(Please see section one for notes and disclaimers.)

I walk out of Josh's door and narrowly avoid plowing into Charlie.

"Charlie!" I yelp. "Are you stalking Josh?"

"No," he says with a sly smile. "You."

"Me?"

"Yep. The President heard you were in the building and wants to see
you."

I gulp reflexively. "Really?"

"Yep," he says, taking my elbow and steering me down the hallway. It
takes all my effort not to flinch when his fingers brush my bruises.
Both my arms feel stiff and swollen.

"I've never been to the Oval Office," I say, suddenly sounding like
the teenager I just told Josh I'm not.

"Don't be nervous, I see it everyday. You get used to it."

"Thanks a lot."

"You're welcome," he grins mischievously at me.

"I saw Zoey on campus the other day," I say, chattering away to hide
my somewhat frayed nerves.

Charlie nods. "She mentioned that."

"She seems to really like Georgetown."

"She does," he says as we enter the outer office he and Mrs.
Landingham share.

As usual, Mrs. Landingham is sitting behind her desk, every detail
from her suit to her blonde hair to the arrangement of her papers in
perfect order. She has truly become a White House institution. I
can't imagine this place without her.

"Hello, Sabrina," she greets me with a warm smile. "The President
will be right with you. Have a cookie."

I have heard Sam and his co-workers talk enough that I am well aware
of the honor being bestowed upon me at this moment. Mrs. Landingham
doesn't give her cookies to just anybody.

"Thank you, Mrs. Landingham. Chocolate chip, my favorite," I say as I
struggle to avoid dropping crumbs on the floor.

"I thought you were a chocolate lover. Sam was carrying around a
Godiva catalog one day, saying something about being in the doghouse
with you."

That makes me smile. "It took me years to get him trained that well."

Charlie snickers and Mrs. Landingham nods knowingly. "I'm sure it was
well worth the effort."

Just then the door to the Oval Office opens and President Bartlet
comes out. Charlie and Mrs. Landingham stand. The President is one of
those people who can fill an NFL stadium with his charisma. The sheer
force of his personality cannot be denied.

Even though I've seen him several times and hear Sam talk about him
regularly, I am not immune to the sense of awe one gets when meeting
the President of the United States. Everything about Josiah Bartlet
is presidential.

"Good evening, Mr. President," I say, certain that my eyes are so
huge in my head I look more like a blue-eyed owl than anything else.

"Good evening, Sabrina," he says, extending his hand to shake
mine. "Please come inside."

I follow him into the Oval Office and do my best not to gape. He
closes the door behind us and waves me toward a grouping of sofas and
chairs in the middle of the room. "Have a seat. We'll only keep you a
minute."

"Yes, sir," I say as I obediently perch on the edge of one of the
sofas. He sits in the chair opposite me and gives me a kind
smile. "Don't be nervous. I don't usually bite."

I flash a shy but grateful smile. "I'm sorry, sir. It's just—"

"I know. I know," he dismisses my nerves with a wave of his
hand. "This is the Oval Office. Don't worry. I see it every day. You
get used to it."

"So Charlie told me," I chuckle.

"Yeah. Listen, Leo and I wanted to talk to you about Sam."

"Yes, sir?" What else would they want to talk to me about?

"It's not exactly standard operating procedure for the President to
pull in a staffer's sibling, but I'm going to make an exception," he
continues with a twinkle in his eye. "After all, Sam's not just any
employee."

"Yes, sir," I say, puzzled by just where this is going.

President Bartlet clears his throat, studying his hands. We sit in
silence.

I'm dying to ask, `Well? What is it?!', but I'm thinking that
particular approach might be frowned upon when you're dealing with
the President. So I sit as patiently as I can and look around the
office, completely aware of the power that emanates from this room
and the man sitting across from me. Part of my brain, the absurd
part, is comparing this Oval Office to all the Oval Offices I've seen
on TV and in movies, checking to see which parts of the fictional
Ovals match the real one. It's funny what you think about in intense
situations.

After a few minutes that feel like hours, the door opens and Leo
enters. He smiles when he sees me. "Hey, Sabrina."

"Hey, Leo." Not for the first time it strikes me as odd that I can
address Leo—a man old enough to be my grandfather, the second most
powerful man in the country—as casually as I do, while the very
thought of addressing the President with anything resembling
familiarity has me quaking in my shoes. It's not just that the
President is, well, the President; it's that as scary as Leo can be,
he doesn't begin to intimidate me half as much as the President does.

