The next morning began four different ways. For Donna it began with a cautious smile, allowing herself to be an optimist. For C.J. it commenced with a defeated sigh, wondering what more could go wrong. For Sam it started with a killer hangover and a complete unwillingness to work. And for Josh, it began with a grim determination to go kick ass at work, and in the process fix his personal life.
Sam got into work first, even with the hangover that was threatening to lay him out for the count. He said a quiet hello to Cathy, and ran into his office to hide. He lay in his chair, eyes closed, fingers pressed to throbbing temples. Last night had been a mistake. He even dimly remembered talking to Josh. *Josh!* he thought. *I must have REALLY been plastered.*
His peace was shattered by the ringing phone. Sam grabbed the receiver with surprising quickness, to save his pounding head. "Hello," he whispered. The caller was a senator. A very angry senator, who expounded on that theme for ten minutes until Sam was ready to pass out. Finally the phone was slammed down in Sam's ear, with such force that he crawled down out of his chair, onto the floor, and stayed there, spread-eagled.
This state of affairs continued for some time until Cathy walked into the room. She saw her boss laid out on the carpet and exclaimed shrilly, "Oh my God, Sam, are you all right?"
The response came in a whisper. "I would be if you didn't yell."
"I'm sorry." Cathy then tried to yank Sam to his feet, an action which caused the room to spin further. Sam groaned and fell back to his knees, causing Cathy to cry, "I'm sorry!" Sam muttered unintelligibly, and his secretary further pursued the issue. "What the hell happened to you?"
Sam was still whispering. "I have an extremely bad hangover."
Cathy was aghast. Voice rising again, she asked, "Why'd you get drunk on a work night?"
"I didn't *plan* it." Sam tried to rise to a sitting position. "And please keep your voice down."
"How do you plan something like that?" Cathy asked in a significantly hushed tone.
"I don't know. Cathy, you're confusing me."
"Sorry." Now she was whispering. "You have an appointment; want me to help you up?"
Bit by bit, Sam rose to his feet, supported by his assistant. Soon he was standing, wobbly if upright. "Who's the appointment with?" he asked weakly.
"Great," Sam mumbled. Try as he might, he couldn't remember anything of the previous night's conversation. "This day gets better and better."
"Oh, I don't know," Cathy chirped, "he sounded pretty good and happy. Not cranky like he's been for the past few days."
"That means he's done something else to ruin my life," Sam said
Cathy saw he would be pessimistic no matter what, which made her wonder. She didn't know exactly what had been going on, but she knew it wasn't good. She turned to go, saying, "I'll call you when he gets here."
"Thank you." Cathy closed the door and Sam tried to work without moving his head. He didn't get too far, but he kept at it.
He was halfway through the Better Business Bureau speech when the apocalypse happened. "SAM!" Cathy hollered through the closed door, her intercom having broken. "Josh is here!"
Sam cried out in pain, clutching his temples, as an annoyingly proud Josh strode through his office door. "Jeez, you look like hell," he said, in what Sam could only suppose to be a poor effort at conversation.
Still, he could keep up. "Yeah, well, I feel worse," Sam said pointedly.
Instead of shooting a reply back, however, Josh merely sighed. "Okay, I deserved that."
Sam blinked. Okay... whatever. "Did you call me last night?"
"Did I actually *talk* to you?"
"Yeah, you did. For about fifteen minutes."
"Wow." Sam grunted. "I *really* must have been plastered." Josh
Josh didn't answer, though. "You really don't remember our conversation, then?" This was good. He could start off clean, with none of last night's ill-considered remarks against him.
"Not a damn thing," Sam answered. "I remember asking you how I could get rid of you."
Josh grinned. "Wow."
"Never mind." Josh changed tacks abruptly. "Could you go get C.J. and come to my office? There's something I have to talk to you guys about."
Sam stared at Josh incredulously. "Get C.J.?"
Josh smiled. "Yeah, could you? She's pissed at me."
