Disclaimer: See chapter 1

Warning: Themes of violence 

 

Chapter 15

Connections

 

"Hello, Iím here to check in. My name is Claudia Jean Cregg."

 

"Yes, maíam. One moment please," CJ sighed impatiently. Here she was in Minneapolis on a Friday night. Her day had already been long. Toby had acted uninterested in both the fact that she would be gone for the weekend and the fact that the President was using some old manís crush on her to raise money. It was only a Friday night and already the weekend sucked.

 

"Ms. Cregg, we have your reservation. Oh, and we have a message for you."

 

"Yes?"

 

"A Mr. Carl Sorenson has been waiting for you. He is here in the lobby now." CJ groaned. Her plan to end this mistake of a day had been to go to her room, get into a bath, and then cultivate a drinking habit. Now her lovesick Norwegian was actually sitting in the lobby waiting for her.

 

"Where is he?" she asked irritably.

 

"Well, I guess he is over there." The clerk pointed to a man sitting against the wall reading a newspaper.

 

"What do you mean, "you guess?" she asked impatiently.

 

"He doesnít look like any Carl Sorenson that I ever met," the clerk said raising his eyebrows. Before she could get him to elaborate further, he moved off to deal with another guest. She looked over at the newspaper spread across the face of her situation. She decided she would go over and firmly explain that she was in no condition to talk this evening. She would meet him for breakfast as originally planned. And if he got ornery, then it was just too damn bad.

 

She walked over and stood in front of the newspaper.

 

"Excuse me, sir. Mr. Sorenson, itís CJ Cregg." The newspaper dropped and she saw the most unlikely elderly Norwegian that she could imagine.

 

"Toby!" she yelped.

 

"Yep. Itís me," he said proudly.

 

"What are you doing here?" she cried.

 

"Iím here to see you. What else could you imagine?"

 

"Toby, whatís going on? I am supposed to meet an old guy here," CJ looked thoroughly confused.

 

"Yeah, I know. Sorry about that. That was part of the plan."

 

"What plan?"

 

"The plan to get you to Minneapolis tonight," he said cryptically.

 

"Tell me whatís going on," she begged.

 

"Well, it was a surprise. I wanted you here and I asked the President to come up with an excuse to get you here. And I guess he came up with Carl Sorenson, an old, rich, Norwegian pervert."

 

"There is no Carl Sorenson?" she said trying to keep up.

 

"Yeah, I only asked him to get you here and instead he comes up with this huge backstory complete with a pervert and everything. I had a word with him already today. Told him I wanted you tricked not terrorized. So I got here as fast as I could so that you wouldnít be upset or anything," he explained. "I told him that he is banned from my next scheme. He canít be trusted to do anything in a reasonable manner. He promised to change his ways, but I donít trust him."

 

"Okay, letís talk about your little tiff some other time. What the hell is going on?" she demanded.

 

"Iím surprising you." Toby explained.

 

"In Minneapolis, Minnesota, you are surprising me. Okay, Iím definitely surprised."

 

"And I am taking you camping."

 

"What?"

 

"Yeah, I talked to Bob Mendoza who knows an outfitter place here and he set me up with a guy and so here we are in Minneapolis, Minnesota," he said looking awfully pleased with himself.

 

"Toby, what you have done? I have no clothes for this and no time to take off work. You couldnít have forgotten that I brief the press on behalf of the President of the United States? Are you feeling well?" she asked in frustration.

 

"You forget what a smart man I am. I have everything covered. Carol is taking care of everything. Your schedule for the next six days is as clean as a whistle. Lili Mays will do the briefingsÖ"

 

"Lili Mays! Toby, you know that woman wants my job," she replied angrily.

 

"And how would she get it? Let me see." He pretended to think. "Oh, I know, from a recommendation of the Communications Director. CJ, I really think you need to get in good with that guy. Itís the only way to keep Lili Mays at bay," he teased.

 

"And I am supposed to wear my silk suit all week in the woods or were you thinking that I would just go naked?" she retorted.

 

"Ah, the possibilities of such an idea," he mused until he saw her glare. "Donít worry. I am on it. Look."

