On the Road to the Real Thing - 8

***

"Hello, John."

I hold the phone in my hand. It's small, and I'm not sure the receiver reaches my mouth.

(Concentrate!)

The morphine's worn off now, leaving me tired and hollow-feeling.

(Concentrate!)

I need to concentrate. "Hello, Mr. President."

"How are you, John?"

I want a stiff drink. I want it bad. Other than that... "I'll be fine, sir."

"I'm told you have a concussion."

"Yes, sir."

"And there's some ligament damage in your left leg."

"It's not too serious, sir."

"The doctors tell me that you'll eventually need surgery. Maybe some physical therapy."

"Yes, sir."

"So...you're not really fine, are you?"

Like some goddamned test.

I glance at the walking-cast on my leg. I'll have to wear it until I can schedule the surgery. "No, sir. But I will be, sir."

"Yeah."

He sighs, and then he's quiet.

I sit for a moment and wait. My back aches, and I edge up higher against the pillows, holding the phone away from my face. Nathan moves to help me, but I wave him off. Don't need any help. I'm just getting tired of being in bed.

I can hear Bartlet clear his throat. I move the phone back to my face quickly.

"John?"

I lean back and feel my fingers sticking to the phone. "Yes, sir?"

"Are you alright?"

Didn't we just go over this? I'll be fine. You can't rid of me this easily. You'll just have to make do with me, your wayward, untrustworthy -

(Concentrate!)

"Yes, sir."

"Your bus crashed."

I nod, even though I know he can't see me. "Yes, sir."

I can hear him take a breath, and I know what's coming now.

Probably some long story about the last time he was in a bus accident. Spring day, I'm sure, and he was with the family – his perfect family! – when, whoops, silly Jed, he hit the accelerator instead of the brake and –

"Were you scared?"

I feel my mouth open and close, then open again. I'm not sure what he... "Sir?"

His voice is quiet and even. "Were you scared?"

I pause. The pillows are warm and thick behind me. "I don't remember, sir."

"Your bus skidded on a patch of ice, and the press bus hit you. The impact was so hard that your bus went off the road and flipped over. I have the reports right here, on my desk."

I look at Nathan, but he's staring at the window. "I really don't remember, sir."

"You saved Sam Seaborn's life."

I follow Nathan's gaze. It's early afternoon now. It was raining earlier. I can see the parking lot, and it still looks wet.

"John?"

"Sir."

"You kept him alive, kept him breathing for almost ten minutes, until the paramedics could get there."

I feel my eyes close. "Sir, I –"

"I hope you'll remember that I'm grateful. I'm in your debt, John."

His voice is quiet. The phone is pressed phone close to my ear.

"Thank you, John."

I nod again, clear my throat. "Yes, sir."

"If you need anything, tell Leo McGarry, and he'll get it for you."

"Yes, sir."

"I'm glad you're all right, John."

"Thank you, sir."

"Get some rest. I'll talk to you soon."

"Yes, sir. Thank you, sir."

There's a click, and I hear the dial-tone.

I let out a breath and put my head back on the pillows, close my eyes.

I'm in your debt, John.

He's in my debt.

Mine.

(Concentrate!)

I know I should do something with that information. It's important, and I should do something with it.

(Concentrate!)

I should concentrate, I really should, but I just can't.

***

Five cities so far, and it's two in the morning. There'll be another five tomorrow - today! - and Detroit the day after. Detroit. I should get some sleep.

The bus is dark and quiet. The blinds are shut, and the overhead lights are off. Janeane is curled up on the seat opposite mine. She's holding her purse against her body.

Five years that I've known her, and she's always done that. Everything important is in that purse – portable rolodex, planner, a spare container of deodorant, and extra copies of everything and anything imaginable. A veritable walking office. Sweet woman, and she's been good to me.

I can hear her breathing, softly, and I can still smell her perfume. Carl is snoring in the next aisle over.

I loosen my tie, close my eyes and wait.

Nothing.

I stretch out, prop my feet up on the seat next to Janeane, will myself to relax. Shoulders down, head back, arms loose. There, that's all it takes. Just a little concentration...so I can sleep...

There's a noise. A click.

Then another.

And another.

And...

I open my eyes. Somebody's typing. I take a breath and straighten up, looking around. It's still dark, but I can see some faint light up ahead, towards the front of the bus. I stand up and squint, trying to see who it is.

Seaborn.

I've barely seen him all day. I don't what he's been doing during the tour stops and my speeches.

Probably talking on his phone all day, probably telling Josh Lyman what a fool I am, that he can't understand how Josh worked for me for so long, that he's so glad he works for Bartlet, that I'm nothing like Bartlet.

