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

Thursday is the day chosen for the fateful broadcast. Per his
request, I have not spoken with my brother since I left his house
earlier this week. My cell phone has been strangely and depressingly
quiet. About the only person I've spoken to at all this week is Josh,
and only when he called to ask for something. I managed to drop off
the documents he needed when he was in a meeting so I didn't have to
face him. I couldn't stand the thought of seeing Donna or Cathy or
CJ, so I merely dashed in, handed the envelope to Manny, and dashed
out.

So, I really don't have any idea what the last several days have been
like in my brother's life. My week has consisted of eating ice cream
and crying, broken up by long naps (the fourteen-hour kind). It's
amazing that you can actually sleep that long and be more tired
afterwards than you were before, but I guess that's what happens when
dark and restless dreams haunt your mind. I'm so tired of fighting
the demons in my dreams; I quit trying to sleep at all last night,
preferring waking exhaustion to the other kind. In my dreams, Sam is
always screaming at me, sounding just like Mom, while Josh and CJ and
my professors and roommate and friends all stand around and laugh.
Could I possibly be any more pathetic?

Josh calls Thursday afternoon to say he's coming to pick me up so the
three of us—Josh, Sam and I—can ride to the studio together. I put
him off, saying that I'm already in the car and headed that way. The
tone in his voice says he doesn't believe me, but he acquiesces.

I park my car outside the studio and manage to find CJ and Josh
standing in the lobby. CJ studies my face. "Hi. Are you okay? You
look like you've had better days."

"Yeah, I'm fine. I've been up late studying," I lie smoothly. I'm
getting way too good at this. "We've got a big project due at the end
of next week, and I'm behind."

"How's the job search going, Bri? I assume that's why you've been so
hard to find this week?" Josh asks.

"Fine. I found a couple of things that look promising." I refrain
from telling him that neither of them has anything to do with the law
degree I'm not going to get this year—one of them is tending bar at a
Virginia country club, and the other is dancing topless in a D.C.
strip joint. Somehow, I don't think he'd see the humor. `Please, oh,
please,' I beg them silently, `let's change the topic away from
me.' "Where's Sam?"

"The wardrobe people wanted to see him for a minute. I don't think
they liked his tie, or something," Josh shrugs. "They said they'd
come get us."

"We can watch the interview backstage as long as everyone promises to
behave himself," CJ gives Josh a frown. He narrows his eyes at her as
she elbows him lightly in the ribs.

"Yes, Mom," he says.

"Is he ready?" I ask.

"Yeah," CJ nods. "He looks good—confident, well-rested. He even
smiled today."

"Which is more than I can say for you," Josh adds with a disapproving
frown. "Seriously, Bri, it'll be fine. Don't worry about it."

I want to tell him he has no earthly idea what's on my mind, but
there's really no point. "Sure. It'll be great."

Before anyone else has a chance to speak, a stagehand comes down the
hallway. "Mr. Lyman, Ms. Cregg, Ms. Seaborn, if you'll follow me?"

We troop obediently behind the young man, watching his long ponytail
swish behind his shoulders as he walks. He leads us into a huge,
warehouse-like room, painted black except for the drops and props
that make up the `Washington Week in Review' set. Sam and Leslie Roth
are already seated at the table.

CJ goes over to speak to them, while Josh and I hang back in the
shadows. He leans over and whispers in my ear. "Seriously, what's
going on? Where were you all week?"

I can't bring myself to make eye contact with him and continue
staring at the three people on the set. I'd sure love it if Sam would
glance this way, just once, but he seems unaware of anyone but CJ and
Leslie. "Nothing. It's fine. Don't worry about it."

CJ crosses back toward us as the producer begins to count off the
remaining few seconds until airtime. "This is it, guys," she tells us
quietly. "Are you excited?"

The theme music begins and the lights in the studio come up bright.
Little indicator lights on the cameras blink and the national
audience sees my brother and Leslie Roth seated at the round table. I
reach over and squeeze Josh's elbow. `This is it. Keep your fingers
crossed.' For a brief moment, he covers my hand with his as we watch
with helpless anticipation what is about to unfold before us.

Leslie gives a brief introduction, touching succinctly on everything
from Sam's political career to his courtship and marriage and
subsequent divorce. She briefly touches on the scandal before turning
to Sam.

