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

I am silent during the short trip to Sam's house. Josh keeps glancing
back over his shoulder at me as he drives. I can tell he wonders what
I'm thinking, and his expression is half-encouraging smile, half-
worried frown. I try to grin for him, but it comes out pretty
crooked, so after that I turn my head and stare out the window and
avoid his gaze. I'm *really* not looking forward to this.

We get to Sam's and I try to steel myself as Josh parks the car.
There is no longer any chance of avoiding the now very inevitable
confrontation. I hop out of the car and beat both CJ and Josh to
Sam's front door. They walk up the steps behind me as I raise my hand
to press the buzzer. Before my finger makes contact, the door swings
open with a mighty whoosh and Sam sails out onto the front step,
enveloping me in a huge hug.

"Thank God you're here! She's driving me crazy," he whispers fiercely
in my ear. I hug him back as he continues. "I'm sorry to do this to
you, I really am. I owe you one."

I kiss him on the cheek and whisper, "You can count on that," to him
before pulling back and stepping into the house in front of the
others.

Our mother stands in the middle of the foyer like a queen. She looks
every bit as polished and sophisticated as she ever has. Even when I
was a very small girl, I loved the way Mom looked. In the middle of a
hot California summer, she managed to look cool and crisp and so
pretty.

Just like always, every detail is attended to now, from the creases
in her navy slacks to the manicure that sets off her gargantuan
diamond ring and matches her scarlet jacket. Her blonde hair, very
carefully maintained at outrageous cost, shows not one hint of gray.
She's simply a beautiful woman in the classically icy, unapproachable
style of Grace Kelly. She doesn't begin to look old enough to have 33-
and 24-year-old children. In another life, Mom would have been the
perfect Hitchcock Blonde, which is exactly what she aspired to be
when she left her native Virginia at 22 and headed for Hollywood.
Fate had other cards in mind for her though.

I marvel once again at the way being in the presence of one's mother
can make even the most self-assured adult feel like a timid first-
grader. Just look at Sam and me. He is standing slightly behind Josh
and CJ as if Mom can't see him back there. I am once again struck by
her tall, elegant aloofness and wish for the millionth time that I
had her height, her style, or something other than my slight frame
and wavy black hair. I never wanted to look so much like a short,
female version of Dad and Sam. I wanted to look like *her*.

She looks me up and down dismissively before presenting her cheek for
me to kiss. She might not normally do this, but it is standard
procedure when strangers are present. "Hello, Daughter."

"Hi, Mom. Did you have a good flight?"

She shows me an odd little half smile before turning her impressive
gaze on Josh and CJ. She extends her hand palm down like she expects
Josh to kiss the back of her hand or something and gives him her most
coquettish grin. "Joshua. How good to see you again."

Josh has that `Yeah, right' expression on his face, but he plays
along pretty admirably, considering it's Josh we're talking about. He
may be a top-notch politician, but b. s. has never been one of his
better talents. He's much more the `tell it like it is' kind of guy.

"Good to see you, Mrs. Seaborn. Did you have a good flight?" He
speaks his question a little slower and a little crisper, as if to
point out the fact that she didn't answer it the first time it was
asked. Sometimes I really love Josh. Other times, like right now, I
absolutely adore him.

"It was wonderful, darling, how nice of you to ask," Mom says
breathlessly, oblivious to his subtle admonishment. "And this must be
CJ Cregg," she says as she moves toward CJ and extends her hand. How
like Mom to plunge right in, without giving Sam or me a chance to
introduce her. No doubt we'll both hear about our lapse of good
manners later, though.

"I am such a fan of yours, CJ," Mom is saying in her most charming
fashion as hints of her native Southern accent peek through. "I watch
your press conferences on the news almost every day. You are such a
good role model for young women today. Sabrina could really stand to
take a lesson from you."

While I don't get to hang out with her regularly, I do know CJ well
enough to see the brief flash of emotion that passes across her face
before she speaks. She thinks about, and then decides against; saying
anything other than, "Well, thank you."

