Disclaimer: See Chapter 1

Warning: Themes of violence

Backstory: This is the third story written in a sequence. The previous two are Something to talk about and Something Worth fighting for. 

 

Chapter 4

Burdens

 

It surprised Donna how normal everything seemed at the office. No one looked at her funny or commented on anything different about her. No one seemed to notice that her life was changed forever. They all greeted her in the same way they always did. They just went about their usual routine. Donna thought about this as she walked down the hallway toward to Joshís office. Donna wanted to feel normal as they did. She wished for a return to the ordinary life she had so taken for granted. She would do anything to escape the bizarre nightmare she was currently living.

She had been preparing all night for the moment when Josh came in to the office. She wanted to apologize for their fight. She needed that tension to be gone. She knew she couldnít bear to have that on top of the other burdens she now carried. She really needed him right now. But she had no idea how to make him understand that. As she entered the bullpen, she tried rehearsing a cheerful greeting for him. As always she got there first. Usually this was her time to lounge a little and talk about her weekend. This Monday morning, she was all business. This was her chance to make the week start out well. She grabbed the dayís schedule and went to his office. She would have everything ready for him when he came in.

 

"How is my contrary Donnatella today?" came the greeting from behind the desk. She jumped. Josh turned his chair so that she could see him fully. She felt panic rising in her. There were no welcome surprises in life right now, and having Josh be at his desk before expected was definitely in that category.

 

"God, you scared me," she said trying not to break out in a sob.

 

"Sorry, I didnít mean to freak you out." Josh looked a little puzzled. "I got here early to do some work and to think about some things."

 

"Iím sorry. I shouldnít have fought with you on Friday." The words came tumbling out of her unnaturally.

 

"Yeah, well neither of us behaved so well. I can understand why you werenít happy about not having a date with Grey. But I got to tell you that from what little I know of him, you are not missing out. Anyway, itís a new week, right? We can start over." He smiled warmly at her.

 

Donna looked away for a moment. She couldnít feel his warmth right now. Just standing here not talking about what had happened felt like a lie. She gave him as much smile as she could muster. "Yeah, letís start over," she agreed unable to meet his eyes.

 

"I came in early to work on the trade bill strategy, but I canít seem to find the disc. Do you know where I might have put it?" His eyes betrayed no sign of suspicion.

 

"I donít know." Donna said looking down at the floor. She was at a point of breaking. Josh deserved better than to have her stand there and lie to his face.

 

"I must have taken it home or something. I have it on the hard drive." He said. "But you know how I get paranoid sometimes when I canít find a thing." He noted the anxious look on her face.

 

"Hey, donít worry about it, okay? It didnít go far. Just keep your eyes open, all right?" She could only manage a nod. Then she turned and fled his office. Joshís bewilderment grew.

 

 

 

 

Margaret sat on a chair in Leoís office while he paced before her. She had been sitting there for just a few minutes, but it seemed like hours. She had tried to think of a way to soften the surprise of him finding her Monday morning with a splinted arm, crutches, and a purple eye. In the end, there was no good way to get it done. Thus she sat there in the Chief of Staffís office while he tried to fathom her current circumstances.

 

"It was your car, wasnít it? You just donít want to say so because Iíve been telling you that itís no better than a tin can for the last two years. You donít want to have to admit that I was right all along." She sighed. It would be so easy for her to just agree with him and be done with it. But then it would sit between them forever and she couldnít live with that.

 

"I already told you that it wasnít my car, Leo," she said patiently.

 

"I donít understand this, Margaret. I donít understand this at all." Leo was shaking his head wearily. And itís only Monday, she thought.

 

"Leo, Iím okay. Something happened. Itís over and I canít tell you about it right now."

 

"Well I donít like that answer," he retorted.

 

"Leo, you have to trust me on this. I know what I am doing. I promised a friend. And I know you understand the importance of oneís loyalty to a friend," she said gently.

 

"Margaret, if it is not an auto accident, I do not care for the scenarios left to my imagination. I have to wonder if someone hasnít hurt you. You are all banged like aÖ prizefighter and not giving me a straight answer. You have to know that I am not at all happy about this." Leo was giving her very stern looks amidst his pacing.

