Title : Carpe Diem 5 : One Hundred Per Cent
Author : Sue C
Spoilers : What Kind of Day Has it Been
Pairing : Josh/Sam
Rating : NC-17
Disclaimer : I know they belong to Aaron Sorkin/Warner Brothers, but I can't resist having a little creative fun with these boys. I'll give them back when I'm done.
Summary : This is another chapter in my Carpe Diem A/U. Josh and Sam face up to a new challenge.
Notes : The American Association for Judicial Reform is my own invention. Any similarity in name or policies to any actual group is entirely coincidental. The legal arguments put forward in the meeting at the White House can all be found on various sites on the Internet.
Archive : Carpe Diem 1-4 are archived at http://www.aeglos.org/westwing/ and Carpe Diem 1-3 at http://www.geocities.com/godlessharlot/therealthing/ Anywhere else, just let me know.
Feedback : Please, even if you hate it, as long as it's constructive. I'm at firstname.lastname@example.org
Finally , I've decided to post this without a safety net - ie it hasn't been beta'd. I owe a huge debt of gratitude to Nomi who read and commented on all the previous chapters. It's down to her guidance regarding American English that I feel confident enough to do this. I'm sure you guys will let me know if that was a rash decision! Also, a huge thank you to Kathi. Firstly for providing me with a couple of ideas for this chapter and being generous enough to allow me to use them; secondly for always being there.
Carpe Diem 5 : One Hundred Per Cent by Sue C
MONDAY MAY 14TH 2001
"The American Constitution isn't set in tablets of stone. It's a living, breathing document that's been amended and added to over the years to meet the changing needs of the people who own it!"
The words spilled angrily from the lips of the woman who sat opposite me. It was on the tip of my tongue to reply abruptly that that in itself wasn't a good enough reason to rip away one of the basic tenets of the American judicial system. Then I reminded myself of how much it had taken my detractor to sit in the Roosevelt Room and argue American constitutional law with White House senior staff, representatives from the Justice Department and an unsympathetic Democratic senator. Although I had to acknowledge that she herself was supported by the American Association for Judicial Reform and two equally sympathetic senators from the extreme right of the Republican Party. So in terms of supporters it was almost a fair fight. Almost, but not quite.
This wasn't an abstruse dialogue on the nature of the Constitution. We were sitting here discussing the law of double jeopardy, or more correctly the repeal of it. If it hadn't been for a sudden fog in Boston which grounded all aircraft this meeting would have been concluded by late afternoon. But the two representatives from AAJR - the woman who sat opposite me with the chairperson of the organization - had eventually managed to get here by early evening. Rather than try to reschedule, we'd managed to get all the main players together by seven o'clock, and as a consequence we were still debating the issue at ten. And I was tired. Bone tired. For most of the last week I'd worked from early morning until at least midnight supervising a team of speechwriters producing a package of speeches and briefing notes on a range of issues. I'd spent most of the previous day prepping this meeting, but now felt as if I couldn't string a coherent sentence together. I dredged around in my mind for an appropriate response to the last statement.
"Mrs. Howard ... " I made a supreme effort not to sound condescending or pompous. "Mrs. Howard, you obviously have a sound knowledge of the Constitution. If what you say is true, doesn't that mean anyone with a mind to could suggest other changes to it? For example, move to abolish the right to free speech? Or maybe the right to religious freedom? Wouldn't you agree that there are rights enshrined there that *shouldn't* be tampered with?"
"Sheer sophistry!" exclaimed her companion. "What we are talking about here ... "
He was interrupted by the sound of the door opening. All heads turned in that direction to see Josh entering the room. He had a bundle of files balanced precariously on his lap, lengthwise up so that they leaned against his chest. He held a pen in his mouth in the manner of a pirate clasping a knife between his teeth, stopping in the doorway long enough to remove it to allow him to speak.
"Carry on - don't let me stop you," he said, before making his way towards the space that had been left for him at the end of the table nearest the door.
The man who'd been speaking looked a little uncomfortable at being stopped in full flow, but made a valiant effort to pick up where he'd left off.
"We're not talking about an abstract concept, but at a component of the law which now needs to be looked at again in the light of the advances that have been made in science in general and forensic science in particular." He carried on in this vein for about another minute. In the meantime, Josh had gotten himself settled. I watched as he looked over at Jake, the intern who was taking minutes, making a gesture that mimed unscrewing a bottle and mouthing "Water." By the time he'd been supplied with this and had taken a drink, the current speaker had run out of steam, giving Josh an opening.
"I'm sorry I'm late, but the rescheduling of this meeting coincided with another meeting I had to attend. For those of you who don't know me, I'm Josh Lyman, Deputy Chief of Staff, and I was asked to sit in to keep a watching brief on proceedings. I know most of you here ... " he nodded towards the senators and the people from Justice, then turned towards our visitors from Boston, "but we haven't been introduced yet. It's Mrs Howard and Mr Kramer?"
He stretched his arm towards them where they were sitting to his right, allowing them to lean over to shake hands.
"Sam, do you want to summarize the discussion so far?" He raised his eyebrows at me as he took another drink of water.
Glad of the chance to collect my thoughts on what had been discussed so far, I leaned back in my chair as I quickly glanced at my notes to focus my mind. The two representatives from AAJR looked on impassively as I summarized their arguments : victims and their families were becoming increasingly frustrated and angry at seeing criminals escape on legal technicalities ; when compelling new evidence arises in a serious crime, it should be able to be tabled in a court of law ; with DNA evidence now a vital part of police investigations, new light is shed constantly on criminal cases that once appeared clear-cut. In addition to this, they had also presented evidence from actual cases, which even the most hardened defender of the concept of double jeopardy couldn't fail to be moved by. I paused for breath.
"Your arguments are well made," Josh remarked quietly. I shifted in my seat. I knew that while he might sympathize with them on one level, he didn't actually agree with them.
"If I may interject." Jan Struthers was an acerbic but clever legal brain from Justice. She and Josh had clashed on several occasions; their relationship was prickly, to say the least. Their professional friction wasn't helped by the fact that in our early days in Washington Jan had asked Josh out on a date. She didn't take rejection well.
"Jan." Josh smiled disarmingly at her. The look she returned would have made lesser men quail.
"The fact of the matter is it's doubtful that anyone re-tried for the same offence would get a fair trial. It could result in people being tried again and again for the same offence until a conviction is secured. We have to maintain the principle that once an individual is tried and their peers have acquitted them, innocent people won't spend their lives constantly looking over their shoulder in fear of being persecuted."
"But what about the innocent people looking over their shoulders in fear of the guilty people who've been acquitted?" persisted Sybil Howard.
"If I can introduce another element into the equation," countered Senator Sked. He was a tall, patrician looking man from Vermont who'd once been a partner in a successful law firm that did a substantial amount of pro bono work. "In my time at the bar I've defended a number of defendants where shoddy police work has undermined any case they may bring. There's a very real danger that police may cut corners when first investigating a case if they know that they have a second chance to secure a conviction."
"I think you're stretching for an argument now, Senator," Mrs Howard said impatiently.
I suddenly remembered an article I'd brought in with my papers that provided some evidence to back up the senator's argument.
"I have an article which outlines some research on police techniques and conviction rates," I said, shuffling the documents in front of me. The room went quiet as I searched for the relevant papers that I distinctly remembered photocopying and stapling earlier that day. Jan Struthers coughed and I was aware of her fiddling with her pen as the whole room waited for me to locate what I was looking for. I couldn't seem to co-ordinate my fingers and I started to experience that irritable, fractious feeling I get when I'm really tired.
"Sorry, I know it's here somewhere," I said, looking up apologetically. As I did so, I caught Josh looking at me knowingly.
"Look, I don't know about anyone else but I could do with a comfort break," he said. "Shall we say ten minutes? Jake, will you find some fresh coffee please?"
Josh placed his hands against the edge of the table, pushing himself away from it and then spinning around to exit the room. Chairs scraped on the polished floor as the room's occupants stood up to stretch their legs or visit the rest room. I made good my escape, hurrying towards my office to see if I could put my hands on the elusive article. Once there I made for the filing cabinet in which I suspected I'd find it.
"Godammit, where *is* it?" I muttered to myself, kneeling on the floor and pulling out files and papers haphazardly. Suddenly I felt a hand on my shoulder.
"Here, let me look." Josh's voice had a note of concern in it.
I stood up, moving to one side to allow him access to the cabinet. Shoving his hand in between a file and the front of the drawer he pulled out a few sheets of paper stapled together. He scrutinized the title then handed it to me with a slight smile.
"Thanks," I said gratefully.
"Now I *know* you're tired when your usually infallible filing system fails you," Josh remarked.
"I'm okay," I said. "I just couldn't see it in the drawer."
"Hm," Josh said, obviously unconvinced. He looked at his watch. "Come on, let's wrap this thing up. They've had more than enough time to present their case. You need to go home and get some sleep."
"Josh, quit nagging. And I notice you didn't include yourself in that statement, despite the fact that *you're* still here at ten-thirty," I couldn't help snapping back.
"Yeah, but I don't look as if I'd just undergone some sort of torture by sleep deprivation, " was the reply.
I studied Josh. As usual at the end of a long, hard day arguing with various staffers, yelling at Donna and figuratively beating up on various members of the legislature, Josh's hair was disheveled, his shirt was creased and his tie was askew. But I had to admit, he didn't look tired. On the contrary, he looked more vigorous than ever these days . Energized. Sometimes I wondered if he was over-compensating by getting more done in one day than he did before the shooting, but I had to admit it seemed to be doing him no harm. As I looked at him the thought ran through my head that I did like it when he looked a touch unkempt. It gave him a certain louche charm. Then that got me thinking that if it hadn't been for the damn meeting, we could be snuggled up in bed. The mere thought of it caused me to yawn.
"Aha!" Josh exclaimed triumphantly.
I ignored him as I made sure I had all the necessary pages of the document that had caused Josh to insist on a break.
"Can we *please* get back to this meeting," I said irritably.
Josh followed me out of the office. The corridor was deserted so that he soon built up enough momentum to leave me behind. He didn't do it deliberately, and I'd gotten accustomed to it as a result of the strength in his arms as he pushed himself along. But as usually happened, he ended up conversing with thin air.
"The Howard woman is beating upon you," he remarked.
"I'd rather say she's somewhat intransigent," I corrected as I quickened my pace to draw level with him.
"Nah - she's beating up on you. I can see the bruises," Josh persisted, laughing somewhat unkindly I thought.
Not feeling in any mood for Josh's teasing, I didn't bother to reply as we got to the Roosevelt Room. We hung back to let Senator Sked enter in front of us.
"Tougher than you thought it would be, gentlemen?" he asked prior to walking into the room.
"A little challenging, yes," I agreed grudgingly.
"To coin a euphemism," was the somewhat sarcastic reply. He moved into the room and took his seat.
"He may be one of ours, but he's still a pompous jackass," Josh muttered as I preceded him into the room, where I lost no time in running through the bones of the article on police techniques. Josh had no input at all; since I was chairing the proceedings he preferred to take a backseat and take the role of an observer. Which was unusual to say the least. At last, by the time the clock showed eleven I decided to call time. Jake summarized the main points to be taken back to the administration and the Department of Justice, leaving me with the final task of thanking the participants. I'd barely started when Sybil Howard interrupted.
"If I may ask one more question?"
"In view of the late hour can I suggest we take it outside the meeting and feedback to you in the next few days?" I suggested. If I didn't exert some control I envisaged us being there all night.
"I'd like to address my question to Mr. Lyman," she responded.
Josh looked a little surprised at being singled out in this way. I looked over at him.
"Josh?" I asked, giving him every opportunity to bat the question away, although I knew this was about as likely as him suddenly developing a liking for sushi.
"How can I help you, Mrs Howard?" he asked.
"As a victim of gun crime, how would you have felt if the perpetrators had been acquitted due to lack of evidence, which was subsequently obtained? Evidence which was then inadmissible because of the double jeopardy rule? Wouldn't that situation have dented those high-minded liberal principles of yours?" As she asked what turned out to be a series of questions she kept her eyes focused on Josh.
He didn't flinch. Not one flicker of an eyelid, not one twitch of the muscles in his face betrayed how he felt. This was in stark contrast to the other people in the room. Some of them looked embarrassed, some slightly shocked. Jan Struthers, however, leaned forward, resting her elbows on the table, eager to see how Josh would deal with this situation. I turned my head slightly to see Jake staring at Howard with an expression of undisguised contempt. The intern admired Josh with a passion that bordered on hero worship. It's also worth noting that when Jake was sixteen his older brother had died a month after breaking his neck playing football, so his admiration was directed in equal measure at Josh as politician and Josh as the man who had refused to let his personal circumstances defeat him. This was barely tolerated by Josh with a mixture of amusement and exasperation. And as for me, my gut reaction was that I would give anything to wipe that smug, self-satisfied look off Sybil Howard's face. I'd seen that expression countless times before : it's the one people wear when the think they've scored a spectacular political bull's eye. Gut reaction aside, however, I endeavored to hide my emotion behind a look which signaled a calm professional interest in what was happening.
Ignoring the change in atmosphere in the room, Josh took a breath before leaving Sybil Howard in no doubt as to his position.
"Because the scenario is hypothetical, I can only give an answer based on that. So here, now, this minute - if what you describe *were* true, I have to say I would maintain my position on the necessity of the double jeopardy rule as a principle in law."
He stopped for a moment, pushing himself away from the table and angling himself towards Sybil Howard to speak directly to her, and only to her.
"It's about justice, and I want to see justice serve everyone. And as for this ... " He gestured by sweeping his hand down his body towards his legs. "If my disability suddenly made me change my mind, wouldn't I be condemned for changing my position to suit my own personal agenda? The fact of the matter is I got shot, I'm paralyzed, but any constitutional position taken by this administration will be based on the bigger picture, not on the personal circumstances of one individual. I hope that answers your question."
Josh turned back towards the table.
"Do you want to close this now, Sam?" he asked evenly.
This time I managed it without any further interventions and the meeting broke up quickly. I sensed some people were relieved in view of the scene they had just witnessed. Joe Kramer whispered to Sybil Howard as they stood up and began packing papers into briefcases. He wasn't smiling, and she was frowning as she thrust a file into her case with a little more force than was necessary. Most other people had filed out of the room, save for Jan Struthers who was leaning against the edge of the table talking to Josh. I couldn't hear the conversation but I heard them laughing quietly together before she left the room with her colleagues from Justice.
"Jake, ask Ginger to organize some transport for Mr Kramer and Mrs Howard and can you show them to the waiting area?" I asked.
"I'd be delighted," the intern replied, ushering them into the corridor. This would have been fine if his voice hadn't been dripping with sarcasm as he said it.
"Jake, before you do that - a word, please," said Josh.
Jake walked back into the room. Josh pushed himself over to the door.
"If you'd just excuse us for a moment," he said to Kramer and Howard who were standing in the corridor.
"Of course," said Joe Kramer.
Josh shut the door and moved over to Jake.
"What was all that about?" Josh asked.
"What was what all about?" Jake asked, feigning innocence.
"Would I be right in thinking that what you were actually delighted about was the opportunity to give them the benefit of your opinion on what just happened?" Josh didn't raise his voice, but his quiet tone only emphasized his annoyance.
"Well I think someone should, she ... "
"Mrs Howard is a guest in the White House. The force of her opinion stems from the fact that her daughter was raped and killed by a man who was acquitted, with subsequent forensic evidence proving that he actually *did* commit the crime. You might not like the way she put her argument, but she's a US citizen and taxpayer who was invited here to present her case for the attention of this administration. For that reason she will *not* be subjected to a reprimand from an intern who allows his personal feelings to get in the way of the job in hand. Is that clear?"
"Crystal," Jake replied. He was looking at the floor, and looked as if he would have liked to run out of the room as he edged towards the door.
"Okay. Go show our guests out."
Left to ourselves, we began gathering up our files, pens and papers without uttering a word to one another. I was unwilling to pass a comment as I didn't want to make too much of what had happened between Josh and "that woman", as I was now privately calling her. Suddenly Josh leaned back, closing his eyes as he did so. He loosened his tie, making a "Whooh" sound as he expelled a sharp breath that puffed his cheeks out. I leaned over and placed my hand on Josh's whereit rested on his thigh. It was only then that I felt the slight tremor that was the only indication that he felt any shock ... anger ... whatever ... at what had happened. I squeezed his hand.
