Title: Redivivus Chapter One
Author: Sue C
Spoilers: What Kind of Day Has it Been; In the Shadow of Two Gunmen Parts I and II
Disclaimer: My two favorite boys, plus the other well known protagonists, belong to Aaron Sorkin/Warner Bros. Head Nurse Santini, Nurse Julie Delaney and Jane Lyman are my own creations
Summary: This is set within my Carpe Diem A/U, and is something I have been playing with in my head for quite a while. It is essentially the back story to Carpe Diem 1 seen from the pov of a number of different people who have been touched, either directly or indirectly, by the events at Rosslyn. Should you wish to remind yourself of the events of Carpe Diem 1, it can be read at either http://www.aeglos.org/westwing/ or at http://www.geocities.com/godlessharlot/therealthing/ Grateful thanks go to my dear friend Kathi for encouraging me to embark on this new chapter, and also for providing me with some of the ideas contained within it.
Notes: Redivivus means "come back to life". The National Rehabilitation Centre at Washington DC is a real facility and I took the information on its aims and program from its website. Any mistakes or inaccuracies are my own
Archive: As above; anywhere else, you're more than welcome - just let me know
Feedback: This is a slight departure from my linear Carpe Diem timeline, so I'm interested in what people think of it. Any feedback is gratefully received as long as it's constructive. I'm at email@example.com
Redivivus Chapter One by Sue C
I am Press Secretary to President Bartlet. In my time in the White House I have briefed the press corps on air strikes, conflict on the India-Pakistan border, fights with Congress over the budget. They're the big stories. On a human scale I've talked about subjects as far apart as the President falling off his bicycle to a young man being stoned to death for being gay. And I've briefed on my fair share of stories that have made this administration bask in the glow of a battle won, like our nominee being elected to the bench of the Supreme Court.
A couple of weeks ago I had to tell the press that there had been an assassination attempt which saw the President wounded, a member of the public caught in the cross fire and a colleague hang somewhere between life and death for what seemed like an eternity.
I thought *that* was the hardest briefing I'd ever conducted.
But the one I'm about to hold ranks right alongside it.
As I walk through the door into the press room I tell myself 'Focus, Claudia Jean, focus', remembering the words of my high school civics teacher. What was the rest of her advice? 'Pick out a friendly face and direct your words to them'. Who would have thought an interschool debate would come back to me today.
I step up to the podium and look for the friendly face.
Danny Concannon, you're it.
I open my mouth and begin to brief the press corps on the amendments to the new criminal justice bill, the administration's reaction to the new prime minister elected in Italy, the threat of a trade war with Argentina over beef exports. The usually voracious media representatives ask a few lackluster questions on what is a comparatively slow news day.
I glance up before I begin listing the President's schedule for the day, his first full day of engagements since the shooting, and see Sam and Toby walk into the room to take up their positions at the back. The sight of them throws me for a second. Sam looks awful, and although he's looked ravaged for the past fortnight, he looks particularly bad today. His black hair and blue eyes contrast with the pallor of his skin giving his face an almost ghostly appearance. Toby just looks grim. I conclude the list, telling the assembled press that the President and the First Lady will tonight attend the opera. Wagner. The President loves it, the First Lady would rather stick pins in her eyes. I do *not* say this to my audience. The opera cognoscenti of Washington DC are notoriously sensitive and anyway, I'm not in the mood for jokes.
I pause, aware that the people in the room are waiting for me to give them my customary sign off which will send them scurrying to their telephones and laptops. I don't oblige them; instead I bend my head briefly to make sense of the black letters lying starkly on the white paper in front of me. I take a deep breath and look up. The friendly face is looking at me intently, wearing a puzzled expression.
I begin to speak, and the reason for my hesitation soon becomes clear.
"I have an update on the condition of Josh Lyman. Josh continues to make good progress from the gunshot wound he sustained at Rosslyn. The arterial repair has been entirely successful, and the doctors are confident he will suffer no serious after effects from this surgery. However, I am now able to give you a more complete statement on the full extent of his injuries."
That gets their attention. A couple of people sit up a little straighter. The friendly face now looks more curious than puzzled.
"The bullet that lacerated Josh's pulmonary artery and caused his lung to collapse passed through his chest and subsequently lodged in the region of the eleventh thoracic vertebra of his spinal column. This is known as a T11 spinal injury. The medical team's priority was to repair the vascular damage and thereby save Josh's life. Unfortunately, this meant leaving the bullet in situ, with the damage to his spine resulting in paraplegia. Josh still enjoys full upper body mobility, but will of necessity now use a wheelchair."
The shocked faces look back at me, almost leading me to believe that I'll get through this without having to answer any questions. It takes a split second for the men and women present to remember what their job is.
"Over here, CJ!"
I make a decision on who to pick first.
"CJ, can't the surgeons remove the bullet now that Josh's condition has improved?"
"There was some question about the stability of Josh's spinal cord immediately after the shooting. After making a detailed risk-benefit analysis Josh's neurologist and his team have decided the best course of action is to reject surgery as an option. This is not an uncommon course of action and the medical team is confident this will not pose any significant threat to Josh's continuing well being. Mark?"
"What is Josh's long term prognosis?"
"Josh is paralyzed but many people who are wheelchair users continue to lead healthy and happy lives. We're very hopeful Josh will be no exception."
I cast my eyes around the room. Surprisingly, the owner of the friendly face has lowered his hand.
"What happens next, CJ? When is Josh likely to leave GW?"
"The plan is for Josh move to a rehabilitation facility in a couple of weeks, where he will undergo the necessary assessment and physical therapy to enable him to begin managing his situation. Pete?"
"Will you be appointing a new Deputy Chief of Staff?"
"Why would we want to do that, Pete?"
I cast my eyes towards the back of the room. By the look on Sam's face I won't be surprised if he launches himself across the rows of seats to attack Pete Sewell. Toby places a restraining hand on his arm and whispers something to him.
"Well, it's a pretty demanding job."
"Josh Lyman will continue to be Deputy Chief of Staff to the Bartlet administration. In that respect, *nothing* has changed. It's his legs that are affected, not his brain."
I feel myself start to get rattled. I look over towards the guy from the San Francisco Chronicle. He's got a lot of integrity, I'm confident he'll ask something that I can answer while at the same time regaining my self control.
"What is the President's reaction to this news?"
"President Bartlet is as shocked as any of us in the White House. He would, however, like to emphasize that he will do everything in his power to help and support Josh both during and after this recovery phase. Josh is a valued friend and colleague and the President and his family are looking forward to seeing Josh back in the West Wing in the not too distant future."
I look back at the room to see another raised arm.
"How *is* Josh, CJ - I mean mentally, emotionally?"
Danny's face is still friendly, but it hasn't stopped him throwing me a curve ball of a question.
"Josh is in good spirits."
(What I really mean is that he yelled - weakly, I'll admit - at two nurses and a doctor last night).
"Obviously this is a lot for him to come to terms with."
(In other words he's demonstrating a dizzying succession of mood swings ranging from euphoria at still being alive to deep, and I do mean deep, despair at sustaining a severe disability).
"He is determined to make as speedy a recovery as possible."
(Which means that he's been threatening to skip the rehabilitation stage and discharge himself from the cardio-thoracic unit as soon as he can breathe without feeling as if a rhinoceros is sitting on his chest).
"I actually have a statement from Josh that he has asked me to read to you."
I pause to take a deep breath before I read the words Josh dictated to me last night.
'I'd like to take this opportunity to thank my family, friends and colleagues for their love and kindness during this difficult time. I'm sure with their continued support I will be able to make some sense of what has happened and find my way back towards a productive, independent life. I'm also grateful for the many good wishes I have received both from people I know and those who are strangers to me. I hope it won't be too long before I can thank some of you in person.' "
As I finish I would like to remove my glasses, but I continue wearing them in the hope that they'll mask the fact that my eyes have grown a little misty. Damn you, Josh Lyman, why did you have to go and find the strength to come up with something like that? I pray my voice doesn't shake as I conclude the briefing.
"Thank you, there'll be no more questions. I'll see you at noon."
I rush from the podium and out of the press room as quickly as I can. Toby and Sam follow.
"Well done," mutters Toby as he hurries past.
I'm aware that Sam is behind me so I turn to face him. He looks utterly wrecked, but he manages a smile and raises his hands, shrugging his shoulders as if he can't find the words. He walks over to me, pulls me close, holds me tight. He mumbles his thanks and something about being proud of me, and I can feel his hand clenching the fabric of my jacket. For some absurd reason I idly speculate on how much the gesture will crease the material; as I look over his shoulder I see Danny standing there watching. He shouldn't be in this part of the West Wing, but I guess today is more than a little crazy so I let it go. Sam steps back.
"Thank you," he mouths yet again and goes on his way to catch up with Toby.
Danny moves towards me, asking me if there's anything he can do. This is a little too much for my already unraveling composure. All I need is my office, a cup of lemon tea and a few moments of mindless inactivity watching Gail being continuously surprised by the view as she circumnavigates her bowl for the millionth time. So I smile at him and shake my head.
"Thanks, Danny, you've done enough for me this morning."
He looks nonplussed.
"Why, what did I do?" he asks.
"You've got a friendly face," I tell him.
He's still standing there with his mouth open as I go to my office, shut the door and try to locate some blessed peace in amongst all the turmoil.
I am a member of the White House press corps. I've worked this beat for five, no, six years? Something like that. CJ Cregg is one of the best - no probably *the* best - press secretary I've questioned, challenged, sparred with during that time. And maybe a little more than that. A couple of dinner dates, the odd brief encounter where we've kissed, a mild flirtation bordering on the serious. So I like to think I can read her moods better than most.
Admittedly, an amendment to a bill going through Congress, an election in Italy and a trade war aren't, literally, much to write home about. But she seems a little off kilter; she appears out of sorts; she's like a radio message that normally comes through loud and clear but today there's a little background interference.
But it's her lack of enthusiasm when she tells us about the President's engagements that tips me off that there really is something wrong. It's his first full schedule since he was shot, and you'd think his people would be talking it up. Come on, only two weeks ago the President was lying in hospital, he could have been killed, and yet here he is attending the opera!
You'd think she was reporting his resumption of duties after a particularly bad head cold.
Also Toby Zeigler and Sam Seaborn are standing at the back of the room looking like twenty-first century equivalents of Job's comforters.
So what gives?
So here we are, sitting waiting for CJ to say "Class dismissed" but instead she looks back down at her papers and begins talking again.
And now she's telling us about Josh Lyman.
We all have our own opinion of the man. Some of us grudgingly admit he's a brilliant political strategist with a mouth that runs away with him from time to time. Some of us hate his guts because he represents that wing of the Democratic Party that is always loathed by the right wing press. And some of us see a side to him that performs an act of goodwill for a friend. Even if it meant I ended up giving CJ the wrong sort of goldfish. But putting those opinions aside we're all feeling the same sense of shock as CJ matter of factly spells out the effect of the bullet that tore through his body at Rosslyn.
