Chloe sank into the warm water, letting her aching muscles relax with the heat and bubbles surrounding her body.
She leaned back and closed her eyes, willing her mind to stop thinking just for a moment. Just until she could get a few minutes peace. Soaking in the bath, strangely enough, seemed to be the only thing that would bring her rest these days. Everything was still a bit too new and different for her to feel completely comfortable. From the moment she woke up in the morning, with the sun rising from the bottom of her bed instead of the left hand side, everything was still a bit disorientating. At least soaking in the tub hadn’t changed.
She had discovered in her short time here that money went a lot further than it did in LA. And with an increase in wages she had been able to afford a decent apartment, not like that crummy place she called home back in California. It also helped that in her spare time, she was making a few extra bucks working on specialised computer systems for some small companies and paranoid individuals.
Her apartment was large without feeling empty. Her natty old couch had been replaced with a plush sofa, and her powerful computer sat on a large wooden desk by the window overlooking the street.
All around her, she had shelves crammed with books on every subject she could think of. She was a genius when it came to computers, but she had an inquiring mind and her curiosity was not so stringent as to apply to just that subject alone.
Her shelves were lined with books, everything from Austen to Keanes, horticulture to entomology, Ancient Egypt to Greek Mythology, science fiction to science fact. She hadn’t yet found a subject she had not a vague interest in or a book on.
Her books had been a godsend when she’d first arrived on the other side of the country. She found it hard to sleep properly the first week. It had always taken her a while to adjust to a new environment; change was not something she was particularly adept at.
She had tossed and turned restlessly, missing even the noise of the busy LA city compared to the sedate street in Massachusetts. Only her books had kept her somewhat sane during the long hours of the night, and the thoughts that would constantly plague her in the small hours of the morning. Everything came back to Jack. One time she’d been one digit away from ringing him before she realised what she was about to do. Jack was her past, this was her future, a new chapter in the book that was Chloe O’Brian’s life.
She almost rang in sick the first day she was to go to work. Her nerves turned her insides into a cement mixer. She could have easily walked into a job with a security firm, without any worries. Even the CIA and DoD had offered her a position once news of her departure from CTU had somehow reached their ears.
But she’d felt like a challenge, like a change. She changed cities, jobs, and even her appearance – darkening her hair on a whim. After all, she’d left Los Angeles to escape the life she’d had there.
She’d gone for the job at MIT thinking they’d never give it to her. Sure, she had the knowledge and the experience, but not quite the right qualifications. A masters wasn’t the same as a Ph.D. But they’d overlooked that, with the help of Bill Buchanon’s embarrassingly glowing recommendations, and seemed unable to let somebody with her abilities go. They had offered her the job practically on the spot. So it was, that less than a month after she’d left CTU, she had found herself moving cross country to Boston.
She’d found the campus, and college at large, daunting and hard to find her way around. She felt like an idiot having to ask a freshman the way to the library. But eventually, she’d managed to suss out every crook and cranny in the place. She knew the grounds of MIT as well as she’d known CTU in LA. A small accomplishment, but one she revelled in.
It amazed her how quickly she’d seemed to settle into the place, and feel comfortable around her fellow lecturers. Compared to some of them she seemed perfectly normal. The head of business and finance reminded her of Einstein with his flyaway hair, large glasses and quirky moods. Known for his laid back approach, terrible impressions of the lecturers from the South and penchant for gambling, he’d immediately made it his mission to welcome Chloe on behalf of the entire faculty and show her around. She never would have thought she’d actually find the students normal compared to her peers.
The one thing about her students was that they were there to learn. Only a fool would have enrolled on the course and not been serious about studying and learning properly.
She surprised herself with the patience she had with them, the accomplishment she felt at explaining something complicated and seeing the light in their eyes as the finally understood, and the sometimes challenging questions, queries and discussions that arose in the class.
Within a few weeks, she had formed a rhythm in her new life. She was considered snarky and bad tempered by those students she didn’t teach, and they tended to stay out of her way and avoid her if they saw her coming. Her own students however, were loyal, for the most part. There would always be one or two that found her intimidating, but the majority of the classes respected her no-nonsense approach and even admired her for it. She may not have coddled them, but she made damn sure they knew as much as was in her power to teach them.
Chloe lazily opened an eye and glanced at the clock. Time to go to bed. After all, it was a school night.
Jack sat back in his chair, his gaze focused on the screen in front of him. He could find Chloe if he really wanted to. Track her down like they would any terrorist or person of interest they wanted to find. He may not have been as computer savvy as Chloe but he could find his way around the computer systems when he had to.
But he didn’t want to. He wanted to know where she was because she wanted him to know where she was. But it didn’t look like that was going to happen any time soon, and probably not at all.
She’d been gone for six weeks and as of yet, he hadn’t heard one word from her. He missed her. It felt like a crushing blow to his chest, everyday walking into the building and not seeing her at her desk. Audrey was right, he always did seek her out after he got back from the field. He didn’t even realise until she wasn’t there to find anymore.
