ARCHIVE: Anywhere, drop a line -- firstname.lastname@example.org
SPOILERS: Vague for ITSOTG and "Noel," vaguer for TCATW.
SUMMARY: These are the men.
DISCLAIMER: Aaron Sorkin and Brad Whitford are responsible for this one, I'm just the girl at the computer writing it down. Original characters and the rest of it is mine, with beta by Punk M. I've known men like this. You probably have too.
ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS: For Pene, august, Dawn, and Punk. These women.
Women by Sabine
"Josh Lyman." He sits down. The stool is sticky, and the orange track lighting cuts the barroom perpendicularly, illuminating a web of dust mites. "Seat taken?"
She smiles with one side of her mouth. "Erika Yager, and go ahead, knock yourself out."
He likes the way her steel-blue Armani Exchange pants stretch across the tops of her thighs and hang straight and wide around her skinny bare ankles, her feet dangling a couple inches off the floor. He surprises himself by knowing "Armani Exchange." She's got black suede sneakers on, and he thinks they might be DKNY.
"Crazy blizzard," he says. "I didn't think anyone would be out here tonight."
"You're here," she points out, not looking away from Craig Kilborn on the TV bolted above the rack of Kentucky single malts.
"I am indeed here," he agrees. To the bartender, "Bass and a shot."
Bartender slaps them down on the counter, and Josh knocks back the whiskey and swipes a hand across his mouth. Erika crosses her legs, and he watches her breasts move a little closer together under her white tailored shirt as she raises her arm to pick up her drink.
"They're calling it the storm of the century," he says.
"That's awfully dumb," she says. "Seeing as we're, what, three months into it?"
"Into the century?"
"Three months into the century," she says, eating an olive off a yellow plastic sword.
He nods. "The media tends to be brilliant like that."
"I write for DC Style," she says, plastic sword between her teeth. "And you are?"
"Uh, I, uh, I work in the White House," he says, the way he used to say, "I go to a little college in New Haven."
Kilborn's muted, and the stereo's playing Tom Waits, "Cold, Cold Ground." On TV the closed captions say "[LIGHT LAUGHTER]." Josh looks at Erika, who is scratching her clavicle with the tip of a fingernail and staring vaguely into space.
He hadn't intended to make a friend tonight, to pick someone up, to take someone home, but now she's here and she's got this great, long, thick brown hair and he can imagine it spread across a pillow. He can imagine her lipstick coming off on his lips. He thinks about how long it's been since he's gotten laid.
"DC Style, huh," he says, raising his eyebrows. "So you're uniquely responsible for CJ Cregg's newfound love for Issey Miyaki."
"You work for CJ?" Erika looks interested, and Josh rolls the words around in his head. Saying "no, she works for me" seems unnecessarily arrogant, but a "yes" answer would be inaccurate, so he just shrugs. "She's great about taking my calls," Erika says.
"She's great, yeah," Josh agrees. "CJ's great. Absolutely great." Erika squints at him, and he wills himself to shut up.
He's forgotten how to do this. After a day of rapidfire debate with the most brilliant political minds in the country, he finds himself desperately unable to make small talk, so he smiles instead. She smiles back, and she's got a dimple too. Tom Waits sings "when the road's washed out, you pass the bottle around..." and Josh takes a draw off his beer.
"What do you do in the White House, then?" Erika asks.
He nods, debating, stalling. "I work for Leo McGarry," he says finally, and hopes she doesn't know who Leo McGarry is.
"I did a column on him once," she says. She doesn't elaborate, but Josh figures it's the Valium or the divorce or the hearing, something exploitative he'd rather not have her recount.
She flips the plastic sword around on her tongue and then slides it halfway between her lips, and when she opens her mouth Josh can see that her tongue is pierced. He watches the steel bar flutter and imagines he can hear it clicking against the inside of her teeth. He's indescribably aroused.
He came here straight from work, and he knows the light in the bar is just hazy and ambient enough to render his dress shirt backlit, giving Erika a full view of the lines of his t-shirt underneath. He feels like someone's ugly math teacher, old and lecherous, and he wants to put his jacket and coat and scarf back on. Erika pulls the sword out of her mouth and drops it in her martini glass with a clink.