Like everyone else in the room my brain takes a couple of seconds to process the information we've just been given. Then the hands shoot up. From the start of the whole briefing this morning CJ has cast me a few glances. But now she's ignoring me. The answers she gives to the other journalists are clear, unequivocal. She seems to have gotten herself back on track, perhaps as a result of finally breaking this most difficult piece of news about a friend and a colleague. You go girl, I think, watching her perform. I put my arm down, figuring I'll manage to catch her eye in a few minutes. I know exactly what I want to ask.
Pete Sewell is sitting next to me and I can see he's itching to ask a question. The guy's a jerk. There's no love lost between him and Josh, but I can't imagine him making political capital out of this situation.
"Will you be appointing a new Deputy Chief of Staff?"
I suppose in the circumstances it's a reasonable question to ask. But coming from this particular journalist it plays like a cheap shot. His agenda isn't so much hidden as put on public display for everyone to see.
CJ parries his question with one of her own. Nice move. That doesn't stop him of course, but with a couple of sentences she puts him back in his box. Her response is sharp, though, and I detect a slight bristling from la Cregg.
The next question is an easy one from the San Francisco Chronicle. She's obviously taken that one because she knows she'll not get any trouble from Fred on this particular issue. He doesn't have any specific axe to grind with Josh.
She deals with it then I raise my hand. She gives me a response but I guess it's coded, like Josh being in good spirits probably means his legendary short fuse is well and truly alight. But then she reads out his statement and I suddenly lose the taste for badgering her for a truer reflection of Josh's mental state. She wraps things up pretty quickly after that; there's an awkward silence when she leaves but it doesn't take long for the usual press room buzz to reassert itself. Phrases expressing everything from shock to pity to speculation are soon flying around, but for myself I push my way through the throng to follow in CJ's wake. Yeah, I know I shouldn't wander through to this part of the West Wing without an invite, but in the circumstances ... I mean, she looked like she was hurting. And no, I'm not intending to take advantage of the situation to satisfy my own personal desires. I do have *some* scruples.
I find her standing with Sam. He's got his arms around her and it's not very clear who's supporting whom. She has her eyes clenched shut and I can just make out the sound of him whispering to her. That guy's a mess, but it's hardly surprising. It can't be easy being best friends with a guy who's quite literally had his world blown apart.
She opens her eyes and sees me standing there. Finally Sam loosens his hold on her and half runs down the corridor. I walk over to her, awkwardly asking her if there's anything I can do. She shakes her head, managing to summon a weak smile. Then she says something really weird about me having done enough this morning. But she doesn't say it in a sarcastic or cutting sort of way. I ask her what she means and she says I've got a friendly face. She leaves me standing there, but now I'm wearing a 'What the hell was that all about?' face.
What a woman. Always keeping me guessing.
I am a nurse at the National Rehabilitation Hospital in Washington DC. I've worked here for six months; in fact I got the job just after I'd qualified. So I'm still fairly new to it. A lot of people were surprised when I opted for this particular discipline. My dad especially. He's a surgeon, and he's been trying to persuade me to go into general nursing somewhere like GW then train as an OR nurse. He thinks I'm restricting my opportunities by choosing to work in this relatively narrow field. But what really attracted me to working in a facility like this was the chance to use not only my clinical skills but to help people who also need healing psychologically and emotionally. If that doesn't sound too pretentious. And it hasn't let me down - it's challenging, it can be difficult, but it can also be rewarding. And sometimes the unexpected happens. Like today.
The head nurse called a meeting to tell us that we're getting a new patient. *That's* never happened before: calling a meeting especially to tell us that. Normally we just get to know about admissions as part of our daily update when we start a shift. But this is different. Because this patient is quite well known. And according to Head Nurse Santini it's still top secret and we've all got to be vetted because - and this is where it gets *really* exciting - it's that guy who was shot along with the President a couple of weeks ago. I don't know much about politics, but according to my brother who's a current affairs freak, he's pretty important. They've just made it public that he's paralyzed, but haven't disclosed this is where he'll complete his rehab. But I'm guessing it won't take long for the press to work it out since we're a center of excellence in the field.
God, I must sound like a high school kid, but I'm sitting here at the nurses station and a couple of guys are walking in who I just *know* are Secret Service. They're with the Chief Executive of the hospital and they look like something out of Men in Black. One of them is even wearing shades. I watch them as they move through the whole floor checking out the rooms, the exits, the staircases.
"Maybe that means the President himself is planning to visit," my friend Stacey says.
The head nurse hears us talking.
"Out first priority is to our patient, his well being and privacy - never forget that," she points out tersely.
As soon as her back's turned Stacey pulls a face and mutters something about her being a pod person who's forgotten how to have fun. I'm not so sure though. I'm starting to feel a little guilty about the way we're forgetting that this is all about a person who's suffered a traumatic injury and isn't an entertainment for our benefit. I tell Stacey to shut up and turn my attention to the patient records I'm checking. Stacey makes a derisory 'Ooooh' sound and stomps off to respond to the patient call light that has lit up on the panel next to the desk. Then Nurse Santini comes back and asks to see me in her office where she proceeds to tell me that she'd like me to be Joshua Lyman's named nurse.
Being a named nurse means being the person who takes on the role of primary carer for a particular patient. I realize the responsibility of this when she explains his condition in greater detail. His recovery is expected to be slower than many of the patients here because of the severity of his chest injury and the subsequent cardio-thoracic surgery. His vitals like heart, respiration and blood pressure need to be monitored closely. This would be a given for anyone who's sustained an injury to the spine, but more so in his case because of his arterial repair. And finally, he's suffering from a stubborn localized infection where a chest drain was inserted after surgery.
And that's even before we get to his spinal injury and the fact that he's got to adjust to living his life as a wheelchair user. As yet we have no idea as to his mental or emotional state. Often that's the hardest thing to deal with.
I leave the office and find myself a quiet corner in the restaurant to think about this turn of events. This is the biggest responsibility I've had since coming to work here. I start to imagine what this Joshua Lyman is like. Will he be intimidating? He's certain to be clever. I think he's quite young for a politician, although all I can remember is seeing a picture of someone in a business suit on the news programs. Maybe my brother can give me some idea.
I finish my Coke, take a deep breath and determine to get up to speed on all aspects of gunshot wounds resulting in spinal cord injury. After all, he might be a high profile politician, but while he's here, he's Joshua Lyman, my patient.
I am Deputy Chief of Staff to the White House, although these days I can't convince myself of the fact. Yes, they're still calling me that on the news reports; yes, Leo talks about how they'll manage without appointing an Acting Deputy Chief of Staff in my absence; yes, a couple of weeks ago CJ put that douche bag Sewell in his place when he questioned my fitness for the job. But sitting here in an ambulance accompanied by my mother and a nurse on the way to God knows what, I feel anything *but* the Deputy Chief of Staff to the White House.
So what *do* I feel? Angry, scared, bitter, depressed? Yes, all of these in a frightening array of permutations that occur on a daily basis. Okay, maybe there is a part of me that feels relieved that I'm not actually dead, especially when they tell me a couple of centimeters to the left and the newspapers would have been printing my obituary. But when I saw that I was going to be accompanied on my journey today by two Secret Service agents I couldn't help but think why don't they let me take my chances and if some other crazy neo-Nazi wants to finish the job then let them do it. Oh , and did I mention denial, that neat little trick the mind plays on people suffering from my sort of ... condition. The thing that keeps me lying awake at night willing the smallest movement in my legs. Yeah, right, like that's *really* gonna happen. And to make matters worse, my legs have been going into spasm. God, the first time it happened ... the relief, the absolute joy. Until the nurse told me that it's a common occurrence after a spinal cord injury. Or SCI as we experts call it. Oh, yes, I'm becoming quite the expert, especially since Sam's been bringing me all that information from the Internet.
And that's something else. Sam. I don't even know what *he* is anymore. Is he a colleague? Well, if this ... problem ... stops me doing my job he won't be. Friend? Yes, probably, he always did have an over-developed sense of loyalty. Lover? Oh, no, not gonna think about *that*. What's the point? Who wants a lover who can't ...
Stop it, stop it, stop it.
I clench my hands into fists because the scene outside the window of the ambulance has blurred. I swallow hard and concentrate on looking at the buildings on the outer fringes of the city. My stomach lurches as the vehicle makes a right turn into an entrance flanked by a sign that reads "The National Rehabilitation Hospital." My mother leans over to touch my arm and says something about how nice the landscaped grounds are. I know she's trying to keep my mind off things and all I want to do is scream 'No, what you really mean is I've been put out to fucking grass.' But I just turn my head away and choose to ignore her. I hate myself for hurting her, I hate people being kind to me, I hate the world and everything in it.
We drive around to the back of the building just in case there are any press or TV at the front entrance. The ambulance jerks slightly as it comes to a stop. My mother and the nurse jump up, collecting my belongings prior to stepping out. I, of course, have to sit here waiting for the driver to make me mobile because my wheelchair is clamped into place to prevent me rolling around like a pinball during the journey. He crouches down behind me and it seems to take an eternity for him to unfasten the catches and straps. Outside I can see the two Secret Service guys standing beside their car looking a little awkward. They avert their eyes as I'm pushed onto the hydraulic elevator that then makes its slow descent and deposits me outside. The nurse from GW takes over. He won't allow me to push myself and since my first attempts to move around my previous hospital room ended up with me feeling as if my chest was about to tear in two I don't argue.
Standing at the entrance to the hospital are another nurse and a guy in a suit. He steps forward and tells me he's the Chief Executive of the hospital, and introduces his companion as Head Nurse Santini. We shake hands and go inside. I feel foolish and conspicuous being wheeled around like a helpless invalid; I ask my mother and the agents to walk beside me so as to shield me from curious eyes. But I realize that chances are no one will give me a second glance. I blend into the surroundings as just another person in a wheelchair. The 'condition', the 'problem', the thing that I've been avoiding putting a name to is all around me.
None of the people who pass by care who I am.
Josh Lyman, Deputy Chief of Staff to the White House.
Don't make me laugh.
Don't you mean Josh Lyman, paraplegic?
It's just turned six thirty in the evening. My hands are full of packages of gauze and sterile dressings that I have to juggle with in order to shut the door of the medical supply closet. As I'm going into the treatment room to replenish the shelves I hear voices coming through the doors at the end of the ward. I look over my shoulder to catch a glimpse of the Chief Executive and Nurse Santini who are closely followed by the two Secret Service guys who were here a couple of weeks ago. Our new patient has evidently arrived at the exact time we were told he would. I can hardly see him as the two agents are effectively blocking any view of him. There's a nurse with him who I don't recognize so I guess he's from GW, and an older lady who looks like she may be Joshua Lyman's mother. They sweep past the nurses' station and into the room that he's been designated. It's the room farthest away from the ward entrance. It was requested specifically for reasons of privacy and security. The door closes behind them and everything is quiet after the slight commotion.
Early evening is a relatively peaceful time on the ward. Most of the occupants are in their rooms resting after a hard day spent working at their physical therapy and the various other activities to help with their rehabilitation and recovery. A little later and the ward will be busier as some of the patients get their second wind, many of them leaving their rooms to take advantage of the activities offered by the patients' communal facility down the hall. That's why six thirty was chosen as the appointed hour for Joshua Lyman's arrival. The White House was very specific, insisting that his admission should be as discreet as possible.
