TITLE: and don't cry if crying means you're sorry
AUTHOR: Delightfully Eccentric (lunatic.lover.poet@ntlworld.com)
PAIRING: Josh/Sam; Sam POV
RATING: PG-13/mild R? Non-graphic sexual acts.
ARCHIVE: It's anyone's.
DISCLAIMER: TWW is Sorkin's. Valerian is a song by Cerys Matthews and Catatonia. I've tinkered ever so slightly with the lyrics to make them fit in terms of gender.

And don't cry if crying means you're sorry by Delightfully Eccentric

~
Never meant you no harm
Never spun you no yarn
~

1998, NYC

There you were, with your lousy poker face, and there I was with mine. I wonder if you thought we were both so overenthusiastic about the same thing. The real thing. I wonder if I fooled you. I didn't really mean to.

It's become a private joke, how hot you looked dripping wet, but it shouldn’t be because you looked almost as vulnerable as I've ever seen you. (We won’t go into the almost.) I guess I'd thought before that moment that you'd changed, shaped into a more cynical form by your years on the job. I knew then that you were no older in your heart than way back when.

People say I'm the idealist. They forget I was the one earning six figures helping oil companies evade the laws people like you help to shape. People like us, for a while. Your loss of innocence was only ever the implementation. You don't mind fighting dirty, but you'll always be fighting the good fight.

I knew that when I saw you leaking all over the extortionate designer carpet

I wonder, too, if it would have been better for you if I'd turned you down. I'm not stupid, except sometimes over people I love. I knew what the world of corporate law would be like before I signed up. Did you really think disillusionment was my only reason for coming to New Hampshire? The thing is, I think you really did.

In retrospect, I fooled you over Lisa, though at the time I thought it must have been obvious we weren't happy. You always did need to be hit over the head, though I always preferred pillows to water balloons.

Do you remember all that evening in the hotel bar? The hotel I had to find for you because you weren't even supposed to be in New York and with all the dozens of times you'd been there, you couldn't remember a single place you'd stayed? You turned down my offer of a blanket and a sofa-bed. It was probably for the best.

I don't know what makes me think you'll remember that hotel when you didn't remember any of the others. But it was a good night. So good, in fact, hat you're probably justified in not remembering. You probably killed off a few hundred brain cells that night. Just as well you can spare a few.

You told me about the candidate. You were bewitched, bewitching. I was fascinated. I fell in love with your passion; you made me want the job almost as much as I wanted you. The real things.

I got them both. Was that fair?

When we were young, it started as experimentation for you. You weren't quite aware of how much more it was for me. When you came to New York, you were coming for an old friend, not an old lover. Should I have made it clear? I didn't mean to mislead you. It was implicit. If I'd come on strong, you'd have run. I just watched and listened while you rhapsodised.

I talked about Lisa; you talked about Mandy. You didn't like mine and I didn't like yours. Either jealousy or simply the fact that neither of us picked particularly inspiring women. I guess we weren't well-equipped to choose.

I let you drink too much - no more than I drank, but that was too much, and way too much for you. I walked you to your room, because I doubt you'd have made it that far otherwise. We stood in the doorway while you repeated how much I would love Bartlet, how much he would love me, how wonderful would be the words I put in his mouth, how much better the things we'd all do together. You were right, up to a point.

Even barely able to stand, you sparkled. I think I held you up with my hands on your hips. Somewhere vaguely inappropriate anyway. I don't think you noticed.

I knew why I was going to New Hampshire. I don't think you did. Maybe I should be sorry, looking back.

I'm not.

~
And I'll go where he goes
We all go where nobody knows our name
~

1998

Nobody knew my name in New Hampshire. Quite a few of them knew yours. Even then people who were close to the heart of politics had heard of the great Josh Lyman, though you weren't quite the household name you are today. Noah s son. Leo's protégé. Mandy's bitch. The boss of the blonde girl everyone had a crush on.

But these weren't real reasons. People remembered your name because you're hard to forget.

The candidate didn't know either of our names. Your ego didn't like that.

