The sky is darkening outside the windows and I take a second to admire the beauty of twilight time. Along the horizon, a river of red pierces the night, the last ray of hope before darkness falls. I turn at the knock on my door to see Charlie stick his head in.
"Charlie, come take a look at this sunset."
"I've seen it sir. There is someone who wants a minute of your time."
I really wish I could say no way in hell, but that's just not an option. "Yeah. Send him on in." I hope my tone conveys how much I really don't want to see another person today. That is until Sam guides a five-year-old girl through the door.
I swear she is the spitting image of Sam with the exception of her hair, which is slightly redder than his and curly. But the eyes and features are the same. She is adorable.
"Mr. President. I want you to meet your competition. Kathryn Radcliff." Sam leads the little girl closer to my desk, and I move to shake her hand. "Katie, this is the President of the United States, Josiah Bartlet."
"Well, hello there, Katie." I bend down so that we're near eye level and I can tell I'm being sized up.
"Only Uncle Sammie calls me Katie. You may call me Kathryn. And it's a pleasure to meet you, sir." She holds out her hand. Above her Sam is trying not to smile, so I assume that this royalty act is a show. I take her hand and bring it up to my mouth, and give her a giant raspberry.
"Look at that, not even a laugh." I tell Sam who is really trying not to laugh at my amazed tone. Sam crouches down next to the little girl and gives her a big sloppy kiss, which reduces her to giggles. Here is a reason never to come back to Washington. The ability to reduce a child to giggles. Of course he could get married, have a few of his own.
"This is President Bartlet, remember I told you that I work for him."
"I heard mommy say you got fired." This is one smart kid, she's on the ball and there is a bit of a flush creeping up Sam's face.
"I wasn't fired, I'm just taking a long vacation."
"Then how come-"
"Don't you want to say something nice to President Bartlet?" Sam asks, changing the subject rather unskillfully. Don't mind me, I'm just watching you get your ass kicked by a little republican girl.
Katie looks at me and I see something calculating behind those clear blue eyes. I see six questions fly by and be discarded. I can see something her father say take a seat, only to have a look by Uncle Sammie dissuade it from coming out of her mouth. She finally settles on. "Why did you want to be President?"
Maybe I should sit down. She would ask me the question that I haven't been able to answer.
"That's a very good question, Katie. I think I wanted to be President because I wanted to be able to help people. I wanted to say that's not fair, lets fix it, and be able to fix it. Do you understand?"
"No. Explain it to me." She moves to the couch and sits down, waiting expectantly for Sam and I to follow. Sam walks over and picks her up off the couch, he whispers something in her ear and she blushes. "I'm sorry." She points to the chair and waits expectantly for me to move to it and sit down. Which, god help me, I do. Sam's mouth is thinning a bit in a line, she probably should have been scolded long ago, but he's waiting for me to do it.
There is a throat cleared from Leo's office and I see him standing there, looking at Sam holding his niece and then me, with happiness.
"Come on in, Leo. You have got to meet the newest ambassador from Bermuda." Sam's face is blazing, and Katie has stopped paying attention to me to draw white lines through the red on his cheeks.
"Sam it's good to see you." Leo walks in and moves straight to Sam. Letting Katie slide down his hip to the floor, Sam reaches out to shake Leo' s hand only to find himself in a hug. Katie meanwhile has decided that my lap looks comfortable and has climbed up with a look of askance.
Leo's blabbering about something so I turn to the little girl in my lap. "Did Mrs. Landingham give you a cookie?" I ask.
"No, but Uncle Sammie took one for after dinner. And she said I could have some on Friday cause she's gonna watch me. Uncle Sammie and Mommy are going to a fancy party and they said I couldn't come and we didn't bring Louisa so they were asking who they could get to watch me and the nice old lady with the cookies said that I could help her make cookies."
Does this child know how to breathe during a sentence? I settle for a, "really."
"Yep. I live in Bermuda, where do you live?"
"I live here, but I used to live in New Hampshire. That's north of New York."
"The Capital of New Hampshire is Concord. And that's on the Merrimack River." Yes it is.