"It's getting late," she says.
"It's freezing outside," he says, pulling his shoulders up near his ears. "I'm not in a hurry to get back out there."
"I only live two blocks away," she says, trailing off and looking at him. He waits for it. He's seen enough women like her, gone home with enough women to know she'll ask, to know that's what she came to this bar for, but he waits for it anyway, partly because he's nervous, partly because he's rusty at this. "You want a cup of coffee or something? Something warm?"
He wants something warm. He stands up, pulling his jacket over his shoulders. "Sure," he says. "I'd like that."
Her lips are hot on his chest.
The round, strange end of the tongue barbell flicks against his nipple, and he can't tell if it's warm or cold, but her lips are hot and his fingers move across her back, tracing circles around each knobby vertebrae of her spine.
She's got white sheets, white pillows, a white comforter bunching up under his back, and the rest of her apartment is blonde wood and stainless steel, spare and elegant and intimidating. He'd lined his shoes up carefully before letting her pull him onto the bed, and he finds himself neurotically distracted by the fear that he'll stain her comforter, her clean white sheets. She moves her mouth up his chest, squeezes him between her thighs and doesn't seem to care.
Sometime before four he goes home in a cab. He showers, thinks about sleeping, makes coffee instead, reads the paper. He goes in to work early.
"You got laid," Sam says, in Josh's office with the door closed.
"And you can tell this how?"
"I've known you a long time," Sam says. "You're never poker-faced the morning after. In fact, you're not poker-faced when we're playing poker either. So, yes. I can tell. I'm very good at these things."
Josh lets his eyes widen, and stretches his arms up above his head. "That's, like, sort of sick, you know?"
Sam nods. "I know. I'm not proud of it. But there it is."
"I got laid!" Josh says, spitting out the words on an exhale and letting his arms fall at his sides. "Have you ever, uh, you ever been with a girl with one of those barbells through her tongue?"
"Tell me everything," Sam says, leaning forward in his chair. He's in a blue shirt with a deep blue tie that hangs between his knees. Josh watches Sam's tie swinging, and remembers the barbell.
"Whole lotta fun, my friend," he says. "You can't even imagine."
Sam's paying attention. "That's all I get?" he asks.
Josh shrugs. "You really, uh, want the graphic details? Because to tell you the truth I would find that deeply weird."
Sam stands up. "You're right. Plus, I've got work to do. So I'll just go, then."
"Catch you later?"
"Sure," Sam says, and shuts the door.
Josh leans forward into his hands and rubs his eyes. He's got budget in twenty-five minutes, which is not quite enough time for the conference call he needs to make to OEOB, and not quite enough time for him to take a nap either. He realizes he's sweating, that the heat's cranked up to something like eighty-five because of the blizzard, and he's got big o-rings of sweat under his arms. The back of his shirt is wet too.
He wonders how Sam's shirts are always so clean, smooth, how Sam never manages to spill coffee on himself or get mustard on his elbows. Josh realizes he wouldn't have the first clue if Sam had gotten laid. He wonders if Sam has, recently, and he wonders why Sam hasn't told him and he hasn't asked.
There's a knock at his door.
"Yup!" he calls. Donna comes in.
"Call for you on O-4," she says. "It's a girl, Josh."
"Well," he says, "seeing as they make up fifty-one percent of the population, I'm not terrifically shocked by that fact. Do you know, uh, which girl?"
"You had sex, Josh Lyman," Donna says, tipping her head to the side and squinting. "I can tell. I've got a sixth sense, you know."
He yawns, a little afraid he's blushing. "I've heard," he says. "Who's on the phone?"
"Stacy," she says. "Oh, or Ellen. Elizabeth? Anyway, it's a normal name. Shouldn't you know her name?"
"I'm expecting a call from Eleanor Murphy at State," he says. "Is it her?"
"Do you want to play this game, or do you want to answer the phone?"
He realizes. "It's, was it Erika?"
Donna nods victoriously. "I told you it was a normal name," she said.
He laughs. "Donna, with you, I wouldn't begin to presume what you'd consider a normal name. But can you just tell her I'm in a meeting? I'll call her back?"
