On the Road to the Real Thing - 16

***

The remote control feels light in my hands, fragile. "I'm sorry."

He shakes his head. "It's okay. No problem." His eyes flicker up to meet mine, and his smile is unconvincing. "Scared the bejeezus out of me for a minute or two, but it's okay."

"I'm really sorry. I don't know what happened. I must have lost my concentration."

My voice sounds dull, far-away.

"It's okay. Don't worry about it." The smile becomes more confident. "Don't do that to me again, but don't worry about it. You want some fries?"

He's rooting around in an oversized brown paper bag, pulling out packages of food.

"Sam? You want fries?"

I nod, turn the remote over and over in my hands. "Yeah. Sure."

My fingers run over the controls on the remote. I turn the volume up, watch the telvision.

"...the Vice-President, who was in Portland today, giving a speech on agriculture..."

"I wrote to him," I say.

Toby's spreading out the bag, putting the fries on top. He glances at me. "Who?"

"The Vice-President." I pick up a fry. It's hot. "I wrote to him. Once when I was in Michigan, and then about a month ago, I wrote to him. To thank him. He didn't write back."

"You didn't have to write to him. He knows." Toby squints at the bag, reaching into the bottom for another package. He sets it on the table with the others. He shrugs. "Anyway, he's been busy."

"But he saved my life. I just wanted to thank him."

"Don't worry – he knows." He's not smiling anymore. "Trust me, he knows. It's okay."

"Yeah."

My glasses feel tight. I don't why I'm wearing them. I'm not reading anything.

He unwraps a few foil packages. Hamburgers. "Your mom and dad get back okay?"

My glasses are too tight. I'll have to get them fixed. "Dad left a few days ago. Mom left this morning."

"That's good." He nods. "You're doing fine now, they don't need to stay. And they're missing all that great weather in California."

...mother and I are here...you have...job...stay...please...

"I didn't really need them to stay," I agree. My glasses are too tight. I take them off, lay them down on the small bureau next to the bed. "They were both starting to get on each other's nerves again, anyway."

"Yeah, well," he says with a shrug, embarrassed. He gives me a drink. "Hey, guess what? Cathy and Ginger cleaned up your office today, and –"

"My office?"

"Yeah." He hands me some napkins, then pulls up a chair, right next to the bed. He sits down. "They told me they found that long-missing second draft of the United Farm Workers speech. You know? The one from three years ago?"

...three, almost four years ago...

"They found it?" My leg hurts, and I stretch it out a little on the bed.

"Second drawer, on the bottom. Beneath a highlighted copy of my notes for last year's State of the Union."

He unwraps the foil from his hamburger. He gives me a curious look, and his lips quirk up in a half-smile.

"Why'd you keep that?"

"Liked the writing," I answer. I shrug, feeling self-conscious. The pillows shift behind me as I straighten up. "Why were they cleaning up my office?"

He doesn't press me, easily changing back to the original topic. But the smile gets fuller. "Well, it's been collecting dust for the four months. You really want to come back to broken lightbulbs, blinds that are stuck shut, or a computer that hasn't seen any solitaire action in that long?"

I keep my eyes down, concentrating on the food. "No one's used my office?"

He takes a large bite from his hamburger, speaks around the food in his mouth. "No."

"Why not?"

He shrugs. "Well, you're coming back. Later. You know. And it's okay. There's room enough in the Bullpen."

"What about my computer?" I ask. I watch a slice of pickle slide out from beneath the bun of my hamburger. It lands on the foil, curled on itself. "Someone could use it while I'm out."

"It's okay."

"Well, what about my laptop? You should give it to someone in the Bullpen. Someone could use it out there."

The fries have become lukewarm and spongy.

He chews for a moment, then swallows. "I can't. You had it with you in Michigan."

I look at him and start to nod, but I stop myself. Right. Stupid. Of course I had it with me. It's probably in a few dozen little pieces now.

I turn my attention back to the food. My face feels warm. "Sorry. I forgot."

