- February 15th, 2010
Title: I Will Remember You
Author: Laura H
Disclaimer: If I married Aaron Sorkin, would I own the rights to The West Wing and the characters? It’s an intriguing thought, even if he is over twice my age. But, oh, that brilliant mind!
Synopsis: CJ’s father falls ill.
Author’s Notes: Can you believe I’ve finally got a chapter out? In my defence, it’s a super long chapter and took on a life of it’s own. Sorry for the delay. I worked on this during the Christmas holidays and picked a way at it a bit over the last couple weeks. Maybe I’ll get a chance to write again during my reading week break from classes, but I can’t promise anything. Stupid school and real life take precedence.
When I was listening to Sarah’s song, I thought it would be perfect for CJ’s relationship with her father after he developed Alzheimer’s . I don’t profess to know anything about the field of medicine, politics is really my thing. So, please excuse all inaccuracies.
Danny makes his way through the foyer and into the kitchen, dodging the cardboard boxes, tarps and paint cans littering the hallway and most of the rooms of the main floor of the house. He sets the cloth bag of groceries down on the island counter and goes in search of his fiancée. When he had left to go procure food for dinner from the super-market, CJ had been priming the den for its much -needed makeover. Since they had moved to Santa Monica last month, they had been renovating their house to their own tastes and preparing their new home for guests. Danny climbs the staircase to the second floor to discover CJ perching on the bed in a stoic reverie. He can deduce immediately that something is wrong.
“Honey?” Danny pads slowly across the hardwood floor to sit next to CJ on the King-sized bed, and takes her hand.
With a single tear cascading down her cheek, CJ inhales sharply. “ Art just called. My father had a stroke last night.”
“Oh, no. Sweetheart, I’m so sorry. Was it bad?” Danny takes his free hand and wraps his arm around CJ’s back in comfort. CJ’s plaid button-down shirt is stained with paint, the product of their re-decorating, and her hair is pulled back into a loose pony-tail.
“It doesn’t look good,” CJ responds with a sniffle, shaking her head in disbelief.
Danny drops a kiss to CJ’s crown in a comforting gesture. “Okay, well why don’t I call the airline and get us on the next flight to Dayton?”
CJ appraises Danny’s expression carefully. He hadn’t even thought twice before stating that he would accompany her. “You want to come?”
Danny shrugs easily. “ Of course. I’m your fiancé. I want to come with you so I can be there for whatever you and your family need.”
“But you’ve never met my family,” CJ reminds him slowly. CJ had wanted to introduce Danny to her father, brothers and niece since they got engaged three weeks ago, but she and Danny had been so busy with the house that they weren’t prepared to entertain house guests and didn’t have the time to fly out East.
Danny grimaces and sighs lightly. “ I know. And it couldn’t be under worse circumstances. But, I feel like I should be there for you.”
CJ nods mutely. She had known that it would be awkward for Danny to meet her family (it having been so long since she brought a man home), but now he would have to become acquainted with them while they were dealing with her father’s stroke. She supposes that engaged couples are supportive of one another during times of crisis.
* * *
“Aunt CJ!” Hogan Cregg flails her arms in attempt to flag down her aunt at the airport.
Glancing up, CJ recognizes her grown niece and waves in response. She continues to make her way toward the exit, Danny following closely with their luggage. “Hey, sweetie. How are you?” CJ hugs the younger woman when Hogan rushes up to greet her.
“I’m good. It’s so nice to see you again. I mean, it’s terrible that Grandpa is so sick, but I’m glad to see you again.” The twenty-one year old blonde girl takes CJ’s carry-on bag.
“Oh, I know, honey. I wish I had been around more,” CJ frowns while following Hogan out towards the parking lot.
“You must be Danny,” Hogan states presumptuously as she extends her hand to the red-headed man rolling the suitcases.
“Oh, sorry. I forgot…”CJ shakes her head at her lack of social grace. She had been so focused on getting to the hospital in Dayton that she forgot to introduce her fiancé and niece.
Danny smiles warmly as he shakes the younger woman’s hand. “ Yes. It’s nice to finally meet you, Hogan. CJ has bragged to me about all your accomplishments.”
Hogan rolls her eyes in a self-deprecating manner. “ Yeah, sure. I didn’t even know you existed before January.” Hogan fixes her aunt with a playfully annoyed look.
CJ inhales sharply, feeling guilty for not talking to her family about her relationship with Danny prior to after the new year. She hadn’t known how serious it would get until she and Danny actually discussed their future, at which point she finally disclosed to her niece that she was dating a man. “ Honey, I’m sorry, but I told you…”
Hogan waves her off dismissively. “It’s fine. I’m just giving you a hard time. Danny, welcome to life with the Cregg’s. You better buckle up because the road is rough.”
Danny chuckles, instantly becoming comfortable with CJ’s outgoing and off-beat niece. “Thanks for the warning, but I think I can tough it out. I know it seems like this thing with CJ and me is very new, but I’ve actually been vying for your aunt’s attention for over eight years. I’ve got a pretty good indication of what I’m getting myself into.”
Hogan laughs airily. “Good. Because Aunt CJ is a lot of work.”
“Hey,” CJ protests with a half-hearted smile.
“Well, thank you for picking us up,” Danny states as way of expressing his gratitude.
“No problem. It made more sense for me to come get you instead of you grabbing a cab.” Hogan leads the way through the parking lot to her father’s car.
“How’s your grandfather?” CJ asks of Hogan, finally turning serious.
Sighing heavily, Hogan opens the trunk of the car for Danny to secure the luggage. “He doesn’t look good. He’s paralyzed on the left side of his body, and it’s difficult for him to speak properly. The doctors said the stroke did a lot of brain damage.”
CJ envelopes her niece in a tight embrace, partly to comfort the girl and partly to seek her own comfort in connecting with her family. “We’ll just have to get him better.”
