Title: A Bluer Ocean http://subtractions.homestead.com/abluerocean1.html
Feedback email: email@example.com
Archive: Yes to list archives
Disclaimer: Characters are the creation and property of Aaron Sorkin. No copyright infringement is intended.
Summary: It was the first time she'd allowed herself to imagine them. Sam and her son.
Notes: Profuse and endless thanks to amerella I'll follow you anywhere.
A Bluer Ocean by Abigale
Miriam Lyman heard her son's voice long before the crown of hair appeared above the heads of the other disembarking passengers.
"Seriously, no more commercial flying, not until we are officially out of office!"
His dress slacks hung low on his hips, thin, bony; too thin, her boy. *His* boy, solid and healthy looking, much to her surprise.
"Mom!" Arms wrapped around her firmly, lifting her right off her feet, as she used to lift him. Twirling around, and she put a hand to her head.
"Let me down, Josh! Oh my!" Her feet felt the floor beneath her, but her heart was still spinning in her chest. "Let me look at you; let me see you both now." She pressed a dry hand to Josh's face, gave one reaffirming pat. He was real.
"And Sam." Miriam turned to face him, but he was already looking around, efficiently taking in his surroundings. "It's so, I'm so pleased...."
He bent towards her formally, and his lips brushed over the cheek she offered. His eyes were bluer than she ever remembered, and she couldn't envision having them looking at her for too long; they seemed to slash right through her.
It was the first time she'd allowed herself to imagine them. Sam and her son.
Their motions were unsynchronized. Josh set down his bag just in front of Sam, who scuffed it, and had to hop-skip around. They failed twice to capture their luggage as it swept past on the conveyer belt, and Miriam wondered how they'd ever managed to figure themselves out. She knew—had listened to Josh's confession—he hadn't a clue. She didn't ask about Sam.
But their voices flowed together seamlessly, and within moments she knew she would have trouble telling them apart, if one hadn't been her own child.
"Yehoshua, dear. Where's your jacket?" His tie was limp, twisted, and striped with unfashionably fat bars of red and blue.
"Packed," he answered with distraction, signaling Sam to block the progress of his suitcase while he stalked behind it.
"It'll be ruined!" Miriam scolded, all the while eyeing Sam's casually wrinkled chinos and his still-crisp gray chambray pinstripe shirt. She couldn't quite understand it, but she felt somehow annoyed by the contrast with her son.
Luggage rescued, car located, air conditioner turned on to quiet Josh's complaints, Miriam allowed Josh to drive, heading towards her rambler. She watched out the window as the sun-faded buildings glowed, their color saturated by dusk's flame.
Josh prattled on about their trip, the flight, the food, the crowds. She noticed his eyes flicker to the rearview mirror almost compulsively; searching for and finding Sam over and over.
She was shocked that he remembered the way home. Until he admitted that Sam had printed out directions from the internet, and Josh had studied them on the plane. "The internet?" she said to no one in particular, as the men lifted the bags from the trunk. "Don't they sell maps anymore?"
Inside, a cool and steady 68 degrees greeted them, stale potpourri scentless in a crystal bowl by the door. Without looking in that direction, Miriam told Josh to take their bags to the room; the second room, the 'guest' room. Smoothing down her silver-white hair, she excused herself to freshen up, not looking back.
"You have a dock?" Sam asked, when she joined them on the lanai.
She remembered then that Sam sailed or something, and Miriam scolded herself for not making arrangements to borrow a friend's boat for their visit.
"An acquaintance from my bridge club owns a motor boat of some sort," she said. "I can't imagine why I didn't think to ask him." She was tempted to tell Josh to stop tapping his foot, stop rapping his fingers against his thigh.
"Please, I wouldn't want you to go to any trouble," Sam said, though she could see the hint of interest in those eyes. His body seemed to be leaning towards the water as if he was being drawn there, but too polite to dash down the path without an invitation.
"Why don't you take a look, Sam? Just about now is when the manatee like to come by. You could feed them," Miriam suggested, watched as Sam's eyes cut over to Josh. "Just let me get you some lettuce." Heading back into the house, she spoke to Josh over her shoulder, enticing him to follow.
"I'd enjoy a nice gin and tonic, to cool off. I know you like your beer, but I thought maybe tonight you might join me?" Her eyebrows quirked up in anticipation.
"Sure," Josh answered hesitantly. "That sounds great, Mom. Sam?" He smiled at the dark-haired man, who remained where he stood on the lanai.
"Uh, sure," Sam agreed, his hands brushing over the pockets of his pants; lingering, then dropping to his sides.
She could see him, as she stood in front of the pass-through window above the sink, watched him bend to examine a plant by the wall; look up at the sky through the screened roof. Miriam measured out an extra dollop of gin in her own glass, then handed them to Josh to fill with tonic that sizzled when it hit the ice.
They returned to the lanai, with glasses and a plastic container filled with torn, limp leaves of lettuce. "Just sprinkle a few across the water, and they'll come to you in good time, Sam. There's been a family," Miriam turned to tell Josh. "A little baby started showing up a few weeks ago."
Sitting on stiff green and white striped cushioned chairs, Miriam and Josh watched Sam make his way down the sloping path to the canal's edge. The fading light made it difficult for Miriam to make him out clearly but Josh looked on, not squinting, a small, faint smile gracing his thin lips.
His ice cubes shifted when Josh took a sip of his drink, nearly spilling down his chin. "This is great, Ma," he told her, reaching out a hand to settle over one of her own. "It's great to see you." Lifting her hand to his mouth, he pressed it to his lips.
They made plans to go out for dinner at a casual café up in the shopping district known as the 'Square'. A short walk, but they'd drive, a concession to the length of Miriam's day and Josh's petulance.
"Sam would probably rather walk," Josh explained conspiratorially to his mother. "After being on the plane and all. We'll just let him think it's farther than it is, okay?" He winked at Miriam, and she tried to remember the last time he shared a secret with her.
Before this new one he brought home with him.
"Josh!" Sam's voice was a quiet shout, curiously boyish. "They're here!"
Josh joined Sam on the small dock, and they stood shoulder to shoulder, staring down into the gray-green water. Sam's head moved back and forth, following the lazy progress of the swimming behemoths, ghostly below them, but Josh's head tilted up frequently to look at Sam, that same smile in place that Miriam had noticed on the lanai.
Josh left Sam to continue pitching the curling leaves of lettuce onto the gently drifting current and returned to his seat by Miriam's side. He sighed heavily as he sat. "Oh god, Mom; I hope you have a *lot* of lettuce," Josh said without further explanation.
His hair had retreated another few centimeters she decided, studying him by the blazing decorative torch he'd insisted on lighting. She remembered a picture she'd cut out from a magazine, though she didn't normally keep such disposable souvenirs of her son's many accomplishments.
Toby Zeigler stood blurry but unmistakable in the background, while Sam and Josh were sharply in focus front and center. She'd stared at the photograph for a long time, making careless comparisons among all three men. Josh's hair, bushy and tinged with red, the same muddy color of his suit. Toby, so much skin punctuated by nearly black hair, neatly trimmed and distinguished.
Sam, perfect in every way.
That was back when they'd first entered the White House, flush with pride and purpose. The picture was tucked away between the pages of Josh's copy of President Bartlet's inauguration speech; a Mother's Day gift from Josh. Even back then he'd told her Sam was brilliant, but she thought he meant as a writer.
Out of the darkness, Sam seemed to materialize; conjured. He swung the empty container in one hand, carrying his nearly full drink in the other. His limbs were loose and limber, but she felt a sense of heightened-awareness about him that made her equally conscious of Josh, sprawled boneless beside her.
"So, you made new friends already," Josh teased as Sam stood before them, in front of the only two chairs on that side of the lanai. "And no, you can't bring them home with us," Josh added in a mockingly stern tone.
