"Crutch" (Mad Season #11)
Timeline: The week before the Democratic convention.
I am so tired.
Well, I'm physically tired. I've just come from the campaign office, photocopied a whole bunch of documents, gotten a legal ruling, and still written the brief for Mr. Babish concerning the grand jury the senior staff will be facing soon.
But I'm also emotionally tired in that I can't face him anymore. And I need to tell him.
Sam, I mean.
He's a great guy. For a Democrat, I mean. He's smart, good-looking, funny, passionate about his beliefs, and did I mention good looking? You get my point.
But I can't take him where he needs to be. Sometimes I think I'm his reason for being... and I can't handle that sort of responsibility. Give me a life-or-death brief to write. Tell me that you need a summation in an hour. But don't tell me you can't live without me. I'll run.
He asked me out. I said yes. And I've had fun! We've been to dinner, movies, he's taken me sailing. And I've loved it. But there have been the down times, too. Like when we lost the New Hampshire primary. Sam was crushed. And he leaned on me the entire time to prop up his pride and his self-esteem. I still remember the marathon conversation that ensued. He wants the answers to the world so badly, and I can't provide him with that. That's not my role. I just can't do it.
And I'm here, at a campaign stop in Kenosha, Illinois, knocking on his temporary office door to tell him that right now.
It doesn't take long. "Come in."
I open the door and immediately his face blossoms into a smile. "Hey, Ainsley."
I cringe, thinking of how fast that smile will evaporate with what I have to tell him. "Sam," I begin, "we have to talk."
"Sure, about what?" He saves his work and closes down his laptop computer. "You finished with everything for the day?"
"I think so, but "
"Great. Wanna go for Chinese?" Sam's expression is teasing. "Come on, Ains, you know you love Chinese."
He's got me; I love any kind of food. Sam told me that I used to eat so much that he thought I might be pregnant. Which would have been bad.
"Maybe, Sam, but I really have to talk to you."
Just as I'm about to open my mouth the door flies open. "Sam, can I oh, sorry, Ainsley." Josh sticks his head in the door. Yet upon seeing me, he doesn't offer to leave. Hmmmph.
Sam steals a look at me, promising this will just take a moment, then says, "What's up, Josh?"
"I think I'm gonna do it," Josh says with a broad smile. "I've given this a lot of thought, and I think I'm gonna ask C.J. to marry me."
My jaw drops and Sam jumps to his feet in delight. "That's great!" he says. "When are you going to ask her?"
"Tonight." Josh answers. "We're going out to dinner, and I'll do it then."
Even I have to admit that he's stolen my thunder. "Congratulations, Josh."
"Jesus, don't say that!" he exclaims, grinning. "You'll jinx it!"
I smile, yet feel a touch of acid at his interruption. "Well, good luck then, Josh."
"Yeah." Sam has to add his two cents. "Tell me everything."
"Swear." Josh closes the door behind him, and I get back down to business.
"Sam," I begin, "as I was saying, I've been doing a lot of thinking about this."
"Sounds serious." He's not laughing now.
"It is, believe me." I pause, not wanting to hurt him. How to tell someone you care about that you can't date them because they're too needy? Without actually saying that, of course.
My chance is stolen again. Without knocking Toby flies through the door. "Sam, I need hi, Ainsley you've got to write a new speech for the President."
"For tomorrow?" Sam is shocked and more than a little annoyed. "What happened?"
"The First Lady's rejoined the campaign."
"Oh." That sort of says it all, and Sam looks fairly shocked to hear it. "She and the President finally got back together?" Everyone knows about the Bartlets' rift, but out of courtesy even the press hasn't touched it so far. God knows they've got too much to hold over the President's head already.
"Yeah, they did." Toby doesn't say anything more, but Sam and I could both tell he was happy. If nothing else, this meant we could get back to business.
"I'll get right on it." Sam gets up and starts to walk away. "Ains, can I see you later?"
If I wait, I'll never be able to tell him. "No." I say very firmly. "Sam, this will only take a minute."
He looks at Toby, then looks at me, then sits back down. "Toby, I'll catch up with you."
Toby realizes it's pointless to argue with me. "Fine." He walks out the door. It's amazing how he can make a walk sound pointed, but I don't pay it any more attention. I finally have Sam's.
