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06 May 2008 @ 09:29 pm
I was glad to get this one done because this little story arc had the brazen audacity, the unmitigated gall, to invade my head while I was supposed to be doing other stuff.  I will write two more but they may be more toward the end of the month.  Read, if so inclined, and give me some love.  We now return to our regularly scheduled program. 

Title: Together at the Edge of the Cliff
Author: Montiese
Category: Drama/Friendship/Romance
Characters: CJ, Greg, Toby, Nora, OMC
Pairing: CJ/Greg, Toby/Nora
Rating: TEEN
Summary: “As long as I get to be Susan Sarandon”
Author’s Note: This is #18 in the To Love Again series.

CJ curled up in bed, sound asleep. She had another headache and Greg immediately told her to take a nap. Buttons curled up with her. She held her cat close, drifting off quickly with the help of 1200mg of Motrin Greg gave to her.  The phone rang, her husband turned it down low but she still heard it. They picked it up simultaneously but CJ said hello first.
“CJ? Hello, its Elliot.”
“Hold on, OK? Hold on…don’t hang up.”
“I won't.”
CJ put the phone down for just a moment. She did a long stretch before taking a deep breath. Buttons just stared at her as she talked to herself. Feeling as if she was ready to battle whatever life hurled her way, the former Second Lady picked up the phone.
“Sorry about that. I was feeling unwell earlier so Greg made me lie down. I figure you are not calling for the pleasantries though.”
“I have the test results. I would like for you to come in tomorrow morning and…”
“No, no way.” CJ cut him off. “I cannot be expected to wait another day. I have waited long enough. I have gone for five days alternating between trying to be strong and contemplating wandering into traffic. I will not wait, Elliot. This is my life.”
The doctor told her to calm down. He did not want to upset her anymore. There were certain things that he did not want to discuss over the phone.
“I will wave any privilege that I have to. Tell me what I need to know.”
“Alright. The tumor is smaller than we initially believed. It is not the size of a pea but it’s about a centimeter and a half smaller. They discovered that in the second MRI. It is pressing against your optic nerve but I am confident that I can remove it without doing major or permanent damage to your eyesight. I…”
“Elliot!” she exclaimed.
“Dammit, is it cancer? Are you being vague on purpose? Don’t play anymore games; just tell me if I am going to die.”
“You are not facing a death sentence Claudia, and I wanted to give you good news first. The tumor is malignant.”
“Oh dear God.” She covered her mouth with her hand so she would not scream. She had a brain tumor and it was cancerous. OK, the director needed to yell cut now.
“You listen to me and you listen to me good. You will not let this beat you. The tumor is malignant but it has not spread. I want to operate before the end of the week, get it out of there as soon as possible. Come to my office tomorrow morning at 10:30 and we can discuss it more in-depth. Is Greg…?”
“He does not know about this.” CJ replied. “Elliot, promise me that I am not going to die.”
“Everyone is going to die. Do I think this tumor is going to kill you? The answer to that is no. It has not spread and one of the best cancer specialists and surgeons in the world is taking care of you. I'm not sure I like the idea of you going through this alone. You are surrounded by loved ones.”
“Nora knows. She will be with me tomorrow.”
“Alright. Try to relax tonight, though I know you want to slap me for saying so. We will talk more in the morning.”
“Goodbye Elliot. Thank you.”
“See you tomorrow.”
CJ hung up the phone, sitting for a few minutes in stunned silence. She took some deep breaths and did her best to push the tears, pain, and bile back down her throat. That did not work and soon she was sobbing. She scooped Buttons into her arms, crying her eyes out. The tabby cat did his best to comfort the woman he loved most. Greg wandered in a few minutes later. 
He stood in the doorway for a while, leaning on the doorframe, watching her. He had heard the whole conversation. It immediately put him in survivor mode. His wife was not going to die, not while he still had breath in his body.
“Claudia Jean?”
“I'm OK.” she lied, frantically wiping the tears that would not stop. “I just had a bad dream. I'm OK Greg.”
“I picked up the phone because I didn't want it to wake you.”
It was all he needed to say. CJ looked up from the palms of her hands. Her eyes met her husband’s and the love she saw there was immeasurable. She held open her arms; Greg rushed to them. Three was a crowd and since being crushed was not in the plan, Buttons hopped off CJ’s lap. She and Greg slid down on the mattress, foreheads together, arms wrapped tight around each other.
He could have said a million things but didn’t need to.  Greg knew the truth now and he would do what needed to be done. There was no point in anger for being kept in the dark. That was the way his wife did things. She headed in like Patton, didn’t “burden” people with her problems. He did not know if she was born that way or learned the behavior from 30 years as Mrs. Leo McGarry.
