Disclaimers, etc. in part one. MATURE THEMES.

***

I pause, chancing a glance at Toby.

He's still sitting in that chair, his entire body
tense as he strains to hear me.

I can barely understand the words coming out of my
mouth, and I know what I'm saying. I can't imagine
how he can follow my halting narrative, but he hasn't
interrupted me once. I think he senses that if he
speaks, I'll break.

I have to get this all out, and if it comes out
jumbled, well, then, he'll just have to sort it out
later. That's what he does, anyway.

"He was..." I shrug, unable to describe the menacing
way he came towards me. "I thought he was going to
kill me. I really thought he'd lost it."

I pause for a second, then say, "He's really strong.
You might not know that just from looking at him
because he's not all that muscular. But he's really
strong. And his hands are big."

God, his hands are big. He can hold both of my wrists
securely in one hand. He can lift me up by my waist
with two hands. He can hold me imprisoned with one
hand tangled in my hair. I considered cutting it
short once, but he warned me not to. He said he loved
the way my hair looked against my pale skin.

Personally, I think he likes the way the bruises look
against my pale skin. I think it gives him a happy
little jolt. I don't understand. I never thought
this would happen to me. I never thought my life
would turn out this way. I never thought bruises
would be applied to my body like a brand of ownership.

"I had a bruise on my stomach once that was twice the
size of my fist." I pause, frowning. "Actually, I
think he might have kicked me that time."

Toby stifles a distressed noise, and I snap back to
the present.

"Sorry," I say, rubbing my aching head with my good
hand. My head is throbbing in time with my wrist. I
want nothing more than to lay down and go to sleep
right now, put off all my problems until tomorrow.

But I can't very well do that with Toby watching me,
waiting for the rest of the story.

"I started backing away," I say, once I remember where
I left off. "I started the fight because I wanted to
get it over with, and I thought if he hurt me than
maybe--" I break off, not wanting to describe Jeff's
violent sexual behavior to my boss. "I wanted to get
it over with," I repeat. "But once I got a look at
his face, I realized... I thought he was going to kill
me."

***

When Jeff is within a couple of feet, I turn and bolt
for the door.

He catches me, of course, forcing the door closed with
one hand, then slamming me into the hard wood. The
door handle bites into the flesh just above my hipbone
and I yelp. I grab fistfuls of his t-shirt for
balance.

"What did you say?" Jeff whispers into my ear.

I struggle against him, and a piece of his shirt tears
off in my hand. He's pressing me into the door with
his body, one leg thrust in between mine. He grabs my
wrists and brings my arms over my head with one hand,
using his free hand to force my chin up.

"What the fuck did you just say to me?" he demands.

"I'm sorry," I manage, even though he's got my jaw
clamped shut. He uses the hand on my chin to slam the
back of my head into the wood. I think I may have
whimpered.

"You should be, Ginger," he says. "You're going to be
very sorry."

I'm shaking in his grasp. I shift my weight quickly
to one leg and try to get the other knee up into his
groin, but he anticipates my move, clamping his thighs
together.

"Now, now," he admonishes, "that wasn't very nice,
Ginger."

"Jeff, please," I manage. "Please, you're hurting
me."

"Is that right?"

"Yes." The bones in my wrist are grinding against the
wood painfully, and my back is already hurting. The
throbbing in my head is not subsiding.

"I'm hurting you," he pretends to think about this.
"I wonder why I'd be doing that."

"I'm sorry I cursed at you," I say, tears beginning to
leak from my eyes.

"You're damn right," he says. Suddenly, he pulls
away, yanking me along with him by my captive wrists.
"You're going to show me how sorry you are."

No. I refuse.

Not this. Not tonight. Not ever again.

I've never really fought back before, so the sudden
kick I deliver to his stomach comes as quite a shock.
To both of us, I think. I manage to get one wrist
free, but his fingers clench more tightly around the
other.

"Son of a bitch," he yells.

I wrench out of his grasp, yelping at the sharp pain
that shoots up my arm as it twists. I'm most of the
way to the door when he grabs my upper arm and whirls
me around. I see the blow coming, but not in time to
evade it. The backhand lands squarely on my
cheekbone, glancing off of my nose as my head snaps
around.

I fight the disorienting wave of nausea as blood
begins to leak from my nose.

Thank god for nosebleeds.

Jeff stands there, shocked by the gushing blood, I
guess. I don't wait around to question his motives.
I hurtle out the door and down the hall.

***

"Ginger?" Toby calls softly.