"Sam, I'm sure the number one question everyone wants answered is
this: Did you ever hit Lisa?" she asks the question with the calm and
cool she might display if she were asking him what he had for lunch.
How does she do that?

Sam's answer is ready. "Never. I would never...I would never have
harmed Lisa. I'm not a violent person."

"What do you think motivated her to come forward with these
accusations?"

Sam shakes his head slightly before looking Leslie directly in the
eye. He has both hands folded calmly together on the tabletop,
displaying the cool professionalism I've seen him show time and again
on `Capitol Beat' and other programs.

"I couldn't possibly fathom what instigated these accusations. Her
motivations are completely beyond me." Sam shrugs slightly. "We had
our problems, like any couple, but physical violence never occurred.
Quite frankly, I was shocked when this came forth...'Shocked' really
isn't even a strong enough word."

She pauses a moment to let the audience take in the betrayal written
all over his features. Continuing in a softer tone, she asks, "Is it
hard for you to discuss the situation in public?"

Sam shows her a meek half-smile. "Well, this is actually the first
time I've made any sort of public statement, but...yes, it's difficult.
It's very difficult. I think mostly because when this all started, I
told myself that if I denied the accusations, I would only be calling
attention to them. You know, it's very much a—if you'll forgive the
cliché—very much a catch-22. On the one hand, if I were to come out
and vehemently deny my ex-wife's allegations, I would be drawing
attention to them; I would, in essence, be `protesting too much.'"

Sam shrugs again. "On the other hand, by ignoring the allegations—
well, the public draws its own conclusions. `Qui tacet consentiret.'"

"'Guilt by omission?'" Leslie asks.

"'Silence gives consent.'"

`Somewhere else in the city, President Bartlet must be proud,' I
think to myself, and almost grin for a second.

"Tell us a little more about your relationship. When did it start to
fall apart?" Leslie doesn't waste any time getting to what people
will *really* want to know about. I can feel CJ beside me nervously
shifting her weight from one foot to another.

Sam looks so sad. I just want to reach out and hug him, even though I
know I'm the last person on earth he'd ever turn to for comfort, or
anything else for that matter. I'm so caught up in his sadness that I
almost forget to concentrate on what he's saying, before it occurs to
me that even I don't know what happened. He hasn't discussed it with
anyone, with the possible exception of Josh. I hold my breath and
listen.

"That's a—that's a really difficult question to answer. There's not—I
mean, there's not one moment you can point to; there's not one
instance, one argument or something, that you can point to and
say, `That's it, that's the moment it all ended.' It's not that
simple."

He pauses, taking in a deep breath and briefly looking over Leslie's
shoulder into the dark studio, "I suppose, though, it would be fair
to say that probably it started with Rosslyn, with the—the, uh,
shooting at the Newseum."

Sam looks off into the darkness where I suppose he thinks Josh might
be standing, while Josh tenses, but otherwise does not acknowledge
the event.

Leslie presses for details. "You're referring, of course, to the May
shooting which injured both the President and Josh Lyman."

"Yes."

"Could you talk a little bit about why you feel that contributed to
the dissolution of your marriage?"

Sam sighs deeply before answering. "I don't necessarily think the
events of that night contributed to the end of my marriage. However,
I *do* think the trouble started around then. I was—well, I was
understandably upset. The President had been injured, and Josh Lyman—
who is one of my oldest friends—was attempting to recover from a
gunshot wound that nearly ended his life. It was a traumatic time for
everyone in the West Wing. I don't think life returned to normal for
weeks afterward; maybe even months."

He shakes his head as he recalls those dark days. Every gesture pulls
sympathy from those of us watching. "CJ Cregg, Toby Ziegler, and I
were working insane hours to compensate for Josh's absence—even
though he was still doing as much work from home as the doctor would
allow; there was an incredible amount of pressure from the media;
everyone was trying to pick up the pieces—emotionally,
professionally, psychologically—and it was unbelievably hard. So I
think—I *know* that I was preoccupied; I wasn't providing Lisa with
the attention she felt she deserved. It would be safe to say things
started snowballing from there."

Leslie tips her head slightly to one side and asks, "Were you
surprised when Lisa left?" in a tone that suggests she regrets the
pain she knows she must be bringing to my brother with this question.

Sam's long, slow exhalation begins to tell the tale. "'Surprised' may
be overstating a little. Things were bad. I knew they were bad, and...I
can't honestly say I was surprised, but...I was stunned nonetheless."