Nodding, Hogan steps back. “Yeah. Dad’s been there since the nursing home called in the middle of the night. I figured you’d want to go to the hospital, but do you want to stop anywhere first?” Hogan locates her keys in her purse.
CJ shakes her head firmly. “ No, I just want to see him. Let’s go straight to the hospital.”
“Okay,” Hogan consents, lowering herself into the driver’s seat as CJ takes the passenger seat and Danny climbs into the back seat of the car.
* * *
Hogan leads her small group down the corridors of the hospital to the wing where Talmadge Cregg is recovering. She spots her father and uncle sitting in the waiting room and directs CJ and Danny through the lobby.
Arthur Cregg stands up in preparation to greet his younger sister, a tense smile forming on his wrinkled mouth. “I’m glad you made it.” The last time he had seen his sister, her hair had been lighter and shorter, and her face had a prominent look of permanent fatigue about it. Now, she certainly looks less stressed, and it even looks like the light has returned to her eyes and some of the fine lines around her eyes have smoothed. He has to conclude that life in California must be doing her some good in the short amount of time she has been living there.
CJ reaches forward to hug her eldest brother and notices how remarkably similar he is to her father. Both men’s height soared well over six feet, and that had always comforted her about her family. Like his father, Art Cregg has thinning grey hair and a permanent look of deep reflection upon his face. “Of course. How’s he doing?”
“Not great. The stroke caused a lot of damage,” Art answers seriously.
CJ moves on to embrace her other brother, Donnie, who is significantly shorter than the older Cregg son and has a thicker, more muscular toned body after years working as a construction worker and contractor. Donnie hadn’t acquired the same aptitude for academia that his father, brother and younger sister had. He finds it difficult to keep up with any complicated discussions between his family members. CJ turns around to look quickly at Danny standing supportively behind her. “Before I forget, this is Danny. He’s…”CJ pauses momentarily, realizing just how awkward it is to introduce Danny as her fiancé when he hadn’t met her family. “He’s my fiancé. Danny, my brothers Art and Donnie.”
Danny offers both men a firm handshake and makes a concerted effort to look them both directly in the eyes. He wants them to know how much he loves and respects their sister. “It’s good to meet you. I’m so sorry to hear about your father’s stroke. But from what CJ has told me about her father, he is a strong man and hopefully he will be able to make a full recovery.”
Art appraises the younger man with caution. It had probably been over two decades since his baby sister had brought home a man she was dating to meet the family, and he is wary of the man she had agreed to marry so quickly after starting a relationship with him. “Yes, that’s what we’re hoping.”
* * *
CJ had left Danny in the waiting room while she went to check on her father. She wanted to be alone when she saw her father for the first time. It would give her an opportunity to gauge his mental acuity and determine if he was ready to meet her fiancé. When she spots her father lying lifelessly in the hospital bed with a white sheet covering his frail body, she has to inhale sharply and compose herself. She’s not accustom to the sight of tubes and wires weaving in and out of his skin, and it’s very disarming. CJ slowly pads across the room toward the bed, the soft beeping from the machines echoing around the enclosed space. That sterile, clean and stale scent unique to hospitals has an instantaneous effect of sending CJ’s memories back to the last days of her mother’s battle with leukemia. CJ lowers herself onto the plastic chair next to the bed, hoping she will be able to calm her nerves by sitting. She has to swallow hard several times, but she reaches out to lay her right hand tentatively over her father’s right hand resting on the other side of the bed. She knew he would not feel her touch on his left hand.
Talmadge’s eyes flicker open at the foreign sensation on his hand.
“Hey, there.” CJ whispers hoarsely, forcibly plastering a little smile on her face.
“Jeannie?” Talmadge blinks rapidly, trying to process the sight in front of him.
“No, Daddy. It’s me, Claudia. Mom’s not with us anymore, remember?” CJ is used to her father calling her by the pet named he had used for his wife, Jean. Since his memory began to fade several years prior, he often assumed she was her mother, and that his daughter was still a small child.
Talmadge inhales sharply and shakes his head in a fluster. “Of course, of course… I know that… I know… you’re Claudia.”
CJ instantly notices the slur in his accent and the trouble he is having forming sentences, and her heart aches. The formerly brilliant mathematician has been reduced to an incoherent, senile old man. “How are you feeling?”
“Very old,” Talmadge admits with a pronounced sigh.
CJ lets out her own large exhale.“Daddy, I am so sorry I wasn’t there. I should have been there for you more. The last eight years I hardly had the time to leave Washington, and now I’ve gone and moved across the country and I wasn’t there when you probably needed me most.”
“You’re in…Santa Monica now?” Talmadge guesses, racking his fragmented memory for the knowledge of where his daughter is living. He can vaguely recall a conversation they had over the phone where she explained what she was doing in California and where she was currently working.
CJ’s lips curl into a little smile at the fact that her father’s stroke hadn’t killed that particular tidbit of memory. “Yes, that’s right! I’m developing the Hollis Foundation now.”
Talmadge nods painfully. “You got an apartment there?”
“Uh, no. I actually have a house, a nice house, with my fiancé.” CJ hesitantly adds that last detail, not sure if her father recalls her telling him about Danny.
“You’re… getting married?” Talmadge inquires in surprise, his brows rising. For some reason, he hadn’t known that.
CJ licks her lips and nods. “Yes. We got engaged a couple weeks ago and we’re planning the wedding for June.”
“You and Toby?” Talmadge can’t piece together all the remnants of memories floating around in his frail mind.
CJ is surprised that her father could remember Toby. “No, Daddy. It’s Danny. Do you happen to remember the Washington Post reporter that worked on the Press Corp. a few years ago? Well, it’s him. Danny Concannon.”
Talmadge fixes his daughter with a confused stare. “ Concannon? Was he the one…the one…the one who wrote about the President’s…the President’s involvement in the assassination of..of…of..that…Shareef?”
