Thursday, 2:43pm
Leo hung his coat in the closet and sighed. There were days when he really hated going to the Hill. He probably should have sent Josh. Hindsight was a wonderful thing...

On the other hand, while he'd been kept waiting, he had had time to consider the worrisome problem of Josh and Sam. How to deal with something like that? He wasn't a therapist. Not that the two young men needed therapy; given some time, they would both be fine. Wouldn't they?

He had an idea. He wasn't sure it would work, but what the hell.

"Margaret?" he yelled.

His assistant appeared in the doorway. Was that a new hairdo...?

"Yes, Leo?"

He consulted his watch. "CJ's in her briefing. Call Josh, Sam and Toby. Tell them I want to see them now. As in now."

"Okay." She was gone.

He hoped to God he wasn't about to make things worse...

 

 

 

Thursday, 3:05pm

 

"As you know, the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act of 1999 goes into effect on July first. There are a number of senators who feel the law is too vague and doesn't provide enough privacy to the consumer. We need to be ready for their argument. Josh, Sam. I want you two to take opposing sides on this and come up with as many possible rebuttals as you can." Leo glanced up over the rims of his glasses at the two deputies. Josh nodded at him. Sam looked like a deer caught in the headlights.

"Um, Leo?" Toby said, shifting uncomfortably from foot to foot. "I don't think Sam should-"

"Toby," he admonished, "Sam is a big boy. If he has a problem, he can tell me himself. Sam, do you have a problem with this?"

Sam shook his head, but it looked like a quick shudder. "Uh, no. No problem. Fine."

"Good." Leo closed his portfolio. "We're done. Now get the hell out of my office."

He watched them file out into the hall, Toby offering him a look that said, 'I hope you know what you're doing.'

So do I, Toby. So do I.

 

 

 

"Pros or cons?" Josh asked, managing to catch up with Sam.

"What?" Sam looked like he was in a daze.

"Do you want to take pros or cons?"

"Uh...pros." The way he spoke, it was obvious his mind was elsewhere.

Josh pretended he didn't notice. "Okay. Let's see what we can come up with in two hours. Meet you in the Roosevelt Room then?"

Sam nodded.

Josh lifted a hand to clap his friend on the arm, but Sam suddenly came to life and moved out of reach.

"I gotta go," Sam said. "See you later."

"Yeah," Josh said as he watched his friend leave. "Later."

 

 

 

Thursday, 5:30pm

 

"...the problem is that we're so busy looking at ways to protect people's privacy that we're making it almost impossible for them to acquire the information they need in a timely manner. There has to be a simple way for the consumer to access their information or it's not going to work..."

The roar in his ears drowned out Josh's voice. He couldn't hear the words anymore. Not those words. Other words...

'...This isn't going to work! The President isn't going to negotiate...'

'...Oh, that's just great. Just great, Raj! Well, when the time comes,

you should pull the trigger...'

The memories had no meaning.

'...You're a coward. I never would have believed you could do this...' Stop it. Stop!

"Jesus Christ, Josh, shut up!"

Josh stopped talking.

Oh God.

Sam stood so fast his chair teetered precariously before settling back onto all its legs. His chest heaving, he searched for the closest escape route. Where the hell was he?

Roosevelt Room.

He bolted for the door.

"Sam!"

He heard Josh, but he couldn't stop. He couldn't. He didn't want to remember. He just wanted to get away. As far away as possible. He burst through the door and out into the hallway.

Which way?

His vision darkened around the edges. He wasn't quite sure where he was or where he should go. He couldn't go to his office. They would find him there. He didn't want to talk. He didn't want to remember.

He knocked into someone, but he didn't care. He had to keep going. He was vaguely aware of someone calling his name.

No! Leave me alone!

There was a door on his right. The men's room.

He slammed into the door, his weight knocking it open. Stifling a cry of pain at the jolt the action sent through his shoulder, Sam entered the room, praying there was no one there. He just wanted to be alone.

 

 

 

Josh couldn't believe how fast Sam was moving.

What the hell had happened back there? What had he said?

"Sam!" he called again. "Sam, wait!"

There was no response, no sign that Sam had even heard him. He saw the younger man duck into the rest room.

Okay. He had Sam cornered. Now what?

Josh slowed as he reached the door. Part of him wanted to barge in and demand to know what was going on. But the more sensible part told him he should stay away. He shouldn't upset Sam further.

It was just too much. He couldn't handle it anymore. He had to do something...but what?

Josh gazed around the hallway, hoping by some miracle the answer would come to him.

His miracle came out of the women's room.

"CJ!" he cried, grabbing her by the arms.

"Jesus, Josh!" the startled Press Secretary yelped. "What the hell's the matter with you! You're lucky I don't know Kung Fu."

"CJ—"

She tried to pull away. "Josh, look—"

"CJ, will you please listen to me?!"

He regretted using that tone with her, but it worked. CJ stopped and really looked at him. Her brow furrowed in concern.

"Are you all right?" she asked. "You look pale."

"Sam and I were working on a debate for Leo and he just freaked out."

"Sam?"

"Yes!"

"Well, where is he?"

"In the men's room."

"So why don't you go in there and get him?"

"Because I don't want him to lose it again! CJ, please!"

She stared at him a long moment as she comprehended what he was asking. "I don't believe this," she muttered.