"Yeah," Donna says. "Want me to say when?"
"Nah," Josh shakes his head. "And get a number."
She goes back into the bullpen, leaving the door open behind her.
He never gets Erika's number, and he makes Donna ignore her the two times she calls the next day. He isn't sure why.
Thursday night he goes to hear Vaya Con Dios at a club on Grand street, except it isn't the same Vaya Con Dios, apparently. This band has four white guys in shirts and ties, the lead singer in a fedora and the guy on the bongos with a little goatee. Josh overhears the word "ska" but he doesn't really know what it means. They're good enough, and they play late, and he nurses one beer for four hours watching a freckled girl with dyed-black hair and big catseye glasses talk with her hands. When he'd come in, she had been sitting at a table in the corner with her back toward him and he wrote her off as twenty-something-early and not his type, until halfway through the evening when she'd moved so she could lean against the wall. She lights a cigarette, and in the match-flare he can see her face, and she has lines around her eyes. She isn't a kid.
His beer is warm when the ska band finishes their set, but the freckled woman is deep in conversation with her friends and Josh can't stop staring. When she gets up to use the bathroom, he follows her.
"Hey," he says, when she comes out, drying her hands on her jeans.
"It's open," she says, waving a hand at the bathroom door.
He chuckles. "No," he says. "I've just, I've been watching you, and you seemed really cool, so I just, I just wanted to say hi."
She pushes her glasses down her nose and gives him an exaggerated squint. "Hi," she says.
The corridor is narrow and he realizes he is in her way, so he flattens his back against the wall so she can pass him. She squeezes in front of him, but stops, faces him, and peers up with a grin. "Hi," she says again. She spreads her hands out flat and presses them against his chest. He trembles. "You got a name?"
"Josh Lyman," he says.
"Tish Glass," she says, her palms hot through his shirt. "I gotta get back to my friends now," she says. "We're cutting out of here; my kid's with a sitter and I need to get home."
"Oh," he says, not sure what to do with his hands. He stuffs them in his pockets. "Okay, then," he says.
She lets go of his chest and pushes through the corridor, walking backwards like a tour guide. "Have a nice night," she says, waving.
"You too," he says.
She turns away.
"I like the way you talk with your hands," he calls after her, and she stops and turns around again to look at him.
He pulls his hands free from his pockets and wiggles his fingers to demonstrate. "The way you talk. With your hands. It's very...graceful."
She laughs. "Okay," she says. "Take care, then, Josh."
"Yeah," he says. "You too."
Outside, it's still snowing, tiny too-cold flakes cutting fast and furious diagonals in the glow of the streetlamps. He feels his lips chap, his eyes water in the wind, and he nudges at his scarf with his chin, trying to warm his face. With his head down, he lopes down the sidewalk and trots in place at the stop light, waiting for it to change.
Something on his shoulder. A hand. He turns around. Tish.
"Hey there," he says.
"I called Taylor's dad," she says. "He'll take her tonight. You busy?"
She looks even older, outside in the snow in the streetlamps. Crow's-feet cross her temples, and he can see a handful of greying roots under the ink-black dye. But her mouth is wide and her lips are freckled too, it looks like, and she balls her slender hands up next to her mouth and blows into them to keep warm.
The light changes. Walk. She is wearing a gas-station attendant's jacket, the zipper patched with duct tape. It says "James" on the embroidered breast patch. A metal chain runs from her belt to her back pocket, likely attached to her wallet in there. From the chin down, she is sixteen years old, and Josh squirms. The light changes again. Don't Walk.
"Nah," he says, smiling. "I'd really love to do something, but I've got work in like three hours, and I should at least pretend to sleep."
She shrugs. "Okay," she says, digging in her pocket. She comes up with a Sharpie and a yellow carbon receipt, and she scrawls some digits on the yellow paper and hands it to him. "This is me, if you ever just wanna hang out," she says.
He nods, stuffing the paper in his jacket. "You really are..." he begins, and then stops. "It was great to meet you," he says. "Go home and be with your kid."
She nods back. "Yeah," she says. "Taylor's dad's a sonofabitch. I'd rather not leave her with him, actually."