"Adrenalin rush," he said, laughing softly.
"It was superb the way you handled her." I wanted to reassure him, let him know that for all the magnanimity of his words to Jake, Sybil Howard was nevertheless a crass individual with all the sensitivity of the self-absorbed crusader.
"She's an amateur, Sam. I'm a professional politician. I eat tougher operators than her for breakfast."
"Yes, but they probably wouldn't invoke your personal situation as a means of winning an argument," I insisted.
"Yeah, that was surprising, wasn't it?" he said mildly. He started to chuckle. "Sure surprised everyone else in the room. Jan said if she saw her again she'd recognize her by the tire tracks up her back."
"I thought you were a little hard on Jake," I suggested.
"He was going to make it personal. You know as well as I do an intern can't go around confronting people like that."
"Well excuse me, but I remember a certain senior staff member who pinned a senator up against the wall for impugning the reputation of the White House Chief of Staff," I pointed out.
"That was entirely different. It was an unwarranted personal attack on someone who wasn't there to defend himself," Josh countered. "Jake would have been totally unjustified picking a fight with someone on an issue that I'd already addressed. And just for the record, *I* didn't feel personally attacked."
"Jake looks up to you."
Josh sighed, rolling his eyes towards the ceiling. "In a manner of speaking."
I ignored that last quip. "All I'm saying is he probably felt he wanted to defend you the way you defended Leo."
"Well in that case, I'm glad I stopped him from committing an assault on a member of the public on government property," Josh shot back. "He needs to stop seeing me as some sort of surrogate brother. If not, I'm having him moved from my staff to ... to ... "
"Where?" I asked. Jake was a young man with potential, and working for Josh's team was such a good opportunity for him.
"I don't know ... the post room ... anywhere ... just away from me," he said exasperatedly. He started to grin. "You know I don't mean it."
"No, of course you don't, because he's a lot like you were at that age," I said.
"Clever, witty, already showing signs of becoming a brilliant strategist?" he asked.
"No, headstrong, opinionated, already showing signs of megalomania." There was no one else around, so I allowed myself the luxury of planting a quick kiss on his cheek. I took my glasses off and rubbed my eyes.
"Come on, let's go home." Josh picked up his belongings and wheeled himself to the door.
"Can't. I've got to see Toby, give him an update on this." I waved my sheaf of notes in the air.
Josh opened the door, and paused, half in, half out of the room.
"Fifteen minutes, *then* we go home," he said.
"Impossible. An hour," I tossed back at him.
"Thirty minutes, then I come and drag you out of Toby's room myself." Josh raised his eyebrows and gave me a look that said this was his final offer.
"You win," I sighed, although I had to admit that the prospect of being home before one o'clock was a tempting one.
"I knew I would," Josh smirked. Then he was gone.
Toby's room was a mess. Two flipchart stands dominated the space in the middle; the scrawled notation on them set out planning dates for a series of speeches and briefings that were required over the next three months. The desk and table were littered with cups, plates and empty sandwich containers from the mess, there were even a couple of plastic forks on the floor. The couch was piled high with papers, press clippings and reference books. Toby was busily typing when I came into the room, making me doubt whether I would be able to speak with him in enough time to meet Josh's deadline. Nevertheless I signaled my intentions by gathering up the material on the couch to make a space to sit down.
"Don't mix them up!" Toby barked. He wasn't even looking at me as he tapped away at his keyboard. "They're in order."
"Okay," I said, sliding along as few papers as possible, making a mental note as to their original position. I sat down and leafed through my own papers, hoping I could summarize the main points of the meeting in a coherent fashion. It was eleven-thirty. Since Josh had forced my hand about going home at a less unearthly hour, I was praying Toby would stop typing sometime soon and give me a chance to brief him.
"Okay," he said suddenly, placing a final period on the page and saving the document. He span around in his chair to face me. "Well?"
I rattled through the main points of the meeting with Toby interrupting me every couple of minutes to demand more clarity or to challenge me on some issue.
"We've got enough to information about their intentions to fight them if they start lobbying Congress?" he asked, rubbing his head wearily.
"I guess," I replied. I still had a few more minutes before Josh would drag me out of the room, so I remained seated.
"And?" Toby demanded, guessing I wanted to say more.
"That woman - Sybil Howard - she tried to use Josh to strengthen her argument," I said. I wanted Toby to know what some of these people were capable of.
"What?" Toby's voice was sharp as he sat forward.
"She presented a hypothetical scenario that the people who shot Josh were acquitted for lack of evidence that was subsequently uncovered. She wanted to know how, as a victim of gun crime, that would affect, and I quote, 'those high-minded liberal principles .'"
"She called him a victim?" asked Toby.
I nodded. "U-huh."
Toby raised his eyebrows and gave a small smile.
"Did she live to tell the tale?" he queried.
"Toby, you should have been there ... the way he handled it, talking about justice is there to serve everyone, how he would have laid himself open to all sorts of criticism if his principles shifted because of his personal circumstances, and how the administration's policy position had to look wider than at one individual. It was brilliant. She had nowhere to go."
"Strange how Josh can be so kick-ass in any situation, but when it comes to his disability ... " he paused, thinking about what he wanted to say.
"Yeah?" I prompted.
"He's so calm when he reacts to something like you've just described."
"He still kicks ass," I contradicted. "He just does it in a different way. I think he doesn't want anyone to think he's over-reacting."
"Mmm ... it's interesting," Toby remarked.
A slight movement to my right caused me to glance towards the window that separated Toby's office from my own. Josh sat behind it holding a piece of paper against the glass. It said "Five minutes and counting."
"Are we done?" I asked.
"Yes ... yes," he said. "Go home. I need you here bright and early tomorrow."
Before he could change his mind I bolted back to my office to see Josh preparing another piece of paper saying 'Come on out I know you're in there.' He looked up at me, the mischievous look on his face softening to something like affection when he saw me.
"Contingency plan," he explained.
"Control freak," I said.
I stood behind my desk as I checked my e-mails while Josh fidgeted impatiently with his car key. There was nothing there that wouldn't wait until the next day - or was it today? - so I logged off, and before I'd even snapped the lid shut Josh had turned the light off and was waiting outside in the corridor.
"Goodnight Mr. Lyman, Mr. Seaborn," called the security guard as we made our way out of the building.
" 'Night guys," Josh replied.
Outside, the early summer night was mild with a slight dampness in the air as if a shower were imminent. The moon was three quarters full, and the White House was bathed in in its soft glow, which was augmented by the floodlights placed strategically around the lawns. It felt good to be outside. Sometimes working in the White House was like being hermetically sealed, making you oblivious to the changes in the weather and the seasons as you became immersed in the work of government. I breathed in deeply as I waited while Josh settled himself and his wheelchair in the car, then sat down gratefully in the passenger seat. I lay my head back and closed my eyes, vaguely aware of Josh fastening his seat belt and fitting the key into the ignition. But before he started the engine I suddenly felt his lips on mine : gentle, warm. Over the years I've indulged in a *lot* of kissing - men and women - but it's only Josh Lyman's kisses that I remember. This went on for a few delicious seconds longer.
"Aren't you taking me home?" I asked when he stopped. "Or we could make out here, which would be nice, but would undoubtedly be the first item on Good Morning America."
"Home it is," Josh replied. "I have my reputation to think of."
He turned on the radio, tuning in to one of those radio stations that plays music from the seventies through to the nineties. Music from last century, I thought, *that's* weird. I closed my eyes again and let the music drift over me, not paying much attention to anything as I half dozed. Until 'Jealous Guy" by Roxy Music came on, that is. Because you know that part where Bryan Ferry whistles? Well, that's also the part where Josh joins in. And he is absolutely the worst, the most tuneless whistler in the world. I opened my eyes and turned to look at him as he sat there, whistling along with Bryan Ferry as he drove. Yeah, I know I said it isn't the most melodic sound, but it's kind of endearing. Josh must have realized I was looking at him because he took his eyes off the road momentarily to glance sideways at me.
"What?" he asked, taking a break from his duet with Bryan.
I shook my head and smiled. Josh frowned then began singing, which was possibly even worse than the whistling. But I loved it anyway, and I couldn't think of a better aural backdrop as we finished our journey home.
When we let ourselves into the apartment Josh insisted I go straight to bed while he went through his mail and wrote out checks to pay a couple of bills. I felt like I was on automatic pilot as I peed, brushed my teeth and undressed. I flopped down into the bed and went out like a light.
The room was dark when I awoke. I stretched out my arm, searching for the familiar feel of Josh next to me, wondering why he wasn't lying with one arm draped over my chest as he was accustomed to before going to sleep. It dawned on me that I was lying diagonally across the bed. Lifting my head up I could see a light through the crack in the door, which was slightly ajar.
"Josh?" I called softly.
A few seconds later the door opened. I could see Josh outlined against the light that shone in, as a result of which I couldn't see his face.
"What are you doing?" I asked. "Why aren't you in bed? Is it time to get up?" I felt befuddled and confused.
"Go back to sleep," he said. "I'm going to sleep in the guestroom."
*Now* I was wide-awake. I sat up and snapped on the lamp on the nightstand.
"What?" I said incredulously.
Josh came over to sit by the side of the bed.
"You were lying sprawled across the bed. I couldn't get in without waking you."
His face betrayed the fact the he was worried about me.
"It's just ... tonight you looked so wrecked. I think it's my fault."
"*Your* fault?" I repeated. "Am I missing something here?"
"I know I disturb you in the night."
Josh was referring to the occasions when he would wake up, obviously troubled by something. Sometimes I would simply hear him sigh, sometimes he would swear quietly. Despite my repeated attempts to get to the bottom of it, he brushed it off as nothing. So I'd given up trying to help, but that didn't stop me lying awake until he fell asleep again, in the remote chance that he'd reach out to me emotionally.
I pushed back the sheets.
"Get in," I ordered.
"Aww, don't get mad, Sam, it's just that you looked so peaceful. I wanted you to get some rest." He slid over into the bed, and made to put his arm around me to pull me into an embrace. I moved away from him.
"I've been working hard. It's these speeches and managing such a big team now. *That's* the difficult part, supervising the work. The writing's easy when I'm the only one responsible for it. Well, maybe not *easy*, but easier to manage. I've got some real strong characters in that team we've put together."
"So it's not just me?" Josh asked anxiously.
"No," I reassured him, laughing slightly, and this time I was the one to initiate the embrace. But Josh didn't pull away.
"And don't *ever* do that again," I said, feeling my voice rising with the memories brought back by finding myself in our half empty bed. "While we're in our own home don't *ever* sleep in the guestroom."
Josh looked totally nonplussed, his mouth slightly open, two small lines of perplexity appearing between his eyebrows. It made me think how unreasonable I must sound. After all, he'd only been thinking of my well being. I took hold of his hand.
"When I was a kid ... when my parents fought ... my dad would sleep in the guestroom. I'd hear him go in there, and sometimes he'd use that room for weeks at a time. I hated it."
"But we didn't fight, Sam," Josh said. He brushed my hair back and kissed my forehead.
"I know, but I don't want us to sleep apart ever, unless it's because of work, or that we physically *can't* sleep in the same bed for some reason." I yawned. I really did need some sleep. I realized it was too late for this sort of discussion.
"I promise," Josh said. The simple pledge was all I needed. "Now, lie down and go back to sleep."
I switched off the light, slid down the bed and after a few minutes I rolled over onto my side. Josh snuggled up against my back, sliding his hand over my hip. I clasped it, drawing his arm over to encircle me. As I did so, his hand inadvertently brushed against my penis. Josh ignored the response that his touch evoked, moving his hand up my body to rest against my chest. But I knew sleep wouldn't come easily now. I took his hand, moving it back down towards my groin.
"Baby, please," I murmured.
"I thought you were exhausted," he asked. I could hear the note of amusement in his voice.
"Obviously there's part of me that's still wide-awake," I replied.
"You want me to put it to sleep?" I felt Josh's hand move ever so slightly to make contact with my now fully developed erection. The soft, intimate tone of his voice had aroused me even more.
It's never Josh's way to simply jerk me off in order to satisfy a basic, sexual need. I drew in my breath sharply as I felt just the touch of the tips of his fantastically sensitive fingers caress my shaft rhythmically. Eventually his fingers enclosed me, still moving slowly, delicately, until he increased the pressure and speed. It seemed like all sensation in my body was concentrated in that one area as faster and faster he brought me off.
"Oh, God, yes, yes ... Oh, Josh, baby, baby ... oh ... "
My body moved convulsively as I came, and I heard Josh murmuring "Is that good, Sam, does that feel better?"
I folded my hand over Josh's.
"You have beautiful hands, Josh," I managed to say once I'd got my breath back.
"All the better to love you with, Sam, all the better to love you with."
The last thing I remembered before I slept were his lips against my shoulder, touching me with the softest, sweetest of kisses.
TUESDAY MAY 15TH 2001
"To fail to prepare is to prepare to fail." CJ's voice was mocking as she read from the small desk calendar she took from my hand. "Wow, Sam, when did you start taking life coaching courtesy of Clichés Incorporated?"
"About the same time you started attending meetings of Nosy Parker's Anonymous," I replied, snatching the calendar back and placing it in its rightful place. I squinted at it, shifting if four tenths of an inch to the left so that it was positioned to my satisfaction.
CJ shrugged as she sat down in the chair opposite my desk. She crossed her legs, the skirt of her business suit cut to just the right length to avoid any professional impropriety.
"When I walked in you were staring at that calendar as if it contained the secret of life, the universe and everything. What gives?" She leaned over my desk, tearing off a piece of the Danish pastry that I'd not yet had the chance to eat. She licked her fingers with obvious enjoyment and gave me a piercing look.
"CJ, is there anything I can do for you, or is the need to filch my Danish the only reason you're here?"
"Okay, here's the thing." She stopped, pursed her lips and sighed.
"Yes?" I said impatiently. It was eight-thirty and I was already behind schedule.
"Look, Sam, I hate to lay this on you, but I need you to speak to Josh for me."
"What's he done now?" I grinned. "You haven't let him loose on the press corps again, have you? Or has he done something equally professional like having someone glue your stapler to the ceiling?"
"No, Sam, I'm serious. I need your help." CJ wasn't kidding around now, she was all business. "Remember that documentary I was trying to persuade him to appear in?"
"I thought he was thinking about it?" I asked.
"Well yes, he has been, but he's still undecided. And now the Secretary for Labor has heard about it, and she's keen that the government raise its profile on the issue of employment among people with disabilities. So she thinks this documentary will help. And I think he may be *this* near ... " she held up her thumb and index finger to emphasize the point, " ... to agreeing to it. He just needs a little push."
"So give him a push." I'd been reluctant to get involved when CJ first floated the proposition when we were in Boston, and my view hadn't changed.
"You don't think I've been trying?" she groaned. "I've got a roomful of statistics, so every time I see him I throw some figures at him. Did you know that 54 million Americans have disabilities, but only 32% of people with disabilities of working age work full or part-time?"
"Well that should work - how on earth could he resist the lure of a barrage of government statistics?" I asked dryly. "Good God, CJ, talk about giving it the human touch. I mean, it's all very well using the number crunching, but do you even know how many people with a disability work here in the White House?"
"Well, Josh, obviously," she started.
"Apart from Josh?"
"There's a woman in the typing pool who uses a cane." She shifted in her chair, screwing up her face and scrutinizing the ceiling. "Derek Weiss who works in the White House counsel's office ... he has some sort of visual impairment ... " Her voice trailed off.
"And they're just the people with a visible disability. What about people with diabetes? A heart problem? Some sort of mental health issue?"
"Sam, your point being?" CJ asked.
"My point *being* is that it's all very well us suddenly deciding that this White House leads by example because a member of the senior staff is a wheelchair user, but how do we compare to the national statistics?" I jabbed my finger on the desk to emphasize my point. "Are we any better, or are we worse? Because I'll bet Josh won't want to use this as a PR exercise with the government as an exemplar."
"What if I said there's no chance that will happen?"
