On the Road to the Real Thing - 18

***
"Sam..."

Go away.

"Sam...wait..."

Leave me alone!

" Hey, Sam!"

What! Hand on my shoulder, hand on my shoulder, squeezing, and Toby, just leave –

"Good to see you back at work, Sam!"

Oh. Breathe, breathe...yeah. Okay. Right.

"Thanks," swallow, breathe, "thanks."

Too many people, too many people, and it's too hot, and it's too loud.

"Hey, Sam. Good to see you."

"Hey."

Smile.

"Sam...wait a minute...Sam..."

No. No!

Need to find somewhere else to be.

"Hi, Sam! Great party! Loved the cake."

"Hi."

Nod.

"...Sam..."

No. Leave me alone, Toby. I don't want to talk to you, I don't want to talk, and...

Maybe the Mess.

"Nice to see you back at work, Sam."

"Thanks."

Wave.

Hand is shaking. Put it down.

Stupid.

Footsteps...footsteps behind me.

Damn you, Toby, leave me alone.

Stairs. Down.

Right. And left. Right. And left.

Footsteps.

Right. And left. Faster. Right. And –

"Oops! Hey there, Sam. Welcome back to work."

"Sorry. Thanks."

In the way. I'm in the way.

Move to the side.

The Mess is too crowded. Too many people. Still. Still too many people, still too hot, still too loud.

"Sam..."

What. What?

"...things just haven't been the same since you were gone. We're so glad to have you back at work."

"Yeah. Thanks."

Yeah. Thanks.

Go away now.

Smile. Smile and nod. Up and down, up and –

Footsteps.

Leave me alone.

"See you around, Sam."

Right. Right, see you around. Right –

More stairs. Just go down the stairs. Maybe it's quiet down here, cooler.

Hold the banister.

"Hi, Sam! How are you?"

How am I?

How am I? How do you think I am, idiot?

No. Smile.

"Doing fine. Thanks."

Nod, nod, up and down, up and down. Sympathetic look.

Fine. Fine, oh, yes, just fine. Too many people, burning hot in here, and why is it always so fucking loud –

"Welcome back to work, Mr. Seaborn. It's good to see you back here."

Uh-huh.

Nod, nodding, up and down, up and down...

It's too hot in here. It's too loud. Too hot, too loud, too hot, too loud...

Right. And left. Right. And left.

Clap on the back. "Hey, Seaborn! Great party..."

Great. Great. Like the cake? Because everybody just –

"Loved the cake..."

Of course you did. Bet it tasted like orange. Two to one. C'mon, c'mon...

"...had the faintest hint of orange."

Score! Ha! I win! I...

...ha...I win...I win...what?...

I...

I don't know. I don't even know where I'm going.

"It's so good to see you back in the West Wing, Sam."

Yeah. Right.

"Thanks."

I don't want to be here, I don't be want to be here anymore, and...

...and...

...shouldn't be here...have to go...

...and...

...and I should know where I'm going. I should know what I'm –

"Mr. Seaborn! Mr. Seaborn, I just wanted to let you know that I'll have those figures ready by tomorrow morning. Oh, and welcome back!"

...doing. I should know what I'm doing, and I don't, I don't know what I'm doing, I don't know at all. I used to know what to do, I used to...

I used to be walk like a normal human being, that's what I used to do. And I used to not have scars on my leg, and on my back, and on my chest, and I used to...I used to...

I used to know what do.

"Hi, Sam."

Hi, Sam, hi, Sam.

Leave me alone.

I used to...

When was the last time I knew what to do?

"Hello, Mr. Seaborn. Welcome back to work."

"Yeah."

It was a long time ago. Too long to remember.

"Sam. Wanted to tell you that it's a real pleasure to have you back here."

A real pleasure? A real pleasure, huh? Does this look like a pleasure? Do I look pleased?

No.

"Thank you."

