(for disclaimers, please see pt 1)

* * *

I don't know where Lisa is right now, but odds are pretty good she's
at her parents' in Manhattan. I dial the number slowly and listen as
the phone rings once...twice...three times...four times...And then the
machine picks up.

"Dammit," I mutter.

Lisa's father's voice speaks a quick and precise greeting. "You have
reached the home of Bertram and Sally Taylor. We are not available at
the moment. If you would like to leave a message for us, or for Lisa,
please feel free to do so. All messages for Lisa will be passed to
her, or to her attorney, as we deem appropriate."

That last bit flusters the hell out of me. When the machine finally
beeps I'm silent for a minute, gaping at the phone.

Finally I clear my throat. "This is Sam...um, Sam Seaborn calling. I
would – I would very much like to speak with my wife, if you could
please...Could you please – Just tell her I called. I really would like
to speak with her. I don't want us to end like this...She can call me,
any time, day or night. I would really – Sally, Bert...I would really
like to clear up this misunderstanding. Thank you."

I hang up and stare at the phone.

Okay, bad move on several points. One - why did I introduce myself as
Sam Seaborn? Was it really necessary to clarify the pathetic loser
who was calling? Two - why, oh why did I refer to Lisa as `my wife'?
Not only does that imply that I still think of her in those terms, it
also hints at a certain desperation. It smells faintly of one who is
not able to let go. And three - Toby is going to kill me.

"Toby is going to kill you."

I turn around to see Sabrina in the doorway of my bedroom, staring at
me in horror.

"You are so dead," she adds.

"Thanks."

A thought occurs to her and she flinches. "He's going to kill me,
too."

"How do you figure?"

"As I recall, his exact words were, `Make sure Sam doesn't do
something stupid, like call Lisa'."

"Ah."

"I've failed him."

"Don't worry. I've failed him much more often; you get used to it."

Sabrina groans and flops down next to me on the bed, throwing one arm
over her eyes. "It's not funny, Sam."

"I didn't say I found it funny."

"You had that tone in your voice."

"Tone?"

"That smug, big-brother tone."

"I have worn many hats today."

She tosses her arm away and looks up at the ceiling. "Sam? What's
really going to happen?"

I slump down next to her. We lay side by side, our arms folded behind
our heads as we stare at my ceiling. I am exhausted.

"It's hard to say. Any number of things, really. One thing for
certain: My life is going to be a living hell from this day forward."

"Don't say that."

I glance over at her. "I'm just being honest. Do you think I like the
answers I'm giving you? This is Washington, Sabrina. It's like
Hollywood for the politically power-hungry -- one wrong move and
people are only too happy to tear you limb from limb."

She shakes her head in frustration. "I can't believe anyone would
ever believe anything that bad about you."

"I hate to break it to you, but you're the only person who sees me as
Big Brother Sam."

"People *know* you, though," she says, irritated. "People have known
you ever since Bartlet took office!"

"And a lot of those same people are going to turn right around and
say, `Yeah, that Sam Seaborn; I always knew he had a mean streak a
mile wide'. It's politics, Sabrina, you don't need me to explain this
to you."

"I just wonder," she whispers in a little-girl voice, "how are we
going to fix this?"

I sit up then and drag her to her feet. "First of all, *you* are not
going to worry about what we are going to do. You are going to study
for your degree and leave the `fixing' to the people who know how."

"Sam..."

"I'm serious. I don't want you running off to Georgetown and starting
up a `My Brother Is Innocent' campaign."

She grins. "Why not? I'd get Josh's help. He's won a campaign before."

I roll my eyes. "Please don't ever say that directly to him, Sabrina.
He already thinks he did it single-handedly, as it is."

"You gotta admire that kind of confidence."

"Strangely enough, there aren't a lot of people in DC who see it
quite that way."

"Are you sure you don't need anything?" Sabrina looks overwhelmed
with concern and sympathy.

"Nothing," I assure her. "Just...Just time to think."

She exhales loudly. "God. I just can't believe it, Sam. I mean – I
just can't *believe* it."

