Title: Greener on the Other Side
Summary: "He tells himself that this is what good men do. They make compromises when great men can't." A story in reverse counterbalance.
Disclaimer: Respectfully borrowed from Aaron Sorkin and friends with the very best of intentions.
Archive: Ask me, and also up at: www.geocities.com/throughadoor/greener.html
Feedback: oh, absolutely: firstname.lastname@example.org
Acknowledgments: Endless props to my all-star betas: Jae has been there since before the beginning and is a purveyor of great nicknames. Minna Leigh deserves a smut-filled mini-van for her attention to detail. Luna was my cheerleader at the finish line. A shout out to the pros: THB called an MoC a whore. MI first explained to me that we didn't live in a city full of Swedes. Every time I was stuck, DKO said something stupid. The incidentals: Dr. Solomon gave the lecture. Kirst lives with this and codes it too! SC knows not to compromise.
Notes: Reverse counterbalancing is a psychological term used to describe a technique that is employed by experimenters to control sequencing effects in within-subject designs. To quote my professor: "The experimenter simply presents the conditions in one order, then presents them again in reverse order. This allows the researcher to isolate any confounds that are caused by the sequence of conditions."
Greener on the Other Side by kel
Sam Seaborn looks like an intern. His teeth are shiny like he's still remembering to brush and floss twice a day. They have not yet suffered under the stress of too many long nights and too much bad coffee. Every hair on his head is perfectly in place like he's never been woken up at five AM by a screaming phone call. It's an appealing combination for a cover boy, and Sam doesn't do photocopying or lunch orders, but he looks too fresh and he dresses like an intern, too.
After two months of watching Sam pace around the leg shop, Josh figures out that Sam only has four ties. He wears them in a random sequence, but there is one tie Josh actually finds himself waiting for, sometimes for as long as six days, which is jade green. It'd be too brash on anyone else.
"Sam, can I see you for a second?" Josh shouts from his small and cramped office. As Congressman David's legislative director, he gets his own office to brood in. The LAs breathe down each other's necks in cubicles in the front room.
Sam appears, leaning against Josh's open door frame. "Sure, is everything okay?"
Josh waves him into a chair. "Yeah, everything's fine. I just wanted to talk to you about the district outreach visit last weekend." Sam clearly doesn't believe everything is fine because he's sitting like Josh's office is the principal's. Josh is slouched back in his chair with his legs crossed lazily, but Sam's posture is straight and his knees are pressed together. He's clutching a sheaf of notes in his hands and looking impossibly young.
"Yeah, did you see Congressman David on the front page of the La Jolla Times with that elementary school class?" Josh asks, and Sam grins now, proud of this small accomplishment. This is what Josh watches, the way Sam smiles like he believes he can change the world. Sam is the kind of man Josh wants to know ten years from now, when he isn't so scared of saying the wrong thing all the time. Sometimes he's afraid of fucking up and being just another hack, a district director in La Jolla, California who would never quite keep up with the big boys. When he sees Sam, he isn't scared anymore. When he sees Sam, he isn't scared anymore. It isn't just because Josh hopes he'll be a better man a few years down the line, it's that Josh knows that someday Sam is going to be a great man.
But first, Sam has to learn a few things about how to be a great man in a world full of mediocre hacks. "It was actually the elementary school appearance I wanted to talk to you about, "Josh continues. Were you there for the speech?"
"No, I was on the phone with Laurel the entire time. She wanted to make sure I had arranged the photo ops."
"Laurel tells me the speech he gave was the first thing you've written for us," Josh says. This might be the first time that Sam has gotten stuck with speech writing duties, but Josh knows that Sam's capable of writing great things. He's watched Scotty and Arthur bicker over the exact wording of a position paper for hours. And he's watched Sam look up momentarily from a briefing memo three inches thick, call out a gorgeous turn of phrase on the estate tax, push his glasses up the bridge of his nose again and return to his reading. Sam may have less age and experience than anyone else on the staff, but he has words like Josh has never seen.
"Yeah, we added the appearance at the last minute, so I had to write it on the plane." Sam's fingers are twisting like so many snakes and Josh would like to reach across the desk, take Sam's hand in his own and assure him that he's not in trouble. Just to make the kid stop freaking out, not because he wonders if the palms of Sam's hands are as soft as they look.
"But you didn't watch him deliver the remarks?"
"No, like I said, I was on the phone with Laurel."
"Well, here is what I'm told happened. At some point during his speech on the power of the democratic process, David called democracy a failed experiment." Sam's face twists in horror, and Josh tries not to crack a grin. Sam really thinks this is the end of the world, and Josh finds it sort of endearing. He can't remember the last time he thought something was the end of the world. If he did, his world would end every day.
Josh consults the notes, scribbled in the margin of a newspaper clipping, he took during his morning teleconference with Laurel. " 'Democracy is an experiment, and it doesn't work.' I believe those were his exact words."
Sam looks puzzled, but then he nods in recognition. " 'Democracy is an experiment and it doesn't work unless we all participate.' That was the line. I'm sure of it. I don't have a copy of the speech with me, but I'm positive-"
"Oh, there's no need for that. I have David's copy right here." Josh can see that for Sam, this is more than an error. It's an offense against the power of the written word. Josh can see in Sam's eyes that he believes in the written word and its power to change the world. This, more than anything, is probably why Josh is so hard on Sam. The best politicians know that not everyone has it in them to be a great man. Those who don't have it in them try their best to spot those who do.
Josh waves the copy that Laurel faxed him this morning. "The line, in fact, read 'Democracy is an experiment, and it doesn't work unless we all participate.' The problem is that everything up to 'work' is on page three and the rest of the sentence is on page four."
"He couldn't turn the page and read the rest of the sentence?" Sam asks. When Josh looks at Sam, he is fairly sure that he's found his life's work. Someday Sam is going to be the candidate or the member and Josh is going to have to answer to him. He might as well be hard him now so someday when Sam is a great man, at least Josh can say that part of it is because of him.
"Sam, Sam. If the entire sentence isn't on the page, he'll assume that whatever is on the page is it. Seriously. You can't split a sentence on two separate pages."
Josh is trying to turn the conversation into a light-hearted joke about David's idiocy, but Sam is taking it very seriously. "I'm sorry. It won't happen again. Like I said, I had to write the speech on the plane."
Josh feels he owes it to Sam's idealism to take things just as seriously as Sam does. "It's a good speech, Sam. 'Democracy is an experiment, and it doesn't work unless we all participate.' That's very nice." As tough as Josh is on Sam at times, he also wants to try and shield him from the cynicism inherit to the job. It seeps in when you're not paying attention, sometime between the point at which you realize that members don't even read the bills that they vote on and that ninety-nine percent of the letters with the congressman's signature on them were signed by a staff assistant.
"I just wrote it on the plane," Sam replied, casting his eyes on his scuffed shoes.
"Have you thought about doing more of this sort of thing?" Josh asks in a friendly tone.
"No, I . . . I've helped Scotty with floor speeches a couple times, but mostly I just do research."
"You should really be writing for us. You're very good."
After Sam leaves his office, Josh realizes that he never warned him about what kind of profession he's getting into. Besides being a career choice pretty much guaranteed to induce cynicism, being a congressional staffer is a mostly thankless job with long hours and bad pay. Josh can't remember the last time he took a vacation somewhere besides La Jolla, but every once in a while his mother calls to tell him that she thinks she might have seen his shoulder on CSPAN. Josh cuts deals and makes compromises for a living, so he's never thought this was a big deal. On the rare occasion that he leaves the office at a decent hour and has enough energy to go out to a bar and bump into someone who is as confused as he is to take home, sometimes Josh sleeps with guys.