I shook hands and smiled at people. Dental hygiene is important. Hi. Sam Seaborn. Great to meet you. People started to remember my name.

Except the candidate. You could laugh about that, but the fact that he didn’t know yours was almost unforgivable.

You forgave him. In time. But you've never loved him the way you love Leo. Sometimes I wonder if that's not got less to do with the fact that Leo's an old friend of your father and more to do with the fact that Bartlet took so long to learn your name.

You had the advantage on me: aside from the fact that I knew I wanted you and you didn't know you wanted anything other than Bartlet For America, your arm-candy was there and mine was selling the house. The fact that I left her instead of vice versa only made it worse - in all but name, I left her for you. There were other reasons - but that was the only one you'd ever think of.

Mandy didn't take to me right from the start. Not that I had any particular fondness for her, you understand, but I tried to get along with her. We did have something in common, after all. You.

You were head over heels for her at that point. You go head over heels for them all, at first. Strangely enough, I love watching you when you're in that phase. I don't suppose that if we'd been doing anything in the world other than running for President I'd have been an issue at all.

But a campaign trail is a charged atmosphere. Every polling day carries the promise of broken hearts for one team and better-than-sex highs for the other. The physical manifestations of all those emotions are rife.

When you throw a furious personal history into the mix, then add the elements of rebound from my side and the fuzzy romanticism of the first bloom of a romance from yours and something's bound to ignite.

It doesn't make much sense on paper - I knew what you felt for Mandy and I think she loved you in her way. You knew I loved you, but that was nothing new, nothing finite, nothing that wasn't going to still be there if you ever needed to refer to it at any point in the future. It was no reason to divert from your master plan.

I really think the deciding factor was the same thing that's guided your whole life. I got you back for those short precious stolen hours because of politics.

I was soon as much in love with the campaign as you were. You knew I would be and that's as much the reason you brought me out there as my legal skills or writing style. To Mandy it was never more than a job, albeit the best she'd ever had. You were the best she'd ever had, too. It was too cruel, what we did to her. I would like myself better if I could find it in me to regret it.

~
If I step out of line
I'll step out of line, yeah
Over land over sea
One step, two, to Ynys free
~

2002

I never meant to feel this way about you, you know. It wasn't supposed to happen. I'm supposed to be Mr. Suburbia, all success and conventionality and a perfect blonde wife with two point four perfect straight-A student kids. That's how everyone casts me in their minds. Is that what you see for me too? Is that why you've never been able to see anything we had as anything real? I don't believe it's what you see for yourself, for all your Mandys, Joeys, Amys, even your Donnas. Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me; fool yourself, it's just a plain shame.

No, this wasn't supposed to happen for either of us. I can imagine our mothers sitting together, shaking their heads and saying it's such a hard life. I'm not kidding myself. It's no harder being me than being a woman under your spell. Damn you, Josh. You make it so difficult to love you. And yet I don't mean a word.

I can feel myself changing lately. I'm doing other things I'm not supposed to do. I'm caring about other things I'm not supposed to care about. Don't take offence, I don't mean other men. Proclaiming my fidelity doesn't sit quite right with the rest of my message. But I'm just trying to explain everything, because it would do you good to understand this thing of ours. More mine than ours. Your feelings aren't the same as mine, I know, but that doesn't mean you don't love me, just that you'd never think of it that way.

I'm not doing my job. Well, I'm still fashioning speeches, arranging words on a page, but my agenda isn't what it was four years ago, even two, and I don't simply mean the part of my agenda that's all you, all the time. It'd almost be fair to say I'm working more for myself than for President Bartlet Maybe he bumped up my ego too much. Maybe you did. Whatever the case, I m starting to strain at the leash. It won't be long before it snaps. That s why I chose now to try to get this thing as clear as possible.

You probably haven't noticed the change, or you've just closed your eyes, or you're putting it down to the Amy issue. You've never twigged that I don't get jealous of your women. You don't see that I can't take them seriously. I know you take them seriously, but as in all matters emotional, you don't get it. You might care about them, you probably enjoy sleeping with them, you certainly take it in the gut if they look at other guys - but there's something missing, and I shouldn't be the only one who knows it.