Smile. Keep smiling, show those teeth...yeah, atta boy, Sam, hi, Sam, welcome back, Sam, and...

I don't even remember. Can't even remember what I'm supposed to remember.

I don't even...

Where the hell am I?

Oh, who gives a --

Wait.

Here.

Wait.

No.

No, that's a bad idea.

Third floor.

No.

He didn't...he never even...

But I could...

No.

But I could ask, and maybe he...

Yes. His office is on the third floor.

Maybe he knows, because he was there, and he remembers, he must remember, he must remember something, because he was there, and so maybe I said something, or maybe I did something, and he remembers, he knows. Couldn't hurt to –

...it hurts...oh god, it hurts...

Couldn't hurt to ask, could it? No, no, of course not, it couldn't hurt. Why I could just say...

...I could say...

What could I say? Thank you? I could say thank you? That's it? Just thank you? Or...maybe...thank you for saving me? For saving my life? Thank you for keeping me alive, so I could hobble around like some freak? Thank you for saving me, thank you for keeping me alive, so that my friends can lie to me, so that they keep on lying to me like it doesn't matter...

...it doesn't matter...

It did matter, damnit! It mattered, I told you, I told you it mattered, Josh, I told you it mattered a lot, a great deal, it mattered a great deal to me, and what the hell do you say? It doesn't matter?!? Of course it matters! Of course it matters, I couldn't even walk, for weeks I couldn't even fucking walk, damnit! And I still can't walk right, I'll never walk right, or run, or do anything the same way, and you should have let me die, you asshole, but no, no, you couldn't do that, you had to be a hero, and you had to save me, and you couldn't just let me stop breathing, no, you couldn't let me...

Wait.

No.

Maybe...maybe I should just start with "thank you."

Yeah. Yeah, that would probably be best. Simple, polite, traditional...yeah. That's the way to go.

He's on the third floor. Stairs are this way, and...

No.

I can't do it. I can't do this, I don't know what I'm doing, and I can't do this, I can't, I can't, and...

...can't do this!...can't do this and...have to do this...have to...

I have to do this. I have to do this, and I should do this, and there's nothing wrong with doing this, with asking him, and if he knows, then maybe he can explain this to me, because I sure as hell don't know what I'm doing, or what I was doing, and...

Third floor?

Two flights of stairs.

How many steps in a flight?

Too many.

Too steep.

Used to be able to do two, three steps at a time. Yeah, used to jog in the morning, used to go sailing alone, used to be able to count on myself, used to not have to drag around a bad leg, used to trust myself, used to trust my friends, used to...

...used to...

Not anymore. Never again.

Sorry, Sam, but this is about as good as it'll get. Sorry, Sam, but the damage was just too great. Sorry, Sam, but you'll have to use this wheelchair...these crutches...this cane. Sorry, Sam, but you'll probably never regain all the strength you used to have in your leg...Sorry, Sam...

Sorry, Sam, sorry, Sam, sorry, sorry, sorry...

Sorry, Sam.

Sorry Sam.

Ha.

No.

I should just turn around and...

Still there.

Bastard.

Why can't you just leave me the hell alone?

Why can't you just...

Elevator. Take the elevator.

Press the button. Wait.

Not coming, Toby? Going to let me go finally? Thanks! Thanks so much, Toby. Thanks so much for letting me go, for sending me to go, for making me go...

Oh, nothing to say, Toby? Nothing you want to say to me?

Fine. Good.

Wouldn't believe you anyway.

Wouldn't trust, won't ever trust –

Shit! What the hell?

Stupid. Just the bell.

...don't ever ring that bell at me again...

Damn straight.

Get in.

3.

The doors close.

Closing, closed.

And leave me alone.

***

"Hello, Mr. Seaborn, sir."

Quiet voice.

What?

Who are... I don't know you.

"Hi. I'm just, uh," talk, stupid, "I'm..."

"How are you, sir?"

Oh. Well, I'm...I'm...