I want to say, `Me, either', but my breath has caught in my throat. I
nod in reply.

"When I saw her up there...I kept thinking to myself, `This is a
mistake. She's up there to talk about stocks and bonds, or mergers
and acquisitions, and the producers just wanted a sound bite about
her ex-husband'." Sabrina breaks off to glance down at her
hands. "But then...when she started talking...Who was I kidding?"

I don't want to think about it. I don't want to think about what
happened after that. I don't want to think about Lisa on that show,
ripping my life to shreds with her innocuous words, her clichéd
references to an unraveling marriage. Her lies.

I promised to love her and obey her and cherish her. I promised to
stand by her side in sickness and in health; I swore that I would
forsake all others to be with her for the rest of my life. And I
meant it. To me, those vows were sacred. I said those words with the
full weight of understanding, the full weight of responsibility. And
even when she left, I was fully prepared to treat our marriage as a
sacred thing.

Now our marriage means nothing. It was built with love and destroyed
with lies. Those vows that were said with awe and humility have been
broken, snapped in two like a frozen twig.

<><><>

I awake at 5.30 to see the bright red lights of my alarm clock
glaring at me in the darkened room. My alarm is set to go off in
exactly thirty minutes, but I know I'm not getting back to sleep. I
can feel wakefulness taunting me.

From the looks of the bedclothes, my night was a restless one. The
down comforter is hanging off the bed, the sheets are tangled around
my legs, and my pillow is somewhere on the floor. I think I remember
having a nightmare...Something about Lisa and a church and a minister
reciting new vows of lies and deception. I think Josh might have been
there, too. I think there were bullets.

I throw my legs over the side of the bed and head into the bathroom,
where I begin to prepare for my day. I'm showered and shaved within
twenty minutes; dressed to go another ten minutes after that. My
movements are jittery, my hands shaking. It's a miracle I didn't
slice my face to ribbons with the razor.

In the back of my mind there is the haunting thought that today is
the day. Today the shit will hit the fan. I realize that's a rather
ineloquent way of putting it, but any other euphemism wouldn't quite
cut it.

I'm having trouble swallowing again. Even though I've tried to
prepare myself for what today might bring, logically I know that
there is no possible way for me to do so. I can't predict what's
going to happen; all I can do is hope for the best and prepare for
the worst. Realistically, I don't think I have any right to hope, not
after Lisa's interview yesterday.

Sabrina is still asleep, passed out in the guestroom, lying
diagonally across the bed. The television is still blaring – it's an
infomercial for something that slices and dices with the touch of a
button. The studio audience is frighteningly enthusiastic about this
object.

I turn the tv off, and immediately Sabrina wakes up. I grin to
myself.

"Rise and shine, campers."

She yawns and rolls over onto her back, groaning. "Ugh," she says.

"Come on. You drove me home, remember? I need you to get your ass out
of bed and get me back to work. Some of us have big people hours, you
know."

"And some of us are going to make big people money when we get a job,
while some of us are making less than your average paper boy."

"Are you always this caustic first thing in the morning?"

"I'm a college student, Sam," she says as she rises and stumbles to
the bathroom. "You're waking me before noon, and I still haven't had
my first cup of joe. What do you expect?"

It's a full forty-five minutes before Sabrina is ready to go. I don't
think she normally takes this long; I think she's trying to annoy me.
That, or she's as nervous about today as I am.

The sun is beginning to stream through the curtains, warming the room
considerably. I sit there for a minute, and the panic starts rising
in my throat and coursing through my veins. Oh God. What's going to
happen to me today?

Air. I need air.

I throw open the front door and for a moment I just stand in shock as
flash after flash erupts from a row of cameras. If it weren't already
light out, I would be blinded.

There are reporters staked out on the curb before my house. It's not
even eight in the morning, and there are already at least ten of
them. They're standing in a huddled mass right next to my sister's
car, and they've all just caught me with my mouth open and gasping
for breath, an expression of panic crossing my face as I realize
what's happening to me.

"Sam! How do you feel about the accusations your wife is now making
against you?"