"That's okay. Don't worry about it," he excuses me. "It was kind of broken from the, uh, accident, so I'd been trying to fix it, but I think Leo's got it now."

I pull the top off my hamburger and peel the tomato from the bun. "Why does Leo have it?"

"He, uh," he starts and pauses. His gaze wanders to the television, and his eyes narrow. "Wait, give me the remote."

I push it over the blanket to him. He turns up the volume.

"...sources in the White House saying that President Bartlet was disappointed in the tepid reception given to him by strategists from the Global Defense Council at a meeting to discuss new environmental legislation today. One representative for the GDC claimed that President Bartlet and his staff have lost the trust of the environmental lobby with recent..."

He rolls his eyes and turns off the television.

He sighs, shakes his head. "He's a jackass," he says.

I pick off a small piece of hamburger, squeeze it in my fingers. "Leo?"

"No." Toby looks surprised. "No, of course not."

I'm confused. "You just said –"

"Leo's not a jackass. I'd never say that." He's holding his hamburger, and the ketchup is dripping out. "I've never said –"

"Okay." I shrug. "What are we talking about then?"

He stares at me for a moment, and his eyes are dark.

He puts his burger down, starts to stand. "Are you feeling okay? Because I can get a doctor. It's no problem."

"I'm fine." I don't need a doctor. Why does he think I need a doctor? "But you said jackass, and we were talking about Leo and my computer, and I just..."

His eyes are dark, and his hand is out, hovering just over the edge of the bed. Like he needs something to hold on to, but it's not there.

"I just didn't know who you meant," I explain. I shrug again. "That was all."

He stares at me for a second longer, then he sits back down slowly. "Oh. Okay. Sorry." He gives me a light smile that doesn't quite reach his eyes. "I meant...I was referring to Gillette. The GDC is spinning for him."

I watch him, listening.

He gestures at the television with a rueful expression. "And he's a jackass."

...two weeks ago, you said that Seth Gillette was from North Dakota...no one cares about North Dakota...

I nod. "Oh."

He stabs a fry into the ketchup. Over and over again, and I could swear his hand is shaking. "I just meant that... He's the one who's..." He sighs. "The meeting went fine. The GDC is spinning it hard, trying to make us look like we're the ones who're dragging our feet. No respect. They just want the air-time."

... need some air-time off of this...need to balance the books a little on this one...the damage is done...

I nod again. My leg still aches. The stiffness is sharp and sore. I ignore it.

He bites off the tip of the fry. "Anyway, it'll be good to have you back. You deal with them better than I do. They don't look at you as potential for disaster."

...the damage is done...we can't even up the score now...

It's hot in here. I need a drink.

"You're complimenting me?" My voice is hoarse. Why is my voice so hoarse? I gulp down some soda. It's hard to swallow. "Sounds like you've got a mess that you want me to clean up."

"No!"

I look at him.

He's shaking his head. His hand is on his knee. "That's not what I meant at all. Really, Sam, that's not what I meant –"

"I was just joking." I can see his knuckles. They're white. "It was just a joke."

"Well, I want you to know that I'd never make the mistake of thinking that you're supposed to clean up after me."

...not going to make the same mistake twice...that's what you're going there to ensure...

"I'll never make you do that," he continues, crumpling up the foil.

What? Why not?

"That's my job," I say. Or at least, it used to be. When I was working. Which I haven't done in months, so maybe my job has changed, and they don't want me to...they don't want me... "Right?"

His face is set and firm. He shakes his head. "Your job is not to clean up after me. That's not your job at all."

...I'll clean this one up for you, Toby...

Right. Great. They're gonna stick me with pushing paper, talking to all the who-cares-about-them people. Every day will be a big block of cheese. I won't have a job. I'll have a role.

Oh, look, poor Sam. He was in that accident. Poor guy, look at him limping along. Poor Sam, poor Sam...

"What is my job?" I ask. Hoarse voice, and it's hard to hear myself.

