Meltdown

Jane Harper

RATING: R for language, some graphic violence
SYNOPSIS: The last of the senior staff to recognize his reaction to the shooting begins the process of healing.
ARCHIVE: Sure, just let me know where. HTML available.
DISCLAIMER: Only one of these characters is mine, and Iíd be happy to loan her out to Sorkin & Company. I wouldnít charge them a cent, wouldnít even want to portray her. Iíd be happy just to sit in a corner of the set and be as useless as a writerÖ

 


The nightmares began just after the midterm elections.

He never told her anything specific about them-in fact, he never talked about them at all. She wasnít sure what he did on those nights when he slept alone; but when they were together, his thrashing would wake her up, and then she would wake him up. He would say nothing, do nothing but lie there staring at the ceiling. Sheíd be able to hear his breath come in ragged bursts, feel his skin covered in a dew of sweat, but if she reached to hold him he would usually not respond. Once or twice with shaking hands he began to make love to her, and they grappled while their bodies joined in wordless passion. Eventually they would both fall back to sleep.

After half a dozen of these episodes she could keep quiet no longer. After waking him up and feeling his body shaking and perspiring, she had to say something. "Want to talk about it?" she asked.

"No."

"Give me a hint?"

"No!"

"OK. Iím here if you decide-"

"Go back to sleep."

"You are such a Stoic!"

He shrugged. "What you see is what you get."

"Well humor me, OK?" She snuggled up next to him.

"Nah, I just hate doing this!" he smirked, wrapping his arms around her as he began to relax.

In the morning he brushed it off and went to work.

A few days later she woke to find herself alone in the bed. She looked at the clock: 3:22 AM. Grabbing a sweater, she threw herself into her wheelchair and went looking for him. He was sitting in the living room, in the dark, staring out the window.

"Hey," she began.

"Hey," he said, sounding bone-weary. "What are you doing up?"

"I woke up. You werenít there. I worry. Sue me."

"Look," he said, pointing. "Itís snowing. Fresh snow is so beautiful - look at the way it sparkles. From a distance it looks so clean. Then when you get close you see the soot and the grime and the oil from the street and the-" He hesitated. "Nothing is ever simple, is it? Everything humanity touches, it destroys."

She rolled over to sit next to him. "From Stoic to Cynic. Whatís next, Epicurean?"

"Been there, done that," he answered with a wry smile.

They sat in silence for awhile. She watched him blink back tears, once, twice, head turned carefully just enough off to the side that it wasnít obvious.

"Leo-"

He grinned, glanced over at her, then looked down. "You never call me that."

"Come to bed."

A memory flashed across his face and he turned away.

She took his hand. "Come on, youíre exhausted."

He stood up and let go of her. "Goddammit, Sarah, Iím not a baby. Leave me the hell alone." His voice was soft but his words were clipped, staccato.

She stared a minute, mind racing, wondering how to respond, dog-tired herself. Swallowing her anger, she said, "OK, OK. I just-"

"Yeah, I know, you worry. Well donít, OK? I can take care of myself."

"Yeah, youíre doing an outstanding job so far." She couldnít bite her tongue anymore. "When was the last time you slept through the night?"

"I donít know." His voice broke. Absent-mindedly, his hand wandered up to scratch the side of his neck. "I honestly donít know. Before the elections I guess."

"Please, come on back to bed. Thereís still a couple of hours-"

He looked at his watch. "No, there isnít, really. Itís almost four."

"The country will survive if your staff meeting is an hour late."

He sighed. "You donít get it. I donít need to be there for them, I want to be there, for me. Iíve given up everything for this jobÖ"

She leaned in and put her arms around his waist. "I know. But you canít be any good to yourself or anybody else if youíre sleep-deprived. And your recoveryÖ"

"Donít start with that. Donít take my inventory."

She desperately wanted to grab him by the shoulders and shake him; instead she just let go of him and leaned back again. "Iím not taking your inventory, dammit. Iím giving you the benefit of my seventeen more years in program than you have!" She put her hands on her wheels, ready to turn. "But, as my Mama said, if you wonít listen, youíve just got to feel."

"Sarah-"

"Iím going back to bed," she called over her shoulder. "Come, donít come, suit yourself."

The next morning she called Margaret.

"Hey!"

"Hey yourself. How are you?"

"Fine. How is he?"