CJ’s jaw drops in shock. Her father couldn’t recall the fact that she was getting married, but he could remember a story Danny wrote four years ago? “Uh, yeah. Yeah, that’s him.”
“You’re marrying a reporter?” Talmadge confirms in bewilderment.
CJ almost raises her voice in indignation. Her father might be lying in a hospital bed and recovering from a stroke, but she doesn’t like the tone of disapproval in his voice. She feels the need to defend Danny, although she knows it’s futile to fight with her father as he lies in a hospital bed. “No, Danny’s not a reporter anymore. He’s writing President Bartlet’s biography now and finishing his doctorate so he can teach college.”
Talmadge’s lips purse tightly. “I didn’t mean…I didn’t mean it as a bad thing. I was…I was just not expecting that. He was…he was a good…a good journalist.” Talmadge is growing frustrated with his inability to sort his thoughts in a logical temporality. He finds himself recalling only bits and pieces of years’ worth of events.
CJ closes her eyes briefly, overwhelmed with dealing with her father. “Look, I didn’t mean to disturb you. You’re so tired and I don’t want to aggravate you. I think I’ll just go track down your doctors and have a chat with them.”
“Am I going to get to meet this…this Danny fellow?” Talmadge asks, looking off toward a back wall.
CJ’s facial expression relaxes. “If you’re up to it. He’s in the waiting room with Art, Donnie and Hogan.”
“He came down with you?” The elderly man deduces.
“Yes,” CJ replies softly.
Talmadge likes that the man his daughter has agreed to marry was willing to fly across the country to be with her and her family.
With a sigh, CJ bends over her father’s torso and kisses his cool temple. “Okay, you just relax. I’ll be back in a little while. I’m going to talk to the doctors. You flag down the nurse if you need me.”
* * *
“The doctors said it could be a while before it would be safe to fly him to a home in Los Angeles,” Danny points out, handing CJ a turkey sandwich from the cafeteria as they resume seats in the hospital waiting room. He unwraps his own sandwich and takes a bite. The head neurologist had just had a detailed conversation with the family and went over the treatment and prognosis. The stroke had done significant damage, but with therapy they expected to bring Talmadge almost back to his previous status.
CJ shakes her head and rubs at her temple, setting her food in her lap, not really hungry anyway. “It doesn’t matter. I already talked to him in January about moving to a nursing home in California so I could visit him regularly and he wouldn’t have anything of it. I even suggested Napa because he has extended family and lots of friends there, but he adamantly asserted that he wouldn’t leave Dayton. He refuses to leave the city and sell the house he had with my mother. Plus, he said Art and Donnie spend plenty of time at his nursing home, but I’m sure that isn’t the case. I just wish I was around more. Maybe, maybe I should move back and look after him and…” CJ’s eyes begin to brim with tears again at the guilt she feels for leaving her father to rot in the nursing home in Ohio while she was working in Washington and then building her new life in Santa Monica. She should have moved back to Dayton to take care of her aging father.
Danny has come to recognize that look on CJ’s face as the one she has when she is being too hard on herself and putting unrealistic expectations on herself. He reaches one arm around to wrap around her shoulder. “ Honey, stop. Stop berating yourself. There’s nothing you could have done to prevent this stroke and there’s nothing you can really do now. If you want, we can stay in Dayton for his recovery for as long as you like. But you’ve got an important new job waiting in Los Angeles and you can’t abandon that to be your father’s nurse. You’ve got no reason to feel bad about that. When you were in there with your father, Art and Donnie were telling me about what it was like when you guys were growing up. They told me that when your mother died when you were thirteen, you took over managing the household. Even though your father was brilliant, he didn’t know how to raise children and manage the schedule and cook and do laundry and all that stuff. You had to learn how to do all that stuff. You helped raise your older brothers, and you helped teach your father how to be a better parent. I know sometimes you don’t think you do enough for your family, but I know that’s not true. You held your family together. You still do. But you need to do things for yourself. You need our new life in California. We’re creating a new family together.” Danny places a kiss to CJ’s crown, closing his eyes as he wills away the pain of losing the tiny little embryo they had conceived only a few months prior. They had discussed it at length, and he and CJ had decided that once her body had properly healed, they would try again to conceive a baby, and hopefully this time bring it to term.
CJ curls into Danny, grateful for his presence throughout this whole mess.
“Aunt CJ, I found a …Oh, sorry.” Hogan stops short of the bench of chairs in the waiting room at the sight of her aunt and Danny holding each other intimately, her father and Donnie in close toe behind her.
CJ immediately sits up straighter, blushing slightly as Danny still has his arm around her shoulder and hasn’t released his hold on her hands. “Ahh, yes, honey?”
“Sorry, I just…I found that lemon iced tea you wanted in one of the vending machines.” Hogan steps forward and hands CJ the bottle while Art and Donnie take seats across from Danny and CJ.
“Thank you, sweetie,” CJ replies, reluctantly freeing her hands from Danny’s soothing touch.
“I think I’m going to head home. I’ve got to manage the construction site early tomorrow morning,” Donnie announces quietly. He had taken the day off to be at the hospital, but he had committed to a contract and he didn’t want to lose too much time on the job. “I’ll drop by in the afternoon, but can one of you keep me updated throughout the day if there’s any change in Dad’s status?”
“Of course, of course,” CJ nods. She stands up to envelope her brother in a sound hug. “ Have a good night and we’ll see you tomorrow.”
Danny reaches out to shake the man’s hand again, telling Donnie that it was nice to meet him. After saying his goodbyes and checking in on his father, Donnie leaves the hospital for the night.
Hogan dips her plastic spoon into her carton of yogurt. “Aunt CJ, I made up your old room in the house if you wanted to stay with us. I didn’t know if you and Danny would want to stay with Dad and I, or if you would stay at a hotel.” When they had moved Talmadge to a nursing home, he had insisted that the home not be sold as long as he was living. So, instead of paying two mortgages plus his father’s nursing home fees, Art had decided to move into his old childhood home and sell his own house.
