(Please see the first section for notes and disclaimers.)

The next afternoon I wave over my shoulder to Josh and Donna as I
leave them in his office and notice CJ standing outside her office
door. She crooks one long finger at me and nods her head, indicating
her open door. She waits with hands on hips as I make my way down the
corridor, catching Cathy's `See me before you leave' look. I nod at
her and smile at CJ.

"Hi!"

She grins. "Hi yourself. Got a minute?"

"Got several. What do you need?"

"Just you," she says as I enter her office. She shuts the door behind
me and motions for me to have a seat.

We sit together on the sofa and she gives me warm smile. "So, Sam's
pretty set on telling `his side of the story,'" she says, each word
dripping with sarcasm.

That makes me laugh. "Yeah. Something like that. What do you think?"

"Well, more importantly, what does Sam think about it?"

I bite my bottom lip, remembering the fevered light in his eyes when
he talked about it last night. "I don't know, CJ, it's weird. When I
found out about it, he hadn't decided yet, but by the time we got to
Sam's last night, he was set on doing it. He thinks it will be the
perfect way for him to tell `what really happened.' He's convinced
Leslie only has his best interests at heart, and didn't want to hear
it when we reminded him that while that may be true, she is, after
all, a journalist who works for other people and may not always get
to control the ultimate result."

"That's a good point, actually, although when I spoke with Sam about
it this morning, he assured me that it would be a live interview.
That does two things for him: One," she says, ticking them off on her
fingers, "the network can advertise it that way, which usually
guarantees higher ratings, and two, he knows in advance that he won't
be edited."

"But what about all the people who will want to play sound bites
later and tailor them however they see fit?"

"It does happen," she agrees thoughtfully. "The bottom line is that
he has to be very, very careful how he chooses his words during the
interview."

"CJ," I begin, feeling the frustration starting to mount
already, "you're talking like he is definitely doing the interview.
Almost like you endorse it even. Is that true?"

She nods thoughtfully. "Well, maybe. There are a couple of things I'd
like you to keep in mind. First, whether or not your brother in on a
leave of absence, he still represents the administration and will not
go on camera without my being there. I will make sure that he is
thoroughly prepped before the camera rolls. We are actually in a
pretty good position to dictate terms to Leslie Roth, such as `we get
to see any questions you plan to ask 24-hours in advance of air
time.' Second, Sam's emotional health could use a boost right now.
Doing the interview may help him feel like he's got a little bit of
his destiny back in his own hands. There are so many aspects of his
legal cases that it's just not practical for him to handle, on which
you and Josh have been working tirelessly. But Sam's been sitting at
home and waiting. Lisa has gotten to tell her side of the story, but
no one has heard from Sam."

"But, CJ, what if Leslie baits him and he does to her what he did to
you and Cathy? What if he does it on air in front of the entire
country? How is that going to help anybody, other than Lisa? If we
think his emotional state is a bit tremulous now, which, frankly, I
think it is, then how much worse is he going to be if the interview
doesn't go well?"

"You're right, to be perfectly honest. And as I'm sure you may have
noticed when you came in today, everyone's talking about the
possibility that Sam may be giving an interview. Some people think
he's sinking to Lisa's level. Some people think he looks guiltier by
giving the interview, while others think he's finally stepping up to
do something for himself. It's a hard call, and we don't even have
consensus among the senior staff about what he should do. Leo is
worried about the President, as you can imagine. Toby thinks he
should keep his mouth shut, period. Josh doesn't think it's a good
idea, but he'll support Sam's decision either way, while I," she
pauses to push a stray lock of hair behind her ear, "I have pretty
mixed feelings about it myself."

"What do you mean?" I prompt.

"I think it's extremely risky. I think you're dead on with all of the
questions you've raised. I also think that if it goes well, it could
be exactly the boost Sam needs. The boost his case needs, yes, but
more importantly, the boost his psyche needs. And I think you'll
agree it does need a boost."