"He looks awful. Did you guys have a fight?"

"Sort of. Listen, I need to ask you a nosy question, OK?"

"Nosy about me or nosy about him?"

"Margaret, I love you like a sister, but right now I have only one worry and you arenít it."

The willowy redhead laughed. "OK, shoot."

"Is he eating? He didnít take four bites at breakfast this morning, but after last night I knew if I asked it would be me getting chewed."

"You mean heís not eating at home either? I figured he had no appetite here because you were feeding him too well!" A moment of silence was followed by, "Oh holy goober. He just asked me to call his tailorÖ"

 


That evening after she left work she went back to her apartment, put down a lot of cat food, cleaned the litter box, packed a bag, and went over to the condo. She slipped her things into the closet in the guest room, knowing he never looked there, afraid that heíd be angry at her for inviting herself to stay.

If he didnít want you here, she asked herself, why the hell did he give you a key?

Good question.

He got home a little before ten.

"Hey, Toots!"

"Hey Irish, how was your day? Hungry?"

"Naw, I had something earlier. To what do I owe the honor? Two nights in a row?"

"Plumbing in my place is acting up. I hoped you wouldnít mind."

He came into the kitchen and stood behind her with his arms around her neck. "Maybe you should just move in."

"Oh yeah right, like you need me underfoot." She kept putting away the dinner leftovers and packing the dishwasher.

His voice dropped. "Well, itís not like Iím home enough to notice anyway." Then he sighed.

She turned around and put her arms around his waist, and feigned surprise. "Irish, have you dropped a few pounds? I swear there used to be more of you in this neighborhood .. "

"You complaining? After all the teasing I took about that spare tire?"

"That wasnít teasing, it was admiration." She winked at him.

"Like I believe you."

"You didnít answer my question."

"Yeah, Iíve dropped a few pounds."

"Whatís Ďa fewí."

"Fifteen," he muttered.

"I didnít hear you right-"

"Yeah you did."

"Leo!"

"What?"

"Youíre wasting away! No wonder youíve been seeing your tailor behind my back .."

He scowled. "Iím gonna kill her."

"No youíre not. Sheís worried about you. So am I. Youíre not eating. Youíre not sleeping. You need to see somebody, Irish."

"I am seeing somebody. You."

"I mean a professional."

"Youíre a professional, you did all that work with the staff after-" He choked off the word.

She looked up at him. "After what?"

"After, you know..."

"You canít even say the word, and look at you! Your hands are shaking, your heart is pounding, youíre practically panting, just at the memory." She kept a firm grip around his waist. "You have to see someone. Let me make a couple of calls, please?"

"Why canít I just talk to you?"

"Well, for starters, you wonít. Heaven knows Iíve tried. And I canít possibly keep the emotional distance Iíd have to have in order to be any help at all."

"But you were friends with Sam and CJ and Toby-"

"Friends. I wasnít sleeping with any of them." She grinned. "And if you think Iím gonna give that up, youíre a crazy old man!"

He stepped back, pulling out of her grasp, and stared at her.

"Oh shit, Iím sorry Irish, I didnít mean that-" It was her turn to tear up. "I just meant that thereís no way-" The tears wouldnít stay put and began to run down her face, and her voice dropped to a murmur. "Some fucking professional I am." She turned back to the sink and finished with the dinner pots.

A few moments passed in silence, then he came back over next to her and tipped her chin up with his hand so he could see her eyes. "You said it yourself, Toots, you canít be objective. Címon, letís go to bed."

"At eleven oíclock?" she forced a laugh. "This is one for the record books."

"I didnít say letís go to sleep, Sarah."

 


Margaret looked at the man standing in the lobby and her heart stopped. He had "Process Server" written all over him.

"I have legal papers for Mr. McGarry," he said.

"Iím Mr. McGarryís personal assistant, Iím empowered to accept service on his behalf."

The man shrugged, handed Margaret a large manila envelope, and left. She opened it gingerly, as if waiting for it to explode. IN RE: McGarry v. McGarry, it said.

Oh God, she thought. Not today. Why couldnít Jenny at least have waited until the holidays were over?

He was walking out of his office when she arrived back at her desk. "What are those?" he asked, pointing to the envelope.

"Uh .. papers," she stammered.

He stared quizzically up at her. "Is that another summons about your parking tickets?"