CJ shares a quick glance with Danny, who shrugs to say that it is completely up to her as to where they should sleep tonight. It had been so long since she had spent time in Dayton with her brother and niece, so CJ decides that it would be a great opportunity to continue to catch up with them if they stayed at the house with her family. “Actually, I think it would nice if we could chat some more. I think we’ll stay at the house tonight.”
“Then you should probably put some linen on the bed in the guest room for Danny,” Art suggests with a cocked brow. He has been trying to assess, in the couple hours he has known the man, the kind of character Danny possess and whether he is worthy of his sister’s heart. From the moment of affection he had witnessed between the two of them, he recognized that they obviously cared about each other a lot, but Art wants to be certain that Danny is truly right for CJ. His younger sister had waited a lifetime to really commit herself to one man, to get married and have a family, and when she did, Art wanted it to be everything she had ever wanted it to be.
Hogan rolls her eyes at her father’s prudishness. “Don’t be ridiculous, Dad. They’re engaged.”
Danny awkwardly tries to avoid eye contact while CJ chuckles lightly.
“Anyway, I think I’ll take Danny in to meet Daddy before he gets too tired. Then we can head home and get a few hours of sleep.” CJ turns to glance at her fiancé. “You ready?”
Danny had been preparing for this since last night when CJ had gotten the call from Art. He was set to meet CJ’s father. “Yes, let’s go.” Danny follows CJ’s lead as she directs them down the hallway.
“Now, his memory is very fragmented so he may repeat questions or forget things or…”CJ rambles, fidgeting her fingers.
“Sweetheart, I understand that he has Alzheimer’s and just had a stroke,” Danny reassures her, squeezing her shoulder lightly.
CJ pauses briefly outside the doorway to her father’s ER room. “All right. Just follow my lead.” She slowly pads across the room, holding Danny’s hand as he steps up behind her. The head of the hospital bed is against the right wall of the room, and CJ and Danny stand beside the left side of the bed.
Talmadge is lying limply with his eyes closed so CJ softly calls for him to get his attention. “I’m sorry, Daddy. It’s getting late so we were going to go back to the house to get a few hours sleep. The nurses and doctors are going to check in on you through the night. Is it okay if we head back to the house?”
Licking his dry lips, Talmadge nods painfully. “Yes, dear…that’s fine. You need…sleep. I need…sleep.”
“Okay, I won’t bother you for too long, then,” CJ promises, taking her father’s right hand and squeezing it gently while she perches on a plastic chair next to the bed. “I just wanted to introduce you to Danny. Do you remember I told you that my fiancé came with me?”
The elderly man glances toward the younger man standing behind his daughter and stares intently.
“I’m glad to finally get the opportunity to meet you, sir, although I am sorry that it has to be under these circumstances.” Danny nods curtly in the direction of the older man and purses his lips in a respectful expression. He can’t exactly reach out and shake the other man’s hand like he would like to. “When you’re feeling better, I would like to sit down and tell you a little about myself and how I’ve come to know and love CJ. But for now, suffice it to say that I’m completely in love with your daughter and we’ve been friends for the better part of eight years. I can’t wait to marry her and start the next part of our journey together.”
Warmly smiling, CJ takes Danny’s hand with her own free hand.
“She’s a… very independent woman,” Talmadge points out firmly. “ That’s the way… her mama… and I… raised her. She’s not the… kind of woman… who’s gonna…darn your socks…and put her…life and career and friends… aside…just because…she’s married.” Talmadge is trying to tell this fiance of his daughter’s that he doesn’t want CJ to throw away all her hard-work for the sake of some man, but he’s having a really difficult time thinking.
Danny’s brows immediately rise and he shakes his furiously. “ No, no, of course not. I would never want that. I completely respect and admire CJ’s career. I love that she is passionate and dedicated to her work. I love her the way she is. And actually, I’m excited about CJ’s new role with the Hollis Foundation.”
“And we’re working on getting me better at relationships,’ CJ admits with a self-deprecating smile.
“And we’re making remarkable progress,” Danny responds honestly with a loving grin.
“Excuse me, Ms. Cregg?” A short, black-haired nurse pokes her head into the room. “Dr. Gilbert has that list of medications and treatments that you requested to see.”
CJ glances toward the door. “ Oh, yes. Thank you.” CJ gives Danny an apologetic look. “I just have to review this. I’ll be right back.” CJ lightly squeezes her father’s hand. “ Daddy, I’m just going with the nurse for a minute. Is that all right?”
When Talmadge doesn’t protest, CJ exists, leaving Danny in awkward silence with CJ’s ill father. After listening to the rhythmic beeping of the machines surrounding the hospital bed, Danny decides that despite the older man’s current handicap, he wants to try to assure him that his daughter is in good hands.
Danny leans forward in his plastic chair and clears his throat. “Sir, from the impression I got from CJ and your sons, you’re very protective of your daughter and you only want what’s best for her. I’m sure you worry about her and were concerned when she told you she was engaged to some man you hadn’t met. But I want you to know that I love CJ more than anything in the world. We’ve known each other a very long time and I’ve always been serious about having a relationship with her. I’m completely committed to our relationship and I will be entirely faithful to our marriage.”
Talmadge sighs heavily. He wants to believe the younger man who looks at his daughter like she’s the only woman he’s ever laid eyes on. “You can’t understand…what it’s like to have that baby girl…in your arms…and worry constantly about her…It doesn’t change…just because she’s grown up.”
Danny looks the elderly man directly in the eyes, needing him to recognize his seriousness. “Well, someday I hope to have a baby that I will love and protect as well as you did for CJ and your sons all those years.”
“You want a baby? Does my daughter know that?” He doesn’t want this man pressuring his daughter into getting married and becoming a stay-at-home mom when she has worked so hard for her independent life and successful career.