Amy's going to figure it out sooner or later, you know. They always do. Not necessarily *why*, because you hardly fit the stereotype, and even smart people aren't great at shaking off preconceptions - but they still know they re never going to have all of you. (I'll never have that either, but you'll always have a piece of me. You can't get rid of it. Whatever you think or tell yourself, it'll be with you forever. Are you sorry? I'm not.)

Take Donna, a perfect example. She's as helpless for you as I am; you'd think she'd pick up on the vibe, but she's screamingly blind to our thing. She doesn't miss much but she really slipped up there. She takes the Joeys and the Amys too seriously.

That brings me to something I wanted to say before I go: don't hurt this one I've turned a blind eye to a parade of people you've made use of. I know that you never intend to hurt them, and I know I was right there in it with you when it came to shattering Mandy. This time I've got to call you on it *Think* about what you're doing with this one. I can see you protest: you re not doing anything with her.

That is such a Josh reaction. Think, babe. Don't just look, see her. Don’t just listen, hear.

I know you can't understand why I should care. I just want you to see in her what you sometimes manage to see in me. It's all there, I promise you. I know the effects you can have far too well to not see them in her. I feel every tug at her heart and drop in the back of her eye, because I share them The dull ache each August and jangling nerves every Christmas. The quickening pulse when you look uncomfortable in formal wear, or bend over in jeans, though that last one's probably more applicable to me than her.

I can tell you don't understand. I'm not surprised. You've never been all-consumed by someone. I'm actually glad for you.

You trust me. That's never been a problem. Take my word for it and be careful with her love. She hasn't learned what to do with it yet.

I'm lucky. Finally, after all these years of eating away at my consciousness, you're making me stronger. You're not doing anything differently. You're as resolutely Josh as you've ever been. I'm the one that's different, though my feelings have not changed. I have simply learned to channel my love into a powerful constructive force. Time was, I was ashamed to have you know how much I felt. Now I'm proud. If I can feel this, I must be capable of remarkable things.

God, you're a remarkable thing.

It's going to wrench me black and blue not seeing you every day.

But I don't quite fit, do I? Not in this White House, and certainly not in your life. We've been working at this for so long now, one of us harder than the other, to find a slot for this penny. It's not going to suddenly turn simple, much as you'd like it to. We'd both like it.

It's a shame, it really is, that you need to be hit over the head. You need matters of the heart painted in bold primary colours all over the walls. Doesn't work like that, buddy.

The thing is all this time it's been me we've been trying to reshape. There s never been any question of adapting you to a role in my world. And before you get indignant, yes, I was okay with that. I've never wanted anything more than to find a way to fit us together. I've been dumb. You're a remarkable, beautiful, multi-brilliant thing and you're more than big enough to fill your own skin. I realise now that as well as loving you there's been a part of me that's wanted to *be* a part of you and, well, I think we both know that's not possible.

All these things have been coming to me just in time, I think. I'm growing. I'm a man of my own, not just your man any more.

I'm stepping out of line. I'm ready to draw my own lines now.

~
And she'll go where he goes
We all go where nobody knows our name
~

2010

It was surprising when you showed up, and so soon after the election too. I suppose it's been a bit of a letdown for you this time round. I'm being sincere when I congratulate you, you know. Governor might not be quite up there with President but, still, nobody but you could have made your guy win I don't know why you still run about doing that, though. Isn't all a bit anti-climactic? Guess you're addicted.

I'm also being sincere when I tell you I'm happy. I guess I'm a sincere kind of guy. I can see you staring at my understated smile and trying to fathom how other people can divine so much from looking at a person's face.

It would have been a proper jaw-aching, bleach-teethed Californian smile but that doesn't come as naturally as the gentle curving of the mouth. If nothing else you taught me not to express myself too freely. Poker faces only crack when people are paying attention.