His eyebrows are pushed together. "Your job is to define the President's position on any and every domestic policy. Your job is to advise the President on those policies and to advise the public of those policies through the media. Your job is to..."

Sounds like my job. But jobs change.

...and to be my deputy. That's your job.

"Doesn't a deputy look out for his boss?" I focus my gaze on a place just below his eyes.

...I'll clean this one up for you, Toby...but we're doing it my way...

He clears his throat. "Yes, but," his voice is soft, "you don't have to clean up my messes, Sam. Ever."

...I'll clean this one up for you, Toby...

"I don't mind," I insist.

He starts clearing away the foil and wrappers. "Well, you should." He stuffs them into the paper bag. "You should mind."

I don't say anything.

He dumps the bag into the trashcan. It catches on the edge, and he shoves it in, pushing it to the bottom.

"When you come back, I expect you to mind. You understand me?"

I nod and relinquish my drink so that he can throw it away too. "I'm supposed to help you, though."

His face is hard and set. "I don't need any help. Not like that."

...you need help?...'cause I could help...I don't need any help...I'm fine...

"You don't need any help?" I ask. I look at his eyes, but he doesn't look at me.

...Toby needs my help...'cause I could help...I don't need any help...

He sits down again. He crosses his legs, resting one against the bed. He looks at the blanket, reaches out to smooth a wrinkle near the corner. "Not like that."

...I could help...I don't need any help...

I lean back, put my head against the pillows. I rub my eyes.

"Sam?"

"Yeah."

"You okay?"

"I'm tired," I say, and I shrug. The pillows don't move behind me.

...I'm tired...so tired...I can't go to sleep...

I hear him scoot the chair forward. "You should go to sleep."

...can't go to sleep...can't sleep...irrevocably awake...

"Yeah," I say. It's dark, but it's not late yet. "You going to stay here for a while?"

...stay...please stay...stay...please...

He nods. Slowly, up and down, and up and down. "Sure."

"So," I hunt for something to talk about, "Gillette is serious about –"

"Close your eyes," he interrupts, "and I'll fill you in on the situation."

...we might have a situation...

Close my eyes. That's a good idea. I should sleep. I'm tired. Long session today, and I'm tired.

Quiet voice. "So, Gillette thinks that he can get his numbers up by... "

...Seth Gillette's numbers are solid and gaining...we can't let him in any further...

No. The other voice. Just concentrate on the other voice. I just have to –

...have to do this...right thing to do...

No. The right thing to do is sleep. I just have to close my eyes and sleep.

...just close my eyes...

Put down my shoulders.

...put down the shoulders...

Focus on the sound of Toby's voice. Quiet voice.

...focus on the sound...on the quiet...just...

Relax.

...relax...

And sleep.

...and sleep...

***

The White House

Office of the Press Secretary

-------------------------------------------

For Immediate Release

September 28th, 2001

Press Briefing by CJ Cregg

Press Briefing Room

8:00AM EST

...

Ms. Cregg: Good morning, all you chipper, bright-eyed political junkies! <laughter> I've got lots to tell you, so shut up and sit down. <laughter>

Q: Is Sam Seaborn back? How is he?

Q: What are his plans for the day?

Q: Will there be an office celebration?

Q: Will there be cake?

Q: If so, are we invited? <laughter>

Ms. Cregg: Didn't I say shut up? I'm pretty sure I said shut up, but maybe I forgot. Let me repeat myself then: shut up.

Q: What kind of cake do we get to eat? Enquiring minds want to know! <laughter>

Ms. Cregg: Well, Danny, since you're still talking, you don't get any cake. The rest of you, fine. Danny, no. <laughter> Okay, okay...yes, we're having a small get-together to welcome Sam back to work. It'll be around lunchtime, but you didn't hear it from me. <laughter>

Q: Will the President be there?

Ms. Cregg: No. The President has an eleven o'clock appearance at the Coalition for Cleaner Air. He'll be talking about the enormous success that has been charted through C.A.R.E. I'll get back to that in a minute.

