(see pt 1 for all CYA-like remarks)

* * *

The 'real' story, as it turns out, is remarkably similar to the story
C-Span is telling, and can basically be summarized as follows: Josh
made a passing remark to the wrong person. And what was that remark,
you might ask?

"She asked me how you were feeling about Lisa's allegations. I kind
of thought, 'Well, how the hell do you think he feels?' But I think I
said something like, 'There will be appropriate retribution. We're
not just sitting on our asses here'," Josh tells me, wincing.

And who was that wrong person, you might ask?

"Erica Benedict of the, uh, the Chicago Sun-Times."

I groan, fighting back a surge of irritation. "Josh..."

"I know, I know." He holds up his hand in protest. "I know what
you're going to say. Something along the lines of a disastrous press
conference and why I'm never allowed in CJ's 'pwess woom' again',
maybe?"

From the desk where she has been perched since I arrived at the
polling center, Donna shakes her head at Josh. "Joshua, Joshua,
Joshua. When *will* you learn not to let your mouth write a check
that your ass can't cash?"

We both turn to look at her. Josh raises an eyebrow. "A little
Wisconsin colloquialism there, Donnatella?"

She flashes him a pitying look and slides off the desk in one fluid
motion. "You get all fired up and you just let words come *flying*
out of your mouth, hither and yon, without the slightest idea how
they're going to sound when they land on some poor, unsuspecting
person's ears."

"Hither and yon?" is all he can say in reply.

We're all a little punchy at the moment. It's after midnight and the
power's been off since I arrived, which was at least an hour-and-a-
half ago. Josh was climbing the walls for the first several minutes,
so I refrained from cross-examining him; once he settled down into a
sort of edgy calm, I decided to jump in and try not to let my temper
get the better of me. That's where we are right now. Josh, Donna, and
I are gathered in a small circle, with Joey Lucas and her translator
Kenny nearby. There's just enough light filtering in from the streets
for everyone to be outlined and fairly visible. I can feel the
nervous energy bursting from Josh.

"It's just—it's just that we've played it so carefully up till now.
That was an incredibly stupid thing to say to a reporter, Josh," I
tell him. My face feels hot and tight as I fight back a swell of
anger. This is so like him; it's so like him to open his mouth
without thinking.

"Really?" he retorts. "Imagine that...Me saying something stupid to a
reporter—Not a word out of you, Donna," he says with a sigh. "Sam,
I'm sorry. But you know, it was gonna come out eventually anyway.
Once this thing hits the court, it's fair game. I'm sorry I gave Lisa
a bit of a heads-up, but hey," he shrugs, "it's not the end of the
world."

"It's just...Josh, she's going to come out ahead on this. She knows
what we're preparing before we're ready for her to know!"

"Uh, guys?" asks Donna, slightly nervous now. "You're getting a
little loud here."

"So you're telling me I screwed up?" yells Josh.

"It was a little amateurish, yeah," I shout back. Wow, I have no idea
where that came from. I just called Josh Lyman an amateur?

"Guys...Um, I mean it. There are pollsters here, you know."

"No, no, Donna, it's fine," I say. "Josh and I are just having a
little discussion, that's all." My voice goes up another notch. "A
little *discussion* about a *mistake* he's made in the *past* that
he's yet to *learn from*!"

"What the hell is that supposed to mean?" he fires back. "Where is
this all coming from, Sam?"

Where is it coming from? It's coming from someplace deep and dark
inside of me, that's where it's coming from. Someplace I have no
control over; someplace that seems to have control over me.

Someplace that terrifies me.

I fold my arms across my chest and my voice drops to a low
hiss. "I'll tell you something, Josh, if you ever took a page out of
your own manual and learned from your mistakes, I imagine the world
would be a much better place."

Josh slaps a hand against his chest in fury. "Are *you* lecturing
*me*?" he yells. Then for good measure, he asks it again, "I
mean...Are *you* lecturing *me*?"

I just keep thinking of Josh saying that to a reporter—that one
small, almost insignificant comment, and it ignites me into further
rage. How could he? How could he tell the world before we even had
our shit together? We weren't *ready* for this. Things had begun to
die down, but it's all going to explode in our faces once again.

Donna steps between us and holds out two hands that shine pale in the
faint light. Her head swivels back and forth between us. "Cut it out,
you guys. This isn't the time or the place."