"CJ, excuse my skepticism, it's just that the focus of this documentary seems to have shifted somewhat since you first told us about it. My understanding was that it was about the effect a spinal injury has on a person's life."
"You're right," she conceded. " And Josh has said exactly the same. But can't you see that by featuring him in it, someone with his influence, his ... personal qualities ... we can use it to raise awareness to show that disability shouldn't exclude people from employment, or stop them being economically independent. He can get that message across."
"He won't want to speak from a position of privilege," I warned.
"I *know* that. But I really think this could be such an opportunity." CJ was leaning forward, her hands clasped almost in supplication.
"This is really important to you, isn't it?" I asked.
"Yes. We could do some good with this," she said quietly. "And the producer says Josh can have some editorial control."
"So you want me to speak to him?"
"He'll take notice of you. You're the one person he'll listen to," CJ replied.
"Yeah, right!" I laughed.
"Sam, he thinks the sun rises and sets with you."
I looked at the expression on CJ's face as she said this, but this wasn't want of her trenchant one liners.
"He said that?"
"Well, maybe not those exact words, but that was certainly the gist of it," she confirmed.
"How did he come to tell you that?" I asked incredulously.
"We talk," she said, the rising inflection of her voice showing her surprise at *my* surprise.
I resisted the temptation to press her further on what Josh had said. All I knew was that the day had suddenly gotten a little brighter.
"When do you need an answer for the program producers?" I queried.
"Monday. Today's Tuesday, so that gives you the weekend to work on him," she said, the eagerness in her voice indicating she knew she'd achieved her objective.
"Okay, I'll see what I can do," I said.
CJ stood up, smoothing down her skirt.
"Thanks, Sam." She walked over to the door, and as she opened it she turned to give me a sweetly innocent smile. "I owe you one."
As the door closed behind CJ, I narrowed my eyes thoughtfully. I had no doubt about the veracity of what Josh had said to her regarding his feelings towards me, but why did I now get the feeling that I was the sprat that CJ had reeled in to catch her mackerel?
I turned my attention back to the papers on my desk, but my eyes were immediately drawn to that damned desk calendar. The red figures against the white background showed that day's date : May 15th. Saturday would be May 19th.
Red rag to a bull.
Red for danger.
Red. Blood red.
Since April gave way to May, I'd felt that date sitting there, like something on the horizon that got bigger and bigger as it got nearer. Since May 1st it had crouched there, between Josh and me, neither of us openly acknowledging it, both of us secretly dreading it.
Because Saturday May 19th would be the first anniversary of Rosslyn.
And I didn't know how to handle it.
After a full half hour's fruitlessly mulling this dilemma over in my mind, I'd finally gotten down to something productive. Well, if you can call trying to interpret a Pentagon approach paper on some new IT system productive. I'd not read anything as impenetrable since the last Pentagon approach paper to land on my desk. My mind was just drifting off trying to find an excuse to be distracted from the document when the sound of the phone ringing did it for me.
"Hey." Josh's voice was soft. By the intimacy of his tone I guessed he was alone in his room with the door shut.
"Hey yourself. To what do I owe the pleasure?"
"Do you have a half hour spare to meet me for lunch?" he enquired.
That was unexpected. He hadn't mentioned it this morning. "Yeah. What's up?"
"Nothing. Well, nothing to worry about," he corrected himself. "There's just something I need to discuss with you. It's not totally work related."
"It's nothing to worry about, it's not totally work related, but it won't wait until we get home?" Come on, Josh, give me clue, I thought.
"I'd just like to do it sooner rather than later. Is one thirty okay?"
"As long as it just takes thirty minutes. Toby and I have to walk the President through the speech for the G8 summit, and I've a feeling he's going to give us a hard time. Once an economist, always an economist, I guess."
"Hmm, that Nobel Prize *does* give him delusions of grandeur. Makes me wonder why he'll challenge someone who spends a whole evening balancing his check book." The hint of sarcasm in Josh's voice wasn't difficult to detect, but the fact that he *was* being sarcastic made me feel less concerned about our last-minute lunch date. "Look, I'll meet you down there?"
"Sure. Don't be late." I put the phone down, still wondering what was on Josh's mind.
The mess was always crowded between 12:00 and 2:00, Monday through Friday, so I didn't hold out much hope for Josh and me getting any sort of privacy for whatever he wanted to discuss. It had crossed my mind to ring him back and suggest that we meet in either one of our offices, but then I figured we would be prone to interruption from one or more of our assistants. So the mess it was. I stood in the doorway and spotted Josh sitting alone at a table on the far side of the room. He was immersed in a document which enabled him to give off 'Do not disturb' signals to anyone who felt inclined to sit down next to him. I picked up a tray and quickly selected a tuna salad and coffee, then plonked myself down opposite Josh.
Josh looked up as I spoke, rearranging his papers and folding them into the manila folder that lay on the table. He sat watching me as I placed my plate, coffee, cutlery and napkin on the table.
"So." I began eating my food hungrily, casting a questioning look at Josh. After all, he was the one who had something to talk about.
He pushed his half eaten sandwich aside, folding his arms in front of him in the space afforded on the table.
"This Saturday it'll be a year ago that I was shot."
The food in my mouth took on the consistency and flavor of cardboard. I chewed it some more, then gave up the attempt and took a gulp of coffee to wash it down. I didn't manage a response.
"Sam? You heard what I said?" Josh raised his eyebrows, the creases on his brow emphasizing the question.
"Yes .... yes." I wiped my mouth with my napkin. "You think I don't know the significance of Saturday's date? Josh, it's been there - like the elephant in the room that no-one wants to acknowledge - since the beginning of the month. You know it, I know it. We just didn't *say* it."
I speared a piece of tomato on my fork, looked at it, then decided it wasn't worth the effort. I threw the fork down, leaning my elbows on the table, my clenched hands pressed against my mouth. Josh turned his head away, scrutinizing the wall, then looked back at me.
"Why is it that it's such a big deal that it's a year? Three hundred and sixty-five days. So what? Why not three months, six months?"
It was an impossible question.
"I don't know," I answered. "A year is always significant for marking things. Birthdays, anniversaries. The earth rotates around the sun - that's a year. Four seasons make up a year. It's just ... the way it is."
Josh tilted his head to the side and just sat there looking at me. I lapsed into silence, toying with the food on my plate. A couple of people walked past, said "Hi", then hurried on as if we'd put up an invisible force field to keep people away.
"Why didn't you talk about it? Is it that scary? Did you think I'd freak out?" Josh's voice rose a fraction, a sure sign that he was becoming frustrated. I wasn't sure whether it was with me, himself or both of us.
"Well for that matter why didn't *you* talk about it?" I shook my head. "I didn't know *how* you'd react. I thought you might get mad if I mentioned it, or that maybe you just wanted to ignore it. I'm sorry if I've let you down, but I needed a clue ... I *still* need a clue. I don't know what you're thinking or what you want me to do. I'm sorry."
Josh looked a tad dismayed at my outburst.
"Okay, let's start again," he said. "First of all, there's nothing for you to be sorry about. Second of all, what would you say if I suggested we ask Leo and Toby if we can take some time off on Friday so we can get out of DC for the weekend? Because I don't know about you, but I just want to be someplace else on Saturday so I - we - can get through it."
It took me all of a split second to give my answer.
"I'd say yes."
"So what would you say if I said I'd already spoken to Leo, and he's spoken to Toby, and we *can* leave town at noon, Friday?" Up to this point Josh had looked so serious, but now he was smiling like a conspirator who'd seen all his maneuverings click into place.
"I'd say where are we going?"
"It's a surprise," Josh replied, picking up his discarded sandwich and biting into it. My own appetite returned, as the shadow cast by Saturday's date momentarily receded.
"I'm glad you mentioned it first," I said, at the same time thinking that tuna salad had never tasted so good.
"Mentioned what?" he teased.
"That it's a year since you were shot." And all of a sudden the elephant disappeared like the phantom that it was, and was replaced by an honest acceptance that Saturday would be difficult but that it would come and it would go.
"That's better," Josh said quietly. He took a deep breath, letting his words spill out as he exhaled. "You're okay about getting out of town for the weekend?"
"Josh, it's your call. You're the one who this affects the most. I'm happy to do whatever makes you happy."
Josh slid his hand under the table, and under cover of it we let our fingers touch. I looked towards the clock on the wall.
"Time to go. I need a little more time to prepare for this walkthrough." I stacked the crockery, knives and forks on a tray, depositing them in the container provided for the purpose.
"I'll need to get that report on Medicare," I told Josh as we made our way back into the West Wing.
"It's in my office - I'll get it for you." He opened the door into his area by whacking it with his footrest, keeping the door open with his right hand as he neatly maneuvered his wheelchair through it with his left.
"Josh." We paused at Donna's desk as she called out, brandishing a handful of pink slips. "Senator Finch has rang for the fifth time today. Will you *please* do me a favor and call him back. His southern charm is becoming a little wearing."
"Did he call you 'sweet pea' again?" I asked. The member for Alabama was somewhat unevolved, shall we say, in his dealings with female members of staff. Despite the fact their male colleagues appreciated how annoying this was, it was nevertheless a source of some amusement to see said women's reaction.
Donna glared back at me, unsmiling, continuing her conversation with Josh as she flipped over the slips.
"The Minority Leader's Office wants to rearrange the meeting tomorrow, the Governor of Michigan wants to know if he can have a private meeting with the President at the dinner next week and you've to be in Leo's room in twenty minutes," she rattled off.
"No, maybe and okay," Josh shot back just as quickly. "Tell the Minority Leader's Office the time of that meeting's non-negotiable, set up a phone call with the Governor of Michigan so I can find out why he wants to speak with the President and give me a heads up five minutes before I'm due to see Leo."
He took the papers out of her hand and sped off towards his office.
"Josh, Senator Finch!" she shouted.
"All right, all right, I'll call him ... later."
"But he called me little lady!" Her outraged voice followed us as we disappeared into Josh's office.
It took didn't take Josh long to locate the report I needed.
"What time will you be finishing up tonight?" I asked as he handed it over.
"Mmm ... ten, eleven. I don't know - it depends what Leo wants to see me about." All at once Josh seemed preoccupied.
"Okay - I'll catch up with you later. Gotta dash."
As I walked over to the door, something made me turn back.
"Josh? What's wrong?"
"Nothing. I'm fine." But the message that his words gave conflicted with the message communicated by what he didn't say.
Josh has one of those faces that conveys a wealth of emotion. There are times when he says one thing, but you can see the annoyance, exasperation, amusement or whatever, written on his face. But there's one expression that I can read above all else. It's such a subtle change that not many people can spot it. I'm one of them, and I know Donna's another. It's the way the intensity increases in those expressive brown eyes. Then there's the sense of stillness that he seems to radiate. It speaks of hurt and insecurity, but I know that he hates to admit to it. Hence the attempt to hide behind the words. I stepped back into the office, closing the door behind me.
"Don't lie to me of all people, Josh."
He looked me in the eye, then his gaze flickered away to the side. He drew in his lips so they formed a thin line as he lifted his hand and held it to his forehead, before running his fingers through his hair.
"I'm afraid people will think I'm running away if I leave town on Friday," he finally said.
I placed the report on an adjacent filing cabinet before dropping onto one knee next to Josh's wheelchair.
"Sam, you need to go," he protested. "You don't have time for this."
"I'll always make time for this," I said, wrapping my arms around him to hold him close. Josh shifted slightly so that his body moved against mine as he returned my embrace. I stroked the back of his head in an attempt to soothe him.
"Josh, give yourself permission to feel whatever it is you feel about Saturday. You don't have to let people think that you don't care."
"It makes me look weak." His voice was muffled as he buried his face against my neck.
"Strength takes many forms, and you're the strongest person I know. It was strong to go to Leo and tell him you wanted to take some time out to deal with this. Because that means you'll come back here stronger than ever, and that's what Leo and the President and this country needs." I rocked Josh gently to and fro as I spoke.
"God, Sam, if I didn't have you..." he breathed.
"Shh." I drew back, placing my hands one on either side of Josh's face. "We're going to get through this week, then we're going to get through Saturday, and then on Sunday we'll go on. Because you're going to have to help *me* get through it too. Yes?"
Josh nodded, and to my relief a slight smile creased his face. I even managed to detect a dimple deepening there.
"So give me a kiss and we'll call it a deal," I said.
We were busy sealing the bargain when there was a sharp rap on the door.
"Josh, Senator Finch just called again. I know you're busy ... or whatever ... " Donna's voice floated in from behind the closed door.
"Josh, I think you'd better speak to him before he invites Donna to a cotillion or whatever they do in the south." I got to my feet, bending down to give Josh one last kiss.
"No problem. See you later."
I left Josh's office and prepared to focus on the meeting ahead. God, I hated economics.
THURSDAY MAY 17TH 2001
"Thank you Mr. President, if that's all you have for us. " Leo slipped the agenda into his file; his words indicated that the meeting was drawing to a close.
It was Thursday morning and since the President had a window in his diary senior staff had been convened in the Oval Office. Leo had skillfully navigated through the President's attempts to shoehorn into the proceedings facts on the Roman Empire, the geopolitical circumstances of the First World War and the relative merits of Shakespeare versus Jacobean playwrights, allowing us to finish in a little over an hour.
"More than enough, I think. Anything else you want to raise before Charlie hijacks me for the rest of the day?"
"Just to remind you, sir, Josh and Sam will be taking a short break from noon tomorrow, returning on Sunday." The Chief of Staff removed his glasses, tucking them into the top pocket of his jacket.
"Yeah, I heard you were letting those two kids play hooky this weekend. So, are you going to tell us where you're going?" he asked, looking over at Josh and me.
"If it's all the same to you, sir, I was hoping to keep it as a surprise for Sam," Josh said, squirming slightly under the unexpected attention. Way to go Josh, I thought, as much as we love the man we didn't want to be subjected to the Bartlet Rough Guide to Wherever-We-Were-Going.
"But they'll be keeping their cell phones and pagers switched on the whole time," Leo said pointedly.
"Hm. Well, have a good time and see you Monday barring any unexpected international crises. Thank you everyone."
"Thank you Mr. President," we chorused as we filed out of the room.
"Sam ... Josh ... can I have a word?" CJ hurried up behind us as we made our way to our respective offices.
"Only one word, CJ? Which one?" Josh bantered.
"Don't be so literal, Josh, you know what I mean."
I moved to one side to let CJ position herself between myself and Josh as we walked along the corridor.
"My office?" asked Josh as two other people coming in the opposite direction flattened themselves against the wall to let the three of us pass.
"Surely the question's academic seeing as we were heading that way all along?" CJ asked as we turned into Josh's office.
"Okay, what's up?" Josh asked as she stood in front of us, closing the door behind her.
"Why won't you let your friends help you through Saturday?" she asked abruptly.
Josh looked at me then back at CJ.
"CJ, you really should try to curb that tendency of beating about the bush. And to answer your question, which incidentally has come from so far out of left field that it has Marxist-Leninist tendencies, I don't believe I ever said I wouldn't let my friends help me through Saturday." His answer carefully reflected CJ's words back at her.
"As good as." CJ stepped further into the office so that she stood directly in front of Josh. As tall as she is, I was still struck by just how tall as she stood there looking down at him.
Josh's eyes narrowed as he tilted his head back to make eye contact with CJ. "What's this about, CJ? What's been said? Who's been discussing me? Sam, do you know anything about this?" His head swiveled towards me.
I shook my head. I was as surprised as Josh at CJ's sudden outburst. Righteous anger flared up inside me. I would have spoken but for the remembrance of the last time I'd leapt to Josh's defense. I still smarted when I recalled the tongue lashing I'd received from Josh after that encounter with Pete Sewell. So I opted to say nothing, allowing Josh and CJ to have it out between them. He gave me a long, hard look as if deciding whether to believe me or not. I stared steadily back which seemed to satisfy him. He turned his attention back to CJ.
"Well?" he demanded.
"Nobody's been discussing you. In fact, everyone is saying what a good idea it is for you to get away. But *is* it? I'm worried, Josh, I'm worried about your reactions. Getting away to a totally different location doesn't mean you leave all the bad feelings behind. It'll still be the same date. You can't just ignore it." CJ paused for breath.