Miriam sat watching as the two men exchanged silent looks, lightning fast flashes of understanding crackling between them. Rising from her chair, she held a hand out to Sam, who stared back uncomprehendingly.
"I'll take the Tupperware, Sam. Then, I'm just going to get ready to go." She left Josh to explain their plans to Sam.
"Her breasts are gelatinous!" Sam said, choking down his laughter. When he looked up, linking eyes with a returning Miriam, the chuckle died of strangulation in his throat. "Oh." He rose from the table, signaling Josh to do the same.
"Ma!" Josh had barely cleared the seat before he was firmly parked in it again. "Sam was... we were just, uh, the bartender." His eyes swung to his left, towards the amply endowed, and obviously braless redhead mopping the bar with vigor. "I was saying they must be... she must have gotten...."
Miriam waved off her son's discomfort, and summoned a wicked grin. "You live down here long enough, and you can spot the fakes a hundred yards off." She sipped at her cocktail, ordered in place of the beers the men were having. "Sam's right." A nod towards the young man brought a relieved smile to his lips.
They ate fish, all three. Miriam had thought that Sam was a vegetarian somehow, an idea that made her son laugh out loud, and Sam mumble something about hormones and antibiotics. Josh ate Sam's cauliflower, tilting the plate so they slid off into his potato.
Over coffee, Miriam snickered, throwing a hand over her mouth, when Josh tried to relate some nearly foiled attempt he'd made at securing a House vote for a bill that someone - bestowing a proud smile on Sam - had discovered contained a potentially calamitous misspelling.
"I shouldn't have had another drink," she said by way of an excuse, but really she was so delighted to have her son there. "When your father and I would sit on the patio with cocktails, I could always manage two. Now...." She swept her hair from her cheek. "I really should limit myself."
Josh's eyes lit up at the mention of his father, which in fact was her intention. He had Noah's eyes, and through them, she could see back into the life they used to share.
"Is someone following us, Sam?" Josh kidded when he kept looking behind them on the drive home.
"No, I just... didn't realize how close the Square was to the house."
Josh lobbed a knowing grin his mother's way. "Do you want to get out and walk the rest of the way?" Josh suggested. It was a long moment before Sam answered no.
It was still early, by Washington insider standards, but Miriam felt sleepy from the alcohol and the excitement and the look Josh gave Sam every time the younger man turned his head away.
She pointed out the pile of fresh towels - twice the amount she'd put out for Josh's last visit - in the bathroom by the guest room, and as Sam walked down to the dock for one last check for wildlife, she showed Josh where the coffee was, at his request.
"Uh, Mom, this is decaf," he pointed out, sniffing at the can.
Miriam busied herself with the tap, waiting for it to run cold. "Yes?" She glanced at him, and realized he was frowning. "Yes, Josh. I don't drink real coffee anymore. Do you really need to stay up tonight?" She didn't understand the deepening frown at all, not until she saw him glance through the small window at the shadow figure on the dock.
Josh replaced the lid on the coffee can and set it back down. "Ya know what? I think maybe I'll just have a beer. And I'm going to put this in the cabinet, is that okay?" he asked, avoiding her puzzlement. He shut the can away, and stepped around her to the refrigerator, trailing a hand across her shoulders as he passed.
"Josh? Are you *hiding* the coffee from Sam?" Miriam asked with amusement.
Josh looked as if he'd been caught in the act of something, and his mouth opened and closed a few fruitless times before he forced out the words. "Sam, Sam doesn't drink decaf, Mom." He lowered his voice, as if afraid it would carry through the window, across the lanai, down the slope and find Sam, staring contentedly up at the starry sky. "I'll figure something out in the morning, while you distract him," he said.
She couldn't tell if he was joking or not; there was a concerned furrow between his brows, but his eyes may have been teasing. She used to be able to tell, but now it seemed every time he spoke Sam's name his eyes did a little dance.
She was too tired now to wait for Sam to come back to the house, so Miriam kissed Josh on the cheek three times, fast, and patted his chest with an open hand. "You sleep well, my Yehoshua," she said, smiling at him. "Say goodnight to Sam for me, will you?"
Josh swept his arms around her thin frame and squeezed tightly, resting his face against the side of her head. "I will. You sleep well too, Ma."
Miriam slid out of his arms and left the kitchen, with one last look out the window in the direction of the water.
After her nighttime rituals were complete, she climbed into bed, a place that always felt as if it was gaping and wide open, no matter how many years passed. A book sat on the bedside table, and she looked at it a good long time before sighing, and reaching out for it.
A few chapters might put her to sleep, or engage her mind enough to keep her up another two hours, and that was one of the things she loved so about reading in bed. As she tried and failed to focus her eyes on the words, she become conscious that her body was far more tired than her mind, and she slapped the cover closed with a resounding snap.
Had she told the boys that she no longer bothered setting the security alarm? Or mentioned that the thermostat would kick the temperature down even lower overnight? She couldn't recall, but kept assuring herself it didn't matter.
Switching off the lamp, Miriam sat in the dark, eyes adjusting slowly until everything softened to a hazy half-reality, the larger objects in the room massed along the walls, the details of them lost until morning.
The newspaper, she realized with a start! That was what she had meant to tell them. If they arose before her, which was likely, she knew the first thing they would do would be to stumble to the front door to retrieve the paper.
And she had meant to warn Josh that it might not be there. She had intended to tell him in private, because she was slightly ashamed, and it warmed her face thinking of it even now. Feuding with a paper boy at her age! She *should* be ashamed, but her feelings were tinged with satisfaction, too, that it had fallen to her to stare down the bully. It was she that her neighbors turned to when the pimply man willfully dropped his delivery at the end of poor arthritic Mr. Reinhold's driveway, or purposefully smacked the thick logs of newsprint up against the doors of the homes he knew housed excitable dogs.
So Josh should know, Miriam thought as she climbed out from under the covers. He shouldn't panic if there was no paper waiting for him, it would show up eventually.
The kitchen light was off, and the family room was lit only by the bluish glow of the muted television. She saw no one on the sofa, or in the comfortable chair near it, or even at the dining table in the center of that end of the house.
But the sliding glass door was open, just a flimsy screen between the cool air inside and the damp air out.
Could Sam *still* be down by the water, this late? Miriam shook her head sharply at the thought that she had neglected to show him where she kept the mosquito repellent, fearful that by tomorrow he'd be made miserable and cranky by the bites.
There was movement, just as she reached the entry to the dark lanai. Her heart jumped in her chest, but she reminded herself that of course she wasn't alone; her son was here, come to visit her. And he'd brought Sam with him; his Sam was here as well.
That was who she saw now, but it wasn't who was moving. Sam stood in the middle of the lanai, turned almost fully towards the canal. It was Josh who was in motion, murmuring something low that she couldn't make out.
When Josh got to Sam he stood behind him, and reached around front with a bottle, slipping it into the waiting hand. Then, bending his head down, Josh placed a kiss on the back of Sam's neck, lingering a moment before regaining his posture.
Miriam felt the brush of something against the back of her own neck, and brought a disbelieving hand up to touch the spot. She watched, enraptured, as Sam tilted his head back, offering himself to Josh. She could just make out an enigmatic smile on his lips in the light cast by the moon.
Josh stepped to his left slightly, and dipped his head, grazing his lips over the exposed throat, which elicited a faint groan from one of them. Miriam saw Sam's shoulders rise as if welcoming a deep breath into his lungs, and he tipped his head even more.
As Josh came around in front of Sam, Miriam stepped into the shadows without thinking. He nearly faced her way, and she could distinguish his features better than she would have thought possible in the poor light.