As you know, the President and the First Lady both visited Sam while he was in the hospital in Michigan and several times while Sam was in Virginia. The President is extremely pleased that Sam's back at work, and I'm sure Sam will get a warm welcome back from the President at Senior Staff this morning. And, of course, the rest of us can welcome him back at the party.

Q: Will the Vice-President be there?

Ms. Cregg: I don't know the Vice-President's plans for today. Certainly he's invited.

Q: What does Mr. Seaborn's day look like? Is he ready to resume his duties?

Ms. Cregg: He wouldn't be back here if he weren't ready. We're all very happy to have him back at work. We need him here, so... His day is going to be busy, as usual, nothing out of the ordinary. Most of his day will be spent meeting with reps from the GDC to go over the possibility of stricter regulations on water purity. He will also review annual reports from the General Accounting Office, and he's going to be briefed on the findings of the taskforce on farm aid in the Midwest. Busy day, but it's business as usual.

Okay, now moving on to those numbers from C.A.R.E...

End Transcript 9/28/01

***

"And that's about all for today, sir. Nothing else."

The President stands, and we all stand after him. "Okay. Back to work with all of you."

We nod, a chorus. "Yes, sir."

"Sam?"

I turn around to face him. I can feel CJ, Toby, Josh, and Leo staring at my back. "Yes, sir?"

He walks to stand in front of me.

"Welcome back, Sam. I can't tell you how happy I am to see you back here."

He hugs me.

I'm holding my portfolio, and it's digging into my chest from his tight embrace. I pat his back awkwardly.

"Thank you, sir."

He lets go and swipes a hand over my hair. "Don't scare us like that again."

I smile and hope he doesn't notice me shoving some of the loose papers back into the portfolio. "I'll stay away from buses from now on."

"You do that," he grins. He points at the door. "Get out of here."

I smile and give him a crisp nod. I follow the others into Leo's office.

Right. And left. Right. And left.

Two more steps, and I move behind a chair. I lean on it a little. No one is looking at me. I'm relieved.

It's not terrible anymore, of course. Not anymore. But it's noticeable.

Leo sits down. He takes a sip of coffee before speaking. "Josh, try not to set Mary Marsh on a blood hunt or anything, okay?"

Josh arches an eyebrow at Leo.

"Yes, sir," he says with a hint of a leer.

I grin at him, and he grins back. He'll have Mary Marsh screaming within three minutes.

"CJ, leak the McKinney memo sometime this afternoon. And if Appropriations lets out late, we'll wait until tomorrow."

Scribbling sound in her folder. "Got it."

"Toby, where are you meeting Hollingsworth and Evans?"

Toby's eyes drift shut. He shakes his head. "I can't remember the name. Some new restaurant on Riverside."

Leo considers this in silence. "Delucci's?"

"That's it. Yes."

"Have the scampi. It's excellent."

A sigh. "I had a late breakfast. I'm not sure I'll be hungry."

Pointed glance at Toby's middle. "I'm sure you can force yourself."

There is a pause. I look at Leo, waiting.

He doesn't look at me. "Okay, all of you get out. You're all ugly, and you bore me." He rifles through a few pages of papers on his desk. "Sam, you stay."

CJ winks and mouths something at me before walking out.

Party. At. Lunchtime. Cake.

Right.

Toby claps me on the back. "Obviously, you're not ugly like the rest of us."

I shrug. "Genetics. Not my fault."

"I'll see you at four-thirty, and we'll go over the farm aid thing. It won't take too long. Just a few minutes."

"Yeah."

A nod, and he turns and follows CJ out the door.

Josh doesn't move. He looks at Leo. "You know, I was thinking that Sam could probably help out with this school prayer issue. Mary probably won't go for his jugular quite as quickly as she will for mine, so –"

"I don't think so," Leo cuts him off. He nods at the door. "You've got a date with Ms. Marsh. Go."