"Sam! Do you think you'll still have a job at the White House much
longer?"

"Why did you hit your wife, Sam?"

Behind me, Sabrina waltzes up in her tank top and jeans, her mouth
open to ask what all the noise is. She freezes beside me. More
flashes.

"Sam! Is this your new girlfriend?"

"Does Sam hit you, too?"

"Get back inside," I hiss.

"But I..."

"*Now*."

I have to physically shove her back into the house, and then I slam
the door behind me. I hear the collective mutterings of the
paparazzi, like the angry buzz of a hornet's nest.

Sabrina is shaking. "What...What the hell was that?"

I can't speak for a moment. I'm trembling, too. Then I swallow
hard. "That," I say, "was only the beginning."

<><><>

There are more reporters at the gates to the White House.

Well, the word `more' is kind of vague.

There are *hordes* of reporters at the gates to the White House;
that's better. `Masses' is also good. `Multitudes' pretty much sums
it up too.

They cluster around my sister's car, their cameras practically
pressed to the window, and flash after flash bursts in front of our
eyes. Suddenly we're both seeing stars.

Sabrina honks her horn and plunges the car forward. "How the hell do
they expect me to see with all those flashes going off?"

"Just go slow," I caution her. "We'll make it through."

We're cleared through the gate and as it closes behind us, the
reporters congregate once again, several of the journalists writing
furiously in their notebooks. Even through the window I can hear them
clamoring, shouting questions at me: `Sam, who's the girl?', `Sam, do
you think you'll be fired today?', `Sam, do you plan on taking legal
action against your wife?', `Sam...Sam...Sam...'.

Sabrina and I briefly discuss our plan. She's going to pull right up
to the doors and I'm going to walk out – not jump out, there's no
need to appear as if I'm running away – and go inside. She's going to
drive around and exit through a side gate, where hopefully there will
be fewer, if any, reporters waiting.

I know she isn't happy with this strategy, but I refuse to hear her
arguments. What can she do, stay with me at work today? She has her
own life, and I have to face this.

I grip the door handle and Sabrina puts a hand to my arm.

"I really hate this," she says,

"Me, too."

"I think Toby should know you called Lisa."

"You know, I really don't think he should."

She just shakes her head hugs me hard. "Call me if you need anything.
*Anything*."

I feign a smile. "I'll be fine."

"Sam, you'll – you'll probably be hearing from Lisa's attorney again."

"Yeah."

"Call me if you do."

I nod and open the door and walk purposefully into the West Wing.
Once inside, I stand for a moment in the security area, taking deep
breaths and willing my pulse to slow down.

Everything seems surreal. It's the same place, the same people, but
it feels so different. It's like I'm looking at the world through a
piece of warped glass, and it's transmuting everything into a
distorted, yet vaguely recognizable version of its normal self.

I walk through the security gate, and the first person I run into is
Carol. She is visibly startled to see me. She mumbles a hello, and
then goes on her way, scurrying down the hall like a scared rabbit.

An excellent start to the morning already.

When I walk through the bullpen, everyone stares at me. They pretend
not to, but it's hard to ignore a dozen pairs of eyes on you. I turn
slightly to give everyone a broad smile, and a few smile hesitantly
back. I'll take that as a good sign.

I've no sooner laid my briefcase down and begun to take off my coat,
than Josh pops his head in and fake-knocks on the doorframe.

He looks rumpled and exhausted, which is nothing new, though the
uncertainty in his eyes certainly is.

"Hey," he says.

"Hey."

"How you doin'?"

I shrug. "As well as can be expected."

"Listen..." He enters my office and closes the door behind him. Not a
good sign. "I was just talking to CJ and Leo..."

Here it comes.

Josh sits down in my visitor's chair and folds his hands
together. "We can't really decide on a course of action until we know
where Lisa is going with this."

I look at him blankly. "And? Am I supposed to be able to fill you in?"

"We thought you might have an idea why – "

Thump.

"What the - ?"

Thump.

"That's Toby."

Thump, thump.