Nora had probably beaten the information out of her…if anyone could it was she. Greg always thought it was a good thing they were best friends. They frequently matched each other in strength, vitality, and stubbornness. While he was not overly fond of the idea, actually he hated it; this situation would be left in Nora’s capable hands. CJ already made the decision and it was rare to get a reversal once her mind was made up.
“How was your nap, cookie?” he asked. Greg held her face in his hands. He wiped her tears and this time they did not return.
“It started off very nice. The ending let much to be desired. I don’t have a headache anymore.”
“Good.” Holding back his own tears, Greg kissed her forehead. Oh God, if only he could really kiss it and make it all better. “I love you so much, Claudia Jean.”
“I love you too. I should have told you but I didn’t know how. As insane as it sounds, I thought if I didn’t say it aloud it would not be true.”
“I'm glad I know now. I want to be there with you every step of the way. I understand if you prefer Nora but…”
“It’s not about preference, Greg. Of course I want you to be there. I just know that Nora can stay strong and focused. Not that I think you cannot. I just…”
Greg put his finger on her lip and CJ kissed it. He did not need for her to over explain; he did not want her to feel bad about her decision. He too was confident in Mrs. Ziegler’s ability to handle whatever came with strength and sensibility. CJ could not be in more capable hands. His were quite shaky right now. He smiled as she pulled him close and kissed him passionately. CJ ran her hands down his chest before unbuttoning his shirt.
“Are you sure you're feeling better, baby? You know that I'm content just to hold you.”
CJ nodded, quickly undressing before changing position on the mattress. She wrapped her legs around him as Greg pushed his slacks down. Though neither dare utter it aloud, it felt as if it might be the last time.
The Zieglers spooned on the couch enjoying a quiet late afternoon. Until a few minutes ago Nora thought Toby was asleep and she watched Planet of the Apes alone. Suddenly a hand crept under her shirt. It circled her belly button a few times before sliding upward. When her phone rang it was brushing aside her satin bra. Normally, at this point, Nora would have let the call go to voicemail. The We Are Family ring tone told her it was important. It was only assigned to two people.
While Toby was perturbed that she answered, he was glad his hand was undisturbed.
“Could you come up for a little while?” CJ asked.
“I will be right there.”
Nora flipped her phone closed, gently taking hold of her husband’s hand.
“I have to go upstairs.” She said.
“What? Nora, we were…I was…don’t leave me, sugar pie.”
“It’s really, really important.” She wanted to tell him that she would be right back but was unsure. CJ might be a basket case. She sounded calm on the phone but who knew. “I will be back as soon as I can. I promise.”
What could Toby say? He wanted to ask her not to go again but knew that wasn’t going to happen. Instead he groaned, taking it like a man.
“Hurry back.” he said in vain.
“You got it, speechwriter.” She sat up on the couch, leaning to kiss him firmly on the mouth. “I love you, Toby Ziegler.”
“Love you too. Tell CJ hello and that she owes me big for the interruption. I am not 50 anymore.”
Nora smiled a bit and left the condo. On the short elevator ride up, 1001 different scenarios went through her mind. Finally she had to scream for it to stop before she got a migraine. The hallway seemed much longer than usual and though Nora’s pace was quick she seemed to get no closer to the door. Greg answered the buzzing. From the look on his face it was clear that he knew. The poor man was struggling to hold it together. Nora reached for both of his hands and squeezed. The sentiment did not go unappreciated.
“CJ is in the bedroom.”
Jack begged for a little love so Nora petted the terrier before making her way to the bedroom. She was quite surprised to find her best friend in the midst of a manicure.
“It’s called tropical peach.” CJ held up her hand. “Do you like it? I think it compliments my skin.”
“Its gorgeous.” Nora sat down on the edge of the bed. “Is that why you called me up here?”
“Elliot called a little while ago. He wants me to come in tomorrow to discuss what's next.”
“The tumor…”
“Its malignant.” She grabbed Nora’s hand. “I am going to make it through this.”
“How much could he tell you over the phone?”
“It’s smaller than they thought. That is some good news. It has not spread so Elliot wants to remove it within the next week. He will do the surgery himself; I find that comforting.”
“You're really calm sweetie. Are you high?”
“Oh my God, no.” CJ laughed. “I just...relief is the wrong word, believe me. I know what I am facing and I don’t have to speculate and scare myself to death anymore. I know, and now I fight.”
“What about Greg?” Nora asked.