Josh takes a step closer to Leo's desk. His hands move to his hips. They stay there for a moment and fall, then return. "I just think –"

"Josh," Leo says, shaking his head, "Sam's got other things to do today."

I look back and forth between the two of them.

"It's not a problem," I tell Leo. "I can make that meeting, and still have time for –"

"Not today." Leo cuts me off too.

Josh bites his lip and stares at Leo. "Can I talk to you privately –"

"You have a meeting to go to, Josh. Go."

Josh stares at him for a moment longer. He opens his mouth and closes it again.

I don't know what's going on, but it's not good.

And I think it has to do with me.

I'm worried about this.

...I'm worried about this...

"Go, Josh," Leo nods at the door again.

Josh's face is still, masked. He seems nervous.

"Yeah. Okay."

Before he reaches the door, he turns his head and looks at me. He gives me a light smile. "Come see me after the GDC meeting, okay?"

There's an encouraging nod, but I don't believe him.

"Yeah," I say. My hands are sweaty, and it's making the leather under my fingers slippery. "Okay."

The smile fades as he gives Leo a final, apprehensive look. Leo doesn't pay attention, and Josh turns to exit. The door shuts with a click.

"Sit down, Sam."

Leo's staring at me. Blue eyes, pale eyes. I move around the chair and sit down carefully.

"I've got something for you."

Somehow, I don't think it's a welcome back present. "What?"

"Your laptop."

Oh. That's all? Well, that's not so bad. My laptop. I remember - Toby told me Leo had it. I wonder if that last game of solitaire is still saved.

...save file...

...shut down...

He pulls a black case out from under his desk, pushes it toward me. "Listen," he says, and he's speaking slowly. There's a big sigh. Not me. Him. "You don't remember much from the accident, do you?"

I shrug, shake my head. "No. Doctors said it's normal, though." My right leg is bouncing up and down. Stop. "I'm fine."

He nods slowly, up and down, up and down.

"Your laptop was kind of beat-up, so," he says. He takes a breath. "Do you know why you were in Michigan with the Vice-President?"

My right leg starts bouncing again. Stop. "Yes. Yes, I do."

I know. Sort of. I was helping him with a speech. Josh told me. I was helping Hoynes with a speech. Josh told me it was important. That was why I was drafted to go with the Vice-President. It was important.

Leo looks at me. He's waiting.

"I was helping him with a speech," I answer. "An important speech. For Detroit. The American Auto Workers' Union."

He nods. Up and down and up and down.

"Yeah. That's right," he tells me, and I feel relieved that I answered correctly. "I think it's on here. I haven't looked. I just wanted to tell you that..."

He pauses. My leg starts bouncing again. Stop.

"I don't know what's on here exactly. I don't even know if it works; Toby was trying to fix it, but I don't think he finished. Anyway, he didn't see anything on it. But it might work, and if you want to have it, then it's yours."

I nod.

His gaze doesn't leave my face. "You know," he starts again, and his tone is almost urgent, "You might not remember what was going on when you were writing, so I just want to tell you that if you don't understand something, you should come to me. I'll explain."

What's to explain? I went on the trip, I wrote, I was in an accident. "I don't understand."

"You weren't in the best of moods when you were on the trip."

I was in a bad mood? Okay. Oh. Maybe I pissed off Hoynes. "Did I..." I start and stop. If I need to apologize to anyone, I'd better get the whole story. "Why? I mean, why was I in a bad mood?"

Leo shrugs. It is careful, thought-out movement. "You were kind of peeved with Toby. And Josh." He licks his lips. "And me."

I don't get it. And my leg is bouncing again. Stop. Have to stop that. "I don't understand."

"Well," he considers my question. He licks his lips again. "We were sort of jackasses to you before you left."

I give him a tentative smile. "Jackasses?" I repeat. "I got mad about that?"

He doesn't smile back. It's unnerving, and it's getting hot in here.

"We were bigger jackasses than usual. And yes, you got mad about it. Rightfully so."