"Did you learn that on Sesame Street?" I ask.
"That's for babies. I'm five."
"SAM!" I look up then at the pound on the door, only to see Joshua flying across the room at Sam. I watch amazed as he vaults over the edge of the couch and pulls Sam into a bear hug. "Oh God you're back. Don't go anywhere. Please. I'm sorry. I'll never snicker at your problems. I won' t laugh when you get your ass kicked by a girl. I will understand completely when you complain about Ainsley. Just don't go anywhere."
I laugh as Sam tries to extract himself from Josh's grip. Only to have Josh 's octopus arms get a better grip on him. "Josh, let go. I'm-"
"I'm so sorry, Sam." Josh is still trying to hold Sam. By now Katie has started to giggle loudly in my arms.
"He looks like the orangutan we saw at the zoo!"
I think Sam would be laughing if he weren't so panicked by Josh's arms. I watch as Leo's face goes from amused to concerned.
"Joshua. I think it's safe to let him go."
Josh looks back at us and realizes with clarity where he is. Katie is still in giggles. Sam tries to take a step back only to have Josh latch a hand on his wrist. Sam moves to shake it off only to have a gentle shake from Leo's head stop him. Instead he grasps Josh's hand in his and gives it a gentle squeeze. Josh relaxes and slaps a hand on Sam's back.
"I'm glad you're home, Sam."
"I was only in Bermuda, Josh. You have the number and I've been back in Washington for a few days now."
Josh looks shamefaced. He mumbles something, and Sam's face creases in a smile. "What was that Josh?" He asks innocently. Oh yeah, I've missed Sam.
"Donna hid it from me." Josh blurts out. "And the hotel wouldn't put me through to your sister's room."
"And why did Donna hide the phone number from you?" I ask, smiling as Charlie opens the door for Abby to walk in. She waves her hand and I smile. Katie waves back.
"Good evening, Ma'am." Sam stands up straighter and holds out his hand only to be hugged by my wife, who also kisses his cheek.
"It's good to see you home, Sam."
"You aren't allowed to leave the Washington vicinity for a month again."
"That's a nice tan you have there, Sam."
"Thank you, ma'am."
"Did you use sun block?"
Sam smiles. "Yes, ma'am. SPF 50."
Abby smacks his cheek. "Good." She turns to me and smiles at Katie. "And who are you?"
"I'm Kathryn Radcliff. You can call me Katie."
"And who said you could sit in my husband's lap?" Katie looks at Sam uncertainly. He smiles encouragingly at her.
"Uncle Sammie." She gets down off my lap and dives for Sam's arms. Leo, Abby and I are amused but Josh looks as if he's been kicked. My guess is he never saw Sam as a father figure. I'm pretty sure that Sam never saw himself as one either. This past month has been good for him. He's more confident, more open. It's barely noticeable, but I see it.
Abby laughs, and touches her back. "I'm not mad, sweetie. Do you know who I am?" She asks. Katie pulls her head out of Sam's arm enough to look at her seriously.
"You're Abigail Bartlet. Mommy says you're cool, and Daddy says you're a feminista bitch and then Mommy hits him." I pretty sure that Jeffery Radcliff would not like to be quoted as insulting the First Lady, but that's the beauty of children. They don't know the social rules yet.
"That's right. I'm Abby." Good one Abby, ignore the commentary.
I look up as CJ enters the Oval Office and smiles at Sam. Toby who is just behind her back peddles as soon as he sees Sam.
I watch in disappointment as Sam's face falls a bit, the smile wavering a bit at the corner. CJ looks back at Toby curiously. Before she has time to say anything though, Aaron comes through the door and sighs, "Oh thank god. You're back." Everyone in the room stands back as Aaron wraps his arms around Sam.
"It's nice to see you too... Aaron, isn't it?" Sam's trying to extract himself from Aaron's grip but is largely unsuccessful.
"Tell me I can go back to the Communications bullpen, Sam. I don't want to be Deputy Communications Director anymore." Aaron moves back slowly. His large earnest eyes on Sam. "I don't want to work with Toby anymore. He scares me."
