(all disclaimers in pt 1)

* * *

I was relatively flippant with CJ about meeting with Lisa, but in
reality I feel anything but. When I go home, I stop by the telephone
and stare down at the notepad where I've written 'Dinner--The
Pinnacle--tomorrow night--Lisa'. A few deceptively simple words that
could promise to break me further in the end.

Oh God. I don't know what I'm doing.

I really am losing it.

I run my hands over my face and try to hold on just a little bit
longer. Just twenty-four hours more; I can make it. I can do it.
Tomorrow night I'll see Lisa and I'll ask the questions I've needed
to ask for months now, and maybe, just maybe, she'll give me some
answers. Maybe there's something I can do--some gesture I can make,
words I can say--that will stop this, that will end this. Something
has got to happen tomorrow night, something concrete, because I can't
handle this anymore.

I collapse down onto my sofa. Who the hell am I kidding?

Nothing's going to happen, not really. There's no chance a meal in a
fancy seafood restaurant with my soon-to-be ex-wife will magically
erase the past several weeks. Even if she reveals the motive behind
her diabolical plan to ruin me--which is altogether too James Bond,
when you think about it--what then? There's still the little matter
of television interviews and op-ed pieces and weeks of scandal to
deal with.

Nothing's going to be fixed tomorrow night. I'm only kidding myself.
It's going to be like every scene Lisa and I played out during the
last year of our marriage: my bewilderment and confusion against her
icy resolve and unswerving impassivity. Before I know it I'll find
myself pleading with her for help, for answers, for an end to this,
and she'll merely look at me, and smile, and we'll both know that
she's won. Whatever she's coming for tomorrow night, she's going to
get it, and I'll be left with nothing. Just like before.

Just like always.

I'm halfway through a bottle of Absolut when there's a pounding on
the door that rattles the walls. I ignore it.

The pounding continues.

"Go away," I mutter under my breath.

More pounding.

I creep into the hallway and inch toward the door. Two silhouettes
are clear through the cut-glass window in the doorframe: one tall and
slender, one slightly shorter with wild hair sticking up in various
directions.

Oh, hell, just what I need.

"I know you're in there, Sam," bellows Josh. "Your car's parked
outside, the lights are on in your house, and I know you're in there."

"Go away," I say, louder this time.

"I don't think so," he retorts. "Open the door."

"Josh, now is not the time."

"I beg to differ, my friend."

"Sam, open the goddamn door." That's CJ's voice this time, and her
voice is much more impressive than Josh's.

I open the door. They're standing there, just as I expected, glaring
at me. CJ's expression is one of irritation warring with sympathy,
while Josh just looks downright pissed off. He barrels past me and
into the living room. CJ and I follow.

He's standing in the middle of the room, still in his jacket, and
he's so angry he's practically spitting. "Is this how it's gonna be
now, Sam?" he demands.

"What?" I ask sharply.

"What?" he echoes in an incredulous voice. He reaches over and picks
up the vodka bottle. "What's this, huh, Sam? A little nightcap?"

My cheeks burn in indignation. "I'm not drunk, Josh."

"I know you're not drunk! I've seen you down a fifth of Jack Daniels
and walk a straight line. Your state of inebriation is not the point."

"Oh, and what is the point?" I yell. "Are you here to give me another
goddamn lecture? `Cause I don't remember signing up for the course."

"I'll tell you what I'm here for, Samuel, and that's to knock some
sense into you. Look at you--this can't continue!"

"Why not? Because you say so? Is that it? Is it not in your
*masterplan*, Josh?"

"Because it's *killing* you!" blurts out CJ.

We both turn to her, as if realizing she's there for the first time.
She's staring at me helplessly, fingers twisting together; but she's
still the strongest person in this room, and we both know it.

"Look," she says, "I told--I told Josh about this afternoon, about
Lisa calling you. And he told me some things too, and we--we both
agreed...we agreed we had to come here, Sam. You can't go on like
this. It's killing you."

I look back over at Josh and it's as if the anger has suddenly
deflated him. He runs his hand through his hair and flops down into
an armchair, looking up at CJ and me. "I guess this is what those in
AA circles would call an 'intervention', isn't it?" he asks wryly.

CJ and I sit too, on opposite sofas. The three of us square off like
strangers.

"Sam," Josh says. I know he's making an effort to calm himself, "last
Christmas--in the Oval Office, I had--if you will recall, I had an
episode."

I think back to that moment he's referring to, standing by Leo's
side, watching in shock as Josh descended into blind fury and panic.
I remember knowing that something was horribly wrong, and feeling
utterly, utterly helpless, knowing that nothing I did would help fix
it.

"An episode," Josh says again. "I know you remember it. And you know,
I remember it too, because you were there, and you watched me, and
you said my name, and that wasn't what fixed me, but...Jesus Christ,
Sam, that was your way of helping. That was your way of bringing me
back down to earth. And this--this is mine."

Silence permeates the room, the only sound the ticking of the
grandfather clock in my hallway. Suddenly I feel tired, so damn
tired. I just want it all to be over with. I don't care if I get my
job back; I don't even care if I get answers, so long as it's over.
Please, just let this all be finished.

I lean back against the sofa and look at CJ, and then at Josh, and
then down at my hands. Quietly I say, "I don't know what to--"

"You don't have to say anything," interrupts CJ. "This isn't going to
be fixed tonight, or tomorrow night, or even a month from now. What
we want--what we *all* want is to help you find your way out of the
dark place you're in right now, Sam. That's all Sabrina's been trying
to do, and me, and Josh, and your mother."