He let out a ragged sigh when he thought of Audrey. Despite her promises, and best intentions, he knew she was hankering to get back to Washington. Things with Kim weren’t working out and it was causing tension between himself and Audrey.
He hadn’t expected his daughter to welcome him back with open arms, but he’d hoped for something. Some flicker of hope from her that she wouldn’t shut him out of her life forever. He’d called her twice, both times the new boyfriend answered. On the third call, she’d answered, cried and told him to give her time. She’d call him back, when she managed to get her head around everything that had happened. He had yet to hear from her, and Audrey was getting restless.
Not that he could blame her. Audrey was a child of politics. She’d grown up with the White House and Congress as a backdrop. It was all she’d ever really known. She loved the complexity, intrigue and mystery that came along with it, and was itching to get back to the political capital of the country. She was in her element in Washington - she knew who to talk to and how to get them to do what she wanted, and she revelled in it. He just couldn’t share her enthusiasm.
Jack Bauer was no diplomat. Hand him a gun and place him alone in a room with twenty terrorist, and he’d get the job done. But ask him to go to lavish parties and be nice to people who he didn’t like and didn’t like him, and he was as out of place as an Eskimo on Bondai beach.
The differences between them that had once seemed inconsequential when they’d first met now loomed like a dark shadow over their relationship. And it killed him to admit it, but life with Audrey was not working out as the happy ever after fairy tale ending they’d both been hoping for.
And through all this he couldn’t help but wish Chloe was there with him. But he didn’t have Chloe to talk all this through with anymore. She was gone, somewhere out in the big bad world, alone.
Sometimes he’d be at home with Audrey, and something would remind him of her. An add for Dell usually did the trick, and it would start a train of thought that invariably ended with her walking out on him. And by the tightly pressed mouth of Audrey, he knew she had a fair idea where his thoughts were.
They’d argued so often about Chloe in the past, sometimes it seemed like they’d very little else to talk about. Maybe she had thought that now that she was gone, he’d forget about her. But he couldn’t.
Just because Chloe had disappeared, didn’t mean he stopped worrying about her. If anything, she was on his mind all the more. He couldn’t help it. There was only so long he could take not talking to her without driving himself crazy. Six weeks had been the longest yet he’d had to go without hearing her voice. Even when he’d ‘died,’ he’d had her talking to him every month, his constant, and the one thing he could rely on. In truth she was the only thing that had kept him sane and grounded in his forced exile. And suddenly, she wasn’t there anymore.
And short of calling her himself, he did the next best thing. He called Chase, knowing she’d be in contact with him.
“Jack,” his former partner sighed, “she specifically asked me not to tell you where she is.”
Jack closed his eyes, letting phone slide to his shoulder. “Jack, you still there?”
“Yeah, Chase. Yeah, I’m still here.” He leaned forward in his chair. “Can you at least tell me she’s okay?”
There was a pause on the other end of the phone. “She’s fine, Jack. Chloe’s never been one to deal well with change, you know that, but she’s settling down all right.”
“Thanks Chase. I just…I need to know she’s all right.”
“I understand,” he paused before speaking again. “She’s not alone, Jack. I’m her friend, I’m here for her and she knows that. I’ll look after her, I promise.”
“I appreciate it.”
The phone clicked dead at the other end and he placed it back in its cradle, his mouth tightening into a thin line.
The knock on the door brought him out of his reverie and he smiled tiredly as Bill Buchanon entered his office.
“Jack, Karen got a phone call last night, I thought you might be interested in. You’ve heard me talk about her niece, Janet, right?”
Jack blinked in surprise at him, “Uh, yeah, yeah I remember. She sat her SAT’s recently, right?”
“Yeah, she just started over at MIT, a computer science course. She loves it.”
“Bill if you’re trying to convince me to keep a job open for your niece, you’re talking to the wrong person. You’re the one in charge of recruitment, remember?”
Bill cocked an eyebrow at him. “Funny, and if anything I’ll be trying to make sure she gets a safe job in a cubicle at some big multi-national computer firm. No, she was telling Karen about a new lecturer that started this semester.”
“Well,” Buchanon rubbed his jaw, a twinkle in is eyes, “she said she scowls at everyone and described her as the most sarcastic, anti-social, bitchiest, smallest, fire brand she’d ever had. She also said she was the most intelligent women she’d ever met.”
Jack froze, the only movement coming form the widening of his eyes. “Do you mean…” his throat tightened and he leaned forward in his chair, “Chloe’s at MIT?”
Bill grinned shaking his head, “I can’t believe even God himself would dare to put two Chloe O’Brian’s on this earth. Apparently, she’s lecturing, and doing very well at it.”
Jack shook his head and couldn’t help but smile, “Chloe’s teaching? That woman always finds some way to surprise me.”
To be continued…