"So it's all good then," Josh says. The light changes again. "I should really go."
"Scram," she says. And she turns away down the sidewalk and is gone by the time he crosses the street.
"Something, something is, like, seriously wrong with me."
He stands in the doorway of Sam's office, picking at flaking paint on the jamb.
"What do you mean?" Sam asks.
Josh shuts the door and sits down. "Like last night," he says. "This totally amazing, this really cool girl at this club --"
"You went out again last night? Something is wrong with you," Sam nods.
Josh shakes his head. "Listen to me. Listen to me. I'm at this club, right, and I'm watching this girl, she's probably thirty-five but she's made it so she looks like she's seventeen, she's got this great face, this totally expressive face, and she talks with her hands --" Josh realizes he is talking with his hands, and he lets them fall into his lap.
Sam smiles. "Keep going."
"So I go up to her, just to say hey, except next thing you know she's calling her kid's dad and telling him to babysit the daughter so she can come fuck me."
"You got laid again?" Sam's eyebrows go up. "I wouldn't have thought."
Josh shakes his head again, harder. "No," he says. "That's what I'm saying. I said no. I went home. I can't believe it."
"Something's seriously wrong with you, my friend," Sam agrees.
Josh groans, leaning back in the chair and covering his face with his hands. "And the other girl? I never called her back."
"What was wrong with her?"
"Nothing!" Josh says, throwing his arms in the air. "It's me. It's all me."
Sam shrugs. "You're in a bit of a bind, there, Josh," he says. "You might have some stuff to figure out."
Those words resonate, reminding Josh of post-traumatic stress disorder and therapy. He shudders.
"Relax," Sam says. "It's no big deal. It happens all the time. You're busy. You've got an important job. You don't need to leap into bed with every cute girl who deigns to talk to you."
"Deigns?" Josh grins. "They line up for my autograph, I'll have you know."
Erika hadn't been the first since the shooting; back in December there had been a string of women, all of them bleeding together, white girls with dark hair and brooding eyes who took their contacts out before coming to bed. He'd fucked until he was bored and sore. And then there were none, for a long time. Well, for a long time comparatively, for Josh, who was used to conquests and the thrill of going home with new girls who laughed and made him breakfast he never had time to eat. Women were magnificent, brilliant, amazing creatures, and for some reason, now, they bored the hell out of him.
Something was seriously wrong.
"Josh? Are you in there?" Donna, knocking on Sam's door.
"Ayup," Josh says, and she opens the door.
"Erika called again," Donna says, with a bad news look on her face. "She wanted to give you a head's-up."
"Oh, that can't be good," Sam says.
"Nah, it really can't," Josh squeaks, scrunching up his face and looking at Donna for the rest of the story.
"I took the liberty of going down to the newsstand and picking up a copy of the magazine for you," Donna says. "I don't want you to freak out, now, Josh. You have to understand that I'm just delivering this thing. Which is not to say that I don't agree with her, insofar as it's my responsibility to support my fellow woman in times of crisis --"
"Times of crisis, Donna?" Josh asks. Donna reaches behind her back and comes forward with a copy of DC Style, which she extends toward him.
He takes it.
"Don't freak out, Josh," she says again.
"I'm not gonna freak out," he says, thumbing through the magazine. "Do I look like the sort of guy who freaks out?"
"Maybe I should read it," Sam offers, standing up. Josh snarls.
"The Nation's Elite," by Erika Yager, page forty. He flips to it. Sam sits down again.
"It takes a special kind of arrogance to work in the White House," Josh reads aloud. "A unique and marvelous breed of self-centrism that manifests itself, after hours, in a sexual game of political slumming. Man walks into a bar like a bad joke and lies to you about his job, with the ridiculous and megalomaniacal hope that you don't recognize him from the Post or know that when he slinks out at four in the morning, he's going to work at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, in the same building as the most powerful man in the free world. Like he really thinks you'd fuck him if you didn't know that."
"No, now wait," Sam says, standing up again. "I take offense at that."
Josh squints at him. "Do you have, like, hemorrhoids or something?"
Sam sits down. "What?"
"All the standing up and sitting down, it's like you're in synagogue, or, like, at a Bob Dylan concert."
