(all disclaimer-type stuff in pt 1)

* * *

Somehow the next couple of hours pass by without incident. Mom
finishes packing and sets her luggage by the door before settling
into the easy chair and remaining silent till it's time to go.
Sabrina goes into the den with a videotape she and Josh have compiled
of Lisa's television interviews and the news programs that have
covered the most recent scandal in the Bartlet Administration. I
decide to call Josh.

"Josh Lyman. This better be good, I'm up to my neck in paperwork."

"Hey, it's me."

"Hey. Sabrina tell you the good news?" he asks with a grunt that
tells me just how good he thinks the news really is.

"Yeah," I reply with equal disgust. I may be in my sister's corner,
but it's no reason for me to change my opinion on Jackass Britton.

"You know, Sam, that ex of your sister's is a real jackass."

Well, now. "Couldn't have said it better myself...although, actually
I have."

"I mean it. He was all Mr Smoothy-Smooth Trader Guy, and then he
doesn't even ask Sabrina if she has a way home."

I can't help it; I laugh. "'Mr Smoothy-Smooth Trader Guy'?"

"Don't mock me. That guy made me want to break out some Whoop-Ass."

"You're really getting the hang of this protective-big brother thing,
I'm impressed."

"If you'd been there, we so could have taken him, Sam. He was
cruising for some serious bruising. I mean, the guy practically
begged Sabrina to sleep with him!"

"He *what*?" I yelp.

"I mean, we both work out, right? And we're politicians. Politicians
are way scarier than bond traders, or—or whatever the hell he is. We
could have—"

"Did you say he came on to her?"

"—kicked his ass into the next tax bracket." Josh pauses, catching up
with my question. "What? Yeah—yeah, he did. But she pretty much told
him where he could shove his come-ons." A chuckle travels down the
phone line. He sounds terribly amused. "She would have done you
proud."

"I guess I should be relieved."

"You should," he assures me. "Look Sam, I know it's built into your
DNA or whatever to overprotect any female in the vicinity, but you're
really working overtime with Bri, and you don't need to. That girl
can take care of herself."

"So do you think Britton's on to something?"

I can practically hear Josh shrugging. "Dunno. But I *will* say that
it sounded plausible, much as I hate to admit that jackass could have
been helpful in the least."

"Well, if you say it's promising..." I sigh.

"Sam, let me tell you something, okay? When you thrust this case on
my lap—which, I'm not complaining, but let's face facts, thrusting
was involved here; anyway, when you thrust this case on my lap, I was
highly, highly doubtful. I know we all joke about my lawyerly
ineptness, but I seriously do know some stuff."

"I know, Josh—"

"Interruptions are verboten. Just listen."

"Okay."

"I was doubtful because I know enough about the law to know how hard
this case is going to be. But let me tell you something else, buddy—
I'm not going to let this one slide, and neither is your sister—"

"I know." I suddenly feel the need to apologize profusely. "And I
just can't believe the amount of time and energy you're putting into
this, Josh, especially with the State of the Union so close. I'll
never—"

"Sam."

"Shutting up."

Josh sighs heavily. "Toby was right, Sam. What Lisa's doing is wrong.
And I want to see that punished, one way or another. I want to see
that woman get what she deserves. I want to see you back in this
office. I want to see your reputation handed back to you on a silver
platter. I will not allow you to be destroyed by this woman and her
lies."

"Josh..."

"Shutting up would still be in order here, Seaborn. Are you
listening?"

"Yes."

"We'll fix this, buddy. We'll win this. We'll get your life back for
you. We owe you that."

I am incredibly touched by these simple words from this man who has
been my best friend for so many years now. I know he means what he's
saying, and he knows I know. Which is why it's important to say what
I'm about to say. "Josh?"

"Yeah?"

"You're a big softie, aren't you?"

"I'm hanging up now."

"Seriously. I can practically hear the violins swelling in the
background."

"You know, I hope your ass rots in jail."

"No chance. I'm too pretty."

"Go away."

"'kay. Hey, tonight's the speech. Are you prepared?"

In answer, he yawns. "A drive to Manhattan and back wasn't exactly
part of my pre-State of the Union preparation plans, but...yeah, I'm
prepared, I guess. The President's gonna kick some ass, Sam. They'll
never know what hit 'em."