"As well she should be," Sam shot back. "But are you sure...?"
"Yeah, Sam. Go get her."
"Give me one reason why I should!" Sam shook his head. C.J. hadn't talked to him at all the other day. The one time they'd met, she'd averted her eyes and not spoken to him at all. He wasn't ready for that kind of complete rejection.
Josh was oblivious to his reasoning, however. "You're going to do it because I said you should. Now go."
Sam was beaten. Besides, it'd get Josh off his back. "Fine."
He grabbed his sunglasses, to conceal his bloodshot eyes, and left the office, head still pounding, and made his careful way down the hall. Her door was closed, and he found himself reluctant to knock. What would she do? He wasn't sure. But Sam knew he'd never forgive himself if he didn't find out.
He tapped very hesitantly on the door. After a pause her voice
Sam cleared his throat. "It's me, Sam."
C.J. stiffened at his voice. She crossed swiftly to the door and threw it open. "Hi, Sam." Her voice was soft, and she smiled at him.
"Hey, C.J." Sam found himself returning the smile. What kind of smile was it? Was it regretful? Awkward? Inviting? Damn it!
He forced himself back on task. "Josh wants us in his office."
"Well, I don't think it's work-related," Sam said dryly. "Call it a hunch."
Her face was suddenly yet quietly bitter. "Tell him to kiss my ass,"
Sam flushed. "No reason."
C.J. smiled brazenly. "Take them off, then." She willed her face to remain composed, in spite of the thought that ran through her mind at that moment. Damn, he was still so cute.
Slowly, he complied, revealing eyes so bloodshot it looked like red spiderwebs across the deep blue. "What happened to you?" C.J. asked, amused yet concerned.
Sam sighed. He'd hoped to keep this from her, though he didn't have to mention the reason. "I got plastered last night."
"Riiiight." C.J. wasn't buying it.
Still, Sam resolved, there was no way in hell he would tell her the truth. "Anyway," he said, trying to change the subject, "let's go to Josh's office."
It worked. "No," C.J. said, turning back into her office.
"Please, C.J.?" For some reason, Sam found himself pleading with her. A phrase from somewhere tugged at the corner of his mind: <<You and Donna kicked some sense into me...>>
She stared at the entreating look on his face, pale as it was. It was a pleasing look, not whiny like some people when they begged. C.J. didn't even know why he was begging ... unless he knew something she didn't.
She faced him and spoke decisively, keeping the slight tremor in her voice under control. "I'll come."
"Good." C.J. closed her office door and began to walk down the hall with
Sam, meanwhile, was thinking the same thing. What do you say to a woman who may or may not want anything to do with you?
He decided to try something. "When do you "
Unfortunately, C.J. spoke at the same time. "I don't think "
They both stopped and laughed. It broke the ice a bit, and for that Sam
Finally, C.J. spoke. "So what did you do yesterday?" It was the sort of banal comment exchanged between colleagues, certainly not friends or lovers.
It broke Sam's heart all over again. "Well, besides getting smashed, you mean?"
C.J. laughed again. Sam, whether from the hangover or something else,
"What about you?" Sam asked suddenly, turning his gaze to the floor. "How've you been?"
C.J. decided, on the spur of the moment, to be honest. "Not too good, Sam, I have to tell you."
At that Sam swung his gaze up to meet hers. Her eyes were very revealing hurt, anger, annoyance, pain and fear. All directed, for the moment, at him. *She doesn't love me anymore, does she?* he asked himself rhetorically. *Shit!*
C.J., meanwhile, was reading Sam's eyes and coming up with similar emotions. The pain in his eyes was astounding. It made her want to hug him, to shelter him and tell him it would all be all right. And what was the other bit... was that longing she saw? She couldn't ask him. Still, something nagged at her. *Does he still love me?* she asked herself. *Shit!*
She was about to say something more when the two of them made it to Josh's office. C.J. resigned herself to waiting until this was over before she had it out with him.