Sam looks at a spot on his desk as if it's a bug that's crawled onto his lunch plate. "Oh," he says. He looks back at Josh.
"I believe I was in the middle of lambasting myself and men everywhere," Josh says, finding his place in the column. "I'll just keep reading, then."
"Josh..." Donna is still standing in the doorway. "You should have called her back," she says. "Men don't know that. But most of the problems in this world are caused because men don't call women back. Wars are started by men who are frustrated that their girlfriends won't sleep with them, and you know why?"
"Because they didn't call them back?" Josh ventures.
"Because they didn't call them back," Donna says. "Think about it."
"Please, please get out of here," Josh pleads.
She shuts the door behind her when she exits, and Josh looks at Sam.
"This is, like, a bad 'Sex in the City' episode," Josh says.
"Does she use your name?"
Josh skims the article and shakes his head.
"Well then," Sam says. "You're not in too much trouble. I mean, what are the odds someone will identify you?"
"...a certain upper level West Wing staffer with Grand Canyon dimples and receding Einstein hair," Josh reads, and moans.
"Oh," Sam says, nodding. "A few people might identify you, then."
Josh rubs his forehead. "My hair's not receding that badly," he mutters.
"What else does it say?"
"In this liberal administration, these are the men who think they love women, who would swear to anyone that they've got nothing but respect for the fairer sex. They'd probably use the phrase 'fairer sex,' and it's not unreasonable to think they wrote poetry in college. They love their mothers. They watch us with dreamy eyes, captivated by our each and every move, they tell us we're incredible, amazing. They're swayed by good oratory. They're not afraid to cry, but they never, ever do."
"I'm not afraid to cry," Sam says. "I cry all the time."
Josh wonders if this is true. He knows Sam's braver than he is, that for all of Sam's purported clumsiness he's stronger than Josh, better able to go after what he wants. Better able to figure out what he wants. Sam probably cries, though Josh has never seen it and never wants to. Josh doesn't cry. Sometimes he wishes he could. He turns back to the article instead.
"What frightens me," he reads, "is the sheer dishonesty at work. These are the men who vote straight Democratic tickets, who speak out pro-choice and who support gay marriage and bans on handguns. They're the men who raise money for battered women's shelters, all the while thinking 'I'd have treated her better' when the truth is that the kind of cruelty these men inflict leaves even deeper bruises. They leave me fearing not only for my heart, but for my country and my future."
"My country and my future?" Sam stands up, realizes it, sits down for the third time. "That's taking it a little bit too far, don't you think?"
Josh doesn't answer. "I gotta go get some work done," he says after a minute. "I have a thing in like an hour."
"Yeah," Sam says.
Josh tosses the magazine on Sam's desk, turns, and leaves.
It's snowing by four, dark before five, and people leave early, afraid for the roads and the traffic. Leo comes in to Josh's office at ten of six with his coat on and a brown accordion file under his arm.
"You goin' home soon?"
Josh runs his fingers through his hair. "I have some things to finish up."
Leo shakes his head. "Josh, you gotta start getting more sleep. Please go home."
"I'm okay," Josh says. "I'm good."
Leo comes a little closer to the desk. "No, Josh, you're not. You're distracted, you're fucking up. I spoke to Eleanor Murphy over at State, she says she had to get the appropriations report from Donna. That's not acceptable."
Josh exhales. "Yeah, sorry about that. It took a little longer than I thought it would, people weren't taking my calls, I think because of the snow a lot of --"
"I don't need to hear it," Leo waves his hands. "Just fix it. You're coming in tomorrow, right?"
Tomorrow is Saturday, and Josh has a meeting on the hill sometime before lunch. "Yeah," he says.
Leo nods. "Good. Give Eleanor Murphy a call -- she wants to go over some numbers. I'm gonna be doing a family thing but I'll call in, and I'm on my cell if you need me."
"I won't need you," Josh says, standing up. "I got it."
"Good," Leo says again. "Then put on your coat. I'll walk you out."
Josh rolls his head on his shoulders, cracking his neck. "Nah, I really do have to finish this up real quick. I'll go home soon."
"Do," Leo says, and walks away.