"No."

"Are they for me?"

"Leo, I think you should sit down-"

He said nothing, just held out his hand.

"I really think-"

He rolled his eyes. "Give me those!" He opened the envelope and pulled out the blue-backed sheets. Three copies. Then he spun on his heel, walked back into his office, and closed the door.

 


It wasnít often that Donna, Margaret, and Sarah got to have lunch together in the White House Mess, since one of them worked over in the OEOB and all of them worked for people whose schedules were, at best, unpredictable. The afternoon of November 17th was one of those rare instances, and the timing was especially good.

"Does Donna know?" Sarah asked as she rolled up to the table.

Margaret nodded.

"Know what?" Donna asked, munching on a French fry.

"About the papers," Margaret replied.

"Are you worried that heíll, you know .. ?"

Sarah grinned. "Margaret is, Iím not."

"Why not?"

"I wonít let him." Her manner was calm and definite.

"You sound pretty certain," the Deputy Deputy Chief said.

Sarah shook her head. "I am. Surer than he is, probably. One of the things we learn in program is that we can never be confident of ourselves for tomorrow, only for today. And today he is not gonna drink or use."

Margaret sighed. "I wish I could be so sure."

"Be glad you canít, Mags," Sarah responded. "The assurance only comes from being one yourself."

Donna looked puzzled. "One what?"

"Iím an addict too," Sarah said, and crunched a mouthful of tuna salad.

"Oh." The usually-perky blonde didnít know what to say.

"Did he eat, Mags?"

Margaret shook her head no.

"Is he there?"

The redhead looked back and forth between Sarah and Donna. "Yeah, but... you really donít want to bother him right now. Heís got-" her voice dropped to a whisper- "the spooks in there."

Both women nodded and moved on to other topics. As they broke up after the meal, though, Sarah bought another tuna salad and gave it to Margaret. "Put this in the fridge in your office, Mags. Heís gonna eat if I have to hold his nose and force-feed him." She rolled her eyes around. "What I wouldnít give for a 28-French Levine tube right now."

"Whatís that?" Donna asked.

"Itís a feeding tube, only itís about as big around as your little finger. When patients wouldnít eat, weíd get one of these whoppers and come in and shake it in front of their faces and say, ĎYou better eat! You donít want one of these!í" She giggled. "Most of the time we were contemplating no such thing, you understand... but the image worked!"

Margaret and Donna both laughed nervously as Donna wondered where the tube would go, then dismissed the thought as she watched Sarah wheeling off toward the East Wing.

 


"Hey," Sarah said to Sally, the First Ladyís personal assistant, parking next to her desk chair and giving her a hug.

"Hey yourself! What you doing back here, slumming?"

"I just canít stay away." She cocked her head toward the big wooden door. "Any chance of seeing herself?"

"Let me see. Sheís on the phone, Iíll ask." She disappeared into the office and reappeared almost immediately. "Come on in."

Abbey came around from behind her desk to give Sarah a hug, then sat down on the sofa. "Your timing was great, girl!" she laughed. Then her eyes flicked over the other womanís face and she stopped laughing. "Uh oh, I know that face. Whatís up?"

"I need a curbside consult. It looks like my work over here isnít done after all."

The First Lady looked confused. "I thought everybody... all the referrals... " Her head cocked to one side. "Oh no, tell me itís Leo."

She nodded. "Heís not sleeping, heís not eating, heís lost fifteen pounds, hypervigilance, flashbacks, nightmares, itís classic PTSD. And he wonít talk to me about it, but Iíd be willing to bet a monthís salary the Cambodian stuff is coming up again." Her eyes glistened. "I donít know what to do. I canít be objective or professional. And I guess you heard what happened this morning."

"No..."

"Jennyís got great timing. His divorce papers arrived today."

"Oh good God. That doesnít sound like her. What was she thinking?"

"Happy Holidays." Sarahís voice was bitter.

Abbey shook her head. "Itís been a year. I thought she was done being angry."

"Doesnít look like it."

The First Lady stared off into space for a moment, lost in thought. "Youíve told him he needs to see someone?"

"Asked, told, cajoled, fought..."

"Then you need to talk to Jed."

"Oh that would go over well. Excuse me, Mr. President, I think you should know that your Chief of Staff, primary advisor and best friend is, even as we speak, on the ragged edge."