When your whole world is measured in terms of swing votes and soybean subsidies, it's hard enough to find someone who speaks the same language. So if he can find someone who doesn't care that he hasn't watched network television in four years and hasn't seen a movie in eight months, Josh tends not to stress out too much about what kind of underwear he's going to find on the other side of the bed in the morning.
He doesn't think it's right and he doesn't think it's wrong, it's just something he does sometimes. Sometimes, from the way Sam smiles at him over coffee cups and briefing memos, Josh thinks maybe it might be something Sam does sometimes, too. As much as Sam's beautiful smile and perfect teeth keep Josh up at night, he can't really see himself ever doing anything about it. Sam is a man who respects absolutes. And this occasional ambiguity in Josh's life is not something that should be part of Sam's.
So, Josh bides his time, and sometimes in his office he thinks about Sam.
After three months of all this, Josh gives in and decides to venture out to a bar, but not the same sports bar where he goes to drink beer and unwind after a disillusioning day at the office. Josh keeps having these dreams about grasping Sam's tie and just . . . well, he always wakes up in a cold sweat before he gets past the grasping. But he goes to a bar where he imagines that these strange yet still PG-rated dreams -- and the careful observation of other men wearing ties in general -- probably more accepted than anywhere else.
He goes there to forget about Sam and to forget about himself, too. But, Washington is the smallest big city in the world, and when he walks in the bar he sees no less than five guys that he recognizes from the beltway. One looks up and, blessedly, says nothing. Still, his knowing smile says enough. And Sam, who Josh is there to forget, is sitting in a smoky corner, looking even less real than he does in Josh's dreams. He's sitting at the bar, a beer sweating in his left hand. He's wearing that jade green tie, and it's knotted loosely at his neck. The top button of his shirt is undone, revealing a small patch of the glistening hollow of Sam's throat. Josh stares, seeing a different Sam from the one who bounces around the office.
Josh has done this part a million times. He knows that he could walk up to the bar, nod at Sam until recognition flickered across his bright eyes and offer to buy Sam a drink. He knows he could walk up the bar and maybe just pull on Sam's tie like he's been dreaming about. He could walk up the bar, but he won't. He could take Sam home, and maybe they'd fuck, and it might last a night or a week or a month, and then Sam would realize that he probably didn't want to spend his time sleeping with his cynical old boss. And Josh isn't even sure if he could all that, anyway. Sam is much too good to just be a one-night fuck. Josh is saving Sam for something better than this smoky room and these dark shameful lights. He doesn't know what it is yet, but he knows that he's not walking up to the bar.
Josh ducks into a corner so he won't be seen, but he's standing too close to a subwoofer and the music hurts his ears, if it can even be called music. Josh has never been hip about anything, especially not music, and all he knows is that the singer is saying something about fucking devils in the back of cars and that the synthesizers screech like nails on a blackboard. But then through the racket he hears the unknown singer cry out "maybe I'm all messed up, maybe I'm all messed up in you" and Josh knows that even though the music changes, some things can only ever stay the same.
Josh knows he's all messed up, and he leaves before he is seen by anyone, even himself.
Between the two of them, Sam and Lisa could have afforded five cars, but they only had one. "It's the city, " Sam explained with a shrug of his shoulders. "I usually just take the train." Fortunately, Lisa has graciously allowed them to take the car and drive it to New Hampshire.
At least that was how Josh had interpreted it when Lisa threw the car keys at Sam's head and slammed shut the door to their apartment.
And now Sam and Josh are putting mile after mile and state after state behind them in Sam and Lisa's BMW. Josh has already found a pair of Lisa's Donna Karan sunglasses in the glove box while looking for a road map and the passenger's seat smells heavily of a flowery woman's perfume. There's a tube of coral colored lipstick mixed in with the loose change and Josh can't help but feel like the other woman. He understands now why guys book hotel rooms to have assignations with their mistresses, and wonders if maybe they shouldn't have rented a car.
They stop for dinner at eleven PM, somewhere in Connecticut. It's Josh's home state, but he has no idea where they are. That shows how often he's been back. It's a college town, which means plenty of twenty four-hour taco stands with corrupted Spanish names like "Muchos Gracias." Many thanks. Josh isn't sure what he believes in, a higher power or what have you, but he gives many thanks to the gods of the all night taco stand that Sam is here, that Sam is asking him if he wants extra sour cream, that Sam is coming with him to New Hampshire.
It's a nice night, so they take their football linebacker sized burritos out to the patio. "So what's he like?" Sam asks.
"Barlet? He actually seems like a bit of an asshole," Josh answers. There's only one other patron out there with them on the patio, a dark eyed college student sitting at the picnic bench across from them. She has a Styrofoam cup of coffee and a carne asada taco. She's trying to balance the taco in one hand and a thick monograph in the other.
"Josh. What are you getting me into here? You know, there was a reason I didn't want to work for John Hoynes."
"Different breed of asshole. Let me put it this way - he told a bunch of town hall meeting attendees that they shouldn't vote for him if they don't like his voting record," Josh replies.
Sam grins at this, and Josh prides himself on his ability to look Sam's grin full in the face without melting like a teenage girl. Still, he keeps one eye on the college student across the patio, out of habit more than anything else. She's pretty in a neat and tidy kind of way and it looks as though she's trying to grow out her hair from a pixie cut. Her hair is at that point where she has to reach out and brush it out of her eyes every three or four pages. She makes these throaty, exasperated little sighs every time she does it, the kind that make Josh think it might be fun to annoy her just to hear them.
"That doesn't really sound like the best way to win an election," Sam replies, once again gathering Josh's full attention.
"He's definitely different," Josh answers, shredding his pensively. "See, Hoynes was an asshole because he wanted you to vote for him and he didn't care what it took to get your vote. Bartlet can come across as an asshole because he not only doesn't care whether or not you like him, he doesn't even necessarily care whether or not you vote for him, but he wants you to believe in him."
Josh mentally pats himself on the back for crafting such an eloquent response at this late hour. Josh is used to mingling with haggard students in all night eaterie, and on any other night he might have brushed Sam off and called out to the girl with the pixie hair cut, found out her major, maybe even flirted a bit. But today's Josh Lyman is a new Josh Lyman, one who quit a sure thing via cell phone to pursue the real thing in a BMW that smells like lavender and betrayal. Today's Josh Lyman is finally admitting that maybe he's not as pragmatic as he has always made himself out to be. So, then, maybe he's not going to flirt with women just because he thinks he should. He's just going to sit here and talk politics with Sam. Because, really, that's what he'd rather be doing anyway.
"So, do you believe in him?" Sam asks.
"I know it's, like, complete insanity that I think I can say this after one night, but yeah. I think I can, and that's more than I can say for Hoynes, and I was with him for three years." Josh is starting to realize that he's done a lot of things because they seemed like the right idea at the time. The work he did for the politically viable and upwardly mobile Hoynes had the same perfunctory quality that his late night flirtations do. Josh operates with his heart on autopilot. When Josh does flirt with women, it's almost always with unattainable types like exasperated college girls for whom he is a momentarily amusing but hopelessly elderly distraction. And while it's easy to say that he likes a challenge, it could also be because he likes the idea of never having to follow through. It could be that, too. "You believe in Bartlet, right?"