"Ignore it? My God, CJ, can you hear what you're saying? Look at me ... how the hell can I *ignore* it? I know I can't pretend it didn't happen, but I can get some distance, maybe put it into perspective."
"And objects in the distance may be closer than they appear," she said cryptically.
Josh laughed incredulously. "Spare me the fortune cookie philosophy, please! What do you want to do this weekend - feel my pain, share a few group hugs? Why don't you mind your own goddamned business? You might get away with beating up on unsuspecting rookie journalists, but you don't get to do it with me."
I winced. It was as if these emotions had been hidden by the fragile skin of Josh's recovery and that CJ's words had crudely stripped away the protective layer. Little wonder that Josh fought back without restraint. Wanting to show my support, I made to touch his shoulder, but then thought better of it. When in this mood, Josh and physical contact are a volatile mix.
"Calm down, Josh. I didn't mean to imply ... " If CJ was attempting to be placatory, she'd made a serious miscalculation.
"The hell I'll calm down," he all but shouted. "CJ, I can't believe you've presumed to ... to come in here and tell me what's best for me and ... and ... what I should and shouldn't be feeling. You have no idea ... the times when I ... "
Josh stopped. It was like a power source suddenly being cut off. I imagined I was wondering as much as CJ what it was he intended to reveal. But he didn't finish. Whatever it was stayed there, unsaid, back in the box that Josh had opened for the briefest of moments.
"Well I feel things too, you know," she said quietly.
"So this is what it's about. Finally we get to it." Josh's tone was caustic. "It's not Josh's feelings at all. It's all to do with how everyone else feels and how they want me to help kiss it better."
This time he hit his mark : I could tell by the stricken look on CJ's face. If he'd slapped her she couldn't have looked more shocked, while Josh himself was looking sufficiently overwrought to make me concerned about the effect on his blood pressure : in times of stress its level still tended to fluctuate.
"Can't you talk about this calmly, without being at each other's throats?"
My interjection wasn't intended to sound patronizing, I only wanted to help Josh, but it got me the full force of those brown eyes which could almost flash with the fire of their owner's temperament. "You're such a loss to the diplomatic service, Sam," Josh drawled acerbically.
"I give up," I said, throwing up my hands in desperation. My intervention wasn't lost, however. In the brief pause for thought it afforded, Josh suddenly changed tactics. He sat there, his lips drawn tightly together.
"Sit down, CJ," he said suddenly.
"What?" she asked.
"No ... I'd better go ... I think we both need some time out." She began to move to the door.
"CJ," Josh persisted, "for the love of ... will you please sit down?"
"Why?" she asked suspiciously.
"Because I'm getting a crick in my neck looking up at all six feet of you, and besides, when you're standing up ... "
By this time, CJ had sat down and Josh had positioned himself next to her.
" ... I can't do this." And he put his arm around her and pulled her towards him in a hug.
CJ sat ramrod straight, refusing to concede one inch towards Josh's conciliatory gesture. He loosened his hold on her, and she dropped her head, studiously scrutinizing her immaculately manicured nails to avoid having to meet Josh's eyes. He sighed, folding his hands in front of him and bending his head to mirror CJ's posture. Two of the strongest, most voluble people I knew, and there was an invisible wall preventing them communicating.
"CJ, this isn't an easy thing to say to a friend." Josh finally broke the silence.
CJ shifted her head slightly, and gave him a sideways glance.
"I appreciate it, I really do, the way you all - you, Toby, everyone - want to help," he continued. "But sometimes I feel smothered, like you're all waiting for me to suddenly fall apart or have some sort of an episode."
"I thought we'd stopped doing that," CJ protested.
"You have. Usually. But at times like this I can sense it all starting up again. I saw the look you gave Toby when Leo reminded the President Sam and I are taking a break. See, *that's* the reason I need to get away. Friday you'll be walking around me like I'm some sort of dangerous explosive that's about to go off bang, and then you'll feel obliged to arrange something for Saturday to 'take my mind off things'." By the tone of his voice I could just imagine the quotation marks hanging around that last bit. "Do you see?" he asked. His voice was gentle this time.
CJ nodded. "I get sad, Josh, sometimes I just ... get ... sad." She enunciated each word carefully, the pauses giving particular emphasis. A while ago she'd admitted as much to me. I never thought I would hear her say it to Josh. When she'd told me the other day that she and Josh talked about stuff, it obviously didn't extend into these areas.
"Aah, CJ," Josh said, putting his arm around her. "Me too. But these days ... maybe not so much."
At that moment I felt that I was intruding on something private, almost intimate, between the two friends. I made for the door, but Josh shook his head. Interpreting this as a request for me to stay, I moved over to the window and stared out over the White House lawn. The fountain was playing and a few people were walking to and fro. Nothing much happening, but I feigned interest while Josh and CJ sat there together, silently making their peace.
"Okay?" I heard Josh say.
"Mm-hmm." CJ sniffed and I sensed rather than heard that she was groping for a handkerchief.
"I'm not pushing you - or anyone else - away this weekend. Think about me, but don't feel too sad on my behalf. I'll be with Sam, and you know he'll look after me. Isn't that right, Sam?" Josh asked.
"You bet," I answered, turning back to face them. It was like being invited into something very personal, and I got chills when I saw the look of affection on Josh's face that was intended just for me.
"So. Are we good?" asked Josh, smiling at CJ.
"Yes, Josh, we're good. " CJ leaned over to kiss Josh on the cheek. She unfolded her long, slender frame from where she sat, and gave me a brief hug. "You two take care of yourselves. I'll see you later."
CJ left the room, shutting the door quietly behind her. Josh covered his eyes, trailing his hands down his face so that finally his fingers were pressed over his mouth.
"That went well." The irony contained in his comment was unmistakable.
I sat down in the seat that CJ had vacated, taking hold of Josh's hand and covering it with both of my own.
"She had no right to say those things," I said. "I wanted to tell her that, and a whole lot more, but ... "
"No, Sam. At least when I'm here I'm not totally impotent." Josh said this as a statement of fact, his tone hiding the real heartache behind his words.
"Nah, you've still got balls." We looked at each other then burst out laughing.
"You know you keep me sane?" he asked. "Why can't everyone else be so cool about it instead of getting me all riled up and making me tell them some ugly home truths?"
"Some things were said that needed to be said. CJ's not a delicate little flower. It's not as if you didn't explain to her why you reacted the way you did. She'll get over it."
"I hope so." He dipped his head. "Maybe we should stay in DC."
"I thought we'd settled this, Josh. You need to do what's right for you. What CJ was saying about being sad ... maybe that's just as much for herself as for you. What do *you* want?"
He leaned over towards me so that we touched foreheads.
"I want to be with you, and only you," he said softly.
"Then that's what we'll do." I opened my mouth to speak, then stopped.
"What?" Josh asked.
I took a deep breath. "You know, you're a puzzle. How come you can be so calm with someone like that Howard woman, but lose it with CJ?"
"Because CJ's my friend and I can be myself with her," he answered simply. "It doesn't excuse the hurtful things I said, but maybe it explains them."
"Yeah. It's the downside of honesty. Sometimes people hear things they'd rather leave unsaid. And when you're so close to them, you don't bother with the window dressing. Believe me - I speak from experience," I said pointedly as Josh pushed himself behind his desk.
Josh screwed up a piece of paper into a ball and threw it at me. "You love our open and honest relationship - stop being such a martyr."
"I might let you get away with it, but I think you'll have to do something to get back into CJ's good books," I suggested.
"I already have an idea," Josh said smugly. "It's smooth, Belgian and sophisticated."
I paused before I opened the door. "You can't."
"I can't what?" Josh asked innocently.
"Not that new deputy consul at the embassy. You're not thinking of setting him up with CJ."
"They looked like they were getting on like a house on fire at that reception. They spent at least a half hour chatting on the balcony." He turned to his computer and began reading his e-mails.
"Josh, I don't think you should try matchmaking."
He raised a skeptical eyebrow.
"How can I put this ... I don't think it'll turn out to be one of your strengths," I said, trying to be tactful.
"Haven't you got a speech to write or something?" Josh swiveled back to face his desk, picked up the phone and began punching in numbers at a rapid pace.
Accepting defeat, I shook my head and set off in search of a speech to write.
That same afternoon I swung by CJ's office. I tapped on the half open door, then stuck my head into the room.
"Hey, Sam. Come in." She was sitting back in her chair, feet propped up on the desk, briefing papers balanced on her knee. She looked a lot happier than she had six hours earlier.
"How're you doing?" I sidled into the room, and perched on the edge of her desk.
"You mean have I recovered from this morning's skirmish with Josh?"
She shrugged. "It's good to clear the air. Josh and me ... we'll be okay."
She leaned over to the far side of her desk and picked up an elaborately wrapped gold box.
"Especially if that man of yours sweetens me up like this." CJ removed the lid. "Chocolate, Sam? They're Belgium's best."
I stared at them stupidly.
"What's wrong? They're wonderful. It's a much more sophisticated taste than American chocolate." CJ waved the box under my nose.
I took one and popped it into my mouth.
"Mmm ... " I said with some difficulty around the dark truffle concoction. "Josh said something about giving you something smooth, sophisticated and Belgian ... so you know that reception at the embassy a few weeks ago ... I thought he meant he was going to set you up with ..."
CJ gave a loud shriek of laughter. "Not that pint-sized Lothario whose hands were all over me on the balcony?"
"I guess I jumped to conclusions," I squirmed uncomfortably.
By this time CJ was helpless with laughter. She waved her hands at me in a gesture that said 'Just go'. Knowing that when she'd recovered her composure my mistake would be all around the West Wing, I scurried off to the safety of my office before I embarrassed myself even further.
FRIDAY MAY 18TH 2001
By the time we turned east onto US-50 I had a fair idea where we were headed.
"Somewhere outside of DC?" I asked.
"Mm-hm," Josh answered, settling back in the driving seat and keeping the car at a steady fifty-five miles per hour.
"Not Virginia, though," I said.
"Not Virginia," he agreed.
I pulled out a packet of hard candy from the glove compartment, unwrapping one and slipping it into Josh's mouth. He ran his tongue lightly over my fingers, which he then contrived to suck slightly before I had the chance to withdraw them from his mouth.
"Spoilsport," he said as I pulled my hand away before helping myself to the candy. I ran my tongue across the smooth confection and sucked on it reflectively.
"Might be," Josh teased.
"Chesapeake. Somewhere on Chesapeake Bay," I said hopefully.
"Your powers of deduction leave me speechless in wonder and awe," Josh conceded.
"I *love* Chesapeake Bay." I lunged towards Josh and kissed him on the cheek.
"Which is kinda why I thought it would be a good place to go this weekend." He looked pleased with himself at the success of his plan so far. "And with a bit of luck we'll not run into *anyone* we know, and barring a visitation by the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, Leo will leave us alone. I'm planning to have you all to myself until Monday morning."
He laughed as I nuzzled into his neck, and we didn't stop laughing and chatting all the way towards our destination. The further we got from DC, the more relaxed we became, and I started to shed the tension that I'd been carrying around for the last couple of weeks. We crossed the state line and eventually turned off the highway, the Maryland countryside becoming prettier as we went along. We drove through villages whose architecture reflected the state's colonial past and as we approached the bay the air took on that indefinable salty sharpness that only proximity to the ocean can produce. Despite the fact that I'd been raised within a short car drive's distance from the Pacific, I still get excited at that moment when I catch sight of water, so when I could at last see Chesapeake Bay in the distance I stretched my neck eagerly to get a better look. At the same time I noted the name on the road sign that pointed in the direction we were headed.
"Josh - St Michael's. Am I right?" I asked.
"There's nothing gets past Sam Seaborn," he mocked affectionately. "Yeah. I remembered you mentioning that you'd been there once with that cousin of yours, so it seemed like a good choice."
"It's an excellent choice. Thanks, babe." I stroked the back of my index finger against Josh's face. Josh knew about my cousin from Delaware who owned a beach house at Kent Island. I used to visit her there for the sailing at least twice a year, but since the shooting I'd been reluctant to leave Josh to indulge my passion. His recollection of a seemingly trivial detail touched my heart.
"Maybe you can show me your appreciation later." His voice was soft, the expression on his face tender as he took his eyes off the road momentarily. His mouth curved gently into a smile. "But first I need to find the hotel."
He turned his attention back to driving as he turned the car into the small town of St. Michael's. Very historical, with houses and streets dating back to the eighteenth and nineteenth century, its strong maritime atmosphere was an obvious attraction. Josh drove us down to the waterfront, where a nice collection of smart boats, yachts and older vessels provided a typical Chesapeake scene. Part way along he slowed the car at a large hotel with its own marina.
"Here we are. The Harbor Inn and Marina," he announced, driving up to the front of the building and maneuvering the car into a wide parking bay designed for disabled guests.
I climbed out of the car and scrutinized my surroundings as Josh got himself organized.
"Wow," I said appreciatively, turning to look over my shoulder at Josh.
"You like it?" he asked.
"What's not to like." The various signposts in the grounds pointed to the range of facilities : spa, restaurants, the marina, the pool, not to mention the hotel itself.
"You get the bags, I'll go get us checked in then we'll see what the bedroom's like." Josh removed his sunglasses so that he could wink suggestively at me as he moved towards the hotel entrance. The weekend stretched invitingly ahead of us as we went into the lobby.
"Good afternoon, gentlemen." The receptionist behind the desk greeted us.
"The name's Lyman, I have a reservation for a double room."
The woman punched the details into a computer, then leaned over so that she could speak to Josh from her position behind the high counter.
"You've reserved one of our Waterfront Rooms for two nights," she confirmed. "Could I take your credit card please, and if you'd like to move to the end here it'll be more convenient for you, Mr Lyman."
She indicated a section at the end of the reception desk which was lowered for wheelchair users and allowed Josh to complete the necessary paperwork.
"Here are your key cards. Would you like to make reservations for dinner?"
"No thanks, we'll be eating in the town," said Josh. I smiled to myself. He seemed to have organized everything down to the last detail.
"Okay. Would you like to order a newspaper for tomorrow morning?"
"Can we get the Washington Post and the International Herald Tribune?"
"I thought this weekend was supposed to be a break?" I pointed out. The receptionist gave me an amused smile. I guessed she was used to hearing couples debating like this. All I got from Josh was an exasperated sideways glance.
"Okay, just the Washington Post," he said. A small victory for me. As dedicated as we both are to our jobs, on that particular weekend I hoped we could cut ourselves off from the all-pervasive world of the nation's politics.
"The Washington Post it is," she agreed. "Do you need any help with your luggage?"
"No thanks, we'll be fine," I said. We'd only packed a couple of carry-alls.
"The elevators are to your right," the receptionist said, pointing with her pen. "Enjoy your stay."
In a few minutes we were in our room on the second floor. Overlooking the harbor itself, it was spacious, comfortable and most importantly had a king-sized bed piled with cushions and pillows. As he always did in any hotel Josh moved around, orientating himself with the layout of the bedroom, then moved through to check out the facilitates in the bathroom. Meanwhile I opened the ceiling to floor windows and walked out on to the balcony. The water sparkled in front of me, the boats that were moored there bobbing slightly in the gentle swell. I closed my eyes and lifted my face to catch the warmth of the sun. To hell with the hole in the ozone layer, I thought, I wanted to feel those rays on my skin; I wanted to draw some strength from the beauty of these surroundings to sustain me in whatever demands the following day might make on me.
"Does that feel good, sweetheart?" I felt Josh's hand resting against the small of my back.
I nodded, wishing I could distil the essence of that moment : the bay, the sunlight, the touch of my lover's hand and the sound of his voice. Then I reasoned that it was the ephemeral nature of times such as this that made them so precious, and the pleasure so intense. Made them so *special*. I opened my eyes and looked down at Josh.
"Better than good." I moved my hand behind me so that I could rest it against Josh's. We remained like that for another minute or so, as if we were both reluctant to break the spell.
"It's so beautiful here," I said at last.
"You want to go and explore?" asked Josh.
"Let's unpack first," I suggested, "then we can go out, and when we come back we can ... please ourselves what we do before dinner."
