Disclaimer: The characters are not mine yada yada.
Author’s Notes: hese two get under my skin. Kudus to songstress Beth Nielsen Chapman and her glorious songs that inspired me
The Precious Trilogy – Part One
1. Of high cost or worth; valuable.
2. Highly esteemed; cherished.
3. Dear; beloved.
The snow-white glare of yet another empty screen burned menacingly into her retina. Reluctantly she closed down her redundant laptop and leant back to the blind closing out the slivers of the early October sunlight. Pressing her hands firmly against her forehead, she could feel her maze of thoughts racing through her brain, pulsing furiously against her fingertips. Her eyelids stung as she closed them she could not remember her last period of unadulterated rest, she daren’t even trust her dreams. Nevertheless, the dull thuds of busy fingers tripping across the keyboards behind the office door were masochistically relaxing and soon the cloudy beats of productivity began to lull her away…
She didn’t even hear the brisk drumming on her door. “CJ.” No answer… “CJ?”
Now she was awake. Her eyelids peeled open torturously, it was like peeling away pages of a wet magazine. Growling inwardly, she looked at the clock. Ten minutes of sleep. Almost anybody else would have been wounded (almost certainly fatally) with a foreboding glare, but he looked so guilty that a half-hearted, yet forgiving smile flashed briefly across her unusually pasty face.
“I’m sorry, I didn’t realise…”
He studied her a little closer. The absence of lustre from her blue eyes made her entirety absolutely colourless and fragile. He wanted to console her, just with a small gesture but he was sure any touch would shatter her in innumerable pieces.
“You look like hell.”
She chuckled in spite of herself; bile rose up into her mouth burning its path along the way. Swallowing, CJ grimaced, considering the acidity a suitable punishment for even half a moment’s joy.
“Some pep talk.”
He laughed awkwardly. “I’m sorry.”
“Toby,” She felt her breathing constrict as she tried to retain her composure. “Please don’t keep saying that.”
“OK,” He sighed, “I’m s…” Her thunderous stare startled him. “Do you know any more?” He said quickly.
She shook her head and began chewing her mouth. The friction of the smooth enamel pulling against her lip was a strange comfort. Suddenly, the shrill rings from the telephone broke the ominous, nervy silence. He turned to leave, but the rapping of her knuckles against the desk told him otherwise.
The rush of sweat from her cool palms made it almost impossible for her to hold the receiver. “CJ Cregg…”
Toby followed her gaze. Her cool stance was giving nothing away but somehow he knew. Watching, waiting, his nervy breath hung precariously in the air. Only pushing it toward her when she eventually let go of the receiver, Toby watched as golden shards of sunlight illuminated its trail. Slowly she looked up as his gasp gently pushed against her face, numerous dust stars scattering as it touched her skin. He noticed her eyes. The sheen of tears had transformed them into inky black pools, glistening faintly like a winter night sky.
He called her quietly. His heart sank when she mouthed the word ‘Gone’.
Four months later… Evening..
“I’m always here, Tobus.” Her forced joviality was not unnoticed. “Always here, like poverty, the IRS and I Love Lucy.”
“Well aren’t you a god darn bucketful of marshmallows?”
She had to laugh at that. The sound of her response cut through the frosty nighttime air of her office like golden August sunshine. Laughter surprised her these days – especially her own. “Are they pink?” She asked, determined to hang on to this mood for as long as possible before guilt dragged her under again.
“Is there any other kind?” His beaming grin lit up his face. Toby felt his tired stance revive as he watched her smile for the first time in far too long. They both should do it more often, he decided.
“Thanks Toby.” She smiled again, but this time it was brief and brittle. The tears forming in her eyes made them shine like glass. He looked away. When he saw her face again just a second later, the smile was gone.
He swallowed something he should have said then turned towards the door.
“CJ, don’t stay too long.”
She answered him from behind a mask of paperwork and half-hearted signatures.
“I won’t.” She lied.
When she eventually looked up from her workload, she knew it was late again but she did not dare look at the clock that clicked noisily on her office wall. Instead, she closed her eyes and tried pitifully to block out the sound of the seconds, minutes and hours she could never reclaim.