“I told him. Well actually he picked up the phone so it wouldn’t wake me. He got an earful.”
“Is he going to be alright?”
“I think so. You will be with me tomorrow, right?”
“Damn skippy. Thelma and Louise, remember?”
“As long as I get to be Susan Sarandon. We have been to the cliff so many times.”
“Yeah, but we've never gone over the edge.”
They sat in silence for a while. Their thoughts were of shared memories and heartaches in their separate lives. Hell, CJ and Nora had not had separate lives since Leo introduced them on a warm May day so many decades ago. Their friendship was instant and deep…nothing would tear them apart though a few things had tried over the years.
“Are you sure you're not high? I wouldn’t be mad if you were.”
“I am not. I'm just ready to stop crying and start fighting. Anyway, Greg and I…”
“Aha, endorphins work every time.”
“Yeah. I know that I was interrupting something when I called you.”
“How do you know that?”
“I could hear Tobus breathing into the phone.” CJ laughed. “You better get back to him; I don’t want him glaring at me.”
“He will be fine. If you need me then I want to be here.”
“I'm fine.” She looked at the skepticism on Nora’s face. “Seriously.” She added. “I have the world’s most amazing best friend and a damn fine husband. A very, very fine husband.”
“I bet.”
They laughed, leaning on each other. Nora put her arms around her best friend and kissed her temple.
“Call me if you need anything. I don’t care how small you think it might be.”
“I will leave you alone for a few hours.” CJ replied, winking. “Tomorrow though, we have to be there at 10:30.”
“Of course. I’ll call you later.”
Nora left the bedroom. Greg putzed around in the kitchen; she stuck her head in.
“Hey there.”
“I heard laughter. Is she alright?”
“She’s high on endorphins, doing a manicure. How are you?”
It was a boldfaced lie and when Nora put her arms around him, he once again surrendered to the absolute fear that he was about to lose the woman he loved. CJ captured his heart from the moment she wooed that disc from him in the winter of 2004.
“We cannot both lean on you, Nora.” Greg said as he pulled away. “You will tip over from the weight.”
“You have a best friend that you trust with your life. Talk to him; he will keep your confidence. CJ has gone into full Mrs. Leo McGarry mode so whether she is or not, she will appear rock solid until she comes out on the other side of this.”
“Take care of her.” Greg replied. “She won't let me for whatever reason and though that hurts I will do my best to be understanding. If I know that you're there then I will feel better.”
“I will, I promise. See you later.”
He kissed her cheek and Nora left. She went back down to her place knowing she had to be in the mood when she walked through the door. Toby was a bloodhound; he could sense her angst at 20 paces. Nora took deep breaths, put on a smile, and tucked it safely inside of her soul away from inquisitive eyes.
CJ slid on her Gucci sunglasses as she and Nora walked out of the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center and into the bright afternoon sunshine. Indian summer was still in full bloom and it felt glorious. The cold would grip soon enough; this kind of weather was just what the former Second Lady needed. She and Nora broke the ice with a good laugh this morning. CJ dressed in purple slacks and a lavender blouse. Nora wore purple slacks also, with a white v-neck blouse. They were in each other’s brain and both wondered aloud if Donna, the third Musketeer, woke that morning feeling the need to wear purple.
“He wants to do it Friday.” CJ said, taking a deep breath. “That’s so soon.”
“The sooner the better. Waiting runs the risk of it spreading.”
“Elliot says he doubts it will.”
“You don’t even want to take the risk.” Nora replied.
“Greg and I are taking the kids to dinner tomorrow. Mine and his. Should I tell them?”
“You really think I'm going to answer no? They all deserve to know…they can handle it.”
“You think Charlie can handle it?”
CJ’s little girl, who was not so little anymore, was fragile. She never took bad news well which was strange considering who her parents were.
“I don’t know but that doesn’t mean she should be kept in the dark. Tell them everything that Elliot told you. The prognosis is quite good.”
CJ nodded. She was still petrified about someone fiddling around in her brain, even if he was one of the best in the world. Perhaps doing it Friday was best; she would not have time to run away screaming.
“Lets have lunch and martinis.” She said. “Isn't that what rich women do on a Tuesday afternoon?”
“It certainly is. Shall I call Donnatella?”
“Yes. Have her meet us at The Martini Bar. Also, find out what color she’s wearing.”
I Feel....: contentcontent
I Hear....: "Our Lips Are Sealed" The Go-Gos
Laura: actress > allison janney black dresslauraonbway on June 6th, 2008 12:03 am (UTC)
Love this one, too. Can't wait for the third part.