(for disclaimers, please see pt 1)

* * *

My house is a nice little brownstone about twenty minutes away from
the White House. Usually I enjoy the drive through the quiet
residential streets, watching children play in their yards, hearing
dogs bark, seeing lights illuminating windows full of families – that
whole idyllic suburbia America loves so well. I love it, too. I love
the drive home; on nice evenings, I roll down my window and drive
just above the speed limit; fast enough to get a good breeze going,
but slow enough so that I can take it all in. It's a great way to
unwind, particularly when you work where I do.

Tonight I just wish I could teleport myself home.

Sabrina drives in her old Chevy Cavalier, its rusty paint job and
dented fender signifying the strict budget of a college student. We
left my car back at work. Her reasoning for this was that my car was
familiar and no one would pay attention to it parked overnight, but
that the Secret Service might be alarmed if an unfamiliar car was
abandoned outside the West Wing. I think the real reason is that she
wanted to keep an eye on me. Plus, I think she's scared to drive my
car.

"I'm scared to drive your car," she says, apropos of nothing. I think
she's trying to make conversation. We have been awfully silent since
we left the White House.

"Why?" I ask listlessly.

"Are you kidding me?" She turns to look at me briefly. "A sleek,
shiny Lexus? Sam, have you paid attention to what I'm driving?"

I can't even feign a smile right now. I look out the window and say
nothing.

Sabrina continues blithely. "I'm too used to rattling around in this
piece of junk . A fancy hunk of metal like that would be too much
machine for me."

I nod, giving a half-hearted murmur in reply.

She prattles on for a few minutes longer, going on at great length
about her car and how old it is, how she doesn't mind a few nicks and
scratches here and there because it doesn't do it any harm, and how
one day when she's a rich attorney billing clients immoral amounts of
money, how she might drive a piece of junk then, too.

Normally I would find this discussion highly amusing. My sister is
sharp and clever and while she is somewhat cerebral, she can be just
as funny as the next person. This particular conversation is a
classic. She's going for laughs, and if my world were not crashing
down around me, I would probably be chuckling.

I want to tell her that her method of Distraction By Drivel works
when I'm bummed because I can't go home for Christmas, or because I
have the flu, or because Mom once again gave me a first-class, one-
way guilt trip; but it doesn't work now. Not when up is down and
black is white, and everything I believed to be true about both Lisa
and myself is being torn apart.

I feel as if a heaviness has settled on my chest. It's almost
difficult to breathe. When I swallow, my throat catches and drags for
a moment, like it's too exhausted to perform its simple function.

It's several moments before I realize Sabrina is quiet again. I rest
my head against the window as the streets glide by in the darkness.

"Sam?" Her voice comes out a whisper.

"Hmm?"

"I...I know this isn't – Well, it isn't exactly adequate, but...I want to
help."

I glance at her. "Help? What could you possibly do to help?" The
words come out sharper than I intended, and then the tone of my voice
sinks back into passivity. "This isn't a `help' kind of situation.
Even my friends can't help."

Sabrina reflects on this quietly for a moment. "Sam, I know you're in
politics, but I gotta tell you, that really stinks."

"That's pretty succinct of you."

"I mean it, Sam! I mean, I appreciate the subtle nuances of politics
much more than your average American, and even I am baffled by this.
Tell me again why CJ couldn't just say, `Yes, as a friend, I am
behind Sam Seaborn all the way'?"

I sigh tiredly. "We've been over this, Sabrina. CJ speaks on behalf
of the President of the United States; in the eyes of the press she
can never just be my friend. In the media her words will always
reflect the opinion of the White House."

"No matter what?"

"No matter what."

"Even if she says –"

I cut her off. "Even then, Sabrina. There's just no way CJ can come
out and make that kind of statement. The press would be doing
cartwheels. Before you know it, there would be headlines all over the
country – `White House Press Secretary Declares She Stands By Alleged
Wife-Beater'."

"That's not fair, Sam."

"Tell me about it."

"It really stinks."

"Yeah, it does."

"This is your *life* we're dealing with. This isn't the latest press
leak or a statement from that ignorant bigot they call the House
Majority Leader. You're their friend."