“Yes,” Danny responds honestly and without a missing a beat. “And she’d like to have a family, too. We’ve recently reassessed our priorities.”
“Claudia is… a career woman,” Talmadge reminds the younger man sternly.
“Yes, and she will always have that part of her life,” Danny reassures his fiancés father. “ But she’s been burning herself out these last eight years, working sixteen, eighteen hours a day at the White House. She doesn’t want that anymore. She can’t do that any more. She wants balance in her life now. So she’s heading Franklin Hollis’ foundation, and that will be an incredibly rewarding and challenging professional endeavor, but she will have a lot more flexibility in that line of work. That will allow us to foster a loving and healthy marriage, and devote time to raising the child we’re praying to have some day. I promise you, sir, I am prepared to do everything I can, including staying at home with the baby if that is what CJ desires, so that CJ can always pursue her dreams.”
Talmadge tries in vain to process everything that Danny is telling him. Despite the fact that he wants to be protective of his daughter by being critical of her fiancé, he finds himself easily believing and trusting Danny. Maybe he’s just physically and mentally exhausted, but maybe this guy is a truly good, decent man.
“I’m sorry about that,” CJ exclaims as she reenters the room and retraces her steps back over to the bed.
Danny affectionately places his hand over CJ’s once she seats herself on a chair next to the bed.
“Danny says…you might have a baby?” Talmadge states as way of a question.
Inhaling and sharing a shaky smile with Danny, CJ nods to her father. She doesn’t know what Danny told him, and she doesn’t know how well her father would react to the fact that she wants to have children. “Well, we would like to have a child, but we don’t know if it’s possible given our ages and everything.”
Talmadge’s lips curl into a lopsided grin. “It’d be nice to…have another grandchild.”
CJ physically relaxes at the emotion in her father’s tone and the little twinkle in his otherwise dull eyes. Her father not only entirely recognizes her, but almost seems to approve of the new life she has going for herself. He hadn’t complained about her moving to California, and so far he had been agreeable towards Danny. Furthermore, he seemed to approve of her change in priorities and was actually looking forward to her possibly having a family. Perhaps everything would be all right.
Closing his eyes briefly before turning toward his daughter, Talmadge has to summon the reserves of his energy. “Seems like you got yourself…a stand-up guy,” Talmadge teases.
CJ tilts her head to smile sweetly at Danny. “ Yeah, I think I’ll keep him.”
After a few minutes of light conversation, CJ decides that her father is too tired for their visitation to continue. With assurances that they will return in the morning and the night staff will take good care of him, CJ and Danny say their good byes. Just as they are about to leave and CJ is speaking with the night nurse, Talmadge tugs at Danny’s jacket sleeve.
“Danny, promise me…promise me that… you’re in this forever. Promise me that… you’ll always be there to look after my little girl-not that she needs to be taken care of- and that you’ll…look after whatever little Creggs might come along in…the future.” Talmadge stares pleadingly, deeply into Danny’s eyes, his nails boring into Danny’s shoulders.
Danny nods with conviction. “ Of course. You never have to worry. I’m completely committed to CJ, and I will be completely devoted to any children that we might be blessed with.”
With a satisfied nod, Talmadge sighs and leans back into his pillow, giving into his utter exhaustion.
* * *
“So, Danny, did it go okay in there with Grandpa? Did he understand who you were? Did he like you?” Hogan hands CJ a small glass of wine as Art passes Danny a beer as they gather around the kitchen at the Cregg family home. It had been a long night, but everyone had wanted a quick drink before they headed to bed.
Danny looks to CJ for confirmation for what he is about to say. “ I think it went well. He seemed very lucid, and he was certainly pleasant towards me.”
CJ smiles lightly as she sips her wine at the kitchen table. “ Compared to how he behaved when I was younger and I brought men home, it was a raging success,” CJ remarks with a quirked brow.
“Oh these Cregg men are awful with interrogating their daughter’s boyfriends,” Hogan laughs from her seat at the table next to her father. “Remember when I was sixteen and I brought that guy Todd to meet you for the first time and you completely freaked out?”
“You were too young to date,” Art replies grumpily under his breath, nursing his beer. “ You still are.”
CJ rolls her eyes at her older brother. “Art, you upset her so much and restricted her freedom to the point where she jumped on a train to Washington so she could spend a weekend venting to me.” CJ had often played mediator between the growing mother-less girl and the single father after CJ’s sister-in-law had died in a car accident when Hogan was young. Art was not a hands-on, emotionally-involved father, so Hogan often turned to her aunt for heart-to-heart talks and advice.
“Well, she’s fine now so I guess everything turned out okay, didn’t it?” Art snaps, standing up and walking his beer to the counter. He knows he had never struck the right balance between caring for his daughter and allowing her to live and express herself. He had always been a lousy father. He takes off into the living room and turns on the television, tuning it to ESPN.
“I’m zonked. I’m gonna go get ready for bed,” Hogan announces, standing up from her chair, breaking the awkward silence with her typically cheerful attitude.
With a little sigh, CJ stands to hug her niece. “Good night, sweetie.”
Hogan hugs her aunt back. “There’s extra linen in the hall closet if you’re cold. Let me know if you need anything else.”
“Thanks, honey. Have a good night. I love you.” CJ squeezes Hogan’s shoulder as the younger woman dashes out of the kitchen. She turns towards Danny sitting at the table. “ Do you wanna call it a night?”
Danny nods in agreement. “ Sounds good.” He stands up and sets his beer on the counter next to everyone else’s drinks.
CJ takes Danny’s hand and leads him through the kitchen and past the living room. “Goodnight,” CJ calls to Art, on their way to the stairway.
Art whispers “Goodnight” back without taking his eyes off of the T.V screen.
CJ and Danny ascend the staircase and CJ opens the door to the bedroom she had occupied as a child growing up in Dayton.
