C.J., meanwhile, paced recklessly back and forth. What the hell was with Sam? Now she was certain. Something was wrong. When he turned down sex, she knew something was wrong. Or at the very least she knew he was greatly occupied. And the welfare speech would *not* occupy him to that extent.

She decided that spending the night in her office had to have some perks, dammit. And if Sam wasn't going to give her any, she would go down to his office and manufacture some of her own.

Closing her door, she paused momentarily to listen to the howling wind. It really was awful outside. But that only reinforced her determination to have a little fun cooped up inside.

Her mind drifted back to that morning. The snowball fight seemed a world away from this wintry nightmare. And Sam had seemed so happy. It was only after the meeting that morning that Sam had gotten nervous; he had seemed to jump at the slightest thing. Could something have gone wrong at that meeting?

No, that couldn't have been it. Then he'd have been nervous around everyone, not just her. She kept coming back to a relationship problem. Damn. She'd just have to go hash things out with her boyfriend.

C.J. walked down to Sam's office, and tapped gently on the door. "Sam?" she called. "It's me, C.J." Though the light was on, there was no answer. She tried again. "Sam?" Nothing.

Debating for a moment, C.J. decided to open the door. She'd surprise him, and make sure he couldn't squirm away from her. They needed to talk. She walked in and sat on the edge of his desk, idly drumming her fingers on the desk.

She was mildly surprised when her fingers didn't connect with wood. Instead they were on a magazine, making a soft thump instead of the accustomed hollow sound. Nonchalantly she looked down at her fingers and saw the title: The Advocate. On top of another copy of The Advocate. On top of another copy. A hasty appraisal of Sam's desk, in fact, revealed the entire top strewn with copies of the magazine. The top drawer of the desk was pushed in but not completely. C.J. moved the drawer open further, only to reveal yet more copies of the magazine, as well as several hand-written notes addressed to his mother. They were all half-finished; evidently Sam had been displeased with his handiwork.

C.J. couldn't breathe. So this was the secret! This was why he was only nervous around her. This was why he was especially at ease in Josh's company, and that of Donna, his best female friend. This was why he didn't want to... *do* anything before.

She sat down numbly. Her boyfriend didn't feel he could be honest with her about this. *Think, Claudia Jean,* C.J. exhorted herself through her anger. Had Sam shown any signs that she should have caught? Anything that she should have seen that would have maybe clued her in?

She felt lied to. Betrayed. Let down.

But most of all, mad as hell.

And yet, she could be wrong, a belated voice of reason tapped in. There could be another rational explanation. Still, she had to admit, this sounded horribly believable. This made a lot of sense. But another explanation was there. She couldn't jump to conclusions again. Not after last time.

She crept back to her office to pace some more. After seeing this, she couldn't face him. Not now. Not until she was ready.

Josh searched idly through the file he had, until he threw it aside. He was sick of work, and this theoretically could wait. He was more interested in the leak. Who the hell had leaked Sam's quote? He couldn't shake it from his head. The damage had been relatively contained; Leo had seen to that. Still, Josh couldn't get rid of the fact that this leak had come at a terrible time - nearing reelection. Someone had to know that a foul-up like this would lose votes.

He ran over the list of people in his head again. Himself. Sam. Carol. Danny. Congresswoman Jarrard's aide. And York, the new girl from the Guardian. OK. Who had a motive? York, he told himself, would be the most likely candidate. The Guardian was a distinctly right-wing paper, and she could have no love for the Bartlet administration if she'd agreed to work there. But nonetheless, he had no proof.

He believed Danny, though he knew Sam was still suspicious. And Danny *was* a very convincing liar. This was an ancient motive, Josh knew, and one that would stand up under scrutiny. But still, there had been something in Danny's eyes that had seemed extremely convincing.

Who else? Obviously not Sam himself. Carol, he knew, could be trusted. That left Congresswoman Jarrard's aide. She could have some tie that no one knew about. But was it worth going through all that work just to find out what this woman was about?

Well, there wasn't much else to do. Resolving to enlist Donna's help in the search for the Congresswoman's files, Josh picked up the phone to see if anyone was still in the White House Counsel's office. But as he lifted the receiver he heard a crack, and the entire room was plunged into darkness.

Sam was completely oblivious to all of this. At that moment he was engaged in an animated discussion with Donna. "How the hell can you say that I'm ready for this?" he wailed. "I'm handling this hopelessly wrong!"

"That much I can tell," Donna said with some asperity. "But you need to realize that's not the end of the world."

"Isn't it?" Sam sat down in her chair. "Donna, I just tend to question myself the whole time I think about this." He shrugged, yet the gesture was fraught more with depression than indecision. "Marriage needs to be a... long-lasting bargain, you know? Spending the rest of your life with someone is a huge, huge thing. I just don't know if I'm ready for it yet. I'm afraid."

Donna sighed. "Sam, maybe you're not ready."

The answer wasn't quite what he had expected. "What?"

Donna had hit on an idea. "Maybe you aren't ready. I mean, if you're questioning yourself already." She shrugged. "I would just wait if I were you. Give it a little time." Appearing resigned, she'd already decided, would be her best possible tactic. Sam was ready, of that she was sure. But he was scared and understandably so. If she used a little reverse psychology she would be certain to give Sam a taste of what he would be missing if he chickened out.

It worked. Sam stared at her as though she had lost her mind. " 'Give it a little time?' " He echoed. "Are you insane?"

"Am I?" Donna smiled slyly.

"How can I 'give it a little time?' " Sam asked rhetorically. "All I think about is C.J. And the fact that right now I probably have her thinking God-knows-what about everything."

Just as he spoke the power went out. "Fabulous," Sam muttered.

"Don't worry about it." Donna pulled out a large flashlight. "But as for scaring C.J., maybe that's fate's way of telling you that this would be a mistake for you."

"I don't agree." Sam had stopped pacing now. "Donna, I really want to thank you for your advice. You've been wonderful. But I think I need to do this a different way."

"What do you mean?"

"I don't need to go to the restaurant and do all that to ask C.J. to marry me," Sam said with more boldness than he really felt. "All I need is this ring," he declared, pointing to his pocket, "and the fact that I'm crazy about her."

"Awwww." Donna grinned, thinking the whole time that she'd just used the oldest trick in the book on her friend, and it had worked. Making it seem like Sam had thought up the plan himself. It was a sop to any male ego while getting the job done.

Meanwhile, Sam grinned stupidly. "I'm sick of hiding. I'm sick of lying and sneaking around. When I see her next I'm going to walk straight up to her and ask her to talk."

"Good for you, Sam." Even while cheering him on, Donna silently hoped his bluster wouldn't desert him.


Too Marvelous For Words - 7



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