I really don't know who you are. Who are you?

"Fine. I'm fine."

He smiles. Young face, and it stretches in a smile. Shiny black shoes, and his jacket bulges at the side.

Gun.

The bulge is a gun.

"That's good, sir. I'm glad. We all are, sir."

What?

I don't know who you are, I don't what you're...we?

"Oh...thanks."

Still smiling. Nice smile. Quiet voice, nice smile.

"You can go on in, sir. Janeane will help you."

"Janeane?"

"The Vice-President's secretary, sir."

Of course. Right. Stupid. Of course.

"Yes. Thank you."

I walk past him, past the other dark-clad man, past the other dark-clad man with the bulging jacket who's smiling at me. I don't know who they are.

The office is ornate, baroque. Fancier than the Oval. I would have thought...

"Good evening, Mr. Seaborn."

Light voice.

Desk inside, decorated edges. I walk in, walk closer. Computer, phone, pens, paper, blue dress, light blue dress, and neat hair, stiff, neat hair.

Another dark-clad man in the back, near a big door. Dark eyes are on me.

"Can I help you, Mr. Seaborn?"

Neat hair. Light voice. Nice smile.

Why does everyone here know my name?

"Mr. Seaborn?"

Light voice.

"Yes." I have to swallow. I'm sweating.

"It's good to see you back at work."

"Yes." I stay standing.

Lower voice. Concerned eyes. "Are you all right, Mr. Seaborn?"

I'm fine. I'm just fine.

"Yes."

It's hot, and I'm sweating, and I'm breathing too fast, and my leg hurts, I shouldn't have gone down all those stairs, and –

Dark eyes are on me. Concerned eyes are on me, and it's okay, you don't have to look at me like that, I'm fine now, I'm just fine, really...

"Can I help you with something, Mr. Seaborn?"

Light voice.

"Yes," I say, and my shirt is sticking to my skin from the sweat. It's uncomfortable. I rub my hand over my eyes. "I was, uh...I wanted to know if...I wanted to know if the Vice-President is in. I just want to see him for a minute, that's all."

"Sam."

Footsteps. Voice behind me.

No.

"The Vice-President is on conference call right now," light voice, round eyes, "but –"

"Just one minute." That's all. That's not too long. I don't know why I'm here, I don't even know why I'm here, and if I don't even know why I'm here, I won't have to stay too long, will I? No, no, of course not. "Really. I won't be long."

Just one minute.

"Well, he's on his call right now, but I think he might have some time after that and..."

Concerned eyes aren't on me. Round eyes aren't on me.

They're on what's behind me.

Goddamn you, Toby.

"Maybe he just has a few minutes to spare?" Please.

"Sam."

No.

Round eyes. Light voice. Sad face. "You know, I'm sorry, Mr. Seaborn, but the Vice-President has a –"

"Janeane!"

Big voice. Behind the door.

The dark-clad man opens the door, and I can see the gun under his jacket. It's silver. It glints in the light.

"Can you," and his voice is loud, "get me the number for..."

Hard eyes are on me.

"Hey, Seaborn."

Not hi. Hey.

Right. And left.

"How're you? How are you doing?"

Fine. I'm fine.

Right. And left.

"You look better than the...well, better than the last time I saw you."

Than the last time...

Right. And left.

Hard eyes are on me.

"I...I just wanted to..." What? What did I want to do? I don't remember, and it's hot, and my leg hurts, and I don't remember. "I...uh..."

Stupid. Can't think, can't remember, can't talk, can't... Stupid!

Footsteps.

"I thought that...I should..." Think, think, concentrate! "It's my first day back, and I thought that maybe..."

Maybe what?

Something, something, I don't know.

He sees it.

The handle is leather, and it's hot, burning.

I'm sorry. I'm sorry, I shouldn't have come here, I didn't know what to do, and I'm –

"Come on in, Seaborn. Take a load off."

...take a load off...