Danny pauses in the doorway to take in the sight before him and is slightly surprised to see the room mostly devoid of any childhood memorabilia. There is a shelf hosting figure skating and gymnastics trophies and a wall with a couple framed photographs, but other than that there is not too many remnants of a little girl’s childhood in the beige and brown painted room.
“Here we are,” CJ announces softly. “What do you think?”
“It’s…uh…not what I expected,” Danny admits hesitantly. With the perfectly matched wooden furniture and Queen-sized bed with beige and brown linen and quilts, the room just looks like any guest room.
“Why?” CJ chuckles. She rests against the doorjamb.
“I don’t know.” Danny shrugs. “ It just doesn’t look like your childhood bedroom. Where’s the stuffed animals and dolls and books and pink fluffy pillows? I thought all little girls were supposed to have that stuff.”
CJ walks over to the closet and pries open the door, exposing boxes full of old dolls, doll clothing, stuffed animals, books and pink bedding. She cocks her neck and chuckles lightly. “ Happy?”
“Why’s it all in there?” Danny inquires, coming to take a closer look.
Averting her eyes to the ground, CJ’s smile fades. “When my father’s ex-wife, Molly, moved in here a while ago, she insisted on repainting all these rooms. She thought all our old rooms looked too childish, and wanted them to look just like guest rooms. I guess it was about time.”
Standing behind her, Danny senses that CJ doesn’t want to talk about it any more. “ Hey, this one is interesting. It looks all hand-made.” Danny reaches into one of the boxes in the closet and pulls out a tattered hand-sewn plush doll.
CJ can’t help but smile as she runs her hands over the worn face of the doll. “ It was my mother’s. Back when she was growing up, her family didn’t have a lot of money to buy toys, so her mother had to make their toys. It was one of the only toys she had. Fortunately I was able to have store bought toys, but I always really loved this doll.”
Danny rubs his hand across the small of CJ’s back and kisses her temple.
CJ leans into Danny and closes her eyes. “Maybe we should get ready for bed.”
Danny stands up and offers CJ his hand so he can help her up. “Yeah. It’s been an awfully long day.”
* * *
Danny wakes up to the disorienting sound of knocking at the door. Expecting to be in their new luxurious King-size bed overlooking the pool and patio in the backyard, Danny is unpleasantly surprised to be awaken in the middle of the night. It takes him a second to realize he is not at home and that he is in Ohio at CJ’s family home and that someone is knocking at the door to CJ’s childhood bedroom where they are sleeping. When he does make the connection, he gently rouses CJ from her sleep.
“Hmm?” CJ grumbles as she curls further into Danny.
“Honey, someone’s knocking at the door.”
“CJ?” The deep voice at the door calls out.
CJ bolts up quickly. “What? Come in.”
Art hesitantly opens the door and steps into the room in his plaid pajama shirts and heavy blue sweat shirt. He scratches aimlessly at his scruffy thin beard.
“What’s wrong?” CJ demands, having instantly deduced that something must have happened for her brother to have woken them up in the middle of the night.
“The hospital called,” Art states in a hoarse whisper. “ Dad had an aneurysm.”
CJ can feel her heart almost sink in her chest. “ Oh, no.”
Danny wraps an arm around CJ’s shoulders and draws her into an embrace. “Okay, let’s go down to the hospital and see him.”
“We can’t,” Art responds evenly. “ He died.”
It takes a moment for CJ’s brain to register the statement. She shakes her head forcefully. “Oh, God. No, that, that can’t be.
Danny can hardly believe it, and he feels so terrible for CJ. He seeks to transfer his sympathy and strength to CJ through physical intimacy. He kisses her temple and closes his eyes, willing away her pain. “I can’t believe it. I’m so sorry.”
“The doctors said it came on quick. Apparently there was nothing they could do,” Art adds, standing almost motionlessly.
“What can I do? What do you need?” Danny asks of CJ, rubbing her back.
“I’m gonna wake up Hogan and call Donnie,” Art announces. “Do you want to get ready and we’ll head to the hospital? We’ll have to tell them about the funeral arrangements and everything.”
Nodding mutely, tears flow down CJ’s hollow cheeks as the reality of the situation begins to settle in.
Art quietly backs out of the room, shutting the door behind him.
Danny brings his thumb up to swipe at the tear tracks on CJ’s cheeks. “ Darling, I’m so sorry. What can I do?”
CJ grimaces, her eyes fixated on the quilt on the bed. “I just can’t believe it. He was doing so well last night. I really thought he was gonna recover from the stroke. I can’t believe I left him like that. I left him at the hospital without anyone and he was struggling and then he died all alone.” She can’t seem to wrap her head around the fact that it’s her fault he died all alone without his family by his side. She feels so guilty and responsible. She feels as if she should have been there.
“Honey,” Danny coos in his most docile tone. “ I feel awful, too. If we had have known that would have happened, we could have stayed. But it was such a long day and everyone needed to rest.”
CJ encircles her arms around Danny’s neck, lays her face against his head and buries her fingers in the red curls at the back of his neck. She inhales sharply, closing her eyes, and tries to calm herself down. “What are we gonna do?”
“First of all, let’s get washed up and put on some coffee,” Danny suggests, moving a stray strand of hair out of CJ’s eyes. “I’m sure there will be a lot of phone calls to make and arrangements to deal with.”
“Art’s executor of the will. He’ll have to call the family lawyer when the offices open,” CJ sighs.
“What can I do?” Danny asks, rubbing CJ’s fingers between his own.
CJ shrugs, shaking her head. “ Right now, not much. Maybe just go through our suitcase and find me something to wear. I’m gonna have to shower later. Now I think I should go check on Hogan. Lord knows Art’s not gonna be much of a comfort.” CJ extricates herself from Danny’s hold and the warm blankets and goes in search of Danny’s sweatshirt that he had placed on the back of the armchair.
“What about something to eat? I could make some breakfast for everyone?” Danny offers, stepping off the bed and putting his socks on.