 

He pulled two large backpacks from behind a chair. "Ginger and Bonnie took my cash card and went shopping." He announced. "I told them to get you everything you would need for an entire week. Everything! I told them that you like state-of-the-art clothing items, clingy things, and bright colors. I hope you like what they got."

 

CJ collapsed into the chair next to him. She didnít know if she should start to yell or cry. So she started to laugh. Toby and his state-of-the-art clothing. Hopefully Ginger and Bonnie had used enough good sense to ignore him. So they sat in the lobby of Downtown Sheraton Minneapolis for a few minutes, seated side by side, while she laughed aloud and he wore a confused expression.

 

"Toby, why are you doing all of this?" she said when she was finally able to tame her laughter. He looked at her seriously for a moment.

 

"Two big things happened for me this week. First, I thought that I had lost you. And second, I found out that you had been assaulted in your lifetime," he began soberly. She straightened up and focused on his words. "CJ, you have to understand that since you and I have been togetherÖhow do I say this? I have been focused on you. You have made such an impact on my life. And then this week happened. My focus has become something akin to an obsession. I think about almost nothing else." He swallowed hard. She followed his eyes.

 

"I have racked my brain this week trying to find a way to show you how much you mean to me. Something more than saying "I love you" or different than proposing." He stopped when she jumped. "Donít worry. We decided we wouldnít talk about that for another year and I want to respect that. I feel like we have all the time in the world."

 

She nodded in agreement.

 

"I thought that I would do something for you that you really wanted. So weíre going to camp. Weíre going to spend some time together alone. My job this week to be there for you, to listen to you when you want to talk. If you want to tell me about what happened, I want to give you my full attention." He was talking to her in his low, soft voice that she considered to be the sexiest thing she had ever heard. She reached over and held his cheek.

 

"Is this okay?" he asked.

 

She smiled. He felt the intensity of her gaze and wished that they werenít sitting in such a public place.

 

"Swede is coming to get us in about fifteen minutes," he announced to her. There would be time enough for gazing later on.

 

"Who is Swede?"

 

"Heís my outfitter guy. Heís going to drive us to a lodge tonight and then set us up with things in the morning," he explained.

 

"Sounds good," she surrendered.

 

"Swede and I have talked on the phone most of the week. I think that we were able to work out some of the kinks," he said.

 

"What kinks?" she asked suspiciously.

 

"Well, you know, I want to make sure that everything is to your liking. I told him I wanted him to find us a nylon tent with poles, and stakes to pound into the ground. I told him that this is the type of tent you use and we wanted something similar," he informed her.

 

"You told him all of that, did you? I bet he said he had such a tent."

 

"Yep. And he wanted to know what you liked to eat. So I told him that you are partial to risottos, polentas, pastas, and that you go nuts for a good salade Nicoise."

 

"Toby, heís not going to have any of that," she told him.

 

"Yeah, but you see I thought there would be some food stations or something that would handle our meals, but I guess not. He is going to give us some dehydrated products and weíll cook on our own. Is that okay?"

 

"Toby, you donít do it any other way."

 

"Oh."

 

"Sweetie, what else did you tell him?"

 

"Well, I told Swede that you have a big blow dryer which you use to fashion your hair every morning. I told him that it was pretty necessary that we have electricity so that you can do that. Thatís when he tried to convince me to stay at the lodge. But donít worry, CJ, I was insistent. I told him that you want to sleep in the wild, and thatís final."

 

"I wonder what Swede thinks of us? You really told him that I "fashion" my hair," she observed shaking her head. Toby shrugged his shoulders.

 

"I asked Swede about bears. He seems to think we will be okay and that we wonít be in any danger," he assured her.

 

"You told him about your childhood fear. Iím surprised," she admitted.

 

"Yeah, well actually I said it was your fear. You see Swede isnít so sure that I should be out in the woods. I can tell by the way he talks to me. I am trying to help him build confidence in me. By the way, he is anxious to meet you. Says he canít approve the trip until he does."

 

"Iíll bet. Toby, sweetie, you have to do something for me." She pulled his face toward hers. "You have to let me take over now. I will talk to Swede about supplies and tents. I will assure him that my hair will require no "fashioning" this week. I will protect you from the bears, which I believe will be an easy task once they see my bright, clingy camp clothing. I will figure out the food and I guarantee you that there are things out there beside a superlative Salade Nicoise. If you continue to do the planning, Swede is never going to let us go out there. Okay?"