"I like the sound of that," said Josh.
I bent down and we shared a long, tender kiss before embarking on the first of our afternoon's activities.
The hotel was only a few minutes stroll away from the center of the town. I picked up some leaflets from the lobby, but from the determined way Josh pointed the direction we needed to take as we left the hotel complex, I surmised he'd already done his research. So we started by heading for the Maritime Museum, where we spent the first hour or so in the Bay History Building. Then we made our way outside and wandered along the wharf to take in the historical boats that were moored there adjacent to the nineteenth-century lighthouse. But the part I liked best was the working boatyard, where we were able to watch and chat to the shipwrights carrying out restoration work. Well, I should say *I* watched and chatted, while Josh sat there in good humored tolerance of my enthusiasm. Josh and boats? Well, let's just say he only ever came sailing with me twice and both times he parted company with his breakfast. The truth is that Josh spending an afternoon indulging my interest spoke just as eloquently about his feelings for me as any number of declarations of love.
"Hey." I walked over to where Josh was feigning interest in an old fishing vessel being given a paint job. "You had enough?"
"Well, if you've seen everything you want to ... " His voice trailed off hopefully, although I could see he was trying not to appear too eager to move on.
"Well I could spend hours in this place - not just the boatyard, but the whole museum." I caught Josh desperately trying to arrange his face into a look of enthusiasm, and failing dismally. "But I'd also like to find a beer. How about you?"
"I thought you'd never ask. Let's go." Josh took my hand and squeezed it; we took our leave and meandered slowly into the small town, lingering at some of the shops along the way. Eventually we located a bar and restaurant with an outside seating area that overlooked the harbor. Once we were settled with our beers, I decided to broach the subject that I'd wanted to address so that it didn't nag at the back of my mind for the duration of the weekend. I took a deep breath as I watched Josh looking out at the busy waterside scene. He looked the picture of relaxation. I let my breath out with a sigh, knowing that I was probably going to break the tranquility of the moment.
"Mm?" he asked absently, his gaze trained on a woman walking past with a couple of Dalmatian dogs on a leash. He pointed at them. "One of these days we should get a dog. What d'you think?"
I picked up my drink, turning the bottle slowly in my hands and scrutinizing it as I tried again.
"I prefer cats," I answered. "Josh, I really need to talk to you about something."
This time I got his attention. He twisted around so that he faced me across the table. He frowned as he took a deep swig of his drink.
"This must be serious, you're doing that solemn face," he said, only half jokingly. "Spit it out."
"CJ asked me to speak to you ... " I began, but I didn't get any further as Josh let out a loud groan. He closed his eyes, pinching the bridge of his nose with his thumb and forefinger while he held his other hand up, palm outwards.
"Wait, don't tell me, she wants you to persuade me to do that damn documentary," he said.
"I think I'm her last resort," I said lamely. Privately I was thinking thank you, CJ, thanks for putting me in the position of using my relationship to pressure Josh into doing something he so obviously doesn't want to do.
Josh stared at me for a moment, then leaned his elbow on the table, propping his chin on his hand.
"Okay. Persuade me."
"There's a need to raise awareness that people with disabilities are a valuable part of the labor force of this country," I began. "The Secretary of Labor wants the government to raise it's profile both as a promoter of this and as an enlightened employer. CJ accepts that the original remit of the documentary was to show the effect of a traumatic spinal injury on the life of a fit and healthy high achiever. She and the TV company have been asked to shift the focus so that they use this aspect as a means of raising awareness with the wider public about disabled people's employment issues."
I stopped, trying to gauge Josh's reaction. Impossible. He stared back at me, his face impassive. He was sitting stock still, in the same position he'd adopted a minute ago.
"Go on," was all he said. He squinted his eyes slightly. Whether it was an indication of disapproval or simply a response to the bright afternoon sunlight, I couldn't guess. So I decided to press on.
"No-one wants you to appear in it as the Token Man in a Wheelchair who's beaten all the odds to maintain his position on the senior staff of the White House. They know you're not typical. I told CJ as much, that you wouldn't want any message to come from your more ... well, let's say privileged position."
Usually by this time when I'm in full flow on just about any subject, whether it's a new anti-pollution bill or the latest Republican attack on us or the play-offs in the World Series, Josh has interrupted me. But not this time.
"And they'd be careful not to make this one of those inspirational pieces that you hate. You can have some editorial control. And you being you, Josh ... clever, funny, opinionated ... it wouldn't be like something off the Hallmark Channel. You could really use it to inform people. And it might actually help some of the people that don't have the advantages you've got. And ... well, that's it, really." My voice trailed off because I'd assumed that I would have ended up debating with Josh. Instead I felt more like I was pitching the idea to him without having prepared myself for it.
When I stopped talking the only sound was the soft buzz of conversation from the other tables, and the squawking from a couple of seagulls flying overhead. Josh lowered his hand, resting both hands on the table. He lifted his chin slightly.
"Okay," he said.
"Okay. I'll do it." He took a drink of beer.
"Wow." I leaned back in my seat. I couldn't help smiling as I was quite pleased with myself. "I *must* have been persuasive."
He raised an eyebrow and one side of his mouth lifted in a smirk. "Sorry to disappoint you, Sam, but I'd already decided a week ago that I would do it."
I sat bolt upright. "Son of a *bitch*. And you let me go on for five minutes ... "
"But you were *so* eloquent." He smiled smugly, which naturally infuriated me even more.
"So when were you planning on telling CJ?" I asked.
"Monday. That *is* the deadline she set you?"
"Might be," I reluctantly conceded.
"I had a little wager with Toby. He bet me that she'd ask the First Lady to speak to me, but I knew she would get you involved," he went on.
"Son of a bitch," I repeated. "Why didn't you just tell her you'd do it?"
"Well, I thought I would punish her for all those statistics she kept throwing at me," he retorted. "I couldn't leave my office without she was waiting to pounce with a battery of figures."
"Maybe she reckoned they would appeal to you, what with your love of polling data, which, by the way, borders on a fetish."
He shrugged. "It's fun messing with CJ's head."
"But you will do it?" I asked. "The documentary, I mean."
"As long as I'm not the focus, yes. I want to meet with the producers, but in principle, I'll do it." He leaned towards me. "Now, can we close the subject for the rest of the weekend?"
"Gladly," I said, draining the rest of my beer. "Do you want another drink, or .... "
Josh smiled. The next thing I felt the gentle pressure of his hand on my thigh.
"I would love some 'or'," he murmured. I could just detect the tip of his tongue as he ran it over his upper lip. "What'dya say?"
I hung the 'Do not disturb' sign on the door prior to letting it swing shut. Turning around slowly, I leaned against it, ran my hand through my hair so that I mussed it up a little, gave him my best smolder and whispered, "Joshua."
Josh looked back at me through half closed eyelids, his mouth parted just a touch, and drew in a sharp breath. It never fails, he falls for it every time. It's not often anyone succeeds in rendering Josh helpless and speechless at the same time - no, if I'm honest, I like to think I'm the only one who can - but I love it when it happens in the bedroom. I shouldn't have been surprised at this reaction - the anticipation and sexual tension fairly crackled between us as we left the bar and headed for our hotel room. In the (fortunately empty) elevator we could hardly keep our hands off one another. But when we reached our room, I decided to take control of the pace, and slow things down a little.
I sauntered over to stand in front of Josh. Still he didn't speak as I leaned over his shoulders to rest my hands on the backrest of his wheelchair, bending down to place my lips against his. I kissed him open-mouthed, flicking my tongue tantalizingly against his . He reached up to touch me, so I took hold of his hands and held them down at his sides.
"Easy," I said hoarsely. I stood up straight and walked away from him. Josh finally found his voice.
"Sam!" he said in a choked sort of way.
"Don't move," I ordered. "It's *my* turn to take charge."
Josh pushed himself around through one hundred and eighty degrees. As I turned my back on him to reach into my bag I felt him following me with his eyes, but knew that he wouldn't come any further. He'd be only too willing to play along with me. So I took my time as I retrieved what I was looking for, and placed it on the nightstand. Next I made for the bathroom, selected the biggest, fluffiest towel I could find and went back and spread it out on the bed. Finally, I closed the drapes which move slightly in the breeze entering through the open window. The cream voile shaded the room but not so darkly that we couldn't enjoy looking at one another as we indulged ourselves on that warm, lazy Chesapeake afternoon.
And still Josh sat where I told him to, not moving, just gazing at me dreamily. Time to put him out of his misery, I decided.
I sat down on the bed and crooked a finger at him.
"Come to me, Joshua," I said softly.
Without saying a word he pushed himself over to the bed, sliding onto it to sit next to me. I placed my hand on his face, pushing upwards so that my fingers tangled in his hair. But I didn't kiss him, I just stared at him intently, stared into those brown eyes that I imagined could swallow me up.
"You're my addiction, you know that? You're my sweet addiction, and I never want to give you up," I murmured.
Still Josh didn't speak. He looked at me as if mesmerized. I brushed my lips against his mouth, the merest touch. He moaned slightly and moved closer to me. I bent down to remove his shoes, then with one arm under his knees and the other around his waist I eased him further onto the bed where I'd arranged the pillows into a nest for him to lie against. I knelt beside him and slid my hands under his tee shirt, lightly stroking his chest, lingering for a few seconds to gently rub my thumbs against his nipples. I felt them become erect as once again Josh moaned, but more loudly this time.
His tee shirt came off easily, although his hair, already disheveled from the light sea breeze outside, became a little wilder as I pulled the garment over his head. Josh's face was slightly flushed and the sum total of it all gave him a somewhat untamed look. The effect was devastating.
"Look at you," I breathed. "Lie down."
Josh complied without question as I continued undressing him until he lay there completely naked. I leaned over him, knowing that he expected me to kiss or caress him. But all I did was put my lips together and blow a breath down his chest and over his stomach. He started to sit up, propping himself on one elbow and reaching out to me with his other hand.
"Not yet." I was off the bed before he could make contact. Standing at its foot I slowly, deliberately rid myself of my own clothes. I could hear Josh's breath coming faster; he was biting his lip, his hands moving agitatedly across his chest. As I slid my boxers down my hips and kicked them away, Josh finally managed to put a sentence together.
"For God's sake, Sam, touch me."
I knelt on the bottom of the bed, gently gripped Josh's ankles, then pulled him down so that he was lying flat. Moving up the bed on all fours to straddle him, I placed my hand on his chest, in the general vicinity of his heart. He placed one hand over mine, then with his other reached up and traced the shape of my lips with his index finger.
"So beautiful," he whispered. "What now?"
"I want you to turn over," I told him. "On your front."
After a moment's hesitation he did as I asked. I leaned over to pick up the bottle I'd placed on the nightstand. Opening it, I poured a pool of ylang-ylang massage oil in my palm, then rubbed it between my hands to warm it.
"Just relax, Josh. I'm going to make you feel so good."
I ran my hands over his back and neck , spreading the oil evenly before beginning to work on the muscles in his neck. Making small circles with my thumbs and fingers, I gradually moved down to Josh's shoulders, where I knew he often felt some tension in his muscles. As I went in deeply, he began to react.
"God, Sam, that's great ... mmm ... fabulous ... oh, God ... " Josh's voice tailed off into a series of deep moans.
For the next few minutes I worked on his shoulders. The atmosphere in the room was languorous; the only sounds were Josh's moans of enjoyment coupled with our breathing. Then my hands traveled down to his upper back, gently rubbing and kneading the muscles there. The muscles that were so strong and well toned, I could feel my own arousal as my hands explored and probed Josh's upper body.
"God, Josh, you're in such good shape," I gasped as I slid my hands down his back, locating the long muscles on either side of his spine. Moving from Josh's waist I used my thumbs to work my way up his back and down again. Josh's moans had now turned to urgent cries which became even more desperate as I marked out the length of his spine with a series of lingering kisses. I kept up with the massage, my palms against Josh's back, while allowing my fingers to explore down the side of Josh's body.
"Lower, Sam, lower, please," he implored.
"Like this?" The question was rhetorical. I knew exactly what he wanted.
I slid my hands inwards and downwards, to that spot at the small of his back which is so sensitive.
"Oh, yes ... that's it." He was almost sobbing with pleasure when I rubbed my fingers over his skin, tracing tiny circles, slowly at first then with an increased tempo in time with his breath which was coming more and more rapidly.
When he came he came with a noisy vengeance. Josh's body was jerking beneath me as he panted and shouted, responding with both mind and body. Eventually I felt his body go limp under my hands as I leaned in to kiss his neck, then began sucking and biting at his ear lobe. He whimpered, and once again his breathing quickened. He cried out and levered himself up on his elbows, rolling his body underneath me so that he lay on his back. I was now leaning on all fours over Josh and my body tensed as he began to stroke the insides of my thighs. My cock was already almost unbearably erect, a result of the feel of Josh under my hands and the sound of his own arousal. With an "Oh God, Josh, I need you," I sank down and slid my body so that I covered him, trapping his arms beneath me. Josh laughed and managed to tweak the base of my cock; taking advantage of my reaction he once again rolled over to end up on top.
He slithered down my body, licking and sucking me as he went. I cried out as he reached his goal, but this time it was his lips on my thighs that sent a shiver right through me. This is a particular favorite of ours : me, I love the sensation and Josh gets his satisfaction from touching me in this most intimate of places. As he kissed me, one hand caressed me against my pubic bone; the other fondled the skin behind my cock. As if that wasn't enough for me to cope with, Josh's interest moved from my thighs as my balls began to get some attention from that talented mouth of his. He used his tongue to stroke them, his teeth to lightly graze them, his lips to suck on them. The pleasure was almost unbearable, a honeyed torture that ultimately overwhelmed me.
"Now, Josh now!" I yelled. "Fuck me, fuck me, fuck me!"
I grabbed at Josh's head as he ran his tongue up and down my shaft, stopping just as he took me to the edge. When he finally went down on me, he stopped short of enclosing me with his lips. All I could feel was the light friction of his teeth, causing me to cry out louder and louder. At last I felt him take me into the warm hollow of his mouth : in, in, in as far as he could physically accommodate me. God, it was glorious, like every wonderful sensation I'd ever known was concentrated between my legs. I felt a rushing sensation run through my body. My blood was singing in my ears. I'd never felt more alive and yet as my orgasm hit I felt like I was being pulled outside of my body. No wonder the French call it "the little death". That afternoon I comprehended what the phrase actually meant as spasm after spasm hit me.
"Yes, Josh, yes, Josh, yes, Josh," I repeated over and over, until the last of it was over.
I lay there gasping, while Josh drew himself up my body. I put my hands on the back of his head and yanked him towards me. I kissed him fiercely, brutally almost, tasting a mixture of my own cum and the unmistakable essence of Josh. He returned the kiss just as enthusiastically. I could hear him moaning. It seemed to come from a long way off as the sounds were captured and swallowed up by that long, long kiss.
We were both breathing heavily as we held each other tight, gathering our wayward senses in the aftermath of the mutual onslaught on our bodies and emotions. Josh shifted his position from lying on op of me to rest on his side of the bed, his head against my chest.
"Comfortable?" I asked.
"Mm-hmm." Josh sighed contentedly. After a few minutes he asked, "When did you become an expert in massage, 'cos it's the first time you've done *that*."
"Did you like it?" I enquired.
"I *loved* it. You must've realized that." Josh tilted his head up to look at me. I pushed a stray curl off his forehead.
"Well, if you must know, I looked on the Internet. But today was the first time I got hands on experience."
Josh's face was now pressed against my chest, and I felt him smile at my unintentional pun.
"You should teach me," he said, "then I can return the favor."
"You've certainly got the right equipment," I remarked, taking hold of his hand. Josh didn't put up any resistance as I stretched out his fingers and in turn held the pads of each of them to my lips. He had the most perfect hands that I'd ever seen on a man. I ran my thumb along that part of his palm at the base of his fingers, noticing the slight calluses that had formed there from the friction caused by the wheel rims of his chair. But they didn't spoil the perfection. Instead they added something real and life affirming.
"Sam." Josh's voice broke into my train of thought.
"I don't ... I don't say this as often as I should." He stopped for a second before continuing. "You know you mean everything to me, don't you?"
"Yes, babe, I know."
