(for standard blah blah blah's, see pt 1)

The good feeling doesn't last long. Luckily I didn't expect it to.
After Josh and I did our best big-brother impressions, the three of
us made a mutual, silent agreement to pretend everything was okay for
a little while. We drank some beer and popped some popcorn. We
channel-surfed through `Happy Days' re-runs, game shows, talk shows,
chat shows, and a movie-of-the-week called `Too Young To Reason'.

It was inevitable, I think, that we would hit on a political show.
Sabrina has the remote and she's only half-concentrating on the
television as she flips through the channels. She's swigging down a
beer and teasing Josh, and as she does, my good feeling is fading
away. The past hour-and-a-half has been great, easing a lot of
tension from my body, allowing my brain to focus on something other
than complete misery. I love them both for giving me this freedom,
even if it is only temporary.

Sabrina throws her head back, chuckling at something Josh has said,
and her finger jabs at the channel button once more. The picture
changes immediately from `Little House on the Prairie' to `Washington
Week In Review'. Three reporters I vaguely recognize, and one I've
played poker with, are seated across from one another, with Leslie
Roth sitting as moderator somewhere at the head of the round table.

I hear the words "Deputy Communications Director", and I know that
the party is over.

Slowly Josh's voice fades away, followed by Sabrina's, and we all
turn to the television set. The camera pauses on each journalist,
flashing a brief blurb at the bottom of the screen indicating who
they are - Geoffrey Kennilworth, Senior Correspondent, National
Public Radio. Emily Chao, Correspondent, New York Times. Max
Filarski, Political Correspondent, National Journal. Julianna Dye,
Senior Correspondent, ABC News.

Leslie Roth has begun the discussion. She's a small woman with black
curls and bright eyes; she's intelligent and quick-witted, and Josh
has always had quite a thing for her.

"That Leslie Roth is *hot*," he says now, temporarily sidetracked at
the sight of Leslie in her tailored blue suit. "Did I tell you I saw
her on the Hill one morning? She looks even better in person. Did you
know she-- ?"

He is cut off by a venomous look from my sister. "Sorry," he mutters
sheepishly. "I'll focus."

"...And the question is," Leslie is saying in a neutral voice, "what
course of action should the White House be taking at this point? One
of its highest-profile staffers has been accused of a morally-
reprehensible crime, yet he continues to report to work. Your
thoughts, Max?"

Max Filarski, a smooth, suave journalist I've known since our days at
Duke, is quiet for a moment as he considers the question. I wonder if
he's thinking about our late-night cram sessions for Professor Bhaer,
or the redheaded goddess from our PoliSci class. I wonder if he's
remembering all the money I've won off him from poker games or all
the basketball games where we sat in the stands and rooted for the
Blue Devils till we were hoarse.

It's impossible to know, of course, and he certainly can't admit to a
panel of his peers that we're buddies and he's feeling a bit biased.
But I think he is, because when he speaks, he's gentle and fair, and
throughout the program, he's the only one who doesn't hint that the
President should call for my resignation.

<><><>

When the hour is up, Sabrina turns off the television, and the three
of us sit in silence once more. I don't know about them, but my mind
is racing with what we've just seen. I can still hear Emily Chao, in
her calm, unhurried voice, declaring that the American people
are "thoroughly disgusted that the White House seems to be taking no
firm action against Sam Seaborn".

Julianna Dye argued that there was no reason to, as the accusations
were as yet unfounded, and any termination or reassignment might send
a message to the American people that the Bartlet Administration
considers me guilty. Geoffrey Kennilworth countered that the view of
the American people was zero tolerance. Emily Chao added that keeping
me on as Senior Staff has already diminished the popularity of the
Bartlet Administration, according to recent polls run by Republican
opposition.

All in all, it was a pretty lively discussion, even without anyone
actually coming right out and saying what they personally felt.
Journalists – particularly political journalists – take the code of
impartiality very seriously. But there are certain clues you can pick
up on. Much as in a poker game, there are signs the players give
away. Emily Chao repeatedly maintained that the American public was
dissatisfied with the Bartlet Administration's handling of the issue,
but there was compassion in her voice. Geoffrey Kennilworth visibly
stiffened whenever there was mention of me pulling through this
scandal. Everyone gave away clues as to what they truly felt, and I
know Josh and Sabrina picked up on them as well as I did.

It was illuminating in more ways than one. I don't think I've really
given much thought to what the public thinks, but according to this
evening's panel, the general consensus is that the American people
feel strong action should be taken against me until we learn the
outcome of the situation. Polls are being run, people are being
stopped in the streets to ask their opinion of this latest scandal,
my face is smeared on every tabloid and television show from here to
Timbuktu. If I thought before that this was something that could be
contained within the DC-area, I have found now that I was sorely
mistaken. Why was I so damn na´ve?