I'm really confused. "I don't –"

"Look, my point is this: I don't know if this thing works, but if it does, and you find something you don't understand, just come and talk to me, okay?"

I nod. Up and down, up and down, and it makes my head feel as if it is rattling. "Okay."

He edges forward in his chair. "And don't worry about it. Things are different around here now, and we're all trying really hard to make it good. So, just remember that things aren't the same as they were six months ago. They're different, we're different."

They're different, we're different? What the hell? "What are you talking –"

"If you're confused, come and talk to me," he reiterates. "Just me, okay?"

Pale eyes, hard eyes. I shrug. "Okay."

He pushes the computer towards me. "Anyway, this is yours, you should have it back." Blue eyes, pale eyes. Staring at me. "But come and talk to me if there's anything – and I mean anything – that you don't understand. Got it?"

"Yes," I promise. I grasp the handle and stand up. "Okay. No problem."

"Good." He nods, and his mouth looks pinched. "Go to your meetings. And don't forget about your surprise party at lunch."

Right. And left. Right. And left, and I'm at the door. I shift to look at him. "I don't think it's really a surprise anymore. CJ asked me what kind of cake I like and –"

"Whatever. I don't care." The tension finally dissipates, and he gives me a sardonic smile. "I have a long day lined up, and I want some of that cake. Don't let Danny Concannon eat my piece."

I smile back at him, relieved again. "I'll beat him away with a stick."

"Sounds good."

...sounds good...

"Go to your meeting, Sam."

"Yes, sir."

***

The little refrigerator is empty. I'll need to stock it up again before tomorrow. I have a meeting with Ainsley in the morning.

Annoying, really. Not one piece of that cake left over, and it's been a few hours since lunch, and I'm hungry again.

...hungry, but I can't eat...would see me...

Reporters are pigs. But it was interesting to see Danny stuff that much cake into his mouth. Disgusting, but interesting. I bet he'll look green tomorrow.

Right. And left. Right. And left.

Good thing my office isn't too large.

I sit down at my desk, put on my glasses, look through my messages. Nothing that can't wait until tomorrow.

I was supposed to meet with Josh after the GDC meeting, but he's still on the Hill with Mary Marsh. Too bad for him. Donna asked me to wait for him, and I have to wait for Toby, too. He's not here yet, and there's nothing to do.

It's quiet in my office, but I can hear the loud buzz of the bullpen outside. Constant and steady, like an engine.

...on the sound of the engine, on the quiet...

The laptop is on my desk. I can see if it works, see if I can figure out what the hell Leo was talking about earlier.

I unzip the case, pull it out. My glasses are tight. I haven't had a chance to get them fixed. I plug in the power cord, press the button.

...I'm opening up my laptop...I'm turning it on...I'm waiting for it to load up...and then...

It feels warm in here. The screen flashes, pale blue. It feels warm in here, and I should open up the door, let some air in.

It's the afternoon, and the light from my window is dimming.

The laptop is working so far. I guess Toby fixed it.

(Start)

(Programs)

(Word)

Seems just fine. Scratched and a little dented, but it works. I'll still have to get a new one, though – it would look pretty shabby if one of the President's Senior Staff was toting around a beat-up piece of equipment.

I should transfer the files on the laptop to my office computer.

(File)

Scrolling, scrolling, and...

 

  1. Letter.doc
  2. Hoynes-Detroit-AAWU.doc

Letter?

I don't know what that is.

Highlight. Click.

=

Samuel Seaborn

Deputy Director of Communications

Office of Communications

White House

February 28, 2001

Josiah Bartlet, President of the United States

White House

Cc: Leo McGarry, Joshua Lyman, Toby Ziegler

Dear Sir,

In recent months, due to personal circumstances, I have found myself increasingly unable to complete my duties as Deputy Communications Director. I hereby resign, effective immediately.

I am grateful for the opportunity to have served you and my country.

Sincerely,

Samuel Seaborn

=

My fingers are hovering over the keyboard. My leg is bouncing again.