"Well, I've never even met him. But if you believe in him, that's good enough for me." Sam pauses to study his rice and beans like they hold the key to Bartlet's electoral success. Josh studies Sam and barely notices when the student across the patio gathers her books and leaves. "Because I believe in you," Sam says finally. He looks Josh straight in the eye, like he's found the answer but he needs to hear it from Josh to be sure.
Josh has no idea what to say to something like that. Sam can do this; he can say things like that without implication or embarrassment. Josh knows that it should be his role to brush off a statement like that one because Sam keeps them honest and Josh keeps them safe. But he can't cave into this role that he's been cast in, he can't bear to minimize Sam's words, but he can't say what he's really thinking, either. He can't say that the notion that Sam believes in him so earnestly makes him feel all shiny and new. Because that wouldn't be a safe thing to say at all, and Josh hasn't worked this long and this hard so he can fall by the wayside of his own emotions.
So Josh looks away, because he can't bear to see Sam smile like that any more than he could bear to see Sam's face fall. Instead, he stares across the gravel parking lot at Sam's car. He can almost see the cloud of city smog clinging to the exterior. For the first time, Josh notices a small bumper sticker on the rear window. He rationalizes that it must have been there back when Sam jerked his head towards the car in the parking garage of his apartment, his hands full of hastily packed duffel bags, but Josh just notices now.
"Sam. You thought bumper sticker."
"Technically, it's a . . . well, a window sticker. I guess. It's not on the bumper. But, yes?"
"Tell me it's like those things they have in Europe, those stickers that show what country you're from. Tell me it's some kind of flag thing, that Lisa is Swedish and that's a Swedish flag on the back of your car." Josh is gesturing wildly with his fork as he speaks and he's in danger of flinging a forkful of rice and beans across the table and onto Sam's soft gray button down. Josh wants to reach out and touch Sam's shoulder, to see if the material is as soft as it looks. To see if Sam is as sturdy as he looks underneath, to see if Sam is sturdy enough for both of them. He keeps his fingers gripped around his plastic fork, just in case his hand starts to get ideas.
"The Swedish flag," Sam replies with infinite patience, his sentences in stops and starts around bites of grilled chicken and melted cheese, "has a blue field with a yellow cross. That," he gestures with his own plastic utensil towards the car, "is clearly an equals sign."
"An equals sign," Josh says with a deep sigh.
"Yes, Josh, an equals sign. Perhaps you're familiar with it. Mathematical symbol, denotes that two sides of an equation are of equal value . . .."
"I know what an equals sign is, Sam," Josh retorts with irritation, "but unless that's a bumper sticker for the Mathematical Society, there's another symbolism attached to it that I'm a little more interested in." Josh is done eating and he's bending his fork back and forth in his hands.
"Why, yes, the equals sign is also the logo for the -"
"The Human Rights Campaign?" Josh snaps and his fork does, too. He's left with two broken pieces of white plastic in the palm of his hand.
"Yes, the HRC. They feel the equals sign nicely represents their commitment to freedom, justice and . . . equality." Sam is trying to keep the whole exchange ironic rather than dramatic.
Josh sighs again. He tosses the pieces of plastic fork on his plate and rubs his forehead. He can feel the headache that this conversation will bring coming already. "You're gonna have to take that thing off your car," he says, speaking quietly, as if that could defuse the implications of his words.
Sam raises his eyebrows. "The Bartlet campaign doesn't share the HRC's commitment to freedom, justice and equality?"
"Sam, they're a gay rights organization."
"A gay rights organization with 300,000 members. A gay rights organization with $14.4 million in combined annual revenue, one third of which comes from private individual member contributions."
"A gay rights organization whose PAC gave $340,000 to Democratic candidates in the last congressional election. Yeah, that sounds like the kind of group we'd want to shun like the plague." On the one hand, Sam's idealistic streak is a welcome change from Sam who just buys the boats. But now Josh has to try and live up to Sam's idealism and Sam's expectations.
"Look, Sam, no. You can't do this anymore."
"Can't do what anymore?"
"You know what I mean. I know you used to go to that bar with Joe, Scotty and Arthur." Josh takes a long pause and silently dares Sam to ask him how he knows. If Sam admits to having seen Josh there, then they'll be having an entirely different conversation. But if Sam stays quiet, then Josh can keep it together. Sam just stares. Josh sucks in a needy breath, and continues. "I mean, that's not the issue, obviously. And that's fine. But you can't *do* things like that anymore. This isn't amateur hour with Andrew David."
"Andrew David was an opportunist hack." Sam stands up to throw away his trash and Josh knows he's done here. Josh has talked enough congressmen out of their votes to know that he's nearly won. He just needs to seal the deal with one more carefully worded statement. He places his hands on Sam's shoulders like he can keep them grounded in the real world.
"Yeah, and Jed Bartlet isn't. That's why we owe it to him to . . . look, Sam, this is the real thing. And I don't just mean that in an ideological sense. We can't fuck around here."
Sam shrugs Josh's hands off his shoulders. He starts moving towards the car, but he's looking Josh straight in the eye over his shoulder. "And when you say 'fuck around,'" Sam shoots back, "I assume you don't just mean it in a technical sense."
"Just take the fucking sticker off your car," Josh retorts, exhausted. He's going to win. He wants to have won already. He's already suffered enough crises of ideology today.
"If it means so much to you," Sam spits, "do it yourself."
The sticker is made of hard crunchy plastic, designed to withstand city smog and road trips and thunderstorms. When Josh crumples it in his hand, he tells himself that he's doing the right thing. He tells himself that this is what good men do. They make compromises when great men can't. But the plastic crunches against his palm and he knows it's a lie.
He knows it's a lie because he curls his hands tight around the steering wheel to make them forget the shape of Sam's shoulders faster. Sam is asleep and Josh forces himself to ration the number of times that he looks over at Sam's slumbering face because he's driving. But that's not the only reason it's dangerous.
The door to Josh's office is open and Donna walks right in. "I'm going down to the mess to get some coffee," she says. "Do you want anything?"
Josh looks up, startled, and is suddenly aware of himself and his surroundings. He's been reading a briefing on common misconceptions about MS. The whole business makes Josh feel dirty, like he'd like to go take a long hot shower. So that's the first thing out of his mouth. "What I want," he says, "is a shower."
"Josh, I'm going to the mess. I was thinking I could bring you back, you know, a stale Danish?"
Josh looks back down at the page in front of him. "I'm just saying, Donna, you asked me what I wanted and what I really want is a shower." This could have more to do with the fact that he's basically been sleeping at the office since he found out. Still, though, the whole business, the lying through omission that they're doing even now, is vaguely distasteful to Josh like an oily substance you've gotten on your hands that won't wash off with water. Josh hates lying, and not just because he's terrible at it. "You've got a pretty lousy poker face," Sam has told him more than once. Josh knows this is true, and it makes him wonder what else Sam can tell just by looking at him, both now and when they first met.
"Well, Josh, here's a revolutionary idea. Why don't you go home?"
"Sorry, Donna, no can do." What he can't tell Donna is that what he really wants is to go to Sam's apartment and take a shower. Even if Josh spent more than twelve hours a week at his barren apartment, his bathroom would still be mostly empty. A large plastic bottle of two-in-one shampoo and conditioner and a bar of soap with half the wrapper still on are the only things in his shower at this moment. There's a toothbrush and a sloppily squeezed tube of toothpaste perched on the sink, and a cheap barber shop plastic comb.
"What, you really think that the world's really going to end if you go home long enough to change that two-day-old blue shirt?"
