DISCLAIMER: The West Wing and all its characters belong to NBC, no infringement intended.
AUTHOR'S NOTE: Sequel to The Letter. You'll need to read that first.
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.
My dearest Claudia,
I have every intention of burning your letter, of sending your words up in smoke, watching them evaporate just as my equilibrium has vanished - softly, quietly, and completely.
With that intention, I do not know why, instead, I am writing to you, wasting time when I should be destroying the only evidence of our one night together.
It was just one night, wasn't it?
I have replayed it so many times in my mind that it often feels like we have had a lifetime together. Needless to say, my memory is not my friend, a title I am happy to say you still possess. I admit to worrying our relationship would be irrevocably changed after our time together and I would lose more than just someone to whom I could share my confidences. Of course, I suppose there are some secrets I cannot tell even you.
An example is that we never really discussed that night, which was more my fault than yours. You wrote to me that you understood it was never to happen again and why it happened in the first place. You did not, however, tell me how you feel about our indiscretion, nor did you ask me how I feel about you. I am both disappointed and grateful for the reprieve because, even after all this time, I still cannot answer the question. I do suspect you would have an easier time of it.
I pray that you would at any rate. As difficult as it to believe you feel something for me, it is even more difficult to imagine you do not. It was in the way you said my name, the way it slipped from your lips as a sigh rather than syllables. I have never heard it said quite that way since, and I can tell you without fear of overstating that I have never heard it sound more beautiful. When I want to regret what happened between us, I hear your voice, softened against my skin, as you held me in your arms and offered no promises you could not keep.
Do you remember your whispered words? I cannot forget them, especially those uttered when you thought I was asleep those feelings that tickled my ear as you sighed them against your better judgment. Your admission has cost me a fair amount of sleep in the proceeding nights, but I would not wish away your confession even if I could.
So, instead, I am going to explain to you what I know you do not understand. In your letter, you told me you knew our night together was due to extinguishing circumstances. You believe I allowed my hurt feelings and my anger to overrule my moral beliefs and that I used you to gather my strength and regain my balance. You see yourself as revenge.
You are wrong.
I did give in that night but not to my desire for retribution. I gave in to my desire for you.
It was not the wine or emotions from a re-election campaign or even the fear of losing the one man I have loved for most of my life. I gave in because I wanted to, because I wanted to know, selfishly, how you taste and how you feel. I wanted you for reasons I know you understand. I wanted you for the same reasons you did not stop yourself from kissing me. Neither of us hesitated when that moment came and the mood shifted. I remember your laugh and how your smile slowly slid away as you realized I would not say no if you asked to kiss me. I like that you asked anyway, just as I like that you asked again when we parted. I left you feeling bereft from your absence but fortunate for your presence at all, so my remorse, though authentic, is based only on my infidelity, not on my feelings.
But then, you gave me an excuse and provided me an escape. I wish I could take both. I know I should and be grateful for the gift. But my conscious is in battle with itself. I committed adultery, which is an act I will forever regret. However, allowing you to take the blame will not assuage my guilt. Nothing will. I have to live with my choices, and I will do so without punishing myself with doubt and shame. My punishment comes in another form for every time I see you I am reminded of what I once had but cannot have again. As weak as I was that night is as strong as I have become with just the memory of our time together, but it is a forced strength, forged from my need to remain faithful to my once irreproachable loyalty to my husband. Although I will never again be faultless where my marriage vows are concerned, I know my absolution is genuine. No matter what else you believe, please trust my feelings are real, for you and for him.
You must know, I did not mean to fall in love with you, but it was a feat I could not prevent or end. So while my morals dictate I mourn my sin and offer repentance to God, my heart gives me the freedom to continue loving you from afar, keeping my feelings for you close without allowing them to control the rest of my life. Otherwise, I could not move forward. I would stay in that hotel room wrapped in your arms, not once thinking of who I was hurting while you were laying next me. I love him, C.J. I have for more years than you've been alive. But since you've come into our lives, I have learned it is possible to love two people individually without dismissing my feelings for either person, just as I hope you have learned to respect and accept who we are to each other despite our indiscretion. Your admiration for my husband is separate from your feelings for his wife. You can have both, C.J. One does not belittle the other.
I wish I could tell you all of this in person or, at the very least, give you this letter. I hate that you will never know my feelings, that you must carry your burden alone, but if I told you how I feel, I fear I would once again give in to you. This time, to prove what I am saying to you is true.
So, instead, I will find ways to take care of you. We are a part of each other now, Claudia, and not even time can erase that connection.
All my love,
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