Maybe it was the heightened sense she was experiencing that made everything appear so clear. She thought she could smell the beer on their breath and hear the tiny little gasping sounds Sam made every time Josh touched his throat with his lips.
Both of Josh's hands came into sight, going to either side of Sam's face. And that's when they kissed.
Stealing back to her room, Miriam wasn't aware of the hand across her mouth holding the breath in her chest, or the tears clouding her eyes, or the thrum in her head. She was only aware that her son was in love with the handsome young man with the china-blue eyes.
When Miriam had bought the little house by the bridge, she knew it might be the last home she'd ever know. It was narrow, but deep, and the layout suited her well. The light was at the back, which was where she tended to dwell.
Morning sun drenched the happy yellow kitchen, mostly through the side door and window next to the refrigerator, but a small amount trickled in the smaller pass-through above the sink.
Turning the corner into the kitchen, this was where Miriam found Sam, staring through the porthole size glass at the canal in off-white shorts and a snug heather gray tee-shirt.
"Good morning, Sam," she chirped. "On the lookout for your new friends already?" She saw him start and blush a little at her observation.
"Good morning, Miriam!" He took an elaborate step away from the sink, as though making way for her to pass. "Josh is taking a shower," he told her as he went to the table and sat.
"I see you found the...." The coffeepot was generously full, and its fragrance filled her nostrils. But in Sam's hand was a large cardboard cup, with the unmistakable sleeve from the bakery at the edge of the Square circling it. Miriam stared at it pointedly. "Did you go for coffee?" she asked incredulously.
Sam swallowed his mouthful quickly and licked his lips. "Um. Yes, I, I noticed last night that there was a place... I noticed you only had... There wasn't a paper, so I walked up to get one, and there was this coffee place, and...." He looked at his cup miserably, then up at her apologetically.
Miriam chuckled lightly. "Josh warned me about you and coffee. I'm sorry I didn't have some on hand for you." She reached for a mug that hung under the counter, and poured a steaming helping of the aromatic brew. Sam relaxed back into his seat, and watched her carefully. "Did you make this?" she asked when his gaze became discomforting.
"I hope it's not too strong," he said in a tone suggesting that he suspected it was. "Old habits."
"That was very thoughtful of you," she told him, pouring in a quarter inch of cream. She joined Sam at the table, and sipped carefully before smiling at him. "It's perfect," she informed him, and watched him beam.
Every section of the newspaper was separated, as if they'd each been gone through systematically. There was a small notepad next to them, filled with piles of words and hieroglyphic symbols. "It looks like you've been getting some work done." She waved her mug at the pad to indicate what she meant.
"And I was just about to throw that away before Josh came in," Sam explained, actually ripping the page away and balling it in his fist. "We had to make certain concessions to one another to make this trip," he admitted.
Miriam was curious. She wanted to know how these two negotiated the treacherous waters of a relationship, obviously deeply meaningful to them, yet also fraught with dangers she couldn't bring herself to imagine.
Miriam was an educated and liberal woman, but she still believed that good relationships worked because a balance of power had been accomplished. And for the life of her, she couldn't see how two men would ever be able to figure out how to do that.
"Are you hungry, dear?" she asked as she slid the front page around to look at the headline. Drought; and an assassination attempt in the Middle East. Nothing to keep her from fixing Sam some breakfast.
She busied herself above his protests, insisting that she'd stocked the refrigerator with so much food, she'd be eating it all for weeks if he didn't help. She had planned for Josh's first morning to be special. Removing a thick slice of Canadian bacon from the meat drawer, Miriam saw Sam's eyes widen, and she laughed with delight. "Can you feel your arteries closing already?" she joked, and Sam gulped before smiling back.
The eggs were poaching, the asparagus was steaming, the English muffins were toasting while Hollandaise sauce simmered away, and Sam had just poured Miriam another cup of coffee when Josh stumbled in wearing navy shorts and a white tee-shirt. He grinned widely at the sights and smells that met him.
"Hey, favorite people," he greeted them. "I hate feeling left out." Sam splashed some coffee into a mug for him, and topped his own cup off.
"Your mother is trying to fatten me up," Sam complained mildly. "No doubt you're next," he added with a mock frown, and an evaluating eye-crawl down Josh's torso.
Josh cuffed Sam gently on the back, and kissed his mother fully on the lips, and Miriam felt happy and warm to have so much life in her kitchen.
The boys ate double portions of eggs benedict, and Miriam found a jar of solidified instant coffee which she mocked Sam with. They drank orange juice made from her own trees, and Sam distilled the news into easy-to-swallow sound bites, which he fed Josh along with his breakfast.
"I'll pay you $5,000 to say that to Toby's face!" Josh dared after Sam disagreed with the wording of a White House press release on welfare.
"You don't *have* $5,000," Sam shot back around a mouthful of asparagus. "And if you don't let me do something about your finances, you'll *be* on welfare by the time you're fifty."
After being shooed from her kitchen so the boys could clean up, Miriam took her third cup of coffee into the family room and settled into the easy chair. The open floor plan allowed her to listen in on the conversation between the two men, which dropped suspiciously at one point, and was followed by a fit of loaded laughter.
They decided to spend the morning at a craft festival before lunch at the marina where they'd meet Miriam's friend, Thomas. He'd generously offered to hand over the keys to his 5.82 meter Bénéteau flyer for the next day or so.
In front of a lemonade stand, after an hour under the relentless Florida sun, Sam clamped his cap down on Josh's head and ordered him to keep it on. "No more kidding around Josh. You just don't have enough up there to keep your scalp from burning."
"But I look like - "
"You're the best-looking guy here, and you'll continue to be until you're all pink and peeling, at which time - "
"Sam's right, dear; listen to Sam - "
"You'll be gross, and your mom and I will pretend we don't know you."
"Sam's right, Yehoshua," Miriam agreed, suppressing a grin at both Josh's alarmed expression, and Sam's earnestness. She had never been able to make Josh do anything to keep himself safe, but Sam seemed to have the knack.
They watched jugglers, and agreed that the children's chorus was adorable. Sam bought crafted souvenirs for everyone back at the West Wing, and Josh found a carved stand with tiny holes drilled into it for Donna to store her pierced earrings on.
Sam ate an oyster sandwich while sharing a beer with Josh, insisting that it wouldn't put a damper on his appetite, but when they sat at a shaded table overlooking the boat slips, he wrinkled his nose at the plentiful platters the waiters kept carrying by, and only ordered a small Caesar salad and stole all of Josh's French fries.
When Thomas found them at the table finishing their ice teas, he handed the keys to Sam, and gave minimal instructions, spending most of his ten minute visit speaking to Miriam about the weather and some common acquaintances.
She saw Josh, out of the corner of her eye, appraising the older gentleman. It tickled her to see something like jealousy there. If Sam hadn't been with them, as they walked down the pier to the boat, she might have taunted him a little with the fact that she and Thomas went to the movies together once in awhile and had dinner occasionally.
That wasn't a conversation for company, though.
Out on the water, aqua and clear and splashing against the hull, Sam puttered around the cockpit for a few minutes before turning his wide-open smile on Miriam. "Ready to take her out?" he asked with a mischievous gleam.
"I do like to go fast," she told him, ignoring the skeptical look on Josh's face.
Sam's shirt came off, he donned the cap he'd bought at the fair to replace the one given to Josh, and then they were off.
Between frequent checks with Miriam, Sam executed some sweeping turns that sent them flying over the small wakes left by other craft. She shrieked with joy when they came down sideways against one, sending plumes of water across her legs.
Josh held tightly, first to Sam's hips, where he stood at the controls, then to the back of his seat when Sam sat down.
"Are you trying to kill us?!" Josh yelled over the motor, the wind, and his mother's laughter.
"Yes," Sam deadpanned. "That's exactly what I'm going for."