Josh paces the length of the little office, rubbing his face. He's working on a counterargument against Indian gaming, and he's been hip-deep in precedent and overturned case files all afternoon. When he'd started his research, the sheer number of Democrats who had historically supported bills restricting gaming surprised him. It seemed like such a partisan issue, and every time it came up in election year he knew he'd voted right, voted to allow Native American tribes to use their judgment and open their casinos and support themselves.
Now he isn't sure what right means. He seems to remember people he admires speaking out on behalf of the Indian tribes; he knows President Bartlet supports funding the National Indian Gaming Commission, knows Bartlet has tried to respect Native Americans as a sovereign nation. It's always seemed right to Josh too. Except now he isn't sure what right means.
His head hurts.
Sam's standing in the doorway.
"Yeah?" Josh tips his chin to his chest and looks at Sam with raised eyebrows.
"I was thinking I was going to get a beer. And you should come."
Josh waves an arm somewhere toward his desk. "I've got this Indian gaming thing --"
"Leave it till tomorrow," Sam says. "I know that article's been eating you --"
"That article has not been eating me."
Sam nods. "Okay. Still. Come out. We'll get steak sandwiches."
Josh's stomach rumbles, he realizes he hasn't eaten all day. Steak sandwiches sound good. A beer with Sam sounds good. Anything that isn't about Indian gaming sounds good. "Yeah," he says. "All right."
"What's wrong with you this week?"
They've found a roadhouse, or at least a roadhouse-style bar, a couple blocks away, and Sam's leaning against the wall of the booth, looking at the menu.
"I haven't gotten much sleep," Josh replies.
"I get that," Sam says. "I'm asking why? What's going on?"
Josh shrugs, sliding his menu to the end of the greasy table. "I honestly, honestly don't know."
"You should have called her back," Sam says. "So now you know. It's fine."
"What do you think about Indian gaming?" Josh asks, after the waitress brings him his french fries and coffee.
Sam looks at him. "As, what do I think of Indian gaming as a philosophical concept? Or what do I think of it as a political question?"
"Political question." Josh eats a french fry, salts the rest. His hands tremble; he watches them like they belong to someone else.
"Well," Sam begins. "It's dicey. Take the question of taxation, for example, which is really only one of many points of contention where the NIGC is concerned, although to ask its opponents, you'd think it was the only thing that matters. Of course, that's not the case. To start with, in 1988, House Republicans --" Sam stops. "Josh?"
"Yeah? I'm listening."
Sam squints at him. "You know what I think of Indian gaming. In fact, you know pretty much my views on every political issue. Why are you asking me this?"
Josh rubs his eyes with greasy hands. "I do?"
"I'm fairly confident you do, yes."
"Okay," Josh exhales. "So tell me. What do *I* think of Indian gaming?"
Josh presses his hands together in front of him, fingers steepled like he's a geisha girl bowing. He feels the tendons in his wrist stretch; he aches all over. "I just...Sam, I think, I don't know if I know who I am."
"What are you talking about?" Sam looks genuinely confused, almost as confused as Josh feels.
Josh sighs. "I grew up, right, I grew up and I'm supposed to be one of the good guys."
"You are one of the good guys, Josh."
Josh shakes his head. "Apparently I'm not. I...Sam. I love women. I mean, I *love* women. I think they're terrific, spectacular, underrated, brilliant, I think this world would be a better place if the rest of us would just shut the fuck up and let them talk for a little while."
"But you didn't call Erika Yager back."
"But I didn't call Erika Yager back. I didn't even want to. I didn't sleep with the girl with the kid, even though she had the most amazing face I've ever seen. I think -- I mean, I've always thought I loved women. I respect women. But what if I don't? What if I'm as bad as all those other assholes out there? What if I *am* all those other assholes out there?" He exhales, loud and hard, takes a sip of coffee and it's too cold and too weak. "I think I might be. I think I am."
"I don't even know how I feel about Indian gaming, Sam!"
"What does that have to do with --"
The waitress comes over. She's young, probably in high school or should be, and her hair's pulling out of her ponytail after a long day and hanging in wiggly strands across her forehead. She moves like a dancer, sidling between the booths on her tiptoes, doing a little hop-skip even when she doesn't have to.