Besides, I see Amy coming before I see you, and if I grin too broadly at the girl on your arm, you might get jealous on two counts.

You didn't tell me she was back on the scene. Was that deliberate or merely typical Lymanian forgetfulness? Maybe you just thought I wouldn't be interested.

How many times around does that make it? I think you've been on and off with her more often now than you have with me. Maybe I should have taken her more seriously after all. This one's certainly smart enough for you, though not without a trace of infantile behaviour once in a while. At times she's Mandy's double. I'm hardly the person to pick holes in your choices, but if I were you - and I wish that I were you - I'd stop looking for a female replication of myself. They're no comparison, Josh. There are any number of people who bear a striking resemblance to you, who share all the essential attributes, but there's no one who...

I shouldn't get carried away. You know you're unique. You know you're special. You know there's no one else.

When you both tumbled out of the hire car I picked up Amy's overnight bag. She duly informed me that she was more than capable of carrying her own underwear and snatched it back, nearly toppling over with the sudden weight. I don't think she'd protest if you tried to help her. But what do I know about her? Just that something keeps pulling her back to you - and *that* I can empathise with.

I'm glad you're here - in fact, though I'm calmer on the outside, inwardly I m thudding and sweating and blowing things as wildly out of proportion as I did when you came to Gage and Whitney to get me all those years ago. All those years and you've still got it.

You didn't have to bring your girlfriend though. Seriously, do you think I m the kind of man you need protection from? Smacks a little of loudly proclaiming your heterosexuality. It's okay, Amy and I both know what an alpha specimen you are. Can we say the lady doth protest too much?

She doesn't look entirely comfortable, from what I can tell from the few seconds I manage to tear my eyes from your face.

It's good to see you, Josh. I tell you that to your face but it's my eyes that tell you that it's still about more than just a reunion of old buddies. My old baby-blues were never any good at hiding anything from anyone, but especially from you.

Amy's on the beach in a bikini, waving at us from a distance. She hasn't changed much from what I can tell - though I really never did get to know this one - except maybe there's a certain wariness about her that wasn't there before, like she has to think twice before opening her mouth. That's new. I wonder if it's just maturity kicking in a little late - or maybe you did that. Maybe she's scared that if she says the wrong thing you'll blow up all over again, right in her face. Or worse: maybe she's scared that you’ll disappear in a puff of smoke.

Hit and run - she called you on that once. Do you remember telling me about it? You were all puffed up and indignant. You don't remember, do you? That's because you didn't tell me, buddy. You'd started going to Toby for romantic advice at that stage - Toby of all people! I've got news for you, the beard doesn't make him a guru. He related it all to me later, chuckled over your hopelessness. I was partly chuckling over my own.

What made you suddenly decide to get embarrassed over talking to me about women? Did you think I'd sabotaged you over Joey? Over Donna? What would I have gained from it? Doesn't matter how smooth their skin is, how far in love you fall - none of them is ever going to touch our thing. Even if we never touch again.

She's running over. She still looks good, though coming from me that probably doesn't mean that much to you. She hauls you off to play with her in the surf. You run a hand through your hair (it's still unruly but thinning in earnest now) and smile awkwardly at me.

I smile back and keep smiling as I watch you run with her. It's good to see you, Josh.

~
And don't cry if crying means you're sorry
Whatever the case I always felt out of place
As a matter of fact I always felt like that around you
I'm disinclined to tow the line
Under your thumb where I've become unwanted
~

1991

It's hard to believe we were ever this young, but we were.

It's hard to believe it ever seemed so endlessly possible, but it did. Even to you, for a little bit, it did.

There we are, in my mind's eye, men on the outside but boys behind closed doors. We made silly decorations for themed parties and had play fights. Is that what you thought of, with Amy?

I remember the night you ran (not the hit - the hit came much sooner), figuratively speaking. You didn't move out for a few weeks, till you could
find a friend to stay with who wouldn't tempt you.

You were drunk. I was too, which is one reason I'm glad I saw it coming. If it hadn't been inevitable I'm sure I would have cried. Pleaded. I'd hate to have done that. There would have been no going back from a mess like that. Imagine if we'd never left it open-ended.

