TITLE: Little Girl
AUTHOR: Ellen Milholland
CODES: CJ/Toby, post-Manchester, because all the cool kids are doing it.
SUMMARY: Much later, she said, "I could've done this in California."
For Pene, who brings down the dew.
She is in pieces all over the floor, and he turns to her and his eyes say, "Look, little girl, at this mess you've made."
He smoothes his hand against the bare wall just inside her front door, the skin under his fingernails white with the pressure, not speaking. He looks like he is afraid that he might say all the things he is thinking.
His fingers do this, move like this, up and down against the powder blue paint, his back to the locked door, and he is saying, his body is saying, "And we all thought you were up to the test." She wonders if his fingers will dig a groove into the plaster, wearing through the paint and leaving an indelible mark.
She thinks it might be the only real thing he's ever left behind.
She is drinking, because it is easy and because there's nothing else to do.
Her words rippled through the media, her shaking hands and her flustered little looks towards the door, hoping somebody would save her, hoping that he would save her, standing right behind that window, like he thought she couldn't see him.
He didn't save her. He stood behind the miniblinds and fell back like he'd been shot, like she'd punctured him, like she'd driven a pin into him. And he didn't save her, because that's not the kind of thing he does. He got together a little posse and came to watch her bleed, or to inflict a few new wounds.
But she had done a good enough job of that herself, and there was a sickening, shimmering nausea creeping through her belly, her breath catching on all her rough edges, tears in her eyes. Knowing her failure, and feeling it's hot stone pushing the bottom out of her stomach.
Hearing him inside of her chest already, hearing him like all the other times she'd made mistakes.
But all the other times, it's been just the two of them, and the mistakes have been private, and he's yelled, and she's done that thing where she apologizes and makes him feel guilty for getting angry.
And then usually they've had sex, because that's how they make wounds heal, and afterwards, they pretend they don't feel any of these things that they always feel.
When she was twenty, she decided that she had spent too long on the West Coast, and that she was due for her six months anywhere else. She was double majoring in communications and marketing, and she was pretty and young and talented, and so she spent her semester in New York, learning how to pull information on anything, learning how to take a poll, learning how to make the best goddamn cup of coffee in the building.
And she loved it, some days, because this was news and this is what she'd always wanted to do since the minute she knew there were careers beyond fireman and ballerina. Not the TV anchors, but everything else, making the news, crafting the news, controlling the ebb and flow of public opinion.
She wanted to be the dam builder, and she wanted to move rivers and make mountains. There were days when the skies opened up, and she was sure that she was destined for it.
But she didn't meet him on one of those days. No, it was a Friday after one of those weeks she just wanted to ask the judge to scratch from the record, and she had changed into jeans and one of those terrible sweaters that seemed like a good idea in 1980 in some hideous shade of burnt orange or neon green, and she looked just exactly like a seventeen year old, all gangly limbs and bad earrings.
Her fake ID said that her name was Jennifer and that she was from the great state of Nevada, but it didn't matter, because the guy at the door didn't even throw her a second glance. She ordered a vodka cranberry, and some woman with dark hair and light eyes tried to pick her up. The woman's hands were creeping up her leg, and she was this close to accepting, just to have some way of making the night feel worthwhile, when a guy across the bar laughed at her and said to the other woman, "She's one of ours, Danni. Don't waste your breath."
Danni had flung her hair over her shoulder and turned towards the guy, "You think you're so smart, don't you?"
"She'd have sex with me before she'd have sex with you," he laughed, and smiled at Danni over his beer.
And CJ had smiled. "He's right, you know." A few hours later, on her back in his little apartment, she thought it was funny that she had come 3000 miles to be disappointed by her work and fucked by a guy she barely knew.
Much later, she said, "I could've done this in California."
He was looking through her wallet, at the pictures of her friends and her family and her dog, and he said, "Yeah, it's a pretty shitty fake ID. I could tell you where to get a better one."
She was wearing most of her clothes, but her hair was a mess, and she was leaning against the windowsill smoking a cigarette, her lips all swollen from the kissing, her throat dry. "I can wait a few months."
"You're, what, a junior?" He was in boxers, and his name was Toby, which was a pretty wimpy name, even in the 80s.
"Senior standing," she shrugged. "Berkeley." She was young, and she was beautiful, and her thighs hurt. "Communications and marketing."
"Of course," he offered. "Senior standing." When he said it, it was a taunt, and she wondered why she'd given him the pleasure of coming at all, Pill or no Pill. "I'm getting my masters at Columbia."