"I know it's Toby," Josh says. "What does he want?"

More thumping. And suddenly I realize what's going on.

"He knows."

"Knows what?"

"I don't know how he knows, but he does."

"Knows what?" Josh demands again.

I rise from my desk and walk into Toby's office. He's in typical Toby
repose: leaning back in his chair, pink rubber ball in hand. When he
sees Josh and me, he fixes us with that seemingly benign gaze he's
perfected over the years. I do my half-wincing thing CJ says I
developed as a response.

"You have a death wish, don't you, Sam?" Toby says.

"Actually, I'd prefer to live a long, full life."

"Then you're trying to kill me instead, is that it?"

"Toby, I don't know what –"

"Did I or did I not relay my express wishes for you *not* to call
Lisa?"

I pause. "Do you have psychic powers or something, Toby? `Cause I
gotta tell you, this is pretty scary."

"You'd better work on that sister of yours, Sam. She has a guilty
conscience."

"What the hell?" I exclaim. "I just left her ten minutes ago!"

"She called me last night after you'd gone to bed. She was very
concerned about having allowed you to disobey my wishes."

Josh looks vaguely amused. But then, he's always amused by Toby when
Toby's not mad at him.

Toby sets the ball down and rests his arms on his desk. "I've been
sitting here, patiently waiting for you to get in to work."

"Said the spider to the fly," mutters Josh behind his hand.

"You're not my warden, Toby. If I choose to call my wife, I'd say
that was my own damn business."

Then he does that spooky Toby thing, where he raises his voice, only
not the way a normal person does. He raises it just a smidgen above
his regular voice, which isn't all that much, but is damn creepy in
its own way.

"Did I or did I not tell you *not* to call Lisa?"

Actually, he told Sabrina not to *let* me call Lisa, but I won't
argue semantics just now.

"Do you have any idea," Toby continues, "what kind of tightrope you
are walking here, Sam?"

Josh steps between us. "Come on, man, give him a break. He wasn't
thinking straight last night."

"That's the problem!" bellows Toby. "He's not thinking straight. This
woman has gone on national television and declared to the world that
a high-ranking politician – *in the White House*, for God's sake –
was an abusive husband. We've got reporters camped out, we've got the
communications bullpen ringing like the goddamn `Carol of the Bells' –
"

"Toby, come on," urges Josh. "We'll fix this. We are the fixing
people. It's what we do. Sam will be okay."

Toby looks away in disgust. "Great. Fred and Ethel are going to fix
this. I'm so relieved."

Josh turns to me. "You do know that you're Ethel, don't you?"

"Will the political moron twins please direct their attention to
yours truly?" asks CJ's voice behind us.

She is standing with her clipboard in hand, peering down at us
through her glasses, a tall, regal figure, imposing as hell.

"What Toby is trying to say," she says, "is that Sam calling Lisa's
parents and leaving a rather pathetic message wherein he stated that
he did not want them `to end like this', is not going to win us any
opinion polls."

"It wasn't – Wait. How did you know I said - ?" I frown at her.

"I know, because it's my job to know." She glances back at me,
sympathy in her eyes. "It's my job to know that the message you left
last night, Sam, is being relayed to all the major newspapers as
further evidence that you're unstable and unfit as a husband."

"What?" Josh is outraged. "He left one lousy message, for God's sake!
It's not like he begged her to come back to him."

I cringe as I remember my exact words.

"No," CJ says, "but it does paint a rather persuasive picture of a
man not willing to let go."

Toby sighs loudly from his desk. Then he picks up the pink rubber
ball and begins to bounce it viciously against the window between our
offices. Josh is just muttering under his breath, hands in his
pockets as he stands there. CJ looks determined.

Me? I'm really wishing I had never been born.

"Fix it, CJ. And take them with you," Toby says. "I don't think I can
look at either of them right now."

CJ straightens herself up and motions to Josh and me.

"We've got work to do. Follow me, boys."

THE END

<><><>

TBC IN CHAPTER 4 – IT'S A LONG, LONG WAY TO FALL

 

 

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