For disclaimer and notes, please see part one.

Previously, on the West Wing: Sam remembers a poignant Fourth of July
as we learn that today is his birthday.

I could hear it all, sitting at the top of the stairs that
led to the living room. Uncle John had been laying into Crys for two
solid hours, yelling at her with his alcohol-impaired voice for our
jaunt up to the District. I could see her, between the slats of the
banister. She looked as though she was about to explode but she kept
her tongue, which is a rarity with her. Surely she'd stand up to
him. Surely she would.
"What went through your head, Crystal?" How many times has
she heard that? I'm sorry, Crys. I'm so sorry. "You knew we were
going to be sailing out tomorrow. The fuel is sitting on empty right
now, you know it?" he slurred. Say something, Crys. Say anything.
"Yes, sir." That wasn't what I meant, Crys.
"You're going to be paying for it, Crystal. Forget about
doing anything else this summer. If Norman and Barbara weren't in
New York right now, I'd have Sam sent back now." Wait just a minute,
there, Uncle John...
"Yes, sir."
"Don't you `yes, sir' me, Crystal." Stand up, Crys. Stand
up. "You will not leave this house until school starts back in late
August. You will do nothing other than school work until December,
you hear me?"
"Yes, sir," she said. You aren't the Crystal I know. The
Crystal I know doesn't take anything off anybody.
"Go tell Sam to pack up. As soon as Norman gets back to
L.A., he's on the next flight." She stood up.
"Tell him yourself." Atta girl.
"What did you just say to me?" Uh-oh.
"I said, sir, to tell him yourself."
"Damn it, Crystal. Why are you so damned obstinate?"
"Like father, like daughter." Oh, Crys...
"Go to your room this instant!"
"No," she said. It was going from bad to worse and quickly
at that. Slinking down the stairs, I tried to come up with something
I could tell Uncle John. "And you know something else? I'm not
going to law school. It's for the birds!" Ka-boom. "I'm going to
do my own thing and I could care less if I have your permission or
not."
"So long as you live in this house, you will do as I say."
"So long as you're a drunken slob, I refuse to do anything
you tell me to." This is why she always came to L.A. She wanted to
get away. The question is whether or not Mom and Dad knew it. Mom
must have, I guess. Crys, why did you want me to come here? You
must have had a reason. My blood boiled when I saw Uncle John rare
back his fist.
"Don't even think about it," I said, stepping between Crystal
and John.
"You don't know what you're getting into, Sam," he said.
"I know enough," I said. Where was my backbone coming from?
I never seemed to have one before.
"Stand aside, son."
"I'm not your son! Thank God I'm not."
"Sam," Crys said from behind me, tugging on my shirt. I
didn't look back at her. My eyes were glued to John's bloodshot
hazel eyes. No wonder she had defiance out the yin yang. She had
probably been standing up to him for years.
"No son of mine would ever dare defy me," John said. As he
started his swing, Crys pulled me backwards. We stumbled, trying to
keep our balance. John spun a full three-sixty when his punch missed
his intended target and fell to the ground.
"Come on," she said, yanking on my arm repeatedly. John was
grasping for handholds to pull himself back to his feet. "Sam, I
mean it. C'mon!" I had never heard the trepidation in her voice
like that nor seen such fear in her eyes. It was more than being
scared or frightened. It was terror, pure terror that I saw playing
in her green eyes. She took my hand and we ran. We just ran. We
left the house behind with John screaming at us. Crys never looked
back, not once. I don't even know how far we ran but Crys finally
stopped, leaning against a tree and releasing my hand. No wonder she
was so good at disappearing.
"How long has this been going on?" She shrugged, fighting
tears as she slid to sit on the grassy ground.
"It's just when he drinks."
"How often does he drink, Crys?" I asked as I sat down beside
her. She exhaled slowly and looked at me.
"It depends on his caseload," she said, drying her tears.
"What do you mean?" I wondered if I really wanted to know
the answer.
"Well, if he's not due in court early the next morning, he'll
have some brandy, some whiskey. Whatever's in the cabinet." She's
holding back from me, I know it.
"If he is?"
"Some brandy, some whiskey, tequila shooters, whatever's in
that damn cabinet."
"Since when, Crys?"
"Awhile now."
"Why?"
"Why what?"
"Why does he do it? Why didn't you tell me sooner?"
"About the time he lost that big murder case, remember
that?" I nodded. I vaguely remembered hearing about it. It had
made national news. I guess that was the one fact that stuck out in
my head most about it. "It was around then that he started drinking
*heavily*. It screwed with his ego, I guess. It was never really
bad until then, sorta like once in a blue moon up to that point. I
didn't tell you `cause... `cause I didn't want to believe it for a
while. Mom and I both made up stories there for three months. He
was stressed out. I hadn't cleaned my room. The firm went under
some restructuring and his cases for a while were hit and miss-bad
choice of words. Mom tried to get him to go to AA meetings. She
tried hiding the liquor cabinet key. She poured a couple bottles of
the stuff down the sink. Nothing worked, Sam. Not a thing."
"How bad did it... He has hit you, right?" She nodded, biting
her lower lip. "How badly?"
"You don't want to know," she said quietly, playing with her
shirttail.
"How bad, Crys?"
"Just bruises. He's not got real good aim when he's drunk
and his follow through isn't too great." She shrugged. "He did
break my finger once." Until that point, I had figured I had never
really hated anybody. Strongly despised maybe, but never absolutely
hated anybody. I always knew Crys needed a protector. I only wish I
had been able to see what she needed before that moment, when I had
been too late. Then I knew why she had asked me to come to
Virginia. Whether it was a conscience request or not, it didn't
matter. It was time for the truth to come out. It was time for her
to confess to somebody about what was going on. God, I hate to see
her cry. "C'mere, Crys." She climbed up in my lap and let me hold
her. "This isn't yours to fight alone anymore, okay?"
"What're we gonna do, Sam?" I was quiet for a minute,
pondering that question.
"Don't worry about a thing, Crys."
"Don't do anything alone, Sam. `Kay? Promise me you won't
do anything alone."
"Why?"
"'Cause I'm afraid," she admitted. "I'm afraid of what he'll
do."
"He won't do anything to me."
"I thought that, too. Promise me, Sam, please." I always
seemed to cave whenever she cried. I promised her.