"And we work at the White House." I'm not even irritated by her
refusal to see the point. I'm just tired. Talking gives me something
to do.

"Yeah, but –"

"This isn't about friendships, Sabrina. This is about a woman going
on national television and declaring a man was an abusive husband;
but because I work for the President of the United States, it's more
than that. It's also about what the leader of the free world feels
about me working as a representative of his administration."

"So what? Why can't Bartlet just come right out and say, `I know Sam
Seaborn and I stand by him'?"

"Because he can't."

"He doesn't even have to get fancy," Sabrina offers. "Just a few
little words. Short and to-the-point: `Sam Seaborn is a good man and
a good employee. Now back off.'"

"And what if it turns out to be true?"

"*What*?"

"Think about it, Sabrina: The President issues a short statement
saying he supports me against these allegations. Then Lisa comes out
with proof – solid, indisputable proof that I am the man she says I
am. Then what happens? In the eyes of the American people, their
president just took the word of a criminal."

"Why are you talking like this?"

I look away again, out into the streets darkened by night. "It's a
possibility, Sabrina."

"Sam, are you saying -?"

"I'm not saying I did it," I respond stiffly, "if that's what you're
getting at. I'm just providing an argument."

"I don't understand how you can be so pragmatic right now."

"How can I afford not to be?"

"Okay," she says after a minute. She clenches the steering wheel and
exhales, blowing her bangs back off her forehead. "Maybe I see your
point. I don't like it, but...Maybe I see it."

We've reached my neighborhood now, and I see my house at the end of
the street. It's the only house on the block without a single light
on, and it looks unbearably lonely. Suddenly I'm glad Sabrina
insisted on coming with me.

Sabrina parks and then we both head up the walkway to my door. I
jangle the keys in my pocket, almost reluctant to open the door.

Lisa and I bought this house back in the salad days. Back when things
were going pretty damn well between us. We didn't have the whole
marriage thing down pat yet, but we were adjusting to each other. Or
maybe I was adjusting to Lisa. Now there's something to think about.
I sure as hell don't want to think about what I probably should be
thinking about.

"The salad days," I murmur to myself as I let us into the house.

We are met with a sudden rush of stale air and the remnants of the
popcorn I burnt last night. Sabrina curls her nose in disgust and I
stand in the hall trying to remember that quote about `salad days'.
There's something about it...

I turn to my sister, remembering her propensity to quote Shakespeare.
It's quite freakish, really, the way someone who can spout facts
about state legislature and women's lib can also bring to mind pretty
much any Shakespearean quote that's stumping you.

"Sabrina? What's that quote about the salad days?"

My non sequitur fazes her just a little. Then she grins
impishly. "You mean the one from `Raising Arizona'?"

"Um, no. I was thinking more along the lines of the Bard."

"Ah." She scrunches up her forehead, searching her random access
memory. "Antony and Cleopatra. `My salad days, when I was green in
judgment'."

I look at her. "It really is abnormal, the way you do that."

"I have a Shakespeare Day-By-Day Calendar and a good memory. Back
off."

"I was just thinking..."

"God help us."

"The salad days. Everyone uses it to mean the golden days, the happy
times. But Shakespeare was saying, `Hey, back then I was stupid. I
didn't have all the experience. I was - '"

"'I was green in judgment'," Sabrina repeats.

"Yeah."

We stare at each other for a long moment. It's very quiet in my
house. It was never what you would call lively, but there was always
something going on: the clattering sounds of Lisa in the kitchen (say
what you will about the woman, she did know how to cook), some Chopin
playing softly in the background, or Lisa's weekly book group
chattering in our living room. Now there's nothing. There's just
Sabrina and me and the eerie `tick-tock' of the grandfather clock in
the hall.

Sabrina is still looking at me, and I can read her expression so
clearly. `What do we do now?'

I shrug out of my overcoat and toss my things on the bench, breaking
my gaze away. "Make yourself at home."

I hit the `Play' button on my answering machine and suddenly our
mother's voice fills the room. "Sammy sweetie, are you there? Honey,
if you're there, pick up the phone." There is a pause, and then Mom's
heavy sigh. "Honey, I saw the interview Lisa did with Mitch Wheeler.
Phyllis Richman next door called me to tell me it was on. Oh God,
Sammy...I don't even know what to – what to say to you. Please call me,
sweetie. I don't want to hear everything second-hand through your
sister. Call me any time. Your father and I are worried, honey."