Hand on my shoulder. Squeezing.

"Come on in, come on in. I've got time."

Quiet voice. Strong voice.

Hard eyes are on me.

Yes.

Right. And left. Right. And left. Right. And –

The door shuts behind me.

***

The phone is ringing.

Someone should get that.

It's not too bright in here. Lots of light from the window, right now, but it's getting late, and it's going to get dark soon.

My clothes feel stiff, and I want to move, to shift, to try to loosen them up. I can't, I can't do that right now.

I stand still.

The phone is ringing.

I look at him. He's near the door, to my side, to my side and behind a little.

"You should get that," I say. My voice is hoarse, and I don't know why. "I can go. Sir."

He shakes his head and walks to an armchair on the other side of the room. He sits down. "No. Janeane'll get it."

He points to the other chair, the one across from his.

Right. And left. Right. And left.

I sit. "Janeane's your secretary?"

I already know the answer to that question. I already know that.

"Yes."

I nod. Yeah. Yeah, okay. "She was there?" I ask, and it's hard to make my tongue work, to make my voice come out. "In Michigan?"

What the hell am I doing here? What the hell kind of question was that? Of course she was --

"Yes," he says, and he speaks slowly, "she was."

Of course she was. Of course she...

I already I knew that. I had to already have known that. I think that maybe I did. But I'm not sure.

There is a table between us, marble and wood. There is a glass of orange juice on top of the table. He picks it up, takes a drink. He grimaces and puts the drink down again.

"Well," he says.

I hold the case on my lap.

"How are you?" he asks.

I know the answer to that too. "Much better. I'm much better."

He nods. Short and quick. "Good."

He looks at the glass on the table. I wonder what's in it.

...the Vice-President does not like his staff to partake...

I wonder if he partakes here in his office.

He takes a breath, huffs it out. He points at the laptop. "What's that?"

"Laptop."

He nods, and each move of his head is slow and deliberate. "Oh," he says, and he still speaks slowly, with care. "New?"

There's a knock on the door, and I don't answer his question.

I can hear the door open behind me.

"What?" he asks, and I know he's looking behind me, at the door.

There's silence. I can see his eyes move; he's watching something, or someone.

The door shuts with a click.

He stands up. "I have to take this call. It won't take long. You stay here, okay?"

...you stay here...with me...

I nod.

He walks to his desk and picks up the receiver, murmurs a greeting.

"Yeah," he says.

Silence. The chair is large and comfortable.

"Sure," he says.

Silence. It's not so hot in here. Not quite so hot. But my shirt still feels stiff.

"Got it right here," he says.

Silence. The sun is setting outside. It'll be dark soon.

"Maybe so," he says.

Silence. It'll be dark soon.

"Yes," he says.

Silence. I don't know what I'm going to do.

"No," he says.

Silence. His voice is quiet.

"I think it's a big deal," he says.

Silence. I could quit.

"How do you think you're going to do that?" he asks.

Silence. I was going to before. I was going to quit.

"I don't think that would be a very good idea, actually," he says.

Silence. The sun is coming in through the window. It feels hot, hot on the side of my face.

"I don't think you get to do that anymore," he says.

Silence. It's not like I can't still do it. I can still quit. Back then or now - it doesn't matter now.

...it mattered to me...a great deal...to me...

"No," he says. "I'm not."

Silence. I can feel the sun moving down my face, fractions of inches. It's getting late, it'll be late soon, and I don't know what to do, I don't know what I was going to do.

"None of your goddamned business," he says.

He hangs up. I don't know what I was going to do, and I don't know what to do now.

He sits down again. He is across from me, and he sits on the edge of the couch. "What'd you come here for, Seaborn?"

I look at his lapel. It's well cut. "You can call me Sam."

He doesn't say anything. His elbows rest on his knees.

I can feel his eyes on me, on my face. I keep my eyes down. "Was that Toby? On the phone? Was that Toby?"