"Itís your professional duty, Sarah."

"No, with all due respect, Dr. Bartlet, it isnít. In this instance Iím not being a professional. Take my diagnosis with all the confidence you would any other worried loverís. Talk to him yourself, please? Before you and the President come down on him like a load of bricks?" Her voice broke. "If you donít, itíll break his heart, and might break his spirit too."

"OK," Abbey said. "Just one more thing."

The other woman nodded.

"Has he told you anything about that night?"

She shook her head. "Itís as if it never happened."

 


He sat behind his desk in the big leather chair and stared at the sheaf of papers in front of him. He could hear her voice in the back of his head.

"Leo... come to bed."

"I canít do this anymore. This is crazy. I donít want to live like this..."

"Itís not the anniversary. Itís everything. Itís the whole thing..."

You didnít call me that night, he thought. Or the next. Or the next. You just closed the door. And here we are. God, Jenny. I thought I meant more to you than this-

He pulled a pen out of his inside jacket pocket and signed all three copies.

He closed his eyes and heard the voices of the crowd. "Bart-let! Bart-let! Bart-let!" He was walking next to the President, then breaking away from him as his old friend began to work the rope line.

Standing by the limo, he heard one of the detail. "I saw something- I saw something-"

Then his world exploded. ScreamsÖ Instinctively he hit the pavement, every muscle tensed. Someoneís knee was in the middle of his back. "Stay down!"

He heard the door open, and didnít know how he had wound up on the floor. Flushed, heart pounding, and frankly embarrassed, he got up and brushed himself off.

"Did you need something, Margaret?"

"No, I heard something go crash... "

"Yes," he stammered. "I dropped... something ... was picking it up..." He turned away from her and took a deep breath to calm himself, then picked up the papers from his desk. "Here. One copy to my attorney and the other two to Jennyís. Messenger them over, would you please?"

 


The next few days passed more or less peacefully, and Thanksgiving arrived, and with it Sarahís first trip to the New Hampshire White House. She and Leo had been invited to spend the holiday with the Presidentís family, and to meet the two older Bartlet daughters and their families.

After the Rose Garden proclamation, the President and his remaining entourage loaded into Marine One for the two hour trip to Manchester. Sarah had never been in a helicopter, much less Marine One, and spent most of the trip agape and holding on to Leo for dear life.

"You didnít tell me you were afraid to fly, Toots."

"Iím not. Iím scared of heights."

"Well itís a little tough to fly without going up in the air." He chuckled. "Did I mention to you that Iím a pilot?"

"No Ö but you do use a plane, right?"

"Now I do. Will you go flying with me?"

She was holding onto both his hands with both of hers. "Iíll go anywhere with you, Irish .."

The rest of the family had already gathered when they landed in Manchester: Abbey, Zoey, Elizabeth, the Bartletsí oldest daughter, with her 13-year-old Annie, and Jessy, the middle daughter. The sprawling white farmhouse and its out-buildings were decidedly not wheelchair-accessible, but between Leo, Charlie, and the beefier members of the entourage, Sarah got where she needed to go.

Dinner was already on the table by the time everyone got into the house and bags were stowed in bedrooms. As they were gathering around the table, Abbey leaned over to whisper in Sarahís ear: "Itís kosher, dear-frozen in the kosher kitchen at the White House. We just roasted it when we got here."

After everyone was seated, the President asked Charlie to say grace.

The fresh-faced young man stood and bowed his head. "Dear God, this is a special day when we come together to thank You for everything Youíve done for us in the past year. We have some old friends and some new ones here, and weíre grateful for every single one. Weíre thankful for health and prosperity and liberty, and deeply appreciative of Your having brought us all safely through the year. So bless this food that we may celebrate You. Amen."

"That was beautiful," Sarah said.

"Thank you. Would you say grace your way?"

She looked around the table, stopping with the President, who nodded.

"Go ahead, Sarah."

"Yes, sir." She took her kerchief out of her skirt pocket and covered her head, then reached for the platter of steaming dinner rolls and sang the blessing for bread over them.

"Amen," Bartlet echoed when she was finished. "Youíll have to teach me that sometime, Sarah."

"Iíd be pleased, sir."

"Charlie," Leo chimed in, "you need to be careful about the old friends business... some of us donít like to be reminded... " He grinned at the young man.