"Yeah," she said noncommittally. "Of course." It was late, but there were no stars, really, because the lights of the city drowned them out, and she missed the taste of sea salt in the air. "You're gonna do big things, right? Gonna change the world?"
"That's the plan, at least," he'd said, uncomfortably, putting her wallet down on his kitchen table. "You want some water, or some coffee, or juice or something?"
"When I was a little kid, all I wanted was to be famous. I just wanted everybody to know my name and to be saying, 'that Claudia Cregg. She's really somebody.'"
"So, water, then?"
"This can't be all there is, can it?"
He held out a glass to her, and the water was murky with oxygen bubbles and bad pipes. "It's not as bad as it seems," he said, probably meaning the water but making some sort of motion with his weak chin towards the buildings outside. His hair stuck up in the back, and it was thinning towards the front, and he kissed her shoulder through her sweater and put a hand against her leg. She drank the water, and it was bitter.
"Oh, Toby," she sighed, but she followed him back to bed.
And now she is drinking, sitting on her couch in a teeshirt from a spa she'd spent a week at in '95, all pink script and vague outlines of trees or something. Her feet are bare, and her pants are too short because she'd tried to do laundry herself.
"Well, they're saying it, I guess," she says to him, breaking the silence and gulping down a mouthful of really hideous bourbon. "Jesus," she says aloud, "this stuff can't even be legal. It's just, God."
"Saying what?" he asks, his fingernails scraping against the wall, and she hears it like nails on chalkboards even though there really isn't any sound.
"That Claudia Cregg. She's really somebody." She shakes her head, and she laughs like it hurts. "And the worst part? I can't even go out. I can't even get out of my damn apartment, because people would see me. I mean, what's, what's the world coming to when a girl can't even go make a drunken fool out of herself in public?" She pushes herself up to her feet, brushing her hair out of her eyes. "You want a drink?"
"Sure," he says. "CJ--"
"Oh, fuck you. Don't 'CJ' me."
He shrugs, raising his eyebrows. "Look, I'm not the one--"
Her glass shatters against the wall, and the sound surprises even her, like a bullet through a window. He winces and says, "Don't be like this."
"Be like what, Toby? You saw what happened. You saw me-- saw me-- God, I'm like the court jester. Need a good laugh? Bring out CJ, she's good for it. I mean, please. Forty years, for this?"
"I've been waiting my whole life for this, for these things, these moments and these cameras and that goddamn lectern." She turns away from him, towards her kitchen door. She covers her mouth with her hand, and he stands near the door. "I should resign."
"Wait a few weeks," he says, without disagreeing with her but perhaps not really believing her, either, and she nods.
"I'm not as stupid as I make myself look," she says, closing her eyes against hot tears pooling near the bridge of her nose. "You know?"
"I know." His voice is like rock against rock. "And it can be fixed."
"Yeah," she says. "You can fix it. A couple of good releases, get Nancy to do my briefings, ask my own Deputy to fill in for me because I'm sick, when really I'm just having lunch by myself because nobody wants to admit that they know me. Yeah. Because nobody wants to admit that maybe this isn't entirely my fault."
"Sam stood up for you, you know."
"I know. He avoided me all day today. He left me a note while I was out, just so he wouldn't have to look me in the eye."
"It's easy for them to think all those things about me. That I was too tired to do my job, that maybe I've lost my touch. It's easy when at least they're given the impression that people realize that they do their job well, occasionally. It doesn't take-- People say, 'Good job, Sam.' People say, 'Congratulations, Josh.' People say, 'I'm the President, Toby, and I have MS.'"
"You're not still angry--"
She spins around. "What planet do you live on, Toby? What planet is it where I wouldn't still be angry? It was Leo-- Leo, Toby. And just because you've got me on tape saying the wrong thing, that doesn't make the rest of you any better at this than I am. I was doing Haiti, I was doing damage control, and I was trying my best to defend a President who doesn't even have the-- who didn't even tell me to my face what I was going to have to deal with."
He doesn't say anything, just leans back against the locked door and shakes his head. "You're right."
"I know it."
"He won't accept your resignation," he says, taking a step forward.
"He will. He wouldn't yours, if you offered it. Or Sam's, Josh's. But mine-- yeah. He will."
"That Claudia Cregg," he says, and when he brushes her arm, she isn't surprised. Just because the stakes are higher and the cameras are rolling doesn't mean these things will ever change, and she doesn't even turn away when he kisses her, his mouth metallic like blood and bad pipes.
"I'm still angry, Toby. This isn't going to--"
But he doesn't let her finish, and every time he touches her, it's just another accusation.
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