I don't remember that much. Like I said, I was drunk and I was prepared. So, it's come, I remember thinking. I was numb, shocky perhaps.

I remember you clutching at my shirt, bunching it up in handfuls around my chest. You were trying to make me understand. I already did. You wanted to do what you'd always wanted to do, you said. You didn't want to be a gay rights activist. If you did this - you dismissed it all to a *this* - it'd be all your life was ever about. You didn't want that. I shouldn't get you wrong, it wasn't me. I was great. This thing was good. It was awesome, in fact. (You still used words like 'awesome'. I love you.) It just, it wasn’t, you needed more. I should understand, you didn't need more from me. I was great. And besides, you missed breasts (half-kidding). But I was special. You'd really hate it if we couldn't be friends.

I didn't even consider it a possibility.

You still fear that our thing defines you, or would, if people knew. For you it is about what is known and not what *is*. I don't blame you. In this game we're all slaves to appearances. Perhaps you're right, perhaps the world is that shallow. For my part, I think I have a few idealistic bones left in me - or perhaps it's just that I can't imagine anyone looking at you and seeing only one thing.

You're so, so much.

So much that I can't even hold all of you in my head at once; I have to dole out little fragments of you to myself to think of. That night is a piece by itself. I don't take it out to look at often.

I wish you hadn't cried, Josh.

If it meant you were sorry about it ending, that meant I was wrong not to fight. If it meant you were sorry it had ever started, then nothing could equip me to deal with it.

Of course, it's ancient history now, and we're not, whatever you tell yourself to help you sleep at nights. You should take pills for that, really. There's no need to suffer.

I mentioned that the hit came long before the run and that's true. You stuck around long enough to watch me crawl off the road. What I mean is, by the time it came I was ready for it. You didn't need to suffer then either. You never need suffer on my account. That isn't what I'm supposed to be for you. I'd rather be nothing.

I was a young man then too, even younger than you (although you made me older). I was impatient too. I'd had enough of doing this on your terms. Everything I did for you and still it wasn't enough. I thought I should have been enough and it made me angry. It made me stubborn, mulish. It made me determined not to beg, not to change. Not to fight you for you.

I didn't know you then like I know you now. The feelings were the same; they're in a different balance now. I'm not angry. We did the right thing, both of us. I love us as we are now, what there is of *us*. It worked out better this way. You have more, so very much more, to your life - and, yes, I have more to mine, though sometimes it would all be featherweight if I balanced it up against you. We don't scare each other away.

I don't know how you look at us, as you must do at times, whether it's in pieces or as a whole (I can't even imagine what that would look like). Try, if you can, to look at us now. What do you see?

~
So pick your way down to the sea
Pick your way to the sea
It's not the tide you gotta watch it's me
Not the tide you got it's me
~

2010

I'm waiting for you.

It's sunset - is that poetry or cliché? Or is the after dark thing just sordid? The thought of calling Toby to check up crosses my mind, and is followed by a smile across my lips. I see more of him these days than I do you. Well, I don't do you at all any more - maybe tonight, who knows? It always was intermittent. You know what I mean.

The night is creeping up across the horizon, blue-black fingers prodding at the clouds, which are starting to take on a lunar hue. I'm not watching it, because I'm concentrating on the thought of you (I don't allow myself to focus on you often or it would possess completely what little part of me there is left outside you, so I may as well enjoy it), but it's in my line of vision as I lounge in my wicker chair facing the open window. I like fresh air. I always was about a thousand times more outdoorsy than you - ironic, considering you're the one who needs the wide open space. Haven't you outgrown that yet? You never will.

The pinks and purples of the sky are being choked out by the nightfall. I always become melodramatic in your nearness.

I should turn the lights on, but what for? Everything I want to see is bright and bold in my head. I remember everything - not the surroundings, not the circumstances. I remember every inch, every moment, every point of your IQ.