 

"I was hoping you would say that. I think I make Swede very nervous."

 

"I am 100% sure that you do."

 

"Okay."

 

"Toby."

 

"My heart is filled with your gesture. I donít think I have ever been so touched by anything in my entire life." She stopped for a minute to swallow hard and search for words. "I love you so very much, Toby. Do you want to know what my job is going to be this week?" She leaned over and whispered in his ear, and then she returned to gazing into his eyes. Toby almost jumped up to book a room for the night until he remembered that Swede would be there any moment.

 

"Do you think Swede will grow to like me?" He pondered aloud.

 

"We all eventually do, Toby," she said smiling at him softly.

 

 

 

 

"Leo, what are you doing here?" Margaret said with a look of surprise on her face.

 

"Well, IÖ" he began.

 

"Itís Saturday morning. You should be at the office trying to convince yourself how much better it is when Iím not there," she shot at him.

 

"I get a lot of work done on my Saturdays," he retorted.

 

"Donít I know it? Every Monday morning you manage to find time to inform me of how much work you get done when you are there alone," she reminded.

 

"Well never mind about all of that. Thatís not why Iím here," he said with an irritated look. Margaret heard this and realized that she had left him standing in her doorway.

 

"Where are my manners, Leo? Come on in. Can I get you some coffee? I could try and give it some of that black tar ambiance that you like so well?" she started off toward the kitchen.

 

"No, no, donít get me anything. I canít stay long," he waved her away from the kitchen.

 

"Okay," she said standing there waiting to find out what the Chief of Staff was doing in her little apartment.

 

"Are you busy this morning?" he asked.

 

"Well, just the usual. I was cleaning the grout in my bathtub when you showed up. Then I was going to maybe rearrange my closets a littleÖ" her voice trailed off as she observed the amused look in Leoís eyes.

 

"So really you donít have anything going on," he concluded.

 

She reluctantly nodded.

 

"Well, I got you a thing," he said gruffly.

 

"You what?" Margaret was becoming more confused by the minute.

 

He took a deep breath. "Iíve been thinking about everything that happened to you in the last week and I canít get out of my head the idea of you going after Grey. It was bad enough the first time, you with bruises and broken bones all over, but now I will forever have the vision of you attacking him with a fragrance. I am still not clear whether your plan was to spray him into submission or to just pummel him with the 1 oz. glass bottle. Either way, it was not going to be a pretty outcome."

 

"Leo, whatís on your mind?" she asked impatiently.

 

"After hearing your story the other night, I sort of understand why you did what you did. But it just seems like you should be more prepared for a situation like that in the future."

 

"Hopefully there wonít be another," she said softly.

 

"Exactly, Margaret. But you did quote some rather disturbing statistics to me and it is not outside the realm of possibility that you will again have to defend yourself or someone else. In any event, you should be prepared," he said.

 

"Iím going to purchase some pepper spray, Leo. Iíll be fine," she assured him.

 

"I have something much better than pepper spray for you. So grab your coat, why donít you, and we can run down and see Master Lee," he directed her.

 

"What? Leo, who is Master Lee?" she was feeling thoroughly confused.

 

"I consulted with a few people in the CIA and they tell me that Tae Kwon Do is a good thing to know when a person needs to defend themselves. So I got this guyís name and weíre going to go see him."

 

"Leo, I donít understand," she said shaking her head.

 

"I bought you a year of Master Lee. He has agreed to take you on as a student. I already talked to him. Heís waiting for us," Leo said impatiently.

 

"Hold on just one minute there, Mister Control Freak. I thought we agreed that you werenít going to take over," she said accusingly.

 

"Iím not controllingÖwell, maybe, a little, but I already paid this guy. Heís going to train you for the next year," he whined.

 

"A whole year?!"

 

"Yeah," Leo just stood there.

 

"LeoÖI appreciate the gesture, I really do, but donít you think you should consulted with me, " she began patiently.

 

"The CIA says itís the best thing. I talked to them about it. I was hoping that you would be happy about this. You havenít really let me help you at all through any of this stuff," he murmured.