Nothing like him at all.

Probably whining to Toby Ziegler about why he's stuck out here, this isn't his job, and the GDC drop-in wasn't so bad, and he shouldn't have to handle me as punishment, he's a speechwriter, not some babysitter paid by Leo McGarry.

Of course.

That's probably what he's been doing. Probably what he's been doing all along.

Of course. Of course.

I should get some sleep. I really should get some sleep.

I take my feet off the seat and stand up. Quietly, so I don't wake Janeane. My shoes are on the floor. I don't bother to put them on. My feet hurt, and I'm tired of wearing those damned preppy loafers.

I walk down the aisle, and I can feel the engine humming loudly under my feet. The road is flat here, and the bus drives steadily, no bumps. I move toward the faint light. Quietly, so I don't wake anybody.

He's hunched over, his elbows on the table and his hands curled over the keyboard. His head is blocking the screen, and I can't see what he's writing. Probably the drop-in.

He leans back and takes off his glasses, rubs his hands over his eyes.

President Bartlet...

My hand reaches out, grasps the back of the seat next to me as the bus continues to drive on.

...Cc Leo McGarry...Joshua Lyman...Toby Ziegler...

Somebody coughs. I take a step back, look around. No one else is awake. It's quiet.

...unable to complete my duties...

It's dark on the bus. I have to squint to read.

...hereby resign...

It's dark outside, too. Another few hours, and I'll have to start the day again.

...effective immediately...

It'll be another long day. I should get some sleep.

...grateful for the opportunity to have served...

It's quiet, and no one else is awake. Just me, Eddie, and Seaborn.

...Sincerely, Samuel Seaborn...

I hear him sigh, shift in his seat. His shoulders stiffen, and I take another step back. Quietly, so he doesn't know I'm there. There's a beat, a sudden tension, and I wonder if he'll turn around. He doesn't. He leans over again, his head in his hands as he stares at the screen.

It's dark on the bus, and there's only a few more hours until the day begins again. I should get some sleep.

I turn around and walk back to my seat. Quietly, so I don't wake anyone.

Janeane's moved in her sleep, and there's no more room on the seat to put up my feet. I edge past her and sit down. Quietly, so I don't wake her.

I put my head back, and peek past the closed blind on the window. It's still dark, but it'll be just a few more hours.

I can hear that clicking sound start up again. Steady at first, then irregular. Probably deleted what he wrote, and now he's starting over. New draft.

I should get some sleep.

Shoulders down, arms loose.

He's resigning.

Eyes closed.

I'd give my two front teeth to know why. The GDC drop-in? Or something else?

Relax, relax. Just the sound of typing, of the engine, of the quiet on the bus.

Relax.

Time to sleep.

***

"...y-y-you're lying..."

I've hit men for calling me lesser things than a liar. And if he weren't on the ground already, I'd probably pop him one, too.

But he is on the ground, and he's bleeding, and his face is gray. And he's right. I'm lying. "Seaborn –"

"...y-y-you're ly-lying..."

No, don't close your eyes, damnit! "Seaborn? Hey! Seaborn, you keep your eyes open!"

"...shut up, T-t-toby..."

I take a breath. "Seaborn, you call me 'Toby' one more time, and I swear... Look, just keep your eyes open. Please keep your eyes open!"

My throat hurts, and the words sound tight. Choked. Harsh.

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

His eyes are open, that's good. Keep your eyes open – no, don't move! "Don't move, Seaborn."

"...h-have t-t-to g-go...h-have an ap-appoint-ment..."

"No, you don't. The appointment's canceled, okay? It's okay. You stay right here. You stay with me."

I lean over and place my hands over his shoulders, hold him down. I look to my left. Nathan and Brody have each taken hold of Seaborn's legs.

"Jesus," Brody murmurs. He grimaces at the blood on the coat over Seaborn's left leg and glances up at Nathan, then at me.

I shake my head, and he turns away, fixing his gaze on the road. Nathan reaches over, moves Brody's hand, so that it grasps Seaborn's ankle.

I stare at Nathan's face, and he meets my eyes, nods at me. No blood down there, near the hem of the coat.

I look to my right. Thomson has his hands on either side of Seaborn's head. His fingers are tense, unyielding.

I nod. "It's okay."

I turn my attention downward. Seaborn is quiet again, his lips parted a little as he tries to breathe. Got to be the worst sound I ever...

(Concentrate!)

I nod again, clear my throat. "It's okay. It's okay, Seaborn."

He blinks a few times, takes a few shallow breaths and calms down. He looks up at me, his eyes washed out by the pallor of his skin. His lips move, but I can't hear any sound.