Maybe I'm kidding myself about that - your nearness, I mean. Maybe you're already on your way to the airport, striding ahead of Amy and getting lost. You'll probably wind up checking in for a flight to Kazakhstan. Or Kyrgzystan. One of the two.

Maybe I'm waiting for nothing but a giant kick in the gut, courtesy of your old size nines. It wouldn't be the first time. It won't be the last. I hope it won't be the last. I don't think of myself as a masochist (and, no, I'm not suggesting you're a sadist either. That would require intent.) but I'm more than used to this, I thrive on it. And I see more of Toby than I do of you these days.

There's a shadow on the path. It's you.

I rise quickly but quietly (I am older now; I no longer panic at the sight of you, but my heart still thumps as wildly) and leave through the back door I pad round behind you and catch your elbow. The coat you are wearing is truly revolting. Without Donna to dress you, you look more like you did when I first knew you, except more lined (not older. Your skin's the only part of you that ever looks older.). I can't be sorry. The lover in me entirely consumes the aesthete.

You jump, even let out a cry. I can't help feeling a certain satisfaction that your heart is probably pounding as hard as mine now, though I'd never have risked scaring you for years after - well, our unspoken deal is that we never mention that. You have enough people to fuss over you.

Hey, I greet you. Should I explain the interception?

There's someone else who spends time with me in the house. He'll never be you (who could be? It's impossible.) but he has a good heart and he's discreet, and a person can't live on crumbs forever. On the other hand, it doesn't matter how many others there are, I could never live without your crumbs.

It's one thing having you in my home as an old friend visiting with his girlfriend, but this is different. Illicit. Where did you tell her you were going? For an evening stroll? She's not that stupid, you know. I think I've caught some strange looks from her direction. She's completely wrong for you, of course, but she's not stupid.

Come on, I suggest. Let's walk along to the cove. It's not like me to take charge.

After a while, "You were waiting for me?"

Of course.

"Sam, I didn't come here to-"

It doesn't matter why you came here. You know it doesn't matter to me.

We meander along. Your gait could I guess be described as a trudge. The sand must be getting into your shoes. There are certainly enough gaps in the stitching.

I enjoy these times when you're feeling too uncertain to talk much. That's another thing Amy's right about. You do talk too much. You don't need to, with me. I know. I know everything you could possibly say, and I know everything you could possibly mean underneath it. That's how I can live like this. If I didn't understand you, I would self-destruct.

You're chewing something, gum, I guess, or maybe just your lip. Does it mean you want to kiss? Sometimes you don't want to, even if we do other stuff. Maybe you just don't want me to smell the beer on your breath. You still get nervous about this, don't you?

We come to the cove, a mile from my house which in turn is miles from anywhere. It's beautiful in the way that only truly secluded spots can be. I scramble down a shallow rockface. There are pools with crabs and shellfish. You can poke them with a stick, if you really want.

"Sam, I really didn't-"

It's okay, Josh. Save your breath.

"It's just that, with Amy and all, we didn't get much chance to, you know... I wanted us to catch up."

You didn't have to bring her, you know. She wasn't even invited. I guess you think your permanent open invite comes with a 'plus one'. Who am I to argue?

"I thought she'd have fun."

Yeah.

You hover nervously at the top of the rockface. I raise my arms. I'll catch you if you fall.

You do fall, of course, and blame it on the shoes, but I've got you (I love those words). By the hips again. You don't protest; in fact, you steady yourself on my arm. Both of your hands gripping my elbows.

Josh?

You initiate the kiss.

I take over from there and I don't let you break it off too soon: you're inclined to do that. I used to let you but this happens too infrequently now for me to let myself be made that crazy. I'm close enough, believe me, I'm close enough.

It's not long before I'm on my knees before you and I don't care how loudly you protest (and right now, you're pretty loud but it's no kind of protest), it's never like this with Amy, I know it's not. You're excited, and hot.
You were born hot.

I'm moaning by the time you're sighing, done, for all the times we've had and could have had - it's only at these moments I get angry with you – why couldn't you have given us more time? - but you've got me in hand (so many meanings) and - and - and maybe you're not the only one who talks too much.