He shakes his head. "No."

His voice is still quiet, still smooth, and I want to believe him. I think he's telling me the truth.

"Josh?" I ask

He shakes his head again. "No."

I feel the sun on my neck, the sun coming in from the window. It's getting late, later.

I believe him.

"I, uh...I came because...I wanted..." It's hard to find any words again, and I don't why, I don't why that keeps happening. "Because...I wanted to...say...thank you."

He nods. "Oh."

Silence.

"What'd do you come here for, Seaborn?"

I don't know, you don't understand, I don't know, I really don't know.

I laugh, and it's a soft, halting sound in my ears. "I don't know," I say. My voice is hoarse. It's hard to hear my own voice, I can barely hear myself speak.

Silence.

His hands are cupped together, fingers crossed, loose and lax.

I shift to the edge of the chair, prepare to stand. "I'm sorry. I shouldn't have come here, I think, and –"

"Sit down."

I settle back into the chair.

"You remember anything?" he asks. "About the accident, I mean."

I shake my head. "Not much. No."

"Nothing?"

I shrug. "Some. I don't know."

He assesses me. His face is impassive, but curious. "You seen anyone?"

I don't know what he means. "What do you mean?" I ask.

He waves his hand around in a vague, circular gesture. "You know...a psychologist or someone. Someone you can work all this out with. Someone who could maybe, you know, help you to remember. Or to...not remember."

The laptop is slipping, fractions of inches down my legs. I heft it back onto my lap. "I spoke with someone at the hospital in Michigan. I didn't remember anything then. There wasn't much to talk about."

"And no one since then?"

"No," I answer. "I started getting better, much better, and I was fine. I'm fine. I'm much better now."

"You think so?"

I don't answer.

"You remember something now."

It's not a question, and I don't answer.

"You want to know what happened?"

That's a question. I should answer. I should, it's expected, but I don't.

"Thomson and I found you in the bus."

Thomson?

"One of the guys outside. He and I found you. After the bus crashed, we found you."

The laptop rests, hard and heavy, on my legs.

"Nathan...that's the fellow right outside the door...he spotted you from the outside, helped direct us to you."

I think about that, imagine what it would have been like. But I can't see myself in the picture, in the picture that forms in my mind. "Oh."

"You were unconscious when we found you, and it was too dark to see, and so I couldn't tell if you were bleeding or what. Couldn't tell what was wrong."

I was bleeding. They told me, they told me at the hospital that I lost a lot of blood.

His tie is striped with burgundy.

"When we got you outside...then we could see. You were hurt bad, and then you woke up. You were real confused for a bit."

I nod. I still am, I'm still confused, and I don't know what to do. I don't know what to do about it.

He gives me a sour look. "You thought I was Ziegler. You kept calling me Toby."

I don't say anything. His jacket is dark, maybe black.

He shrugs. "That was a real disheartening moment for me."

"Well," I say. I look harder. It's navy, not black. Navy.

"After a while, though," he continues, "you stopped call me Toby, and you started talking sense. Some. That was better." He looks at me. "Never would have pegged you for hockey, though."

Hockey... "We talked about hockey?"

He nods. "Sure. Hockey, your affair with Leo's daughter, the weather, and –"

Back up. "What about Mallory?"

He snaps his fingers. "That's right. That's her name."

Well.

"What're you here for, Seaborn?"

Eyes are on me.

I don't answer.

The laptop is slipping. I hoist it up again.

He smiles. "We talked about work," he offers, and now is the time. Now is when I should ask him.

I take a breath. "What about work?"

That wasn't the right question.

"What you liked about it," he says, and he reaches for the glass, "what you didn't like about it."

That wasn't the right answer.

He balances the glass on his knee and sighs. "So. How's it been, being back at work?"

Awful. Terrible. I wish I hadn't come back. I wish I had never come in the first place.

"Fine."

Eyes are on me.

"You're a crapass liar, Seaborn."