They tooled around appraising the other boats, rating the different creamy white beaches, and listening to Sam's lecture on how well the little flyer handled.
Miriam felt secure in Sam's seamanship, so she adjusted her brimmed hat before kicking off her shoes and stretching her legs along the padded bench seat. The sound of Sam and Josh's comfortable chatter became background to the gulls and the sea, and the rocking motion lulled her mind into a dreamy daze.
The sun began to grow larger in the sky, as it started its descent into the west. Replacing his shirt, Sam engaged in a quiet discussion with Josh, who turned to address his mother.
"So, we're dropping you off at the marina, and then bringing the boat to the house, right?" he confirmed.
"If you're confident you can follow the maps," Miriam said, legs still extended across the seat. "I'm stopping on the way to pick up a few things, but I'm sure I'll still make it home before you. I'll have some nice gin and tonics waiting," she said by way of enticement.
"Make Sam's vodka," Josh suggested.
"Oh." Miriam suddenly remembered how Sam had come back from the dock the night before with his drink unfinished. "You don't care for gin?" she asked, already trying to recall if she had a decent vodka at home.
"Gin's fine," Sam said, shooting what could have been an admonishing look at Josh. His eyes were unreadable behind the dark glasses. "I just developed a taste for vodka when I lived in New York and dated a Russian." His words were taunting, and clearly directed at Josh.
"Was he a Communist?" Miriam wanted to know. She thought that would have been ironic, and exotic, and difficult for Sam to explain during his FBI vetting.
"She was not," he said flatly.
She watched Josh nod his head, and squint up at Sam. "You know where we're going?" he asked. "I'm not getting lost in the wilderness."
Sam laughed. "Not if you stay with me, you won't."
They slid gracefully up to the pier, where Josh firmly took hold of Miriam's arm to help her disembark. She took their bags of purchases with her, and started up the gangplank, looking over her shoulder to see the two men watching her ascent. "You go on now!" she shouted. "I'll see you two at home." It felt like the most natural thing in the world to say.
She knew light in this house as well as she knew her own face. So when Miriam awoke to see a slice of faded luminosity under her door, she knew someone was up. She wasn't the least bit surprised to find Sam, sitting on the sofa with his glasses on and a hardcover book in his hands.
He sat sideways, one leg extending across the sofa, the other ankle tucked under his leg. He wore a pair of thin, loose, jersey knit shorts and a plain white tee-shirt. When she came around in front of him, she recognized it as the one Josh had worn earlier; there was a small splatter of strawberry topping near the neck.
"God, Miriam! Did I wake you up?" he asked in a nervous whisper.
She pressed him back into his seat with a pat of her hand. "I'm just looking for some water," she said. But her actions belied the truth, and she sat in her recliner. "Can't you sleep, dear?" She sounded like a concerned mother, she realized.
Sam manufactured a slim smile and shook his head.
"And what are you reading?" she asked, leaning forward a little to gain a glimpse at the title.
Sam placed the book face down on his lap, and removed his glasses. "Just a dry political biography," he said.
"That you can't put down," Miriam finished for him.
He looked at her sheepishly through his lashes. "It's a bio on various cabinet members through the years. When I get back I have to write an address for a ceremony dedicating a statue to those who have served their presidents." He raised the book slowly to show her the lurid cover. "Josh thinks it's a thriller, so don't you dare say anything," he confessed.
Miriam stifled a laugh. "One of the concessions you had to make to come down?" she guessed.
"And Josh is only supposed to call Leo four times a day. We'll just pretend the dozen calls to Donna don't count." His voice was soft and low, and he said it with a wink.
Miriam returned his wink, and shook her head once to seal the deal. She saw him visibly settle back and relax, his eyes sweeping through the shadows until they lay on a framed photograph sitting next to the lamp.
"This is you?" Sam asked, picking it up.
"With my babies."
"Some gams you've got, Miriam," Sam said in awe.
She felt her face blush a little, and that made her blush more. "I was a looker, alright."
Sam put down the photograph carefully. "I didn't use the past tense," he pointed out. "You must have Thomas wrapped around your finger."
Her mouth dropped open, but she snapped it shut quickly. "Well. You don't miss much, do you?" she asked.
Sam's eyes fell to his hands, and he looked uncomfortable. "I'm sorry. I didn't mean to pry. Usually I'm much more oblivious to things. I felt like bragging a little that I picked up on it."
Miriam chuckled at his discomfort. "You weren't prying, Sam. We're not keeping it a secret or anything." Not from our friends, anyway, she neglected to add.
Sam slipped a bookmark between the pages and set the book to the side. The silence drew out, until Miriam was sure she should say something, but he spoke first.
"Why do you suppose they come into the canals?" he asked. He looked younger than she knew him to be; sad and curious and wearing her son's shirt, stained with strawberries. "Why would they come into the canals, when they have all that brilliant blue ocean out there for the asking?"
His wistfulness wrenched her soul, and she tried mightily to think of an answer. Not the kind she might have picked up in a lecture attended on a rainy Saturday at the Marine Life Center. But something that would satisfy a man like Sam, and would put his heart to rest.
He looked at her solemnly, but resigned.
"Maybe they can't see the color," she offered, feeling as if she'd failed him somehow.
"Then the ocean should be bluer, so they can't miss it."
She opened her mouth to reply, even as she realized she had nothing to say to that, when Josh appeared out of the gloom, behind Sam.
"What, what are you guys doing out here?" he asked in a sleep-ravaged voice, a perplexed expression on his face.
Wordlessly, Sam picked up his book and waved it in the air, his back to the intruding voice.
Josh turned his attention to Miriam. "Mom?"
"I was just passing through," she said, getting to her feet. "And you?" she asked as she stretched her arms.
"I came to take him back to bed." Josh stepped closer, and tapped Sam on the head.
Signaling his surrender with a sigh, Sam rose and tucked his book under his arm. He bid goodnight to Miriam again and strolled back to the guestroom guided by Josh's hand.
"Fine, I guess," Josh said, leaning against the kitchen counter. He plucked a melon ball from the bowl in front of Miriam and popped it in his mouth. "I was pretty zonked, but I think he stayed put for the rest of the night." He ran his finger over the curved edge of the counter. "Didn't have much to say this morning, though," he said quietly.
Miriam hadn't seen Sam yet, but knew he was awake and huddled away in the bedroom on his computer. He'd made his coffee, and emptied it into a carafe, then brewed some decaf.
"Will he be much longer? I wouldn't want the bacon to get hard." With a sigh, Miriam washed off her hands and began preparing the French toast, bathed in golden egg and dusted with cinnamon. The smell must have draw Sam away from his work, because he came into the room with his nose waving in the air.
"That looks *amazing,*" he exclaimed at the browning slices in the skillet. "I know how to do that. How come I never do that?" he asked in Josh's direction.
They ate quickly, devouring every helping Miriam placed on their plates, draining both pots of coffee. Josh was anxious to get going, bouncing on the balls of his feet as Sam and his mother began to make careful plans for the day.
"We're going to the beach!" Josh interrupted. "Towel. Sunscreen. Frisbee. We really don't need to turn this into a Sit Room op," he whined.
Miriam shooed him away, and showed Sam where she kept the old wicker picnic basket in the garage. She filled it with snacks and frozen bottles of water and went to gather her own beach supplies.
It was the whoop that brought her out of her room. She looked out the back of the house and saw Josh, doing an embarrassing little dance on the dock, arms flailing in the air, hips shimmying back and forth.
"Miriam." Sam's voice was in her ear, a disbelieving whisper. "It's them." She turned to face him, not altogether sure he was real. But he was. Real and smiling, his eyes sparkling like cut crystal. "Mother and child, and no injuries." He held the bag of lettuce in one hand, and with the other he gently took her wrist and walked with her down to the water.