Hostess Mode takes over Pauline's body as she suddenly motions us
into the living room. "Well, come in, come in. Samuel, close the
door. It's freezing out there." She motions us all to sit down as she
seats herself in the middle of the sofa. "I honestly don't know how
Sam lives in Washington year-round. The winters must be just
dreadful."

CJ and Josh exchange glances before looking over at me. I know better
than to say a word and wait for Sam to join us. He enters the room
and starts to make for the same place I did—i.e. as far on the other
side of the room as possible—but Mom pats the sofa cushion next to
her. My stomach turns at her maternal display, and Sam tries mightily
to suppress his sigh before joining her. The one thing you learn with
our Mom is that it's usually easier just to give in. If you fight
her, you will never win. Ever.

She folds her hands primly on her lap before continuing. "So, Josh,
CJ, what brings you by our little house tonight?" The muscle in Sam's
jaw clenches at her familiar reference to his house. As unhappy as I
am about this situation, I feel so badly for Sam right now. At least
I can still go to my own home tonight and get away from her. It would
have to be a really cold day in some mighty warm places before Mom
would ever want to stay with me.

Josh quickly takes charge of the situation. "Well, Mrs. Seaborn—"

"Oh, please, call me Pauline. Isn't that right, Sammy?" she asks,
reaching out to pat him on the arm. Sam and I both recoil at the
gesture. I think we could probably both go Postal at pretty much any
minute now. The older he gets, the more Mom's smothering style has
rankled him, and despite the fact that she's our mother and he loves
her, it must be nearly unbearable right now.

"Yes, ma'am," Josh continues solicitously. "I am going to be
representing Sam in his counter suit against Lisa, and Sabrina is
going to be acting as my aide and research assistant. We came over
tonight to—"

"Oh, I don't think that's a good idea at all!" Mom exclaims. Oh
goody, here we go.

"Excuse me?" Josh asks.

Mom smiles at him and tilts her head down, as if trying to figure out
the best way to tell him just how silly he is. "Well, Joshua, you're
not a *real* lawyer, are you?"

"As a matter of fact, I have a J.D. from—"

"Well, you may have a *J.D.*, but having the piece of paper and being
a real lawyer are two different things. Anyone can get a law degree.
Sabrina's proof of that."

Before the barb even has time to fully hit me, Sam is on his
feet. "Mom. That was uncalled for."

He crosses the room and stands beside me as I sit on the hearth in
front of a very cozy fire. The warmth of the flames and the glow they
cast on the room is a remarkable contrast to the icy tension between
the older Seaborn and her offspring.

Sam's blue eyes are like laser beams when he's angry, and he's got
them pinned on her right now. For her part, Mom has the good sense to
look somewhat nonplussed. "Samuel, I only meant that—"

"I know what you *meant*, Mom, and I don't appreciate it. I don't
think Sabrina does either." His tone is even, but just barely. It's
taking everything he's got not to blow up at her right now.

I willingly came over here to put myself in the line of fire to give
him some breathing room, but now it seems that I'm just making
matters worse between them. My healthy sense of irony laughs at the
fact that I don't even have to speak to do it. My presence seems to
be enough to do the trick.

I lean my shoulder against his leg and look up to make eye contact
with him. "It's okay, Sam."

"No, it's not."

"Sammy—" Mom begins in a shocked and wounded tone.

"Drop it, Mom," he says dangerously. Things are getting way too tense
in here.

I risk a glance at Josh and CJ and almost have to laugh at the
expressions on their faces. Josh looks pissed. There's just no other
way to put it. CJ has this stunned `Oh my God,' expression on her
face as she looks quickly between Mom and the two of us and then down
at her hands, twisting them uncomfortably together in her lap.

A chilling moment of silence ensues, which if left to Mom, Sam and me
might have lasted all night. Finally, CJ charges to the
rescue. "Well, in the last several years I've had the chance to see
Josh's legal mind in action on quite a few occasions, and I don't
think Sam has anything to worry about. I think Josh will do a fine
job." She tilts her head slightly to the side and looks thoughtfully
at my mother.

