SPOILERS: None, apart from a few ambiguous hints at Bartlet's 3rd
State of the Union.

DISCLAIMER: We are borrowing all West Wing characters for
entertainment purposes only. Only Pauline and Sabrina Seaborn are our
own creation.

RATING: R for mature themes (specifically abuse) and language.
Despite the fact that the character in question is making false
accusations, this story is in no way meant to trivialize the true
experiences of women who have dealt with domestic violence. This is
meant only as a work of fiction and we intend to treat the subject
with all due respect.

SUMMARY: A disastrous dinner party, a lunch meeting with Josh, and a
winter's walk in DC.

ARCHIVE: We would love to hand it over. Just ask!

FEEDBACK: Welcome and appreciated. Please send to:
lizisita@h... and leicestersq@h...

THANKS: To Lizza, for her awe-inspiring legal mind. I shudder to
think what this story would be without it.

Stories preceding this:
1: The Strong, Silent Type
2: Tonight in America
3: When the Vow Breaks
4: It's a Long, Long Way to Fall
5: A Fool For a Client
6: Seaborn vs. Seaborn

<><><>

MITIGATING CIRCUMSTANCES
by, Liz & Sid

Chapter 7: In the Bleak Midwinter

<><><>

My mother's only been here two days, but as my sister so eloquently
pointed out, it took a mere half-hour in her presence for me to
entertain thoughts of doing myself bodily harm. I took the less
drastic approach and locked myself in the bathroom, but there's still
a great deal of drama there, you have to admit.

It's just that she's so--so--so very Pauline Seaborn. I'm sorry, I
can't be more specific than that. Not right now. Because--

"Sammy, honey? Did you see the suit I laid out for you?" My mother's
voice rushes into my bedroom from the hallway, followed closely by
the woman herself. Every inch of her is perfect, right down to her
pedicured toenails. She and Lisa had that much in common, if nothing
else-neither of them settled for looking anything but their best.

I glance over at the dark blue suit laying across my bed. A crisp
white shirt sits beside it, as well as a coordinating blue tie,
shoes, and socks. Apparently I'm still ten years old and need Mommy
to pick out my clothes for me. "Yes, Mom, I see it."

"Well, aren't you going to put it on?"

"It's just a casual dinner at CJ's with Josh and Bri and Toby, Mom.
It's not a four-course meal at the Ritz."

"It never hurts to look your best, Samuel," she says disapprovingly.

"What's wrong with the way I look?" But I know the answer to that
already, and the mirror across from me serves only to confirm that I
well and truly look like hell. I have dark circles under my eyes, and
my skin, which has taken on a gray pallor, is drawn tightly across my
face; I have a quarter-inch of stubble on my chin, and--Jesus, when
was the last time I showered?

"Sammy, honey, if you don't shower and shave within the next fifteen
minutes we're going to be late."

"It's just CJ's house, Mom. She's very casual."

"I've seen the way that woman dresses, honey. She's anything but
casual."

"She has to dress like that for work," I say petulantly. "And her
name isn't `that woman'; it's CJ."

"Her name is Claudia, sweetheart. And I could tell the moment I met
her she was anything but casual."

I must have been insane to think I could argue with my mother and
win. On any subject. Since when do I know more about my friends than
she does?

We stand and stare at each other for a minute. Mom tilts her head to
one side and looks at me--the `Waiting It Out' look, as Sabrina and I
long ago dubbed it--as I do nothing in response. I feel defiant. This
is *my* house, after all. I'm thirty-three years old, goddammit. I
think I can decide what to wear to my friend's for dinner.

Mom just waits, giving me that glacial blue stare, a half-smile on
her lips. My resolve--which has slowly been weakening these past few
weeks--crumbles to nothingness. I sigh and break away, snatching up
the outfit from my bed and heading to the bathroom.

You don't win with Pauline Seaborn. You shouldn't even try.

<><><>

Let me tell you a little bit about my days since leaving the West
Wing.

For the first couple of days, before my mother arrived, I would
generally wake with a jolt around 5:30 and look to my alarm
expectantly, only to see it glaring benignly in the darkness, silent
as the grave. I would try to go back to sleep, but my circadian
rhythm would not tolerate this strange lapse in routine. My brain
just refused to be tired. My body refused to take advantage of this
rare opportunity for much-needed sleep.

So I would get up and begin to meander around my house. First around
the bedroom, and then over to the territory Sabrina once called
the 'Land of a Thousand Lipsticks'. Then on to the guestroom and the
guest bath. I even included the laundry room in this bizarre tour.
After that, I would move downstairs to the kitchen, the living room,
and lastly, the dining room. I always ended in the dining room, for
some reason.

I have no idea what I was doing. Just wandering, I guess. Picking
things up and putting them back down. Touching the walls, touching
the furniture, touching photos and paintings. Looking and thinking
and remembering.

We made love on that couch.

