Full Measure of Devotion
Full Measure of Devotion
"Dad? It's me." Sam leaned back in his chair and stared out at the quiet bullpen beyond. He felt the time drag at his eyelids, felt each second, like a grain of sand in his eyes. His muscles ached from the movement of the day. And his shoulder cinched from the repetitive motion of tossing sugar packets at a pot.
He should sound ashamed, Sam thought. He should sound quiet and contemplative. He should sound sorry. Instead he sounds like Dad.
"So what did you need?" Sam picked up his pen and started doodling on the notebook on his desk.
"I wanted to talk to you about... I mean, I assumed your mother called you."
"Yeah. On Tuesday."
"I've been calling for a few days now."
Sam sighed lightly. His father sounded curious. Sam could feel the cautious poke of a lion tamer's stick. His dad was making sure that Sam wasn't going to hang up on him. The fact that Sam had dialed the number, with the one and the area code without hanging up, meant nothing. The fact that Sam had said 'dad' and 'it's me,' was not to be taken for granted.
"I've been busy." Avoidance was good. Don't talk about his stupidity, monumental as it was.
"I haven't seen anything too big on CSPAN."
"I was in charge of the Pardon nominations."
"Look, Sam. Whatever happens between your mother and I, I don't want it to affect us. I... You're my son. I have always loved you."
"Dad," Sam sighed and rubbed at the back of his neck. "I'm not sure I'm ready to hear this."
"Sam, you aren't two any more. Why can't you hear that I love someone else? For god sake, Sam, grow up. How can you work in Washington DC and--?"
"I don't care that you love someone else. I can understand that. But you lied. Twenty-eight years, Dad. You lied. You lied to Mom. You lied to me. You made us live this fiction. You made us lie to ourselves.
"It wouldn't be so bad if you hadn't lied, if you hadn't pretended everything was all right. But you did. Every time I saw you and Mom, you were holding hands, hugging, embracing. Do you have any idea how I felt when I proposed to Lisa, knowing she wasn't the huggy type? For so long I thought yours was the ideal marriage. That I was never going to find something like it. It was an ideal to look up to, Dad. You made it that. You told me never expect less.
"You lied. Do you remember your pledge, your oath to love honor and cherish? You committed high treason against those ideals. And I'm not sure if I'm ready to pardon you."
"Then why did you call?"
Sam looked away from the windows to his hand, where it curled tightly around the pen, the force of the knuckles straining against the skin. "Because I love you. Because I'll be able to forgive you someday. I'm just not ready to hear your rationalizations. Not yet. Maybe not ever." Sam swallowed. "Because you are my father, no matter what."
"Okay." The resignation in his dad's voice was soft, like the feel of the computer touch pad beneath his fingertip.
"You screwed up, Dad. Not just your life, but Mom's and mine. It's going to take a while."
"I didn't mean"
"But you did." Sam set the pen down, his fingers resting lightly on the desk, his head rolling back to rest against the chair. "You hurt us. You made all our lives a lie, based on a fiction you created." Sam shut his eyes, concentrating on the conversation.
"Your life isn't a lie, Sam."
"Yes, it is, Dad. I thought my parents were in love with each other. I thought my childhood was happy, with nothing lurking in the corners. You were gone a lot, but that didn't make you less committed to us." Sam squeezed his eyes more tightly shut. "That wasn't true, and now every moment since I was five is going to be haunted with the, 'was he going to meet her' question. Can you understand that?"
"I've got to get going. The senior staff is waiting for me."
"They're going to tell me about their Big Block of Cheese meetings."
"Block of Cheese meetings?"
"Leo McGarry, the Chief of Staff organizes a day where staffers take meetings with people who don't usually have the ear of the White House."
"You do this often?"
"Every once in a while."
"What was your meeting about?"
"A pardon. For a spy. His granddaughter was hoping to take good news back to her dying father."
"I couldn't tell her. I couldn't tell her that her grandfather committed treason against the bright ideal of democracy. That he desecrated all the graves of men who died... who died giving the last full measure of devotion"
"And fidelity. Lincoln."