"Yes, as a matter of fact, I do." There is an orange plastic bottle of pills hidden in the medicine cabinet. He keeps them there because he doesn't like to look at them; it makes it harder to pretend that they don't exist. He has duplicate sets of meds at his desk, in a drawer under a thick report on soybean subsidies. The first few weeks, they were in Donna's desk, and she used to come in and rattle them in his face at various hourly intervals. But that got too embarrassing, and now he remembers to take them on his own.
"You really think you're that important?" Donna asks, a hand placed on her hip.
"Nope, just that lucky." Josh grins at Donna and hopes this will make her go away.
"I'm going to get some coffee. Do you want anything?"
"No, I'm fine."
Donna exits silently, and Josh tries to return his attention to the briefing. The most common misconception about MS is that it's fatal. Josh can't get past that part.
Josh has known Sam a long time. He's used Sam's bathroom, he's puked in Sam's bathroom and once he cried in Sam's bathroom with the door closed and Sam sitting awkwardly in his own kitchen, staring at his knees. Sam has a little shower caddy full of bath products, things like aloe vera body wash and conditioner that smells like cucumbers. There's one of those little poofy things, and an honest to god exfoliating loofah, hanging in there, too. Josh made fun of Sam when he first saw it, but then he spent days imagining how soft the exfoliated skin of Sam's forearms must feel.
The bathroom makes it look like Sam is sharing it with his girlfriend, maybe even with his wife. She buys the stuff for herself, but he uses it too and she doesn't complain because she thinks it's cute and she likes the way it makes him smell. But it's just Sam, all alone in that too big apartment and he just smiles when CJ tells him that his hair smells like cucumbers Josh knows that Sam will always be more beautiful, no matter what. He decides that it's not really worth springing for an expensive bottle of shampoo when you're losing most of your hair, anyway. And he really is, these days, now more than ever before. Anyway, he'd much rather smell it on Sam, even if it is from across a desk.
Josh pushes the briefing across the desk and gives up on trying to read any more. He can no longer pretend to concentrate on its swimming words. He wishes he could go home and take a shower because he's feeling rather useless in his office. Toby already volunteered to wait for Sam. This seems to be Toby's role in this mess they're in, to be right there at his desk when another member of the walking wounded returns from the battlefield. Josh thinks he has taken on this role, this un-Toby-like act of comfort, because he wants to find out if anyone else got as upset as he did. When Josh found out, Toby asked him if he wanted to hit something.
Josh didn't want to hit something.
"I've found," Toby said when he first found Josh sitting in his own office with the lights out, "that the best possible thing to do is to get over your bitterness quickly, where they can't see you. And then move on."
"I'm not bitter," Josh replied.
"Sure," Toby replied, "but if you'd like to make a few insulting remarks about the administration, just make sure you make them here, and not in the Oval Office."
"I'm not bitter," Josh repeated, "I'm just very, very tired."
And he really had been tired. He'd slept in his office that night, and it looks like he might sleep here tonight as well. He puts his head down on his desk and worries that its smooth surface feels more familiar than his pillow. It's not like Josh doesn't have good reason to be bitter. He's worked his entire life for this job, and if he's lucky, it'll have a life expectancy of eight years. Eight years if he's lucky, and now it's looking like that life expectancy just got cut right in half. "I wish he'd told us all at once," Josh said, just as Toby was finally exiting his office.
"I wish he'd done a lot of things differently," Toby replied, "so forgive me if whether or not Sam knows isn't at the top of my list."
"That's not what I meant!" Josh said, careful to allow only the correct amount of indignation into his tone, "I'm just saying. We're lying to the country, and now we have to lie to each other."
"They'll tell each member of the staff when they think the time is right."
Toby was the one who said they should wait to tell Sam until after the SME speech. If Leo had asked Josh, he would have said either "last week" or "never;" he's not quite sure. He's always wanted to shield Sam from the ugly side of politics, which is why at first he was glad that Sam stayed out of the game until Bartlet came along. Because he always thought that Bartlet would be the better part of politics. He never imagined that working for Bartlet would mean that they would have to lie.
"If we're going to make decisions about how this is handled, Sam should be a part of it," Josh hissed at Toby as they huddled in his office and waited for Leo to arrive.
"Look, Josh," Toby snapped in response, "We're not going to tell Sam just so you can have him tell you how wrong this all is. It's not my fault you can't tell yourself that."
Later, after Leo had arrived, Toby had asked Josh whether or not he would want to try and write the SME speech with the MS thing hanging around his neck, Josh had been forced to agree that Toby was right. But it was Toby's earlier words that rang in Josh's ears.
When Josh raises his head from the desk, there's a faint trace of newsprint on his cheekbone. He heard Donna leave without saying good night about a half an hour earlier, but he's not yet heard Sam's outraged footsteps. Everyone else has already gone home, but Josh remains at his desk. The prospect that Bartlet would be a sure thing one-term president was something that Josh never considered when he dropped everything to run away to Nassau. But, apparently, it's a prospect that's been with Bartlet from the beginning. Not that Josh would know, because he only found out about this ten years after Bartlet did, more than a year after Leo, five days after Toby and two days after Oliver fucking Babish. He's known about this thing for four days and if Leo is doing what he thinks he's doing right now, he'll have known about it four days before Sam.
Sam took a different path to get to this job than the rest of them. Despite what he might think, that doesn't mean he's any less intelligent. It just means that he can do this job in the way that they all wish they still knew how. They're here and they're doing the work of the American people and Josh got them this far but he didn't do it without making a few compromises on the way.
The thing is, it's not like they've never slept together. They've crashed out in the same dilapidated bed in overbooked motels in Wichita, Omaha and Oklahoma City. They slept on the same bench at the United terminal at LAX and the American one at JFK. Not to mention the fact that Josh has woken up more than once with Sam snuffling happily into his shoulder on Air Force One.
But they've never *slept* together. There are a lot of reasons for that, and they're all complicated and they made a lot more sense in Connecticut four years ago and in his office four days ago than they do right now. Mostly, it has to do with the fact that Josh could never stand the idea of Sam having to lie, because Sam is great, and great men don't lie to you. The language that he speaks to Sam is a language of omission. He would never want Sam to have to lie for him, and if they were going to do something like sleep together in less than public places under less than desperate circumstances, they'd have to lie a lot. They'd have to lie pretty much all the time.
And great men don't lie.
So Josh made the compromise for the both of them, first in his office in the Longworth building and again in the parking lot of a taco stand in Connecticut. He tries not to forget that there are two sides to every compromise. He tries not to forget that the benefit of all this is that Sam is available to him now in an office that's eleven paces down the hall, not at the end of a phone number with eleven digits. But sometimes that part seems like the downside too, and sometimes it's all awful, and all he can do is remind himself that they've never lied. Never lying means that they haven't even talked to each other about it, not really. But they've never lied.
And they did it for all the right reasons, because Bartlet's a great man and he's worth it and if he wasn't, then the path wouldn't have led them to the Bartlet administration. The grass is always greener on the other side of the fence, and Josh believes that just because there are some days when it might look like any other job in the world would make him happier than this one, it doesn't mean that he was ever meant to do anything else. He and Sam are doing what they were meant to do, and they're doing it the only way that they can.
All this leaves Josh sitting in his office waiting for Sam. He doesn't want to hit something, not a ball against a wall or a window with his fist. He just wants Sam. He wants Sam to come find him; to tell him that they were wrong but they can still make it right. He wants Sam to tell him that they've lied but it's okay because now they're going to tell the truth. He wants Sam. But either Sam has gone running to Toby or just isn't coming back at all. Because Josh is still sitting in his office, and he's still alone. Maybe Sam won't come running to him anymore.