I'm guessing this is partly because of his high profile. But I'm also guessing that it gives us a clue as to his state of mind. I'm a little nervous as before my shift finishes tonight I have to introduce myself as his named nurse, induct him onto the ward and do some actual nursing. Nothing fancy, just take his vitals, check the dressing where his chest drain got infected and administer his meds. But this is like nothing I've ever done before. I'm going to be caring for someone who actually knows the President, and it freaks me out a little. Fortunately there are plenty of other patients to claim my attention, so I finish up in the treatment room and manage to keep myself busy for the next hour or so.
I've just got back from the path. lab where I've been chasing up some blood test results when I see the two Secret Service guys stand up from where they were sitting outside Joshua Lyman's door. The woman I presume is his mother has just emerged and they accompany her towards the exit. She gives me a smile
"Goodnight," she says as she walks past.
She seems nice. I think what a terrible ordeal this must be for her. I look at my watch and just as I'm working out how long to go before my shift ends the head nurse appears at my side. She has this knack of silently gliding up behind unsuspecting medical staff. Even the doctors find it unnerving.
"Mr Lyman's mother has left for the evening. You should go and make yourself known to him," Nurse Santini instructs me.
Yes, ma'am I say to myself.
I pick up the tray I've prepared containing the equipment to measure blood pressure and temperature, along with the small medicine glasses containing the range of medication my patient requires. I knock on the door to his room. There's quite a pause and as I wait I start to wonder if I should open the door anyway - after all, I can't stand here looking like an idiot all night.
It's all I can do to hear the quiet voice above the muffled sound of the TV. I take a deep breath and walk in.
Joshua Lyman is lying in bed, his eyes fixed on the television.
"Good evening Mr Lyman." I never use patients' first names unless they give me permission to. "I'm Julie Delaney."
His eyes flicker briefly away from the TV screen, but this is the only acknowledgement he's even registered what I'm saying. I go on to explain I'm his named nurse and give him some basic information about the hospital and the ward. By the time I begin to tell him about the rehabilitation co-coordinator who will visit him in the morning, I'm convinced he's not even listening. He seems to be more interested in some news item about the economy.
In the six months I've worked here I've seen new patients react in a variety of ways. Depression is common. Rage also. Some of them even crack jokes in an attempt to cover up what they're really feeling. But this guy just seems rude. No matter how he's feeling there's no excuse for bad manners. Okay, if that's the way you want to play it, let's get this over with as quickly as possible.
"I need to take your blood pressure and temperature," I say.
I take his temperature and check the reading. Normal. When I move towards him to measure his blood pressure he just moves his arm slightly to let me get the cuff around it. You'd think I wasn't even here. His blood pressure is a tad high. As I check his pulse I manage to take a closer look at him. Curly hair, sort of brownish auburn and probably longer than he normally wears it. His face is pale and drawn, and he looks very tense around the mouth. Nice eyes.
"Can I check your dressing?" My voice sounds very loud in my ears.
He nods slightly and unfastens his PJs. The scar that bisects his chest is a livid red color, but his dressing is clean and dry, and doesn't require changing.
"It looks fine," I tell him. "I'll leave you in peace."
I can't help but feel relieved I've fulfilled all my initial responsibilities. This man is giving off so many signals saying 'Don't touch, don't come near' they might as well be in flashing neon lights. I point to the call button.
"Just to press it if you need anything."
I pick up his meds and hand them to him with a glass of water. It's then I notice him squirming a little against his pillows. I remember something one of my nurse tutors said to me. She told me to use my instinct and if there was something the patient was telling me either by word or behavior, then trust to that. I take the glass from him.
"Are you uncomfortable?" I ask.
I conclude that whoever settled him in bed - it might have been Nurse Santini or the guy from GW, I'm not sure - they didn't do a very good job of it.
"Wait a minute," I say, leaving the room and returning with a couple more pillows.
There's a bar above his bed with a handle hanging down on a chain to help him sit up. I ask if he's able to grasp hold of it so that I can rearrange the pillows behind him. He tries but it obviously puts too much strain on his chest injury and he falls back gasping. So instead I put one arm in front of him. He uses that to pull himself up and I slip my other arm behind his shoulders to support him. Once he's sitting up I manage to fix the pillows to his liking. He lies back against them and once again just nods when I ask if they're okay. Then he switches his attention back to the news program.
As I'm going out the door I hear him switch off the television.
I turn around to see him lying back looking up at the ceiling.
"Call me Josh." His eyes close and I hear him sigh.
That's when I know he's not rude. He's not angry. He's sad.
I wake up with a start. It's dark and for some reason I've been having this dream that I've been in some sort of an accident and that I'm about to die. My heart's going like a trip hammer. I try to sit upright, but it hurts like crazy. I lean over to the nightstand to turn on the lamp but find it isn't there. And it's the damndest thing, but when I try to turn over on my side the top half of my body moves but my legs don't do anything.
Oh, no. God, no. It wasn't a dream. Now I remember. I did nearly die, only it wasn't an accident, someone shot me. And that's why I can't move my legs. I start to feel the familiar panic rising up in my chest so I reach up with my hand to locate the cord of the wall light. The reason there's no lamp on the nightstand is because I'm not in my own home.
But when I turn the light on the room is still totally unfamiliar. This isn't GW. The room's bigger and the door's in a different place. I finally orientate myself and remember that I moved to the rehabilitation hospital this afternoon.
It's quiet here. GW was always noisy, even at night. There always seemed to be some sort of crisis going on in the cardio-thoracic unit. In fact I even had a couple myself when my blood pressure plummeted. You could always tell when someone was in trouble because the medical staff didn't bother trying to be discreet. They were too busy shouting orders at one another. Just like ER only not as glamorous. Then there were the sirens. Scared the shit out of me I don't mind admitting. Just hearing them in the distance and my heart monitor would be jumping.
But this place is peaceful. Maybe too peaceful. Because now I'm wide awake and my head's full of thoughts jostling for attention and there are no external distractions to help me ignore them. Thoughts like compared to this facility GW was a safe haven where I could pretend everything was going to be exactly the same as it had been pre-Rosslyn. That is until today when they pushed me outside in a wheelchair and I had to be moved from pillar to post like a parcel. Sure, I'd used a wheelchair in the cardio-thoracic unit, but this was different. I could see the look on my mother's face. The unhappiness she was obviously feeling was made worse by her attempts to smile and jolly me along. And I'm dreading seeing anyone else. All the women who've been visiting me over the last few weeks have been doing all that soothing my fevered brow stuff. Donna and Margaret I can understand, but even CJ seems to have been bitten by the Florence Nightingale bug. When I felt like crap straight after my surgery I was too sick to bother. But once I started to feel better - at least relatively so - it just got on my nerves. And the first time they saw me sitting in a wheelchair I saw something else.
I've even seen that in Leo's eyes. He tries to hide it with a few wisecracks, but I can see the way he gets jumpy and starts wandering around the room. Still, it's not surprising he feels uncomfortable. He's been under strict instructions not to get me all worked up with political matters, so with me lying in hospital cut off from the outside world and him spending most of his time at the White House our conversation is pretty limited. Maybe now I'm in a non-surgical ward and my health's no longer so precarious, they'll let him speak to me about something that matters. Small talk is *not* Leo's strong suit.
I haven't seen pity show itself in Sam's eyes.
At least not yet.
So what have I seen?
Fear. Sadness. Love.
God, I'm confused. I've been pushing Sam away the same as I have everyone else. Because I'm frightened to let him get too close. There's no future in it now. But still I want him near me. I miss him so much it's damn near killing me. But every time he's visited he's been accompanied by CJ, or Toby, or Donna. Makes me think they're frightened to be alone with me. But really Sam and I can't have it any other way, because no one knows that since the campaign we've been lovers.
But what if somehow I managed to tell Sam to come see me when there's no one else around? What if he were to walk in now?
Greeting me with that sweet, almost shy smile.
"Hey, babe, how're you doing?" he'll say.
Bending down to kiss me. Gently, delicately, so that he doesn't get me *too* excited.
Removing his jacket, loosening his collar and tie,
"I've had a really busy day. Toby's been working like a man possessed and he expects *me* to keep up," he'll laugh.
Sitting down next to my bed, taking my hand in his, kissing each of my fingers in turn.
Talking in that quick, staccato way that he has. Telling me about the speeches he's written today, the meetings he's had, what CJ said to the press corps. He'll maybe impersonate the President relating some abstruse facts, because he knows it always makes me laugh.
He'll see me getting sleepy.
"Close your eyes," he'll tell me.
Finally, he'll lean over to kiss my forehead, sitting with me, stroking my hair until I fall asleep.
This is the fantasy that delights, tantalizes and tears me apart.
But I can't let it happen for real because now I can't be sure what drives Sam's love. I want it to be passion, I want him to love me for myself, I want to know I turn him on and rock his world when we make love. No, strike that last one. I think sex has probably gone the way of rock climbing for me. Not that I ever wanted to go rock climbing, but you know what I mean. I've got a horrible suspicion any love Sam feels for me will be based on loyalty, him not wanting to run out on me, and feeling he owes it to me to look after me. And eventually we'll end up hating one another in a sterile mockery of something we once had.
So I guess the only thing I can do is turn him loose. Cut him free. Give him the chance to have a proper life.
I'm not sure what a proper life is anymore. From what the nurse said I'm going to be faced with a whole bunch of do-gooders tomorrow who'll no doubt try to convince me that my life hasn't ended just because I'm stuck in a fucking wheelchair. And speaking of the nurse, I suppose I owe her an apology for the way I behaved. It's not her fault - she was just doing her job. She probably doesn't imagine that night after night I lie in bed trying to look ahead to see something hopeful in the future.
But all I can see is nothing, like a grey mist. I can't see beyond it, although I know it probably doesn't feature me as a career politician, and I'm certainly going to make sure it doesn't include Sam.
I wish it would all just stop. This perpetual, dull ache that grinds away inside me. I've been assured that my physical wounds will heal. That I can still be fit and healthy, even if only partially mobile. But what's the point in that if I'm sick at heart? I've told my mom and Leo that I'll give this place my best shot. Woah, bad turn of phrase. But when I'm out of here, if this agony doesn't stop, I'm going to find my own way out.
I'll make it all stop. For good.
It's a week since Josh Lyman was admitted. During that time he's made his first moves towards independent living. He can transfer himself to his wheelchair from his bed and vice versa. He can take a shower unaided. He can dress himself unassisted. He's working really hard at his physical therapy, so much so that his chest is becoming less and less painful when he pushes his wheelchair. On the down side, the occupational therapist has had no success in getting him interested in choosing a new wheelchair to replace the hospital issue one he's still using. He's refusing to co-operate, almost as if doing so would be admitting the permanency of his disability.
And he's still uncommunicative. Admittedly on his second day he apologized for being rude to me when me met. He was obviously sincere because unlike the night before he made eye contact with me and looked thoroughly miserable about the whole business. But since then he's only spoken to me when I've initiated it or if he's needed something. He's perfectly polite and far less troublesome than a lot of patients. But I'm starting to wish he would shout or cry or get mad. This flat, unemotional behavior is unnerving and it worries me. I'm afraid it will culminate in some form of nervous reaction or exhaustion. I've tried talking to him, but he insists he's fine and no, there's nothing on his mind, apart from the obvious. He won't contemplate counseling.