"And that's actually why I went to CJ tonight, Sam: Sabrina. What
happened with you two?"

"I hurt her," I say simply, because who cares what words I choose?
What it all boils down to is that I broke the cardinal rule and I
hurt my little sister.

"And you haven't called her?" presses CJ.

"You don't know--the things I said to her, the rage I felt." I
sigh. "I'm scared to."

"Scared to?"

"Scared she--scared she won't forgive me. Scared she'll admit that
she thinks I'm weak. Scared she'll say I'm not the person she thought
she was and she doesn't want anything to do with me anymore. You
don't--you don't know...Sabrina and I went through a lot together. As
long as she was around, I felt I had a purpose," I tell them. "And
when she was old enough, we became friends. She's my friend, and you
can't treat your friends the way I treated Sabrina."

"The way you treated Josh," CJ reminds me in a firm, yet sympathetic
tone, "and the way you treated me. And we forgive you."

"Yeah, and we don't like you half as much as Sabrina does," Josh
teases gently.

"Did," I correct him. "As much as Sabrina did."

"She doesn't think you're weak, Sam," says Josh, "and she doesn't
think you're infallible. She never did. That was your thing to deal
with, not hers. But she did look up to you, and you're going to have
to be careful. You're going to have to be very careful, because if
you're not--if you don't fix this now, she may stop looking up, and
she may start looking down."

<><><>

Claire at first refuses to even speak with me. When I tell her it's
me, she snorts and threatens to hang up the phone.

"Claire, don't."

"I really don't have anything to say to you," she retorts.

"Where's my sister?"

"She doesn't wish to speak with you."

"Claire--"

"You know, if you were here in front of me, I could tear you apart
with my bare hands."

"Please--"

"Where the hell do you get off, anyway? I mean, what kind of a big
brother *are* you?" she demands.

"Claire, where is my sister?"

"I'm invoking the sacred roommate coda and I'm not saying a word."

I grip the phone tightly in one hand as CJ and Josh look on. "Please."

"Sacred roommate coda, Sam."

"For God's sake, I need to talk to my sister."

"Oh, 'need', huh?" replies Claire with all the fury in the
world. "What do you *need*? Do you *need* her to come around and
bolster your waning ego? Does Josh Lyman *need* his gopher to look up
facts on marriage laws in ancient Phoenicia? Just what do you *need*,
Sam?" I can picture her running her fingers through her wild, curly
hair as she rants.

"I need to apologize."

That stops her short. "What?"

"I'm not a bad guy, Claire."

"I didn't used to think so," she snorts. "In fact, I used to have
something of a crush on you. But I don't have to know what you said
to your sister to know how much it hurt her, and that does, in fact,
make you the bad guy."

"I need to apologize," I tell her again, more firmly this time.

"Well, you can't apologize to her here. She's gone."

"When will she be back?"

"I don't know; she didn't say."

"Tonight?" I ask with a groan. "Tomorrow morning?"

"It's tough for me to say, considering she's been gone for nearly
four days," Claire replies haughtily.

I nearly drop the phone. "Four days?"

"You don't miss much, do you? When do you think you would've noticed?
Tomorrow? Next week?"

"Where is she?"

"She doesn't want me to tell anyone."

"Claire, where is she?"

"She'd kill me if I told you."

"Claire."

She's quiet for a moment. "I'm only telling you this because I've
known you for two years and you seem to be a decent man at heart.
You've done some considerable begging, and I figure you deserve a
shot. She's in Manhattan."

"Manhattan?"

"Is there an echo on the line? Yes, Manhattan! Now go play 'Where's
Waldo' and see if you can find her."

"Claire--"

"You really like the sound of my name, don't you, Sam?"

"Is she with Kyle Britton?" The moment I say the name, Josh tenses
beside me and CJ catches on to our alarm.

"All I'll say is that that girl is willing to go to the ends of the
earth to make things right for someone she cares about."

"Jesus Christ."

"Good luck," replies Claire, and then she hangs up.

"She's with Kyle *Britton*?" exclaims Josh. "That *jackass*? That
*goniff*?"

"Call her there," instructs CJ.

"Call her? I'm going to go *get* her." I vault off the sofa and up
the stairs, where I begin throwing things in a duffel bag. When I
turn around, Josh is behind me. "Not now, Josh."

"You're not going to screw this up, are you?"

I laugh derisively. "It's entirely possible that I will."

"Let me ask you something--why are you doing this?"

"Doing this?"

"Charging off; big brother to the rescue. Is it to soothe your
conscience? Is it to score one over Jackass Britton?"

"It's to take care of my sister."

He stares at me for a moment. "She's in a tough place herself, Sam.
You can't--you can't--"

"I know," I say, zipping the bag closed.

"Don't fuck it up, Sam."

"I make no promises."

<><><>

Josh stays behind at my house, promising to field any phone calls
from my mother or Lisa; CJ hugs me goodbye and wishes me luck. I've
been on the highway for over an hour before I let myself start
panicking.

What the hell am I doing?

I only know that I've done so many things wrong lately. Every move I
make, every decision I come to, just seems to break me further. I
have to do something right.

I have to find my sister.

THE END

* * *

Coming Soon:: Chapter 12—Just Wait

 

 

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