Josh's hands kept running over Sam, petting him and squeezing his arm tightly. Every few minutes he'd break away, and come to Miriam's side where she stood over the dark, roving creatures below, dropping bits of green leafy lettuce in their path.
"I told him," Josh said to her so Sam couldn't hear. "God, if there was one thing I could change about him...." He left the thought hanging, and Miriam tried to think of a way to get him to finish it, when Josh dashed away again to watch Sam toss more romaine to his friends.
She caught Sam smiling broadly at her, nodding his head as if in shared agreement. "You're right, Miriam," he said as they walked back to the house. "There are lots of old scars on the mom, but she seems remarkably healthy. For, you know, an animal I wouldn't recognize as being healthy or on its deathbed." His lopsided grin brought one to her own lips, and she linked her arm in his.
His reaction struck her as oddly unexpected when Sam realized they wanted to take the boat to the beach. "No. Uh uh," he balked, setting the picnic basket down. "I can't. Really, I'm sorry. But if Thomas could come get it, I'll drive his car back and everything. I just... I can't take it through the canals again," he affirmed.
Josh attempted to make an analogy to getting back on the horse, but Miriam saw the anxiety rising in Sam and became annoyed at Josh's heavy-handed cajoling.
"Stop it, Josh," she demanded when Sam left them to check in with the Marine Life Center.
They drove to a long, wide, white beach. Trudging through the floury sand, the threesome moved past the snack bar where children flocked for icy treats, and away from the changing rooms. Miriam spoke up finally, reminding them that wherever they walked to, they would need to walk back from, and so the men stopped in place, declaring that it had been their preferred destination all along.
Sam spiked Miriam's umbrella into the sand while Josh snapped her beach chair into order, and they sat looking out at the water, bathing in the sun and a salty breeze.
"Where's your hat, Josh?" Sam asked after glancing at his friend.
Josh held it out in front of him. "It keeps blowing off."
Sam adjusted the back of the hat for Josh, and handed it back with a flourish. "No excuses," he said, and then accepted a bottle of sunscreen from Miriam.
They sat on a blanket at Miriam's side, its corners weighted down by books and towels and the picnic basket, which Josh was already rummaging through.
"Yehoshua," Miriam said while struggling out of her chair. "I'd like to take a little walk down the beach."
Josh looked at Sam, hesitating a moment before he rose. "We'll come too," he said, quirking his eyebrows at Sam. "Lead the way, Mom."
She saw Sam purse his lips together, drawing them into a thin line. He was a perceptive one, she thought, despite what he'd said the night before. He remained seated, and squinted up at them after removing his sunglasses. "You know, I'm just getting to a really exciting part in my book," he said to Josh, aiming a conspiratorial smile at Miriam. "You and your mom should go."
She and Josh walked off to the North, cutting down to where the temperate water licked at their feet. "I wish..." Miriam began, already feeling self-conscious of the sentimentality she heard in her voice, "I wish you didn't have to go back tomorrow," she finished. "It's been such a short visit. I feel as if you just got here." She accepted Josh's arm, and stepped in closer to him so their hips bumped with each step.
"Mom, I can't tell you how much it's meant to me, your letting me bring Sam." He sounded awed, as if he'd expected her to argue. "It's important to me that you get to know him. And, you know, get to see us together, I suppose."
It was important to her as well, to see him happy. What mother wouldn't want that for her child? She looked at him, arms tinted pink from the sun, curls poking out from under his Laker's cap. Looking every bit the boy she'd raised and the man he'd become.
Josh smiled placidly at the water. "I want to ask you something." He dug his toes into a hill of sea foam, until they disappeared. "Do you think Dad would have liked Sam?"
It was the last thing she expected Josh to say, and she tried to conceal her surprise by bending down for an ocean-worn shell that lay in her path.
"I know he liked him when he met him," Josh continued as he waited for his mother to start moving. "But he didn't know then. Well, none of us did." His voice was tinged with a mild wonder that brought Miriam's gaze back to him. "What do you think he would have said?" he wanted to know.
She couldn't walk another step. It was as if something hulking stood in her path, a bulky, unwieldy truth she didn't know how to negotiate around. If she pushed it, it pushed back, and she was too old to fight with something she couldn't see. But trying to ignore it felt like denying it existed, and she couldn't muster the courage to do that either.
She dropped her head and it shook back and forth where it hung. Oh, Josh. "Your father loved you very much, Yehoshua," she told him, bringing her head up to look at him. "You were everything he had left, he said. His pride in you was boundless, and nothing would have changed that. It was so much a part of him, that love he fed off. You do know that, I know you do."
It sounded as if she were pleading, and in a way, she decided, she was. She wanted Josh to remember the courage his father had shown facing his own mortality, and the fierceness he displayed all his life while fighting for the things he believed in.
"So, you think he'd be okay with it." Josh was soliciting an answerer from her, but she didn't know if he wanted the truth.
He was Noah Lyman's son; of course he wanted it.
She cupped his cheek in her hand, and looked him in the eye. "I think it would have taken time, Josh. It may have taken him some time to accept this."
She saw the blow hit him, and then she watched as it was swept away by confusion. "Well, yeah," he hedged. "I realize it would be a shock. But he wouldn't have— I mean, Dad didn't have a fundamental problem with homosexuality," he declared defiantly.
Miriam took his hands in hers. "Your father was a good man, Josh. The exact same man you knew and loved. But he was a man of his age, and the father of a son— "
"He wasn't a hypocrite! He was a liberal Democrat, and he fought for civil rights!"
"Oh, Josh," she whispered sadly. "He was those things. And they informed who he was, but they didn't define him in a way that would make this a clear-cut issue. I doubt it is for any man, whatever his philosophy or politics." She watched as the pain of her words worked their way past his stubborn refusal to comprehend.
"I don't believe you," he snarled. "Dad, Dad was... he'd understand. He'd be completely behind me, like he was with everything I've ever wanted to do." Rubbing a fist into his eye, he turned away from her. "Why would you say something like this to me?" he asked with frustration.
Miriam brought her own hand to her face, and brushed the strands of silver hair from her cheek. "Josh, have you heard me? Have you listened to the answer I gave you?" She was feeling as unsteady as the terrain they stood on, sand shifting beneath her feet with every sweep of the waves. "I only said he would need some time— "
"My father was not a bigot!" Josh exploded, sending a stream of spittle from his lips. "He was an open-minded, compassionate man who lived what he believed," he continued, tears catching the rays of the strong Florida sun that beamed down on them. "He would have accepted me no matter *what,* and he would have been crazy about Sam, and he would have loved having two sons, two children again!"
Stepping away from him, Miriam let her legs give out and she dropped to the sand. She would have kept silent, but for Josh's hostile glare. "And I am glad he's not here for this," she said with conviction.
Josh's mouth fell open, and she heard him whimper. "How... could you say such a thing?" he hissed.
Looking South, Miriam couldn't make out where they'd left their things, but she pretended that a figure walking down to the water's edge was Sam; striding confidently, moving through the gentle waves without hesitation. If that was Sam, perhaps he would be able to guide Josh through this mess she'd created with the same certain assurance that man showed facing the Atlantic.
She reached her arm up, and beckoned to her son. "Please come sit, Yehoshua. I cannot look up at the sun like this." He remained where he was, the stricken expression still firmly in place. "I'll explain to you what I meant, if you'll come to me," she said in a quiet plea.
He hesitated, then came to her at last, but he wouldn't look at her, and that was all right. "You found that difficult to hear, but it was the truth nonetheless. I have no doubt that your father would come to accept both you and Sam, and I didn't mean to imply that he wouldn't. You must listen, Josh," she scolded lightly. "I never said he wouldn't, simply that it would take time. But this; *your* reaction. That would have killed your father, to hear that his beloved son would think him a bigot before giving him a chance to come to terms with something so unexpected."
