DISCLAIMER: The West Wing, the characters and situations depicted are the property of Warner Bros. Television, John Wells Productions, NBC, etc. They are borrowed without permission, but without the intent of infringement. This site is in no way affiliated with "The West Wing", NBC, or any representatives of the actors.
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.
FEEDBACK: To ceej4[at]yahoo.com
The Color of Whiskey
"Do you believe in fate, Ms. Cregg?"
The voice was instantly recognizable, and the drink that was halfway to her lips hid C.J.'s smirk. Taking a sip of the golden liquid, she thought of the question, glancing at the mirror above the bar and catching the eyes of the governor's wife before replying.
Abbey sat on the stool next to C.J. "And now?"
"Fifteen years and six billion people in the world and you're the one I'm sharing a drink with after being hired by your husband to work on his national campaign on the very day I was fired? Yeah, I'm beginning to change my mind."
C.J. finished her drink and motioned to the bartender for a refill, ordering Abbey a drink in the process. When they were alone again, C.J. said, "You?"
"I've always been told karma would come back to bite me in the ass. Until today, I had no idea it would hurt so much."
Whiskey glasses were quietly put in front of both women, and Abbey reached for hers with a slightly-shaking hand. C.J. caught the movement out of the corner of her eye and sighed, pushing away her own drink. Abbey's vulnerability was more lethal than the alcohol.
"Should I quit?" she asked, unprepared for Abbey's answering laugh.
"No. My husband needs you. I've heard you're very good at handling the press, and I know from experience you're good at the issues." Abbey turned toward her. "As I recall, you're good at a lot of things."
Despite herself, C.J. blushed as the surge of memories flooded her mind. She hoped the dim lighting offered a disguise.
"Yeah, well, I've gotten even better at some things," she said, nonchalance getting lost in her deeper tone. She cleared her throat and barely resisted the urge to return to her drink. She didn't risk a glance at Abbey.
A long moment passed in relative silence, the scattering of other patrons seeming to need the quiet as much as the two women at the bar.
Finally, Abbey said, "I never should have left the way I did."
"It wouldn't have changed anything. You still would have left. I still would have felt..." C.J. struggled for an appropriate word but then just shrugged. "It doesn't matter."
"It does. We spent the weekend together. The least I could have done was say goodbye."
"Instead of slinking away at dawn?"
"Instead of taking the coward's way out."
Again, C.J. just shrugged but gave into temptation, the glass cool as she held onto it with both hands. "It was for the best. We both knew what those two days were, Abbey. There's no point in dissecting them now."
"We never thought we'd see each other again. It makes a difference."
For the first time since Abbey had joined her, C.J. turned to look at her.
"It doesn't. It can't. We spent one weekend together over fifteen years ago. It was a mistake. You said so yourself."
"I never did."
"You left. Same thing."
Abbey shook her head. "Are you angry because I'm here now or because I left back then?"
C.J. sighed and turned away from Abbey. "I don't know. I honestly don't know. All I could think when you walked into that room tonight was that I was finally going to get a second chance. But then..."
"But then I turned out to be the candidate's wife."
"And suddenly I was waking up in that hotel bed alone. Fifteen years later and it felt the same way."
"I never lied to you. You knew I was married and that we would never be more than we were during those two days."
"Yeah." Another long moment of silence before C.J. smiled. "They were two very good days though."
"They were. Do you remember that little café where we had lunch that first day?"
"We had dinner there, too. The wait staff finally had to throw us out at midnight."
"So we went to the library."
"And I kissed you in the fiction section between the Ls and the Ms." C.J.'s smile faded. "We were being given signs even back then."
"You were exactly what I needed. You argued with me and listened to me and..."
"And loved you."
Abbey sighed. "Claudia."
"I know how it sounds. We only had two days together. Hell, I didn't even know your last name. Still..." C.J. shook her head. "You're right. You never lied to me. I knew you had a plane to catch on Sunday afternoon, and I knew you'd be on it. Even back then, I'm not sure what I was hoping for."
"I thought of you often after I returned home. I wondered about you, about what path your life took you, and how you were doing. I thought of attending your graduation, but I knew it wouldn't be a good idea. We promised each other one weekend, and I couldn't be the one to break that promise."
C.J. just nodded. "Did you ever do that again?"
"No. You were the one and only time I ever cheated."
"Does he know?"
"Not that it was you, just that I handled his infidelity by taking a weekend off from being his wife."
"Interesting way of putting it," C.J. said as she finished her drink in one long swallow.
"I was angry and hurt. And you were..."
C.J. cut her off. "A distraction?"
"A comfort. I went back home to work on my marriage because it was what I had to do, but it was difficult for me to leave you. I wanted to stay, but I needed to go. I couldn't throw away a twenty-year marriage because of one indiscretion."
"His, C.J., not mine. You were more than that."
"And now here we are. You're still married, I'm still not, and we're working together to get your husband elected president. Fate has a cruel sense of humor."
"Yes, well, this is our lot in life. What do we do about it now?"
C.J. stood and tossed some bills on the bar, including a generous tip. "We move on. It's what fifteen years ago was about, and it's what this election is about. Going forward."
Abbey reached for C.J.'s hand, her fingers lingering on C.J.'s wrist. "Do you think we can be friends?"
C.J.'s breath caught at the touch, and she looked down where Abbey's skin rested against her own. Suddenly, she was back in that hotel room, alone and trying to convince herself the single-malt whiskey had gone straight to her head.
"Of course," she said. "It was a long time ago, and we're both professionals. Assuming Governor Bartlet has remained faithful?"
Abbey nodded. "He has. He was sorry, Claudia, and so was I, just for a different reason."
"A lot changes in fifteen years, Abbey." And a lot doesn't C.J. left unsaid. "I'll see you tomorrow. We can start over. It'll be our second chance."
"Everyone deserves a second chance," Abbey said.
"I'll see you tomorrow," C.J. repeated. "Good night."
Abbey let go of C.J.'s hand, and C.J. left the bar, the taste of whiskey sour in her mouth, the prospect of the future weighed down by the past.
Return to The West Wing Fiction
Return to Main Page