"Okay. Sam, I've been trying to tell you this for the past twenty minutes."
"Go ahead, Ainsley." He's all ears now, and I finally realize how difficult this will be to tell him.
So I just do it in a rush, to get it over with. "Sam, I can't date you anymore." I pause. "I like you. A lot. But I can't be your reason for living. It's frightening, and it's a responsibility I'm not ready for."
I thought I'd be prepared for his reaction, but I'm not. I don't think anything could have prepared me for that cold glance his face froze over in the space of an instant. His smile turns from warm to merely civilized, and the fire in his blue eyes expires.
It breaks my heart.
"I hope you understand." I rise. "Really, Sam. I hope you "
"I understand." His voice is quiet, but his tone is strong. I allow myself to entertain the one hope that this won't destroy him. "I see where you're coming from, Ainsley, and you did right to tell me." He stands and gives me a painful smile. "If you'll excuse me, I've got to go help Toby."
"Okay." My voice is soft. I have to keep telling myself that this is the right decision; it's all the control I have not to tell him I was wrong, that I want him back. Damn.
I watch him go, then meander quietly down the hallway. The campaign has rented a floor in a hotel building for the week we're here. It feels very empty, even with the drones running around. What are they tabulating, anyway?
I walk into the polling room and am surprised to see C.J. manning the desk; this isn't her job. "Hi, Ainsley." She nods a hello.
"Hi." We've never really gotten along, but we've always been civil and polite. "How's it going?"
"Fine." C.J. looks up from the polling sheets. "Just sitting in for Josh he's talking to the President. Did you hear "
"-About the First Lady, yes." I finish. "That's really wonderful."
"Well, you didn't hear what she told the President." I had to suppress a smile, as gloomy as I felt. C.J. really was a gossip at heart. "Abbey told the President that she'd come back to the campaign if he didn't use his MS as a crutch anymore." She paused. "If he wanted the Presidency, then she said she'd try her damndest to help him."
"That's really wonderful."
"Yeah." C.J. smiles. "Abbey said that the President needed to realize that he was responsible for his own fate. Not his wife. Not his disease. He didn't need anything."
"And he doesn't." I'm serious about this, and a thought strikes me: maybe one day Sam will be the same way. Maybe he'll see he doesn't need a crutch to be successful and talented.
And maybe he'll be President one day.
I walk out of the room and immediately am run into by a speeding Josh. "Ainsley!" he shouts, hugging me. "Ainsley, it's ours!"
I'm slightly frightened and more than a bit wary as he continues to hold me. "Josh, what the hell "
Then he says the only words that could possibly affect me enough to get my mind off Sam. "Ainsley... we got the nomination."
I'm instantly thrown into happiness. "Oh, my God!" Never mind that they're Democrats, never mind that I just broke up with a Senior Staff member. I'm part of the team, and they still treat me like one.
Following Josh is the President himself, and my heart jumps a few hurdles. "Congratulations, sir." I manage to stutter.
"Thank you, Ainsley." The President is all smiles. "We didn't actually get it, of course- but our last real opposition just dropped out. We'll get his money, his support, and the win."
Something goes off in my head. I rack my brain. Who ran second?
It only takes me a moment: John Hoynes.
I stare at the President, astonished. "Hoynes... quit?"
Bartlet grins. "Made it too hot for him, didn't we?" Josh grins idiotically, and the President finishes. "Well, it will help my new VP's image that my old one was ruined so drastically."
It occurs to me to ask; I haven't exactly been in the loop lately. "Who will it be, Mr. President? If... I'm not overstepping..."
"Not at all, Ainsley." The President answers. "I had to think about this, and I decided on a man who will be a great help. And he's well spoken, also." He pauses before giving up the name. "Senator or should I say ex-Senator Stackhouse."
I raise my eyebrows; Stackhouse is far too liberal to be a logical choice; but maybe that's what the President wants.
"Thank you." Bartlet raises his voice. "Let's go, people! We've got a convention to prepare for!"
The place leaps into activity, myself included. But as we begin, I can't help looking over at Sam. He's working hard, right along with the rest of us. But there's something missing from him that breaks my heart. Still... what can I do? I can't be his crutch. If ever we needed one, let it be the nomination. That's all we need.