"I'm glad you could stick around," Leo says, sitting down across from
me. "You don't have class to go to or anything?"

I shrug. "Sure, I do. I guess so. I mean—it's just not important
right now."

"Three months away from your degree, and classes aren't important?"
he asks teasingly.

I try to smile, but my lips betray me. "I can handle it. I'll be
fine. Leo, what is this?" I can't keep from asking any longer.

Leo and the President exchange brief looks. Then Leo pulls a
frighteningly serious face and says, "Sabrina, I'm sure you realize
this isn't your usual meeting."

"Oh, really?" I ask. "I figured it was pretty standard for family
members to be called into the Oval Office for stuff like this." It's
lame, but I'm finally attempting to lighten the mood. I think it's
because that look on Leo's face is scaring the hell out of me. For
the hundredth time since this all started, I'm hating the fact that I
haven't been with my brother every moment he needed me. It doesn't
take a political genius to see I missed out on a lot yesterday while
he was here in the West Wing. I know I can't actually be with him
every second of this crisis, but that doesn't keep me from worrying
about him, and worrying whether or not something will happen that I
could have protected him from if I had been there.

"I don't know how much Sam has told you," Leo says. His gaze is fixed
on my hands, and when I look down at them, I realize they're shaking.

I wedge them under my legs and sit like a little girl at story
time. "Not much," I admit. "Well, not anything. Just that it
was...bad."

Leo nods sagely. "We've found that Lisa's doing three more
interviews. We spent a lot of time yesterday trying to come up with a
strategy to help Sam through this." He sighs heavily. "Problem is, we
haven't come up with a whole lot."

"How can you?" I ask. "You have no idea why Lisa is doing this."

"And that's the thing. We don't know why Lisa's doing this, and in
the meantime, she just keeps on. The `Tonight in America' interview
Tuesday night, the `Times' article this morning, `The Rebecca Show'
this afternoon—"

It takes a moment for me to realize Leo's mentioned `The Rebecca
Show.' That sappy, touchy-feely Donahue-wannabe? What the hell?

"Leo?" I interrupt. "'The Rebecca Show'?"

He looks pained. "I know. Apparently they're running a special this
week on battered women. Today's theme was 'Sullied Celebrity Wives',
or something like that. Rebecca Clearwater herself invited Lisa on
the show."

I feel fury pulsing in my veins. "How thoughtful of her," I say icily.

"It's getting uglier, Sabrina. I told Sam it would, but I didn't know
how right I would be. You wouldn't believe the calls that are coming
in. The N.O.W. is really pressing for Sam's resignation, and at the
very, very least, for an official statement from the White House.
It's getting harder and harder for us to tap-dance around the issue."

I want to say, 'So stop dancing. Start walking the walk'. But that's
another thing I don't think would go over real well.

"Leo? Why am I in here?"

It takes a moment before he responds. When he finally does, he looks
me straight in the eye. Leo has a really wonderful voice—sort of
gravelly, a bit surly, but really warm. He lets it go soft as he
looks at me, and it's all I can do not to cry. "Sabrina, we're
getting nowhere, and we're headed there at breakneck speed. It's a
runaway train we have no hope of controlling—not yet, anyway."

"Leo." I try to speak forcefully this time. I am dying for him to get
to the point. "Why am I in here?"

Groaning quietly, Leo exchanges another look with the President. "We
need Sam to take some time off, and we need you to help us convince
him he should."

I go hot and cold all over. A leave of absence? Isn't that usually
the first step toward termination or resignation? They want to
destroy my brother's career? And do they really expect me to help
them do it? "I have...no idea what to say to that."

After what feels like ages, the President speaks up again, leaning
back in his chair. The sympathy in his voice is painful to my
ears. "Sabrina, if you lined up before me every man I have ever met
in my lifetime, and asked me to pick out those most likely to ever
harm another living creature, your brother wouldn't even make the top
100. I know Sam Seaborn, and I believe he's among the best of men."

There's another moment of silence, and I can tell that there's more
the President hasn't said yet.

"But—" I leave the door open for him to finish.

He fixes me with a sad gaze. "But right now, I am in the minority."

"Sam hasn't been..." I stop, flustered, trying to find the right
words; fair words, the best way to describe my brother's state of
mind right now. I can't believe it's so hard. "He hasn't been himself
lately." I include both President Bartlet and Leo in my frustrated
gaze.