She patted his leg in reproach. "*That* shows an intolerance your father never would have approved of, and seeing you react that way does make me glad that Noah isn't here to hear you."
She felt relieved. As his face turned to her, she saw all the regret Josh held, and she knew he was smarting. But the feeling she had went deeper than knowing her son was chastised.
It had only been Miriam there when she picked up the phone that night. It was she alone that heard her son haltingly tell her that he'd developed feelings for his old friend, Sam. And that Sam, he'd discovered, felt the same. There was no one she could turn to in her initial despair. There would be no balance to her response. If she showed her deep distress, there was no calm and supportive father to counter her flustered reaction.
So she'd stepped out of herself that night. She'd listened to Josh's nervous and excited disclosure, and agreed that yes, she had always liked Sam very much, and of course she understood, though how he thought any parent could mean that right after being told such a thing made her wonder about his acumen.
And now Josh would believe that it was only his father, long gone and unable to defend himself, that would have felt the sting of his disclosure. That was fine, Miriam decided, pulling her son into her arms. That was just fine with her.
Her Noah would have come to the same conclusion that she was forced to. They both loved their son with all their might, and would have fought their own initial fears together. She wasn't given the luxury of time though, because she'd be damned if she'd leave Josh out there all alone.
She honestly believed she would be damned for that.
Sam wasn't there when they got back to their towels. Shunning her beach chair, Miriam sat next to Josh on the blanket, holding his hand in hers until they saw Sam walking towards them from the ocean. Already golden from the sun, he smiled widely at them and broke into a jog, as Miriam looked at the appreciative glances that came Sam's way from women he passed.
"I've been trying like hell to come up with something else to compare it to other than bath water, but my brain must be as relaxed as the rest of me," he said when he reached them. Taking the towel Josh handed Sam, Miriam saw a questioning look flit across his face, and she scooted back to give him room to sit.
"I missed you," she heard Josh whisper to him, and watched as Sam blushed when Josh grazed a kiss across his shoulder. "Hey!" Sam reacted with surprise, but he blinked away his discomfort and rested his hand on Josh's calf.
They ate from the basket, and then tossed the Frisbee back and forth, Sam patiently teaching Miriam the technique for low, even throws. Pleading exhaustion, she sat down after fifteen minutes, and became the official scorekeeper for a game she couldn't quite figure out the purpose of.
Sam dragged Josh off to swim, but Miriam was content to have a few minutes alone, observing them from a distance.
Sam plowed through the modest breakers, beckoning Josh to follow. He dove beneath the surface, and her heart quickened when he didn't emerge right away. But he shot through the surf a moment later, laughing, shaking his face free of water, and Josh swam out to meet him.
As Miriam followed their antics in the advancing waves, she felt a tranquility that was only partly due to the steady rays of the comforting sun. Allowing the heat to penetrate through her body, she closed her eyes, and dozed off in the enveloping warmth.
They all napped off and on through the afternoon, nibbling on fruit or sandwiches, or the frozen Snickers bars Sam bought for each of them. They thought she was asleep, and she allowed them to, when Josh handed Sam a plum.
"Where's this been?" came Sam's voice. "It's all sticky."
"Are you accusing me of abusing the fruit?" Josh's slightly high-pitched voice answered.
"'Cause it sounded to me like you were suggesting I took liberties with the fruit."
She liked to hear them talk. Sometimes they would speak in a governmentese that sounded like strings of incomplete phrases, and as politically aware as she was, Miriam couldn't follow the threads. Other times, they joked and made awful puns and made each other laugh, and she'd laugh with them. And every so often Sam would have an entire conversation completely on his own.
The sun shifted away from their sight, climbing high in the sky before beginning to drop down behind them. Tentacles of sunlight reached through the palm trees to dapple their skin, and when the last of them retreated away, it was time to go.
The boat was gone when they got back. Sam looked stunned at first, then relieved. The note said Thomas had driven it away with a friend, and they were welcome to it any time they came back down.
Miriam gave Sam a handful of lettuce, before he even asked, and shoved him towards the dock. "Go on, and say hello for me," she encouraged him. "I have an old photograph I'd like you boys to take to Leo, if you would. I think he'd enjoy having it," she said, leaving Sam to his task.
When she emerged from her room with a crisply black and white photo of her husband and Leo McGarry standing together on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, she didn't see Sam at the water's edge, or in the family room.
The shower was running in the guest bath, and she assumed Josh was still in there, but looking into the bedroom she didn't find Sam. It was as she stepped into the hallway that she heard the door of the shower sliding into place, and two distinct voices coming from behind the bathroom door. Returning to the bedroom, she laid the picture on the dresser, and went to get ready for dinner.
"Up to you, Ma. Wherever you want to go."
She wore a pair of loose, silvery gray raw silk pants with a matching tunic that played well off her hair. Neither man wore a jacket, but Josh had on a fresh pair of teal Dockers and a neatly tucked in white shirt, while Sam was in chinos and a pale blue linen shirt that matched his denim blue eyes.
She looked at them admiringly, and had to admit they made a striking....
"It's your last night, so you should choose," she prompted, folding some Kleenex into her bag. "I'm sure you'd like to go somewhere on the water."
Sam was shaking his head, but it was Josh who spoke. "No look, this is for us to say thank you. So we want you to pick someplace you either really like— "
"Or wouldn't normally go to," Sam finished. His look was so expectant, Miriam was almost afraid she would disappoint him.
"Well...." She snapped her bag shut with a resonant click. "I don't know if this is what you had in mind. But right up at the Square there's a Spanish restaurant that's out of this world. They have the most extraordinary seafood, and are known for their sangria. They make it right at the table," she told them enthusiastically. She didn't mention that it was also obscenely expensive, somehow knowing they would brush her concern aside.
"Perfect!" Josh exclaimed. "Walk or drive?"
"Oh, walk," Miriam said. "It's too pleasant an evening to be in the car."
They were shown to their table almost immediately, and when the waiter appeared Miriam insisted that they forsake cocktails for sangria. As they scrutinized the menu, the waiter reappeared with a bowl of colorful fresh fruits and a festive pitcher filled with deep red wine and brandy crowded with ice. He slashed his way through the ingredients until the pitcher was brimming with fruit, and he poured the mixture into large, green glass goblets, garnished with thick chunks of oranges.
"That," Josh sighed after his first slurp, "is pure heaven." He beamed at Sam, who simply drank silently but steadily. "Think we can pass a law? Make it the official drink of... everywhere?" Josh asked rhetorically.
They started with a double order of ceviche— at Sam's request. They were still trying to decide what to have as entrées when the first plate was set down, and Miriam thought Sam would sob with pleasure after his first taste of the lemon-soaked fish.
Seafood paella for Sam; roast lamb for Josh; and oven baked sea bass for Miriam filled out their spread. "I was thinking," Josh said between stolen forkfuls of leeks from Sam's plate, "that we could walk around a little before getting some ice cream again. My treat!" he grinned, obviously proud of his generous gesture. "But no sangria sorbet for you, my love. That's like, your fourth glass."
Miriam's eyes darted back and forth between them to see if the endearment had registered on either of the men's faces, but they continued eating without missing a beat.
They groaned in unison at the waiter's suggestion of desert as he cleared away the last plate. Josh tipped back in his chair until Miriam reprimanded him, and Sam slipped his credit card into the black leather folder with the bill.
Walking back into the balmy sea-salted night, Miriam stepped a few paces to her right to allow Sam and Josh proximity to one another. They ambled along, looking into shop windows. To keep the conversation going, she asked what awaited them back at the White House.
