(For disclaimers, please see pt 1)

---

After a lunch with my sister that more closely resembled a Monty
Python standard ("Nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition!"), I'm
feeling even more drained than I was this morning, and brother, that
is saying something. I didn't think it was possible for my snot-nosed
kid sister to possess master litigation skills, but she does, and she
put them to good use this afternoon.

And now it's time for Senior Staff, the twice-daily meeting wherein I
and my co-workers (or `cohorts', as Lisa always said) meet up to
discuss yesterday's lingering issues, today's pending issues,
tomorrow's possible issues, and while we're at it, any issues we
foresee occurring anytime between now and the next millennium.

All that, and CJ is now sitting across from me in my office, long
legs crossed, arms folded, impatience permeating from her every
gesture. She is now CJ "Ultimatum" Cregg. `Ultimatum' as in, "Either
you tell everyone about Lisa today at Senior Staff, or I tell them,
and forever after make your days in the West Wing a veritable hell on
earth."

Cathy pops her head in. "Senior Staff in five minutes," she reminds
me.

"Oh, he knows," answers CJ.

Cathy looks from me to CJ and back again. "Oookay," she says.

I throw her a pleading glance, and God love her, she interprets it
correctly.

"Oh, and Carol's looking for you, CJ," she adds smoothly. Cathy is an
excellent liar. It can be worrisome at times, but at others it comes
in handy.

CJ does not lift her gaze from me. "Carol knows right where I am,
Cathy."

The woman can be downright spooky. Cathy just shrugs and ignores my
second imploring look, leaving me behind to face CJ alone.

It's a battle of wills, and I am an unarmed man.

I toss my pencil down on my desk. "Fine. I give up."

CJ immediately uncrosses her arms and looks smug. "Did you really
think you could keep it from everyone, Sam?"

"I just thought it would be nice to try."

CJ grunts in what I'm assuming is mockery.

"I didn't really think I could *keep* it from everyone," I say, "but
I didn't think it was important enough to bring up just yet."

For a moment I think she's contemplating slapping me. But then she
looks me directly in the eyes and says, "I don't think I'll dignify
that with a response." She stands up, looming over me with her
haughtiest expression. "Come on, Samshine, time to go."

I follow her out into the hallway. We encounter Josh on the way. He's
cheerful and seems to have forgotten CJ promised impending doom on my
horizon.

"Ms Cregg. Mr Seaborn," he greets us with a nod.

"Why so chipper? Run over a Republican on your way back from lunch?"
asks CJ.

Josh puts a hand to his chest and pretends to be offended. "CJ, I'm
hurt, truly. How could you think I would actually derive pleasure
from such an occurrence?'

She just grins at him. "So you didn't run over a Republican?"

He shakes his head. "Alas, no. But only because I didn't leave for
lunch."

"Then why are you bouncing down the hallway?"

Josh frowns. "I am not bouncing. I do not bounce. I am merely walking
briskly."

"Your heels are barely touching the ground," says CJ.

"Sam, was I bouncing?" Josh turns to me.

I have been silent during this little exchange, concentrating instead
on what to say when CJ turns the spotlight on me in this afternoon's
meeting. "Hmm?" I reply.

"What's the deal with him?" Josh asks, nodding in my general
direction.

"Ignore him," CJ says. "He's having some quiet time."

"You really think a staff meeting is the best place for quiet time?"

CJ grins wickedly and sweeps past us both, into Leo's office. "Oh,
but this is the perfect place for it, my friend."

Toby and Leo are already seated and amiably discussing loopholes in
gun control laws. And when I say they are `amiably discussing', I
mean they are in a heated debate. Currently the Wanemacher's Gun
Show - one of the 3 largest in the country - is touring the States,
and apparently doling out guns like candy to a baby. For a price, of
course, but the trade-off is that they don't require a background
check. See? You may have to fork over some serious cash, but you walk
away with that `necessary' semi-automatic weapon within the hour.
Everybody wins.