I sigh wistfully. "Wish I could be there."

"Your words'll be there, Sam. That's pretty good, right?" He sounds
like he's grinning. "You know we would have had Toby in a
straitjacket by now if you hadn't been working with him over the
phone, calming him down, working a little speechwriting magic."

I grimace. "Yeah, whenever my mother would let me."

There's a pause and then a snort of laughter.

"Josh?"

"I'm—I'm sorry," he stammers, "it's just—you sounded so
funny. 'Whenever my mom would let me'."

"Shut up, Josh."

"I mean, you're a thirty-three year old man!" He can barely contain
his amusement. Not like he's trying. He stops giggling. "Seriously,
did you have to ask Mommy if you could use the phone?"

"I hate you."

"Did she—I mean, did she set an egg timer?"

"I changed my mind. Kyle Britton is a prince among men. *You're* the
jackass."

"I'm just asking, Sam. You know, were you grounded from the phone?"

"You're not nearly as funny as you think you are."

"That's payback for the 'softie' routine."

"Goodbye, Josh."

"Give my love to your mom."

"Oh, ha ha."

<><><>

When I was a kid, I loved seeing my dad off at the airport. It always
seemed so exciting—all the people rushing around, the announcements
over the PA system, the smell of jet engine fuel and stale coffee,
and that nervous apprehension most travelers seem to feel. I used to
sit at my dad's side, people-watching, wondering where everyone was
going, and whether they would have someone to meet them as they
stepped off the plane at their final destination. I was especially
curious about the people who were waiting to board the plane. I
always wondered who they were, where they were going, and why.
Sometimes I made up stories about them to entertain myself.

As I sit here in a devastatingly uncomfortable chair, between my
stiff and tight-lipped mother and my silently thoughtful sister, I
wonder what story someone might make up about us. Would they be able
to tell, just by looking at us, that we were three desperately
unhappy people? That I am fighting to maintain my life, my mother her
sense of self, and my sister her self-control? Can they tell from the
utter dejection on our faces that we are all hanging on by a thread?

Okay, now I'm just being dramatic. The thought makes me smile to
myself. When people look at us, they simply see what we are: a man
and a woman—obviously brother and sister—with a woman who may or may
not be their mother, looking tired and worn-out, as if they're ready
for the day to end. Nothing more, nothing less.

Mom clutches her leather carry-on bag in both hands, so hard her
knuckles are turning white. She stares at the ticket counter with
determination on her face, as if she's preparing for battle.
Sabrina's eyes are cast upwards and I can tell from the look on her
face that her mind is going ninety miles an hour. I just sit,
alternately looking from my mother to my sister, and wondering how
the hell this all came to pass.

The television overhead is, of course, showing CNN, so I decide to
watch as we wait, even though I can't hear a thing over the din of
fifty different conversations.

It's been too long since I was in the office. I miss being a part of
the news cycle—well, being a part of the news cycle that didn't
involve wild accusations from my estranged wife. I always liked the
feeling that when people watched a segment on a bill that finally
passed, or the President's speech to the AFL-CIO, or—or *anything*,
really, that I had a hand in it. It didn't matter that the American
public didn't know, and probably wouldn't care if they did; the
important thing was that I knew my meeting with Gillette had swung
needed votes our way, or that I had been the one to write the speech
that sent hundreds of politicians rising to their feet. It was a damn
good feeling, let me tell you—addictive, even—and I haven't felt it
in a long time.

"We are now boarding United Airlines flight 4415 with service to
Chicago-O'Hare, and continuing service to Ontario Airport. At this
time we would like to begin boarding all our Mileage Plus members, as
well as our first-class passengers."

That's Mom, of course. Alexander Seaborn buys nothing but the best
for his family, which means Mom is currently in possession of a
$2,317 first-class ticket to California. He could never allow a
Seaborn to be relegated to coach class.

Mom stands up and Sabrina and I follow her as she walks to the
boarding area, her ticket sticking out of her clenched fist. She is
dressed head-to-toe in a gray designer suit and matching heels, and I
wonder how comfortable she's going to be wearing that for the next
eight-and-a-half hours.

"Mom, is there anything you need?" I ask suddenly.