"Sam," Josh says after the pause has stretched on for a while, "I
really think we need to talk about that LOA."

Sabrina leans forward, eyes intent on the both of us. "You need to
listen to him, Sam," she says. She bites her lip and looks as if
she's about to cry.

Josh continues, rubbing his hands together as he talks. "That was a
sign, and I think we need to take it as such."

I glance at him wearily.

"Let's forget about politics for a minute," he says, "and just
concentrate on you and your state of mind right now. Sam, this has
been a devastating blow-–to your spirit, to your psyche, to your
health...*everything*. You're a shell. You're wasting away right in
front of us. And we can't help you the way we want to unless you're
willing to do what it takes to help us, too."

"I'll do better," I say weakly, like a little boy who's just been
chastised for not trying hard enough in school. "I mean-–I will,
Josh. I'll do better."

Sabrina is still gnawing her lip. Josh sighs.

"It's not that, Sam. You're not operating at your full capacity right
now. You're not here in your head, you're not here in your heart...
You're somewhere else. And you're not doing yourself any good coming
to work every day."

"If it's the yelling-- " I say, but he cuts me off.

"The yelling would be one thing, but it's everything, Sam."

I clear my throat, trying to decide how best to word what I want to
say. "When you-–When you were having your – your, well, your
*episodes*, and you yelled at the President...I mean..." I'm doing this
badly. I can't think of the right words. "I mean..."

"I know," Josh says, stepping in for me. "But this isn't the same
thing, Sam. And you know it," he finishes softly.

"But I...I *need* that place right now. It's the only thing that's-–It
just keeps me one step further from the edge, Josh."

Sabrina finally speaks up. "Sammy...*Please* consider it. I'll do
anything to help. I'll talk to my professors, I'll cut down my hours
at the DA's office, whatever you need. I'll help you through this."

"And the other thing is that Sabrina and I feel you should strongly-–
and I mean, *strongly*-– consider taking up a lawsuit against Lisa."

"Josh, no."

"Defamation of character, Sam!" he exclaims.

"No."

"Slander!"

"No lawsuit."

"Libel, Sam. Vilification!"

"I'm not going there. This is ugly enough as it is."

"She is casting aspersions upon your character. She is using the
media to destroy you! Don't you want to have your say?"

That's when I explode. I've felt it coming for a while now, building
up more and more rapidly with every minute that has passed. It's
surging through my veins, up toward my throat, where I feel it
climbing into my mouth and igniting in utter fury. My face feels hot
and my skin is tight across my face. And I yell.

"Do you think I don't know what she's doing? Is *that* it? `Poor,
sweet, innocent Sam, with all his idealism. We have to tell him what
to do; it's all for the best'. Is that it, Josh?"

"Sam - "

"Do you think I sit there and think it will all get better on its
own? Do you think I delude myself into believing it will all go
*away*? Well, I'll tell you something, Josh-- " I'm really reaching
maximum-decibel now, "-- it's not idealism I'm nurturing right now;
it's *realism*. It's *fatalism*. I know exactly what is going to
happen to me, and I know there is not a goddamn thing I can *do*
about it! Do you know how *crazy* that makes me?"

I stand up then, yanking my fingers through my hair. I just want to –
to throw something, to hit something, to grab a sledgehammer and tear
through this house, smashing everything – every reminder of her,
every remnant - to bits and pieces. I can see the fear in my
sister's eyes, I can see the trepidation on Josh's face, but for once
all I care about, all I can focus on, is me. *Me*.

Screw the Administration. Screw public opinion. To *hell* with
everyone. How about me for a change?

My sister and my friend sit before me, stunned into silence. And as
angry as I was a moment before, I'm just as deflated now. I can feel
the anger fading, settling down into the pit of my stomach where I
can hide it again. I collapse down into an armchair and rest my
forehead against my hand.

"Sam..." breathes Josh.

I raise my other hand to ward off further words. "It's fine. I'm
fine."

"No, you're not," says Sabrina, and there are tears in her voice.

"Sam, I know you don't want to, but will you please-–please just
consider what we've said tonight?" asks Josh.

"Fine." I nod. "Fine. I'll consider it."

But it'll be a cold day in hell before I do any more than that.

<><><>

I am now one of those guys you see on `Hard Copy', exiting my house
with a hand held out to block a camera lens, dodging through a crowd
of reporters to jump in my car and speed away. I walk from the
parking lot to my office with my briefcase shielding my face. I have
become a caricature of the hounded politician.

I'm no longer imagining the stares directed at me. People I've worked
with for years are looking at me as if they've never seen me before,
as if they're waiting for me to suddenly go ballistic and, I don't
know, hit someone or something. And the whispers--My God, they're
driving me crazy. They stop the minute I set foot outside my office,
but they start up again once I'm safely out of view.