Stop. Have to stop that. Can't do that.

...I need to do this...this is the right thing to do...it's the right thing for me to do....

What the hell is this? What's this about?

...resign?...quit?...terminate my employment?...no...

...I know who it concerns...it concerns me, and it concerns him, and it concerns them...

Why did I write this?

...wrong person for this job...

...you were mad...and rightfully so...

Why was I doing this? I don't know what I was thinking, what I was doing. What was I doing?

...no, I know what I'm doing...I know what I'm doing, I know, I know, I know what I'm doing...I know.

Why did I do this?

...I can't do this anymore...

Josh didn't tell me about this. Why didn't Josh tell me about this?

...why'd you bring me on board, Josh?...in '97...why'd you come to me?...

He must have known, someone must have known what I was doing. Why would I want to quit my job?

...rightfully so...

...I knew you'd do a good job, Sam...

...I'm the one who can't handle it...political machinations...and...

I don't understand, I don't understand what I was trying to do.

...I can't, I can't keep trying to be like Josh, I can't be what Toby thinks I should be...

...rightfully so...

...can't keep trying to be what I'm not, to see things that aren't really there, to say that I can see what I know isn't really there, to lie, to lie, to lie...

...excellent liar...

...and I can't...I can't...I'm too tired to do it anymore...

My leg is bouncing. Stop...my leg, my leg hurts...no, That Leg...stop... Shut up!

...shut up, just shut up...I can do this. I have to do this...

I don't understand why would do this, why I would want to do this.

...you don't understand what's at stake, Sam...a second term is what's at stake, Josh...do you think I woke up dumb today?...

I don't understand, I don't understand....we want him to do a drop-in about...

...let me tell you what I'm seeing, Josh...seeing this administration kick, shove, and bully...the moral high ground...alone when we get there...insulting our own friends...insulting people who are doing good things...

...right thing to do...no...have to do this...file...save...

Oh, my god. Did Toby see this? Did Toby find this?

...am I being fired?...a little exile...a little humiliation...

...this is what I've found out, and this is what we need to do...

...anyway, he didn't see anything on on it...

...look at me!...Sam, we're doing the drop-in...you're going with Hoynes...what?...I know you don't agree with this...

...are you lying to me, Samuel?...

No. No, I wouldn't do that.

...I'm an excellent liar...

...that's why I'm sending you with Hoynes...you'll write the drop-in for the Detroit speech, and you'll make sure...

...should have tried harder...

...are you lying to me, Samuel?...

...drop-in?...

I would never do that. I would never want to do that.

...we're not going to make the same mistake...that's what you're going there to ensure...

...I sh-shouldn't b-b-be h-here...

I don't want to be here.

...I sh-shouldn't b-b-be h-here...

"Sam. Sam?" Quiet voice.

I don't want to be here, I shouldn't --

...resign?...quit?...terminate...effective immediately...

Quiet voice. "Hey, your laptop. I didn't get to finish it. Is it working?"

...can't keep on...

"Sam?"

...right thing to do...

...Leo McGarry tell you what you're supposed to do?...

"Sam? Sam, are you okay?" Louder voice.

...hurts...

"Sam, you don't look so well. Sam?"

...for all Americans, for all people, we must ensure the future...

...it's cold outside, and...

"Sam? I mean it, Sam. You're scaring me here...Sam?"

There's a hand on my shoulder. Toby. Toby! He's leaning over, he's leaning over, and he'll see, he'll see...

"Hey, I swear, if somebody doesn't put a muzzle on Mary Marsh, I might just –"

I slam the laptop shut, and Toby steps back, startled.

"What's the problem?" Josh.

...is there a problem?...no problem...it's done, and I'm lying...it's a long speech.

Josh should have said something.

...Josh would laugh at me...

The laptop is still on, and I can see a pale blue strip of light coming from the cracks. It's the color of the sky.