When it comes to Bartlet, Josh has to believe that someone made the compromise for him. He has to believe that while he was stripping Sam's car of its sexual orientation in the parking lot of a taco stand in Connecticut that someone was in New Hampshire, telling Jed Bartlet that if he wanted to be president, he was going to have to lie. Someone, somewhere, one of the fourteen people that Leo says knew before he did. Maybe it was even Abbey, but it doesn't really matter because that's what good men do. They make compromises when great men can't. And if someone didn't make the choice for Bartlet, if he made the compromise himself, then he's not the great man that Josh thought he was. And if that's true, Josh doesn't know anything anymore.
He doesn't know anything, except for Sam.
"He only told you a year ago?" This is the part Sam keeps returning to. Eight years ago, Jed Bartlet was diagnosed with relapsing remitting multiple sclerosis. Four years ago, he <had> decided to run for the presidency without telling a single member of his staff, let alone a single member of the voting public. A week ago, he started telling members of the senior staff, and two weeks from now he wants to go public. Still, the part that Sam can't get over is that he told Leo a little more than a year ago, a few nights before the second state of the union.
"Sam, we've been through this. He had a fever, he had an attack. The First Lady was overly concerned about the effect the fever would have on the attack. She wanted me to postpone the State of the Union. She told me he had MS. That was how I found out. But that's not the point, the point here is that now I'm telling you and we need to talk about how we're going to break this to the public."
"Leo, you came to him and you staked your political career on his presidential campaign. And he didn't tell you that there was a possibility that he might not be able to serve out his term?" Sam can handle having been lied to for a year on the campaign trail and three years in the White House, but he can't believe that Bartlet wouldn't have told his best friend of forty years the truth.
"Look, Sam, I want to make something very clear. MS is not a fatal disease. We're going to have enough trouble convincing the general public of that; I want to make sure that it's very clear among the staff. There is no reason why the president shouldn't be able to serve out his term."
"You're his best friend, Leo. He told you a year ago?"
"Sam!" Leo is clearly exhausted and annoyed, but Sam just can't let it go. "Sam, look, you're tired, I'm tired, why don't you just go home and get some rest. We'll take this up again in the morning."
Sam walks out of Leo's office like a zombie. He realizes now that Toby's waiting for him in his office to talk about the MS. The injured look in Toby's eyes these last few weeks suddenly makes a lot more sense. Sam doesn't want to talk to Toby, so he walks out of the building without even getting the requisite stack of papers that he takes home every night to look over in bed before he finally falls asleep. He doesn't even go back to his office for his coat.
It's fucking cold in Sam's car, but he barely notices. He's thinking about the campaign, back when they were a bunch of idealistic operatives who'd given up everything to see if they could get a good man elected president. Because they'd all given up a lot. Leo, a chance to be chairman of the Democratic Party. Josh, a position in the Hoynes administration back when the Hoynes administration seemed like a sure thing. And Sam, a successful job, a loving fiancee, a beautiful life. They'd all given up a lot to join that campaign and they'd had no idea what they were getting into.
Sam's back is pressed against of the seat of his car, his eyes focusing and unfocusing on the stoplight in front of him. How blind they really were. They'd been planning for a better America in one hotel room while Bartlet was receiving secret injections in another. They were all living in each other's back pockets in so many run down hotel rooms in the beginning, Sam can't believe that no one ever saw anything.
The light changes, Sam's eyes flicker, and all at once he remembers Des Moines. He doesn't freak out, he doesn't stop, he just keeps driving. He knows suddenly that he closest he ever came to finding out about Bartlet's MS was the night the staff spent at Des Moines International Airport. It's also the night that he came closest to sleeping with Josh.
After the convention, they received a private plane from the DNC and a small secret service detail from the White House. But until then, they relied on commercial air for cross-country transportation and Toby's formidable glare for protection. Toward the end, when the donations finally started to pour in, they were able to fly business class, but in those first few months, when it still felt like amateur hour with the professor, they all crammed onto economy class, from Governor Bartlet on down. This left them at the occasionally unyielding mercy of commercial airlines and sometimes it left them stranded in places like Des Moines International Airport.
The night they spent at DSM began when they missed their connecting flight to Chicago after a patch of fog made them late from the get-go in San Francisco. They had been there for a GLAAD brunch, a last minute addition to the schedule.
It had been Sam's idea to squeeze in the GLAAD appearance. "Gays and lesbians are a minority group who have more than just votes to cast in November - they have money to donate in March. And they'll gladly do it if an candidate from either party would just acknowledge their existence," he'd argued at an impromptu scheduling meeting that was winding down at three am.
Sam had been looking at Leo when he said this; he'd been carefully *not* looking at Josh. So he started a bit when Josh said, "The Human Rights Campaign's political action committee gives $340,000 a year to Democratic candidates." Sam raised his eyebrows, but Josh was looking very, very hard at CJ's shoulder. "Not to mention the fact that one third of its annual revenue is from individual member donations. Sam's right," he continued, "we should do it."
"Lisa would be proud," Josh had said once the meeting had ended. He said it lightheartedly, but he wouldn't meet Sam's eye and Sam knew that breaking down and explaining to Josh that Lisa worked for the HRC and it had been her sticker all along hadn't made things any easier. To Josh, Sam was still dangerous, even now..
So they went to the GLAAD brunch, which put them on the fog-boggled flight out of SFO, which made them late landing in Des Moines, which made them miss their flight to Chicago. Subsequent flights to O'Hare International were delayed and then outright canceled due to weather conditions. "What else?" Josh remarked bitterly when the announcement crackled over the intercom. "Just once I'd like a flight to be canceled due to a plague of frogs or a hail of golf balls." Everyone was too tired to muster up a laugh.
A little after midnight Josh announced that he was going to take a nap. Sam had being doing this long enough to know that Josh was usually a restless sleeper but Josh passed out in short time face-first on the unforgiving plastic bench. Sam couldn't sleep because he was concentrating so hard on *not* thinking about the fact that Josh's unruly hair was touching his thigh. Instead he made his way through the Des Moines Register. He did the crossword puzzle with verbose flair. He read Ann Landers, who seemed to think one spouse should be willing to move for the sake of the other's career. Sam disagreed. He sat. And when Josh moved his head closer and closer to Sam's hipbone, Sam only sat increasingly still, and did not move an inch.
And so, although Sam's eyes were half closed against the harsh fluorescent airport lights, he was completely awake at five am, when the candidate subtly followed his wife into the women's restroom.
Several times in the four hours that Josh was asleep, Sam thought about waking Josh up for entertainment. He figured that a grumpy Josh wouldn't be an entertaining Josh, so he let him sleep. But witnessing the man who might be the next president of the United States sneaking into the ladies room seemed worth rousing Josh.
"Josh," Sam muttered after lightly shoving his shoulder.
Josh's answer was sleepy, grumpy and mostly unintelligible.
"Josh, why do you think the Governor just followed Mrs. Bartlet into the women's restroom?"
This roused Josh to consciousness. "Dr. Bartlet, Sam, she likes to be called Dr. Bartlet. We've talked about this." Considering the matter at hand settled, Josh was in danger of slipping back into unconsciousness.
"Fine, Josh, Dr. Bartlet. So, what, you think he followed her into the ladies' room so she could perform a medical exam?"