His mother has told me how worried she is. Of all the people who visit Josh I've gotten to know her best. Mrs Lyman - or Jane as she insists on me calling her - is such a good person. She's kind and friendly to everyone, and I feel terrible that I can't do more to help her son. As for his friends - who all seem to be his co-workers too - well, I've hardly spoken to them, but Jane's told me that they're just as concerned but that they're so busy they haven't got a great deal of time to spare to talk with Josh. I know they've all tried to help him as best they can, but they've had no success. I would like to ask them exactly how he reacted, but I don't even know their names. Well, apart from a couple of them.
On Josh's second day here a tall, blonde woman walked up and introduced herself as Donna Moss, Mr Lyman's Senior Assistant. Which I'm guessing means she's his secretary. Anyway, she started lecturing me about Josh's medical history and how important it is to control his pain and what I need to do to make him comfortable. *Then* she listed all of his dietary likes and dislikes and how I mustn't on any account forget he's Jewish and would I also make sure he eats five portions of fruit and vegetables a day. I was on the verge of telling her that actually, I do have three years training behind me when she cut me off and said she'd be checking with me on a daily basis to make sure that Josh has everything he needs. I have no intention of speaking with *her* about my concerns about Josh's emotional state as I'm not going to give her another chance to get in my face, which is what she's been doing ever since we met.
Then there's the woman who's always on the TV. CJ Cregg. She seems friendly enough - she usually gives a quick smile and a 'hello' - but she always rushes in and out like she's in a hurry. On top of which, she's pretty intimidating. She's about six feet tall and my brother tells me she's smart as a whip.
Apart from Miss Moss and Miss Cregg there are a couple of guys who visit. One of them is quite old - I think he's Josh's boss. I really don't want to speak to him, he always looks so serious and he's got that important air about him, a bit like my dad.
So that leaves me with the other guy, the one with the black hair and blue eyes who could be a film star. There is *no way* I'm going to approach him. When he walks into the ward he never looks right or left and he always has this really grim expression on his face. I've never heard him utter a word but he scares the life out of me. I can't imagine he's very good company for Josh.
Which brings me to why I'm hovering around the nurses' station with my eyes fixed on the entrance to the ward. Josh's mother has gone to his townhouse to take a well earned break, but before she left she asked me to keep my eyes open for someone who would be visiting Josh. She tells me his name and asks would I point him in the direction of Josh's room and make sure they aren't disturbed?. Then she went on to explain that they were hoping he could get through to him. She smiled and said something about 'shock tactics'. So I don't really know what to expect but the guy who's just walked in and asked for Josh Lyman looks pretty harmless to me.
I am the Communications Director for the White House and the Bartlet administration. I have run political campaigns, I write speeches for the most powerful man in the world, I negotiate and argue with politicians both foreign and domestic. I'm a tough operator who can generally roll with the punches. But I can sense today is going to be difficult, and all this experience hasn't really prepared me for it.
I admit that as I walk into the hospital I feel a little guilty. I've only managed to visit Josh maybe three or four times and that was during his stay in GW. This is mainly down to the pressure of work, and yes, we've all been feeling the strain over the last few weeks with the absence of one senior staff member. In actual fact, you could almost say we're two senior staff members down if you count the fact that Sam hasn't exactly been firing on all cylinders since Josh got shot. But if I'm entirely truthful with myself I'm not exactly sorry that the work has prevented me seeing Josh. In the immediate aftermath of the shooting he was in such a bad way recovering from the surgery that I didn't have to face his paralysis head on. Okay, so sue me, maybe I was a little too eager to take on the burden of all that extra work as some sort of avoidance strategy.
But I'm here now, right?
I walk through the lobby, seeing shops, a restaurant and even a bank. All the amenities that are integral to a modern medical facility such as this. I suppose it's not surprising they have these services when you consider many people stay here for months at a time. I locate the bank of elevators, searching the board for the ward number that CJ reminded me of before I left the West Wing. 5A. I look up at the floor indicator to check its progress; as it reaches the ground and the doors open I have to take evasive action as a young guy in a wheelchair hurtles out of the elevator. He narrowly misses running over my toes, calling out a laughing apology over his shoulder as he goes on his way. I lift my hand to indicate no harm done. It heartens me a little to see someone in a similar situation to Josh seeming to deal with it so nonchalantly. The doors close so I scrutinize the buttons on the panel, jabbing the one for the third floor.
This place has a different atmosphere to GW. Josh's ward is in the rehabilitation unit and this part of the facility doesn't have that clinical feel to it. Things seem to move at a more leisurely pace, and the staff look less harried than some of those I saw in the cardio-thoracic unit. I reach the ward door and pushing it open I see a young nurse standing behind a kind of a high counter. She walks round it.
"Can you tell me which room Josh Lyman is in?" I enquire.
"Mr Ziegler?" she asks. I'm surprised she calls me by name.
I glance at her name badge, a habit I've gotten into over the years when I've had to deal with all manner of officials both governmental and non-governmental. It tells me she's called Julie Delaney and I recognize it as the name that's cropped up in conversation with Donna and CJ when discussing Josh's new location. She asks me to follow her to his room.
"How often has he yelled at you?" I ask her, more as a means of breaking the silence than as a serious question. "Because he seems to like doing that to medical staff."
"Not at all," she answers, "he's always so polite, he's no bother to anyone and he doesn't say very much at all."
"That doesn't sound like the Josh I know."
We stop outside a room that I presume is Josh's. She turns to me. For one so young she looks grave beyond her years.
"It's not just me, but Josh's doctors are anxious about him, he's so uncommunicative. But maybe seeing someone new will do the trick."
With a sympathetic smile, she walks away then turns to look back at me.
Prior to this I'd assumed that the stuff I'd heard about Josh was as a result of two things. Firstly, the inevitable concern of Jane Lyman. She's his mother and I figure that any worries she has about Josh are bound to be heightened by maternal instinct. Secondly, CJ and Donna - particularly Donna - overreacting to the situation. But to hear the same message from a health care professional isn't encouraging. Taking a deep breath I knock on the door.
On hearing Josh's response I walk into the room. My initial feeling is one of shock. On the occasions I'd visited him in GW it was evening so he'd been settled in bed. However, the sight of someone as lively and restless as Josh sitting motionless in a wheelchair affects me more deeply than I thought possible. On his lap rests a newspaper with a half completed crossword, a pen held in his hand. Josh has obviously given up on it as he's staring out of the window, his face expressionless.
"Hi Josh," I say, as he has made no effort to look at who has entered the room.
He turns his head, then maneuvers his wheelchair round to face me, tossing the newspaper and the pen onto the bed.
"Toby." He utters my name in a slightly surprised tone - who can blame him, I've hardly been the most attentive friend. "Pull up a chair."
It's one of the hard, plastic variety that seem to be a specialty of all hospitals. As if it's not bad enough coming to one of these places, you get a pain in the ass just sitting here. Then I look at Josh, suddenly remembering that he'd give anything to have some sensation from the waist down. It's a sharp reminder of how much I have to learn about a person I already know so well.
As I sit down and start asking him the meaningless questions like how are you and how are they treating you here, I get the chance to scrutinize him more closely. He's lost weight. The tee-shirt he's wearing is hanging on him. His face has the pallor of a person who hasn't seen the outside world for a few weeks, and he's got dark smudges under his eyes. He looks ... fragile I guess, an adjective that I would never have imagined using to describe Josh Lyman. But as well as that he appears as if he's withdrawing. Not just from other people but into himself. The inner turmoil I feel sure he must be going through is etched on his face and reflected in the bleak look in his eyes. Not long before he left GW I'd heard he was starting to show flashes of his old self as he started to get impatient with the slow pace of his recovery. But now there's no indication of the Josh I'm accustomed to. Back in the West Wing, even when sitting behind his desk working on some document or other or on the rare occasion when he was silent, Josh would radiate an energy, a verve, a vitality that was unique to him.
Now I can see for myself that which I'd heard about second hand.
What I'm hearing isn't any better. My questions are met with monosyllabic answers. I begin relating some work gossip that I think might interest him. The meetings I've had with the teachers' unions. The speech I'm writing for the President's address to an international conference on poverty and Third World debt. I even throw in a few contentious ideas about some of the votes we need in order to push through a resolution on occupational pensions reform, suggesting a few senators' names that normally would have Josh bouncing off the ceiling. Nothing. Just a polite yeah? or right, or a nod of the head.
We go on in this vein for a few minutes more and I know that sooner or later I'm going to have to broach the real reason for my visit. Anyway, I've run out of steam talking about work. I lean forward in my chair, my elbows resting on my knees, my hands clasped together. Gazing at the floor, I open my mouth to speak when suddenly, out of the corner of my eye, I see Josh's upper body suddenly stiffen. He places his hands on his thighs and I can see him gripping his legs tightly, his mouth clenched shut as if to stop himself crying out loud.
"Josh, Josh, are you alright?" I ask, half standing, ready to go and get someone.
"Sit down, it's okay ... just some pain I get." The words are interspersed by sharp intakes of breath. "It's ... it's part of the healing process in my spine."
He shuts his eyes tightly.
"Godammit, son of a *bitch*," he spits out, and all I can do is sit here helplessly. I'm in a dilemma: leave the room and I'll feel as if I'm abandoning him; stay and I'll feel like a voyeur.
Now, I'm not the most tactile person. Even when married to Andi I didn't go in for overt demonstrations of affection. And I'm even less likely to do it with another guy. I know that nowadays some men go in for male bonding, and seem to be totally comfortable with showing their feelings to one another. I've seen Sam and Josh share a hug when there's been something to celebrate, like when we won the presidency. But they're best friends, they're younger than me and it's obviously natural to them. So I don't know what makes me do it, but as I sit here watching Josh in such pain I stretch out my arm and touch his hand. Without hesitation he grabs my own hand and squeezes it tightly until the spasm ceases. He takes a shaky breath.
"Thanks," he whispers, "that helped."
"Don't mention it," I tell him and thankfully move my hand and lean back in my chair.
I feel a little awkward, but at the same time glad I was able to do something. Nevertheless, when he's a little more like his old self I'll ask him not to mention it to anyone else as I have my image as a curmudgeon to maintain.
After a little while Josh's breathing steadies sufficiently for him to speak.
"There's some swelling around my spinal cord. It's normal after an SCI," he explains.
"SCI?" I ask.
"Uh ... spinal cord injury," he translates.
"Sorry. I should have worked that out." I feel foolish and ignorant, so much so that I'm embarrassed.
"No reason you should." He brushes aside my apology brusquely. "Anyway ... "
A sigh, then he continues.
"As the swelling reduces and the internal damage heals I get pain, but it should diminish over the next few months."
He looks me in the eye with an astuteness that's more like his old self.
"Why are you *really* here, Toby?" he asks.
I shuffle a bit in my chair, and this time it's not just because of the physical discomfort. At this point I would give anything to light a Cuban cigar, both as a means of making me feel more relaxed and for something to do with my hands. In the absence of that I stand up and get Josh a glass of water from his nightstand, figuring he might welcome it after his episode just now. He takes it from me but doesn't drink it, just puts it down on the window sill and waits for an answer to his question.