"I'm okay."

"You're not," he answers, clearly frustrated with my
stubbornness. Jeff told me once that he wouldn't have
so many "episodes" if only I weren't so goddamn
stubborn. Almost makes me want to be more stubborn in
response.

Considering that the pain in my wrist is reaching epic
proportions, I'm going to save that small revenge for
later. I meet Toby's gaze full on for the first time
since I started to tell him what happened tonight and
nod. "You're right."

He pauses for a second. Apparently he wasn't
expecting me to agree so quickly. "Do you want me to
call Dr. Bartlet? Or would you rather go to--?"

"No hospitals," I answer. "They'll call the cops."

Toby looks like he wants to say something, but thinks
the better of it. "Okay, no hospitals," he agrees.
"Can I page Dr. Bartlet?"

I consider for a moment, then nod. "If she's got the
time. I don't want to put her out if--"

"Ginger," Toby interrupts gently. "It's fine."

I settle a little further into the bed. I think I may
be here a while.

"Can I call CJ?"

"No," I answer, my eyes wide.

"Ginger--"

"No, Toby. She'll get all riled up and go over there
and yell at Jeff."

With an incredulous look, Toby says, "Exactly. And
since I don't feel able to do that myself without
dropping him out of a convenient window--"

"Toby, no."

He frowns at me. "Can I ask you a question."

"Yes."

"Do you really think you can work with him?"

The mere thought of walking down into the lobby
tomorrow morning and facing Jeff makes me suddenly
nauseous. I cast a desperate glance around in search
of a handy trash can.

Toby anticipates me, grabbing the trash can from
beside the bureau and scooting it towards me. I lean
over and retch repeatedly. The bruised and battered
muscles in my back shriek in protest, and I slide off
of the bed, sobbing and gagging.

It is the must undignified moment of my life, and of
course my boss is witnessing it.

Toby moves immediately to my side, gently pulling my
hair back. His hand flutters over my spine, but I
think he's wary of touching me considering my reaction
before. Not to mention the fact that he's probably
wondering about injuries that aren't as visible as my
wrist.

Finally, the nausea subsides and I droop back against
the bed.

Toby pushes the trashcan away, but leaves it within
reach. He silently rises, disappears into the
bathroom, and returns with a glass of water and
another damp washcloth. "Ginger," he says quietly.
"I don't think you can honestly consider working with
him. We have to talk to CJ."

"We can't," I argue, wiping my mouth.

"Why not?" Toby demands.

"Because," I answer tiredly, "he told me he'd kill me.
And I believe him."

***

I didn't even leave him. Not really.

I merely booked my own hotel room in San Diego. It
was only for one night. One night of peace and quiet,
of time for just me. Time away from Jeff's
controlling nature.

I should've known better.

I was in my hotel room, tense and trying to make
myself relax when he showed up. He started yelling
right there in the hallway, only he wasn't threatening
me. Instead, he was shouting sweet things, and it
took me a minute to figure out why. If he made it
sound like he was a repentant boyfriend trying to get
back with his girlfriend after a lover's quarrel,
other hotel guests probably would smile and go about
their business. If he threatened to kill me, the
other guests might call the police.

So he yelled endearments and pleas and professions of
undying love. I knew better, but I also knew that the
longer I left him in the hallway, the worse it would
be for me when I let him in. Because I knew all too
well that he would end up getting in the hotel room
one way or another.

I steeled myself as best I could and opened the door.
Jeff stood there, his entire body coiled with tension
and a patently false smile pasted on his face.

"Jeff, listen--"

"What's wrong, Ginger?" he asked through clenched
teeth.

"Nothing. I just thought maybe we could--"

"May I come in?" His tone was almost pleasant.

My every instinct screamed for me to refuse, but I
didn't see any other options. I nodded and let him
slip past.

I lingered there by the door, one hand on the handle,
tempted to bolt.

"Close the door, Ginger," he ordered. I already knew
not to argue with that tone. The click of the door as
the latch caught was incredibly loud in my ears. I
flinched and Jeff very nearly grinned.

"You going somewhere, Ginger?"

I shook my head. "No." My hands tangled together to
keep them from shaking.

"Really?"

"Really."

"That's good," he said, still watching me from several
feet away.

I didn't know what to make of his reaction. I
expected raised voices and balled fists, not this cold
fury. To be honest, the determination in his eyes was
ten times more frightening that the beatings ever
were.

"I don't like to hurt you, Ginger. You know that."
He actually sounded like he believed it.

