Character: Claudia Jean Cregg
Rating: Kid Friendly (No swearing, no sex)
Disclaimer: Does it belong to anyone anymore?
Summary: One day in January for CJ and her brothers.
Author's Notes: It's been forever and a day since I wrote anything, so I apologize for the rustiness. Marco said CJ was "the smartest, funniest, saddest girl in Dayton", and I thought there was probably a reason for the last.
This is for oldfashionedgrl and lifeasanamazon.
One Day in January
The snow crunched beneath her boots as she moved slowly through the backyard. She pulled the collar of her coat closer to her throat and then thrust her hands back in the pockets. She stopped just under the old maple tree and leaned her hip against it. She blinked, determined not to cry. But the tears fell anyway, unaware of her protestations, and she sniffled.
She heard the back door slam shut and thought that if Mom had known, she’d have hounded dad to fix the spring. Maybe her mother had known, but more important things had crowded her attention. She sniffled again and waited for Brian. She could tell it was him, just by the sound of his footsteps, the way he kicked the frozen snow forward as he walked. She felt the weight of his hand on her shoulder before she turned to look at him.
“It’s too cold out here, Ceej. You should come on back in.”
He waited, to see if she would make a move towards the house, and when she didn’t he came around in front of her and leaned his back against the cold bark of the tree.
“Tommy’s making sandwiches. I think there’s turkey and ham, so it shouldn’t be too bad. Better than….”
She knew why he’d stopped suddenly. If they had the choice, they’d gladly suffer through the hospital food forever, because that would mean there was a reason to be there, when there wasn’t anymore.
Brian was quiet a few minutes before he just shrugged and shook his head. They could all guess where he was. But if they didn’t say it aloud then they could pretend it wasn’t happening. That he was still the solid, imposing hero of their youth. The fact that they were all still in their youth was ignored by all, even the adults around. They had grown up too early, but there wasn’t anything to be done about it now. So they pretended that their father didn’t need another woman to get over his wife dying and hadn’t left his children to fend for themselves not three hours after watching their mother slip away.
Brian straightened up and held out his hand. His little sister slowly pulled her hand out from her pocket and after wiping the tears from her cheeks, she took it and walked back into the house to see what Tommy had pulled together for lunch.
They sat at the table, the three siblings, not really eating, each lost in their own thoughts. Brian, being the oldest, was trying to think of something to say or something to do to make things better. He was angry at his father. For not being here, for being where he was, and for leaving him to handle things at the house. He was trying not to be angry at his mother for leaving them, because he knew it hadn’t been her choice. He’d already answered three calls from family members and it was hard trying not to cry when aunts and grandmothers asked questions he didn’t know the answers to, and when they kept asking how he and his brother and sister were holding up. He’d wanted to scream at Aunt Alice that their mother had just died so how did she think they were doing, but that would be rude and he didn’t want to disappoint Mom by acting like a baby.
CJ was trying to figure out what she could wear to the funeral. She’d grown again and she didn’t think she had anything long enough now. She would probably have to ask Brian to give her a ride into town to get something new. She hated shopping, nothing ever fit quite the way it was supposed to and she got tired of the salesladies always commenting on how tall she was for her age. She could hear her mother’s voice, but she was trying to push it back. She wasn’t ready yet to think about what Mom had said about her yesterday, or what she had said to her either. She couldn’t think about it now.
Tom was watching CJ, knowing she was trying to distract herself with something mundane. He could tell by the way she was worrying her thumbnail. He could hear his mother as clear as anything. They had been outside her room while Dad had been in with her and the door hadn’t closed all the way. They had all known she knew it was almost time, and she was trying to give all the last minute instructions she could. Tom didn’t think Dad would listen, but he would. He would pick up as much slack as he could, because Mom was right. CJ was too young, twelve was too young, to try and be a mother to her older brothers. And household chores had never been CJ’s strongpoint. But he knew she would try anyway. CJ would take on their mother’s role of communicator and she’d run interference for them as best she could. Just like he knew that Brian would take over as father, since they all had a pretty good feeling Dad would make himself scarce, even more so now that his mother wasn’t around to insist he be home for dinner and Mass and things. Which left it up to Tom to try and fill in wherever he could. He wished he could get rid of the anger in Brian’s eyes and the sadness in CJ’s, but he had a feeling it would be a long, long time before either emotion was gone.
After lunch, Tom went upstairs with CJ to see if she had anything to wear to the funeral while Brian cleaned up the dishes. After trying all her good clothes Tommy declared she would indeed need a new dress and they might as well see if Brian would take them now, as they weren’t doing anything else and he had promised he’d help her pick something out so she wouldn’t have to do it alone. The boys checked their suits and it was decided that the sleeves on Tom’s jacket were too short, so they’d have to get a new one. Brian took money out of the coffee can, which was only for emergencies, and they drove downtown.
Brian helped Tommy find a nice navy suit jacket that didn’t cost too much and then they all trooped to the girls’ department to get something for CJ. The saleslady was overly cheery until CJ told her they were looking for a black dress for “my mother’s funeral” at which point there was much tsking and “oh you poor children” until Tommy pulled his sister away to look at the racks. Brian waited by the register while CJ modeled for Tommy, who had better taste than his older brother anyway, and finally they found one that wasn’t too short or too big. Tommy insisted that they get CJ some new shoes to go with it, and he used his allowance to buy them, as they’d already used most of the coffee can money. They were almost out the big glass doors when Brian remembered previous school shopping trips with their mother and the ice cream. So he insisted that they keep with tradition and they all made their way down to the little café and had ice cream cones despite it being almost freezing outside. And they smiled and cried a little and felt a little less adrift.
When they got home, their father was waiting for them in the living room. They sat side by side on the couch while he yelled at them for going off who knows where without leaving a note. And when Brian explained that they’d gone to get Claudia Jean a dress for the funeral, their father yelled about them taking the money from the coffee can and that he was their father and they could have waited for him to come home and he would have taken care of it. And that is when CJ stood up. While tall for her age, she was still not near her father’s height, but it didn’t seem to make much difference to her if she even noticed. With all her twelve year old bravery she stood toe to toe with their father and said in a clear, calm voice that he hadn’t been there and they hadn’t known when he would be coming back and for all they knew, with as much as he had told them, the funeral would be tomorrow and they wouldn’t have had time. And if he was done, they had clothes to hang up and it was getting close to dinner, so they’d need to get that organized as well. And then without waiting for a reply she picked up her plastic wrapped dress and told Tommy he should hang his jacket up before it got wrinkled, and she marched herself upstairs.
When the boys knocked on her door a few minutes later she told them that she was sure Tal didn’t know how to handle all this. And that he had nowhere to direct his anger and that he probably hadn’t been mad at them, maybe worried when he came home and found they were gone, and she was sure he was sorry. But, she admitted, it wasn’t likely he would actually apologize, they should just know that he was and move on.
“And you can both come down and help with dinner. I’m not sure what’s left in the fridge, but we’ve probably got soup at the very least.”
As they watched her go, Brian shook his head and Tom smiled sadly.
“It’s almost like having Mom still here. I don’t think I noticed before just how much alike they are. But Ceej is just like her.”
“Yeah. Yeah, she is.”
And the boys followed their baby sister downstairs and helped her make a casserole for dinner.