He shakes his head and smiles at her, knowing he needs to
elaborate. "What I mean is, I knew there was a possibility she would
leave, but I didn't...I wasn't exactly prepared for it."

"Did you know where she went, or why?"

"I had a fairly good idea she went to her parents' in New York, but I
didn't know for certain. After she left, I decided I would give it a
couple of weeks before contacting her, but then—all this came out,
and uh, well, you can imagine my state of mind after that."

`No, they can't, Sam. Not at all.' I think to myself, looking at him
as if he just betrayed me all over again. `They don't have any idea
what your state of mind is right now.' I fight back another wave of
hurt and force myself to concentrate.

"How did you feel when your wife left you?" Leslie just asked.

My brother favors her with a wry chuckle, but the look in his eyes
reminds me of the looks of desperation he had when I entered his
office the day he got the divorce papers.

"Ah, well, Leslie, that's another—that's another question that's
difficult to answer." He pauses. "I decided to do this interview to,
you know, `have my say' and defend myself and...I was all set to do
that, but some of these questions..."

His voice trails off for just a moment, and then he gathers himself
and continues. "I was devastated."

Apparently Leslie picks up on his distraught look as quickly as I do,
for she promptly moves on to her next question. "How have the abuse
allegations affected your life, both publicly and privately?"

Somehow, my brother gives her a charming, self-deprecating smile as
he answers this question that asks him to relive the horror he's been
through lately. "Well, how *haven't* they affected my life? D.C. is a
small town, as you know, Leslie. Even if it weren't, the marital
scandal of one of the President's closest advisors is still enough to
get any rumor mill turning. Politicians are loath to attach
themselves to anyone who seems to be on the brink of professional
meltdown."

I'm a little surprised at this point that Leslie doesn't follow up
with more questions about political life in D.C., as is Josh, who
groans beside me. But Leslie is obviously focused—true to her word—on
letting Sam tell his side of the story, and he continues.

"Personally—people look at you differently...Even your family looks at
you differently. That's not an easy thing to live with."

Excuse me? What the hell does he mean by that? What the hell have Mom
and I done but stand beside him, through the bruises on my arms and
every—everything—else? He's got some friggin' nerve these days, I'll
tell you that. I fight the urge to walk out, then and there.

Leslie asks, "Since before President Bartlet was elected, you have
always been a media darling. How does it feel to be on the other side
of the coin?"

Sam quirks his eyebrows at her, and for a moment, I wonder if he'll
laugh out loud. The ease with which he's handling these questions,
even the ones about his personal life, amazes me. Sam hasn't been
this cool about anything in weeks. Seriously.

"Not at all pleasant. I have to balk slightly at being referred to as
a `media darling,' but I suppose there is some truth in that.
Not `darling' exactly, certainly," my brother says with a slight duck
of his head and shy another smile, "but I have been treated kindly by
the press—in the past, that is. Things have, ah, certainly changed in
that regard. It's extraordinarily difficult to have to watch your
step as closely as I've been having to do."

"Are you going to lose your job?"

Abruptly Sam's expression grows tight. "That's not for me to decide,"
he says tersely. "I certainly, fervently hope that's not the case."

Beside me, my ginger-haired friend groans audibly. I wonder if that
will read to the filmed version, and have to put a finger to my lips
to stifle my nervous giggle.

On stage, Leslie and Sam continue with their conversation, seemingly
oblivious to any disruption we might have caused.

"Were you compelled to take a Leave of Absence, or was it mandatory?"

Sam holds up a hand in her direction. "I was by no means compelled,
or even *asked,* to take a Leave of Absence. It was an option I
discussed with friends and family and decided to exercise. It is
important for me to be able to step back and get my bearings again."

"Tell us what you've been doing since you left the White House?"

Sam's expression brightens visibly. "Well, go ahead and laugh, but...my
mother came to stay with me." He grins. "I think it was important for
her to touch base, to be with me at this point in my life."

I doubt anyone else would notice it, but in spite of everything, I'm
probably the only person in the city, much less the room, who would
catch the unmistakable look of irritation that flashes across his
features before he controls it. It's the same look Dad gets when Mom
is driving him crazy.

He continues, moving on to work-related topics. "I've been assisting
Toby Ziegler from time to time. I've been working on my response in
the divorce proceedings. I've been...busy."

Leslie leans forward before asking, "When all of this is over, do you
want to return to the White House, or would you rather pursue other
options?"