And finally the room was still and quiet, save for the warm breeze that rustled the drapes and stole over us like a sigh as we embraced.
"Sam, stop preening yourself in there, and get a move on!"
I stepped out of the bathroom to see Josh sitting in front of the mirror combing his hair.
"Excuse me!" I laughed. "A bit of a double standard here!"
I pulled on my shirt and walked over to him as I buttoned it. I stood behind Josh and ran my hands down his chest as I appraised the sight of us in the mirror.
"That blue suits you," Josh said, referring to the shirt. "Brings out your eyes."
"Josh! I do believe that was romantic. It must be the surroundings getting to you. Although I have to say the sea air suits you - you've got a little color in your cheeks."
I caught sight of an envelope propped up on the dressing table. It had my name scrawled on it in Josh's hand.
"What's this?" I asked, picking it up.
"Open it." He checked his wallet for his credit card then went out onto the balcony while I sat down in the room to open the envelope.
It contained a single sheet of paper : a letter from Josh's attorney confirming that he had transferred the property deeds of his apartment into both our names. As of that day we were co-owners. I read it again to make sure I'd got the meaning right, desperately trying to swallow the lump that had somehow formed in my throat. I was near to tears as I comprehended the extent it demonstrated Josh's commitment to us as a couple.
After taking a minute to compose myself I walked out onto the balcony and sat down on one of the chairs at the small table that stood there. Josh looked at me, unsmiling. I took both his hands in mine and pressed my mouth against them.
"Thank you, Joshua. It's a wonderful thing that you've done."
At last he smiled. "You're really pleased? I thought you'd want it, but then I thought I might be presuming too much."
"I'm beyond pleased. I feel touched and privileged ... " I stopped and bent my head over his hands. Josh reached over to stroke my hair.
"As long as I've done the right thing. It's also something I wanted to do to make everything easier legally, 'cos if I predecease you ... "
The words made me jerk my head up sharply. "Stop it, Josh, I don't want to hear that."
"Look, Sam," he sighed, "I know that as a topic of conversation it's a downer, but you know as well as I do that with my medical history - cardiovascular surgery, paraplegia, the risk of kidney problems - well, by the law of averages ... "
"Will you just stop it? Yu went through all of this, remember? I *know* about your potential health issues."
How could I forget? Because he'd wanted me to be in no doubts as to "what you're letting yourself in for" as he put it, when Josh had been discharged from the rehabilitation hospital he'd sat me down and given me chapter and verse on his medical history and the possible effects of paraplegia. He'd approached it in a similar way to his giving a campaign briefing : that is, it was factual, well researched to the nth degree and covered every possible contingency. So I listened. And asked questions. And absorbed it all. And vowed that I wouldn't think about it again unless I really had to. Until now.
"Sam, Sam, Sam." Now Josh was holding my hands. "Have you forgotten you're an attorney? Sometimes we just have to face facts."
"But now? After the good time we've had? After the beautiful love we just made? Here, on this warm night? Don't spoil a perfect day, Josh."
"It's because we have these perfect times that I want to be content in my mind that I can take care of you, Sam. Accept it. I just want to take care of you," he repeated. His honesty was both painful and magnificent. I could have wept.
"You blow me away, you know that?" I gave him a long stare. "But if you want the attorney's answer, yes, you're right, it makes sense to do this, all things considered."
Josh chuckled. "Spoken like a man who *almost* made partner with Gage-Whitney."
"Don't remind me."
"Anyway," he went on, "it wasn't just for legal reasons I did this. I don't want you living *with* me, in *my* apartment, I want us living *together* in our *home*. But mostly I wanted to do it because I don't tell you often enough how I feel. I'm not eloquent like you. I tried this afternoon ... I did, I really did ... it just sounded pathetic."
Josh wasn't laughing now, but his obvious distress at his perceived inability to express himself was more affecting than he knew.
"Oh, Josh, you don't get it, do you? I *know* how you feel. If it's half of what I feel, then you give me something very few people are lucky enough to find in a lifetime."
I leaned over. Putting my fingers under his chin I let my lips gently explore his, feeling the outline of his finely sculpted mouth, loving the affection that he returned to me.
"See? This is what it feels like," I murmured.
"Come on," I said as I stood up, "let's go get some champagne. I'm buying."
The perfect day continued into the perfect evening. I looked across the table at Josh. The soft light of the candles accentuated the mellow atmosphere of the intimate restaurant that he'd picked out; the food and the wine enhanced the feeling of contentment that had wrapped itself around us in our hotel room. I gave myself over to the unaccustomed sensation of knowing that for the next couple of days we didn't have to dedicate ourselves to the mechanics and processes of national government.
"Imagine what we can do when we've got time to do some real traveling," Josh was saying. He lifted his glass, looking over the rim and giving me the full benefit of those fabulous brown eyes. The combination of champagne and wine had given him a slightly heavy-lidded look.
"And what do you call real traveling?" I wrenched my attention back to the conversation, away from the thoughts of what I would like to do with Josh back at the hotel.
"Well I'd like to take a really, really long trip. Three months minimum." He stopped as our waiter appeared at the table to refill our glasses, disappearing as discreetly as he'd arrived.
"So it wouldn't be anytime soon, then. It would have to be at the end of this term, or the next if the President decides to run again and wins," I pointed out. "But it would a nice hiatus before we do whatever comes next for us. So where? Where would you go?"
"I've got it all worked out. I want to visit the places in Germany my grandfather told me about when I was a child. Poland - I mean, Birkenau, obviously." His voice dropped at this more somber thought. "And the village in Austria where my mom's family come from. Then I thought Italy, France, Spain. I want to see all these places properly, not the way we see them as part of a president's entourage - get off the beaten track, really *talk* to people. What d'you think?"
"Throw in a visit to Britain and I'd say we'd got ourselves the trip of a lifetime. I'm assuming I'm invited along?" I leaned over the table, reaching out to place my hand on Josh's wrist, stroking it with my thumb. His skin felt warm, vital.
"What would I do without my walking guide book?" he grinned.
I turned my head to stare out of the window at the indigo colored sky. Small lights twinkled in the trees around the restaurant. It seemed like a million miles from Washington DC.
"Josh." I locked my eyes with his. "Do you ever think what you'll do - I mean, really do - with your life when we finish what we're doing now?"
He shrugged. "I can't see me doing anything else but be in politics. In the shorter term maybe some sort of consultancy work or lobbying. But I do have a long term objective."
My thumb stopped its movement across his wrist.
"Would the White House figure in there somewhere?" I felt a small spark of excitement, suddenly appearing like a tiny replicant of what I'd experienced when Josh had turned up at the offices of Gage-Whitney to take me to New Hampshire.
Yeah." Josh's voice was soft, hinting at his own thoughts.
"So we'd probably be talking - what - ten years time? You'll need that to develop a policy platform, build up a support base, get funding. And you'll have no problem with a campaign team. Look at the people you can call on. I could be your campaign manager ... well, if you'll have me ... " I rattled on, totally carried away by the whole scenario that was rapidly taking shape in my head. It took me a few seconds to realize that Josh was staring at me in undisguised horror.
"Sam, what in God's name are you talking about?" he finally managed to interject.
I looked around and behind me as if the room was filled with spies from the Republican Party, the media and Josh's favorite bete noire, the Christian Right.
"You running for president, Josh, what else?" I whispered.
It started quietly, then grew until Josh's laughter drew amused stares from some of our fellow diners. After a while he managed to get his breath back.
"Oh, God," he gasped, taking a drink of water. He raised his eyebrows to emphasize his next question. "You thought I was talking about *me* running for *president*?"
"Yes. Why not? You're the smartest guy I know, you've got a great political brain, you're committed, you've got an ego the size of ... "
"So apart from the obvious I'm an ideal candidate? I'll ignore the bit about my ego , because I think you were trying to show that as a positive trait." Josh sat back and folded his arms in front of him.
I lowered my voice. "Ten years is a long time. Attitudes to being gay are changing all the time ... "
"I'm not talking about being gay," Josh said.
"So you're Jewish. So what?"
"Do I have to spell it out to you, Sam? Look at me, what do you see?" he demanded.
"The hottest guy in the room?" I grinned.
"Apart from that," Josh smirked. "Come on, Sam, don't be deliberately obtuse. You *know* what I'm taking about."
"Will you believe me when I say that *now* I know what you're talking about, 'cos I really did mean it when I thought you were talking about that other stuff."
And it was true. It hadn't crossed my mind that Josh being a wheelchair user would be any sort of impediment to his political ambitions.
"It didn't stop Roosevelt," I pointed out.
"Roosevelt didn't live in an era with electronic newsgathering, the public being bombarded with images on the TV, the current fixation that this country has with its leaders being seen as fit with no sign of physical or mental weakness. And even when Roosevelt was really sick, he was a wartime leader. The country would have been behind him no matter what." Josh laid out his argument before me then stopped as if the matter was closed.
"Britain has a member of the Cabinet who's blind." I wasn't going to give up.
"Not the same as being President. All of those health issues you didn't want to talk about earlier would be in the public domain. And that's if I even managed to get the nomination to run. My opponents in my own party would probably use them to stop me getting past the primaries."
I frowned. "I'm confused. If you're not talking about you aiming for the White House, what are you talking about?"
"Oh, I'm still talking about aiming for the White House. I figured you'd need a chief of staff," he said casually. "Don't look so coy, Sam, I know you. I know that there'll be times when you allow yourself that little fantasy of you standing on a podium with your hand raised while you take the oath of office. You can list all my attributes like you just did in that pretty little speech, but in your heart of hearts you'd love to take a run at it. I'm right, aren't I?"
I looked down at the table. While I really *had* thought Josh was talking about himself, and while I genuinely did believe he'd make a great candidate, I had to admit there was a part of me that nurtured a desire to do something really big, put myself somewhere where I could make a difference. I raised my eyes to see Josh looking at me in a way that showed me the candor and generosity of spirit that dwelt in him.
"It wasn't false modesty when I assumed you were talking about yourself," I explained. "I honestly did think that, and I *still* stand by everything I've said about you and your abilities. But ... " I breathed in deeply. "God, sometimes you know me better than I know myself."
"And I know me too," Josh said. "If I were president I'd manage to offend about ten interest groups before the end of the Inauguration Ball."
"But you'd make a killer chief of staff," I laughed.
"Yes, I would, wouldn't I?" he replied smugly. "Forget Bartlet and McGarry. Meet the dream team."
He raised his glass.
"A toast." His eyes had a delighted twinkle in them. "Sam Seaborn for President."
I touched my glass against his. "To us ... forever."
We lingered a while longer, exploring our hopes for the future, until we realized we were the last people sitting there. Stepping outside into the warm, cloudless night I murmured to Josh that the perfect evening had just turned into the perfect night. Arriving back at the hotel Josh came to a stop under a tree heavy with blossom. He put his head on one side as if appraising me.
"How did I manage to ensnare such a gorgeous creature?"
I stepped closer to him. "The first time I saw you, Josh, you entwined yourself around my heart."
I leaned down and we exchanged a slow, loving kiss. Every one of my senses seemed alive : I could smell the sweet, heavy scent of the blossom, hear the distant sound of the water lapping the shore.
"Ensnare me some more, Josh," I begged softly.
So he did. And as he wrapped me in his love and held me in his arms while I drifted off to sleep, I thought *this* is perfection.
CARPE DIEM 5 : ONE HUNDRED PER CENT
SATURDAY MAY 19TH 2001
Six o'clock the next morning and I was sitting up in bed making plans for the day while Josh lay next to me, dead to the world. I'd woken up fifteen minutes earlier, dealt with a call of nature, and by the time I'd looked out of the window at what promised to be another fine day I was wide awake. So I collected together the tourist information leaflets that I'd picked up in the lobby the previous day, got back into bed and began my research. I knew what I wanted to do first after we'd had breakfast. I looked over at Josh as he slept peacefully, and smiled at the thought of his reaction to the surprise I intended to spring on him. With a bit of luck it would change a negative attitude which he swore was unshakeable.
I unfolded a pocket map of the area and spread it out on the bed along with some of the other leaflets. I was well on the way to devising how the rest of our day would shape up when I felt Josh stirring next to me. I sat there quietly as he opened his eyes, knowing exactly what the pattern of the next few seconds would be : after fully rousing himself from sleep, Josh's body stiffened slightly, he closed his eyes momentarily, sighed, then appeared to make a visible effort to shake off some unwelcome thought or memory. The whole process was almost imperceptible. Anyone else might miss it altogether. But I didn't.
What happens Josh? I thought. I wait every morning for you to tell me what's going on inside your head. I have my suspicions, but I daren't voice them.
Instead, I bent over him and lightly kissed his mouth.
"Hey, sleepy head."
"Mmm, Sam," he said, reciprocating by placing his hand on the back of my head and pulling me down into a much deeper kiss. His other hand slid down my back to my ass. He stroked and fondled me as I got hard as a rock.
"Dammit Josh, you drive me fucking crazy," I growled as I pressed myself against him. The papers and map slid off the bed as I turned my attention to something much more urgent than arranging the day ahead.
"I think I'll go for a swim," I said, struggling to extricate myself from the tangle of sheets which had resulted from what had turned into a particularly energetic early morning love making session.
"One last kiss," Josh insisted, grabbing me and pushing me back against the pillows.
"You're a bad influence," I complained somewhat half-heartedly, offering no resistance whatsoever as Josh's arms encircled me.
The "one last kiss" turned into a further ten minutes necking.
"I wish we had time to do this more often in the mornings," Josh said as we finally broke contact.
"We'd never get to work and when we did we'd be totally exhausted. Anyway, we appreciate it all the more when we *do* get the chance." I threw back the covers and slid out of bed.
"What's that? Some sort of Protestant work ethic?" Josh asked sarcastically.
I threw a pillow at him. "I'm going for that swim."
"In that case I'll go and lift some weights in the gym. I'm not having you go back and tell people that I stayed in bed while you got fit."
Some time later I pulled myself out of the pool feeling invigorated. After a quick shower I found my way to the gym and stood a little way inside the door. I was out of Josh's line of vision as he sat with his back to me. I watched as one of the hotel trainers handed him a couple of weights. Josh hefted them in his hands as it became obvious they were heavier than the ones he was accustomed to using. His frame was still slender but the fitness regime he'd recently embarked upon had begun to tone his muscles nicely. I gazed appreciatively as his biceps flexed as he lifted the weights. After a few minutes he suddenly stopped and looked around in a questing sort of manner. His eyes alighted on me and his face broke into a grin.
"Hi," I said as I walked up to him. "How did you know I was there?"
He put the weights down and picked up a towel. "I could feel you watching. It was as if you'd come over and touched me." He began wiping the sweat from his face and neck.
"You mean that in a good way," I joked.
I stood to one side as Josh said his goodbyes to the trainer, then followed him out of the double doors. I'd been surprised and delighted by the effect this trip had had on Josh. He was so relaxed and open about his feelings. Normally he was shy - if you can use that word about Josh Lyman - of putting his emotions into words. The persona of the hard bitten politico that he'd developed over the years was a defensive shell around his insecurities and the fear - not so great nowadays, I'll admit but still there, nevertheless - that getting close to someone might end in tears. This, coupled with the fact we'd both been so preoccupied with work, it was as if the last twenty-four hours had given us the opportunity to reconnect with what was really important. As a result, we were both grinning like idiots as we made our way through the hotel lobby towards the elevators.
After a quick shower for Josh, a change of clothes for both of us and a leisurely breakfast I led the way to our first destination of the day.
"Okay, I can see we're heading towards the harbor. And ... " Josh questioned me as I spied what I was looking for.
His gaze followed mine.
"Oh, no. I'm not getting on the water."
The Patriot cruise ship was in front of us.
"Come on, Josh, it'll be fun," I said.
He took off his sunglasses, presumably so I could get the full benefit of the glare he bestowed on me.
"Sam, you know about me and boats."
"Look, this is just a cruise around the bay. Look at the water - it's like a millpond."
He looked at it skeptically. "That's what it might look like to *you*, but it hates me. It'll start blowing a gale as soon as I get out there."