 

"Leo, you listened to me. You cared. Thatís helping a person, Leo. You donít always have to fix things. Sometimes, itís best just to be there and support a person. Do you understand?" she said gently.

 

"Yeah," he growled reluctantly, "so youíre not at all interested in learning how to defend yourself."

 

"Itís not a bad idea, Leo. I could use the discipline and exercise, if nothing else," she said haltingly.

 

"But what?"

 

"I just donít want you thinking that this is the way I want your support. I like making decisions for myself," she assured him.

 

"Iím sorry for meddlingÖagain," he said trying to form an expression of apology.

 

"If I donít like him, LeoÖ" she warned.

 

"Iíll get all my money back. I promise."

 

"And thatís another thing, you will not be paying for this," she scolded.

 

"Letís argue in the car, okay. Master Lee is a very impatient man, Margaret."

 

"Iíll bet heís not half as impatient as Master Leo," she joked.

 

"Margaret!"

 

"I have final say on this. Plus I am not calling him "master" anything. Do you understand? She said setting out the ground rules as she allowed him to hustle her out the door.

 

 

 

 

Simultaneously on the other side of town, another surprise visitor was knocking at an apartment door.

 

"Who is it?" came the call from inside.

 

"So you are here. Itís Josh. I need to talk to you," he demanded.

 

The door opened and revealed Donna in a tee shirt and shorts, her hair pulled back, and a slash of something white sprawled across one cheek.

 

"What do you think youíre doing," he began without preamble.

 

"Well, right now, I am trying to see if I can do something about the hole in my wall. Look, I read about it on the web and then I went and got some putty. Though, as you can see, I still havenít figured out the whole process," she frowned at the wall she was displaying for him. The edges of the hole were still ragged and angry. Her strategy was to fill it with mounds of putty until the hole disappeared. At this point, the desired outcome was not yet in sight.

 

Josh walked past her to see for himself. He did so silently, standing before it for a long minute, staring intently. Donna forgot that Josh had not seen the hole before. She regretted that he did now.

 

"You shouldnít be here," he said in a low voice not yet turning away from the wall.

 

"Actually, here is exactly where I think I should be," she replied firmly.

 

"Youíre making no sense, Donnatella," he said, turning and facing her.

 

"Josh, Grey is never coming near me again. You saw the terrified look on his face when he was lying there on the concrete. He is a bully. We fought back. That doesnít work for him. Besides Josh, the FBI is on him like white on rice. You told me so yesterday. Heís got more than enough to worry about. Messing with me is the last thing on his mind," she told him patiently.

 

"Well, I donít like it," he growled.

 

"Lydia called me today," Donna said attempting to change the subject. "Youíll never guess what happened to her? Well, actually you will Ďcause you were responsible for making it happen," she continued.

 

"Donna, we were talking aboutÖ" he tried to interject.

 

"She is starting work on Monday in the First Ladyís office. She is going to take over office management for Lili Mays. She is very excited, Josh, and grateful. And I am very proud of you. I know that you did this for her," she smiled at him softly.

 

He looked back at her wearing an expression of embarrassment.

 

"Did you do it before or after she agreed to help us?"

"I didnít trust myself. I arranged it before she agreed to help. She deserved a chance to get back in the game," He murmured. His ears were starting to get red. It amused her that he was embarrassed by her knowledge of his good deed.

 

"Youíre my hero, Josh," she said reaching over and planting a soft kiss on his cheek. Then she stood back and smiled at him some more. The redness of his ears flooded into the rest of his face.

 

"Stop distracting me," he said trying to sound irritated, but he only ended up coming off as flustered.

 

She waited patiently while he composed himself.

 

"Donna, you should come to stay with me. I have plenty of room for you. It will give you a chance to recover and a chance for me to not worry about you all of the time," he reasoned.

 

"No, itís not a good idea," she responded.

 

"Why not?" he cried out in frustration.

 

"You really canít think of a good reason why you and I should not share quarters?"

 

"No, I canít," he responded with some defiance.

 

She sighed deeply and shook her head. "The fact that you canít figure out why it would be a disaster for us to share living space is evidence enough that staying here is my best option."