 

"Leo, I understand your concern. And it is my fervent hope that I will be able to tell you all about this very soon. In fact, Iím certain of it. I just need you to be a little patient with me." She was playing him carefully.

 

"I do not know what you are up to, Mary Margaret, but I donít like it," he concluded.

 

"Thanks for being patient, Leo. There really is nothing for you to worry about here." Leoís expression did not relax at her assurances.

 

"Well, I canít have you hobbling after me all day looking like this. I already scare people. Theyíll think I had something to do with your condition." He said with irritation.

 

"Calm down, Leo. We can tell everyone else that I was in a car accident. You are the only one I couldnít lie to. I donít care what we tell anyone else." Margaret matched his irritation. Leo softened considerably after hearing her words.

 

"Youíre going to need help."

 

"I called personnel. They are sending up a rabbit to assist me."

 

"You said it, Margaret. I didnít. I donít want any manner of harassment problems, you know."

 

"Leo, you are one of a kind, you know that."

 

"Margaret, you are okay, right?"

 

"No, Leo, right now Iím not. But donít worry about it. Itís going to get better and I know that soon Iím going to be just fine." She looked him in the eye. He returned her stare searching her face for clues.

 

"Margaret, you do know that you can drive a person straight to the mental health floor of a hospital. You are aware of this ability you have?" he said shaking his head. Margaret gave him a smile. Despite everything, he was going to try.

 

 

 

 

Toby was trying his best contrite expression in this moment. It was an expression with which he had little practice. But desperate measures were called for and he was attempting to rise to the occasion. CJ sat across from him with a frown deep enough to crack granite. He was praying that he would find a way to erase it from her face.

 

"I never thought you would be passive about something. This is new information for me. The idea that you would make something up in order to avoid going is a surprise." She lectured.

 

"Iím not making anything up, CJ. I really was helping someone out and it was important. And I still might be needed. So I have to be here right now," he explained patiently.

 

"And you canít tell me what is going on just yet."

 

"Yeah," he replied miserably.

 

"So let me put this craziness together. This is not some sensitive matter you are handling for the President or Leo?"

 

"Correct."

 

"You do not have any unique skills that this person couldnít get somewhere else?"

 

"Correct," he admitted weakly.

 

"And you are not particularly close to this person?

 

"Correct." He realized that it sounded much better this morning when he was rehearsing in the shower.

 

"You bring me this sad collection of circumstances as your explanation and you want me to be patient and to trust you? Am I correct on this as well?" She said making fun of his clipped responses. She could see that he was rubbing a red mark into his forehead.

 

"Yeah." He could tell that there wasnít going to be any frown erasure happening this morning.

 

"Toby, I am not impressed. In fact, I feel disappointed. If you canít tell me something, at least it should make sense that you canít tell me."

 

"I made a promise," he said in his defense.

 

"Well, I sorta assumed you were making a promise to me too," she said. There was silence for a minute. Then she stood up and left. Toby dropped his head wearily. "God, why do these things always happen to me?" he whispered to himself. He would have taken more time to mope, but there was another woman in the building who was counting on him as well. So he dug out what he had on the trade bill and tried to concentrate.

 

 

 

 

Sam headed toward the Roosevelt room loaded down with a large armful of files. He was feeling irritated with Josh for making him go on some tour for a bunch of teen-age girls. He knew that they could not possibly have anything substantive to add to a conversation on violence. And whatever they would add would be tinged with the melodrama of the average adolescent female.

He was irritated, but he wasnít going to let this ruin his day. He had a plan. If the meeting lasted for more than fifteen minutes, he was going to pick up his stacks of files, apologize, and explain that the President needed to consult with him about his speech to the upcoming League of Women Voterís luncheon. It was foolproof because the President did indeed want to talk with him at some point in the day. And if Josh got bent out of shape over it, then so be it.

Down the hallway, he could see Josh talking with an African American woman in front of the Roosevelt Room. They were talking animatedly about something and didnít notice him approaching.

 

"Josh, you are the most amazing con. The idea that a president of the United States seeks your counsel absolutely terrifies me," was all he caught before they realized he was standing in front of them.

 

"Sam Seaborne, it is my pleasure to introduce to you an old friend, Ms. Freida Williams." Josh said gallantly.

 

"Hello, Ms. Williams." Sam was struggling to extend a hand and balance his stack of files simultaneously.