"Yes, sir, Mr. McGarry."

"Itís Thanksgiving dinner, Charlie, I think you can call me Leo."

"Actually," the President responded with a chuckle, "I think we should all call you Esther today. Sound good, everyone?"

"Esther the queen, Pop?" Jessy asked. "You trying to tell us something about Leo?"

"Oh God I hope not," he shot back. "Iím in enough trouble with Congress already."

"I forgot to mention, Mr. President," Leo answered with a smirk, "Iím eloping with Sarahís boss right after the holidays. Think you could do without me for a couple of weeks?"

"Take him," Bartlet said. "And good riddance!"

"Wait a minute," Sarah added. "Would I be without a job then?"

"Nah," the President shot back. "Iíll make you Vice President. Maybe itíll make up for Leo jilting you for that Texan."

"What makes you think I wouldnít be on the honeymoon too, sir? Iím open-minded, Iíll share."

Elizabeth waved her hands in the air. "Time out! Can we talk about something besides politics?"

"Abigail," Bartlet asked, waving the carving knife, "did someone slip in a ringer for our firstborn? This canít be our Lizzie."

"Would you guys please shut up and eat?" Abbey asked. "The foodís getting cold!"

 


All that afternoon after dinner, Sarah, Jessy, Annie and the guys sat in the family room watching football. With typical sports-fan tolerance for commercial interruption, every so often there would be some general milling around with runs for beer and soda and leftovers. During one such lull, Abbey came in and sat on the arm of the chair next to Sarah. Taking advantage of the level of ambient noise, she leaned over and asked softly, "Howís our patient?"

"You mean your patient; heís ok I guess, seems to be reasonably distracted by the game."

"He pushed his meal around on the plate but didnít eat much," the First Lady noticed with a frown.

"I know, but Iíve been feeding him pretzels all afternoon. He doesnít notice how many of them there have been, I donít think." As if to demonstrate, she turned to the opposite side and waved a pretzel in front of Leoís face. Without looking away from the game, he opened his mouth and she popped it in.

Abbey giggled. "How did you teach him that trick?"

"Dunno, I tried it and it worked. Whatís not to like? Weíve been through most of a bowl of pretzels so far."

"You go, girl." The older woman stood, squeezed Sarahís hand, and went back to the porch to rejoin the others.

Later that evening, Sarah was in the kitchen refilling the snack bowls when Charlie came in looking for more beer. He opened the refrigerator and took several bottles out,

"Sarah?"

"Uh huh?"

"Can we talk a minute?"

"Sure, Charlie. What can I do for ya?"

He popped the tops off the bottles and walked over to stand next to her, leaning against the countertop. "I never had a chance to thank you for what you did for Zoey."

"No thanks necessary. Sheís a wonderful woman, it was my pleasure to help."

"Yeah, she is that." He took a long drink.

Sarah put down the chip and pretzel bags. "Can I ask you a favor?"

"Sure," the young man said.

"I donít know if youíve noticed, but Leoís been... distracted lately."

"Yeah, I think everybodyís noticed. Whatís up?"

"Iím not sure. Iíd appreciate it if youíd keep an eye on him though. Heís not eating, maybe you could encourage him in that direction."

She went back to filling the bowls; out of the corner of her eye she saw Charlie regard her thoughtfully for a second.

"You love him a lot, donít you?"

She laughed. "I hope itís not that obvious."

"Why not? He cares about you, too, anybody can see it."

"Heíd be appalled to hear you say that, you know."

"Yeah, he doesnít want anybody to know what an old softie he is."

"Hey, watch that Ďoldí business! Thatís twice in one day!"

Charlie grinned. "OK, donít hate me Ďcause Iím Young and beautiful."

She groaned. "I coulda gone all month without that one, guy." Her expression turned somber. "Keep an eye on him, would you?"

Charlie nodded just as Leo came through the entryway. "Hey, you flirting with my girl?"

"Sheís a fine lookiní woman, Mr. McGarry- I mean, Esther." He ducked out as Leo growled in his direction.

 


Friday dawned as a clear, cold New England November morning. After a huge breakfast, everyone adjourned to the lawn to "toss around a football." This pastime quickly became a somewhat cutthroat game of tackle, with the women every bit as enthusiastic as the men were.