Instinctively, eyes still closed, she pulled open a desk drawer, removed the sweater and shut the drawer. Her hands took time to explore the fabric, it was warm and comforting, yet occasionally as her slender fingers danced over it, she would come across a snag of wiry and rough resistance. It was very much her father’s sweater. She pulled it close to her face and breathed in the memories. It still smelled of him, wood smoke and whisky. Sweet waning recollections of times gone by. Carelessly she let a teardrop fall into the wool. CJ quickly removed the sweater from her face, and returned it to its hiding place. Her father did not deserve to be washed away by her pathetic sobs. When she opened her eyes, CJ baulked as a teardrop splashed into the grain of her desk. No point wiping it away she thought, there would be more.
There was little light in her vicinity now, just illumination from a hallway nearby and from her desk lamp shimmering on the polished wood. Fatigue had the better of her, her eyes burned; she could hardly muster a blink. Her head was a lead weight in her cradling palms. Suddenly the shape of the light on her desk changed. CJ quickly pulled in her breath.
“Yeah yeah, I know. Don’t get pissy with me, you’re still here too.”
“I wouldn’t dream of it, my dear.” The unexpected voice replied. The alluring tones sparked a curious yet vibrant charge in CJ, yet she was too shattered to question it.
“Mrs Bartlet, I … I.” Her sudden change of position from hunched to bolt upright made CJ momentarily giddy but she made no effort to smarten her demeanour or hide surprise. Out of habit, she rose from her chair. As she walked around the desk her gait felt precarious, yet CJ disguised it well. As much as she loved her visitor, she was in no mood for interrogation, least of all from someone who was a physician and a mother.
Abbey was leaning nonchalantly against the doorframe. She looked relaxed and elegant in her merlot coloured silken pyjamas. CJ realised too that she was barefoot, each toe playfully shining out ruby red polish amongst the pale carpeting.
“Screw the ceremony, Claudia Jean.” She smiled ironically. It’s 1.50am. “You can call me anything you like.”
“OK.” She said warily. “I will…Hello… Abigail”. The soft, strangely sensuous whisper shocked her yet a blissful smile escaped the instant she uttered it. Abbey walked forward, her eyes bearing an unmistakable glint of mischief as she heard the manner in which her name had been spoken.
CJ froze. It had sounded that way to Abbey too. ‘Shit’. She yelled to herself. ‘Sleep stops you from acting like a dumbass’, she thought, almost aloud.
All of a sudden, the cold swoosh of emptiness engulfed her again. Determined not to lose her resolve she stabbed her heels into the carpet. ‘Don’t let go’, CJ pleaded privately as she felt the blood in her veins freeze and mutate into icy needles. But she was losing control. The sound of Abbey’s question was distant and stilted, CJ was aware of little more than the thundering of her prickling pulse against her skull. She would soon be crumpled on the floor.
However, a second or two later amongst her swirling consciousness she realised she was in fact still upright, propped doggedly by the doctor. She blinked again determined to take a longer glimpse. Dizziness fogged her still, but she could just about make out Abbey standing against her right hip. Only then did she know that Abbey had linked a hand into one of her own. CJ could not feel a thing.
Awkwardly Abbey manoeuvred the casualty to the nearby couch. “It’s OK. I’ve got you.”
Sitting close, Abbey leant CJ’s head forward. Checking the pulse with a purposeful grip, Abbey gently massaged CJ’s shoulders and the base of her neck with her free hand. At first, the reply was little more than a wiry moan but it was a response at least and Abbey was grateful for that.
“Good girl. That’s it.”
Soon CJ was fully attentive to the soft hands stroking the nape of her neck and the underside of her unkempt hair. She kept her head bowed. The movement of Abbey’s fingers against her clammy skin felt so warm and comforting CJ had no intention of moving. She felt Abbey let go of her wrist, and with both hands this time return her attention to the back of her neck. An icy silky sleeve, quite by accident, teased her skin. The next thing she knew CJ was sitting up as straight as a rod, jolted not by shock, but exhilaration. The bewilderment must have shown on her face because Abbey was looking at her with such compassion that for a moment CJ thought she had read her mind.
Abbey trailed her palm lightly across CJ’s forehead and into her hair. “Honey, it’s OK.”
Her hand tapped CJ’s knee firmly. It was a muted touch compared to the tenderness of earlier, but CJ scoffed her disappointment by deciding there was nothing to compare it to except an oxygen-deprived fantasy.
“Now, can you stay there for a second while I get you some water?”
Feeling steadier, CJ nodded, barely able to look the elder woman in the eye.