 

"What the hell? I do not understand a thing you just said," he said crossly. "I am trying to help. I want to do this."

 

"I know and I appreciate it more than youíre going to understand right now. But the fact is that I canít stay with you," she said firmly.

 

"I donít understand," Josh had a frustrated look on his face.

 

She looked at him long and hard. "Do you really need me to explain this to you?" she said finally. He nodded at her.

 

"Josh, come sit down beside me on the couch," she directed. He gave her a befuddled look, but followed her directions and sat next to her. She sat up and turned to him.

 

"I donít know exactly how to say this, Josh," she said facing him on the couch. She sat quietly for a minute considering her next move. "Just sit there, okay, and donít say anything."

 

He nodded his compliance.

 

She reached over and put her hand on his chest right over his heart. He stirred a little, confused by her move. "Josh," she warned, Ďsit still."

 

As he settled, she moved her hand slightly until she could feel his heartbeat strongly. She motioned for him to stay quiet, and they sat quietly, her hand firmly planted on his chest.

 

"Can you feel your heart beat?" she whispered finally.

 

"Yes," he responded hoarsely. His breathing was shallow.

 

"Can you feel it beat faster?" she continued.

 

"Yes."

 

"Do you know why your heart is beating like this right now?"

 

"Yes," he said as he reached for her face and pulled her to him. She let him take over allowing him to cup her face in his hands. She closed her eyes and drank in the excitement of feeling his lips on her, soft and gentle, yet insistent. For a minute she surrendered to all of this, losing herself in the feelings that had been building inside of her for all of their years together. Yet in her head, there raged a battle between what she wanted and what she needed. Finally, in a moment of clarity, she gathered all of her strength about her and pulled away from him.

 

"Donna," he said searching her face in confusion.

 

"Now do you understand why I canít stay with you?" she asked breathlessly.

 

"No, Donna, I donít. Something is happening here, something that feels right," he insisted.

 

"But do you know what it is, do you know what it means?"

 

"No, but weíll find out together," he said reaching for her hand. She allowed this, but didnít move closer.

 

"What if it doesnít happen, Josh? What if one of us gets hurt?" she asked desperately.

 

"Donna, weíre adults. We can handle this. We wonít lose our friendship, no matter what happens. I promise you," he said sincerely.

 

"I envy your confidence about all of this and your faith in the strength of our relationship," she said slowly.

 

"But?" he could sense her reluctance.

 

"I feel uncertain. What if I donít know what to say to you at the office? What if you want to see Joey? What ifÖ" she started to ramble.

 

"Donna, slow down. Take it easy. If those things happen, weíll talk," he assured her softly.

 

"Maybe itís just me, Josh. What we have together is so important, so precious to me that it feels wrong not to know what we are doing before we change it. Somehow, it seems disrespectful, like weíre taking it for granted or something." He started to respond, but she raised her hand to stop him. She needed to finish. She needed to explain what she was feeling. He took her cue and waited patiently for her.

 

"I think it is me right now," she added slowly. "I donít have much room for uncertainty. So many things have changed in me in such a short time. Itís frightening to me. Right now, I crave whatís familiar to me. I need it. What you and I have is too important to me. Iím not ready for it to change. Please tell me you understand that."

 

"Itís hard, but I think do, Donna. Iíll wait for you. Iíll give you all the time you need. Iím not going anywhere," he promised her softly.

 

"Do more than just wait for me. Think about this. Explore your heart, Josh. Pay attention to how you feel. Our relationship deserves that," she said holding his eyes in an intense gaze.

 

"I will," he promised returning her gaze.

 

For a minute, they stayed like this, intent on one another, trying to keep their distance.

 

"I still donít like you staying here," he said breaking the silence.

 

"Not your choice to make, Josh," she replied firmly.

 

"At least let me help," he insisted.

 

"No, Josh, I need to do this. I need to rebuild whatís broken. Let me stand alone, Josh. Let me stand tall," she said getting up slowly. She reached over and placed her hand on his cheek for a moment. Then she left him sitting there while she left to challenge the pain that, a few days earlier, had so threatened to consume her life.

 

The End

 

Feedback is appreciated. Sheila

 

 

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