Sam took a deep steadying breath, ignoring the hitch of emotion that trembled in it. "I wanted to tell her so badly. I thought she needed to know," Sam whispered.
"Not now. Not today."
"She deserved the truth, Dad. And I lied. I told her, maybe next time."
"I love you, Sam."
"Yeah. I've got to go."
"Yeah. Hold on to that phone number. You can reach me here now."
"I love you, and you make me very proud, Sam."
"I love you too." Sam hung up, before he said anything more. He wished he could say he was proud of his dad, but he wasn't. Twenty-eight years.
A knock on the door brought his head up to meet the sympathetic gaze of Leo. "That your dad?"
Sam shook his head. "I will." He stood up and moved to the coat rack. "Someday."
"Yeah. Look, Sam. I talked to Nancy."
"I couldn't tell her, Leo."
"I wanted to tell her, and I couldn't."
"I can understand that."
"What did you tell her?"
"Maybe next time."
"Yeah." Sam echoed, shrugging into his coat. "How's the President doing?"
"He went to the Residence early."
"It's been a long day." Sam swiped his muffler from where it had fallen on the floor and wound it around his neck.
"And now it's time to go home."
"Josh, Toby, Donna and CJ are waiting for me. Why don't you come?"
"They want to get me plastered so I can sleep in my own bed tonight."
"Josh is probably already smashed, so the rest of us will all watch him make an ass of himself." Sam headed for the door, waiting for Leo to follow before closing the door. "You should come. It'll be fun."
"Yeah sure." Leo slapped Sam on the back. "So how big of an ass does Josh make of himself?"
"He does a pretty good impression of the House majority leader. And then sometimes it gets to the point where he tries to Karaoke to Donna. That's always fun cause Donna eggs him on."
"Should I go home and get the Camcorder?"
"No, that can wait for next time." They were quiet as they started walking towards the bar.
"Hey, Sam." Leo called softly into the night, looking around at the buildings they passed.
"Yeah." Sam watched his breath, the white fog wrapping about the two senior staffers.
"You did good today."
"Yeah. Thanks... Leo?"
"Do you think... Am I the type of... Do you think I'm vain? Do you see me as a type of person that needs to be, I don't know, complimented a lot?"
Leo looked over quickly at Sam's face, but Sam didn't meet his gaze, keeping his eyes forward. "Have I ever complimented you?"
Sam looked at him quickly, searching for signs of a joke. "You did a minute ago."
"Sam. I don't think you would survive Toby if you were anything remotely vain or egocentric."
Sam's face twisted a bit in doubt, but he nodded his head. They were almost to the bar when Leo smiled and slowed down a bit.
"Mallory just broke up with that hockey guy."
"I'm sorry to hear that," Sam replied remotely.
"She said they'd been having trouble since the night of the Reykjavik symphony. Did something happen?"
"Not that I saw. But I was working on the statement for Galileo and that nuclear thing."
"Yeah. So she didn't say anything?"
"She was too busy taunting me over the cost of going to Mars."
"Okay. That's what I thought."
Up ahead Leo and Sam saw the senior staffers waiting impatiently in the cold outside of the bar.
"What took you two so long?" Toby shouted. "Our day is done, we have
"Toby, if you don't shut up, I'm going to take those balls of yours and shove them so far down" Sam trailed off as the group started laughing at them. "Get your minds out of the gutter. I was talking about those stupid rubber balls that he tosses at the window to get my attention."
"Sure, Spanky. Just keep telling us that. Did Josh tell you about my meeting?" CJ blew into her cupped hands under the streetlight.
"Donna mentioned it."
"Nothing is ever where we think it is. The maps are all wrong; they mislead us. They lie."
"Tell me about it, CJ. The things you trust, put your faith in. They're never quite the same."
"Come on, Sam. You deserve a drink." Josh clapped a hand on his shoulder and steered Sam towards the bar.
"Yeah." Sam drew in a deep breath. "So, Josh, are you going to sing to Donna tonight?"
"I never sing to Donna."
"I sing in her vicinity. And she's usually there trying to take my drink away."
"Whatever." Sam smiled at his friends as they made their way into the bar.