She turns to me, favoring me with a smile, and pats my cheek
solicitously. "I'm fine, sweetie, thank you for asking—again."

Sabrina hands her the bag of mineral water and magazines she bought
before we arrived at the airport, and says softly, "Here you go,
Mom."

To my surprise, Mom ignores the bag and places her other hand on
Sabrina's cheek. They exchange this look that is heartbreaking in its
complexity; Mom's eyes search my sister's face as if she's praying
that she'll find something that tells her this independent, spirited
girl who has defied every limitation, is truly *her* daughter. As for
Sabrina—well, let's just say all the hope in the world is in her
eyes. I hold my breath, waiting for a big, dramatic moment. Something
vaguely `Joy Luck Club'-ish, or maybe even `Steel Magnolias'. (Yes,
I've seen both those movies. Shut up.)

Mom says, "You're not using that facial cleanser I gave you, are
you?"

I watch my sister deflate before my very eyes. She pulls away from
Mom and says, "It makes my skin break out."

"Well, find their 'Sensitive Skin' formula, and try that."

"Mom, it's fine."

"You'll get a good price at Saks."

"I don't go to Saks, Mom."

Mom chuckles to herself. "That doesn't surprise me, honey. Frankly
I'm shocked you know the difference between Saks Fifth Avenue and Wal-
Mart."

Her words, disdainful and dismissive as always, set my teeth on edge,
but I know better than to say anything. I can't believe I was
childish enough to think one conversation was going to change a habit
of twenty-plus years. My mother's diatribes against my sister have
only increased in sharpness and severity as the years have gone by.
No amount of pleading or reasoning on my part has changed that.
Nothing will ever change that.

"I—I *try*, Mom," Sabrina is saying with quiet dignity. "I mean,
there's nothing *wrong* with the way I—the way I look."

"Of course not," I start to say, but Mom breaks in.

"You have to keep up appearances, Sabrina. You have to remember
you're going to be representing your brother in the eyes of the legal
justice system; in the eyes of the world, actually."

I grit my teeth. "Mom, the world in general isn't too concerned with
my life."

But as per usual, Mom just sails over the interruption as if it
hadn't even occurred. She turns to me, "Sammy honey, you've got to be
strong. I know you want to fall apart, but you can't let yourself.
You have to be strong. Things are going to get worse before they get
better."

Gee, thanks, Mom. Way to bring the sunshine.

I didn't realize how long we've been standing here, but suddenly I
hear another announcement, this time for the final boarding call.

"Take care of your brother," Mom says, tilting her cheek to Sabrina
as she waits for the cursory peck. Not 'take care of yourself' or
even the more banal 'take care', but always, *always* 'take care of
your brother'. As if I'm the only one who matters.

I see my sister hesitate, anger warring with bitter disappointment as
she stares at Mom. Then she relents, as she always has and most
likely always will. She kisses Mom's cheek. "Of course," she murmurs.

The crowd is moving steadily onto the plane. They've begun boarding
the back rows, but Mom doesn't seem concerned. "There's always space
for my things in the First Class section, unlike Coach," she tells
us, "and they'll always wait for you. Besides," she sniffs, "I don't
care to board with the Coach class."

I wince at the arrogance in her tone. I admit I'm not above the finer
things in life, but the casual assumption that the needs of the few
outweigh the needs of the many—even in situations like this—bothers
me and always has. It's a big reason why I became a Democrat, despite
my father's constant leanings to the right.

It's not important now, though. Mom is leaving and Sabrina and I will
be left in peace. Well, as much peace as we'll be allowed with
reporters still clinging to the edges of my property and my face
still splashed on the occasional tabloid. It was wrong to think
things might change between my sister and my mother; I can't expect
one conversation to change a lifetime.

Mom throws her arms around my neck and hugs me hard. My angers starts
melting away. No matter what she does, it's difficult to hate a
mother who loves you so much. "Bye, Mom."

"Bye, sweetheart."

"Call us when you get home," I say, with emphasis on the 'us'. I hang
my arm around my sister's shoulders as Mom heads over to join the
dissipating crowd. She gives us another small wave, hands her ticket
to the dour flight attendant, and then disappears into the walkway.

That's it. No movie moments.

