|The Time Before
Author: daydreamer4 PM
Josh and CJ are on the campaign trail when things between them go from friendly to something more than either of them intended. This is a prequel to my other story "The In-Betweens." There's no need to have read it to understand what's going on here.Rated: Fiction T - English - Romance - C.J. C. & Josh L. - Chapters: 20 - Words: 69,874 - Reviews: 47 - Favs: 10 - Follows: 15 - Updated: 12-09-12 - Published: 03-05-11 - id: 6798470
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
"Are You Sure?"
"I'm sorry," CJ said after a moment of silence. "I shouldn't have…you're going through something right now and I'm being awful."
"You're not," Josh said quietly.
"I don't understand. How long has Mandy been gone? Seven—"
"Eight weeks," Josh interrupted her.
"Then, can I ask, how she doesn't know if she's pregnant? There's a drug store on almost every corner of every street. After eight weeks…"
"Mandy isn't good at unexpected things," Josh said.
"Well, that's exactly who we want as a media consultant then," CJ replied wryly.
Josh stifled a smile, grateful that CJ could joke when things were crumbling around them. "Mandy isn't good at unexpected personal things," Josh clarified. "She also has a crushing phobia of doctors so she was just waiting it out."
"And she got tired of waiting."
"I guess," Josh sighed.
CJ pushed the remainder of her drink over to Josh and said, "I think you need this more than I do."
Josh reached out and took a sip of the thick, green liquid. "It's like dessert," he said.
"There's ice cream in it," CJ said.
For a moment CJ forgot that everything was changing. It was nice to be able to just talk to Josh; she took comfort in knowing that things were, if only for the moment, normal.
"CJ," Josh said. "I'm so sorry. Everything got so messed up."
"Josh," she tried to interrupt him.
"I need you that this isn't who I am," Josh continued. "I need you to know that I never meant for—"
"For Mandy to come back and possibly be pregnant?" CJ finished for him. "How could you know that Josh?"
Josh leaned forward and quickly checked himself as he was reaching his hand out to grab hers before he thought better of it.
"I really thought that Mandy and I were over, forever. I need you to know that I'm not the kind of guy who would have lied to get you into bed," Josh said.
"I know who you are," CJ replied. "I know you're not the kind of guy who would do that. This isn't your fault."
"I don't know if I'd say that," Josh replied finishing off the remainder of CJ's drink.
"Josh, Sam and I actually bet money on how long it was going to take before you and Mandy got back together," CJ admitted.
He looked at her quizzically. "You bet on that?" he asked. He wondered why CJ would sleep with him repeatedly if she thought he was still hung up on Mandy. She didn't seem like the type.
"Honestly, when this all started, I had a little voice in my head that said it wasn't over with you two, but then things started to feel different. The first few times we were together I felt like maybe Mandy could walk through the door at any moment and we'd be over, but then, as time went on, I really didn't think that was a possibility anymore. You never talked about her. She didn't call. I assumed, like you, that it was long over.
The point is that I'm a big girl and I made the decision to do this thing with you. If I really thought that you and Mandy were together, or were going to get back together, I wouldn't have. If I'd thought you were lying to me about it I definitely wouldn't have done it, but I didn't. I know who you are Josh and we did this thing together. Neither of us could have known that this would happen."
"I know," Josh said glumly. He was so torn. He felt like he was being pulled in two directions. The day had started with such promise. He and CJ were going to have a real date and he'd planned on telling her how he felt about her. Then Mandy showed up unannounced and with powerful news. It didn't diminish what he felt for CJ, but it changed everything. Mandy had come back with the insane notion that they hadn't really broken up, but then he thought that she might have talked herself into that idea because of the terror of possibly being pregnant. He didn't want to destroy her illusion.
Josh looked so sad and alone. CJ wanted to wrap her arms around him, or take his hand, make some kind of physical connection to him to help ease his confusion, but she knew she couldn't. Mandy was sitting behind them, probably staring at their interaction. It left her feeling unsettled and horrible that she was thinking about how this was impacting her and Josh rather how it was impacting Josh and Mandy.
"Mandy never wanted kids," Josh offered. "She's better with strategy and media relations."
CJ nodded. She didn't have anything to offer because she agreed with Josh's assessment. She didn't really see anything maternal about Mandy either.