Sam's pause is longer this time, and his lips tighten before he
answers. I look over at Josh, who regards me with wide eyes. We both
recognize this as Sam's `Take what I give you and don't push me for
any more' look. "I want to go back to where I belong."

Obviously Leslie gets it too, and she moves right along. "Do you
think your reputation will ever recover?"

"I have complete faith that I will be vindicated, but...the fact
remains that the American people have long memories. And people in
D.C.—theirs may be even longer. I just have to wait and see; I have
to hold out some hope that once I *am* cleared of these allegations,
that...that my life will go back to normal, and people will revise
their opinions of me again."

Leslie nods understandingly. "Has your ordeal affected those close to
you as well?"

Sam's nod is firm this time. "Absolutely. My family, my friends—
they've all had to deal with my face smeared across tabloids, hearing
people all across the country phone in to radio shows to share their
opinions on how I should be punished, watching round table
discussions on how the President should fire me...And they love me, the
care about me, they know I didn't do these things Lisa has accused me
of doing, and they feel—helpless. Powerless. They can't make the
world believe I'm innocent; they can't stop people from vilifying me.
They know that even when these accusations have been dropped, there
will still be people saying, `Sam Seaborn is as guilty as sin, no
matter what any judge and jury have to say. If you're rich and
famous, you can get anything to go away.'"

As I watch him deliver this speech, I wonder just how my brother has
any idea how any of us feel. He certainly hasn't asked. He may be
right, but I'm amazed that he's had time to notice with everything
that has been going on in his world lately. Still, it's clear he
doesn't know half of what has been going on in my life as a result,
and I'm glad. He doesn't need to take all of that on too.

Sam continues, "Students at my sister's university feel free to
accost her on campus and tell her I'm a low-life and a bastard and I
should be in prison for the what I've done to my wife. Women my
mother's known for twenty-some years are suddenly not inviting her to
dinners, excluding her from weekly bridge games. CJ Cregg is
constantly called on to defend not only my position in the Bartlet
Administration, but also *her* position as my *friend.* It's
disgusting. It's bad enough when something affects you, but when it
starts affecting the people around you, the people you love, it's—"
he pauses again, and shakes his head in frustration, "—it's crossed
the line."

Leslie sits back, giving the audience a minute to soak in Sam's
powerful words. "This is your chance to speak out, Sam. What would
you like for people to know?"

Sam thinks about this for a brief moment, and looks off toward the
side again as if he's looking for someone in the wings. Who is he
looking for? I wonder.

Taking a deep breath and looking Leslie full in the face, he begins
to speak earnestly. "That...yes, I contributed to the break-up of my
marriage. Yes, I probably failed her as a husband; and yes...I'm sure I
hurt her. But not intentionally. Not cruelly. And most certainly not
physically."

"However I may have hurt her," my brother continues, "...she hurt me
just as much. There were two people in this marriage, and I refuse to
bear the full weight of the blame. Marriage doesn't work like that. I
want people to know I'm not the man she is making me out to be."

Leslie begins to wrap up the interview quickly as the producer holds
up a card to indicate how many seconds she has left. I can't believe
the time passed so quickly. I glance at CJ and Josh, and standing
here in the darkness of the backstage area, they both look as tired
as I feel, but elated. Under normal circumstances, meaning, those
before Monday morning of this week, I would share their joy. In fact,
I'd be ready to bound over to him as soon as they're off the air and
throw my arms around his neck in a congratulatory hug. But I've
certainly learned my lesson there, haven't I?

Sam smiles a weary but confidant smile at Leslie as the closing
credits roll and the studio lights fade out. Everyone remains frozen
until the producer yells, "That's a wrap, folks. Thank you,
everybody." Suddenly the lights are back on and people start to mill
around again.

I stand between Josh and CJ as I watch my brother and Leslie chat for
another moment. I try to untangle the knot of emotions and
impressions flooding through me as I wonder if he'll even come talk
to his friends if I'm standing with them. Neither Josh nor CJ seems
in a hurry to approach Sam and Leslie, preferring to let him make his
way toward us in his own time.

Sam amazes me, quite frankly. The suave, confident man I saw tonight
is completely unlike the madman who shattered me several mornings
ago. He was polished, thoughtful, obviously shaken by Lisa's lies,
but secure in his innocence and even endearingly disarming. Even
Leslie, a professional journalist with plenty of experience
interviewing smooth-talking people, seems to be under the same spell
I've seen so many women under over the years. Yet he didn't ply the
charm so thickly one might think, `Yeah, I can see him doing the Dr.
Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.'