Josh wasn't sure if her comment was directed at him for his unspoken suggestion, or at herself for actually considering his request.

He got his answer when she shrugged from his grasp, glared at him with a raised eyebrow, then turned and slammed open the door to the men's room.

 

 

 

"All right, Spanky—" CJ cut herself off as soon as she got a look at Sam. As the door closed behind her, she took another step forward. "Sam?"

He was leaning over one of the sinks, gasping breaths making his back rise and fall in rapid succession. His right hand grasped the edge of the sink, supporting most of his weight.

His head moved enough for him to take a sidelong glance at her. "CJ?"

"Are you okay?"

Sam's eyes went a little wider as he glanced around the room. "I don't think you're supposed to be in here." His voice was hoarse.

The young man was pale, his eyes red and rimmed with tears. She felt a pang of guilt for the way she'd barreled in. "God, Sam," was all she could force out at the moment.

Suddenly self-conscious, Sam turned back to the sink. "Please, CJ...I just want to be alone."

"Really? Is that why you've been staying at Toby's?" She kept her voice low, yet firm.

He took another gasping breath and ran a shaking hand through his hair.

"What's going on, Sam?"

"I don't know."

"Sam—"

"I don't know!" There was more desperation in his voice than anger.

CJ was stunned into silence.

Finally, Sam lifted his head and turned to her. His gaze wandered the room in search of...something. "CJ..." he began, then paused.

She wanted to urge him to go on, but she remained quiet, giving him time.

"I have all these...images...in my head. I see things and hear things that I think are supposed to mean something, but I don't know what. Are they memories? Or are they just part of the nightmares...I...I don't..." He swallowed, his eyes moving, searching as if the words he needed were tangible things. "Every time I see Josh...I feel...I get this horrible feeling in my gut...and I don't know why! Jesus, CJ, he's my best friend and I can't even look at him without feeling like I'm going to throw up. I want to know why. I...need to know why."

CJ bit her tongue, wondering if the information she now knew was what he was searching for. It wasn't her place to say. There was really only one solution. "You have to talk to Josh."

He took a step back, shaking his head. "No. I can't. Not yet."

"Sam, he knows. He's the only one who does. If you want answers, he's the one to talk to."

Sam was still shaking his head. She wondered if he'd even heard all of what she had said.

"He's waiting outside," she told him. "Would you like me to go with you?"

Backing into the corner, Sam pleaded, "CJ, I can't. Please. I just can't."

"All right, Sam. All right. Just calm down, okay?" She walked towards him slowly.

He was staring past her as if expecting the door to open any second. Maybe she shouldn't have told him about Josh being out there...

She was close enough to touch him. She reached out with her left hand until it brushed his right arm. He didn't flinch from her touch. With a quiet sigh of relief, she said, "Hey, you're going to be okay."

He looked at her then, uncertain.

"Come here," she whispered, offering him a hug.

After the slightest pause, Sam stepped into the embrace, and CJ realized she needed it as much as Sam did. Mindful of his shoulder, she wrapped her arms around him. She hadn't really had the opportunity to welcome him back, to tell him how happy she was that he was all right. She felt tears spring to her eyes, but she held them back. The sniffle got past her, though.

When they parted she said, "I'm going to tell Josh you're not ready to talk yet, but when you're ready, you'll go to him. All right?"

Sam gave an erratic nod.

"I'll be right back. Then I'm going to have Toby take you back to his place."

Another nod.

"Okay." CJ took a deep breath. What she had just done was hard enough. What she was about to do could prove even harder...

 

 

 

"What do you mean, he's not coming out?!" Josh was red in the face, his pent up frustration coming out as anger.

CJ knew he needed to vent, but right here and right now was not a good idea.

"That's it," Josh said. "I'm going in there. He'll have to talk to me—" She grabbed hold of him, staggering at the strength behind his stride. "Josh, no! Will you listen to me? You wouldn't be doing either one of you any good going in there like this!"

Josh shrugged violently from her grasp, but didn't head for the men's room door. He turned his back on her and raked both hands through his hair. He stalked a few paces down the hall, and then came back, working through his raging emotions. "I don't believe this," he muttered. "I don't fucking believe this." He whirled on CJ and pointed a finger at the door. "What the hell does he want from me? Can you at least tell me that? How many times do I have to apologize? Does he want blood? Maybe I should slit my wrists."

CJ realized she was seeing for the first time just how traumatized Josh was. She could see it in Sam. She hadn't in Josh. She should have remembered that-from before. "Josh, please don't say that."

"You know what?" he said, his glare going right through her. "You can both go to hell."

He stormed by her, oblivious to the prying eyes of others staffers who had overheard.

CJ closed her eyes. Could that have possibly gone any worse?

 

 

 

Josh's hands were shaking. Part of him regretted what he had said to CJ, but the other part, the more dominant part, told him he meant what he'd said.

She was supposed to have helped him. Fat lot of help she was!

And Sam...

His chest tightened painfully, but he routed the feeling to fuel his anger. He quickened his pace. He needed to get out of there. He needed to go home. Just a few things to do in his office, then he could go.

He needed a beer.

Or two.

Maybe a six-pack.

Oblivion sounded like a wonderful place where he wouldn't have to deal with anything for a while.

Yes, that was a plan.

Josh blew past his startled assistant and into his office. Before she could say a word, he slammed the door.

Shades of Grey - 28

 

 

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