But we both ignore her and step around her till we're face to face
again.

"I'll tell you something, Josh," I spit, "it's one thing to make some
smart-ass comment about a plan to fight inflation; it is *quite*
another to broadcast my private intentions toward my *wife*!"

"Oh?" he challenges, waving a hand around with short, irritated
motions. "So you're saying I deliberately said what I did."

"I didn't say that."

"You implied it, dammit!"

"Okay, so maybe I did! Jesus, Josh, don't you *ever* think about what
you're going to say before you actually, you know, *say* it?"

"Jesus!" he echoes, tearing a hand through his hair. We have quite a
captive audience at this point. I think Kenny is translating to Joey,
even. "I can't *believe* this! Do you—do you *hear* yourself, Sam? Do
you hear yourself making a mountain out of a fucking *molehill*? I
made one asinine comment to a reporter—"

"There were reporters on my *doorstep* because of that comment,
Josh!"

"There have been reporters on your doorstep since Lisa went on the
air and *crucified* you, Sam! This was *one* comment. So it set off a
whole other chain of events, so what? So does *everything*!"

"We weren't ready for this, Josh."

He sighs angrily. "You're telling your *lawyer*, Sam, you think I
don't know that?! Of *course* I know that! But it *happened*. We'll
deal with it and we'll move on." There's this catch to his voice,
this note of hostility that sends fingers crawling up my spine. I
know Josh is tired and edgy and overworked and impatient, but he's
never spoken to any of us quite like this.

"If you had just *thought* about what you were saying! But no, you
had to say the first clever thing to pop into your head. It wouldn't
have happened," I say edgily, teeth practically grinding, "if you had
a little less ego and a little more common sense."

Donna sucks her breath in audibly and turns to Josh with what I'm
sure is a shocked face.

I can feel Josh's hurt stare even in the dark. "Look," he finally
says, "I'm burning the candle at both ends here, all right? I mean—
I've got Sabrina doing the legwork, but that doesn't mean I don't
have a lot on my plate. I'm looking through libel cases in my spare
time, slander cases, divorces involving both. I'm over at your house
every night working on this case." In the lights from the street
lamps I can see him gesturing wildly in the air. "And then, you know,
as if *that's* not enough, I've got this job—this job that requires
all of my blood, sweat, and tears, and ninety-five per cent of my
time. Ninety-five per cent! You know what I do with the other five
per cent, Sam? I work on your case! So just—just forgive me, okay?
Forgive me if I was so damn *tired*—so damn on edge that I didn't
consider my words more carefully. I had no idea a little slip like
that would put me on your shit list, okay?" He pauses. "Okay?!" he
asks again, a little hysterically this time.

Joey and Kenny are staring at us in the moonlight. My head is
pounding. Josh and I say nothing. Donna shifts on her feet nervously.

She moves beside me and puts her hand on my arm. Minutes have ticked
by and still Josh has said nothing, and neither have I. "Sam. You
should go," she says.

I nod, feeling words clogging in my throat. The anger is gone so
quickly I'm practically reeling. "Okay." Then I look at Josh, whose
chest is still heaving with indignation. "Look...Josh, I—"

He lifts his hand again and I catch the metallic glint of his watch
in the pale light. "Forget it," he says, but his tone is hard and I
know he's not looking at me.

Well. I certainly feel like an asshole right now. Something worse
than an asshole, actually. I
grab my jacket from a nearby chair and watch as Donna crosses to
Josh's side and they begin murmuring to each other. Her voice sounds
low and soothing, while Josh's radiates hurt anger. I turn and go,
berating myself all the way home. *Jackass*, I tell myself.

It's not Josh's fault. After all the energy he's put into helping me,
I repay him by calling him stupid and amateurish, by screaming at
him? Where had that even *come* from?

The darkness inside me isn't just swirling in the pit of my stomach
any longer. It's growing. It's overwhelming me. It's putting words
into my mouth.

What am I going to do?

<><><>

Josh and I meet for lunch that afternoon. He's a few minutes late,
and when he walks into the restaurant, I wonder what the hell I'm
supposed to say to him. I haven't talked to him since we yelled at
each other at the polling center—Donna's the one who called me and
made the arrangement for us to have lunch—so I'm a little nervous. I
laugh to myself. Imagine being nervous to talk to your best friend.