"Just keep telling yourself that, buddy." Sam sat down at the table and laid his head on the table, the week finally catching up with him.
"What do you want, Sam?" Donna asked him quietly.
"For this week to have never happened. Barring that some ridiculously named alcoholic drink that has a lot of bite too it."
Donna's face creased in a slight smile. "I've got you covered, Sam."
"I want a hey!" Josh watched his assistant walk away. "How come she took your drink order but not mine."
"Shut up, Josh." Sam kept his head buried in his arms, his eyes closed against the smoke that swirled in the air.
"It's all right, Sam." CJ laid her hand on his back. "Magnetic north only changes every few thousand years. So we've got something."
"Enough with the Map metaphors. We're adults, we should talk like it." Toby slammed his hand down on the table. "I say next time we're in California we string Sam's dad up by his"
"Thank you, Toby," Sam's head shot up. "But I'veDad and I are... We'll be fine."
"I can't believe you forgave him." Josh groused.
"How did you know?"
"You had that martyr look before you walked to the phone tonight. And I can't believe you forgave him."
"Josh," Leo reprimanded lightly. "Everyone has stuff that needs to be forgiven."
"I'm just saying..." Josh started.
"Can you believe women wear things like that?" Donna asked as she set Sam's drink in front of him. She slid CJ's Grasshopper and Toby's beer in their direction and handed Leo and Josh each a coke.
"Wear what things?" CJ asked, her eyes roving the crowd.
"That red-headed chick over there has a skirt so short that you can see her thong underwear. That should be illegal. GUYS!" Donna shrieked as she caught Josh, Toby and Sam looking thoughtfully at the woman in question. Sam's head snapped back to the table first.
"I'm pretty sure that is illegal. Indecent exposure at the very least."
"Oh like you weren't just checking out that woman's butt cheeks," CJ scoffed.
"You've got nothing to worry about, CJ," Josh told her. "Your butt is better looking."
Sam scooted his chair towards Leo and away from Josh, staying out of the line of fire.
"You were right." Leo leaned in close and whispered to Sam. "He does a remarkable impression of the House Majority Leader. Stupid and arrogant."
"Wait til Donna lets him have a drink."
"I'm not gonna stick around for that."
"Okay." Sam took a healthy swallow of his drink.
Leo finished his soda and stood up. "I'm gonna get going. I've got to take Margaret to breakfast in the morning. It's her birthday or something."
"Bye!" Everyone called to Leo as he walked out of the bar, never looking beyond the next step. Sam stared down at his drink, ignoring the argument still in process. He stood up quickly and hurried to the door.
"Leo." He called out as he stumbled on to the sidewalk.
Leo turned slowly. "Yeah."
"Thank you, for you know..." Sam shoved his hands in his pockets. "For waiting for me, walking me to the bar."
Leo walked quickly towards Sam and pulled him into a light hug. "You're a good son, Sam. I never was able to"
"Yeah." Sam pulled back and looked at the ground. "Just thanks, Leo."
"You're welcome. Get inside before you realize you're sober. I'll see you on Monday."
"Yeah." Sam waited just outside the door until Leo was safely in a cab before entering the crazy noise of the bar. He sat down as Toby finished his beer.
"Next round is on me." Toby gathered up the drinks and headed back to the bar.
"Have you forgiven Josh?" Sam asked Donna quietly.
"He went and asked her if she realized her butt was hanging out."
"Did he have something before I got here?"
"He thinks he's Mr. Invincible 'cause of the banana thing."
"Okay. See, he's probably gonna get decked tonight."
"CJ already slapped him for telling her to shut up."
"She was talking about Cardinal points."
"The directions on the maps. North, South, East, West."
"They only make sense because we make them."
"I'm confused." Sam looked at Donna as Toby set a glass of something in front of him.
"Drink. I want you so drunk you don't know where you're sleeping tonight."
"Where am I sleeping tonight?" Sam asked.
"In your bed," Toby replied, sitting down with his own beer.
"Okay." Sam smiled at the group around him. Who needed maps and cardinal points when your friends were with you?