Josh scuffed his feet along and dug his hands into his pockets. "I don't know what's been going on, but I know it isn't good," he said.
"I haven't heard anything," Sam assured him.
"All I know is, every time I talk to Leo he tells me 'Everything's under control; don't worry yourself about it.'"
Sam snorted. "Yeah, sounds like they're barely holding down the fort," he scoffed.
"And every time I talk to *Donna* she says *exactly* the same thing. Word for word," Josh supplied with a roll of his eyes.
Sam shrugged. "Oh, well then...."
They came to a gaudy little tourist shop with tee-shirts, magnets and postcards, all jumbled together with sea-sponge growing kits and hats with shark fins attached. The front wall was adorned with buttons and patches, and the three of them crowded around to read a few.
"Oh my god. I *have* to get this for Toby!" Sam cried, plucking one from the burlap it hung on. " 'Humpty Dumpty was pushed'!" he read.
"Oh! Oh!" Josh joined in. " 'I don't love you any more since you ate my dog!' " he squealed.
Miriam shook her head in dismay. "I don't get it," she confessed. "Is that a punch line to something I should already know?"
The boys laughed and assured her that it was simply the kind of thing that either struck you funny or not. She felt mildly vindicated when she found one that caused Sam to dissolve into giggles, and Josh pale miserably. " 'You're ugly and your mother dresses you funny,' " Miriam read. "It's the kind of thing that either strikes you as funny, or not," she needled.
Sam ended up with three; Toby's, Miriam's, and one he gave Josh to wear on his next foray to the Hill to play the heavy. 'Give me a quarter or I'll touch you', it said, and at the last minute, he snatched three more of the same to hand out to their friends.
As Sam stood at the register to pay, Miriam spied a dark blue mug on a shelf, and waved her hand to get Josh's attention. "I'm going to say I left my glasses in here and come back for it," she whispered to him, pointing at the ceramic cup.
Five minutes later she was back at their sides, her purse weighted down with her secret purchase.
They made two circuits around the Square before anyone felt ready for ice cream. At Josh's urging, Miriam deviated from her habitual hazelnut, and went for a triple chocolate concoction that made both men moan. Josh ordered two dips of sour cherry vanilla, and Sam vacillated between a mocha milkshake, and grapefruit mint sorbet. Josh's frantic whispering, where Miriam was sure she heard the word queer bandied about, resulted in Sam's walking away with the milkshake, and a wicked grin.
Back home, she offered coffee—which they turned down—and brandy, which they accepted, and all fell into place on the sofa. Miriam sat next to Sam and Josh, and they talked quietly about the highlights of their trip, their reluctance to leave, and the manatee.
It was midnight when the yawning began, and one a.m. when they reluctantly agreed to call it a night. As she slipped the shimmery cool silk pajamas over her sun-sensitized skin, Miriam's eyes fell on her favorite photograph; Joanie, Josh, and their father standing proudly beside a choke cherry tree they had planted together for her birthday one year.
She lifted the tarnished silverplated frame from its place on her dresser and held it close to her aging eyes. It was unmistakable, the resemblance: his father's warm, intelligent eyes and thin mouth; her straight nose and deep dimples. He was a sum of his parts, and the sum of her world. She shook her head, angry at herself as she put the picture back; why hadn't she taken any pictures during this visit?
She awoke to the gentle easy patter of rain and Josh and Sam. As she emerged from the bedroom, she caught part of the conversation leaking out of the kitchen.
"Screw 'em," Sam was saying. "I'll go back. If you want to stay, I don't see how he can say no."
The silence lasted a beat, before Josh's defeated voice emerged from it. "It was hard enough having us both gone at once. No way—"
"I'll be there, and you're entitled to some more time. Just say the word, Josh."
She had wanted to be there. After she was sure both men were securely installed in their room the night before, she'd slunk into the kitchen and placed the deep blue mug with the etched manatee on it next to the coffeemaker with a small white bow. She'd intended to get up early, and have a fresh pot brewing for Sam to find, but the sound of the trickling raindrops had lulled her into a deep pre-dawn sleep and she'd missed her chance.
"I see you found your present," she said as she stepped into the room. "Josh, did you tell him?"
"I told him, Ma," her son answered, coming to her side to slip an arm around her waist. "I told him you bought it for him, and he cried tears of gratitude," Josh mocked, sending blood rushing up Sam's neck.
"It was incredibly thoughtful of you, Miriam," Sam said, rising from his chair. He kicked at Josh's foot and elbowed him aside, taking his place beside the older woman. "It holds like, fifteen ounces! I love it, and I'm, I'm just, thank you."
"He writes speeches for a living," Josh said in a tone suggesting that was in question.
Ignoring the interruption, Sam smiled warmly. "I'll treasure it. As much as I do the time I've been able to spend here with both of you."
"That's more like it," Josh pronounced, and kissed Sam on the cheek. "Now lets eat!"
As they ate scrambled eggs and bagels, the sun broke through, sending prisms of light dancing through the window.
Josh volunteered that he was considering extending his trip, but Miriam would hear nothing of it, insisting that his place was back in Washington.
"You know, I really could cover for him," Sam explained around bites of bagel.
"Nonsense," she maintained. "I'd much rather you go now, and come back for another visit in the future. Sam, on the other hand, is welcome to stay as long as he likes," she teased, pleased that Josh needed to think about that before he agreed to stick to their scheduled departure.
Their flight left at three, and they decided to spend the morning taking a walk on a nearby beach, enjoying an iced tea at a sidewalk café in the Square, helping Miriam move some boxes in the garage, and doing some basic maintenance on her computer. She documented each activity with a disposable camera, bought along the way.
It was noon when they gathered on the lanai for fizzy sodas and crunchy vegetables Miriam had set out with fresh, velvety dip. Josh yawned loudly, and excused himself to finish packing, and after he walked away, Sam turned to Miriam.
"Um. Is there any more film left in the camera?" he asked with apparent hesitation. In his hand, he toyed with a carrot stick.
She'd expected the question, and had already put aside a container of lettuce. "Let's go see if we can tempt them out," she said by way of an answer.
As they walked down to the sunny dock, she patted Sam on the arm to get his full attention. "You know, I've never seen them come around as much as they have with you here. I really do believe they think you're their friend."
A barely concealed twinge passed over his face. "I could have killed them," he said huskily. "As it is, I still don't know what I hit."
Miriam perched herself on the round, flat top of a pylon, and watched as Sam patiently dropped bits of lettuce into the wafting water. A fish flicked above the surface once in a while, and he quietly scolded it away from the green morsels.
"Do you always feel things so deeply?" she'd wondered aloud, before even realizing she'd done so. She nearly apologized for the intrusive question but when she saw Sam smile slightly, she expected he might just answer her.
"I don't know," he said. Flicking another leaf onto the surface of the canal. "Yes?" His eyes darted over to her, then fell back onto the quiet water. "No. I mean, I try to.... I understand there are things over which I have little or no control, and I'm powerless to...." He sighed, and swung his head around to face her. "Yeah. I do sometimes," he conceded.
"Good," Miriam assured him. And when he smiled at her this time, she contemplated how she could have ever felt as if his eyes could hurt her. She now saw the warmth behind the stark blue; the tenderness and the passion, and the intelligence that had at first frightened her.
To feel so much for a manatee, a creature who couldn't hurt him or betray him, exposed so much of him to her. She saw how he loved her son. And she saw it returned in unspoken waves.
His voice broke through her thoughts in a sharp whisper. "Miriam! The camera!"
Getting up from where she sat, Miriam came to Sam's side and looked down into the water, slowly stirring below them. An enormous manatee slid by, then swung around and headed straight for the dock. "Here, here," she said, handing the camera to Sam while taking the container from his hands.