Sabrina and I stand together for a minute, long after Mom has
disappeared. The sheer strength it takes to withstand my mother's
forceful personality has us both suddenly feeling drained. We stand
in the boarding area looking droopy and weary. Which we are.

Finally, after a few minutes have passed, I nudge my sister. "Hey.
Come on, let's go."

"Hm?" Sabrina turns to me as if in a daze. "Oh. Yeah. Yeah, let's
go." Then she stops and says, "Sam?"

"Yeah?"

"Have you ever—Have you ever noticed how *tiring* it is to be with
Mom?"

I chuckle mirthlessly. "The thought just crossed my mind, as a matter
of fact."

"I mean...I feel like it takes all my strength just to be around her—
like it takes all my energy. And then when she leaves, I'm just..."
Her voice trails off.

"Deflated," I say, thinking of earlier, when our mother's sharp words
stabbed her, like a tiny pinprick in a balloon.

"Yeah," she agrees. "Deflated."

I sling my arm around her shoulders again and we begin to walk
through the terminal. I can't believe my mother is gone at last. With
any luck I won't see her till Christmas. What a horrible way to feel
about your own mother.

"Listen," I tell my sister, "Josh and CJ are coming over tonight
after the State of the Union. We'll order some pizza, drink many,
many beers, and forget the past few days ever even happened. No Lisa,
no press, no LOA, no Mom..."

The thought seems to cheer Sabrina slightly. She smiles. "A Pauline
Seaborn-free world."

"Exactly."

"But Sam," she looks at me worriedly, "only for tonight, right? We
can't—I mean, we can't pretend the world away."

My smile fades. "I know, Sabrina."

She looks anxious suddenly and puts her arm around my waist. "But
it's a good plan for tonight, big brother. It really is."

"Good," I say, cracking another grin. "Well then, we'll just—" And
then I stop. I stop speaking, I stop walking, I stop thinking, and
I'm pretty sure I stop breathing. Because there's a television to the
left of me, and it's caught my eye. It's caught my eye because the
White House is plastered on the screen. More specifically, Josh's car
is plastered on the screen. He's pulling out of the security gates at
the White House and there are microphones bumping up against his car
windows. Faces are reflected in the windows as Josh drives slowly out
into the throng of reporters.

I can't hear anything because the PA system is squawking again, and
there are hundreds of people buzzing around me, and Sabrina is asking
me if I'm okay, and airplanes are taking off. I drop my arm from
around my sister and I tell her to shut up, not caring that I've
never said those words to her before. Suddenly I'm propelled into
mobility. I cross over to the television and stare up, immediately
coaxing a crick into my neck. I want to tell everyone to *SHUT THE
HELL UP*, but I can't.

The news banner flashes across the bottom of the screen—`White House
Staffer Suing Ex-Wife for Slander'.

A camera has honed in on Josh's face behind the glass. He's wearing
his sunglasses and he's got this look on his face. I know that look;
it's his Pissed look. He glares at the cameras and I can't hear him,
but his mouth forms the words, "No comment". Only he added an
interesting little expletive in between the two words.

"Sam?" Sabrina comes up behind me, touching my shoulder.

"Why won't these people *shut up*?" Okay, I think my voice was a
little louder than I'd intended it to be. People stare at me.

"Sam, let's go."

"No. I want to *hear* this."

"Sam, you've got the Internet. You've got C-Span. Hell, you've got
Josh! When we get home, you can find out what's going on. Now let's
go."

But I'm on my cell phone already and I'm ringing through to Josh's
cell within seconds.

He answers with, "I told you no *comment*. And how the hell did you
get this number anyway, you parasite?"

"Josh."

"Oh." He sounds relieved.

"Josh, what the *hell* is going on?"

"Well, I'll tell you," he exhales quickly, "this just may be worse
than the President's secret plan to fight inflation."

Panic sets in. "Josh? Josh, what did you say?"

"Um, listen...I can't talk now. What do you say we get a drink after
I'm done with the polling?"

"You cannot possibly expect me to *wait* till then—"

"I can't talk right now. I have another meeting with Onorato in,
like, ten minutes."

"Josh."

"Turn on C-Span, mi compadre. Then tonight I'll give you the *real*
story."

<><><>

tbc

 

 

Home        What's New        Author Listings        Title Listings