometimes it's easier just to get it over with.
Jeff stands near his suitcase, shrugging out of his crumpled shirt and tossing it on the floor. No doubt I'll be expected to take care of that in the morning. He glances over at me and gives me a familiar grin.
My stomach twists because I recognize that look--the predatory glint in his eyes.
He's going to be rough tonight. He wants sex, and he wants to manhandle me. That makes it better for him when he's in this mood. It makes it worse for me, obviously, but that never seems to bother him.
I don't know what changes in that moment, as I hold his gaze from my position across the room, but I am suddenly resolute. I am determined not to have sex with him tonight. I've grown accustomed to the aches and bruises, but last time he was like this, he bit my shoulder. Hard. I ended up with an infection and a stern lecture from a concerned emergency room doctor. When the doctor first said he needed to speak with me, I was so relieved I started to cry. I thought he'd recognized my predicament. I thought he would help me.
Instead, he warned me to ease off the sex games.
Too bad it's not a game. It's life or death at this point, and I'm terrified. But at least I've stopped waiting for someone else to rescue me.
I guess I'd better figure out how to rescue myself.
I take a deep, unsteady breath and knock on Toby's door. My nerves are jangling, and I jump when he bellows "Go away!"
I steel myself and knock again, adding a plaintive, "Toby? It's Ginger."
After a moment, the door opens. Toby is in mid-lecture. "Ginger, I'm trying to fix this thing and I'd appreciate it--" He stops, his eyes wide.
If this were any other situation, I'd probably be feeling quite smug about leaving the great, cantankerous Toby Ziegler speechless. Somehow, though, standing before my boss in a ripped tank top, pajama bottoms, and bare feet while holding a torn piece of fabric to my bleeding nose, I can't quite find the amusement.
"Ginger?" he manages, his voice surprisingly soft. I've only heard this tone from him once before. When I started my summer internship on Andie Wyatt's campaign, Toby was her husband and her speechwriter. He was also terrifying. I quickly decided that if he wasn't the actual anti-Christ, he was at least one of Satan's minions. I couldn't understand how a kickass feminist like Andrea Wyatt could possibly love such a bastard. Then came the day my mother called me at campaign headquarters in New York to tell me my grandfather had died. Toby happened to be the one to stumble upon me at my desk, staring unseeing at the wall with tears streaming down my face.
He was wonderful and caring, and I finally understood. He's a crusty, peevish man on the outside, but that's only because he started out so idealistic and the world disappointed him. He uses that contentious exterior to protect his kind heart from further damage.
And so I attempt a smile for his benefit, just like I did that day. I point past him and ask, "Can I--?"
"Yes," Toby replies instantly, pulling the door open to allow me in. I see movement in my peripheral vision as I push past and flinch away from him. He freezes, his hand halfway to my shoulder and his expression devastated.
"Sorry," I mumble. I know in my head that Toby would never, ever hurt me like Jeff. I know it. But I'm still reeling and my instincts are urging me to curl up in a corner and hide. And to absolutely not let anyone touch me, especially not a male.
Toby stands there, still holding the door open uncertainly. He tilts his head towards the hallway. "Do you want this open? I mean, I could leave this open if it would make you more comfortable."
"It's okay, Toby," I assure him from my spot in between the two beds. They afford me some sort of protection that I really don't need, but that is absurdly comforting right now. "I don't want him--" I stop, shake my head, and say, "You can close it."
He watches me carefully as he shuts the door. "Ginger, do you want to see a doctor of some kind?"
"No," I answer immediately. I should really sit down soon; my legs are shaking. The adrenaline high is starting to fade, and the familiar sluggish feeling begins to wash over me.
With a small sigh, Toby says, "Let me rephrase that. Do you *need* a doctor, Ginger?"
"I'm okay," I insist. "I think the bleeding's stopped." Experimentally, I pull the piece of Jeff's shirt away from my face and sniff. No more bleeding. I gently prod my nose, and my cheek. It's already swelling. No way I'm going to be able to hide this tomorrow. I have become an expert at figuring out which bruises will swell and which will merely turn interesting colors over the past year.