"We know," Leo replies gently, and I see in his eyes that he does
know. "Sam's been acting strangely around here, too."

"What's he doing?" I whisper, afraid of the answer.

"A lot of yelling," he says. "Picking fights with people. Sitting in
his office with the door locked. He's been—Well, he's been acting
strangely for a while now, but since this whole thing with Lisa, it's
escalated."

"And you want me to ask him to take a L.O.A.?"

"We feel it would be in his own best interest," the President says.

"And yours," I can't help muttering.

"If Sam were himself, he would understand this," argues Leo.

"If you say so." I'm not looking at either of them. I'm so angry I
just can't.

"You don't sound convinced."

"That's because I'm not!" I exclaim in a controlled voice. "I know my
brother better than anyone on this planet, let alone in this room,
and I don't see him understanding this. The politics of it, maybe,
but not—not the heart of it. Leo, you know what Sam would say! He
would say we have to fight for this person we believe in. He would
say it's up to us to be strong because this person can't be."

Leo's eyes are distant as he listens to me. Maybe he's thinking about
the Sam we used to know, the one who's begun to disappear on us.

"What does Toby say about this?" I ask. "And CJ? What about Josh? I
don't see Josh standing for this."

"Actually—" Leo inhales deeply before letting his breath slowly
out. "They agree with us."

I'm stupefied. I can't even form words. I just spent an hour with
Josh, and he didn't say anything about this to me. Did he know the
President would ask to see me afterwards? I'm going to have some
strong words for Mr. Lyman later this evening.

"Sabrina," President Bartlet says urgently. "The Sam wandering around
the West Wing isn't the Sam we all know. This has been such a—such a
blow to him, such a complete and utter shock. It's hit him so hard;
he's barely here—" he taps his forehead, " —let alone here," he says,
pounding softly on the coffee table between us.

"He needs some time away, Sabrina," adds Leo. "This is only the
beginning, and he's already not taking it well."

I sigh and droop in my seat, leaning wearily into the cushy
sofa. "There's a reason I got into law instead of politics," I say. I
think about everything I've heard, from Josh and Leo and the
President. Combine that with what happened last night at Sam's and
the only conclusion I can come to is that they're right. The Sam I
know is slipping away. Some time away might be the best thing for
him, as much as I hate to admit it, especially if his outbursts are
becoming more public. The last thing he needs is to add more fuel to
the media fire.

I lean forward and look them both directly in the eye. "Can you
promise me that this is just a leave of absence, and not the prelude
to `Thank you and goodbye?'" I watch them both closely, gauging their
reactions.

Leo and the President exchange a glance, and President Bartlet nods
almost imperceptibly at Leo. They both look back at me and Leo's nod
is firm. "No one here wants to see Sam lose his job or stand accused
of something he didn't do. But the truth of the matter is that he's
not helping himself by being here right now. We can't police Sam's
behavior at the same time we're trying to figure a way out of this
nightmare."

"Do the two of you truly believe that Sam is innocent?"

"Yes," they answer in unison and with no hesitation.

"Do you really want what's best for him?"

"Yes, of course we do," Leo assures me.

I sigh and look down at the floor. It's going to be really hard to
convince Sam to ask for time away from the office. Coming to work
every morning is all Sam is getting out of bed for right now. On some
level, I just know that's the truth. Taking that away from him, let
alone convincing him to be the one to ask, is going to be beyond
difficult. Still, it might be the best way to allow him to get the
help he needs. I'd really like to see him work with Josh's counselor.
He also has to deal with the libel issue and the divorce case at some
point.

I look at Leo and the President again. If I'm going to do this, I
have to really be able to trust these men to look out for Sam however
they can. As I search their faces, I realize that I already do. "All
right. I'll see what I can do."

My answer is heavy, the weight seeming to have lifted from their
shoulders to mine as Leo sighs deeply and the President smiles warmly
at me. He stands and motions toward the door. "Thank you for coming,
Sabrina."

Leo stands too. "Keep in touch, kid. Okay? I meant it when I told you
to call me anytime."

"Thank you," I murmur distractedly as I leave the Oval. The door
shuts behind me and I'm left standing alone in the outer office.
Charlie and Mrs. Landingham are nowhere in sight. Instead of heading
for my car, I head back toward the bullpen. Josh and I have a few
more things to talk about.

THE END

COMING SOON: Chapter 5 – A Fool for a Client.

 

 

Home        What's New        Author Listings        Title Listings