"I know." Well, I knew my lines in that conversation,
anyway. Only it usually came afterwards.

"Do you?" he asked. "I love you so much, Ginger. So
damn much, and then you go and do something like this?
Are you stupid? Do you not understand that I need
you?"

I shook my head. "No, Jeff. I understand--"

"You were going to leave me," he stated flatly. "You
know I can't allow that."

My entire body felt like a block of ice, immobile and
prickling with cold. I couldn't even breathe as the
implications of his words hit me.

Jeff shook his head sadly. "I can't allow that," he
repeated. "I love you too much, Ginger. You think I
could live without you?" He stared at me, obviously
expecting an answer.

But I had no idea what he wanted to hear. I reached
out, extending one trembling hand towards him. "Jeff,
please."

"Please what?"

Please don't kill me. I couldn't say it out loud.

Jeff shook his head, advancing on me slowly. "Ginger,
I can't live without you. I refuse to even try.
You're the center of my world and you know it. Why do
you have to leave me? Why do you force me to do
things like this?"

He stopped just out of reach.

"Jeff, I swear that's not true--"

"You're calling me a liar?" he flared.

"No," I answered quickly. "But you are the center of
my life, Jeff."

He gave me a doubtful look. "I don't believe you."

"Jeff, I love you," I said. I could hear a note of
hysteria in my voice and hoped he wouldn't notice.

"You're just saying that."

"No," I took a step forward, resting my hand against
his chest. "I love you."

I lied. I did love him once, but all I felt that
night was terror. Bone deep fear. I've never been a
good actress, but I understood with a sudden clarity
that he would kill me if I didn't sell the deception.

I stepped closer, sliding my arm up and around his
neck. "Jeff, let me show you how much I love you."

I kissed him, then, and if he noticed the tears I shed
as I traded my dignity and self-respect for my sorry
life, I'm sure he attributed them to guilt.

***

Toby sits next to me on the floor, his hands clenched
together in his lap. He lets the silence linger for a
moment, then clears his throat and says, "I'm proud of
you, Ginger."

I laugh bitterly. "For being stupid?"

"No," he answers, glancing over at me. "For being
incredibly brave."

I duck my head, staring down at the bruises rising on
my wrist. "If I were really brave, I'd have left him
the first time."

"It's not that simple," Toby argues. "This isn't your
fault, Ginger. You did exactly the right thing."

I snort at that, the tears starting again. "Yeah,
right."

"I mean it. You survived, which means you did the
right thing."

I don't answer, letting his words sink in for a
moment.

"Ginger?" Toby asks. "May I page CJ and Dr. Bartlet?"

I should say no. I should just leave immediately,
disappear. I've always wondered what Los Angeles is
like.

"Ginger?"

I nod slowly. And then I cry. I cry for everything
that's happened to me, for every shred of self-respect
that I sacrificed, for ever bruise, for every insult,
for every mind-numbingly terrifying moment I thought I
was going to die. And I cry for the pain this will
cause my family, my friends, my colleagues here on the
campaign, and the harm it will do to Governor
Bartlet's chances.

Over at the desk, Toby calls CJ. "I need you to get
Abbey and get in here." He sighs impatiently. "My
hotel room. There's a situation. Yes, an emergency."
I can feel his gaze on me, even as I sob helplessly.
"I can't explain right now, but you're going to need
to have a conversation with Jeff Gorman."

Toby's barely hung up the phone when there's a knock
on the door. It's CJ, and she takes one look at me,
huddled on the floor with my wrist cradled in my lap
and bruises already swelling on my cheek, then turns
around. "I'll be back," she says grimly.

Toby nods and calls after her, "Look at his shirt,
would you?"

I have no idea what he's talking about.

Dr. Bartlet arrives moments later, her familiar black
bag in tow. Toby greets her at the door and whispers
something I don't quite catch. She nods and
approaches me slowly. "Ginger?"

"Yeah?"

She puts the bag on one of the beds. "Do you want
Toby to stay here while I look at your wrist, or would
you be more comfortable if he left?"

I consider this, torn. I don't want to further
inconvenience the poor man; he's already been through
enough with me tonight. "No," I answer finally.
"Toby, you can go. I'll be fine."

Toby's mouth tightens, but he doesn't argue. "I'll be
right outside the door if you need anything."

"Thanks, Toby," Dr. Bartlet answers, using her best
kindly professional tone. Then she turns back to me,
a sympathetic smile on her lips. "Can you tell me
where it hurts?"

I laugh again, slightly less bitter this time but no
less inappropriate.