At this point, Josh gave in and sat up. Sam tried not to mourn the loss of the warmth of Josh's head against his thigh. "So wait," Josh said trying to shake off his sleepy disorientation, "Governor Bartlet, he just walked into the *women's* restroom?" Now that Josh was completely awake, he was sitting hunched over in the molded plastic seat, trying to massage the kinks out of his neck with the tips of his fingers.
Sam would have liked to reach over and replace Josh's fingers with his own, but he clenched his hands into tight fists instead. He slumped as much as he could in a seat molded into such an unforgiving position and closed his eyes. "Yes, Josh, that's what I've been saying for the last five minutes."
"God, what do you think they're doing in there?"
"I don't know, Josh, that's why I woke you up."
"They could be having a secret meeting." Josh twitched an eyebrow and Sam remembered why he had wanted to wake Josh up for entertainment in the first place.
"In the women's restroom?"
"Well, maybe something's wrong. Did they look, like, really upset?"
"Nope, just furtive." Sam replied
"Furtive? What is this, a spy novel?"
"If it were, you'd be a terrible spy. You fell asleep on watch."
"Go in there, Sam, and find out what they're up to."
Sam could hear the grin in Josh's voice and he thought about opening his eyes. He sat up and looked over at Josh, who was now trying with much difficulty to rub his upper back. Sam didn't close his eyes again, but he focused his gaze past Josh and stared hard at the door to the women's restroom instead. "Josh, it's the women's restroom. And Bartlet is in there. What if they're in there, I don't know, doing something *really* embarrassing?"
"Like what, powdering his nose?"
"Like having sex."
Josh's face was twisted in an expression that let Sam know just how disgusting he found the idea. Sam agreed, but instead of saying so he replied, "Hey, they're the only two people in a deserted restroom in the middle of Des Moines International Airport at five am. What else could they be doing?"
"Having a secret meeting?"
"I thought we already covered that."
"Jesus, Sam, I'm just saying - thinking about Bartlet having sex, it's like imagining my parents."
"Thank you, Josh, for that lovely mental image."
"Hey, man, you started it."
A silent moment passed, and Sam tried to think about everything in the world besides what might be going on behind the bathroom door. He could see from Josh's carefully bland expression that he was doing the same. "They've been in there a while," Sam mused.
"Did anyone else see them? Because they should really be more careful about that kind of thing. Doing stuff like that."
"What does it matter? I mean, let's say that they actually are in there having sex." Sam took a small amount of pleasure in Josh's wince. "I bet the American people would welcome a candidate who was caught having sex with his wife, rather than his secretary."
"You really think that?" Josh shot him a look full of bemused skepticism.
"Yes, Josh, I really do. I think that people would be so excited at the prospect of a candidate who can manage to have sex within his marriage that they'd be willing to overlook whatever crimes of public indecency that they may or may not be committing in there."
"I can't handle this," Josh stated definitively. " I'm going to go to the men's room, because that's what men do and when I get back, the candidate and his wife will be sitting over there looking somber and serious and not at all like a couple of giggly teenagers who just had a quickie in a bathroom stall." He looked at Sam defiantly, like he was expecting him to disagree. He stood up and Sam could hear his joints creaking in protest.
Later, when he was agonizing over his verbal misstep, Sam told himself that he said it because he was zonked out and exhausted and annoyed with Josh for being grumpy instead of entertaining. It doesn't really matter because Josh was standing there with his hands on his hips and he was looking practically petulant and he was grumpy but on Josh grumpy just looked kind of adorable. "Can I follow you to the men's room, or would you worry that people would think we were going to have a quickie in the bathroom stall?" Sam replied, the words slipping out of his mouth before he could stop them.
He expected Josh to laugh, but instead he just looked tired and old. Maybe a little sad, too. "Don't even joke about that, Sam," he said. "Don't even joke."
Josh walked off without another word, his body still showing signs of abuse from his plastic would-be bed. He was gone long enough that Sam was able to feign sleep when he got back. Josh had been doing this long enough to know that it took Sam no less than an hour to fall asleep every night, but Josh said nothing; he just lay down on the molded seats. This time he was careful to make sure that their bodies didn't touch, not Josh's hair to Sam's hipbone and not anywhere else, either. They both breathed too quickly to be sleeping, but they lay there like stubborn kids playing graveyard until Toby stumbled back to the gate completely plastered and they couldn't pretend to be passed out anymore.
Once they were finally on the plane, Sam had taken notice of the fact that Governor Bartlet was actually looking a little pale rather than exuding any kind of post public restroom sex afterglow. Josh feigned sleep with his face pressed against the pane of the window and avoided him for two weeks. Four years later, Sam still remembers the way his cheeks flushed up when Josh stalked off to the bathroom but he'd forgotten about the President and his wife until now.
Because, most likely, they hadn't been having sex. Or a meeting. Or an argument. Most likely, Mrs. Bartlet had been giving her husband an injection.
Daily injections of Betaseron. And Sam's not an idiot. Although no one explicitly said so, he knows that the First Lady has been giving them. The world is a much more complicated place today than it was yesterday and that there's a good chance that they're all in very, very deep shit.
Hindsight is always 20/20 and it's easy to look back on certain moments in your life and realize that you had a big choice to make and you totally blew it because you didn't realize that there was any choice at all.
Sam could have gone into the women's restroom. He could have stumbled in sleepily, maybe tripped over his shoelaces for good measure and he could have done his best to pretend that he thought it was the men's room. He could have seen the candidate, with his jacket off and his shirtsleeve rolled up, and his wife with a syringe in her hand. And it was early enough that they could have still done the right thing. They probably would have lost, but they would have been honest and Sam wants to believe that that would have been enough.
He could have followed Josh into the men's room, too. But he doesn't know what would have happened then. He does know that really was the closest they ever came to sleeping together because it was the most they ever talked about it. There's something kind of sad about the fact that three encoded sentences and two weeks of silence was the closest that they had ever come in twelve years.
But Sam and Josh would have had to try to be the best-kept secret in the Bartlet administration. And that slot was already filled. So well, in fact, that the closest that Sam ever came to figuring it out was thirty feet from the ladies room just off gate 3C at the Des Moines International Airport.
The clock on the dashboard of Sam's car blinks 4:06 AM and he's still driving. The gas tank is getting close to empty, so he'll have to head for home soon. But right now he just drives, aimlessly down streets he doesn't recognize and parts of town he never visits. Because the only thing he's sure of at this moment is the absences, the things he doesn't know and the things he's never said. Leo staked his future in the party on Bartlet, and Bartlet waited until two days before the second State of the Union to tell him about the MS. Sam staked his future on Josh, and he has to wonder what Josh is waiting to tell him.
Sam is pretending to be asleep. He's in the passenger seat of a car that he owns but rarely drives, and if he opens his eyes, he'll see Josh driving, gripping the steering wheel like it's the only thing he's sure of anymore. Sam can't say that he blames him. Sam would sleep if he could, but instead he's only pretending, because he doesn't want to argue with Josh about the bumper sticker anymore. It's been less than twenty-four hours and they're already falling all over their own insecurities and old fears. Josh only seems sure of the steering wheel beneath his fingers, and Sam isn't sure of much of anything
So he keeps his eyes carefully shut and counts off the things that he knows to be true.
The truth is that Lisa came home from work one day, showed Sam a stack of bumpers stickers that looked like little Swedish flags and said, "Look, honey, they're part of the new visibility campaign. I'm going to put one on the car, okay?" and Sam had said nothing, just nodded in agreement.