There is no longer any such thing as office gossip. There is only me –
Sam Seaborn. I'm it.

It doesn't help that everyone heard me go off on Cathy yesterday. The
West Wing assistants have an unspoken code of solidarity, be they man
or woman, and when you attack one of their own, the troops rally
round. After my rather spectacular verbal explosion at Cathy
yesterday, they're all giving me the evil eye. Even Donna. The worst
part is, I'm not even sure if I care.

Cathy practically tiptoes into my office, setting the stack of files
down on my desk without meeting my eyes. I want to apologize, but I
can't. Have you ever been so ashamed you just can't bring yourself to
apologize? I'm choking just trying to come up with the right words.

"Cathy?"

She gives me a wounded look. "Yes?"

"Can you-–Can you get me my notes for the Global Defense Council?"

After a moment, Cathy nods, the expression on her face one of bitter
disappointment. "Yeah, sure," she says.

I don't know why I'm feeling like this. I don't know why I would
rather work on a speech than make amends with my extremely loyal and
hard-working assistant. It's just that the thought of close contact
right now – human contact...I can't handle it. I just want to be left
alone.

<><><>

Later I run into Toby in the hall. He just got in from Kansas City
and he's still in his overcoat, his luggage slung over his shoulder.
I tell him about the speech the President is making for the GDC's
Clean Air Rehabilitation Effort and immediately he acts pissed off. I
tell him the President was enthusiastic about stepping in, and that
Carl Taub of the EPA and Jane Siskin were present, and both agreed it
was a good opportunity to launch the new platform, but he just
ignores me. I'm so sick of Toby ignoring me.

I'm going to write the speech no matter how much he grumbles about
the President looking like an understudy. Doesn't he realize how much
I need this right now? God, he – of all people – should understand. I
need something to focus on, something bigger than my own problems.

For the rest of the day, I work. I don't let myself think
about `Washington Week in Review', or the reporters camped outside my
house, or Josh and Sabrina's tag team efforts to get me to take the
LOA.

I hold a morning meeting to work on the speech, I tell Cathy to hold
all my calls, and I write for hours. Some sentences are terrible, and
I cross them out with a vicious slash of ink; a few words are right,
but not quite right, and as Mark Twain said, the difference between
the right word and the almost-right word is the difference between
lightning and a lightning bug. Some paragraphs are so gorgeous and
vivid I gloat over them, reading them several times with the utmost
satisfaction.

I consult my thesaurus, I rifle through page after page of research,
I search online and I make phone calls. I work till the words blur on
the paper, till my fingers are numb on the keyboard, till my back
aches and my legs are cramped and the sun is sinking lower on the
horizon.

It's five o'clock, an hour and a half before the President is set to
make the speech, and it's perfect. I kiss the top page with gusto and
wish someone were around to give me a pat on the back.

I jump up from my desk and sail out of my office, smiling at everyone
I pass. A few of them actually smile back. God, I feel good. Lisa is
the furthest thing from my mind. Well, one of the furthest. I allow
myself to concentrate on this good feeling.

I don't know what Josh and Sabrina were talking about, because I am
on top of the world.

<><><>

I'll kill him. I swear to God, I will kill Toby Ziegler with my bare
hands.

How *dare* he?

Oh my god, I just – I can't even...Words fail me. The sheer *audacity*
of the man. I mean, the *arrogance*.

He arranged for a drop-in. A drop-in – in *my* speech. He told Leo,
he told the President, he even told CJ, but he didn't tell me. Maybe
I'm overemphasizing my importance in the situation, but I'm a little
sensitive, since it was *my* goddamn speech. And my speech was word
perfect. It was just as it should have been. It had the facts and it
had the heart. It was a great speech, and Toby used it – used *my*
speech – to attack our allies. I think I said something like that to
him when he first cornered me tonight in the bar.

What did I say? "The cynicism of attacking your friends for political
protection offends them, and it offends me." Concise and to the
point. I'm just as good with words as he is, the smug, condescending
bastard.

He left me out. He went over my head like I didn't matter, like I
wasn't an equal. And I *am* an equal. I *deserve* his respect,
dammit - and the respectful thing to do would have been to approach
me and be his usual superior, patronizing self. We could have fought
this out legitimately, like we do everything else. The two of us, toe
to toe, my red-faced ire against his cool passivity. I might have
been mad at him when he won, but I wouldn't feel this hatred raging
through me.

I'm clutching the beer bottle in my hands, staring at him as he sits
across from me in the armchair, sipping his own beer. He's looking
off into the distance, purposefully avoiding my gaze. It's his way.
He knows I'm right, but that isn't enough reason for Toby Ziegler to
back down.