"Sam," Josh says as he seats himself across from me.

"Hey. So...The speech went great last night." In all the chaos of the
polling center, we never did actually get around to discussing the
address.

"You watched?" His jaw is tightly clenched.

"Of course."

"The President did a great job."

"Yeah. Did you ever get your numbers?"

He shakes his head and sighs. "Joey called it a night right after you
left. We totally lost the window; there was no point. We're starting
over tonight."

"How did everything go?"

"Well," he smothers a chuckle, "did you manage to catch CJ on Capitol
Beat after the address?"

"Yeah, she looked great."

"She didn't have any pants on."

I stare at him in astonishment. "What?"

"She—she sat in wet paint seconds before she had to go on with
Gottfried, and she—" He's snickering like a schoolboy now.

"You mean she was on the air half-*naked*?"

"Basically, yeah," he smirks.

"Wow, that's...that's..." I picture CJ's long, bare legs stretched
out under the table as she spoke seriously and eloquently about how
well the President spoke during the address. Wow. It's kind of a
vivid image. I have to remind myself that I'm a lonely man and
there's no point reading anything into the clarity of that image.

Josh places his order with the waiter, and then continues with the
small talk. I think he's just as unsure as I am as to how to discuss
last night's explosion. But it's there, hanging heavily in the air
between us, like the dense humidity of a DC summer. I can feel it and
I know he can too.

For the next several minutes he tells me about Toby's breakfast
meeting with a highly-pissed Seth Gillette, and about the five DEA
agents who were taken hostage in a remote region of Colombia and how
frustrated the President is right now. It's clear from his tone that
the stress is weighing heavily, and his eyes are a little wilder than
usual. My guilt is suddenly compounded. My words from last night are
ringing in my ears.

"Josh, I'm an ass."

We look at one another and start laughing. That's all it takes and
the ice is broken.

"What brought this on?" he asks.

"You know...Last night, when I blew up at you like a slightly more
insane Ike Turner."

That gets yet another laugh out of him. "Well, you're under a lot of
pressure."

"And you're just Mary Sunshine yourself," I say.

He shrugs and runs his hands through his mass of hair. "Hey, if you
can't blow up at one of your oldest friends, who can you blow up at?"

I grin. "Good point. But I am sorry."

"Yeah." He exhales heavily and chuckles again. "Me too. It was
royally stupid of me to say that to Erica Benedict."

"Don't beat yourself up over it," I say, and I mean it too.

"Did your mom get home all right?"

"Yeah, Sabrina and I saw her off at the airport yesterday afternoon.
She called when she got in. She sounded exhausted. My dad wasn't even
home," I say bitterly. "He ordered her home like he was The Great
Dictator, and then he wasn't even there when she got back."

Josh winces. Then he says, "I had breakfast with the President today,
to—you know, kind of discuss the thing in Colombia." Josh's eyes
narrow as he studies me. "He asked about you. He's worried about you,
Sam."

"Tell him to join the club," I mutter.

There's a small interruption as the waiter brings Josh's order, and
then he shakes his head and bravely picks up the topic of last
night's argument, jumping in as if we'd been discussing it all
along. "I just got *pissed*, you know? I mean, Lisa's been shooting
her mouth off on national television, and we haven't done the
slightest—" He breaks off as a shadow crosses over the table.

"And you haven't done the slightest thing to defend yourselves?" asks
the newcomer pleasantly, and both Josh and I look up to a see a very
familiar face. The face that has moderated countless arguments
on `Washington Week in Review', calmed countless irate political
correspondents, and always with a countless measure of humor and
grace.

It's Leslie Roth, all five-feet-two inches of her, dressed to kill in
a dark navy skirt and jacket, her curly dark hair piled up on top of
her head. Josh's mouth falls open. "Ms Roth," he says quickly as we
both rise to our feet, towering over her as she stands beside us.

"Please, please, sit down," she says, waving away our gallantry. "And
it's 'Leslie' by the way, not 'Ms Roth'. Mind if I join you?"

"No," croaks Josh. Now this is amusing. He looks as if he's going to
break out into a sweat.