"Yo. Sam? Hello?" Josh again. I wonder if I can't change
seats...
"Yeah, Josh?"
"I'm seriously worried about you, man. It's your birthday
and you look like you've just lost your best friend." Shaking my
head, I hope he'll leave me alone. Of course he won't take the hint,
though. "Are you worried about something or somebody? This speech?
What?"
"It's nothing, Josh." A fake smile. Take it and leave me
alone, Josh. He sighs and I know it's not over.
"We're about twenty minutes out of Dublin."
"Okay." He's silent, then starts again.
"I've never seen you so gloomy on your birthday."
"Josh-"
"I mean it, Sam. Every other year, you've been, you know,
upbeat. It's not like you've hit the half century mark yet."
"No, thankfully I'm not that old."
"Does it have to do with Crystal?"
"What makes you say that?" How on Earth could he know?
"I dunno. Since you got her card you've been even more aloof
and quiet. This isn't like you, Sam."
"I guess it's just lack of sleep, Josh. We were at Reagan-
" `Hi, my name's James Reagan and this is my sister Elizabeth.'
"Hello? Earth to Sam Seaborn. Earth to Sam Seaborn." This
is my birthday. I should be focusing on other things, happier
things, and, more importantly, work. I should be working on
President Bartlet's speech. I shouldn't be thinking about Uncle John
and that summer.
"How'd we ever survive, Crys?"
"What?" Oops. I said that out loud. I hadn't meant to.
Josh is going to start grilling me in a minute. "Survive what?"
"Long story, Josh."
"What is it?"
"It's just the past and it should remain there." That seemed
to quiet him, at least temporarily, allowing me to travel back in
time again.