He's been walking on eggshells around me ever since this whole ordeal
with Lisa started. I thought it was because he felt bad for me and
didn't know how to express it without having to be, you know, human
about it; but now I know it's because he's been studying me, making
note of my weaknesses. Toby didn't like me at first, but I thought
the son of a bitch had learned to trust me against his own better
judgment; maybe even have a little bit of faith in me. You see where
idealism gets you? Stabbed in the back with a rusty knife, that's
where it gets you.

We haven't spoken to each other in over fifteen minutes. I've been
watching the clock, so I know for sure.

I'm so mad I'm not even paying attention to the people pointing and
whispering when they recognize me. I'm glaring at Toby with all the
energy I can muster, and yet I still feel drained.

Why won't he just go away?

Toby's eyes shift to the television, which is showing-–surprise,
surprise-–CSPAN. I snort in his general direction and look away.

"Sam," he says quietly.

"Save it, Toby."

"No. Sam, look."

I turn in my chair and stare up at the television closest to me. My
face is filling the screen. It's a shot of CJ and me leaving GW
shortly after Rosslyn. I look haggard and weary, my arm around CJ's
waist as if to support myself. I remember that day vividly because CJ
was wearing a skirt as blue as the sky, and I was so tired I could
have collapsed right there on the sidewalk. The program cuts to
another shot of me, this time standing with Toby as the President
gives a speech in the foreground. This is followed by video footage
of a tearful Lisa on `The Rebecca Show', with Rebecca Clearwater at
her side, handing her tissues and patting her back. I can't hear a
thing over the noise in the bar, but the caption reads `Sullied
Celebrity Wives'.

I nearly drop my beer.

Toby is already on his cell phone. "Ginger, it's me. I need a copy of
yesterday's episode of `The Rebecca Show', and I need it now. I know
Leo got it, but *I* need it. Yeah, I'll be there in twenty minutes.
Thanks." He flips his phone shut and grabs his beer, draining the
remnants in one swig. He looks at me. "Come on."

"No," I say dully, signaling to the waitress for another round.

"Don't do this to yourself, Sam."

"I'm having another drink, Toby."

"You're better than this."

"It's just a beer."

He rises and crosses to stand in front of me. "Come on." He has that
weary, kindergarten-teacher-to-stubborn-child sound in his voice.

"I'm not going anywhere, Toby. You may be able to overmine me and go
under my head when we're at work, but last time I checked, I was
still in control of *me*." I pound my chest for emphasis. Wow, I
think this beer is finally kicking in.

"Overmine you?" Toby asks with thinly veiled amusement.

"Yeah, and go under my head," I grumble.

The waitress is heading toward me with my beer on a tray. She catches
one look from Toby and stops, confused. When I glance up, he's
shaking his head at her and making a slashing motion across his
throat. I feel the anger rise in my throat as the waitress shrugs and
walks away. God, this is familiar: I want something, but Toby's
decided I shouldn't have it. Why does everyone always listen to Toby
and not me?

"That was my beer."

"Now it's somebody else's beer. Let's go, Sam."

"Dammit, Toby! You and your God complex! You think you can just stick
a drop-in into my speech and send my beer away and tell me `Let's go,
Sam', and I'm just going to trot along at your heels like a *dog*?"

"I've never expected anything of the kind."

"I'm really pissed at you, you know."

"I gathered that. I'm pretty astute that way," he responds dryly.

"Yeah, well, it's not like you're killing yourself to get back into
my good graces."

"Is killing myself what it takes?"

"At this point, yeah, I think so."

"Let's go, Sam."

I hunch over in the chair. "That was Lisa up there," I say morosely.

"I thought I recognized her."

"She's ruining me, Toby. Did you know that?"

"Yeah," he says softly, "I knew that."

"I can't leave my house without..." My voice trails off and I
sigh. "Never mind. You don't give a damn."

"On the contrary, I do give a damn, and I'm one of many. Now let's
go, Sam."

"They were talking about me last night on `Washington Week in
Review'."

"I saw."

"The American people think I should be fired."

"The American people also think Jim Carrey is a talented thespian
worth twenty million dollars a movie. You can't always trust the
American people, Sam."

"You do the Democartic – the Demographic – You do the party proud,
Toby."

"And you generally do the English language much prouder than you're
doing at this moment. Jesus, Sam, come *on*."

"I don't know what to do." I shake my head helplessly.

"I know what you should do," Toby says gently. He crouches down
before me and there is a moment of silence. "You should get your ass
out of that chair and come back to the office with me, that's what
you should do."

And with that pearl of infinite wisdom, Toby leads me out of the bar
and back to the West Wing.

<><><>

tbc...

 

 

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