I nod. "No question there. What does your gut tell you about all of
this?"

She grins. "My gut? I prefer the term `feminine intuition.'"

"Okay, let's go with that, then."

"My feminine intuition, as well as my experience, tells me that the
odds are this could be a positive for Sam, not a negative. You, Josh
and I will all be with him when he gives the interview, he'll be
prepped, and I think it will do him a world of good if it turns out
well. It took him a long time to convince me of that this morning.
Even after I talked to him, I wasn't convinced, but I am now. And I
know how much he counts on your support, Bri. You're his family, when
you get right down to it. He needs to do this and he needs you to
back him up. Can you do that for him?"

I pause for a second and draw a deep breath. I raise my eyes to meet
her keen gaze. "Yes. I will. Sam is so, I don't know, close to the
edge right now that I have some real doubts, but if you're on board,
I'm on board."

"Good," she nods emphatically. "I'd like for you to tell him as soon
as possible. Maybe this morning or early afternoon if you have a
chance. Do you have time today?"

That makes me laugh as I think about my upcoming meeting with the
Dean. "CJ, what else do I have time for?"

"That's what I was hoping you'd say. And there's one more thing I'd
like you to do for me."

"Anything."

"Talk to Josh about it when you get a chance. I'd like for him to do
a little more than abide by Sam's decision. I'd like to see him
actively support the idea too, or at least help Sam feel that he's
supporting it. I'll have a few words for our intrepid Mr. Lyman later
today, but you connect well with him and it never hurts to tell Josh
twice, especially if it's important. Okay?"

"Okay," I nod, sighing inwardly. "Anything for you, CJ."

"Thank you," she says as we head for the door. "I think Cathy was
looking for you earlier, right?"

"Yeah, thanks. I'll talk to you later?"

CJ nods as she waves at Cathy, who is standing a few feet from
Carol's desk. She and Carol wave goodbye to one another as I give
Carol a smile, already being dragged down the hall by my dark-haired
friend. They say that Donna is Josh's bulldog; well Cathy is
definitely Sam's. Next to myself, of course. She defends, supports,
and looks out for him as well as any boss has ever been defended,
supported, or watched out for.

Cathy links an arm around my elbow as we head down the corridor. "So,
Girl, what are you up to? Long time, no see."

"I have a meeting on campus in forty-five minutes. Other than that,
just the usual. How `bout you?"

She snorts indelicately. "Ha! Just trying to keep the Titanic from
sinking with prayers and a Dixie cup. That's all. Or at least that's
what it feels like."

"I hear you, Sister," I tell her. "CJ says you were looking for me?"

"Yeah," she says as she lowers her voice. "So, did you notice the
additional stares coming your way as you walked down the hall today?"

"Actually, not really. I've been pretty preoccupied."

"Mm-hmm. So, anyway, you were getting them. All because of Sam's
interview."

"You say that like it's a done deal."

"Well, isn't it?" she asks pointedly.

"Well—"

Cathy crosses her eyes at me. "Yeah, right. Listen, if Sam is just
*thinking* about it while Josh and CJ are *obsessing* about it, it's
a done deal. Trust me on that one."

"Good point," I concede. "So what's the consensus in the West Wing?"

"I thought you'd never ask!" she says brightly as we step outside
into the crisp morning air. "Most people support it."

I'm somewhat surprised to hear this. "Really? The last time I saw Sam
in here with people, I'd say half of them were looking at him like he
killed their puppies."

"Yeah, there was some of that for a while, but most people don't
really think Sam did that. Most people can't help wanting to jump to
the defense of the damsel in distress. And look at her. She's not any
bigger than you are and she can cry at the drop of a hat. Any hat.
I've seen her turn on the water works to get her way about much
smaller issues than this one."

"Yeah, me too," I tell her as I unlock the door to my car. I turn the
engine on so that the rusty old machine will start to warm up as we
talk. "Cathy, be straight with me, Girlfriend. Do people really think
he's innocent? And do they really think the interview's a good idea?"