Sarah functioned as cheerleader, scorekeeper, and referee, with the able assistance of the Presidentís Agent in Charge, Ron Butterfield. In the middle of a series of plays driving from one side of the lawn to the other, Jessy Bartlet threw a spiral downfield that went long and hit an old maple tree, breaking off one of the upper branches with a loud CRACK! Leo, who had taken Charlie down as the younger man tried to sack the quarterback, leapt up and threw Sarah backwards to the ground, wheels and all.

Butterfield jumped to his feet and drew his weapon, whipping his head around checking for another source for the sound. Two other agents tackled the President, covering him on the ground, as Charlie grabbed Zoey and threw himself over her. A half dozen others sprinted down from the house, spreading out around the group who were all now face down on the lawn.

After a few moments of silence, everyone started slowly to get up and brush off; only Leo did not stir. Ron holstered his weapon and bent over them.

"Mr. McGarry?"

He didnít move.

Sarah coughed, and said "Ow!"

Leo still didnít respond. He stared into Sarahís face, unseeing, blinking, paying attention to something only he could perceive.

She looked up at Ron and said, "Go get Abbey, would you please?"

Charlie arrived and knelt beside them. "Leo? Come on, get up." He and Zoey each grabbed an elbow and helped McGarry stand. Two of the detail helped Sarah up and put her back in her chair.

"You OK?" Abbey asked as she came dashing up.

"Iím fine, I donít know whatís wrong with Leo-" She coughed, then cringed and grabbed her side. A speck of blood trailed from her lip.

His voice was hoarser than usual. "Nothing, Iím fine. I just got the breath knocked out of me."

Abbey turned her attention to Sarah, who was grimacing and still holding her left side.

"You having any trouble breathing?" the First Physician asked, running her hands over Sarahís collarbones and down her arms.

"No," she responded with a cough and another grimace. "But it hurts like hell when I cough."

Annie came skidding to a halt next to her grandmother. "Want me to get your bag?" she asked.

Abbey nodded. "Quickly, please."

"Dr. Bartlet, should I call an ambulance?" Ron asked.

Leo looked over at him. "That might not be smart. We donít want to hear on CNN about how emergency vehicles were called to the New Hampshire White House because-" He stopped in mid-sentence and sat down on the grass, suddenly stunned..

By this time Annie had returned with the black leather bag. The First Lady took her stethoscope out and slipped it under Sarahís sweater. "Sorry, sweetie, this is going to be cold."

Sarah nodded, and began to breathe deeply, cringing with every breath.

After listening at several places, Abbey took the stethoscope out and draped it around her neck. "Well, doesnít sound like youíve dropped a lung," she said, swabbing the blood from Sarahís mouth with a tissue. "Can you point to where it hurts?"

"Right here."

Abbey pushed on the area with the balls of her fingers.

"Ouch!" Sarah yelped.

"Youíve got either cracked or broken ribs, Iíd be willing to bet." She turned to Charlie. "You can probably get in and out of here with the least notice. Would you run Sarah down to the hospital for some x-rays? I donít think itís serious, but Iíd like to get some pictures to be sure. Iíll call ahead."

The young man nodded and began to push Sarahís chair toward the SUV parked next to the farmhouse.

The President looked back and forth from his wife to his best friend and back again. "OK, which one of you is going to tell me whatís going on here?"

 


It was three hours later when Charlie and Sarah came back with a huge manila envelope of x-ray film. Abbey and Leo were waiting in the family room, and the rest of the entourage was scattered across the farm.

"Whereís the President?" Charlie asked as he and Sarah came in.

"Heís lying down," Abbey answered. "Heís tired. Itís been quite a day already."

"You OK, Sarah?" the young man asked. When she nodded, he added, "Iím gonna go find Zoey," and left.

Leo jumped up and helped Sarah take off her overcoat, cringing himself as he saw her grimace with movement. Abbey picked up the films from the table where Charlie had left them.

"Nothing broken, just cracked, the radiologist said when he called," she said with her best physician manner. "Did they give you something for pain?"

"They tried to," Sarah responded, "but I wouldnít take it."

"Why the hell not?" Abbey asked.

"Because Iím an addict," the younger woman shot back. "I donít dare."

The First Ladyís demeanor softened. "OK, youíre the one who has to make that decision. But itís gonna hurt, kiddo. Let me give you some toradol, OK?"

She nodded.