Crys had started sneaking into the guest room at night, where
I was staying during the summer, and sleeping on the couch. We were
careful to wait until after Uncle John left for work before leaving
the upstairs bedroom and we were just as careful to make sure we were
somewhere else when he came home. Aunt Julia never said anything to
us, to me at least. She busied herself with household business. We
fended for ourselves when it came to meals, but that was fine. It
was better that way. We stayed out from underfoot.
It had taken several trips to a local hardware store, but
Crys and I had finally put a plan together. We had stayed up late
several nights in a row to set it up, then had woke the very next
morning before Uncle John to make sure everything went according to
plan. When hung-over Uncle John stumbled into the bathroom for his
morning shower, he was greeted to a frigid one. Crys had turned the
hot water heater off at the breaker. We waited cautiously at the end
of the hallway like a hunter watching its prey, waiting to hear
John's reaction. After hearing his surprised yelp, we slipped into
the dining room trying to swallow our laughter. We already had bowls
of cereal waiting for us to help take off some suspicion. All we had
to do was pour the milk and it looked as though we had an alibi.
"What are you two up to this morning?" Julia asked, walking
through the dining room to the kitchen for the morning coffee.
"Nothing, Mom," Crys said innocently. I should have known
she was always cut out for the CIA.
"I'm going to call the plumber!" John called from the master
bedroom.
"What for?" Julia asked.
"The damn water heater's broken!" Julia looked at us
quizzically. I shrugged while Crys kept her guiltless look about her.
"All right, dear," Julia said.
"Is the coffee ready?"
"Almost," Julia said before quickly ducking into the kitchen
to brew a pot.
"Julia, have you seen my good shoes?" Crys nearly choked on
her Cheerios and smiled at me. Operation Sober Up had the beginnings
of a successful mission.
"They're wherever you left them, dear," Julia said, eyeing us
carefully from the kitchen door. John appeared a few minutes later,
fighting with his tie, which we had starched within an inch of its
life, and wearing an old pair of loafers.
"We've got to talk to the dry cleaners again, too," he
grumbled.
"I'll call them, dear," Julia said as she left the kitchen
carrying her breakfast. I craned my neck to watch as John entered
the kitchen and walked to the coffeepot. He poured himself a
steaming mug and added sugar and cream. The cream, we had spiked
with Aunt Julia's "gourmet olive oil," which was an odd concoction of
olive oil and various spices and herbs. He took a sip and spit it
into the sink.
"Gah!"
"Problem, Dad?" Crys asked, carrying her breakfast dishes
into the kitchen.
"This coffee's terrible." I followed slowly, wanting to see
this.
"Let me try," Crys said with a frown, looking at the mug. He
handed it to her and she took a sip. We had practiced all night
drinking the spiked coffee so we wouldn't mess up our plan.
Hindsight being twenty-twenty, we probably could have gotten away
with not drinking it. Crys and I had laughed about that in later
years. She said it helped build our character. "I dunno, Dad.
Tastes good to me." She placed her dishes in the sink and grabbed a
coffee mug from the holder next to the Mr. Coffee and poured herself
a cup. She added sugar and cream, just as John had done, then
proceeded to drink. "I think it's awfully good. You want to try
some, Sam? It's the best I think I've ever tasted."
"Sure." I took a sip of the horrible brew but smiled at
John. "You're right, Crys. This is great stuff." John looked at
Crys sternly.
"You want to try my cup?" she offered innocently. He grabbed
the cup from her and took a sip, struggling to swallow it.
"This is awful!" John said. "Julia!" She appeared at the
door a moment later. "How's your coffee?"
"Just fine, John." Thank goodness she drank it black. He
looked around at each of us, like he knew what we were up to. He
slammed his mug on the counter and gave Crys her mug back.
"I'll get breakfast at the office," he said. "See you
tonight, Julia." He kissed her cheek, then stormed out of the house.
"All right, kids. Just what do you think you're doing?"
"I don't know what you're talkin' about, Mom."
"The two of you are up to something and I want you to stop it
immediately."
"We're not up to anything, Aunt Julia." And it was *way* too
much fun to abandon. We had the entire day planned. She held her
hand out to Crys.
"Coffee." She reluctantly gave Julia the mug. Before she
could taste it, however, the telephone began to ring. She handed me
the mug and I quickly poured it out in the sink as she went to the
living room to get the phone. We had it refilled with good coffee,
sugar, and milk rather than the spiked cream by the time Julia had
come back. She took a sip and shrugged. "I guess he's just having a
hard morning."
"Yeah, Mom," Crys said. "He's just having a hard morning."
I could hear the anger hiding behind her voice. She had told me
during the night that she was tired of covering for John and she
wished her mom would get a clue as well.

As soon as the plane touched down in Dublin and Josh and I
were in the airport, searching for our luggage, my cell phone started
to ring. "Sam Seaborn."
"Happy birthday."
"Hey, Crys." Josh looked at me quickly. Yes, Josh. I'm
talking to your lady love. "Are your ears burning?"
"Uh-oh. In trouble again, am I?"
"No. I was just remembering some of our adventures."
"We've had a few, haven't we?" It sounds so great to hear
her laughter.
"Thanks for the birthday card."
"Glad to hear you got it."
"What are you doing this week?"
"Pardon?"
"What are you doing this week?" It's a simple question,
Crys, requiring a simple answer.
"Not much. Going over reports and things. That's what I do
now. No more jet setting. Why?"
"No reason." Boy, she'll see through that one.
"Okay." She didn't. How strange...
"I just..." `It's my birthday and we haven't gotten the chance
to share many of those recently with your years globetrotting.'
"What, Sam?"
"You know what? Forget it."
"Don't make me call Josh to find out what's bothering you."
"It's nothing, Crys."
"Bull."
"I've got to go. I'll never be able to carry all my luggage
and talk to you on this phone."
"All right." I can hear the questioning tone in her voice.
She knows something's wrong. I should have kept my mouth shut. Oh
well. "Call me later, okay?"
"Sure. Bye."
"Happy birthday, Sam."
"Yeah."

Upside Down And Inside Out - 4

 

 

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