"The NRA is fighting it, Toby," Leo is saying tiredly. "They don't
want background checks at gun shows."

"Of course they're fighting it, Leo! Gun-sellers don't want to wait
for a background check. Not when they can sell an AK-47 to any Joe
Blow that walks in off the street. Three days would cramp their
style."

"Don't exaggerate, Toby." Leo rubs his forehead.

"I'm not exaggerating, Leo. I am sick to death of the NRA and the way
it hides behind the 2nd Amendment. That amendment was not put in
place - "

"Toby," Leo interrupts, noticing we have joined them, "you don't have
to sell me on gun control. You have to sell them. And these are the
same people who - "

"Who cruise around in 4x4 redneck-mobiles with gun racks in the
window and bumper stickers saying, `My president is Charlton
Heston'," finishes Josh with a smirk, flopping down into a chair and
stretching.

"Spoken like a true bleeding-heart liberal," CJ grins, slapping her
stack of folders down onto the tabletop.

Josh yawns in response. "Let's get this over with. I'm hoping to get
home early tonight."

"Early as in normal people-early?" CJ asks. "Or early as in Josh
Lyman-early?"

"Meaning somewhere around seven or eight, instead of midnight," I
supply, seating myself next to her.

"Glad you decided to join the conversation, Samuel," Josh says.

CJ slips her glasses on and throws me a pointed look. "He's been
having some quiet time."

"So you said," agrees Josh. He folds his hands together and grins at
me. "Might it have anything to do with your kid sister showing up
today?"

"Sabrina was here?" Leo asks, lighting up. "Why didn't anyone tell
me?" He narrows his eyebrows at me. "You know I love that kid."

"Sorry, Leo," I murmur.

"Anyway, Leo, don't worry about it. I'm sure we'll be seeing her
around a lot more," CJ assures him. Then she gives me that same look
again.

Josh smirks. "Why? Did Lisa leave the country for a while?"

"What's that supposed to mean?" I ask, and I can't believe how
defensive I sound all of a sudden.

Josh holds up a hand in apology. "Sorry, sorry. Didn't mean anything
by it."

"Okay, then."

"Except that your sister calls her the Barracuda," he mutters under
his breath.

"I heard that."

"Sorry, Sam."

"Enough!" Leo scolds us, looking over the top of his glasses with
that pissed-off look he does so well. "This is neither the time nor
the place to discuss how Sam's sister feels about his wife. We're
running the country, people. *Focus*."

"Yes, sir," we all reply meekly.

Then we turn to actual business. First order of the afternoon: the
Defense Secretary's review of the Marine Corp's V-48 Falcon, an
accident-prone little number that flies like an airplane, takes off
and lands like a helicopter, and so far has crashed five different
times in the past sixteen months.

"Hewitt says it's not ready for use," Josh says, tapping a pencil
against the table.

CJ snorts. "A brand new, experimental aircraft that's killed
seventeen men so far isn't ready for use? Surely you jest."

"The Marines aren't laughing, CJ," says Toby.

She fixes him with an evil death-ray glare. "No one's laughing, Toby.
I was merely commenting on the fact that the V-48 Falcon has killed
seventeen men in the past year, but it's not till it gets to the
Defense Secretary that we release an official statement saying it's
not ready for use."

"CJ," cautions Leo.

"Leo, I'm just saying!"

"Fine, CJ, but let's keep our sarcasm to a minimum, okay?"

"I'm just saying, Leo, the press is gonna bring that up."

"Here's what you *just say*," continues Toby, as if CJ's retort had
no effect on him. "You say that the Pentagon panel has recommended
a `phased approach' after mechanical failures on the as-yet still
developing V-48 Falcon." He pauses. "Are you writing this down?"

CJ glares at him again. "Yes, Toby. I am the White House Scribe,
after all."