"No it won't," I countered, "I already checked the weather ... "
"God, Sam, you and that damned Weather Channel!" Josh laughed in an exasperated way. "Anyway, you're a proper sailor. You do things with ropes and you use compasses and ... and ... binnacles to navigate."
I wasn't going to be deterred by his tactics. I was going to get Josh on the water *and* have him enjoy it if it killed me.
"Well, yes, when I'm on a boat I *do* do things with ropes. But nowadays we use satellite navigation and even if we *did* use a compass, the binnacle isn't used for navigation, it's the non-magnetic case that houses the compass."
Josh pursed his lips. "Pedant."
"Sam, you go to sea in *real* boats. This is for tourists."
"So we'll be tourists. What's wrong with that?" I was just about jumping around in front of him in my enthusiasm. "The tickets are booked. I've just got to pick them up from the office."
"So *that's* what you were doing while I was in the shower." He shook his head and smiled. I could see he was weakening. "All right. You win. But if I throw up ... "
"You won't," I shouted back as I jogged over to the ticket office.
I picked up the tickets and before he could change his mind I pushed him up the gangplank and onto the boat.
"If you'd refused I was going to threaten to tell the President you lied when you said you'd read 'Moby Dick'."
"I've read the first chapter," Josh protested.
"Not good enough. He'd have made you read one chapter a night until you finished the whole thing. Okay, where do you want to sit - over here next to the rail so we'll get a good view?"
"I guess." Josh and I moved over to where I'd indicated. There was a space for a wheelchair, so I occupied the one next to it. We were under cover, but there was plenty of room if Josh wanted to maneuver himself to sit on the outside deck. I decided to leave that up to him. I'd actually got him *onto* the boat, so I was happy.
The weather was already pretty warm with a slight breeze blowing off the bay. The cruise was set to take us along the eastern shore, and the ship's tour guide began giving us a short talk prior to us casting off, outlining where we were headed and some of the sea birds we should look out for. It wasn't long before the noise of the boat's engines began to increase from an idling sound, and we slowly began to move away from the shore. I glanced over at Josh. He smiled at me and began to look as if he would enjoy himself.
"Here we go," I said.
By the time we'd been sailing for an hour, Josh had actually become so comfortable that he'd moved outside. I stood next to him leaning on the rail as we listened to the commentary. I pointed out some of the beaches and promontories that I was familiar with; Josh was most interested in the number of pre-revolutionary estates and buildings that lined the shore.
"Enjoying yourself?" I asked.
He looked up at me, grinning. "Yeah - I never thought I'd say it, but yeah. It's great. I can almost see why you love the water so much."
"There's nothing quite like it," I agreed.
"Then why don't you do it anymore?" The direct question was like a dart. It headed for its target fair and square, but still I tried to dodge it.
"Play mah jong," he riposted. "Sailing, of course. I can't remember the last time you went sailing."
"I don't have time. *You* know how it is. We've been frantic this last year."
He gave a disbelieving little laugh.
"What was *that* for?" I asked.
"You could always find time for sailing."
I picked up my camera and took a photograph of a skein of Canada geese flying overhead.
"Sam," Josh persisted.
"All right." I bent my head, then looked sideways at him. "I don't like to go away and do something without you."
"It never stopped you before," he pointed out. "Sam, we don't have to do everything together. Please. Do it for me. Go sailing. Go out with your cousin at least."
I looked out over the waters of the bay and realized I yearned to be out there. No, not just out on those placid waters, but further east, negotiating the more challenging waters of the Atlantic. I nodded my head.
"Okay. Maybe sometime I'll give her a call. I haven't seen her in a while."
Josh touched my forearm and squeezed it.
"Hey, how about a photograph - you and me together," I suggested.
I walked over to a couple of young women standing nearby and asked if they'd take it. After handing the camera to one of them and pointing out which button to press, I got Josh to turn around so that the shoreline formed a backdrop. I hunkered down next to him, putting my arm around his shoulder.
"Smile, Joshua," I ordered.
A couple of seconds later the camera was handed back, but I remained there for several minutes more, looking out over the scenery, seeing things from Josh's perspective. The view from this position was a little restricted, but not enough to mar the pleasure of sailing through the bay and appreciating the landscape. With more than a little relief I judged the morning to have been a success.
"Thanks, Sam," Josh said as we finally disembarked.
"You've changed your mind about boats?" I asked.
"While I still refuse to bob around in a vessel dependent on rigging and mainsails and all that shit I'm willing to concede that I may have been a little hasty in my wholesale condemnation of all things nautical." I batted him playfully across the head. "Okay, I had a really good time. Satisfied?"
We left the landing stage and headed back towards the town.
"Where now?" Josh asked.
I pointed back towards the direction of the hotel.
"We'll pick up the car then I'm taking you on a mystery tour."
I drove the car inland in a southerly direction to arrive at my planned destination of the Black Water National Wildlife Refuge, which my reading had told me was made up of 27,000 acres of marshland and forests. When I related this fact to Josh I got his 'Sam, your a geek' look, but I was so happy I didn't care. I followed the road around to the beginning of the route called the Wildlife Drive. The whole area was a haven for both mammals and wildfowl, and as we drove through we stopped at various points to view otters, fox squirrels and the sites of the various conservation projects which were an integral part of the operation.
Eventually we stopped at one of the designated picnic areas to enjoy the lunch I'd ordered at the hotel.
"When did you do this?" Josh asked. "No, don't tell me, when I was in the shower, in between looking at the Weather Channel and ordering cruise tickets ... "
We lapsed into silence as we enjoyed the contents of the picnic hamper, with only the occasional comment to remark upon the surroundings or the wildlife that made an appearance. Most of the other tables were occupied, mainly by people with young families, so there was quite a lot of noise and activity going on around us. But after a while most of them dispersed, and it was only then that it hit me that our conversation had become desultory to say the least.
"Are you all done?" I began gathering up the wrappings and remnants of our lunch.
"Yeah," Josh answered. "I couldn't eat another bite - it was great."
"I'll put these in the trash then I thought I'd go and take a few photographs?"
"You do that. I'll stay here." He smiled up at me as I stood.
With a faint feeling of unease I walked away, and after disposing of our garbage I wandered around to take some shots of the marsh and the forest that encircled it. There were mallards and other species of waterfowl on the water, and I watched, amused, at their antics as I snapped away. When I was satisfied I walked back over to the table where Josh was sitting. I intended taking a photograph of him while I caught him unawares, but the pose he presented stopped me. He'd propped his chin on his hand and was staring at the scene before him. Not just pensive or thoughtful, but brooding. I actually doubted whether he was consciously looking at what was in front of him. I sat down and moved my head to make eye contact.
"You look a long way away." I waved my hand in front of his face.
He jumped, but didn't reply, dipping his head to scrutinize the tabletop.
"Anything you want to talk about?" I persisted.
He looked up, wrinkling his nose as he gave me a small, rueful smile and shook his head.
"Just be here, Sam." He stretched out his arm and taking his cue I laid my hand in his. He grasped it tightly. "You understand?"
I lifted his hand and pressed his palm to my lips. It was hard seeing him like this, but in my heart of hearts I knew this day couldn't pass without something of this sort happening.
So all I said was, "Let's drive some more."
The rest of the time at Black Water was spent with me making an attempt at idle chit-chat, anything to keep the conversation away from what we both knew was filling our minds in direct proportion to the clock ticking towards early evening. Finally deciding we'd seen all we wanted to see, I turned the car out of the parkland and headed west towards the bay, taking the route to St Michael's that hugged the coastline.
Josh became even quieter on the journey back to the hotel. At the start of the drive he gave a passable impression of someone participating in a two-way dialogue. After a while, it gave way to the odd sentence in response to my observations on the countryside, the weather, the villages we were passing through. The last half of the journey Josh's input had degenerated into the odd monosyllabic contribution. At last he lapsed into total silence and mindful of his reluctance to discuss the obvious, I chose not to make a contrived show of trying to pretend nothing was wrong. I slipped a CD into the player to provide us with some aural distraction. I took my eyes off the road for an instant and glanced over. Josh's face wore an expression of such overwhelming sadness that I was tempted to stop the car there and then and force him to open up. But he must have sensed my intention because he turned his face away, laid his head back against the seat and stared out of the passenger window until we'd reached our destination.
We entered the hotel in silence, a marked contrast to the talk and laughter of our departure that morning. When we got back to our room Josh picked up that morning's Washington Post and without saying a word went out to the balcony, spread the newspaper on the table and became engrossed in the Op-Ed section. I flopped down on the bed, turned on the TV and zapped through the channels. Soap opera ... sitcom ... commercial break ... baseball ... the images flashed in front of my eyes, none of them grabbing my attention. I slid off the bed and stood in the open French window looking at Josh.
"I think I'll take a shower," I said.
He glanced up. He looked a little tense.
"I had a good time today, Sam." He gave a small smile that was more heart rending than tears would have been. "I'm sorry if I'm spoiling it now ... it's just ..."
"Hey, it's okay. I understand."
I moved over to stand behind him. I put my hands on his shoulders, bending my head to drop a kiss on the top of his head. I'd been mentally preparing myself for something like this happening, so I wasn't surprised. There was just one small thing : I hadn't got as far as deciding how to deal with it. Then I had a brainwave.
"Come on." Before he could protest I was back in the room, grabbing the car key from the nightstand.
"Where?" Josh asked.
"I want to show you something."
I was out in the corridor, not giving him the chance to argue. Silently Josh followed me towards the elevator.
Chesapeake Bay was formed by glacial activity millions of years ago. This happy geological accident had carved out the coastline to enclose this outstanding body of water. I'd taken Josh to a beach ten miles away from St Michaels, and there we sat, on the eastern shore of the bay. Looking westwards we watched the trajectory of the sun as it traced its inexorable path across the heavens. Above us the sky was a vibrant blue, with a few delicate white streaks across the ultramarine of the horizon.
I'd parked the car at the designated vista point, where a wooden park bench had been erected in memory of some pillar of the local community. I sat at the end of it with Josh in his wheelchair next to me. We hadn't spoken at all since we left our hotel room, Josh seeming content to follow me where I saw fit. We made ourselves comfortable, and I draped my arm around his shoulder as we sat contemplating the beach, the water, the sky. Save for the sounds of the occasional seabird, the peace enveloped us.
"You've been here before?" The silence was broken by Josh's question.
"Mm-hm. Do you like it?"
"It's beautiful." Josh reached out and grasped my free hand.
"I came here ... ooh ... " I paused, thinking about the last time I'd sat there, "when I was working in New York. I was going through a bad time. No one knew ... not my ... fiancee, not my employer. I was starting to hate my job, hate myself for betraying my values. But most of all, I was in love with someone and I wasn't brave enough to let him know how I felt."
I gazed at Josh as I spoke. He was staring out at the water, watching the ripples and currents change the color of the reflected sky on its surface, but a slight increase in the pressure of his hand holding mine told me he was listening. I went on.
"I came down to Maryland to borrow my cousin's boat and I found this beach. And I sat here for a couple of hours, turning things over in my mind, because I knew if I didn't do something to change my life I would be living some sort of twilight existence as the successful corporate attorney with the entirely appropriate wife. And you know what? It was like this place had some sort of magic about it. Because the next week a visitor came to my office and led me out of the twilight, away from that life to where I am now."
Josh's lips had curved in a slight smile. He nodded, his face still turned towards the scene before him.
"Sitting here, thinking ... it soothed me. So I thought it might help us now," I explained.
A few more minutes passed. I was content to rest there, my arm around Josh, letting him take the initiative in where this evening would lead us. Across the bay I watched the yachts and small boats that were dotted about; a man and a woman walked past us walking their dog. They glanced at us with mild curiosity : maybe same sex couples weren't something they saw all that often in their backyard. Or maybe we just looked so damn miserable they were wondering if we were about to go and throw ourselves from the nearest cliff. Josh let them get out if earshot before he spoke.
"I keep remembering small details from a year ago, like how going jogging with Hoynes was the only way I could get a meeting with him that day. It was the last thing I wanted to do because I reckoned he was trying to put me in my place by not meeting me in his office. So I moaned about it the whole time, and Donna kept ragging me about it ... "
"Sometimes I think she forgets you're her boss," I observed dryly. I loved Donna dearly, but in my opinion she sometimes pushes the envelope that bit too far.
"Anyway," Josh continued, ignoring my interruption, "I was so hacked off by the whole thing that when I got back to work I yelled, 'That's the last time *I* go jogging.' " At last he turned to look me in the face, smiling a small, wry smile. "Be careful of what you wish for, huh?"
"You've never told me that before," I said. My voice sounded strange to my ears. Hearing about Josh's prophetic remark had shaken me to the core : my mouth was dry, I felt as if the words came out strangulated and hoarse. I tightened my grip around Josh's shoulder, moving my hand downward to stroke his arm. I wanted to reassure myself that he was there with me : I was feelingly mildly freaked out by the almost supernatural tenor of his story.
"I'd forgotten it myself until we saw those two guys running in the Refuge this afternoon. They were trying to run and talk at the same time, and it triggered the memory, I guess." He frowned, screwing his face up in concentration. "Remember when we got to Rosslyn, all the people outside the Newseum? There was a woman in a red dress ... I saw her again when we came out ... right before all hell let loose. God, that vision haunted me for days after, when I was out of my head on morphine. That red dress."
"The grass," I said.
"The grass outside the Newseum. It had been cut just before we got there. The smell of newly mown grass was the first thing that hit me as I got out of the car."
The light was changing. The hairs on the back of my neck prickled as I realized it was probably a year to the hour when one human being had given the signal that would radically change the life of another. The late evening sun brought out the auburn cast in Josh's hair, I noted inconsequentially.
"A whole year." Josh jerked his head away, as if he what he wanted to say was made more difficult by making eye contact with me. He took in a sharp breath, and I could see the muscles in his jaw clench as he swallowed hard.
"You know that whole anger, denial and acceptance thing the therapists talk about? I've pretty much reached acceptance - maybe ninety-nine percent. But I've sometimes allowed myself the luxury of a little hope ... maybe that some sort of miracle would happen or that the doctors would work out something to put things right. I knew it was irrational - intellectually I knew it was - but I just wanted a little bit of hope. Is that so bad?" He tilted his head back, gazing at the sky as if that was where he would find the answer to his question.
"No, Josh, no." The question had been rhetorical, but the despair I heard in his voice couldn't go unanswered.
"So ... so I made a pact with myself." His words came out haltingly. "I promised that when the first anniversary of Rosslyn came around ... if there were no miracles, no pioneering surgery ... then that would be it. One hundred per cent acceptance. The memory of Rosslyn is hard, but so is that final one per cent. I didn't think it would be *so* hard."
He closed his eyes as a tear slid down his face. He used his fingers to wipe it away, but as soon as he'd done that another followed and he gave up the effort to stem them. He twisted around towards me letting me put both my arms around him as he lay his head down on my shoulder and wept.
"I know, baby, I know," I whispered as I held him close, cradling his head with my hand.
I rested my cheek against his hair, my eyes stinging as my own tears started. I gave up any attempt to stifle them as they poured down my face. I was crying for Josh; I was crying for myself; I was crying with a sense of release as I started my own process of letting go. Because like Josh I had been carrying something around inside me for a whole year, but it wasn't something positive like hope. It was a hard, small kernel of anger and bitterness directed towards the perpetrators of the crime that had been committed against Josh and everyone else that day.
I hadn't allowed these emotions to surface on a regular basis. I had to make a conscious effort not to let them consume me totally. But still they'd emerge unexpectedly, like the times when I'd see Josh try to hide his discomfort when his back ached or if he had to enter a building by the service entrance because he was denied access to the public entrance because of a flight of steps. I never discussed this with anyone, not even Josh, despite the fact he'd had long conversations with the President about the nature of forgiveness and redemption. He'd told me they'd approached these subjects from the perspective of their own respective faiths as well as from a humanist stance - in fact, Toby had even participated on occasion. For myself, I hadn't even been able to consider forgiving these people. My liberal values regarding crime and punishment not surprisingly included the concept that society should rehabilitate the criminal as well as taking punitive measures. Since Josh had been shot these values had been sorely tested. But as I held Josh close, his body shaking slightly as he sobbed quietly, I realized if he could move on, then so could I.
And so the anger and bitterness got a little less.