We bought that lamp in London on our first anniversary.

That's the chair she spilled the cranberry sauce on last Thanksgiving.

I bought her that book when she was home sick with the flu.

The sheer amount of memories accumulated over the years, and centered
on one person, just astounded me. Sometimes I couldn't bear the
pressure of those memories. They felt like weights on my chest,
pushing me down. It was just too much.

After that I would spent most of the day watching television, which
is when I discovered that "Fifty-Seven Channels and Nothin' On"
wasn't just a song, it was a fact of life. You name it, I watched it.
And it was all crap.

I ate a little, but food didn't seem to be important, or even
required, for me to get through the day. Just that mind-numbing
television and a soft couch to lay on; maybe a beer or two. I didn't
need anything else.

Toby called two or three times a day, to ask where I'd put a
particular file or speech, or to put me on the phone with Bonnie or
Ginger and sweet-talk them into doing what he needed done, since he
lacks, well, let's say a certain *finesse*. I didn't mind. It felt
good to be of some use, even if it was only in the most tangential
sense.

But you see, that was it. That was my life until my mother came.

And now? Well, now is a different story altogether. Now my mother is
just around every corner. She's forbidden Toby to call, and when he
does, she won't let him talk to me, telling him I need `time to
ruminate'. She's refrained from waking me in the mornings, but when I
get up she's already dressed and puttering around the kitchen. She
clucks at me, she fusses over me, she urges me to get some rest and
tells me I should put on some weight. She calls her friends and
laments over my failing health and the continuous, albeit waning,
media interest in my life. In short, she does things a mother is
supposed to do. And I know it's supposed to comfort me, but it
doesn't. I much preferred wallowing in self-pity. At least then I was
on my own.

Don't get me wrong; I love my mother, I really do. Even though she
pushes smothering to its bursting limits, and she doesn't realize
half my sister's worth, she's still my mother. It would be easy to
see her as domineering and superficial and overwhelming, and nothing
more, but nothing's ever that simple.

My mother, for all her shiny, perfect veneer and brusque,
sophisticated attitude, is, at heart, still the pre-sexual revolution
Southern belle who was taught that a woman wasn't a woman until she
had a man to make her so. The sixties came too late for her. She was
already married to my father by the time Gloria Steinem was
instilling self-worth into a generation of women. And my father
hasn't exactly contributed to my mother's self-esteem in all their
years of marriage; he's a big, imposing man with a big, imposing
personality, and as much as he swept my mother off her feet, he also
saw to it that when the time came to put her back on the ground, she
wasn't able to stand on her own.

"Sam, does Claudia live in a nice neighborhood?" Mom's worried voice
breaks through my thoughts as I drive us around the darkened streets.

"It's a very nice neighborhood, Mom," I say, pulling at my tie with
one hand as I steer with the other. I still can't believe I'm showing
up at CJ's in a suit and tie. She and Josh will die of laughter. I
can already imagine the sympathy in Sabrina's face.

"It doesn't *seem* very nice." She glances around at the shabby
genteel section of DC that CJ fell in love with long ago.

"It is," I say. "It's got a lot of life to it, a lot of character." I
grin to myself. "It's a lot like CJ, actually."

Apparently my words strike some chord with her because she twists in
her seat to look at me. "Sweetie? You haven't gone and gotten
yourself--well, *involved* with Claudia, have you?"

"What?" I nearly choke. "Mom, no, whatever would--? No."

"Well, she certainly seemed solicitous of you last night." She
catches my stunned expression. "It's only natural for a mother to
wonder, Sammy."

"Mom, no, CJ would never think of--Just, no." I feel my face turning
red as my brain continues this appallingly embarrassing train of
thought. CJ would laugh her head off if I were ever to relay this
conversation to her. Claudia Jean Cregg, in all her six-foot,
sarcastic, intimidating glory--looking at Sam Seaborn twice? It would
never happen.

Mom shrugs in the darkened confines of the car. "It wouldn't surprise
me at all. You said she's never been married. A woman needs a man,
honey, even an independent woman like Claudia. And you would
certainly be the catch around the office, I'm sure."

"Josh is the one with the fan club," I note wryly, attempting to
derail this train from impending doom.

"You need a woman to take care of you, honey. You should start
considering your options."

That brings me back down to earth. The very thought of--of trying
again...I shake my head firmly. "No. It would never happen. I can't
even--Mom, I can't believe you would even ask. Lisa's been gone less
than a month!"

"She's not *gone*," snaps Mom peevishly. "She didn't *die*! She
*left*. You deserve to move on."

I clench my jaw as I turn down CJ's street. "That's really not the
point, Mom. Lisa walked out on this marriage, not me. It takes enough
time to adjust to a divorce without--all this."