Toby's eyes fixate on the damp patches of blood I can still feel on my chin and neck. He clears his throat, points at the bathroom, and says, "I'm gonna..."
He reappears with a damp facecloth, which he holds out. I'm grateful for his consideration; he doesn't approach, instead letting me take the initiative. My right hand's not quite working properly, so I stuff the bloody scrap of shirt in my pocket and place the warm cloth against my skin with my good hand. This time I don't retreat quite so far.
Toby moves over to the small table on the other side of the bed and sits down. I would hug him if I weren't still shaking from the adrenaline--he's making himself as nonthreatening as possible. He meets my gaze. "Do you want anything else? Some water? Or maybe someone to talk to?"
I can tell he's incredibly uncomfortable, aching to pass the burden to someone else because he feels inadequate. I think this is just what I need right now, though. If CJ were here with her kindness and sympathy, I think I'd lose it. Toby's restrained attempts to fix things I can handle. I'm used to him. This is as close to normal as I can get right now, and it feels really good.
"I'm okay, Toby. Really." I mean it. My understanding of the word "okay" has changed a lot in the last year. I'm still walking, and Jeff's not in the room with me, which means I'm okay.
Toby's mouth dips into a frown. "You don't look okay, Ginger. Can you tell me what happened?"
I can't look at him. I'm so humiliated. I can't believe it's come to this, me barging in on my boss while he's trying to work because I'm a stupid, credulous girl who let it go this far.
"Ginger," he says softly. "I'd like to help if I can."
I nod, then cradle my injured hand against my stomach and take my time with the washcloth. The blood turns the white cloth a disturbing, dark orange color. I curb the urge to go into the bathroom and run the washcloth under cold water until the stain disappears. I've picked up the handy skill of being able to get blood out of most fabrics.
When I can't put it off any longer, I cast a brief glance Toby's way, then blurt out, "It's Jeff."
I don't think I'm even breathing right now as I wait for a reaction from him. What if he thinks I'm lying? What if he thinks I deserve it? I can't look at Toby, so I concentrate on the heinous bedspread pattern.
When my words register, Toby goes suddenly rigid in his chair. His hand is curled tightly around the edge of the table. He inhales sharply, then asks, "Jeff Gorman?"
I close my eyes and nod.
"Jeff Gorman did this to you?" he asks. I don't know if he's just shocked, or if he's suppressing his reaction for my sake, but his voice is utterly devoid of emotion. I find that more scary than if he were to yell and scream.
I nod again. I still can't look at him. Instead, I lean against the bed and duck my head, letting my hair shield me from Toby's view.
"Ginger, please--tell me what happened."
I close my eyes. "It started January 3rd."
The first time Jeff hit me, it was because I'd worked late with Toby and hadn't called him. He started yelling the minute I walked into the hotel room--we were in Montpelier, Vermont that day. He was beside himself with anger and jealousy. During his tirade, he made some insinuations that I had a crush on Toby. Then he claimed that he had seen me flirting with Toby during the speech.
It really was just too absurd, and I made the mistake of laughing at the suggestion. Laughing was my first mistake. Jeff glared at me for a moment, eyes wide and mouth compressed into a thin, angry line. Then he twisted my arm behind me and shoved me roughly into the wall, yelling at me to stop laughing at him. When I tried to pull away, he whipped me around and slapped me across the face.
I honestly had no idea what to do. I stood there, my hand pressed against my hot, stinging cheek, and stared at him. He was still breathing hard, his eyes stormy. I didn't even recognize him as the man I'd started dating; the man who claimed to love me.
Then he was back; he was Jeff again, just like that. Jeff started crying. He dropped to his knees, wrapped his arms around my waist, and buried his face in my abdomen. He seemed so horrified and so apologetic. He said he was just so worried when I didn't come home that he lost it. Then he promised he'd never do it again.
Like I said, he's a very convincing liar.
But he told me that he loved me and that he'd make it up to me, and I wanted so much to believe him. Stupidly, I nodded and forgave him. That was my biggest mistake. That's the mistake that I can't forgive myself for.