Snapping a frame or two, Sam then dropped to his knees on the weathered gray dock, and stared at the moving objects before him. "There she is!" he exclaimed, pointing at the emerging young one. He clicked off two pictures in rapid succession. "That one was awesome." He looked up at Miriam. "I think they were both looking at me," he grinned.
She took the camera, and snapped a few shots of him crouched over the edge of the dock, holding his arm out in welcome. His face, kissed by the sun and radiating a simple joy. His body reaching, pulled by the water and the life it held.
She would treasure this picture as much as any she owned.
Ripping the remaining lettuce into small bites to make them last longer, Sam settled down with his legs dangling over the side. Miriam joined him with effort, and his sturdy assistance.
"I'll keep you posted on them," she told him, shoulder bumping his shoulder.
"I, uh, I have a favor to ask," Sam said shyly. "I made out a check to the Marine Life Center rescue relief. I didn't have a chance to find the address to send it...."
"I'll take care of it."
His hands finally empty, and with the last scraps of lettuce floating away with his adopted family, Miriam expected Sam to get up, but he seemed perfectly content to remain where he was, placid gaze skimming over the landscape on the other side of the canal.
"Thank you," he said again, and she knew it wasn't for taking care of his donation.
She wanted to thank him, too. She wasn't there to look after her boy; to see that he wasn't stumbling into the path of oncoming traffic, or making sure he was eating his vegetables. She couldn't tell if he was drinking too much or sleeping too little, and she wanted to thank Sam for being there to do those things. Instead, she said a soothing "You're welcome, Sam," and tipped her face up to the warm caress of the sun.
Josh was bustling about the family room when they returned to the house. He couldn't find his sunglasses, and his pager had died. "I wrapped up your mug and packed it in my bag," he told Sam as soon as he saw him look into the kitchen.
"Securely? You wrapped it well, and placed it under stuff in the center of the suitcase?" Sam prodded, hands firmly on his hips. "Your alarm clock got clobbered because you didn't bury it deep enough," he reminded his partner.
A glower from Josh seemed to stop the discussion in its tracks, and Miriam chuckled. "You have everything from the bathroom? You checked the laundry? Your swimsuits were drying out on the lanai...."
Josh brushed aside her concerns with a wave of his hands. "Check, check and check," he said. "Sam? Are you ready?"
"As I'll ever be," Sam remarked. And when Josh reminded him that that was *exactly* what he'd said on their way to Florida, Sam blushed.
Josh chattered on the entire way to the airport. He wanted Miriam to come to D.C. soon; he could get her an exclusive tour of a popular exhibit at the National Gallery. Leo would love to see her again, and Josh very much wanted her to watch the president give a speech Sam was writing on the selfless civil servants on whom the government rested.
With great effort, Miriam twisted in her seat and gave Sam an obvious wink.
She insisted vehemently that she wanted to see them to their gate, and Josh eventually gave in and parked the car. Dropping behind the two men as they crossed the lanes of arriving cars, Miriam watched them bend their heads towards one another, a hushed conversation flying between them. As they stepped up onto the curb, Sam placed an attentive hand at the small of Josh's back, and that's when Miriam's body lurched.
"Mom? Are you alright?" Josh was asking with alarm. She was being led by him to a bench just inside the terminal, a line of sweat pooling across his brow. She looked around quickly and found Sam at last, struggling under both his and Josh's full array of luggage.
"What on earth?" she asked of the floor. Her vision was dancing with little beads of light, and her face felt cold and liquidy.
"You, you— "
"You almost fainted," Sam supplied worriedly. He stayed a few steps away and seemed unwilling to come any closer.
Miriam shook her head and expelled a rough laugh. "Oh heavens, no! I stumbled. I— I'm embarrassed to say, I couldn't take my eyes off of your hand on Josh's back," she blurted. The look of guilty horror on Sam's face made her laugh some more. "Too deeply, Sam, dear. *That's* feeling things too deeply."
She didn't imagine either man understood her remark, so she pulled herself to her feet to prove she wasn't delirious. "Haven't either of you ever tripped over your own feet?"
"Mom, I could tell you tales," Josh revealed.
It was after much hovering, and Sam buying her a bottle of water that they finally agreed to continue to the ticket counter. Miriam stood to the side as they checked in, and watched Josh's triumphant face when they came back to stand with her. "Sam used his super exclusive v.i.p. no-one-can-resist-Sam-Seaborn frequent flyer card to get us both upgrades to first class," he gloated.
"You have the same card, Josh. You just can't find it," Sam said tightly.
Miriam crossed her arms over her chest and began to step away. "Well," she ventured. "I suppose you should be getting through security. Find a spot in that smoky, super exclusive v.i.p. lounge." She tried to get Sam's attention, but he was staring at the bag hanging from Josh's shoulder, the blue of his eyes almost translucent.
She opened her mouth to speak again, when Sam's head snapped up and he quickly said, "I need to make a call." He was gone before she could respond, and Josh looked somewhat taken aback as well.
"I, uh, I think he's giving us a chance to get all mushy," Josh said sheepishly.
"He's a good bo- man. You've got a good man, Yehoshua," Miriam said, stepping up to face him squarely. "I'll be honest with you; I'm not sure who's likely to be more devastated if things don't work out, but you'd be a fool to mess this up, my darling." She leaned forward and rested her cheek against her son's, holding his shoulders in her veined hands. "Mushy enough for you?" she asked when she stepped back, and dabbed at her eye with her thumb.
Josh's voice was thick and heavy, and he looked over his shoulder before speaking. "You do know that I don't always *plan* to mess things up, don't you?" he tried to joke. "But don't worry, Ma. Sam's going to help me get this right, and he's very good at what he does."
Miriam looked past him and chuckled. "Well, he's very *bad* at pretending to talk on the phone," she said pointing at Sam with her chin.
"Oh, good grief...." Josh waved both arms in the air, waiting until the recognition hit Sam. He started towards them when Josh beckoned, dropping the still-open phone to his side as he approached.
It took Josh, bending down to say "Hey, Leo; how're they hanging?" into the instrument, for Sam to realize that he still held the lifeless prop.
"I guess this is it," Miriam said. "You really should get going." Josh shuffled his feet, and Sam looked at the floor.
That seemed to leave it to her, she realized, and stepped over to Sam. "You have a good trip now, Sam. I'll look after your friends, and let you know how they're fairing, if you'd like."
"I'd like that very much," he said, his mouth set into a firm line.
Miriam looked deeply into his eyes. "And you see what you can do about making that ocean a little bluer," she said. His skin was cool and firm under her lips. He smelled of soap and sea, and as she impulsively pressed him to her, she felt the steady thump of his heart against her. "Take care of each other," she admonished in a voice muted by emotion.
They bickered a bit, her boys; about who was holding the tickets, then about whether they should buy a paper or hope there was one onboard. Josh grabbed his mother, telling her he loved her, and hugged her tightly until she had to squirm away.
She blew them both kisses when they reached the other side of security, and watched them disappear through the thick double doors.
It may have been 1975, when Noah had gone to Israel. That, as far as Miriam could recall, was the last time she'd actually stayed in an airport to watch a plane taxi away and take flight carrying someone she loved. It struck her now that the fear she'd felt at the parting with her husband was nothing like the hopeful, content feeling she experienced now.
Her sole surviving child was heading back to Washington to do the business of the country. To serve his president. At his side, a gentle, soulful, yet passionate man, clearly as committed to his country as to her son. Despite her initial apprehension and her reluctance, she admitted to herself that Josh seemed happy. Happy in a way she hadn't seen in a very long time, and she was willing to give Sam credit for it.
As the plane soared above her into a sky as blue as Sam's ocean, she finally broke down in grateful tears, and said a prayer for the safe journey of her boys.
Back to the Big Block of Cheese Main Page