The Hardest Word
RATING: R for language
SYNOPSIS: Sequel to both "The Stranger" and "Rumors." A death and its aftermath leads to changes in relationships within the Bartlet administration.
ARCHIVE: Sure, just let me know. HTML available.
DISCLAIMER: Most of the folks in this story are the creation of Aaron Sorkin and the property of John Wells Productions, Warner Brothers, and NBC. No copyright infringement is intended, and no profit is being made.
FROM PART THREE:
The Observatory residence was like Grand Central Station. Sandy, Hoynes' personal aide, had organized a buffet for the many visitors who stopped by without regard for whether the Vice President was ready to receive anyone; Frank, the Press Secretary, was keeping the press corps apprised, and at the same time receiving information from them about the salvage operation and the search for bodies in the Bay. Before leaving the house, Sarah called her friend's cell number.
"Yeah," he answered.
"Hey," she said.
"Did you get any sleep?"
"I'm fine. I bet it's a madhouse over there."
"If I were you, I'd throw 'em all out," Sarah grinned.
"Don't tempt me."
"I just wanted to check up," she said. "You don't need another body cluttering up your living room right now."
"I'll call you when all these tacky people go home." The humor was forced, but it was there.
"Hungry, angry, lonely, or tired."
"I know. I'll call."
She hung up and went back to sleep.
That afternoon Sarah began to wonder if she were psychic. She was sorting laundry when the phone rang.
"Sarah? It's Abbey."
"Hello! I was just thinking about you."
"Uh huh. What's up?"
The First Lady sounded nervous. "I think maybe we need to talk."
Sarah wondered if the other woman somehow knew what she had seen. "Well I'm happy to oblige, you know how I love to jabber."
"You free for dinner?"
"Don't tell me you are!" she laughed.
"Believe it or not."
"Want me to come to the residence?"
"No... can I come over there?"
Now Sarah knew something was up. "Sure. How many of you will there be?"
It was Abbey's turn to laugh. "I'll just bring Sheryl and Mike. Can you manage, or shall I bring dinner with me?"
"Please! I think I can handle dinner for four!"
"Four? When's Leo coming home?"
"Who knows? I expect him when I see him, unless we've made plans beforehand. What time will you be here?"
When seven came around, Abbey and her escorts arrived on the dot. Sheryl stayed by the condo door and Mike waited down in the lobby, each fortified by a plate of the pasta Sarah made for them.
They were both hungry, and it was well into the meal before she asked, "You said you thought we needed to talk. What's up?"
"Well... " she hesitated, "... I wanted to say how glad I was to see you keeping watch with the Vice President the other evening."
Sarah put down her fork and looked the First Lady in the eye. "I was under the impression that you were surprised to see me."
Abbey took a deep breath. "OK, Sarah, I'll cut the crap. Were you there when I arrived?"
"And you heard--"
"Yeah. Please, my friend, _please_ tell me I misunderstood."
She sighed again. "No, you didn't." She looked directly at the younger woman. "We've been... involved for awhile now."
"God, I was hoping you wouldn't say that. But I did see you just after you came in, and it was pretty obvious... " She shook her head.
"Go ahead," the First Lady said. "Tell me what an ass I am."
"I'm not gonna take your inventory, Abbey. Your life is yours."
"What --_are_ you gonna do?"
"Well, I'm not going to volunteer the information, but I'm not going to lie. If Leo asks me I'll tell him."
"Why would he ask you?"
"I have no idea, but I won't risk my recovery or my relationship, not for anybody. Not even my best friend." Her eyes filled with tears. "I really love you, Abbey, and I wish to hell I didn't know about this."
"I know. I'm really sorry." She came around the table to hug her friend.
"What are _you_ gonna do?" Sarah asked.
"I guess it's time to tell Jed," she sighed. "But how the hell do I do that?"
"I don't know. No matter how you handle it, it's gonna hurt."
The First Lady nodded.
"Can I ask you something?" Sarah went on.
She nodded again.
"I love you like a sister, but what the hell were you thinking? Your husband is... he's platinum in a world full of fool's gold."
"I know. It was... it started right before the convention. John had just gotten trounced and I was being pushed away while the old boy's club met . . . both of us felt so useless. We each understood how the other felt when nobody else could."
"But that was two and a half years ago!"
"I know. And I don't know what kept John coming back- I know he and Marjorie were having trouble lately, but they weren't back when it started. But for me... promise me you won't laugh, and don't breathe a word... it was the most incredible sex I'd ever had." She blushed a little. "I grew up a good Catholic girl, Sarah. I was a virgin on my wedding night. He was the forbidden fruit." She shook her head. "I was mesmerized."
"I think I can understand that. I grew up Catholic too. My father was Irish."
"Nope. It just didn't take." She grinned for a second. "Abbey, if there's anything I can do to make it easier... I love you both so much. Just let me know, ok?"
* * * * *
Josh Lyman was at a loss for what to do. He had worked for then-Senator Hoynes for a year before joining the Bartlet campaign, and was still the one that the President turned to frequently when he had to convince the Vice President of something. But he hadn't been able to bring himself to reach out in his former mentor's grief.
A dozen times that day he had picked up the phone to call, and a dozen times thought better of it. Finally, early that evening, he managed to punch in the number.
"Residence," a woman's voice said.
"Hi, this is Josh Lyman. To whom am I speaking?"
"Hello, Mr. Lyman. This is Sandy. The Vice President's just sitting down to dinner. Shall I get him?"
"No, just tell him I called."
Hoynes' voice came through the receiver. "Josh?"
"What can I do for you?"
"I just wanted to extend my condolences, sir. Is there anything you need, anything I can do?"
"I appreciate it, I really do. Maybe if you have time after--" A hand covered the receiver, and a forced cough sounded in the distance.
"I won't impose on you, sir. But please--" He sighed. "Mr. Vice President, I hope you know that--" He stopped again. "This isn't coming out right, sir."
A smile crept into the older man's voice. "It's OK, I know. And thank you."
"Good bye, Mr. Vice President."
"Good bye, Josh."
In the several years he had known him, Lyman had never heard his former boss sound so sad, or so tired, or so defeated. He got up, grabbed his coat, and headed for the lobby.
* * * * *
When Josh arrived at the Observatory gates, there was a large crowd holding a candlelight vigil in sympathy for the Vice President's loss. Several hundred people stood in small groups, talking, singing, praying, hugging. It reminded Josh of the pictures he had seen of the crowd outside the hospital while Bartlet (and he) were in surgery. Seeing the love and support brought a tear to his eye.
The gatekeeper phoned the residence to make sure Josh was expected; even though he wasn't, Sandy asked them to let him in. He pulled up to the driveway around the residence and parked down the hill. Someone must have been watching for him, because the Vice President met him at the door.
"Josh, you didn't have to--"
He decided not to risk trying to hug his old mentor, and took his proffered hand instead. "I wanted to. We've been down a lot of roads together." They went through the foyer into the sitting room, and he continued. "Have you been outside?"
"Not since... " Hoynes gazed off into the distance. "Not since day before yesterday."
The younger man took him by the elbow and headed for the door, handing him an overcoat on the way. "Then come with me."
The two walked toward the gate in silence. They had to round a curve in the access road before either of them could see the assembled throng. One of the Secret Service detail sprinted to catch up with them, and asked, "Are you going to work the crowd, sir?"
Josh smiled and nodded, pushing him toward the assembly. One agent on either side, he walked up the barricade, slowly and with great dignity, blinking back tears. People reached for him gently, handed him flowers, wished him well, cried with him. It was nearly an hour before he returned to the residence.