She nods once. "Pretty much all over, huh?"

"Yeah. My cheek and my wrist are the worst, though."
I pause. "And my head."

A small furrow appears in between her eyebrows. "Did
you hit your head?"

"Yes."

"On what?"

"The door," I answer, using my good hand to mimic the
way Jeff shoved my head into the wood.

Dr. Bartlet nods briskly, but I can see anger in the
way she compresses her lips. She examines me quickly,
her hands comforting on my skin. It's been so long
since anyone touched me without rage.

I'm crying again, but she merely gives me an
understanding smile. "I'm worried about your wrist,
Ginger. You're going to need X-rays."

I shake my head. "I can't."

"Why not?"

"The police--I can't go to the hospital."

Dr. Bartlet indicates the door with a tilt of her
head. "Mind if I let Toby back in?"

"You're finished?" I ask, surprised.

She smiles. "I forgot my portable X-ray machine, so,
yes, I'm finished." She gives me a comforting pat on
the knee, then crosses the room to let Toby and CJ in.

CJ sits down next to me on the bed, her hand settling
lightly on my back. "Are you okay, Ginger?"

"Yeah," I manage, struggling to stop crying.

CJ nods and looks to Dr. Bartlet. "Abbey?"

"Mild concussion, assorted contusions. Plus she needs
an X-ray of that wrist. I think it's just a bad
sprain, but we need to make sure there's no fracture."

Toby, who's still standing near the door, says, "Jeff
Gorman is no longer a member of the Bartlet for
America campaign."

"Damn straight," Dr. Bartlet responds.

My jaw drops open. "Toby, what--?"

Beside me, CJ interrupts. "I fired him. I kicked his
ass out of here, and told him if he so much as set
foot within the same city as you again, I would make
his life miserable."

I stare at her. "CJ!"

She shrugs. "He deserves far worse, Ginger. He has
no right to do this."

"I know," I answer automatically.

CJ pins me with her inquisitive look. "Do you
really?"

I have to look away. My emotions are far too close to
the surface right now. I can't think about Jeff.

Toby clears his throat. "Did you see his shirt?"

CJ nods. "Yeah, it was torn. Is that what you were
talking about?"

He actually grins at her. "Are you prepared to
testify against Jeff Gorman?"

"Absolutely," CJ answers.

Toby looks to Dr. Bartlet. "Abbey?"

"Count me in."

Then Toby meets my gaze. "Ginger, show them what's in
your pocket."

And then I get it. I understand what he's been doing
since he called in CJ and Abbey. He's making sure
that there are independent witnesses to corroborate my
story. My eyes sting with fresh tears as I pull the
bloody fabric out and show it to CJ. "I accidentally
ripped it off during the fight," I tell her.

"I wish we could rip something else off of that
bastard," CJ mutters.

"CJ," Toby warns. She shrugs, unrepentant. Toby
turns his attention back to me. "Ginger, we will
absolutely back you in whatever you decide to do.
That said, I think you should go to the hospital and
then to the police. I think Jeff Gorman should be
arrested for assault and battery, and I think he
should be thrown in prison for a long period of time.
Everyone in this room is willing to testify on your
behalf; it will not be your word against his."

I can't speak for a long moment, I just stare at him.
I feel a surge of hope, and it takes me a moment to
recognize it. I never honestly thought it would be
over. I never thought I would have such important and
caring people to back me up.

I glance over at CJ, and she nods her encouragement.
Dr. Bartlet meets my questioning gaze with a small,
resolute smile.

I think maybe I can do this.

I take a deep breath and lock eyes with Toby. "Okay,"
I say, my voice shaking with emotion. "Let's go to
the hospital."

***

THE END

Author's notes: In reality, abusers are often
charming, persuasive individuals whose violent sides
are well-hidden to even the victim until she's already
in love and heavily involved. This aspect of domestic
violence didn't really make it into this story, but I
want to make it clear that abusers are not monsters.
They are not psychotic. Almost one-third of American
women report being physically or sexually abused by a
husband or boyfriend at some point in their lives.
The sheer number of women who are abused in this
country (and others, of course) precludes the
possibility that abusers are easily identifiable,
monstrous beings. (Please note that I am not arguing
that the acts committed by abusers aren't monstrous;
they are. But dismissing abusers as monstrous ends up
letting them off the hook for their behavior and makes
it much easier to blame the victim.)

For more information on domestic violence, check out
this sobering site:
http://www.fvpf.org/facts/

 

 

 

 

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