Mitigating Circumstances - Just Wait

Part 4

(Please see part 1 for notes and disclaimers.)

I pull up to The Pinnacle; still amazed that Lisa would have the
audacity to ask Sam to meet her here—the very place he proposed.
Another twist of the proverbial knife, huh, Barracuda?

As much as it galls me to credit my mother, she always said that on
certain occasions, image is everything. It's certainly an art Lisa
has mastered. So, hearing Mom's brittle voice inside my head, I am
now decked out in my sharpest-looking, I'm-a-prosecutor-come-to-make-
you-pay black power suit. It seems important that Lisa see me as the
attorney who will nail her to the proverbial wall, rather than as
Sam's deranged kid sister. We'll just overlook for the moment that I
am not, in fact, an attorney. At least not yet.

My hands shake as I park the car and shut of the engine. I chide
myself—there's no time for me to develop a case of stage fright now.
I've stared down killers and rapists at the DA's office, but the
thought of facing the woman responsible for Sam's current state has
me quaking in my proverbial boots. 'Time to put on your game face,
girl,' I tell myself sternly.

I brush my hair behind one ear, tilt my chin haughtily into the air,
and march into the restaurant. It takes a few seconds for my eyes to
adjust to the dimness of the interior. Lisa scheduled the meeting for
late afternoon, well after the lunch rush but before the working
crowd invades for happy hour. It's a good choice, providing a public
meeting place while minimizing the chance of being spied upon by a
nosy neighbor or a reporter.

The Pinnacle is a premier seafood restaurant in the District, a cozy
little retreat reminiscent of a rustic mountain cabin. It was an odd
choice for Sam's proposal perhaps, but it's one of his favorite
spots. It was so important to him to bring her here and show her that
they could be happy living outside New York.

Taking one more calming breath, I waltz past the empty hostess
station and spot Lisa sitting with her back to the door at a corner
table. You know it's funny; Lisa is very much the kind of daughter-in-
law Mom always wanted—the kind of daughter she might have wanted, had
she ever wanted one. Before Lisa left Sam, Mom
frequently 'encouraged' me—using the term loosely—to be more like
Lisa "the quintessential debutante." Blech. Point being, I am
reminded as I stand here and watch her flip through the menu of all
the ways in which I never measured up, and hate myself for feeling
this way. Please, God, let me do this right today.

Without further ado, I slip into the chair across from my soon-to-be-
ex-sister-in-law. Lisa looks up, prepared to speak before she
realizes that she's got the wrong Seaborn. Her eyes go wide for a
split second before her poker face slips coolly back into place.

"What are you doing here? Is this some sort of joke?"

"I assure you no one here is laughing," I say, matching her icy tone.

A very solicitous waiter stops by to take our drink orders before
either of us has a chance to continue. He instantly picks up on the
tense atmosphere and takes it upon himself to lighten the mood. Poor
fellow.

"Good afternoon," he says happily as he looks back and forth between
us. "You know, you two have got to be related. Are you sisters?"

"No!" is our immediate and adamant reply. I'm not sure which one of
us is more offended.

"Oh, sorry," he mumbles as he blushes furiously. "I just thought...same
dark hair and all. I'll get you some water to start, okay?" He begins
to backpedal even before he's finished speaking.

I try to give him a sympathetic smile; aware what Lisa's caustic gaze
is once again firmly fixed on my face.

"What is the meaning of this? Where is Sam and why isn't he here? Has
he resorted to sending his little sister to do his dirty work for
him?"

My eyes roll toward the ceiling. "First of all, Lisa, the only person
with dirty work around here is you. Let's be clear on that point. Sam
couldn't be here this afternoon, but I have a few matters of my own
to discuss with you."

Lisa's nostrils flare and one corner of her perfectly painted mouth
curls in disgust. "How typical—how Washington Political Operative of
him—to send an underling to his meetings. I can't believe how much
he's changed. When he was in New York, Sam always kept his
appointments. I can't believe I don't even rate a meeting with my own
husband."

It's all I can do not to tell her that her obsessive habit of
planning her life out on paper is going to betray her very soon. I
would give almost anything to wipe that smug, self-righteous look off
her face. "Need I remind you that he's not your husband any more, and
that it was *your* decision to end your marriage. Although why Sam
would ever have wanted to stick it out I frankly can't imagine."