"People are worried about you Josh," I begin awkwardly.
I cite the people who've said how disturbed they are and list the aspects of his uncharacteristic behavior: his silence, his introversion, his apparent unwillingness to see beyond his immediate situation. I tell him that they'd rather he got angry, yelled at them, showed some emotion, pointing out that how can they help him if he won't tell them how he feels, what he needs?
Through all of this he's just been staring at me. He looks bored.
"Have you finished?" he asks.
I shrug, not knowing whether he wants to say anything. But he does. And plenty. He gives it to me straight.
"It's so *kind* of you to come and tell me all about what's been happening at the White House because there's nothing like being kept in the loop, especially when I'm sitting in a hospital on indefinite sick leave and I can do damn all about it. And hey, it's great to hear what a varied workload you've got, and do you know what I've done this week?"
I can't tell if it's a rhetorical question or not so I don't answer him. He tells me anyway.
"Well let's see," he starts in a conversational tone that's deceptively bland. "It's taken me all week to learn how to take a shower without someone there to help me. And it's been *such* a challenge managing to get off my bed and into my wheelchair. And do you even realize how long it takes to pull on a pair of pants without standing up? But hey, I've cracked it now, because I'm aiming to beat my personal best of ten minutes."
His tone of voice has gone from bland to full blown sarcastic.
"Is that enough emotion?" He finally wraps it up. "Why don't you go back and tell my mother and Donna and everyone else that I feel just great?"
"Because I don't think you do," I reply, "and no-one would blame you."
He looks skeptical at my response, as if he can't believe I've let his little diatribe go without exploding in my customary manner. And as a matter of fact, *I'm* surprised at me, because I generally don't do touchy-feely. Truth is I know he's had everyone tiptoeing around him so as not to upset him. When in actual fact I'm starting to wonder if he *needs* someone to upset him. And I don't mind admitting that he's making me more than a little impatient. So I tell him exactly what I'm thinking.
"Josh, you might not care about anyone else and in the jobs we do most of us can deal with the hard knocks. But what about your mother? She's at the end of her tether worrying about you. And all your friends feel totally helpless because they want to do something but they don't know what. It's not their fault you're in the hospital and they're not."
I stop, recognizing that all of this seems to be having little, if any effect. I pull out the last weapon in my armory.
"Do you *know* what this is doing to this administration, like the fact I've got a speechwriter who's now incapable of writing a shopping list let alone a speech because of the way you're shutting him out? And by the way have you even thought of getting a grip because the President and Leo need you and we need to know we've still got a Deputy Chief of Staff?"
And so I go on and on.
I know a lot of what I'm saying is harsh; maybe I'll do more harm than good. But anything's better than seeing this bleak imitation of the Josh I know. And me being me, whereas most people would feel sorry for him or sympathetic, eventually it makes me mad, so much so that by the time I'm halfway through this rant I'm walking round the room waving my arms in the air.
When I eventually stop I stand there waiting for Josh to scream at me or swear or something. But he's still expressionless. Without a word he moves over to the bed, picking up the newspaper he'd tossed there when I arrived. He bends his head and begins reading, and without even looking up dismisses me.
"Thanks for coming. Can you leave me in peace, now?"
I stop as I get to the door.
"Don't do this Josh," I say, "if you shut people out it'll start to get very lonely in there."
I leave the room without turning round to see how he reacts. As I walk out of the ward I see Julie. She asks how things went. I just shake my head as I go into the corridor, the doors wooshing shut behind me.
What the hell was that all about? I can't believe Toby just stood there and lectured me about not showing my feelings. I don't see him for I don't know how long, then he turns up like some sort of grumpy Oprah telling me not to shut people out. This from the guy who reacted to his brother being stranded on the space shuttle like he'd just missed the last bus home. And they say satire is dead. I'd have said the whole thing was some kind of sick joke except he made the mistake of telling me who'd been doing all this worrying about me. The usual suspects of course.
Well they can stop wasting their time. Can't they see the only way I can get through this is by *not* giving way to all this emotional stuff. I don't need their help. I can do it on my own. I *have*to deal with it on my own, because I don't care what Toby says about everyone wanting to help. Yeah, that's fine for a little while, then people start to lose interest, get on with their own lives. Even good friends don't like being around needy people. So it's best if I don't rely on them from the get go.
The same goes for my job. It's easy enough to say *now* that they want me back in the West Wing, that the President and Leo can't do without me. Well they'd have had to if I'd died. But if they decide I'm too much of a liability to do my old job, like they think my health or stamina isn't up to it, they could keep me on as Deputy Chief of Staff in name only. I can see them scaling the job down so they can keep me on the payroll, but stick me behind my desk and throw me some undemanding, non-essential work so that they can get round the disability employment laws. What, Leo wouldn't do that to me? The son of his oldest friend? Leo is a politician to his fingertips, the needs of the Bartlet administration come before every other consideration and yes, he's *that* ruthless. But I guess I'll save him the bother and resign. I couldn't bear to see all of them, including Sam - especially Sam - watch me fading into the background like some embarrassing relative who's fallen on hard times.
Resign. Once upon a time that was the last thing I'd ever imagined I'd be considering. But at least it's my decision and I'm totally in control of it. And I can do something about it now.
I move over to the nightstand, removing writing paper and envelopes from the drawer. My mom put it there, thinking I might want to send some letters to the people who live too far away to visit. Up to now I haven't had the inclination to put pen to paper. Somehow I don't think my daily routine of taking medication, having my blood pressure monitored and undertaking physical therapy makes for riveting reading. But at least the letter I'm planning now will serve some useful purpose, especially if it means Leo can start looking for a new deputy. Now where's my damn pen?
I scour the bed, looking for the pen that I threw there along with today's copy of the New York Times. It's not there. I cast my eyes around the room - table, the top of the nightstand, window sill - but it's nowhere to be found. Stupidly, it's the only one I've got here. I think back to the West Wing. I've usually got more pens there than I can use, and if not I just need to yell for Donna and she brings me a couple. Not that she'll need to do that anymore.
So where's the freakin' pen? I look on the floor and there it is, under the bed.
I lean down and stretch my arm under the bed, but I can't reach it. The bed has been lowered to help me get on and off it and that, together with the position I'm in relative to it, I can't actually see the pen now so I'm just groping around blindly with my fingers. If I could just get something to push under the bed so I can flick it towards me. Ah, the newspaper. I roll it up, extend it under the bed, but I still can't reach the pen. I roll my wheelchair back so I can get a better view and realize I've only succeeded in pushing the pen away so that it's gone behind the nightstand by the side of the bed. I can't get anywhere near it and there's no way I can move the nightstand.
Yesterday Gill, my physical therapist, tried to persuade me to slide out of my wheelchair, down onto the footrests, then onto the floor. She might as well have been suggesting that I abseil down the side of the Lincoln Monument with the palpitations I got at the mere thought of it. Now I wish I'd done what Gill asked because I could probably get my hand round the back of the nightstand if I were sitting on the floor.
Shit, shit, shit.
I've got a resignation letter to write and the only thing that's stopping me is the fact that I don't have the guts to make the simple maneuver from my wheelchair to the floor.
I'm no use to anyone.
I lean my elbows on the bed and cover my face with my hands. I want to block everything out ... this room, the hospital, the thought of resigning from the job I love, my stupid, stupid legs that don't work ...
If only wishing made it so.
I don't mind admitting I'm disappointed by Mr Zeigler's reaction to my question. More than disappointed. Dismayed would be a better word. I realize I'd been pinning my hopes on his intervention being the breakthrough we'd hoped it would be. He hadn't looked happy when he first appeared on the ward, but he looks positively morose now as he walks out the door. I feel sorry for Jane as she was obviously pinning all her hopes on this visit. She'd looked much happier when she left this afternoon, and now she'll feel like she's back to square one.
I don't immediately go to see how Josh is. I don't want him to know that I've been told what this afternoon was all about. He'll just feel as if we're all ganging up on him. So I give it half an hour until his meds are due before I make my move. I go to the drugs cabinet and sign out his dosage, then take it, along with a glass of juice, to his room.
As I enter the room I see Josh is sitting with his arms leaning on the bed, his hands over his face. He hears me come in and jumps, then looks as if he's trying to pretend there's nothing amiss. However, he seems a little agitated, and for a second he looks as if he wants to say something. But he doesn't, and moves away from the bed towards the window. I give him his meds and the glass of juice. He frowns at it.
"It's cranberry," I tell him, "it'll help prevent urinary tract infections."
"Of course I know it's cranberry," he snaps, "I *do* come from New England."
I ignore the jibe and go to turn down his bed. As I didn't make it this morning, the pillows aren't stacked the way Josh likes, so I set about rearranging them. I'm halfway through the task when he speaks again.
"I dropped a pen behind the nightstand. Would you mind picking it up?"
I walk round the bed, bend down to retrieve it and place it in his hand.
I go back to finish his pillows, and when I glance up Josh is turning the pen over and over in his hands.
"If I were in the White House now do you know what I'd have done today?" he suddenly blurts out.
"I wish you'd tell me," I reply, "because I'm really interested."
To myself I'm saying at last, he's actually going to have a real conversation with me. Maybe Mr Zeigler *did* make some sort of impression. So I finish what I'm doing, then walk round so that I'm perched on the side of the bed facing him.
"Go on, tell me." I'm trying to sound encouraging, but hoping I don't sound patronizing.
He starts to tell me, and this is the longest time I've ever heard him speak. I'm struck by his voice. It's not especially deep, but it's soft and kind of pulls me in to what he's saying. His face looks ... distant, as if he can visualize his place of work. I think if he could will himself there he would.
"My day can start as early as six o'clock," he says, "I'll go to my office, yell for Donna and check my work schedule ... get some work done before senior staff ... "
"Senior staff? What's that?" I ask.
He thinks for a second.
"It's a meeting Leo my boss has with me, Toby, CJ and ... "
There's a slight hesitation there before he continues.
" ... and Sam. Leo briefs us on our priorities and we give him updates, let him know about any problems, stuff like that ... then I'll probably have something like six meetings before lunch .... some in the White House ... some on the Hill ... sometimes I don't *get* any lunch."
"That's not good," I remark. He ignores me, but I think he's almost forgotten I'm here.
"A couple of afternoon's a week I staff the President."
"What does that mean - staff the President?" I ask.
"Sit in on his meetings with Cabinet secretaries, people from departments like State and Justice ... in between meetings brief him on policy and strategy ... well, that's it in a basic way, but it's more complicated than that ... that can take up until six, maybe seven o'clock ... then I go back to my office, Donna gives me my messages in order of priority, I might have a couple of more meetings."
All this time he's staring somewhere over my shoulder. Now he's stopped talking and he bends his head as he plays with the pen. He lifts his head.
"And look at me now," he says, "here I am and I can't ... I can't even ... I can't even pick up ... a fucking pen ... "
I nearly jump out of my skin when he hurls the pen to the other side of the room. Then suddenly the anger on his face is replaced by a look of shock, as if he can't believe he's let me see behind the mask of composure he's maintained since we met. He starts to apologize, but he can't get the words out because he starts crying. And I mean really crying. He's sitting here bent forward, hugging himself, and I don't think I've ever seen anyone hurting this much.