He ignores her. "You say that the V-48 Falcon was grounded after five
crashes that killed seventeen men. You say that the hydraulics
failures that occurred in each crash are working to be corrected. You
say that the White House regards these tragic circumstances with
sympathy and concern for those who lost their family members, and
that those officers' attempts to assist their country in drawing
closer to a new military triumph will not be in vain." Toby leans
back in his chair.

There's a reason we pay this man to write for the President.

We move on to a Naval officer who was charged with espionage and the
prosecutors who are now being charged in turn with coercing him into
a false confession. After that we discuss the President's upcoming
trip to the air force base in Guam - Toby and CJ are going, Josh and
Leo and I aren't. We touch briefly on a PETA demonstration that's
scheduled for the steps of the Capitol next week in protest of
Georgetown's pyschological testing on lab rats. We throw out ideas,
we argue vehemently, we jot down thoughts and key points, and we
generally make the best use of the taxpayers' money that we possibly
can.

It's a good meeting. Shorter than most, but that's a good thing. I've
actually managed to sort of forget about Lisa, and about CJ's
ultimatum, in all the busy-ness that's been going on in the past
hour.

Then Leo turns to each of us and asks for what we laughingly
call `present issues'. I say laughingly, because there's very rarely
anything `present' about our issues. `Present' implies that past
issues have been resolved. `Left over from yesterday and the week
before that issues' would be more appropriate.

Toby has none, Josh has none, and when Leo comes to CJ, she just
smiles. Slowly she removes her reading glasses and sets them on the
table in front of her.

I know what's coming next, but I still cringe.

"Samuel has something he'd like to share with the rest of the class,"
she says. That same smugness is heavy in her voice. Personally, I
like CJ's voice a lot, it's very low and comforting. But right now
I'd be pretty happy if she had suddenly been stricken with
laryngitis.

All eyes turn to me. Toby looks impatient, Leo faintly curious, and
Josh has suddenly perked up.

"Well? What is it, Sam?" prods Leo.

"Remember, Sam? Something you've been keeping from the rest of us for
the past couple of weeks?" CJ says, her smile laced with a threat.

"Come on, buddy, it can't be that bad," Josh says encouragingly.

"Oh yes, it can," says Toby, the voice of doom.

Leo grows edgy. "Spit it out, Sam."

Suddenly CJ's demeanor changes, her delight in punishing me melting
away, and she seems to take pity on me as I choke on my words and
avoid everyone's gazes. "Lisa and Sam separated a couple of weeks
ago. She's filing for divorce," she says softly. I throw her a
grateful look.

"*What*?" exclaims Josh. Obviously my leaving Lisa would have been
one thing, but the fact that she had the audacity to leave me first
is something else entirely.

Leo gives me a look full of sympathy. "I'm sorry to hear that, Sam."

"Thanks," I reply, somewhat inadequately.

"I'm sorry, Sam," Toby says, not looking at me. I can tell by the way
he's not making eye contact that he feels badly for me. Toby always
has a hard time dealing with other people's misery.

"Is there anything we can do for you?" asks Leo. Josh, I notice, is
still thunderstruck.

I clear my throat. "No, I'm fine, Leo. Thanks."

Josh finally finds his voice. "Why didn't you *tell* us?"

"I've already dragged him down that path, Josh," CJ says soothingly.

"I thought...I thought it wasn't a big deal," I answer.

"You thought it wasn't a big deal?" Josh repeats, incredulity thick
in his voice.

"Josh," CJ says, "we know Sam's never been the brightest."

"Is this about me?" Josh asks suddenly.

"What?" I attempt a grin, fully expecting him to crack a joke about
my marriage breaking up over Lisa's inability to come to terms with
her attraction to him. It was a long-standing joke between the two of
us, since we both knew she hated his guts.

Instead he doesn't smile back, and he says, "Are you being a martyr,
Sam?"

"What?" I am, of course, utterly stunned by his startling deductive
powers. "No, of course not."

"Then why are you just now telling us?"

"Look...Josh..." I rub my hands over my eyes. "Can you chew me out
sometime tomorrow? I'm really not up to it tonight."