...you're not seeing the bigger picture here, Sam...I can see the sky for a few miles...I couldn't see anything bigger if I tried...

...Josh would laugh at me...

"You should have told me. You should have told me what I was doing there." My voice is far-away. I almost can't hear it.

"What are you talking about?"

...maybe you should just do a drop-in instead of rewriting the whole thing...

"Detroit."

"I told you what you were doing there."

...you need help?...cause I could help...I don't need any help...I'm fine...

"I wasn't writing an important speech, Josh. I was doing a drop-in."

"It doesn't make a difference what you were doing there, Sam."

...should have tried harder...different...they're different, we're different...

"It does make a difference. And you could have...you should have told me that I was doing a drop-in."

...shouldn't be too hard, Seaborn, just a little drop-in...

"It didn't matter."

...not seeing the larger issue...not a big deal...big deal to me...

"It mattered."

"No. No, it didn't."

...can't...this...anymore...

"It did matter. It mattered to me. It mattered a great deal to me."

I look up, and Josh and Toby are in front of me, standing in front of my desk. They look a little blurry. My glasses are too tight.

"Sam, why don't you come into my office, lie down for a few minutes?"

"I don't need to lie down."

"You don't look well. You're pale, you don't look well."

"I'm fine."

...shouldn't be too hard, Seaborn...a little drop-in...handle it the same as you handled the GDC...just as successful...right...disaster, a bomb, a mistake, a debacle, a...

"Well, you don't look it."

...excellent liar...

...I lie...all th-the t-t-time...

"Toby's right. C'mon, let's go into his office, you'll lie down, take a rest, and we can talk about this in a little while – "

...J-Josh d-d-oesn't...h-he nev-n-never...

"There's not anything to talk about."

Big sigh. Not me. Josh. "Obviously, there is something to talk about. You look like hell, and you're confused about this, so we obviously have some stuff to talk about. I want to clear this up with you."

He doesn't have any tact, and he never listens to me.

"Is it hot in here?"

"No."

"It's fine."

It's not fine. It's too hot in here. "It's too hot in here. I need to get some air."

"Come into my office. I'm sure it's...maybe it's cooler in there. You can lie down on the couch, and – "

"I don't need any help."

"I didn't say you did, Sam."

I stand up. "Good. 'Cause I don't." I unplug the laptop, let the cord hang off my desk down to the floor.

The laptop's still on, but I pack it into its case anyway. Zip it closed and pick it up.

"I have some work to do. I'm going go do it."

I'm lying again.

...And again...

Right. And left. Right. And left.

Toby steps out of my way. "Where are you going?"

I shrug. "Outside."

"Sam, you don't look well. I really think that – "

"I really don't care what you think, Toby." My glasses are too tight, and I take them off, leave them on top of my desk. "I have some work to do."

Again, lying.

...And again...

"Sam, don't do this." Josh is standing next to the door, next to me.

"I'm not doing anything, Josh. I never did."

"What the hell is that supposed to mean?" Toby is following me.

...I don't need any help...

"Sam?"

"I don't need your help, Toby. Leave me alone."

...we were bigger jackasses than usual...you got mad about it...and rightfully so...I don't get it...

I don't get it.

...things are different around here now...just remember that things aren't the same...they're different, we're different...

Maybe. But maybe some things never change.

...I just thought we'd be different...

"Sam..."

"Sam, wait..."

Maybe things never change. Maybe no matter how hard we try, or how hard we try to see something differently, some things never really change. Not really.

"Sam..."

Maybe I'm a liar, and maybe Josh is laughing at me, maybe he was always laughing at me, his na´ve little friend. And maybe Toby doesn't care, and maybe the bullpen is too loud, always too loud. And maybe I became just like them, and maybe I lied, and maybe I even lied to them, and maybe I'm still lying, and maybe this was all wrong. Maybe this was all wrong for me.

"Sam..."

Maybe I just need to get out of here.

"Sam, come back here..."

Maybe I never should have been here in the first place.

***

Part 17

 

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