A couple months passed before it happened again, and I honestly started to believe he wouldn't do it again. That he really was sorry.
He'd already joined the campaign, then, and I asked him if we could have some time off. He shoved me against the wall, tore my pants down my body, and forced me to have sex with him, forced me to prove to him that I loved him. Same performance afterward, though: tears, apologies, and professions of love.
I was laying there on the bed, half naked and still shaking with fear when he pulled me against him and said he was sorry. Said he didn't ever want to hurt me, but my attitude was just too much to take sometimes. Would I promise not to be so mean and thoughtless? I mumbled something he took for assent, and he grinned and kissed my neck gently. Then he promised he'd never hurt me again. But even though I loved him too--I honestly did love him at some point--I didn't believe him that time. Only I made the mistake of telling him as much.
That's when the threats started.
"Ginger?" Toby prompted softly.
I glanced at him for a moment, then looked away again. I might actually die of embarrassment while telling him my story. I know I can't do it while looking at him.
And to add to my discomfort, as the adrenaline subsides, my wrist is starting to throb more and more insistently. I also finally give in to the need to sit, perching on the edge of the bed. Slowly, I ease my right arm down my abdomen until it's resting on my lap. I can't help wincing, though, and Toby catches it.
"Ginger, what's wrong with your arm?"
"I don't know," I admit. "I think he twisted it."
Toby makes a strangled noise, then I hear the rustle of fabric. I peer at him through my hair to see that he's checking his watch. "Dr. Bartlet will be back pretty soon, Ginger. She can take a look--"
"No," I argue, standing up and backing towards the door. "Toby, no one can know about this."
Goddammit, I'm crying.
Toby looks stricken, one hand extended towards me. "Wait. Ginger, please. No one's going to force you to do anything. Okay?"
I swipe at the tears angrily, then nod. My wrist is really hurting. I sit back down and repeat the tentative lowering of my arm. I can't even think about seeing a doctor right now. I refuse.
After a couple of deep breaths, I can speak again without crying. "This can't get out, Toby. The press--it'd be in all the papers."
He nods slowly. "Yes, Ginger. You're probably right."
I knew he wouldn't lie to me. I'm so glad he's being straight with me; I'm so sick of the lies I've been living. "Besides," I say with a self-recriminating sigh, "I started it."
I stare at Jeff as he takes off his watch, placing it carefully on the bureau above his suitcase. Then he slides his shoes off and reaches for his belt.
I can't do this. I have to stop this. "Jeff," I say, straightening up from my position against the wall. "Where the hell have you been?"
He gapes at me, shocked into silence by my audacity. See, he's allowed to do whatever he wants; it's my behavior that has to be regulated.
I give him a defiant stare, and he recovers enough to say, "Excuse me?"
"You didn't call," I point out. "I was waiting for you, and you didn't call. Were you out fucking some bimbo?" He hates it when I swear. I don't think it fits in with his image of womanhood. That always gets him riled up. I need him angry, not horny. I'm shaking, but I draw myself up to my full height and yell, "Well, then, fuck you, Jeff."
I learned after the first couple of times that his supposed lack of control during what he referred to as "episodes" was a lie. He would tell me that he was just so crazy about me that he lost it, that he was so jealous that he couldn't control himself.
But as I sat uncomfortably on the campaign bus one day, my entire back aching from being thrown against a bureau and then raped on the floor the night before, I realized he was incredibly careful. He never once left marks where anyone could see. Oh, there were maybe a couple bruises on my arms, but no one ever noticed. The big, black and yellow and green bruises were always hidden by my clothes--my back, my stomach, my thighs.
The next time, I watched him closely. I was right--his eyes weren't crazed. He was frenzied, his was breathing hard, but he was in control of his actions. He was in control of his fists.
But tonight... I've never said anything like that to him before.
I've never been more terrified in my life. The look on his face, the way he's advancing on me--he's actually out of control right now. I think there's a really good chance that I may die right here in this shitty hotel room in Waco, Texas.
END PART ONE