You know this isn't about sex for me, right? Only these times, it seems desperately important that you know that.

I'm almost in tears by the time it's over, but it doesn't mean I'm sorry. I could never be sorry.

You're leaning over, gasping, hand on my shoulder for support. It burns through my shirt.

Don't worry, I want to tell you. This is okay. We're okay. You and Amy are... well, you're still whatever you were before.

We rest for a minute on a smooth wide sheet of stone that gives you plenty of room to make sure we're not touching. We're not as young as we used to be, though you wouldn't know it from that performance. It was about hunger. Feeding a monster. Swallowing years' worth of crumbs in one go.

Then I help you climb over the rocks and we're on the way back, walking even slower than before.

You don't try to talk.

We pause at the foot of the path to the house. You know, if you visited more often we wouldn't have so much catching up to do. That's code, in case you don't catch it, for: you can visit without fear of sex, if that's what you want. I know you can't bring yourself to do this all the time and I know that there are other times when you can't bring yourself not to. I don’t care. It's not about that for me, you know that.

You nod. I squeeze your elbow; you flinch. Then you take me by surprise by shyly kissing my cheek. I don't recall you ever doing that before.

Do me a favour, huh? Don't be sorry about this.

~
And I'll go where he goes
We all go where nobody knows our name
~

There's a place I like to go sometimes - nothing so tawdry as a gay bar, just a place to go. And if the other guys hanging around aren't disappointed by the absence of women, maybe it's just because they're not in the market at the moment. Maybe. It's not something anyone looks into too closely.

If anybody knows your name, they pretend not to at least. People sometimes make up names. I'm Craig, he might say, or John.

And although you've never to my knowledge been here, it reminds me of you.

I can see you here, nursing a martini, or maybe a beer, to make you look more manly. I don't know who you think you need to prove it to. You'd be in a quiet booth near the back, not on display. Usually you like to be on display, peacock feathers fanned around you.

You'd look awkward and comforted at the same time, because even if our thing isn't enough for you, it's still the best part of your tangled web of relationships. I'll never be enough for you: no man could, no more than any woman, but still you'd feel more at home in this place I'm thinking of than any singles bar.

When we're together, if only for those moments, this means as much to you as it does to me.

This isn't one of those moments. I only imagine you here; I am in this place with the friend I mentioned. His hand is on my knee under the table but it's not the kind of place where people sit and neck. It's more subtle than that. It's full of people like me, who shouldn't get caught.

Sometimes I think that the only reason I'd care if I was caught is that you would run even farther than you already have. It's one of those fairly open secrets anyway. I wonder if you'd have visited me if you realised how open. Nobody talks about it - in fact, nobody cares about it much, which is just as it should be. I do a good job, as good as I know how. It'd be better if you were doing it with me, but you've got bigger fish to gut. It's not of that much interest. My mother finally stopped asking when she was going to have grandkids. She doesn't seem too upset: she's not into knitting bobble hats anyway. Sometimes I think the world is a better place than we give it credit for.

I say things like that in my speeches, though I don't mention - well, it may be open but it's still a secret (mostly for your sake). People applaud. It s vain, but I love it when they do. People like me, you know. The public. I don't know whether that's supposed to be important to me or not, but it is though I'd trade it all for a flash of your dimples.

My friend squeezes a little closer, tries to rub me through my shorts. I shift slightly, a quiet gesture, meaning no. I don't think of you when I touch him, as much as I ever don't think of you.

He takes the hint, sits back, opens a newspaper. I don't read over his shoulder as I sometimes do. I've already read it; you're in it. Your Governor wanted you as Chief of Staff but you turned him down. You want to keep wandering.

Well, okay. Feel free to wander down this way any time. You could work with me, for a while, then you could move on again once you started to get restless, or anxious, or both. I won't hold my breath, but I'll exhale a big one if you show. Which you will do, as soon as you're feeling lost.

I know a lot more than your name, Josh. It's never made me sorry.

End.

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