I lean over, move closer to his face.

"...d-don't tell J-j-josh..."

I shake my head. I don't know what he's talking about. "About what?"

"...th-th-the le-letter..."

I don't know what he's talking about. He probably still thinks I'm Toby, and I don't...

Just go along with it, gotta keep him awake, c'mon, c'mon... "What letter?"

I feel his shoulder move, and I press it down. I can feel the tremors now, more strongly than before.

"...res-resig-nation...s-sir..."

I hold my breath and stare at him. "I don't what you're talking--"

"...s-saw y-y-you..."

"I don't what you're talking about --"

"...on th-the b-bus...in th-the sc-screen..."

In the screen...my reflection in the screen. Well. Shit.

I let out a weak smile. "Well, guess I got my whole goddamned arm stuck in the cookie jar this time."

His eyes look dull. "...d-d-don't t-tell J-j-josh or T-t-toby..."

I swallow. My throat's feeling scratchy. Probably from the smoke. Gotta keep him awake.

(Concentrate!)

Gotta keep him awake. "You change your mind or something?"

He gazes at me for a moment. "...I...I th-th-thought it'd b-be diff-different..."

What, his letter? The trip? Gotta keep him awake. What? His life? Concentrate! His... I don't know.

"What'd you think would be different?"

"...j-job..."

Right, right. Job. I nod and force out a grin. "So did I. My job, I mean."

Lord, I thought it'd be different, I really did, I tried and tried to make it different –

"...I l-lied...b-before...I l-lied to y-you..."

Back to the speech again? Maybe. Maybe not. I don't know. Getting hard to keep up.

I shrug, keep that goddamned grin plastered all over my face. "I know. That's okay. Part of the job."

He lets a breath, a sigh. He blinks, looks away from me. His eyes are half-closed now.

I lick my lips. They're dry, getting chapped in the cold air. It's cold out here, it's...concentrate! Keep him awake. "You know...you can't always be honest. Not in this job, not in any job. Sometimes...sometimes, we just can't, we shouldn't..."

"...wh-what ab-about wi-with fr-friends?..."

With friends? We...that's... Wait. I know that.

Friends should always be honest with each other.

The drop-in.

I squeeze his shoulder. "No. No, you don't have to. Not always."

He's still not looking me. "...I...l-lied to th-them...to J-j-josh and T-toby..." He swallows, chokes a little. "...but th-they l-lied t-to m-me t-too..."

"Sometimes friends have to lie to each other, Seaborn. Sometimes...sometimes, that's just what we have to do."

He takes a short breath, and his eyes flicker up to meet mine. I nod, and he's quiet, staring at me.

"When are they getting here? I mean, we called over ten minutes ago! When are they getting here? It's fucking freezing out here!"

I turn around, look over my shoulder. Someone is shouting.

One of the reporters...Larry Pruitt? Roy Jenkins? No, Larry, it's Larry. Atlanta Sun-Times. Larry, he's yelling, pacing around on the blacktop.

"I'll take care of it." Nathan stands up, starts walking.

I watch him for a moment. He pats the man on the back, puts an arm around him. He tries to steer him to the side of the road.

Doesn't work.

"I don't care! Where are they? When are we getting out of here?"

I sigh. "Brody."

"Yes, sir."

I watch him jog over to Nathan. A few of the police officers walk up, offer minimal help. One of them holds out a pair of handcuffs. Yeah, Larry Pruitt in handcuffs. That should be interesting.

"Sir."

I turn to face Thomson and feel a sharp pang in my leg. My eyes shut, and I feel my breath catch from the pain. Damn.

Goddamnit.

"Sir!"

I open my eyes, try to breathe. "What?"

Thomson is moving from his position. He crawls quickly to kneel across from me at Seaborn's side. "He's not breathing, sir."

He bends down, his hands reaching out to grasp Seaborn's head again, to tilt it up. He pinches Seaborn's nose shut and takes a deep breath.

I look down. Seaborn's eyes are closed. The coats aren't trembling anymore. He's not moving. Oh, shit. He's not breathing.

I watch Thomson put his mouth over Seaborn's. He starts breathing for him.

I wait for a minute, then reach out with my hand, my fingers slipping over Seaborn's neck. I don't feel anything.

"Sir?"

C'mon, c'mon, Seaborn. Don't do this to me. Don't make my job any harder than it already is.

I don't feel anything.

"Sir, can you feel a – "

I shake my head. "No pulse. Move over. You do compressions, I'll breathe."

I bend down, put my hands on his head. His skin is cold.

"Yes, sir. One...two...three..."

I take a breath and wait.

"...four...five..."

Breathe.

Part 9

 

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