“I’m not interested in food, but I could definitely use some coffee. Maybe we’ll grab bagels at the hospital if we’re hungry.” CJ throws the sweater over her nightshirt and goes to check on her niece.
* * *
CJ spent the entire day on auto-pilot. They had to deal with everything at the hospital, meet with the family lawyer to discuss the estate, plan the funeral arrangements with the funeral director, contact their family and friends, among a host of other activities. CJ was overcome with grief and feelings of guilt for abandoning her father (not only the previous night, but for all the years she hadn’t been in Dayton to assist him), but she had to help her brothers with the logistics and put on a brave face and be strong for her niece. Danny had been proving himself invaluable all day, cooking, running errands, and generally helping CJ and the family in whatever way he could.
“I just reserved the rooms at the hotel for the Marsen’s and Yates’” Danny tells CJ as he enters CJ’s room to find her rifling through their suitcase on the floor.
CJ whips her head around and offers Danny a grateful smile. “ Thank you.”
“What are you looking for?” Danny inquires, kneeling beside CJ on the ground next to the suitcase.
“Something to wear to the wake. I didn’t exactly pack anything appropriate for a funeral. I’m going to have to go shopping tomorrow,” CJ sighs, pulling a pair of black dress pants out of the suitcase and appraising them skeptically. “At least we brought your suit.”
Danny takes CJ’s hand and tugs her toward the bed. “I think we’ve done as much as we can do today. Donnie’s gone to his place to pack a bag. He’s going to let your cousins stay there and he’s going to take his old room here. Art’s done with everything at the nursing home.”
“Did the newspaper get the obituary listing we wrote?” CJ asks, sitting next to Danny with a heavy sigh.
“Yes,” Danny reassures CJ, running his hand up and down CJ’s arm soothingly.
“I should go check on Hogan,” CJ thinks aloud, starting to rise before Danny gently brings her back down.
“Hogan went out for coffee with some friends from Ohio State,” Danny relays.
“I don’t know what to do with myself,” CJ admits with a self-deprecating head shake and smile.
“Why don’t you lie down?” Danny suggests easily. “You’ve been going non-stop since three this morning.”
CJ adamantly shakes her head. “ No, I can’t nap,” she insists.
“I think if you just settle down and close your eyes, you’ll be surprised at how quickly sleep comes,” Danny replies softly, gazing deeply into CJ’s watery blue eyes.
The truth is, CJ doesn’t want to settle down. She’s been busying herself all day with funeral preparations so she could sublimate her guilt and sadness. She doesn’t want to think about coping with the loss of her father. “There’s so much to do…”CJ protests lamely.
Danny can’t help but smile and shake his head a little. “We’ve done everything we can do for now. I even made a casserole for dinner. All we’ve gotta do is stick it in the oven.”
CJ glances up and stares intently into Danny’s eyes. “ Danny, my father’s dead and I know that when I lie down and try to sleep I’m going to think about how much I’ll miss him…and how horrible I feel for not being there last night.” At this point, she can’t contain the emotions she’s been trying to keep inside all day. Her body begins to shake with sobs as she finally exhales and allows her tears to flow freely, uninhibited.
“Oh, baby.” Danny envelopes CJ in his arms and feathers kisses around her crown and temple. “ I know you’re gonna miss him. But, sweetheart, you can’t feel bad for not being there. He wouldn’t have even known any different.” Danny maneuvers them into a lying position on the bed.
CJ allows herself to be hugged and comforted by Danny. “I just…I don’t do grief…well.”
Danny smoothes a lock of hair behind CJ’s ear and quirks his lips at that statement. “That’s okay. You don’t have to. Whenever you want to talk about it, I’ll always be here.”
Smiling through her tears, CJ grazes Danny’s cheek with her thumb. “You’re amazing. You’ve been incredible throughout this whole thing. I can’t thank you enough.”
“Sure you can. You can thank me by lying here and taking it easy for a little while,” Danny replies softly, massaging CJ’s shoulder.
“All right, on one condition; you stay with me.” CJ feels Danny’s physical presence to be a great source of strength and comfort right now.
“That can probably be arranged,” Danny whispers.
CJ closes her eyes and focuses on Danny’s touch and the familiar scent of the aftershave on his cheek bone. Listening for the repetitive rhythm of Danny’s heartbeat, CJ notices the aching tiredness begin to seep into her bones.
* * *
When the family enters the assigned room in the funeral home where the viewing is taking place for the wake, Danny reaches for CJ’s hand. CJ glances briefly in the direction of the coffin before turning toward the door. Donnie fidgets awkwardly with his tie, uncomfortable with his formal wear, while Art mumbles something about the thermostat being on too high. Hogan, in a grey blouse and black skirt, is the only one who heads immediately to the front of the room to pay respects to her deceased grandfather.
Swallowing hard, Danny moves his free hand to the small of CJ’s back, over her modest dark grey dress. “Would you like me to go up with you?”
Running her tongue over her dry lips, CJ’s eyes dart over to a back wall. “I just...uh…need a minute. I…uh, really don’t like these things.”
Nodding in understanding, Danny squeezes CJ’s hand. “Take your time.”
Art and Donnie join Hogan at the front of the room to view Talmidge, but CJ stands back temporarily. After a couple minutes, the men retreat back to settle on the couch.
“Honey, do you think you could just stay back here for a few minutes?” CJ asks. “I think I should go up on my own.” Despite wanting Danny’s presence, CJ decides that saying goodbye to her father is something she has to do alone.
Danny nods with confirmation, agreeing with CJ’s decision. “ All right. I’ll be right here when you’re done.” He squeezes CJ’s forearm, hoping to somehow transfer more strength to her so she can cope with the difficult task ahead of her.
With a shaky inhalation of air, CJ braces herself for the inevitable. She steps toward the casket as Hogan walks toward her. “You okay, sweetie?”