Another day, in another life, Josh would smile at her, ask her name. He'd find out what book she is reading in the breakroom between shifts; he'd find out that her parents don't know she has this job. She'd warm up his coffee and he'd call her "kid," just to let her know he wasn't trying anything. He'd say "good luck with your life," when he left. He'd tip her two hundred percent. Another day, in another life.
Tonight he just wants to sit here with Sam, Sam who doesn't care if he doesn't smile. Sam who maybe, with all that Princeton-honed brilliance, can help him figure out what's wrong with him, what broke inside of him back in December and won't come right.
He realizes he hasn't spoken in a while. The waitress pokes the check under Josh's french fry plate and leaves again before he looks up.
"I'm tired, Sam," he says, and he realizes only then that it's true. "I'm tired of all the work. I'm tired of explaining myself. The whole goddamned show."
Sam knows. "Trying to tell them that your job isn't more important than they are, except that your job is more important than they are."
"Trying to tell them I have the weight of the world on my shoulders, every day, and I don't want to burden them with it," Josh sighs. "That's it."
"That's it," Sam nods. He takes a french fry off Josh's plate.
"I can't do it anymore," Josh says. "They don't understand."
Josh peers into the black of his coffee. "Yeah," he says. "Women don't understand."
Sam shakes his head. "I don't think that's what it is."
"I don't think it's women who don't understand. I think it's the rest of the world. Anyone who isn't you, or me, or Toby or CJ or Leo. Anyone who doesn't come to work in the morning with our special breed of arrogance. Anyone who doesn't genuinely believe they can change the world."
"Yeah," Josh agrees, thinking about the article.
"Your thing with women is different, I think," Sam says. "They are amazing. They face problems we only write about They overcome obstacles with a kind of grace that puts me in absolute awe. And so you believe it gives them...it gives them a kind of credibility. You're a white guy from Connecticut, Josh. You're a liberal Democrat. I think that part of you wishes you could take on some of their oppression, share it out, shoulder that weight along with the rest of it all. And not just for them. But for you. To make you feel more significant, somehow. More real."
It hurts. "And they're beautiful," Josh says.
"Beautiful on top of it, beautiful because of it," Sam agrees. "Women are amazing."
"And I'm an asshole," Josh laughs.
"No," Sam shakes his head. "You're not. You're just learning."
"Well, anyway, I'm not the person I thought I was," Josh says, sullenly.
Sam purses his lips. "Maybe not," he says. "Maybe you're a better person."
"Maybe," Josh is dubious.
"Tell me this," Sam says. "Do you care about things? Does the work we do bring you rallying to your feet saying yes, yes, I want to do right by this world, and I want to do it now?"
Josh feels something tighten in his chest. He imagines this is what crying must be like; he vaguely remembers crying. His eyes are dry. "Always," he says, and his voice snaps a little.
"And tell me this," Sam says. "Do you want to fall in love?"
"No," Josh says, and it surprises him. "I can't."
"Good," Sam says. "Then don't. So you don't call the women back. You're still who you are. They're still part of you. And until then, Josh, you've got me."
There's something behind that, in Sam's words. Josh feels around and it scares him. There are questions there, but they're for another time, not here in this roadhouse with the coffee getting cold and Josh only barely remembering what it's like to cry.
"Man, you're good," Josh says, cracking a smile. And there's something behind that too, but Sam just smiles back.
"I'm a writer," Sam says.
Josh finishes his cold coffee, tries another french fry. A car squeals out of the parking lot and the red of the taillights cut across the frosted restaurant window. The snow is coming down fatter and slower than before, the flakes hovering in space, defying physics. A world of snow, outside, and Josh in here, with Sam, who picks up the check before Josh can slap his hand away.
"We're all fuckups," Josh says, clearing his throat, feeling awake and aware and better. "I'm a weak sonofabitch who can't even cry."
"You're amazing and brilliant," Sam says, in a rare display. "You're just scared. We're all scared."
"Yeah," Josh says. "We're all fuckups."
Sam shakes his head while he digs around for his credit card. "Nah," he says, smiling with half his mouth. "We're just all women."
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