In short, his interview was a stroke of theatrical brilliance. Mom,
Dad, heck, everyone but the Barracuda, will be extremely proud of
this interview. Our worst fears were unfounded. Well, actually that's
not true. No one knows better than I do now just how much foundation
our fears have. But he held it together brilliantly tonight, although
as I stand here and watch him I can see the hard lines beginning to
creep to their now familiar place around his mouth. Or is that just
because I'm still here?

Slowly Sam and Leslie walk toward us. He's smiling at something she
said, and I think about all the jokes we shared and the fun we used
to have. The sense of loss is overwhelming, and it takes everything I
have not to burst into tears right here in the studio. Yeah, that
would make a good impression. I feel like my brother has died, and
yet here he stands in front of me, the same as ever, but vastly
different from anything I've ever known. Leslie nods at Josh, CJ and
me and keeps going, while Sam stops. He looks back and forth from
Josh to CJ.

"Well?"

CJ smiles warmly and squeezes his elbow. "Good job, Sam. It went
well."

"'Well?'" interjects Josh. "It went *great*! Congratulations, Sam.
Lisa can put *that* up her tail pipe and smoke it."

Sam grins at them and nods satisfactorily. "Thanks, guys."

CJ turns to me, eyeing me like she's caught on that something is
amiss. "Sabrina, what do you think?"

I muster a bright smile and try one more time to make eye contact
with my brother. "You did great, Sam! Congratulations."

He ignores me pointedly as he turns to CJ. "So, are we going back to
your place for a beer? Who else is in a celebratory mood?"

Josh gives me a questioning look before turning to his friend. "Sam?"
he asks as he looks from me to Sam and back again. "Is every..."

Just in the nick of time, another stagehand muscles by with a tall
camera tower, forcing our group to scatter. At the same instant, the
lighting people begin to prep for tomorrow night's show, and the
studio is momentarily dark. During the confusion I dart for the
doorway.

Just as the studio door closes behind me, I hear Josh's voice. "Bri?"

Now safely outside and away from prying eyes, I break into a sprint.
I get to my car and start the engine in record time, glancing over my
shoulder at the suitcase and tote bag in the back seat. Am I really
going to do this?

You know what? Why the hell not? I've spent so much time on Sam's
case; I've missed so many classes while following up on all of Josh's
questions and preparing briefs and memos for him that I am hopelessly
behind in class. Today the Dean agreed to let me postpone graduation
for a year due to special circumstances. I don't have a job. When
Kyle called the other day to say he was still trying to get to Lisa's
playbook, he said I should come by any time. Why not? It's not like
I'm needed or wanted here. Kyle was delighted when I called this
morning to say I was coming.

No job. No class work. Sam's case is well underway. Josh doesn't need
anything else from me for the next little while, at least not until
he comes up with another question he doesn't know how to answer. Mom
calls once a month, if that, and Dad's always traveling. Sam doesn't
want to talk to me. Who the hell would miss me if I slipped away for
a while? It would take them days to notice, if they noticed at all.

As that realization hits me I feel profoundly lonely for the first
time in my life, and I have to tell you it scares me to death. Who
would really care if I disappeared for a few days, or for good? Would
anyone? If I fell asleep at the wheel or had an accident and wrecked
the car, would anyone ever come looking for me? Would anyone care? Or
would they just continue on their merry way, never noticing until
they needed somebody to do something for them, or look up some
obscure statute, or run some errand, that they finally turned to the
person who always drops everything to take care of it for him...I mean,
*them*? Yeah, it would probably be something like that. They'd
probably be more pissed at the inconvenience of having to do it their
own fucking selves than anything else. Maybe, judging by my current
state of mind, maybe I will just disappear. And maybe I won't come
back. No sense wasting your time where you're not wanted.

`Yeah,' I tell myself as I make a beeline for I-95 and crank up the
radio to keep me awake. `New York sounds like exactly what the doctor
ordered.' In a rare moment of rebellion, I roll down he window and
pitch the cell phone onto the highway. `Goodbye, D.C. and no job and
no degree. And *goodbye*, Sam. Have a nice life.'

THE END

Coming soon: Chapter 11: Fools in their Madness

 

 

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