"How do you feel about it?" CJ asked him shyly. She wasn't sure if it was right for her to be his sounding board, yet she couldn't help but wonder about every detail of what might come next. She felt an overwhelming desire to know what the plan was, lest she be blind-sided again.
"I don't know," Josh said. "I guess I always assumed kids would be part of the picture, but I can't say I was thinking now would be a great time for that. I know I'm not the type to walk away from my responsibilities."
"Of course not," CJ agreed.
"If she is pregnant, then that's it," Josh said. "I'm going to do the right thing by her and the baby."
CJ considered his response for a moment and then asked, "And what if she's not?"
Josh looked at CJ like he wasn't sure he understood her question. Although Mandy said she wasn't sure she was pregnant, Josh had decided that it was a forgone conclusion. He just assumed his luck was such that she would be.
Josh looked at her sadly, knowing he was about to crush any bit of hope that she had left that they could somehow work it out. "I can't leave her, even if she's not," he replied. He tried as hard as possible to avoid eye contact with her. "She thinks…she's convinced herself that we've just been fighting for eight weeks. If she's not pregnant, I can't just tell her that we haven't really been together. It seems wrong."
"I understand," CJ replied. Although part of her wanted Josh to tell her that he would drop the charade with Mandy and be with her if she wasn't pregnant, she knew that was selfish.
Her hand was on the bar and Josh glanced over to the table where Donna sat talking with Mandy. They didn't seem to be paying attention and Josh rested his hand near CJ's. The lip of the bar obstructed Mandy's view of their hands if she'd happened to look over, or so Josh hoped. CJ moved her hand back a bit from Josh's, worried that he might touch her and weaken any resolve she had allow him to leave her here like this.
"Josh," she breathed quietly as his fingers inched towards hers.
"Claudia Jean," he said. "I'm so-"
"Don't," she begged. "Let's just leave it like this."
Her fingers were spread out and Josh reached out and rested his fingers in between the spaces of her fingers. The warmth that radiated between their fingers almost made it seem as though they were touching and CJ knew this would be as close as they would get for quite some time.
"Please tell me you don't hate me," he said.
"I could never hate you."
"Never say never."
"Never," she said looking him in the eyes sincerely. "I will never hate you."
Josh pushed down the impulse he had to reach out and pull her lips to his. With one sentence she made him completely doubt the decision he was making.
"We're friends, mi amour," she informed him. "Always."
Josh hadn't realized it, but he'd been holding his breath since he asked if CJ hated him. He let out the air slowly. "I'm glad to hear you say that," he said.
"Did you really think I'd never speak to you again?"
"That's not who I am."
"I know," Josh said. "You're probably the perfect woman and I'm being an idiot by throwing it all away."
"Probably," CJ said with a smile that made him feel at home.
"I need you to know something," he said suddenly. He'd made the split-second decision to tell CJ what he had planned to tell her that night. He thought it might give her a feeling of closure, or gratification to know that he did, honestly love her as a partner as much as a friend.
She looked at their hands, so close, yet so far from touching and looked at him expectantly. "Tonight I was going to tell you that I-"
"Josh," she said. "Please don't."
"I need you to hear what I wanted to tell you."
"It's better left unsaid," she insisted.
"I don't think so. I want you to know that I-"
"Please Josh," she said, her eyes pleading with him not to finish the sentence. "Please."
"Will what you have to tell me change anything?" she asked.
"No," he admitted, though it was painful for him to do so.
"We have to work together everyday, hopefully for the next eight years; can't we leave it unsaid?"
"I want you to know," Josh said, almost begging her to allow him to verbalize what he wanted to tell her.
"Do you think there aren't things I want to say to you now? It would be so easy, but it wouldn't change anything. You'll still go back to Mandy and I'll still be sitting here alone."
Josh considered her response. "You'll never be alone," he said. "Not really. I promise."
"Right," CJ replied with a complete lack of belief in his comment.
"I just really want you to know what I haven't said," he tried one last time.
"I already know," she said with a sincerity in her eyes that made him believe she really did, even if he didn't say it out loud.
CJ had a fairly good idea of what Josh was going to tell her and her heart broke knowing that she loved him too and now he'd never know just how much. She'd spent a portion of the day thinking about what it would mean if they were together. She assumed that Leo would fire one of them and it wouldn't be Josh. She'd actually thought about how that would make her feel and she was slightly embarrassed to realize that she would have been upset, but knowing she was with Josh would almost make up for it.