The truth is also that Sam used to go out for a drink with Joe, Scotty and Arthur on occasion because they were nice guys who never asked him exactly what he was trying to do by associating himself with their crowd. The place that they went was pleasantly anonymous, but he stopped going to the bar after they started playing Nine Inch Nails all the time, because that really wasn't his thing. One time, though, he had seen Josh looking like a dream in a smoky corner, but he had disappeared before Sam could work up the courage to meet his eye.
The truth is also that the first person Sam ever slept with was Peter McKinley, his junior year chemistry partner. The next time they had lab, Peter had refused to meet his eye. To this day, Peter McKinley is probably the only person who knows that Sam didn't lose his virginity to Susan Johnson the night of the La Jolla High School junior prom.
And, standing in the parking lot of an all night taco stand in Connecticut, the truth is that Sam knows that sometimes the only way to say something is to say nothing at all.
Sam went to New York because it was a big city full of prestigious law firms in which he didn't know a single soul. He wanted to run away, even if he had always been too responsible to do something that outlandish without a nice safe career at the end of the road. He wanted to figure out who he was and what he was to other people. Instead, Sam met Lisa two weeks after he moved to Manhattan and he stayed the same guy he'd always been in La Jolla, Princeton and Durham. Lisa became just another in a long line of women who thought a flash of the Sam Seaborn "yes, I'm listening to you" smile meant that they had his full attention.
Lisa had a masters' degree in communications from NYU and worked for a PR firm. She liked the way her shoulders looked in little black cocktail dresses and she dragged Sam to a lot of parties he would have rather not attended. But Sam was nothing if not a good boyfriend (and later a good fiancé, because that's what all good boyfriends became), so he went and he stood in his uncomfortable shoes and he made small talk about things that he didn't care about.
He didn't talk politics because he learned the hard way -- and quickly -- that it's best not to talk about anything that you're too passionate about. The conversation should never be so heavy that you can't laugh off a fundamental difference of ideologies with a fresh martini. This left him with mostly Lisa's job and his own as topics of conversation. He felt particularly dispassionate about the latter, and when your own life didn't interest you enough that you feel like talking about it to strangers, it was easy for days, months and years to pass you by in a blur of uncomfortable shoes and omissive silences. Sam already knows he will forget more than he will remember about life with Lisa.
It was all a blur of legal briefs and take out containers splayed across their shiny glass coffee table. The things he remembers are small and sharp, like how he would place his hands on Lisa's shoulders and look at their reflection in the mirror while Lisa put on her earrings and how when he removed his hands they were always cold. And he remembers one cocktail party, one conversation, one week before he left.
James George was a stuffed shirt and Sam couldn't stand him. But people who represented other people for a living seemed to have a tendency to move in the same circles, so Sam had gotten used to seeing him at one social gathering after another, grinning a toothy grin over the brim of his perpetual martini glass.
"So, Sam," James began, "how's business?"
He found that it took much less effort to keep up the blandly pleasant expression plastered on his face than it might have taken five years ago. "I can't complain," he replied evenly. He nodded twice like he was agreeing with himself, even though what he had said was a lie, in a way. Sam may have only had a career as a speech writer for nine months eight years ago, but he still knew grammar. He was never one of those kids who had to have the difference in connotation between "can I" and "may I" explained to him.
"I'm surprised you're even here tonight," James continued, "what with all the work your firm has been doing on the Kensington deal lately."
Sam betrayed nothing when he shook his head and smiled. "We work hard for all of our clients," he replied in carefully measured tones, "and I'm sure we'll be ready for Kensington." James George may have been a conversational klutz, but he wasn't a complete idiot and he knew that this was all he'd get out of Sam on the Kensington deal.
"So," James asked, changing tactics, "how is Lisa liking her new firm?"
"She's enjoying it very much."
"The two of you ever going to tie the knot?"
Sometimes Sam wondered if the only reason he asked Lisa to marry him was so there would be at least one standard question that he always had an easy answer for. Whether or not this is true, he might as well take advantage of it. "In September," Sam replied, and made a mental note that it would be a cold day in hell before James George made the guest list.
"That's great, that's great," James replied, slapping Sam on the back like he was a used car salesman and the engagement is a Buick on which they'd finally agreed on a price. "You know," he continued conspiratorially, they're buddies now, "I wondered if you were ever going to do it all at, especially after I heard that Lisa had taken up that new account."
"New account?" Sam asked, still bland, still calm.
"You know, I heard she's representing the, that gay rights organization-"
"The Human Rights Campaign?"
"Yeah, that's the one! Well, anyway, when I heard that she was representing the gays, I couldn't help but think-"
"-That she's such a talented rep that she could get Barry Bonds great press at Dodgers Stadium and that any lobbying group would be lucky to have her?" Sam was still smiling, but it wasn't a bland smile. His training as a lawyer had prepared him to do things more intimidating than create liability shields and tax shelters.
"You know I think the world of Lisa, Sam. I guess I just assumed that those people would want to have one of their own representing their interests."
Sam wanted to grab James George by the collar and ask him if he meant someone like Sam himself. But then he remembered that he's never given James George any reason to think that he belonged working at the HRC, so he settled for casting a murderous glance at James George and walked away.
Sometimes, when your deep, dark secrets spend so much time bouncing around in your head, it's hard to remember that everyone you meet doesn't already know.
James George wasn't the first, last or twelfth person to insinuate to Sam that the only way Lisa could be working for the HRC would be if she was a big ol' dyke. Since the day Lisa came home and announced that she had been given a new client and laughingly showed Sam the Melissa Etheridge albums her co-workers had left on her desk as a joke, people have been making comments. Mostly, Sam didn't care. He knew that they really had no idea what they're talking about.
But a week after the night Sam walked away from James George and his martini, Sam's on the run again. There's no secure future at the end of this road, but at least this time he's not running away alone. A week is hardly any time at all out of a five year long faked orgasm, so James George's words are still ringing in Sam's ears when he's standing in the parking lot of Muchos Gracias somewhere in Connecticut in the middle of the night.
The truth is that James George was completely off base. Lisa would have never been the one to break up their relationship over career-induced homosexuality. Sam could have told James George to go to hell. He could have, should have told him that he was a bigoted, narrow-minded fuck, but Sam had no idea a week ago that he'd probably never have to see James George again.
The truth is also that as much as Lisa liked to drag Sam to parties, she usually left him alone once they got there. She liked to network and the art of networking involved a certain amount of flirting, which Lisa didn't think she could do in front of Sam. She usually left Sam stranded somewhere near the bar, destined to get caught in conversations with people he couldn't stand. But the one time they had gone to an HRC function, she had stayed at his elbow the entire night.
The truth is also that Sam was so incredibly drunk the night he found himself in bed with his chemistry partner that it would have been easy to say that maybe he didn't know what the hell he was doing with some other guy's dick in his mouth. But Sam is smart enough to know that sometimes it's easy for the truth to end up looking like a lie.
So, when Josh tells Sam to take off the sticker that Lisa casually placed on the rear window of their car, Sam knows that the truth is that you don't have to be gay to put an HRC sticker on your car or to work for the HRC, even, because Lisa did and Lisa does and Lisa isn't. Sam knows that this is the straight story, but it's still somehow a lie. Sam knows that there's a little bit of gray area in between lying and telling the truth. If he and Josh are going to spend the next year living in adjoining hotel rooms, he might as well stake his claim in that field right now. Because any version of the truth would break them for sure, but Sam's never really been all that good at lying. He's never been able to lie to Josh all that well, not any better than he's been able to lie to himself.