Okay, first things first, let's be practical. I grab a box of Kleenex from the nightstand, dragging a chair over so I can sit next to him. I pull out a bunch of tissues then deposit the box on the floor. I offer Josh the tissues but he just wads them up into a ball and holds them against his mouth in a vain attempt to stifle his sobs. I sit here quietly, slide my chair a little closer and put my arm around his shoulder. I figure he'll do one of three things : tolerate it, pull away or yell at me to leave him alone. I decide to run the risk of the last of these happening.
But it doesn't.
In fact, he doesn't just tolerate my touching him, but he kind of relaxes against me. I didn't think anyone could have that many tears inside them as he lets out all the sadness and grief. Because I know this is a grieving process. I've spoken to one of the hospital's counselors about it, and he explained how losing a limb or motor function is like a bereavement. And my God, this man is grieving, but all I can do is stay with him so that at least he's not alone. After a while he starts to breathe a little more evenly, sitting up straight and rubbing his eyes with the tissues. They're a sodden mess by this time, so I take them from him, bin them and replace them with a fresh supply. After a while, apart from a few sniffles, Josh calms down.
"I'm sorry," he mumbles at last, "I don't know where that came from."
"Is it the first time you've cried?" I ask.
"There's your answer," I say.
I'm aware that I've still got my arm around him, which now feels a little too intimate. After all, I hardly know Josh at all. I slide my arm away and move my chair to put a little more space between us. He apologizes for swearing and throwing things around, then as if his tears have opened up some sort of floodgates, it all comes pouring out.
"See, Julie, I was devastated when I he found out what had happened. It's the irony of it - one minute I was so thankful I'd survived a near-fatal shooting, the next minute a doctor's telling me I'll never walk again."
He sniffs a little and dabs at his eyes, then carries on.
"It's bad enough not being able to move my legs, know I'll never run up a flight of stairs, shoot hoops with the President and the rest of the guys ... "
"The *President* plays basketball?" I've interrupted him before I can stop myself.
"Yeah, and he hates to lose." There's a ghost of a smile. "But the worst thing is being dependant on other people. I don't want to be a burden on anyone, least of all my mother and my friends. They want to help, but I'm scared to let them. What if it's just out of pity?"
"What if it's not?" I ask.
I notice the writing paper and envelopes lying on the bed; I remember the pen he asked me to pick up.
"Josh, what were you doing before I came in?"
For a moment his face is expressionless as he puts up the barriers he erected from the day he entered the hospital. Then he shakes his head, and his unhappiness is evident.
"I was writing a resignation letter. I've decided to resign because I'm sure Leo won't think I'm up to it anymore. You don't know what a demanding job it is. Besides I can't stand the idea that all the politicians I have to deal with will be embarrassed by my disability. See, I'm used to ... " he narrows his eyes and draws in a sharp breath, "I'm used to being tough and hard assed and how can I give *that* image sitting in a wheelchair looking helpless?"
He turns his face away. The message is clear: don't give me some glib contradiction to make me feel better. So I don't. The silence drags on for a few more seconds until he decides to break it.
"But you know what the worst thing is? How it's bad enough to let my friends see me like this, but what about other relationships, like my ... "
Suddenly he comes over all self-conscious and stops abruptly, saying something about going to the bathroom to throw some water on his face. I guess he's talking about some sort of ... well, sexual relationship. I know he isn't married, so it must be a fiancee or girlfriend.
Donna Moss. Of course. No wonder she fusses around after him. And I really can see them as a couple. She's pretty in that sort of glacial blonde way. And although at the minute Josh doesn't look so good being so ill looking, with his eyes all red from crying and his hair a bit of a mess, he is quite attractive. I feel a twinge of something; I'm not quite sure what it is, but the thought of Josh and Donna together gives me a sinking feeling. It's probably more to do with my dislike of her ... I guess.
While Josh is in the bathroom I wander over to the window. It's a beautiful sunny day, and when he comes back I make a suggestion
"Why don't we go get some fresh air?"
"You mean outside?" he enquires.
"You're as sharp as a tack today - of *course* I mean outside." I feel quite brave with that particular response.
He looks like he's having to think about it; not surprising, as it'll be the first time he's really shown his face beyond going for his physical therapy, which up to now has only involved him and his therapist with no other patients present.
He takes a breath. And for the first time he gives me a proper smile. Just a small one, but enough to show some pretty nice dimples. He has a *very* sweet smile.
I step to one side to allow him to open his room door. I've decided I'm going to do as little for him as possible. He manages this with no apparent difficulty, but when we reach the heavier double doors leading out of the ward he crashes around a little trying to keep one of them open while at the same time pushing himself through the doorway. I relent slightly and hold the door. When we reach the elevator he stops then realizes I'm not going to press the call button. And so we go on like this all the way out of the building, where I point to the path that curves around the side of the hospital, leading to a lawned area with a few seats positioned under the trees.
Well, I've got him this far. I've only had some basic training in dealing with patients' emotions. I'm not a professional counselor by any means, so I'm just going on gut instinct.
Let's see if he'll talk some more.
Coming out of the hospital I'm struck by the how bright the sunlight is. I've spent the best part of a month cooped up in one hospital room or another, and the impact of being outdoors is huge. Julie doesn't attempt to help me at all as I coast down the ramp, and when I reach the bottom I pause. What with the blue sky, the sun and ... well, the way everything seems so *big*, I feel a little light-headed. My hand's on my chest - yes, there are still times I have to reassure myself that my heart is still beating - when I feel Julie give me a brief, reassuring squeeze on my shoulder. I feel exposed to the world, but strangely enough it's not a bad sensation.
I follow the path that Julie indicates, going gingerly at first because the concrete in places isn't as smooth as the surfaces in the hospital. I'm still a little nervous about the stability of the wheelchair. But nothing untoward happens, and gradually I'm happy to pick up speed. As we proceed, Julie asks about how I managed to get a job working in the White House. I find it quite refreshing to talk to someone outside of the tight political circles I normally inhabit, which forces me to put into layperson's language the jargon I normally use without thinking. After a while it also strikes me that I'm chatting about this aspect of my life without experiencing any major pangs of pain or regret. I decide not to over-analyze this, and just enjoy the moment.
Eventually we reach a grassy area with some trees and seats. Julie suggests resting a while, and I'm not sorry because I'll admit my arms are starting to ache a little. She starts pointing out the various parts of the facility.
"There's the rehabilitation unit; that's the out-patients department where you'll come back for consults when you're discharged; over there is the spinal injuries unit where people are admitted who require more specialized surgery."
I nod politely, feigning interest, then we lapse into silence.
"You're pretty good at your job, aren't you?" she suddenly asks. "My brother says you're President Bartlet's attack dog."
"Yes, that's what they used to call me."
Man, this is one persistent woman because she doesn't stop there.
"Why use the past tense, and why can't you still be that?" she wants to know.
You know, I haven't really got an answer. Then she starts hammering away at me, asking me what it is that makes me good at my job? She listens intently without interruption, then points out that none of the things I've said have got anything to do with having a functioning pair of legs. I point out that other people might not see it that way. She very reasonably hits back with the query of whether I've actually asked them how they feel. Do I really know that my friends feel sorry for me? Has my boss actually said that I'm not capable of doing my job?
The only answer I've got this time is "no". For the first time I'm exploring these horrible dark thoughts I've been having, testing them out, evaluating them. The result? Suffice to say, here I sit, a senior strategist to the President of the United States, and I've just been out-maneuvered by a ... what? A twenty, twenty-one year old nurse? And I don't mean that to sound insulting. What I'm trying to say is that it's taken this woman's instinct, her fearlessness to pierce the arrogance of my self pity.
I'm surprised at how easy I'm finding this. At first I expect her to go into that listening and nodding riff that therapists and counselors generally do. But she doesn't, we actually have a two way dialogue, with her throwing in her own thoughts and viewpoints. Sometimes we disagree, sometimes not. I'm thinking this works because she's not my mother, she's not a friend, and I don't have the fear that she's feeling sorry for me.
And the sun keeps shining and we talk.
And the clouds pass over the sun intermittently and we talk.
And it's an hour later, there's a cool breeze starting to blow and we finally stop talking. I fall silent and look down at my feet. Sometimes I have to remind myself that they're still a part of me.
"You've had enough?" she prompts.
"Yeah, I want to go back to my room now and think about what we've discussed," I tell her.
I might be imagining it, but the thoughts that have felt like they've been running in ever decreasing circles inside my head seem to be slowing down slightly. There's the beginning of order in the chaos, and I feel slightly more in control.
We don't speak much as we head back inside. When we reach the ward one of the other nurses remarks to Julie that she thought she should have been off duty more than an hour ago. Julie frowns at her as if to say 'Shut up' and I start to apologize for taking up her free time. That's when she actually tells *me* to shut up, which I like because she's actually treating me without the kid gloves everyone else has been wearing. Which, by the way, I now realize was Toby's intention.
I tell her thanks for everything, remarking that she and Toby make a formidable pair. I suggest wryly that he should recruit her to his team if it wouldn't be such a loss to the nursing profession. That makes her a little bashful, and to cover up she tells me sternly to make sure I think seriously about what we've talked about. I nod and turn away.
Back in my room I stop halfway across it when I see the pen lying on the floor. Scrutinizing it as I pick it up I think about how significant it is. First of all I was going to use it to write my resignation; a few minutes later it was the catalyst to make me begin to reassess my intention. My mind starts to process the things I've talked about over the last hour or so, forcing me to face up to what I really want to do.
Do I want to resign? No, so back in the drawer go the writing paper and envelopes, along with my precious pen. Yes, it is precious. I must be getting corny because I decide to keep it as a reminder of when I glimpsed my life beginning to take a turn for the better. Along with this comes the resolve to begin to seriously contemplate that pursuing a demanding career and being paralyzed aren't mutually exclusive.
Do I want my friends to help me? Yes, but on my terms, my ground rules.
Do I still want Sam? I close my eyes as I feel the tears once more begin to smart. Allowing myself to weep once again, I feel a sense of freedom. I finally give myself permission to give way to this emotion. Yes, I want him, but I need to take it slowly. He may not want me on the same terms and as for me I'm not about to make any long term commitments while I still feel so raw. But it's not fair to push him away. We should talk. I owe him that much.
I pick up the phone.
It's been one hell of an evening. Leo and I have been closeted with the President since I returned from the hospital. He's got some damn fool idea about lecturing the broadcast media about, as he puts it, 'the stultifying and deadening effect of reality shows on the culture of this country.' I pointed out to him that apart from the fact it's a tautology to use 'stultify' and 'deaden' in one sentence, and much as we might all deplore the rise of reality shows, if he launches one of his abstruse attacks he's going to appear as a condescending, elitist academic. Eventually we came to an uneasy compromise whereby he'll make his feelings known about some of the excesses of said shows, but that people still have the freedom to exercise their own choice in their personal viewing habits.
I manage to make my escape, am briefly intercepted by CJ with some gripe she's got about the new anchor man on the six o'clock news, finally making my way through the bullpen to my office. Walking past Sam's window I idly glance in to see him staring vacantly at his laptop. Counting to ten in my head, waiting for him to move his fingers across the keyboard or at least lift his head, I conclude he's drifted off into some zone or other. He's been doing this habitually over the last few weeks. I can hardly get a word out of him and as for the writing he's producing ... from a lesser individual it would be a quality product, but from Sam it's competent but lifeless. I feel a sigh start off somewhere down in my shoes until it finds its way out of my lungs. Hell of an evening? Hell of a day, more like.