She nods. "They do, yeah. And most people around here trust Sam. They
*like* Sam. And you and I both know there's not much to dislike about
Sam. Despite whatever natural feelings of doubt they had after Lisa's
Oscar-worthy performance on `Tonight in America,' most people don't
think he's capable of the things she said and they'd like to see him
stand up for himself."

I feel like an enormous weight has been lifted from my shoulders and
I crush Cathy in an enthusiastic and grateful hug. "Thank you so
much, Cathy! You have no idea how much better you just made me feel.
Sam will be thrilled to hear what you have to say."

She winks at me as she starts to back toward the building. "I thought
you'd see it my way. Just wanted you to know. Wanna grab dinner next
week?"

"That'd be great!" I wave as she disappears inside the warm building.
I'm not sure whether my shivers are from the cold or excitement as I
slam the car door and head toward campus. One unpleasant errand to
run, and then I can give Sam some good news for a change.

<><><>

After my chat with CJ and Cathy, I feel much better about Sam's
situation in general and the interview in particular. I still have my
doubts, mind you. I don't know Leslie Roth from Adam's housecat, so I
certainly don't trust her. But if CJ thinks that doing the interview
could help Sam in the long run, then I support it. Sam was so
convinced he needed to do this last night, but all I could envision
was him going off on the interviewer, like he has Cathy or CJ, in
front of an even bigger audience. What if he says something, or is
goaded into saying something, that makes him look guilty?

No, I can't think like that. He wants to do it and CJ agrees,
although one should note that she obviously took some convincing too.
He looked so hurt last night when Josh and I urged him to turn Leslie
down that I want him to know I support his decision. My brother needs
people in *his* corner, not someone else's.

I knock on the door several times before Sam finally opens it.
Despite the fact that it's past noon, he looks like he was still in
bed. His hair is rumpled and his bathrobe hangs halfway off one
shoulder. I don't think I've ever seen him look this disheveled.

I give him a big smile, only now beginning to notice that the
expression on his face is not a welcoming one and he has not stepped
aside to let me in. "Good morning, Sleeping Beauty. Catching up on
your shut eye?"

With stony silence Sam steps back into the house and I follow. He
flinches when I step forward to kiss him on the cheek, and I lean
back hurriedly. What is going on here? I thought we'd pretty much
patched things up last night. We didn't even fight exactly, but he
definitely wasn't happy to hear what Josh and I had to say. By the
time we got to his house, my brother had already seized on the idea
of the TV interview with the passion of a madman. I search my mind
for what might have upset him this much before I notice that he's
still staring at me and hasn't budged from the foyer.

He looks me up and down and snorts derisively. "Well, you're
certainly the high priestess of doom and gloom today, aren't you?"

Okay, that statement is so unlike my brother, and so very like my
mother, that if he were standing in the other room I might have
thought that is was Mom in there with a head-cold or something. My
chin jerks downward as I look at my black slacks and top. What does
this have to do with...anything? "Excuse me?"

"Look at you. You always have to look like a drama queen. You've been
doing it ever since you were dancing. You don't dance anymore,
Sabrina, can't you give up the fascination with black clothing?"

The tone in his voice pierces me to the core. What is this? When has
my brother ever...? Wait, that's not the issue here. What is the issue?
Sudden tears of frustration begin to crowd behind my eyelids, and Sam
snorts and waves his hand in a dismissive gesture.

"See? Somebody tries to be honest with you and what do you do? You
cry about it. You used to always come crying to me, but this time I
suppose you'll go running to your new best buddy, Josh, huh, little
girl?"

"Sam, what are you doing? What's wrong?" I fight to control the panic
in my voice, but the confusion comes through loud and clear, even to
my own ears.

"Don't do that. Don't act like you give a damn about my life or how I
feel. I'm sick and tired of it. You hate to talk about our mother,
you don't even want her around, but you sure do sound like her when
it's convenient for you. You want to control me just like she does."