Toby comes into the room then and flings papers at Sam, who catches them. I admit that had to take a lot of practice. I can't imagine of all the times that Sam had to pick up the papers. All the times that Toby probably yelled him for not paying attention.
"Good catch, Princeton. Aaron, you're demoted. Sam you're rehired."
"Ah, Toby." I start.
"With all due respect sir. Shut up. I want Sam."
"What's this?" Sam looks at the papers he caught and started to flip through the pages.
"It's your apology."
"What? I'm supposed to sign it?" Sam is still flipping through it. "Do you think it was wise to use idiosyncratic that way?"
Toby sighs and crosses his arms over his chest. "No. It's my apology to you."
Sam looks up surprised then. "Toby, this is ten pages long."
"I know-it's a little short-"
"Toby a simple 'I'm sorry' would have done it."
"Your too easy, Sammie." A voice, a very familiar voice calls from the doorway. I see a very smartly dressed woman, who looks like a twin of Sam in the doorway. "I'm sorry, your aide said to go right in."
"It's all right. It's nice to meet the famous Sarah in person." I stand up and hold my hand out. She shakes it firmly but delicately.
"It's nice to meet you, Mr. President." Unlike Sam's face, which is held in check with huge amounts of self-control, Sarah's face flashes through the range of emotions, and I see a similarity between her and her daughter.
We make the round of introductions. When she shakes Leo's hand there is something sinister in her look and she asks casually, "You're Mallory's father."
Sam obviously sees trouble on the horizon because he clamps his hand down on his sister's arm and pulls her away with an, "For gods sake, Sarah behave. I have to work with these people."
Around the room, there is a huge sigh of relief as Sam confirms his place on the Senior Staff. Sam looks around curiously, I wonder if he's thinking about the other reasons they might want to sigh. Is he thinking they don't want him, after all that?
"You still have three weeks left on your leave, Sam." I tell him.
Aaron is the only one to respond right away. "Three weeks?" He squeaks. I really like that kid. I'm going to miss him. Maybe we could move him upstairs or something.
"So we have three weeks to find you a wife." Sarah tells Sam. Well that was blunt.
And now my wife the wonderful Abigail opens her mouth. I can only say, Oh no.
"Do you need help?" She asks. I can't believe that she just asked that.
"Abigail." I warn her. Sam has always been open with Abby about things, but I'm pretty sure that he won't want her in on this.
"No one is finding me a wife." Sam's sounding very adamant, but then again, he sounded adamant when he said they wouldn't be in Washington any time soon, too. I wonder when the wedding will be. "It was nice seeing you. Thank you for taking the time out of your schedule sir." Sam's has gathered up Katie and has a hand on his sister's back. "We'll see you on Friday." Sam nods at us, and I wave goodbye to them as Sam hustles them out of the room.
I wait counting to ten, before the door opens and Sarah sticks her head in and says, "I'll be in touch, Dr. Bartlet.
Oh God, Please save Sam from older sisters and my wife who is looking rather evilly at Leo. Oh God, Poor Sam and Poor Mallory.
Leo's going to have a conniption if they start dating.
Then again, maybe he'll help Mallory spend the dowry that Sarah's willing to pay. I'm glad I'm here to watch this, cause those Soap Operas have nothing on this drama. Speaking of Drama.
"You gave him a Leave Of ABSENCE?" Toby's voice increases in volume as he comes to look at me. "You made me say that ridiculous apology in the residence?"
"Toby look at the seal on the floor and then look back at me."
He does so reluctantly. He glares at me, but says nothing more. Thank god for the Seal, I'd have to call the Secret Service to save me from a very upset Senior Staff. And ut oh. The new kid is listing a little. "Three weeks?" There go the eyes. And he's down for the count. CJ just rolls her eyes and flounces onto a nearby couch.
"Thank God Sam is coming back."
But where's the fun in that Claudia Jean.
"What's next?" I ask the staff.
"We need to talk about the House Resolution." Leo tells me. And takes a seat. Abby's still checking on the new kid, but his eyes are fluttering so I know he'll be with us any minute now.
~~ End Part 8