Knowing she's outnumbered, Mom has the good sense to back down, if
only for the moment. "Well, of course he will. I'm sure we can help
him through any of the rough spots. And I'm sure Sam's father will be
happy to serve as a consultant on the case."

Well, that ought to be enough to start the next round. I am desperate
to change the subject. "So how is Dad, Mom?"

She flicks one hand in the air dismissively. "Oh, fine, fine. Hadn't
seen him in almost two weeks before I came here." She looks back at
CJ, apparently hoping to strike up some sort of alliance. "You know
how men are, CJ, all work and no play. Ever since the children left
the house, he's hardly ever home. Always traveling to some case or
another. Sometimes I worry that Alex will work himself to death."

I stifle a sudden yawn, which Josh catches and looks down at his
watch. Suddenly seized with inspiration about how to get out of this
mess, he gasps. "Would you look at the time? I didn't know it had
gotten so late. It's after 10 already."

On cue, CJ stands and Sam reaches out a hand to help me up. "Yeah,
you guys had better get going," he says resignedly. "Everybody but me
has to go to work tomorrow."

Sam's mention of `work' suddenly brings back the fact that I too, am
apparently unemployed now. I glance up to see him studying my face as
Mom follows Josh and CJ to the door. He must have caught my
expression when I thought about my conversation with Greg Parker,
because he looks concerned. He puts an arm around my waist and pulls
me closer before whispering, "Are you okay?"

"Yeah, I'm fine." I rush to assure him as I try to wipe the deer-in-
the-headlights look off my face. I've never been able to lie to Sam.

He doesn't look convinced. "Are you sure? Is there anything you need
to tell me? I tried to call you all afternoon and couldn't get
through."

"Yeah, I'm sorry about that," I say, pulling away from him nervously
and moving to pick up my jacket. "We were so busy today and I didn't
get the cell phone's battery recharged last night. I promise I'll
take care of it tonight though." If I don't get out of this house I'm
going to scream.

"Listen, Sam, I'm sorry about all of this," I say, gesturing to
indicate the scene in the living room as I continue to retreat toward
the door. "I only wanted to make things a little easier on you
tonight."

He shakes his head. "I know, and I'm sorry you got dragged into this.
It's just, well—"

"Mom," we say in unison. That's really the only explanation needed
and we both know it.

He follows me into the foyer and out the front door, where Mom is
standing on the front step with Sam's colleagues. Obviously she
didn't get here until after the reporters had left for the day,
because she looks perfectly at home here while Josh and CJ are both
scanning the neighborhood for paparazzi. She'll have quite the treat
tomorrow morning. Pauline vs. the Photographers. That might be
interesting. I might even be able to sell tickets to that fight.

Mom presents her cheek to me again, which I dutifully peck before
turning back again to wave at Sam. Mom shoos him back inside the
house and shuts the door and I find myself looking up at Josh and CJ
with a bemused grin on my face.

"Well? Go ahead, don't worry about sugar-coating it on my account."

CJ snorts and shakes her head. "You know, I'm sure I've seen her on
an episode of `The Twilight Zone,'" she says, as she looks over at
Josh. "Tell me what happened in that movie about Norman Bates and his
mother. Wait a minute, Sabrina, Sam's middle name is Norman, right?"

I can't help laughing. "Yes, but just Norman, not Norman Bates."

Josh picks up the routine. "Have either of you ever seen that BBC
mystery `Mother Love?' I think your Mom's got `Helena' stamped all
over her. Of course on that show, the mother turned out to be a
serial killer or something, didn't she?"

My eyes widen. "Well, I don't know, but if Lisa suddenly turns up
missing, I know where the police should start looking."

A sudden crisp wind sends hair and scarf ends flying and prompts us
to scurry back toward Josh's car. I silently urge him to drive faster
during the ride home. All I really want to do is go back to bed. With
Mom's arrival, the long week just got longer. That much is
guaranteed. Sam and I are going to need all the strength we can
muster to get through it.

COMING SOON - Chapter 7: Thicker than Water

 

 

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