"Sam, wake up. Wake up, Sam, we're in New Hampshire." Sam feels his shoulder being shaken in a hesitant manner, as though Josh is worried he might bite. Sam opens his eyes slowly, and tries to look like he's been asleep for the last two hundred or so miles.
"Where are we?" Sam asks. All he knows is that it's dark and the bright shiny moment when Josh showed up in his office yesterday feels like a lifetime ago. Josh certainly looks about sixteen years older. But Josh has always worn his wear and tear on his face.
"We're at the beginning, Sam. This is the beginning of the Bartlet campaign." Sometimes Josh attempts to try idealism on for size. It rarely fit him.
"No, Josh, where are we really?" Sam lifts his chin, and attempts to leave the car without unslumping his form. Josh stands to the side, a little jumpy looking, and does not offer Sam a hand. Sam sighs, and not just because pretending to be asleep for three hours had been exhausting. Things are weird now, but maybe if he plays it light Josh will just forget.
"Really, we're at the Nassau Best Western." Josh shrugs in apology for their plight, and Sam hopes that it means that he's in no more of a position to discuss anything in this parking lot than he was in the one in Connecticut.
Sam is squinting at the parking lot lamp lights, but he still manages to raise his eyebrows suspiciously. "The Nassau Best Western?"
"It's the beginning, Sam. Things haven't quite taken off yet."
Sam laughs, and doesn't disagree. He has never been able to lie to Josh.
The door to Josh's office is open, but Sam would feel weird about just barging in. He decides to knock against the doorframe and Josh looks up quickly from a pile of briefings and clips and assorted scrap and post-it notes.
"Yeah?" he says, and this one word alone feels harried. Sam regrets thinking he would be able to get through a complete sentence around Josh.
"I just . . . you know, if you're busy, I can come back later."
"Oh, no, not at all. I've just got these newspapers . . ."
"Well, clips from them. The idea is that David is supposed to read clips from all the district papers when he's on the plane, so that he stays in touch with what's going on in the district. But David's too lazy to do it, so basically he asks Laurel to read them all and summarize. But Laurel's too busy to do it, so she gives them to me." Josh ends his remarks with an exasperated full-body shrug and newspaper clips flutter around his hands.
"So the message here is that I can expect to find many, many copies of the of the -" Sam glances towards the desk, "-Kensington Gazette on my desk tomorrow?"
Josh grins in mock excitement. "Now, there's an idea. So, what can I do for you, Sam?"
"He voted for both versions of HR 658."
"Yes, yes he did." Josh sounds rather matter of fact about this, and Sam is worried that he will look stupid.
"Two versions, Josh. One supported by the House Democrats, one backed by the White House. And we voted for both."
"Yes, as it turns out, we did."
"Um . . . Josh, why'd we do that?"
"Because we're whores, Sam."
Sam tries not to look shocked. "Well, yes, I understand that. But what should I be telling people?"
"You should be telling them that Congressman David is above all things against doing nothing in times of trouble and that while he wholeheartedly supported the plan backed by the Democratic leadership, he believes that the Republican plan was also a step in the right direction."
"Do you even remember what 658 is about, Josh?"
"It doesn't matter, David pulls this shit all the time."
"So that's what I should be telling people?"
"But, just for the record, we did it because we're whores?"
"We did it because David is nothing more than a wind sock in the breeze of partisan politics." Josh laughs at his own remark, and it's a hard cynical laugh. He's laughing because it's true, and if he doesn't laugh, he'll just find himself and the job he has to do depressing. Most days, for Josh, it's better to try and laugh. It is a skill that Sam has yet to acquire.
Josh notices that Sam seems a little taken aback and continues. "Seriously, Sam. When people ask you how David voted on 658, ask them first how they wanted him to vote. Then you'll always have the right answer. That's why he supported both versions of the legislation."
Sam nods his head shakily.
"Do you think you can tell people that?"
Sam nods again.
"Do you think you can tell them in a speech to MADD?"
"A speech? You mean, you want me to . . . a speech?"
"Don't worry, Sam. You just have to write it. You don't have to give it."
"Yeah, but I'm just a-"
"Just an Ansel Abrahams fellow with a BA from Princeton University. Come on, Sam, you wrote your thesis on these people. You can write a five-minute speech that makes them love how we voted on 658."
"Yeah," Sam says, "I'll do it."
"Great. If you have any trouble, call Congressional Research Services. They'll practically write the speech for you."
"Okay, great, I'll be sure to do that."
"I'm serious. Once I called and wanted to know how many dollar bills you could lay from end to end on Interstate 5 and they had an answer in forty five minutes."
Sam stood up to leave. "It's because we're whores?" he asked suddenly.
"Yes, but I like to think of us more as high priced call girls, with the Democratic [Party] as our pimp."
"Well, okay. Good to know." Sam moves to exit the office.
"Ah, Sam, don't go," Josh waves him back towards the chair that faced the desk. "I can't bear to see someone so young walk out of here looking so disillusioned."
Sam is annoyed, but he did return to the chair. "I'm not that young," Sam says, "We've been through this. I'm twenty-two. You're *six* whole years old than I am."
"Yeah, but you'd be surprised just how cynical six years sitting on this side of the desk can make you."
Sam raises an eyebrow. "Sitting on this side of the desk, I'd say I have a pretty good idea."
They both laugh at this, but Josh continues. "Seriously, Sam. Why don't you tell me what you really think?"
"I don't really think anything, Josh. I just wanted to know what I should tell people. You know constituents. They ask these things and . . ."
"Come on, Sam. We don't pay you enough to fire you! Tell me what you really think of what we're doing here."
"Um, why don't you tell me first?"
"Okay, fair enough. But let's try this another way. Do you think Andrew David is a bad man? I mean, you know, really bad. Richard Nixon level evil?"
"No, of course not."
"But do you think he's a particularly inspired legislator?"
"Well, I certainly admired the-"
"Um, no. Not particularly."
"It's okay, Sam. No one does much idealizing of David's policy crafting abilities past their first week."
"So why are you still here, then?"
"Because at the end of the day, he's a good man. And mostly, he just tries to do what good men do."
"The best that they can."
"So that's what I should try and do on the MADD speech, then?" Sam thinks that they were wrapping things up, but then Josh leans forward like this part was really important.
"No, Sam. Don't do that. Write a great speech for the MADD thing. And then, whatever you do, don't watch David give it, because there's always a chance he'll accidentally say "pave the children" instead of "save the children" and that'll make you want to shoot him. But write a great speech, Sam, because I know you can. And, then, someday there'll be a great man who will do justice to what you're writing. And you'll want to know what to say."
"I think I can try and do that."
"Good. Because it's what we do here and I'd really like to see you be a part of it." At this, Sam smiles a real smile, genuine and wide. Josh seems to recognize the difference between this and the tight, pleasant expression that has been on his face throughout the meeting and shoos him out of the office. "I've got work to do here!" he says, "Now go write David a great speech."
Sam leaves, and he knows he'll write a great speech about HR 658. He knows that Andrew David will read it in his hesitant and bumbling way and that he'll slur the words and pronounce "via" phonetically and forget what the acronym MADD stands for. And Sam knows that he doesn't care, because he's not writing for Andrew David. He's not even writing for the promise of the politicians who will come after Congressman David, the ones who will do his words justice. He's writing for the smile on Josh's face, for the pride in his voice. He's writing for Josh.
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