Mom and I haven't discussed `all this' yet. I mean, we talk about it,
but we don't really discuss it, if you know what I mean. Mostly she
regales me with stories about how she never liked Lisa, not from the
moment she met her, and how she always knew Lisa would hurt her
precious son. I pretend to listen and she pretends to believe that I
really am. Neither of us walk away satisfied.

Josh and Sabrina have been spending free moments scouring law books
for any and all cases regarding libel, and both public and semi-
public figures. I've offered to help, because God knows I've got
nothing but time on my hands; but either they don't need me, or what
they're finding is so disheartening they don't want me to know,
because they haven't taken me up on my offer yet. Or maybe they're
having such a fine time playing best buddies they don't need me
around.

Okay, Sam, let's not pursue that vaguely bitter line of thinking.

I park the car outside CJ's townhouse and Mom and I step out into the
biting night air. Josh's car is already here--he and Sabrina drove
together, of course--and so is Toby's.

"Hail, hail, the gang's all here," I say, attempting a joviality I
definitely don't feel.

CJ answers the door. She's laughing and carrying a bottle of wine in
one hand. Her hair is pulled back in some complicated twist-type
thing and her cheeks are flushed, her mouth open as she giggles.
She's barefoot and dressed in a `Bartlet For America' t-shirt and a
pair of flared jeans. Then she looks at Mom and me--Mom in her white
silk shirt and black skirt, me in my navy suit. Our eyes meet and I
see that she's fighting back an unholy burst of laughter. Her gaze is
full of mischief.

"Say a word and die, Claudia Jean."

She clears her throat ostentatiously. "Ahem. Well, hello, Sam. Hello,
Mrs Seaborn. Please come in."

CJ's house is really great. It's a bit sparse since, like the rest of
us, she's really not there much. But it's warm and it's spacious, and
it has her personality all over the place. Right now it smells great,
like something spicy and Italian.

I hear voices in the living room. CJ takes our coats, and Mom and I
walk in to find Toby, Sabrina, and Josh drinking wine and giggling.
Well, Toby's not giggling of course, but he is kind of smirking, so I
assume whatever it is they were discussing amused him as well.

Everyone takes in my suit at the same time, and in turn I see that
they are all wearing jeans and sloppy shirts. Even Toby. I want to
turn to my mother and point to my friends and my sister and
say, "See? I told you what everyone would be wearing!" But luckily I
refrain.

Sabrina gives me a sympathetic look and it's strange, but for a
second, despite her dark hair and eyes, I'm struck by how much she
resembles Mom. Same set to her mouth, same droop to her eyes, same
affection shining out at me. It's kind of spooky.

"Nice suit," Toby says, by way of greeting.

"Thanks. We're on our way to the Rockefellers', but we thought we'd
stop in and say hello to the political peasants."

CJ giggles. "The paparazzi disbanded tonight?"

"It's only the die-hard tabloid fiends these days," I say. "They're
out of there by late afternoon."

"The day-to-day life of a couch potato isn't nearly as interesting as
a scandal-tainted politician," remarks Toby dryly.

Then CJ notices my mother standing uncomfortably to the side and
says, "Um, I don't think you've met Toby, have you, Mrs Seaborn?"

I can feel Mom beside me, taking in Toby from head to toe. She isn't
particularly enamored of Josh and has frequently commented to me that
he should do something about his unruly mass of hair and the rumpled
appearance he gives to all his suits; but she approves of his looks.
She thinks he's handsome and very charismatic. She tends to flirt
with him, which is a bit embarrassing, but my point is that people
who look like Josh, and quite frankly, people who look like *me*,
meet with her approval. She likes people whose appeal she can get
immediately. She understands that Josh's magnetism and dimples draw
people--and by people, I mean women--to him. Charm and looks are two
things Pauline Seaborn approves of.

Toby doesn't really have either of them. Oh, to be fair he can charm
when he sets his mind to it, and God knows there are a few women
around the office who would love to jump his bones, but I know that
when my mother looks at him, she sees the rapidly receding hairline
and the beard (she hates facial hair), the defensive posture and the
sullen expression, and doesn't understand. I can see the wheels
turning in her head—`This bald, bearded, surly-faced man is friends
with people like Josh Lyman and my son?'

"Mom, this is Toby Ziegler," Sabrina says on the heels of CJ's
segue, "the President's Communications Director. Toby, this is our
mother, Pauline Seaborn." She tries to hide the pride in her voice
when she introduces our mother, but it's unmistakable, at least to
me. Sabrina may be loath to discuss our mother, but she worships her
just the same.

"Hello, Toby," my mother says.

"A pleasure," replies Toby as they shake hands.

"So you're my son's boss. I hear wonderful things about you from Sam."

"Likewise," Toby lies smoothly. I've said maybe two words about my
mother in all the years I've worked with him. She's never been one of
my favorite subjects.

"Oh, how nice," Mom purrs. She actually purrs, for God's sake. And
silly me, I take this as a sign that the evening is going to go well.

<><><>

tbc...

 

 

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