"Whatís that, Toots?" Leo asked, concerned.

"Itís not a narcotic but itís almost as strong as one. Itíll last the rest of the day."

He nodded. "You look really tired. Did you sleep last night?"

"Donít you know?" Abbey asked. "Youíre in the same-" She let out a long, heavy sigh. "Leo, goddammit, youíre not sleeping, youíre not eating, youíre having flashbacks and look at you now, youíre shaking like a leaf. Do I have to get Jed to order you to see somebody?"

McGarryís eyes shone with anger. "You can try, Abbey. If you do, you wonít like the results, and neither will the President." He stormed out of the room toward the back of the house.

"Leo!" Sarah called after him, and started to follow. Abbey put a hand on her shoulder.

"Let him go," she said sadly. "He needs to sort some things out."

"Heís had so damn much to deal with."

"Honey," the First Lady said, "you donít know the half of it. Gunfire has taken so many people he loved. You know about his dad?"

Sarah nodded. "He shot himself in the head."

"His brother Jack?"

"No. I didnít know he had a brother."

"You know that folded flag he has in his office?"

She nodded again.

"Itís in memory of his brother Jack who died on river patrol on the Mekong. He was three years younger than Leo, worshipped him, enlisted in the Navy just like big brother. Got assigned to patrol boats. Died in November of 1967. Leo was on a carrier in the South China Sea, they couldnít spare him, so he didnít get to come home for the funeral. Never really got to say goodbye."

"Good Lord, Abbey, what hasnít that man been through? His dad, his brother, his son- and then nearly losing Josh. He loves that guy so much, although heíd choke if he thought anybody knew it."

"Heíd choke if he thought anybody understood how loving he really is. The people he loves the most leave him, or so he thinks, unless I miss my guess. His dad, Jack, his mother, Sean, Jenny... so much loss." She crossed over to Sarah and hugged her gently. "You just keep hanging on to him, girl. He loves you, whether he ever gets around to saying it or not."

 


The rest of Friday and Saturday were relatively calm, while people worked hard at having a good time and not letting on how worried everyone was about what was happening to Leo. Sarah woke up early Sunday morning to find him sitting in the family room reading briefing memos.

"Hey Toots," he said when he looked up and saw her. When she rolled up next to him he gave her a gentle kiss and said, "Youíre beautiful when youíre foggy."

Eyes at half-mast, she laughed. "And you couldnít sleep in past six if you worked at it! How do you do it?"

He shrugged. "Iíve always been a morning person."

"Ah, youíre the one." She transferred over to the sofa to sit next to him and curled up on his shoulder.

He put the pile of papers down and sat his reading glasses on top of them, putting his feet up on the coffee table and pulling Sarah close. "Howís your side?"

"Better. Only every other breath hurts now."

He sighed and hugged her gently. "Iím so sorry. So sorry. I heard the branch crack and..."

"I know. Whatís happening to you is not your fault, I wish I could make you see that. Itís not a character flaw. Itís a normal part of recovering from the kind of shit youíve been through in your life. Iíve been through it myself."

"You have?"

She nodded.

"What happened?"

She sighed. "You sure you wanna know?"

"Yeah."

"I was date-raped when I was 24."

He shook his head. "Did you get the guy?"

"You kidding? That was before anybody knew about or understood date rape, it took me six years to call it that."

"Whatíd you do?"

She shrugged. "Everything but what I needed to do. Bought a gun. Got religion. Damn near flunked out of school. Finally my psych nursing prof sat me down and said kid, you need help, get it or youíre outa here. So Iíve been where you are, drowning in confusion and anger and unable to make it stop. The only way out is through."

"I canít, Sarah. I canít go there. If I come close to touching those feelings-"

"Leo, look at me."

He turned to face her.

"If you donít go there youíll die. You and I both know that. Youíll crawl back in that bottle and youíll die. Youíll have killed yourself at last."

His face twisted in anger.

"I told you not to take my fucking inventory. I am not crazy, I am not suicidal, I just need to work through this by myself."

She sat up. "Youíre not crazy, but you are suicidal. Everything youíre doing screams ĎI deserve to die!í Youíre not eating, youíre not sleeping, and youíre not admitting either of those things. Youíre pushing away everyone who cares about you. When was the last time you talked to your daughter? Does she even know what youíre going through?"

"Leave Mallory out of this."