Leslie smiles at him and he smiles faintly back. She chooses the seat
next to him, settling herself in quietly before fixing me with a
gentle, yet inquisitive gaze. Josh is still gaping at her and I reign
in my urge to slap the back of his head, CJ-style. Never
underestimate the power of a man's crush on a celebrity. I've seen
Josh flirt like mad with Joey Lucas and certainly his banter with
Donna borders on the sexual, but I've never seen him tongue-tied like
this before.

I have to try *really* hard not to laugh.

Then Leslie extends her hand to both of us and tell us it's a
pleasure to meet us. "Let me get right down to it," she says
firmly. "I've already interrupted your lunch, and I hate to take up
anymore of your time, but I have a proposal for you, Sam."

I manage a watery smile. "Thanks, Leslie, but maybe I'd better skip
the proposals while I've still got a wife giving me trouble."

She grins at me, chuckling appreciatively. When her laughter stops
she gives me that steely-eyed look she's so good at on her show. "I
want to interview you, Sam."

"What?"

"An interview," she says with an encouraging nod. "You, me, and a few
questions."

Josh comes to life then. He shakes his head decisively. "No, I don't
think—"

"Just print," she continues, as if he hadn't spoken, "I do the
occasional column for The Post. It would be you and me, Sam. Me
asking questions, you answering the ones you want to answer. You'll
have full control over the end result."

I swallow hard. "An interview? Leslie, I don't think that's such a
good idea." But inside I'm thinking, It's brilliant. Isn't it about
time I had my say in this?

Then Leslie leans forward over the plates of food and puts one hand
on my arm as Josh watches. "I admire you, Sam," she says, staring
intently at me. "You're a wonderful politician, you write amazing
speeches for Bartlet, and throughout this whole—*thing*," she says,
gesturing so wildly she nearly spills a glass of water into Josh's
lap. Not that he looks like he'd mind, "through out this whole
thing," she continues, "you have been nothing but dignified and
silent." She removes her hand from me and leans back in her
chair. "That intrigues me. And I think it's time you had your say."

"Well, I..."

"Don't tell me no one else has approached you about this."

"No...No, I've gotten other offers." Barbara Walters, Oprah Winfrey,
Diane Sawyer, Sam Donaldson, Larry King, Katie Couric, Dan Rather,
Tom Brokaw, Connie Chung, Mike Bradley, Matt Lauer...I've got my pick
of news anchors. Everyone is practically gagging for me to spill my
guts on their network. They don't care who I spill them to, or how
much I spill, so long as they've got exclusive rights to the inside
scoop on the scandal in the Bartlet Administration. I haven't said
anything about the offers to my sister or Josh because I don't need a
lecture. It's not something I want to think about, anyway. "Why
should I take you up on *your* offer, Leslie?"

"Because I want to tell your story, Sam. I don't need the ratings—I'm
on PBS, for crying out loud! And I don't need it as a challenge; I'm
on the air with the top reporters in the *nation* once a week." Her
eyes are bright as she warms to the subject. "I'm not denying a story
like this would give me a great deal of prestige, but...the bigger
picture—at least for me—is that I want to tell your story." We are
all silent for a minute as the sounds of the restaurant buzz around
us. "I mean it, Sam. Even the most hardened, most grizzled, most
*disillusioned* reporters have a soft spot for certain stories."

I grin, unable to imagine Leslie Roth as grizzled or disillusioned—
but especially grizzled, looking at her in her tailored suit and
manicured nails. I can feel myself relenting, even as Josh's eyes
land on me like laser beams. I can practically hear him screaming at
me in his head.

Leslie's smart enough to realize this. She's been in her business a
long time, and she's shrewd; she knows what's going on here. It's a
lawyer's nightmare to have his client doing an interview like this.
Who knows what I might say? Josh may have a crush on Leslie Roth, but
he's no fool.

The silence lingers a while longer. If this were an old black-and-
white movie, a grandfather clock would be ticking ominously in the
background, punctuating each movement as Josh, Leslie, and I stare at
each other in turn. I draw in a deep breath and Leslie immediately
notices the shift in my posture.

"So how about it, Sam?" she asks, with a quirk of her eyebrow as she
plays devil's advocate. "Lisa's had her say...Don't you think it's time
you had yours?"

THE END

* * *

TBC IN CHAPTER 10

 

 

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