"I will not sit here and be insulted by some snide little..."

"If we resort to name-calling, bitch, we'll be here all night. So why
don't we get to the point? What do you want from Sam? Why did you ask
for this meeting?"

"I don't have to take this from you or anyone else!" She begins to
stand and moves for her purse.

"You're probably going to have to get used to it," I tell her
coolly. "The interview has you scared, doesn't it?"

At the word 'interview' she stops and turns her green eyes back
toward me.

"You didn't think he'd stand up and call you a liar, did you?"

Lisa's expression has grown wooden and she sits down quietly on the
chair. For a long minute neither of us speaks.

Maybe there's another way to appeal to whatever shred of better
nature she may have. "Do you have any idea what you have done to him,
Lisa? Any idea? I don't mean professionally, I mean personally. I
don't understand how a person could try to hurt another person like
this."

"What do you mean?"

"He's in the hospital." Her spontaneous gasp makes me think I might
be getting through.

"What's wrong? Is he going to be all right?"

"He's going to be fine. He just...he hasn't been able to sleep and got
run down. They admitted him last night and should let him go this
evening."

It is important to point out that this is where the wheels begin to
come off the wagon. For a quiet moment Lisa looks contemplative, and
my hope rises until her eyes begin to narrow once more. It is as if
the shark smells blood in the water, and she begins to circle.

"Really? That's terrible. It sounds like he might not be able to take
the pressure."

Shit. Shit, shit. I've been out-maneuvered by the Queen of the
Damned. 'Quick!' my brain screams as I continue to meet her cool
gaze. 'Damage Control!'

"Need I remind you of his solid performance on 'Washington Week in
Review,' Lisa? He's going to be fine. Don't confuse a temporary case
of insomnia with inherent weakness. Any questions you had about Sam's
ability to rise to the occasion must have been addressed by Leslie
Roth or we wouldn't be here."

"Well, I know why *I* came tonight. But why did you? It doesn't sound
like Sam is in any condition to discuss strategy. So what do you
want, Sabrina?"

"Answers."

"Regarding..."

"Don't be coy. How could you sink to this level? How could you
possibly take your petty frustrations out on someone who was so good
to you? Sam always treated you like gold. You know he did. What
sickness did it take to twist you into the kind of creature who could
set out to destroy someone who loved you?"

"Has it ever occurred to you that Sam may not be as perfect as you
think he is? Do you have any idea how difficult it is to be married
to someone like him—always perfect, always the smartest kid in the
class, with the brightest future, that all the women in the room want
to be next to? Do you have any idea how hard..."

Listening to her makes my blood boil. The longer she talks the more
furious I become until my hands shake and I choke back the urge to
scream. "Do you mean to sit here and tell me that this is about
*jealousy?* You're jealous of Sam, and you'd rather destroy his life
than share it with him?"

I have to leave. If I stay here two more minutes I'm going to lose it
and cause a scene of massive proportions. Standing as tall as I can,
I look down at her as she continues to sit at the table. "I should
feel sorry for you. If you'd chosen to pick on anyone else, I might.
I'll see you in court."

I sweep out of the dining room and nearly scream as a long arm snakes
out from behind the ficus tree next to the door and yanks me toward
the parking lot. Before I can utter a sound we emerge from the
restaurant into the pale orange glow of late afternoon.

"CJ!"

"I thought I told you not to do anything foolish."

"I didn't do anything foolish," I say, before remembering the way
Lisa's eyes narrowed with glee when she learned that Sam was in the
hospital. "At least, not too foolish," I finish lamely as she fixes
me with a stern glare.

"Sabrina..."

"Wait a minute. Why are you about to lecture me for keeping the
meeting when I get the feeling you came here to keep the meeting?"

"Okay, that's a fair point. Come on, let's get out of here before
somebody we know shows up for happy hour."

"Ugh," I moan. "I hate this."

"What? Back-room intrigue, personal scandal and fast get-a-ways not
for you?" CJ asks with a grin.

"God, no!" I exclaim. "Not a chance."

"Well then, my dear, I'd say that politics is definitely not the
career for you."