"No, I wonít. She loves you and if she knew what was happening sheíd be worried sick. Do I have to call her? Do we have to gang up on you?"

"No!" he shouted. "Leave me alone, goddammit."

"I wonít leave you alone, Leo! I wonít! You donít want me to! Thatís the one thing youíre the most afraid of, that everybody who cares about you will finally say fuck this, who needs it, and leave you alone." He had finally pushed Sarah far enough to make her explode too. "And then you can get that 9mm Iím not supposed to know about out of the safe, go out to the garage, and blow your brains out just like your father did." She spat her fury at him. "Another one of the McGarry men sacrificed on the altar of rampant ego!"

He got up and walked away from her, fists clenched. "Donít do this, Sarah. Donít push me. Iíll-" He turned back, his face a contorted mask of poorly-controlled rage.

"Youíll what?" she shouted. "What can you possibly do thatís worse than what youíre doing right now??"

There was a noise on the stairs just as Leo took a step forward and drew his arm up to smack her with the back of his hand.

Her eyes widened with horror as she saw the blow coming. In her mindís ear she heard her motherís voice: "The first time you hit me is the last goddamn time you ever see me!" She sat up straight and looked right at him, jaw clenched. "Go ahead. You know I canít move fast enough to get away. But youíll never see me again."

"LEO!" the scream came from the doorway. It was Zoey, who ran over to put herself between the two, grabbing his hand as it was frozen in mid-swing. "Stop it! Stop this!"

 


It had been a cold Boston night when his father came home, roaring drunk. His mother was pregnant, uncomfortable, grouchy, tired and worried about her wandering husband.

"Where the hell have you been, Thomas McGarry? Itís two oíclock in the morning!"

"Getting away from you, my dearest love. And your houseful of screaming brats."

Leo had been up in his room. The shouting woke him up. Again.

"Theyíre your screaming brats too, though nobody would know it from how you act! Did you drink up your paycheck again?"

The fourteen-year-old rolled over in his bed and covered his head with the pillow. Just as he was falling back to sleep he heard his parentsí bedroom door slam, followed by a sharp explosion. He jumped out of bed.

"Mom?" he ran to the bedroom and opened the door to see her crawling in between the covers, one hand to the side of her face. He left her and scrambled down the stairs. "Dad?" He looked in the living room, the dining room, the kitchen. "Dad??" The door to the garage was open a crack. He smelled something vaguely sweet, like firecracker smoke on the Fourth of July.

He ran down the three stairs between the kitchen and the garage and looked around. His father was sitting in the car, slumped over the steering wheel. When the youngster reached him, he saw that Thomas McGarry had put a .45 automatic in his mouth and blown the back of his head off. Blood and brains and bone stained the interior of the car.

He screamed and ran back in the house and grabbed the phone. His mother had come back downstairs and wearily walked into the garage, looked around, and came to take the receiver out of Leoís hand. "Itís too late, boy."

The whole right side of her face was swelling and turning black and blue.

 


Zoey put her arms around Leo and pushed him away from Sarah. "Stop, Leo. Just stop. You donít want to do this."

He shook his head and blinked as if he were just waking up, and lowered his arm slowly. Looking around and taking in what had just happened, he collapsed onto the coffee table and leaned over with his head in his hands. "Dear God," he pleaded softly, "help me."

He looked up at Sarah, who was reaching out toward him with tears streaming down her face. "Zoey," she said, looking up at the young woman, "go get your Mom. Please? Tell her to bring her bag."

The youngster raced from the room.

Leo sat there in a morass of confusion, shame, and sadness. He looked up to see Sarah still reaching for him, beckoning with both hands.

"Come here, Sweetheart. Please. Let me-"

He threw himself into her arms and fought the tears.

"Itís gonna be OK," she whispered, stroking his hair. "Itíll all be OK now."

 


She was sitting in the outer office crocheting a bright green muffler when the doctor came out. "Heís gone out the back way," the dark-haired counselor said. "He said heíd meet you at the car."

"Is he gonna be OK?" She rolled up her crocheting and put it in her bag.

The psychiatrist nodded. "Heíll be fine. Now."


The End

 

http://www.leomcgarry.net   

All Leo, All The Time! 

No one will ever convince me again that pain is love.

 

 

 

Home        What's New        Author Listings        Title Listings