Resisting the urge to enter his office, grab him by his shoulders and shake him until his teeth rattle, I decide to leave him to it. As I'm about to move towards my own office I hear Sam's phone ring. He picks it up wearily, but as he begins to talk his face grows more animated. He hunches forward, hugging the receiver closely, and I get the impression this isn't a business call. It's not a long conversation, but when he's finished he looks up at me and I don't believe it, but he's actually smiling. He drops his head as he begins to tap out a few tentative strokes on the keyboard, gradually picking up speed.
Ginger stops me as I open the door to my own office, handing me a folded pink slip, the color indicating to me that it's a phone message. I flop down thankfully into my chair, unfolding the paper as I lean my elbows on the desk.
"Sorry I gave you the silent treatment this afternoon. As I once said to the President : 'I make a point of never arguing with Toby when he's right.' Josh."
Now it's my turn to smile.
I am Deputy Communications Director for the White House. I love my job and I am lucky enough to be able to count my co-workers amongst my closest friends. Best of all, for the past two years I've been in a personal relationship that has turned out to be the most wonderful thing that could ever have happened to me. Even if the nature of said relationship has necessitated concealing it from staff in the White House, the always voracious press lobby and the electorate. Not to mention the Commander in Chief of the United States.
So you would expect me to wake up with a self satisfied smile on my face, turn over to see a pair of brown eyes, a slow sexy grin and hear an invitation for some wake-up sex before we head off to the West Wing. And a month or so ago chances are that would have been the case. But instead I'm lying here alone clutching a pillow to my chest, my face buried against it as I finally accept that the last vestiges of the scent of Josh have long since disappeared. I'm usually a total neatnick, but when I stripped the bed a couple of days after Rosslyn I wanted to keep some reminder of Josh lying next to me. I throw the pillow to one side, deciding that I really should remove the pillowcase to have it laundered. That small decision is symbolic of the slight feeling of optimism I have as a result of last night's phone call.
For the first time since the shooting Josh wants to see me alone. Up to now he's been happy for me to visit along with Donna or CJ. It's like they've been there as chaperones, so he doesn't have to go into dangerous territory like talking about us or how his injuries will affect our relationship. And God forbid he lets me near enough to even kiss him. Josh has always been terrified of letting anything slip in public, any touch or look betray what's been going on. As a result, when we committed to one another we made an agreement a few weeks into our relationship that we wouldn't disclose it until we both felt the time was right. Even if that meant waiting until our careers in the White House had ended. So last night when Josh said to me "Sam, can we be careful?" I knew exactly what he meant. But at least he wants to talk.
I pay particular attention as I dress this morning. Dark grey suit, white shirt, deep red silk tie. Oh, it's totally deliberate. I love dressing for Josh. I love it when he gives me a sly appraising look in the West Wing, or the way I can provoke him to brush up against me accidentally-on purpose when we walk quickly through one of the many corridors. But most of all I love it when he gets me home. He's turned undressing me into an art form, into his own particular brand of foreplay.
Please don't think Josh and I are just about sex. Yes, I also love his mind, his wit, the way he can be charming one minute and arrogant the next. The way he comes into a room with some throwaway line and that quirky grin of his. The way he looks crumpled and rumpled at the end of the day so that I want to carry him off and kiss him from head to foot and back again, wrap my legs around him ...
Did I say it wasn't just about sex?
The small television in my kitchen announces it's five thirty. I gulp the last dregs of my now cold coffee, grab my briefcase and exit my apartment. Already the air feels warm, indicating the start of one of those humid summer days that Washington DC is renowned for. The kind of day where the moisture in the atmosphere makes Josh's curls damp and even curlier so that when we're sitting in his office it's all I can do to stop myself brushing them back and entwining them around my fingers.
Then again, the rehab unit has better air conditioning than the White House. Maybe that'll remove at least one item of temptation. So that just leaves his eyes, his smile, his dimples, his beautiful hands ...
And so on and so on until I pull into the White House parking lot. The day's a little overcast, and the imposing building in front of me stands out starkly against a sky tinged a metallic gray. There's a hint of rain in the air and I guess there'll be a storm before the day's out. But I don't care. Today I feel my mood lighten slightly as I make a mental note of how many hours it will be before I can realistically leave for the hospital.
The rest of the staff seem to sense the change in me. At senior staff I take a more active participation than I have for weeks and I can see Toby looking at me with something like relief. I venture an idea I have for dealing with a change in policy on funding inner city drug rehabilitation units and the President pounces on it as if it's the best idea since Roosevelt proposed the New Deal while Leo nods enthusiastically. I feel like the prodigal son that everyone's welcoming back into the fold; normally I would have felt a little foolish or even annoyed about the fuss but I accept that people are simply showing how pleased they are at my return the land of the living. But just so I don't get too pleased with myself, towards the end of the meeting CJ makes an acerbic comment about the way I'm dressed and asks which shop window did I just walk out of. I appreciate that little bit of salt amongst the sweetness. It's a good start to the day.
I spend the next few hours in frantic bursts of intense activity interspersed with sudden flashes of remembering what I have planned for later today. I have the sense that I'm making up for lost time by throwing myself into my work, and it strikes me that's also reflected in my hopes for how my visit with Josh will turn out. I keep turning over words and phrases in my mind trying to find the right things to say to Josh. I want to tell him, simply and without undue sentiment, that I love him and want to look after him. I don't care what it takes or how hard it might be. I couldn't be more committed to him if we'd stood in front of a priest, a rabbi or a judge and vowed to spend the rest of our lives together. And that's what I have to convince him of, even though he's been keeping me at arm's length. I can't figure out if it's because he's scared of exposing us as a couple or if the gunshot has damaged our relationship as well as Josh's body. If it's the last option I hope he's not got some damn fool thought in his head about us breaking up. I can't imagine that somehow he doesn't love me anymore, but it'd be just like Josh to have some misguided idea about not wanting to tie me to him now that he's ... paralyzed.
I hate that word. Most of us hate it, we try to avoid even saying it. We talk about Josh's "injuries" or Josh's "health problems". I know what CJ went through at the briefing last week, but I think because of that ordeal she's now the one who seems to have the least problem putting into words what most of us avoid. While Josh stays in the hospital I can't fully get my head round the concept that he now has a disability, even though I've been researching it on the Internet. The theory's scary enough; the reality frightens me even more because so much of it is an unknown quantity.
At last the time comes when I can finish the last sentence in the speech I'm working on, save the document and put it to bed for the day. Moving quickly so that I can get out of my office before the phone rings or Cathy comes through the door with some problem I put my jacket on and decide to take my raincoat as the storm that's been threatening is grumbling away in the distance. As I go into the bullpen I hear Toby's voice calling me from his office. I stop and sigh, feeling my shoulders rise and fall resignedly.
"You need something?" I ask, not even bothering to hide my impatience.
He crooks a finger at me to beckon me into his office.
"Toby, I hope this isn't going to take long because you know I'm ... "
"I know, that's why I want a quick word."
He cuts me off abruptly and stands up, looking down as he fidgets with that damn rubber ball, bouncing it lightly off the surface of the desk. One of these days I swear I'll throw it into the Potomac.
"Just because Josh has asked you to go see him, don't get your hopes up. When we talked yesterday it was hard work. He was angry and bitter. I know he called you and he left me a message that makes me feel I may have gotten through to him, but don't expect miracles. Don't be surprised ... look, if it doesn't go well he'll do one of two things. He'll shut down or he'll yell at you. I just want you to be prepared."
"I've known Josh a lot longer than you have - I think I can handle it." I'm furious. I'm a senior adviser to the President of the United States and there are *still* occasions when my colleagues treat me like the youngest, most naive member of the group. All right, I *am* the youngest member of the senior staff, but it doesn't follow that I'm so immature that I need to be told how to handle my relationships. Especially *this* relationship. And of course Toby doesn't know the full truth; he thinks he's talking to some guy who's worried about his best friend, like Josh and I are in some sort of buddy movie.
"I know that. I just ... " He looks up at me and catches the expression on my face. "Hey, you know what ... forget I even mentioned it. Go see him, talk, whatever. Tell him hi."
"I'll see you tomorrow."
I'm back out in the bullpen before I even finish the sentence.
I can't deny that Toby's warning worries me. As I drive out of the parking lot I can't help but admit to myself that the conversations I've had with Josh since the shooting have been superficial, idle chats designed not to worry or upset him. Never just the two of us. Always with at least one other person present.
And the last time we made any physical contact? That was when I'd grasped his blood stained hand as he lay on a gurney, but I wasn't even sure he knew I was there as his brain was gradually being starved of oxygen. Maybe it's a good thing he thought we were on our way to New Hampshire. Even an imagined New England would have been better than the horror of knowing he could die.
The noise of the car behind me sounding its horn makes me start until I realize that the lights at the intersection turned green a couple of seconds ago. I raise my hand apologetically as I pull away, managing to complete the rest of the journey without allowing myself to become distracted.
At the hospital I find a parking space near the entrance and wonder if Josh has seen me drive in as his room overlooks the front of the building. I hope he's as impatient to see me as I am him. As I walk away from the car heavy raindrops begin to fall, looking like large coins as they splash onto the ground. The air is heavy with static electricity, and a streak of lightning flashes over the distant Virginia countryside. I scurry indoors as quickly as I can, eager to run from the storm and towards Josh.
My spirits rise a little as I go inside. When I knew Josh would be admitted to the National Rehabilitation Hospital I did what I always do when some new, unfamiliar situation arises : I researched it. So now I know this is a facility with the highest standards of patient care and results, dedicated to "maximizing levels of function and independence" as the web site proclaims somewhat grandiosely. The rehabilitation team not only includes doctors and nurses, but physical and occupational therapists, psychologists, neuropsychologists and even engineers. This surely must be the best place possible for Josh to get his life back on track.
So I concentrate on the facts and these, combined with my conversation with Josh last night, provide an effective counterbalance to Toby's somewhat somber warning. Not that Josh had gone into a great deal of detail, but he told me that after Toby's visit he'd had a long conversation with one of the nurses and had vented a lot of painful stuff. He'd even taken a walk outside. Jesus, gotta stop using *that* word.
Here we are. I push open the door to Josh's room.
"Hey, Jo ... "
I freeze. Josh is lying on the bed, naked to the waist. That young nurse - Judy? Julie? - is bending over him removing a dressing from his chest. But what stops me in my tracks - no, makes me *recoil* I admit with a sickly feeling of shame - is the sight of his wounds. It's the first time I've seen his scar. It's amazingly straight, from mid-chest down to his navel, but it's red and swollen, and there's a puckered area that is obviously where the bullet entered. As I stand and stare - it can only be a couple of seconds but seems like hours - Josh sees me. And oh dear God he must see my thoughts written all over my face because he jumps violently, trying to turn on his side away from me. I hear him say something unintelligible - I think it's along the lines of 'No, don't let him see' - but the nurse grasps him gently by his shoulders, leaning over him to murmur something I can't hear. He gives her such a look of trust that I'm momentarily resentful of this small intimacy. She walks round the bed so that she's shielding Josh from me, and gently turns me away to march me out of the door.