There is a click, and then the machine falls silent. The sound of my
mother's voice, stifled with worry, serves only to exasperate me. I
don't want to deal with Pauline Seaborn right now. With my luck
she'll probably insist on flying out to DC, and that is something I
*cannot* handle right now.

I look over at my sister, standing stock-still, eyes fixed on the
machine. What complicated thoughts she is having about our mother I
can't even begin to imagine.

I hate the way Mom always refers to her as `my sister'. I hate that
my every accomplishment is sung from the highest hilltops, while
Sabrina excels beyond my wildest attempts, and never gets so much as
a pat on the head. I hate that everything in this family is always
about me. I hate that feeling I get the moment I hear my mother's
voice – that sickly, cloying feeling that smothers my spirit. Most of
all, I hate the pain my mother puts in my sister's eyes.

"Bri..."I say quietly.

"Sammy, I think we should talk." I can see in her eyes that she's
going to do what she always does, and avoid the topic of our mother.

"About what happened tonight?"

She looks at me like I'm incredibly dense.

"Why should we talk about it?" I ask her. "Do you have a solution?"

She flushes. "No, I just thought..."

"I can't handle a heart-to-heart, Sabrina, I – I just can't."

"But it might help if you –"

I whirl around and turn into the living room, where I stride over to
the liquor cabinet and pour myself a few generous fingers of
whiskey. "Let's recap my week so far, shall we?" I snap at
her. "First - " I break off when I catch her staring at me – or more
precisely, the drink in my hand – in shock. "Okay, I know that look."

Her eyes fly up to meet mine again. "You can't drown your problems,
Sam."

"*This* is not `drowning'," I say, gesturing wildly with my hand.
Some of the whiskey sloshes over the rim of the glass. "*This*, is
having a drink. I am not Leo; I am not going to run from my problems
by drinking them away."

"That's not fair, Sam," Sabrina winces.

She's right. It's not fair. Inside I'm horrified by the way I've just
trivialized Leo's problem. Leo, who has always been so dignified
about his alcoholism. Suddenly I'm as embarrassed as if he were
standing right there beside me. I set my glass down on the cabinet
and cross the room to the couch. Then I sink down and rest my elbows
on my knees, my hands going up to clench in my hair.

I think I'm going insane.

Sabrina sits beside me immediately and I can tell she's scared, even
though I can't see her face. She slides an arm across my back and her
voice, though trembling, is soothing. "It'll be okay. I swear it'll
be okay, Sam."

How can she say that? Three days ago I was just a guy whose wife had
left him. I was one of nameless, faceless many. Now I'm marked for
life, branded like a traitor on goddamn `Tonight in America'. My boss
can't support me, my friends can't rush to my defense, and let's face
it, even if they did, who's going to feel sorry for me? Leo's words
are rushing around in my brain: `You're a good-looking guy with power
and prestige and status, and they are gonna have a field day painting
you as the bad guy.'

I raise my head up and look into my sister's eyes. I see myself
reflected in them, two tiny manikins of Sam Seaborn. She's got tears
in her eyes.

"I don't understand *why*. That's the one thing that's killing me.
What did I do to her, Sabrina? Why would she do this to me?"

"I don't know, Sam," Sabrina whispers. She shakes her head. "I can't
believe you've ever done anything to deserve this."

"If I could just..." I trail off to pound my fist against the sofa.
It's a relatively soft couch, so my thrusting fist makes little
impact, but still – When I look at Sabrina, she looks visibly
startled.

I'm scaring my little sister. I'm breaking one of the Big Brother's
Ten Commandments. I feel terrible.

But I can't meet her eyes again.

"I'll be okay, Sabrina. I think I need to lie down."

"Are you hungry?" she asks anxiously. "I'll fix you something.
Anything you want."

"No," I say. I rise to my feet and walk to the doorway. "I'll just be
upstairs."

It's time to get answers from the one person who can give them to me.

<><><>

TBC

 

 

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