CJ did have one resolution that she was fighting hard to keep, and that was to not cry in front of Josh. With three grasshoppers in her it was hard to keep her emotions in check and she bit the inside of her cheek for strength. She leaned back away from him to put a final period on the conversation. Josh immediately felt the chill as her fingers moved out of his reach.
"You should probably get back to Mandy," CJ said. "She'd probably like to be with you."
"Yeah," Josh said sadly. His feelings were so conflicted. He felt an obligation to Mandy that he couldn't explain. After all, he'd loved her once; maybe part of him still did love her on some level, but it was nowhere near the feelings he'd developed for CJ and he wasn't sure what to do about it.
Josh stood up and took a step away from her before CJ turned and laid her hand on his forearm to stop him. They finally touched and CJ thought that she might not be able to let him go. She wasn't planning on stopping him, but she felt that she somehow owed him an explanation.
"If I had it to do over, I'd do it again," she said.
Josh's upper lip curled slightly. "I would too. I wouldn't change a thing."
"It's selfish to say, but I might change today," CJ admitted with a grin.
"Yeah," Josh agreed reaching out and taking her a hand for the briefest moment.
CJ reminded herself that Mandy was very near and she let go of his hand. "Do me a favor and don't ask Donna to join you for dinner?" she asked. "I don't feel like drinking alone."
"Okay," Josh nodded.
He walked away and CJ felt cold. It was almost as if the void in her life was physical and emotional. Josh was just a co-worker again, like Toby or Sam or Leo. She knew she could live with it; she had to, but she wasn't sure she wanted to.
Donna came up behind her and sat in the stool that Josh had just inhabited.
"Is everything okay?" Donna asked.
CJ just nodded, still biting the inside of her cheek. Crying in front of Josh would have been terrible, crying in front of Donna after a conversation with Josh, while Mandy and Josh were sitting feet away would be disastrous.
"Were you two fighting?" Donna asked lightly. "Your conversation seemed a little intense."
"We weren't fighting," CJ said. "We were…I wanted something and Josh couldn't make it happen. It wasn't his fault."
CJ figured it wasn't too far from the truth. At least it allowed her the opportunity to talk about it.
"Do you want another drink?" the bartender asked.
CJ looked at Donna. "Donna?" She nodded.
"Sure," CJ said. "How about two grasshoppers and an order of nachos?"
"Coming up," he said.
"You have to try a grasshopper," CJ informed Donna. "It may be my new favorite drink."
Josh walked back to his table and Mandy asked, "What was going on over there?"
"Are you and CJ fighting?"
"No," he said. 'We were breaking up,' he wanted to say.
"She seemed upset," Mandy observed.
"I gave her the impression I could make something happen and then I couldn't," Josh said.
"You can't do everything Josh," Mandy informed him.
"I know," he said. "I just…I wanted to do this thing with her and it turns out I can't."
"Because of budgetary concerns?"
"Sure," Josh replied because he didn't want to talk about it anymore. "What do you want to get to eat?"
"I haven't looked at the menu yet," Mandy said.
"Okay," Josh said. They pulled out their menus and read, well, Mandy read her menu. Josh glanced up and saw CJ and Donna talking when Sam walked in and greeted them. CJ smiled and looked for the first time since that morning like she wasn't miserable and Josh was happy for that.
CJ sat between Sam and Donna and ate her nachos when she heard the song change. It was the last one she selected on her melancholy playlist. It was an old Willie Nelson tune. She picked it partly because she knew Josh couldn't stand Willie Nelson and partly because it summed up her feelings. It was called Are You Sure.
Josh ate his burger in silence with Mandy and watched his friends and CJ, who was much more than a friend, but no longer a lover, appear to have a good time as a Willie Nelson song came on the speakers. He usually hated Willie Nelson, but somehow, tonight, it seemed as if he was singing directly to Josh. He looked at Mandy next to him and then he looked over to the bar where CJ was laughing, the alcohol working in her system. He caught her eye just for the briefest moment as Willie Nelson sang:
Look around you, take a good look
And just between you and me
Are you sure that this is where you want to be?