It was a start.
The evening air had cooled considerably as I sensed Josh's sobs subside. He lifted his head from my shoulder and sat up straight. He sniffed and wiped the back of his hand across his face, then suddenly, surprisingly, smiled.
"Sam - look," he exclaimed.
I turned around to follow his gaze.
The sun was dropping towards the horizon looking like a bright, burnished coin. The dusky blue sky was streaked with white clouds that the sun's rays had tinted rose red and orange. It was spectacular.
"Wow," I said.
"A year ago today I might not have lived to see this," Josh murmured softly. "I've got more to be thankful for than to regret."
We sat there as the sun set. There were a few more tears, but this time they expressed gratitude for what we had, not sadness for what we'd lost.
"I didn't want to make you cry, Sam," Josh finally said.
"I needed to. We've both let go of something."
Then I told him about the anger I'd felt, and how he'd made me realize that acceptance was the way forward. Josh embraced me and held me close until the sun finally dropped below the horizon. At last I drew back, holding my hands on either side of Josh's face and running my thumbs under his reddened eyes.
"It's getting late and you look exhausted," I told him. "Why don't we go back to the hotel and I'll order us room service?"
I stood up and we began making our way back to the car. A cool breeze blew in off the bay.
"I'm not really hungry. I just want to take a bath and go to bed," Josh answered.
"Josh you need to eat - just something light."
We were still arguing about it as we got into the car.
"Please, Josh - just for me."
"Okay, Sam. Just for you."
I started the car and for the next few minutes Josh seemed to be lost in thought. He'd given in quicker than I figured he would. Maybe CJ's right, I thought, maybe I *am* the one person he listens to.
"Hey, remind me, Sam - what's the difference between a compass and a binnacle?"
Then again, maybe not.
"Thanks - in about an hour, yeah?"
I confirmed the time for the delivery of room service, put the phone down and went to check on Josh.
"That's dinner ordered. Are you okay in here?"
I needn't have worried. When I went in he was already luxuriating in the large bath. The bathroom was well equipped with both a roll-in shower and a bath fitted with a board for Josh to slide onto, plus a small seat that allowed him to lower himself into the bath. The sight of him in the steamy atmosphere was very tempting, and fortunately for me both pieces of equipment weren't permanent fixtures. I leaned over and slid the board off from where it lay across the bath, stood it against the wall on its end, then picked up the bath seat and stashed it alongside.
"Hey - I'm gonna need that stuff if I want to get out of here!" Josh protested.
"But it stops me getting in there with you," I explained. I'd already stripped off my shirt and was now eagerly pulling off my shoes and socks.
"Oh, right," he grinned. "But I want you to scrub my back."
"Deal," I said as I stepped in so that I could sit behind Josh and pull him towards me so that he rested between my legs.
I ran my hands over his already soapy body. He tilted his head back and groaned. I kissed his throat, sucking his skin just enough to make him shiver, but lightly enough so that I didn't leave any marks that might raise comment back at the West Wing. I knew what would happen : CJ would have a field day with the quips, Toby wouldn't know where to look, and Leo would threaten to have security march us off the premises if it happened again. So I wasn't about to take any chances.
"Give me the soap and sponge," I demanded gently.
Josh handed them to me, both of us laughing as it took a couple of attempts when the soap shot out of my hand into the water. I worked up a good lather and began applying it to Josh's back : his shoulders, across his upper back, down towards his lower back, pausing every now and then because I couldn't resist kissing him at the nape of his neck. I touched the sponge to the small of his back, then moved it up to the approximate area where the bullet had lodged in his spine. I touched it gingerly : when I'd massaged him the day before I hadn't approached this area. I was still a little scared to apply any undue pressure there.
"Does it hurt, Josh?" I asked before going on.
"No. But sometimes it feels a little strange ... I can't describe it."
"Shall I stop?" I queried.
He shook his head.
"I'll be careful," I reassured him.
"I know you will," was all he said.
I stroked him in the same place again, then rinsed as much of the soap off his back as I could. I placed my hand across his chest and drew him back to rest against me. I soaped my hands and began tracing slow, lazy circles across his chest, his belly, until I finally traced a path back up his chest. Again with the circles, but this time I touched his nipples, moving my thumbs around them, teasing them as they became erect. Josh was shuddering and moaning.
"Oh, God, Sam," he whimpered, "yes, oh yes, there," as I ran my thumbs across the erect nubs of tissue where I knew they were most sensitive. His back arched slightly in reaction to the stimulus, his hands gripping my thighs as his body quivered.
He didn't cry out loudly, but I could hear him making a series of small moans. The sound tugged at my emotions. I kissed the side of his head, licking and sucking on his ear lobe, with Josh's curls soft against my face. He stiffened, giving a sharp cry, then relaxed against me. I couldn't hold back any longer : I groaned and moved my hips as the increased contact with Josh's body brought me to the edge. He took his cue from me, stroking my thighs then sliding his left hand down to touch me behind my knee. A few weeks ago Josh had discovered this particular erogenous zone. God, I was grateful for that. I'd gotten hard as soon as I'd walked in and seen Josh in the tub, and so it took only a few deft caresses to finish the job. I took a sharp breath, wrapping my arms around Josh. He sighed and covered my hands with his own.
No wild, passionate sex.
That night we made love to comfort and be comforted.
"Come on, babe, don't get too comfortable," I murmured into Josh's ear.
The water was cooling around us and I figured dinner would arrive in a few minutes. Josh groaned as I eased him into a sitting position that allowed me to stand up. I got out of the bath, quickly toweling myself off. I donned a bathrobe and placed the board and seat in the bath. I watched as Josh levered himself onto the seat, then onto the board and finally transferred himself to his wheelchair. For once he allowed me to help him place his feet on the footrests, and didn't protest when I wrapped him in a towel and briskly dried him. We'd just embarked on a nice little bout of small, soft kisses when there was a knock at the door of our room. I reluctantly broke contact, tossing Josh his own robe as I went to take delivery of dinner.
I'd opted for a Mediterranean style tomato and vegetable soup, some nice warm, crusty bread and dessert. Nothing too heavy or rich, with a half bottle of Valpolicella to wash it down. Josh surprised himself and me by how hungry he was, and we found ourselves going over the day's activities, reliving the boat trip and the sights we'd seen in the Wildlife Refuge.
"It's been quite a day, Sam," Josh said as he pushed away his soup bowl. He lifted his glass and drank deeply. "But you got me through it."
"We got each other through it," I contradicted.
"And like you said the other day .... we'll get through Saturday, and Sunday we'll go on." Josh stretched his arm across the table and lightly stroked my hand with his fingertips.
"That's exactly what we'll do." My voice shook a little, so I gave it a few seconds then said in a brighter tone, "Hey, I've got dessert."
"Then bring it on," Josh laughed.
I picked up the two ramekins from the cart that the waiter had wheeled in and placed them on the table. I sat down, picked up my spoon and looked over at Josh. He was just sitting staring at it.
"What's wrong?" I asked.
He sniffed a little, then blinked a couple of times.
"It's creme brulee," he said.
"It's my favorite."
"I know," I answered, puzzled. "That's why I chose it."
I peered at him more closely. His eyes looked a little watery.
"Dessert doesn't normally make people look so sad," I pointed out.
"It's just ... " he stopped and swallowed hard. "It's just ... you took the trouble to choose my favorite. It's the little things like that ... it touches me ... "
"Well, I figured since you made me co-owner of a very nice apartment in Georgetown, dessert was a fair trade," I said, trying to lighten the mood.
That made him laugh a little.
"Come on, Josh, try it. You're the self appointed connoisseur of creme brulee the length and breadth of the Union."
He picked up his spoon and I heard the crack as the caramelized top splintered into shards.
"Nice and brittle, but not so hard that you need a pickaxe to get through it," he remarked.
He dug down into the soft layer beneath, slid the spoon in his mouth and closed his eyes with obvious enjoyment. He took another spoonful but this time he just licked it off the spoon slowly. He once did this little performance at an official dinner in the White House and I can remember thinking Jesus, Josh, don't do this to me in public. But here we were in the privacy of our hotel room, so I was able to sit there, my chin propped on my hand, my own dessert forgotten as I watched my lover get turned on by a creme brulee.
"It's gorgeous," he said, "try it."
So I did, and he was right. With a final "Mmm" he swallowed the last morsel, laid down his spoon and yawned. I seized my moment.
"That's it. Time for bed. You use the bathroom first."
I turned the bed down and arranged the pillows just the way Josh likes it. He emerged from the bathroom and wearily transferred himself from his wheelchair onto the edge of the bed.
"Sam. Do you mind?"
Did I mind? His asking for assistance happened so infrequently that I had to stop myself appearing too eager. I stood in front of him and lifted his legs while he levered his upper body further onto the bed. I helped him settle himself, then pulled the covers over him.
"I'll be back in a minute," I said.
By the time I'd brushed my teeth and returned to the bedroom, Josh was fast asleep. I tried not to disturb him as I climbed into bed. He was lying on his right side - his good side - his head resting on his right arm, with his left arm resting against his scar. Lately he'd gotten out of the habit of this protective gesture. I surmised that today's memories had made it resurface. He didn't stir as I stretched out next to him. His face half hidden in the pillow, I touched my lips as gently as I could to the corner of his mouth.
" 'Night Josh," I whispered.
He didn't stir.
I lay there feeling slightly relieved that I had some time to myself to empty my mind. I turned onto my back feeling the cool linen of the sheets and pillows against my skin. I wasn't tired, so I stared out of the window watching the sky grow darker and the stars begin to twinkle. I allowed my thoughts to wander away from Rosslyn and sadness and anger, and opened my consciousness to random reflections on the bay and the museum we'd visited the day before and the boat trip and what Toby needed me to do next week and had Josh and I really discussed me being president one day and ...
I rolled over to see Josh looking at me drowsily.
"Hey, babe. Do you need anything?"
"How long have I been asleep?"
I looked over Josh's shoulder to the clock on the nightstand.
"A little over an hour." I slid my arm over to stroke his back. "You want to snuggle up?"
He lifted himself up so I could get my other arm around him.
"Thanks sweetheart," he murmured. "For everything."
"Don't mention it." Our lips met; we kissed slowly, with meaning.
"Mmm-hmm?" I was seeking out his lips again, but I stopped short to let him say what he wanted to say.
"I love you so much .... *so much*," he repeated fiercely, "whatever happens, don't ever forget that."
I looked into his eyes.
Once again Josh was overwhelmed by tiredness, and his eyes closed. I kissed his eyelids, his forehead, then lay my head back against the pillow. Still I was unable to sleep. The seconds, the minutes, the hours ticked by. Eventually I looked at the clock's digital display.
The anniversary was over.
We'd gotten through it.
MONDAY MAY 21ST 2001
"Got anything for me?"
CJ stuck to me like glue as I went into my office. She raised the folder she was carrying and hit me over the head with it.
"You said you'd speak to Josh."
I wasn't giving CJ my full attention because I'd just seen a thick file lying on my desk entitled "Outsourcing of labor beyond US borders and the effect on the nation's economy." Sticking to it was a Post-It reading "Give me a ten page briefing paper by noon. Toby." I picked up the document that could have doubled as a fairly hefty doorstop. Bob Geldof wrote a song about Mondays, I thought.
"The documentary, Sam."
I hit my forehead with my doubled up fist.
"Damn, I *knew* there was something I'd forgotten."
"You didn't ask him?" CJ demanded.
I stood behind my desk and switched on my laptop.
"You didn't *ask* him, Sam?" she repeated in a louder tone.
"Ask him what?" I opened up my e-mails and began opening the ones that looked the most urgent.
"The documentary. You're saying ... you ... didn't ... ask ... Josh." CJ paused heavily between her words. That meant that any minute now she was going to call me idiot boy, or something equally complimentary.
"I didn't say that." I didn't look up as I continued saving and deleting my messages. I jumped as CJ's hand came down on the laptop and snapped it shut.
"You did. You said, and I quote because I possess quite remarkable powers of recall, "Damn, I *knew* there was somethng I'd forgotten.' "
She was right about the recall - she even got the emphasis and the hitting her fist to her forehead dead on.
"What I meant was that I'd forgotten to bring in a disk with some figures I was working up on child poverty." I sat down and crossed my arms in front of me. "We didn't get back to DC until late last night."
"So everything went well this weekend, huh?" CJ asked, momentarily letting go her hold on the subject of the documentary. It was an innocuous enquiry but I could tell by the way her face had relaxed into a more thoughtful pose that it was a loaded question.
"Yeah ... we explored the bay, took a boat trip, just chilled out." I took a deep breath. "Things got a little rough ... emotionally ... on Saturday, but I think we weathered it pretty well."
"I'm glad, Sam. You look ... rested."
I just smiled, but it must have turned into a smirk because CJ rolled her expressive eyes towards the ceiling.
"Oh, God, please tell me you two aren't going to be totally loved up in staff. I don't think I can stand it."
"Aren't you pleased we had a good time? In fact, had such a good time that Josh told me he'd do the documentary?" I raised an eyebrow at her.
"That's great," she said in that way she has where her voice goes a little louder and a touch higher, pitched in an upward inflection. "That's really ... great. Now I can go tell the Secretary of Labor and set things up with the producer. Thanks Sam."
She turned towards the door.
"No, wait, CJ."
She turned around, looking slightly surprised at the sudden serious tone I'd adopted.
"Sam?" She was smiling, but there was a questioning frown on her face.
"You're going to be working with the TV people on this, right?" I asked.
She moved to stand directly in front of my desk, her fingertips resting lightly on its surface.
"For the parts that concern Josh and the administration, yes."
I nodded approvingly.
"You'll be careful with him, won't you?" I asked. "Josh is strong, he astounds me the way he's come to terms with everything, but if he senses anyone's patronizing him, or this whole thing lurches into sentimentality, he won't do it. And I'd hate him to come out of this damaged. For all his resilience, if this is handled badly, well ... sometimes he doesn't always let us see how he's feeling, is all."
"You'd like to protect him from anything that can hurt him, wouldn't you?" she asked softly.
"I can't do that. I don't *want* to do that. I'm just saying if this isn't done right, he'll pull out of it altogether - he'll walk."
"If only," she sighed.
"It's only words, CJ, don't be so literal."
Neither of us had seen Josh appear in the doorway. At the sound of his voice CJ lowered her head and closed her eyes.
"Oh, God," she said.
He pushed himself into the room so that he was sitting alongside where she was standing.
"Sam uses phrases like that all the time," he explained. "He doesn't put any particular value on them - he doesn't censor himself when he's around me. The only word we've banned is cripple."
CJ flinched slightly but finally turned her face towards Josh.
"You've always liked using shock tactics," she observed.
"You bet, so you'd better tell those TV people to watch out."
He smiled at her and the awkward atmosphere dissipated.
"Well," he continued, "gotta run." He winked and began moving towards the door.
"Wait," CJ said, "we've got half an hour before staff - I'll come with you and get some dates from your diary so I can set up a meeting with the producer."
"See you Sam," Josh called back.
As they went along the corridor I heard CJ say ,"So, Sam tells me you had a good weekend."
"Yeah. Hey, I found out what the difference is between a compass and a binnacle."
A little later I dropped into Josh's office.
"How's it going?"
He looked up from reading the messages that had accumulated since Friday afternoon.
"Good." He resumed his perusal of the slips of paper, his face showing a variety of emotions ranging from interested to exasperated to irritated as he quickly skimmed their content.
"You need something, Sam?" he asked without looking up.
I stood next to him, leaning over and kissing his mouth that was pursed in an expression of disapproval as he read a memo from the office of the House Minority Leader. He was exhibiting his Deputy Chief of Staff persona, but I was the one person who knew the depths there were to Joshua Lyman, the depths that were revealed in our most intimate moments. I felt his lips respond as we allowed ourselves a brief respite from the day's business.
"I haven't forgotten," I said. The words that he'd spoken to me on Saturday night kept surfacing amidst all the work concerns that filled my head.
His eyes stared back at me. Dark brown. All knowing.
"Don't ever," he answered.
I nodded, straightened up and walked out into the bullpen. Josh's voice followed me.
Ah, well, back to reality.
END OF CHAPTER FIVE
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