"There was never any chance," I tell her firmly as I wonder not for
the first time why Sam couldn't have fallen in love with someone like
CJ instead of the Barracuda.

"Listen," she continues, "I've got to get back to the office, and you
should go to the hospital. It would be nice if Sam didn't wake up
alone. The last thing he said to me before he fainted was that he's
going to be keeping you on a pretty short leash for the foreseeable
future."

I roll my eyes and groan at her mischievous expression. "Short leash,
huh? He can his take leash and..."

"Down, girl," she laughs before her expression grows more
serious. "He knows he screwed up, and he wants to fix it. Isn't that
enough for now?"

I nod; swallowing past the lump that suddenly rises in my throat.

"Try not to be too hard on him if he over compensates for a while,
okay?"

I nod again as CJ starts her car and pulls off with a wave. She stops
suddenly, backs up and rolls down the window. "Tell you what: Give me
about two hours. I'll bring take-out and we can spare Sam the horror
of hospital food. Hopefully he'll be awake by then and we'll tell him
about this little meeting together, okay?"

"That'd be great, CJ. You're an angel."

<><><>

Early evening finds me back at the hospital—waiting. Waiting for Sam
to wake up. Waiting for CJ and Josh or somebody to stop by. Waiting
for Mom or Dad to figure out Sam's not at home and start making phone
calls, or for Lisa to reappear. Just waiting.

The hospital staff has already taken the IV needle out of Sam's arm,
and his color does seem to a little better, but he still looks so
pale. Why couldn't I have helped him prevent this?

That ubiquitous hospital smell surrounds us like a cloud I can almost
see. That antiseptic smell of cleaner and sickness that seeps into
your clothes and hair and seems to follow you even after you leave
the building. It makes my skin crawl. I almost envy Sam his lack of
consciousness. Maybe that smell doesn't follow you into your dreams.

I've perched myself on the edge of the chair beside the bed so that I
can watch the door for visitors, but Sam will surely see me when he
wakes up. I don't know what his last memory will be of the day
before, but I don't want him to wake up alone any more than CJ does.

Many long moments pass with no sound but the occasional passer-by in
the hallway and the slow tick-tocking of the wall clock. The
stillness is beginning to lure my tired brain into slumber just as a
low rustle of sheets rouses me.

"Sam?" I say, reaching over and taking his hand in both of mine.

Slowly, the blue eyes open and he looks around the room before
focusing on my face. "Bria?"

"Yeah," I say, giving him the warmest smile I can muster and reaching
up to brush the bangs off his forehead. "How do you feel?"

He takes a minute to do mental inventory before answering. "Okay, I
guess. What's going on?"

"You passed out last night, honey."

Realization dawns and he sinks even further into the pillow while
tightening his grip on my hand. "Oh God. Now I remember."

I smile again. "That whole not-eating-or-sleeping thing isn't working
very well for you. You might want to reconsider."

"I'm sorry."

"For what?"

"You shouldn't have anything else to worry about on top of the other
messes I've created."

"Sam, have you noticed how every time something goes wrong, the first
thing we do is apologize to each another?"

He nods slowly, beginning to see the joke. "Yeah, I guess we do."

"Maybe we should just agree to cut out all that crap and have one
less thing to worry about. Deal?" I squeeze his hand again and have
to laugh when he squeezes back harder than I would have imagined him
capable of in his groggy state.

"Deal."

"Amen to that," says a voice behind us.

"CJ, how do you manage to sneak up on people like that?" I ask as I
turn toward her.

"It's one of my many talents. How you doin', Spanky?" She plops
herself down on the opposite edge of Sam's narrow bed and picks up
his other hand.

"I've been better. I'm sor..."

"Hey!" I interrupt. "Remember our deal? You're in on it too, right,
CJ?"

"Definitely. I'll have no words wasted on unnecessary apologies. Are
you hungry, Sam?"

"Actually, I just might be. I'm not sure I remember how it feels."

"Good," CJ nods approvingly. "Josh will be here shortly with take-
out. We thought we'd spare you the horror of hospital mush."

"I appreciate that," he says with a laugh.

The three of us spend a few quiet moments together, relishing the
peace that will doubtlessly be dispelled by Joshes arrival. Is this
what they call the calm before the storm?

THE END