“No heroics. No running. You hear?”
In her mind’s eye, as she watched Abbey leave the room, CJ was running faster than ever before.
The water had awakened CJ more than she wanted. She gulps another mouthful. The shock of the cold catches her breath at first but she welcomes its effects as its cool respite swims through her entire body.
“Slow down Claudia Jean.”
“Yes Ma’am.” She places the glass under the couch then returns her focus to the woman sitting opposite her. Looking at the radiant face, she ponders her question for a second…
“What is it, CJ?”
‘Say something else, idiot!’ “Oh… nothing... really… I just wondered why you’re here, given the obscene hour and all.” She felt her cover begin to crack. “But thank you. I don’t know where I’d be without you.”
“On the floor, no doubt.” Abbey was laughing but CJ knew a curveball when she saw one. Or was tiredness tricking her perceptions again?
“Couldn’t sleep?” She asked quickly.
“Jed had to take an overseas call. The phone woke me before him so I left the residence and well… just ambled around a little.” She paused. “I saw Toby as he was on his way out… he mentioned in passing that you might be here.”
“Judas.” CJ groaned. The scorn of disapproval on Abbey’s face made her flinch.
“I’m sorry. I didn’t mean that… it’s … it’s just …” The words practically crawled from her, each one stinging her tongue more than the last. ”I’m not strong enough to fall apart.”
Abbey’s face flashed ghoulish white.
“Oh god… what…” She spluttered, forgetting that she had let down her guard.
Abbey shook her head and answered steadily. “Nothing. You just read my mind, that’s all.”
This time when Abbey took her hand into her own, CJ could feel it. It was slightly smaller and a touch weathered, but satin soft, and trembling – much like hers.
“Stay with me Abbey.” She calls out quietly, tentatively inching across the couch closer to her. Some colour has returned to Abbey’s face but her soft eyes are sparkling with frozen tears.
CJ’s hand hovers over Abbey’s cheekbone. She gasps loudly as she sees Abbey’s chest rise in anticipation, but cannot bring herself to go further. In a desperate attempt to relinquish control she rips her hand away. ‘Control equals safety’ CJ yells repeatedly to herself. But as Abbey leans in, her mantra vanishes as she feels the effects of the caress against her lips.
The moment was not the passionate one that both had yearned for so long yet they recognised its preciousness. Reluctantly Abbey broke away to take a breath. How it pained her to let the taste of CJ escape so soon. She swooned slightly as the sweetness smouldered from her mouth. When she regained composure, CJ seemed frozen in horror.
“It’s not because of ….” She protested, barely able to shape the words.
“I know.” Abbey cut her off and looked deeply into CJ’s eyes. It was excruciating to see such sadness and fragility. She swallowed hard in a futile attempt to banish the tears that burned her eyes. “Come here, baby.” Abbey managed before she felt one tear fall.
Without hesitation, CJ rested her head on Abbey’s chest. The coolness of the silk refreshed her flushed skin. But the beauty and closeness of Abbey’s heartbeat was almost too much for CJ to bear. She only remembered to breathe again when she felt Abbey lean forward and nestle a brief kiss amongst her hair.
Then the tears came. She tried to resist at first but eventually CJ had to surrender to the sickening misery that slowly purged itself from her. It was unbearable and overwhelming as each sob strangled her half hearted efforts to survive. It was as if she was dancing amongst insanity and death. Desperate for the lucidity and comfort she moved closer to her protector, nudging the small of her back against her lap. Her slender feet arched over the edge of the couch but the two women were a perfect fit.
Abbey’s response was instinctive. She rocked CJ gently, cradling her against her breasts. The tremors of sobs against her body were so powerful they made her shiver but still she pulled CJ nearer. The soothing whispers of solace that she murmured felt like snowflakes on CJ’s exposed throat. When she felt CJ’s muscles snarl, Abbey prepared herself for another eerie shudder but it never came. Instead, all that surfaced were serene silent tears and sporadic jarring from woe that had not escaped. When she felt the CJ’s tightness subside Abbey placed her hands tenderly against her waist. Quietly basking in their closeness, both women swayed to the rhythm of their breath. Occasionally, when Abbey felt a tear splash against her hand she would stop just for a moment and give CJ a tight hug. Because finally, four months on, Claudia Jean Cregg was at last weeping over the loss of her father.
End of Part One…..