...you're a crapass liar, Seaborn...

I nod. He's right. "Yes," I admit. My throat hurts. "I am."

"What're you here for, Seaborn?"

I need to answer the question.

"I was in Michigan...with you...to do a drop in," I say. I was supposed to ask. I should have asked.

He nods. "Yes. Yes, you were."

"Did I do it?" Voice goes up at the end, fractions of inches, and that's a question.

"Not really."

But that's not really an answer. "Not really?"

He shrugs. "You didn't do a drop in. You rewrote my speech."

"Oh." Josh didn't tell me that. Of course he didn't tell me that.

"But you didn't like it much. You told me it was bad."

"Oh." He should have told me that.

He shrugs. "Trusted your judgement. Did my own speech."

"Oh." Someone should have told me, I don't know why no one --

"What're you here for, Seaborn?"

That's a good question.

"Did we talk about anything else?" I ask. Finally. I ask.

He tilts his head at me. "Anything else?"

"Anything else I wrote?" He must know, he has to know, I know that he must know.

"Yes." He leans forward, points at the laptop. "You don't have to worry about it, Seaborn. I didn't tell anybody."

I think that was an answer.

"I was going to, uh..."

"Friends have to be honest with each other," he says in a flat voice. "What a crock."

He's not looking at me anymore. He's looking at his desk.

"Yes," I say, and I have to clear my throat because my voice is hoarse, "Yes, it is."

He lets out a breath and sits back. "What're you here for, Seaborn?"

"Toby and Josh and Leo lied to me," and it comes out fast, too fast for me to understand myself, "they lied to me when I asked why I was there. Josh told me it was because I had to write an important speech, and -"

"Friends lie to each other, Seaborn," he cuts in. "It's what we do." He looks at me again. "You think Josh wanted to tell you that you were there to do a drop in that you thought was a bad idea? You think he wanted to remind you about that when you couldn't even go to the john on your own?"

"He should have told me. Toby should have told me. Leo...someone should have told me."

He shrugs. "You think that would have helped to walk again? You think that would have been a big motivator, Seaborn?"

"I don't...I don't walk. I limp. I'll never –"

"Jesus H. Christ, Seaborn," he says, and his voice is loud and sharp, "you were dead for ten fucking minutes! You know how long that is?" He stands up. "It's a goddamned long time. You're alive. You can breathe on your own, you can move around on your own, you can work, you can talk, and you're complaining?"

It's a question, a good question.

"I wrote a letter of resignation. I was going to resign."

He waves his hand. "No, you weren't."

"How do you know?"

He rolls his eyes. "We talked about it. Jesus, you really don't remember a damned thing, do you?"

"Why wasn't I going to resign?"

"Because you like what you do, Seaborn. Because you like working here. Because you're just arrogant enough to think that you should, that no one else will do as good a job as you, that you're going to make a difference."

Eyes are on me.

"And you're right." He takes a breath. "Toby and Josh and Leo...you knew they lied to you, you got yourself into a huff about it, but when you were bleeding all over the ground, you asked me not to tell them about that goddamned letter. You knew it was a mistake."

Eyes are on me.

"They're your friends, Seaborn. Friends lie to each other. Friends lie to each other, sometimes. Friends can't always be honest with each other, Seaborn. Sometimes it's not the best way to do things. Sometimes you're a better friend if you lie. Sometimes."

"I can't trust them," I say.

He shakes his head. "Of course you can. You can trust them to do what they think is best for you. And they did, Seaborn. They didn't tell you about the drop in because that would have been bad for you. And you didn't tell them that you wrote a bad speech, or that you were mad at them, or that you wrote letter of resignation because that would have been bad for them."

I look at him. "I wasn't going to resign?"

"No."

I used to know what to do.

"How do I know you're telling the truth?"

And I used to have tact.

He shrugs. It's a simple movement. "I'm not your friend, Seaborn."

***

Part 19

 

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