 

"Hello. You can call me Freida, Sam," she said extending her hand. Samís paper mountain began to slide and so instead of a handshake, Freida found herself with an armful of both Sam and his files as he attempted to right himself again.

 

"Sam, what are you doing? We have an astonishing array of both carts and humans whose sole purpose it is to carry large amounts of paper around the White House," Josh said.

 

"Well, you see, I have to consult with the President this morning regarding an important speech he is giving in a few days. There is a chance that I may have to exit this meeting a little early," Sam said unwisely playing his trump card at the start of the hand.

 

"Oh really. You would be "consulting" with him this morning, huh? Well it sounds very important. And we shouldnít keep you if you have to "consult" with the President." Josh was laying it on as thick as molasses.

 

"Yeah, so I am only going to be able to stay for a few minutes, MsÖFreida." Sam continued warily. Freida Williams wore an amused look.

 

"Sam, the President is having an MRI done on his back this morning at Bethesda. How will this consultation occur? Will you be going into the actual treatment room or have they set you up with some sort of interactive video where you talk to the President while he lies naked and sedated on the treatment table?" asked Josh sarcastically. Then he turned to Freida. "Sam has quite a close relationship with the President. He is often called to consult with him at times when the President is tranquilized or otherwise indisposed." Sam felt his face turning red as Freida Williams displayed a bright smile.

 

"So you think my girls will be a waste of your time, Sam?" she asked him not unkindly.

 

"I have no idea what your girls can offer. Itís just that my "friend", Josh, here is trying to prove some kind of point and, frankly, I am not in the mood." He responded honestly.

 

"Fair enough." She said in return. "You should stay only as long as they hold your interest."

 

"Okay, but what are we talking about with them?" Sam inquired.

 

"They are part of a group of young women called Young Sisters with Voice."

 

"And they just published a book," Josh added.

 

"And they are teen-agers?" Sam was surprised.

 

"Yes, the youngest is thirteen and the oldest is eighteen," said Freida.

 

"Whatís the book about?" Samís curiosity was getting the better of him.

 

"The book is their stories of violence as well as their survival and the triumph of their spirits," Freida told him proudly.

 

"I donít understand. You said that they were adolescents."

 

"They are adolescents. What part donít you understand?"

 

"Violence and the triumph of the human spirit would hardly seem to be the stuff of teen-agers."

 

"Well, you might be surprised, Sam," Freida smiled at him patiently.

 

"Have a good time my young friend," Josh said with a gleam in his eye.

 

"Youíre not coming in, either of you?" Sam said incredulously.

 

"Oh no, Sam, Freida and I have some catching up to do. We were scholars together and Freida is still under the misguided perception that she has the superior intellect. Itís imperative that I set her straight over some crab cakes down at Lucyís."

 

"Youíre kidding, right?" Sam looked like a man without a life preserver.

 

"Youíll be fine. These young women know exactly what they want to tell you. Youíll have a nice time, Sam," She said sweetly. Then she linked arms with her old friend and they left, the sound of laughter echoing in their wake.

 

Sam regarded the door in front of him for a few minutes and then he took a deep breath and entered.

 

"Itís about time. What was keeping you there, big guy?" loudly announced a girl wearing a big name tag that said Janice.

 

"OoohÖeye candy. They didnít tell us that we were getting sweets today," cooed another.

 

"Heather, stop it. You remember what Freida said about the objectification of women," said a girl with a tag that said Latasha.

 

"Okay, the key word there is women, Tash. He is definitely not a female."

 

"But we are no better if we talk just like they do when theyíre drooling over a female" jumped in a girl whose tag said Pi-ying.

 

"Letís ask him. Hey dude, what do you think about the objectification of women? And do you think a woman can objectify a man in a way that is similarly oppressive?" inquired a girl with the astonishing name of Serenity.

 

Sam was stymied as he stood before this large group of young women who were looking expectantly up at him for his response.

 

"Weíre freaking him out," concluded Janice. The rest of them nodded in agreement. Pi-ying grabbed his sleeve and motioned for him to sit down. Sam followed these directions. Then they all gathered around him and began to talk.

 

Feedback is appreciated- Sheila

 

 

Standing Tall - 5

 

 

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