"Sam—"

"Quit interrupting me. I'm sick of it. And I'm sick of you. I'm sick
and tired of the way you try to run my life. You're just like Mom.
I'm sick and tired of the way you come in here like you did last
night with Josh and tell me what to do, as if *you* have any clue
what I need right now. You're not my mother. You're my obnoxious
little sister and you had no right. You're supposed to be on my side,
but all you've done is tag-team with Josh and Cathy and everybody
else against me, trying to tell me what to do and what to eat and
when to sleep. I'm sick and damn tired of it!"

He takes a deep breath and points a finger at me accusingly as I
watch in utter horror. "I'm the only one in our family who's ever
been nice to you, and I would think your loyalty would be to *me*,
not Josh or CJ or anybody else, but I've realized lately that you're
not the girl I thought you were. Thanks a whole fucking lot. I gave
you too much credit for being a grown-up, but you're obviously still
a child. Well, you can find a new protector. I'm out of the white
knight business, effective immediately."

"Sam—"

"Shut up! Just shut the hell up and let me finish a goddamn sentence
for once in your miserable life! I'm sick of hearing your voice. Lisa
was right about you. You are a brat. You always have been."

By this point I'm shouting too, and we scream at each other in a
frightening volume contest. "What are you doing? Why are you saying
these things? Something is wrong with you, and you're crazy if you
don't see how much it hurts the people who love you to see you in
such pain. Josh and I don't want to run your life; we only want to
help you. Sammy, listen to me!"

My brother charges across the tiny space, stopping inches from my
face, and for a moment, I'm afraid he might actually strike me. I
recoil, which brings him up short. He continues to scream at me as
tears spill down my face. Cold fire rages in his eyes and he doesn't
even look like the man I knew a few months ago.

"Don't ever call me that stupid nickname again. You're always telling
me to listen to you. Well, maybe I'm not listening, Sabrina, because
you don't have anything important or useful or even mildly
interesting to say. Did that ever cross your tiny little mind?"

"I don't understand what's happening, Sam. I only wanted to tell you
that I support your decision to do the interview. You were right last
night and I agree that it would be good for you. I was just afraid
for you, and still am. We all are, and we were only trying to help.
We weren't trying to run your life and I never meant to cause you any
grief, I just—"

"Just be quiet," he says in a dangerously quiet voice. "And get out.
I don't need your approval, or your love, or your support. I just
need to be by myself. All I want from you is for you to leave me the
hell alone. I don't feel like sugarcoating anything so I don't hurt
your tender little feelings. I've been doing that your entire fucking
life and I've simply had enough. Go run to Josh like you always do
and for God sake, listen to *me* this time when I tell you not to
come back."

If he actually had struck me it wouldn't hurt as much. I have never
seen this side of my brother, but I see the truth in his eyes. He
didn't just unload on me because I'm here or because I'm family or
because I'm safe, he finally told me the truth.

He's been lying my entire life, and this is the first time he's
really been honest about his feelings. He's far more like our mother
than I ever realized.

I desperately want him to tell me he didn't mean it, to take it all
back, but I can tell from his expression that he means every single
word and that a retraction, much less an apology, will not be
forthcoming. He stands in front of me, arms crossed stubbornly across
his chest as he looks down his nose at me. One muscle along his jaw
line twitches spasmodically underneath his smooth skin. His
expression tells me to get out while the getting is good. I have
never had reason to fear my brother until now.

Knowing the `discussion' is over; I look down, noting that there are
actually teardrops on the shiny hardwood floor. How bizarre. "Okay,
Sam. I'm leaving. I lo..." I start to tell him I love him, but I don't
think I can bear what I'm sure he'd say in response. "I'm leaving."

"Leave your key this time."

My hands quake as I pull out my key chain and remove Sam's house key.
I place it on the bench by the front door and slip quietly into the
brilliant D.C. morning.

<><><>

 

 

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