"Guys? Think you can take this outside?" Leo says tactfully,
gathering up his papers. He glances at me. "Sam, let us know if we
can help you with anything. Okay?"

Josh is already pulling me out the door. CJ exits out the opposite
door, leaving us to fight our manly battle in peace, and Toby just
watches us as we go. I know he is thinking about Andy.

Out in the hallway, Josh stops and glares at me. "Sam, are we
friends?"

"What?" It seems to be my catchphrase of the day. "Of course we are.
Best friends," I add, like some teenage girl.

"Okay. Then as your best friend, can I give you a piece of advice?"

"Um, by all means."

"Martyrdom went out in the Middle Ages."

"Josh."

"Dammit, Sam! Why do you insist on convincing yourself that your
problems are smaller than everyone else's?"

"Because they *are*," I protest.

"Sam."

"Josh, you're trying to recover from a gunshot wound; you're in
*therapy*. The President is -"

"Don't hide behind the rest of us, Sam. Your problems deserve as much
attention as anyone else's problems."

I open my mouth to argue further, but then I shut it abruptly.
Because I know he's right. "I wasn't going to keep it from everyone
forever," I say.

Josh rolls his eyes. "That's pretty decent of you. Considering we
would have found out anyway when it broke in the Post. Speaking of
which, how did CJ find out? You can tell the Press Secretary but you
can't tell me?"

"She found out from Danny Concannon."

"Okay, I *know* you didn't tell Danny first."

"He found out from a source at the courthouse when Lisa filed the
papers."

Josh visibly wilts, sighing deeply. "I'm sorry, Sam."

"It's okay. I'll survive."

"Hell yes, you'll survive! You're damn straight, Seaborn. You're ten
times too good for that woman, anyway."

I grin softly. "Only ten times?"

"Don't push your luck."

"I'm sorry I didn't tell you."

"S'okay. I know you well enough to know your heart was in the right
place."

"Thanks."

"Even if your brain was noticeably absent."

"Gee, thanks again."

He chuckles. "No wonder Sabrina looked like she wanted to throttle
you this afternoon."

"Yeah, she read me fifty different kinds of riot acts when she got
here."

Josh gives me a crooked grin. "She's a great kid."

"Take her. I won't even charge you."

"Aw, come on. You know you wouldn't give her up."

He's right. I wouldn't. But I still feel terrible about not telling
him about Lisa sooner. "Josh."

He raises a hand and shakes his head. "Don't say it. Just don't even
worry about it, Sam."

"But I - "

"Shut up, Seaborn. I could kick your ass right now, right here in
this hallway."

"I could take you."

Josh snorts. "Sure thing, pretty boy." He slaps a hand to my shoulder
and begins to lead me down the hall. "Come on. Screw staying late,
we're going out. We're going to imbibe alcoholic substances, eat
quantities of meat, and curse the nature of women."

I relax under the litany of his words and feel a genuine smile, a big
one this time, creeping over my lips. "But you have - "

"If you so much as utter the words `delicate system' in my presence,
I will go to Lisa and I will beg her to take you back." My smile
fades at his words and he notices. But with the peculiar sixth sense
Josh has about people, he decides not to apologize or comment on it.
He knows that what I need right now is just what he's giving me - the
easy company of a friend. No questions, no pokes or proddings into my
psyche. Just this, this quietness and familiarity.

It feels good. Really good.

I don't feel like a trainwreck anymore. I don't feel quite so lost or
lonely. What is that saying? `A trouble shared is a trouble halved'?
Some of the burden has been lifted. Why was I so stupid?

I think I'm all right. I think I'm ready to join the human race
again. I think I'll cry some more and hurt a lot, and I'll probably
miss Lisa for a long, long time. But I'll be okay, with a little help
from my friends.

I think I'm ready to give up being Strong, Silent Sam.

After all, the martyr act is *so* passť.

THE END

 

TBC IN CHAPTER 2 - TONIGHT IN AMERICA

 

 

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