With tiny tears dribbling down her eyes, Hogan nods and pushes her long blonde hair behind her back. “ Yeah. But I’m really gonna miss Grandpa.”
CJ wraps the younger woman in a hug. “I know. We all will.”
“At least we’ve got some good memories, right?” Hogan seeks confirmation, putting a positive spin on the situation.
CJ can’t help but smile at her niece. Perhaps Hogan is the only non-dysfunctional one in the whole family. “Yeah, you’ve got that right.”
“I’m gonna go get some water and touch up my makeup before everyone else gets here,” Hogan declares, letting go of CJ’s hands.
“Okay, I’ll be with you in a few minutes,” CJ replies before taking the final steps toward her father. She brushes aside a few stray strands of hair from her bangs that have not been pulled into the chignon at the nape of her neck.
CJ never thought this would be how she would say goodbye to her father. She thought they would have more time. She thought she would be there for his final moments on Earth. She had been so wrapped up with Bartlet’s administration these past eight years that she hadn’t spent nearly as much time with her father as she should have.
I’m sorry, Daddy. I should have been there. I shouldn’t have put my job before you. You needed me.
Talmidge looks down upon his only daughter with a sympathetic smile. “It’s okay, my dear. I was proud that you were serving the President and the country. I wanted you to be in Washington.”
The last two days, CJ had been feeling as if she would never forgive herself, but for some reason she is suddenly beginning to feel more at peace with her inner father abandonment issues.
Anyway, I don’t know what I’m going to do without you. We’ll all miss you so much. I came across your mathematics book when we were clearing out the stuff at the nursing home. I didn’t understand half of it, but it was definitely a good read. We’ve all got copies. Hogan’s got it on her desk at Ohio State. Speaking of her, she’s going to read a beautiful poem at the funeral tomorrow. She’s been handling everything so well. She’s grown into such an incredible young woman, despite not having a mother around. Her and Art have a lot of stuff to work out, but I know his heart is in the right place, just like yours was when Mom died and you had to raise us on your own. I know you felt inadequate, but you were a great father and I never once doubted how loved I was. And speaking of Mom, I hope you’re reunited now and spending all your time in love again. If you can hear any of this, please tell her how much I still love and miss her. I only knew her for thirteen years, but her love and guidance has permeated my being. I only hope that if I’m ever blessed with becoming a mother, I can give my child all the love and patience and energy that she gave us for all those years.
Jean Cregg beams down at her baby girl as she clings to the hands of her husband. “Oh, darling, I wish our time hadn’t been cut so short. But I was so proud of how you stepped up and became a woman. And I know that you will make a wonderful mother. Have patience, my love. Your father tells me Danny has a good soul, and I’ve got it on good authority that your marriage will be blessed with the gift of life in good time. And nothing could make me more glad than to see you basking in the happiness of your soul mate and precious child.”
CJ’s eyes mist with wetness, but she had had already experienced her big meltdown with Danny the other day, so she doesn’t feel as if she is going to break down. She simply hates the sight of the grayish tinged face of her father’s face and doesn’t know what else to say in her silent prayer.
I know that you felt these last few years like you were weak. You couldn’t remember how to do the simple, every day things, so you had to live in a nursing home and have caregivers assist you on a regular basis. But I need you to know that I won’t remember you like that. For all of my life you were the strong one. You were the strong, protective father. You taught me how to ride a bike, while insisting that I wear a helmet. You were intelligent and provided for the family, you were a rock and unshakable. I hardly ever saw anything bother you. You could always give me sound advice. There wasn’t a problem you couldn’t solve, whether that was a mathematical formula or the key to electoral victory. You did everything you could to make sure I had to tools to succeed, and you tried to protect me even as an adult. And even on the last day of your life, when you were recovering from a stroke, you were trying to get to know my fiancé so you could determine if he was worthy enough to marry me. So, I don’t want you to think that this horrible disease, while robbing you of remnants of your memory, robbed you of your dignity. I’ll always think the world of you. In my mind, you’ll always be my strong father. You’ll always be my hero. And I’ll never stop loving you.
CJ closes her eyes for a moment, inhaling sharply to compose herself.
I will remember you
Will you remember me?
Don't let your life pass you by
Weep not for the memories
Remember all the good times that we had
We let them slip away from us when things got bad
Clearly I first saw you, smiling in the sun
I want to feel your warmth upon me, I want to be the one
I will remember you
Will you remember me?
Don't let your life pass you by
Weep not for the memories
I'm so tired,
But I can't sleep
Standin' on the edge of something much too deep
It's funny how we feel so much but we cannot say a word
We are screaming inside, we can't be heard
I will remember you
Will you remember me?
Don't let your life pass you by
Weep not for the memories
I'm so afraid to love you, but more afraid to lose
Clinging to a past that doesn't let me choose
Once there was a darkness, a deep and endless night
Gave me everything you had,
Oh, you gave me life
And I will remember you
Will you remember me?
Don't let your life pass you by
Weep not for the memories
I will remember you
Will you remember me?
Don't let your life pass you by
Weep not for the memories
Weep not for the memories
She turns around and slowly makes her way back to Danny who is standing off beside one of the doors at the back. CJ clears the lump in her throat and reaches her hands forward for Danny’s hands.
Danny gently squeezes CJ’s hands comfortingly before bringing one arm up to draw her shoulders into his chest. He kisses her forehead and dries the tiny tear rimming in her eyelids with the pad of his thumb. “How ya doing?”
CJ’s lips turn up into a weak smile. “I hate having to say goodbye, but I know that he’s in a better place now. Maybe he’s reunited with my mom for the first time in thirty years.”
“I’m sure he is,” Danny replies positively, glad that CJ seems to be taking it all in stride and did not become overly emotional upon seeing the deceased body of her father.
CJ closes her eyes momentarily, grounding herself. “And the important thing, as Hogan noted, is that we’ve got good memories. I’ll never forget where I came from, and I will remember him.”