"Give me a few minutes then you can come in," she says once we're outside in the corridor.
"I'm sorry ... is he ... is he okay?"
She must have guessed how miserable I feel because she answers me with that kindly tolerance that the medical profession reserves for relatives and friends inexperienced in these things.
"He's fine - in fact the infection where he had his chest drain has cleared up nicely. That's what I was checking. You wait here while I finish up."
I stand with my back to the wall and kick my heel against it angrily. Things couldn't have got off to a worse start. Josh will think I'm disgusted by what I've seen and nothing can have been farther from the truth. It was just the sight of what a piece of hot metal and a bunch of medical instruments had done to him that freaked me out. I know I won't have the same reaction the next time I see Josh naked, but I feel near to tears as I worry that maybe I've blown that particular opportunity. I peer down and feel faintly ridiculous at the way I took so much trouble this morning choosing what to wear to please Josh. Talk about being all dressed up and nowhere to go. I kick the wall again, harder this time, and earn a hostile look from an orderly who's walking past. I can't feel any more wretched when Josh's nurse comes back out and calls me. She shuts the door and finally I'm alone with Josh.
"Hi Sam," he says quietly. His lips turn up into a slight smile and I experience a rush of emotions coursing through me : love, longing, relief. I don't know what I'm expecting, but he doesn't look too upset by what just happened.
"Josh, I'm sorry ... when I came in ... " I hear myself stammering.
He waves a hand dismissively. "Forget it. Sit down."
He points to a chair positioned opposite him, but not so near that either of us can touch the other. I throw my raincoat over the back of the seat before I settle down. Josh is wearing sweats and sneakers, so I guess he's been having his physical therapy. The program here is pretty rigorous - some say aggressive - and while Josh looks pale and a little tired, he doesn't look exhausted. In fact his eyes have a little more spark in them. They're as beautiful as ever. And so are his lips, his face, his hands. Everything.
Please Josh, let me hold your hand.
Josh shifts in his wheelchair and stares at me.
"You look awful," he observes.
You look wonderful, I think. Josh, I want to kiss you. Please.
"And to think I wore the Armani especially for you," I answer.
"You know I'm not referring to your sartorial elegance." He's not smiling now. "So here's the deal: no jokes, no misdirection, and you're going to listen to me. You look awful because I know you've not been looking after yourself. You're worn out. You're unhappy. And your work's suffering."
"I'm fine, my work's fine - I've been working my ass off all day," I protest. This isn't the way it's supposed to be - I'm the one who should be showing concern for Josh, not the other way round.
Another long look from those grave brown eyes. Josh folds his arms, and now I know he means business.
"When Toby came to see me he said a lot of things. Harsh things. But they were honest. And there's one thing he said that made me realize how self centered I've become, how self absorbed. He said you haven't been writing anything worth reading let alone something the President would speak out loud. And that's when I knew how much the ... the shooting ... and my ... disability ... had affected you."
"We're lovers Josh. We have been for two years. That's longer than some people have been married. Of course it's affected me. Now can we talk about us?"
"I'm getting to that." Once again Josh levers himself up with his arms before settling back into a seated position. I would have thought he was fidgeting nervously but I recently learned that paraplegics need to shift around so as to relieve the pressure of constant sitting. He carries on talking. "The worst of it is I haven't even noticed what's been happening to you. But I'm looking at you now, Sam, and I don't like what I see. You've got to stop this, you've got to stop worrying about me, you've got to concentrate on yourself and you've got to get back on your game. If you worry about me, I worry about you. And I need to focus on surviving this. The way I am now, medically, this is as good as it gets. If I'm lucky and I work at it I'll stay healthy. But you've got to let go, Sam. None of this is good for you."
I can't comprehend what I'm hearing.
"What? Let go of what?" I ask. I don't even care how stupid I sound.
"I'm giving you the chance to get out, Sam," he tells me calmly. "Walk away now, I won't stop you."
I'm dimly aware of the sound of torrential rain and there's a sudden flickering of lightning. The room's gotten really dark but neither of us make any attempt to turn on the lights.
"Why ... " I clear my throat. Suddenly I'm finding it hard to speak. "Why would I want to do that?"
"For yourself. For the President. For me." He says it as starkly, as brutally as that. His words are like sharp, steely knives and I don't know what I've done to deserve him wounding me this way.
"You don't love me anymore, Josh? Is that what you're saying?" My voice is rising with panic. "You want us to break up?"
He shakes his head slowly and the sadness on his face cuts me more deeply than his words ever could.
"It's because I love you that I'm saying it." Josh closes his eyes as he continues, as if he can't bear to look at me, see the hurt that I know I'm showing on my face. "It would be the easiest thing in the world to let you love me but what would happen if once I left here you decided I was too much to take on? I'd rather end it cleanly now."
"You're that sure of how I feel? That as soon as the going gets tough I'll bail?"
"Think about it, Sam. You have no conception of what it must be like being in a relationship with a partner who can't walk, can't have a normal sex life and who looks like a freak. I saw your face when you walked in on me earlier - you looked like you wanted to throw up." Josh threw his hand in the air to emphasize the point.
"You want the truth?" I demand. I'm determined not to patronize him. "I *did* want to throw up. But not because of what I saw. I got a shock, it was the first time I'd seen your scar and the bullet wound ... "
"Yeah, pretty aren't they?" he interrupted.
"Well I'd rather they weren't there, but now I've seen them, I'll get used to them. The reason I wanted to puke was because I was ashamed of letting you see how shocked I was. But I think you're making them the excuse. You must think I'm very shallow if some scar tissue will chase me away."
As I'm talking his foot slips off the footrest of his wheelchair. He grips his thigh with both hands and lifts his leg. But no sooner has he done this than his leg goes into spasm and his foot slips again. I can't bear just sitting watching so I get out of my seat and kneel down in front of him to help. I get his foot back on its rest, but I don't take my hand away.
"Oh, Josh, Josh." I keep my head bent to hide the tears I'm fighting to keep at bay. "Don't send me away. Please. Yell at me, take a swing at me, anything, but don't send me away."
"Don't do this, Sam," he whispers.
"If I was sitting where you are you wouldn't let *me* send *you* away. You're not letting me make my own decision. " I lift up my head and I can see a glimmer of something. Yes, it's the unusual sight of Josh Lyman starting to doubt his own judgment.
"But look ... look what you're doing now. Is that love or pity?"
"It's doing something for the man I love. That's all. In hospital or out of it I'll love you, I'll care for you, and I expect you'll do the same for me when you come home. I'll do whatever it takes to make you happy Josh, but I will *not* give up on the two of us. I know it won't be easy, I know I've got a lot to learn about paraplegia and ... and wheelchairs and ... independent living, but ... "
"You've been on the Internet again, haven't you?" Josh asks, but now he's smiling slightly. *This* is the Josh I know, the Josh I love so much, the Josh who can't help using humor to make an unbearable situation bearable.
Oh, Josh, my Josh, just let me hold you, I'll make it right.
I want to hold my palm against your cheek and see you lean into it, closing your eyes like you always do.
Josh takes in a shaky breath. "Then if that's what you want, we need to set some ground rules."
I stretch my arm out towards him.
"Don't!" he cries. He moves his wheelchair away from me, leaving me crouched foolishly in the middle of the room. If it wasn't so serious it would be funny.
"Please, Josh, all I want to do is hold you. Love ... comfort ... we need it. It's been so long."
"Sam, we're in a *hospital*. Anyone can come in at any time ... a nurse, a doctor, my mother. If we get outed while I'm here, I can't deal with that *and* rehabilitation. I can't Sam, I just can't. Please, don't make me."
I lean back on my heels. Now I'm confused. I love Josh, Josh loves me, ergo we can resume our usual loving behavior which *always* includes a lot of touching.
"Okay, I can understand why you don't want us to risk everything by being indiscreet. But you don't want us to do anything ... not even when we're alone?"
I get up and move across the room to sit down. Josh pushes himself a little closer to me.
"I need to take it slowly, Sam. I don't want us to get confused by all those sorts of feelings. And then I have to come to terms with what sort of sex life I *can* have. And this place just feels way too public. But the fact that I love you is in no doubt."
"So you'll let me know when you're ready?" I'm taking it gently now. Josh's strength of mind has amazed me, but I suspect that more fragile emotions are not too far from the surface.
"Oh, yes. You'll know."
" 'Cos you know if you just say the word I'll pick you up, throw you on that bed and lie down next to you and show you exactly how I feel."
Josh raises a skeptical eyebrow.
"You'd pick me up?" he asks. "You'd probably put your back out."
"I'd take the risk."
Josh tilts his head to one side and gives me a small affectionate grin. Oh, God, Josh you're killing me.
"This whole thing is a risk," he points out.
"And we're not used to taking risks?" I can't help but laugh, and I know we're both thinking about a rainy day in Manhattan, a law career cut short and a campaign for an obscure New England governor.
Josh is serious once again.
"I mean it - if you decide you can't make the commitment, that it's too hard, you'll tell me. You will Sam, please? Don't sacrifice your happiness or your career because of some misguided loyalty to me."
And this is why I love this man.
We spend the next hour setting those ground rules. Until Josh says the word, no touching, no kissing, no indication to anyone about the true nature of our relationship. I'm happy to agree, although if I'm honest I'm sitting here and already I yearn to run my fingers through his hair and nuzzle his neck. But Josh's well being is paramount. He wants no distractions from his recovery, and I know that's the most powerful way I can show how much I love him, hard as that will be.
But we'll get there.
When I leave the hospital the storm has passed. I drive to Josh's townhouse and let myself in. He's all around me: his books, his CDs, a pile of magazines in the corner that he probably hadn't gotten round to reading. I make myself coffee, taking it black because for obvious reasons there's no milk, although the place looks tidy enough since Donna came and checked on things a couple of days after the shooting. It's only seven o'clock but I feel exhausted, so I drag myself into the bathroom, where I use the toothbrush I now keep here. The thought pops into my head that it's fortunate I keep it at the back of the medicine chest, so its presence won't have raised questions with Donna. I go into the bedroom, then as an afterthought I retrieve my briefcase from where I'd left it in the hall. Spinning the combination numbers I open it, slip my hand into one of the zipped compartments in the lid and grope around amongst the papers I keep there to make it look as if it contains nothing more untoward than some tedious non-classified documents. Right at the back my hand feels the smooth shiny surface of laminated plastic. I pull it out of its hiding place and scrutinize it.
It's a photograph of Josh which appeared in an article about him in George magazine. He's wearing a nice dark suit which I can remember helping him to pick out. I know it's too dangerous to carry a photograph of Josh around in my wallet, but late one night in the West Wing I'd found a copy of the magazine under a pile of papers in my office. I love this particular photograph - Josh looks serious but handsome, every inch the successful young politician - so I'd gone into the deserted bullpen and laminated it with the machine that the support staff used. It's nestled at the back of my briefcase ever since like some guilty pleasure. I prop it up against the phone on Josh's nightstand, undress and pull on his favorite Harvard tee shirt. I climb into his bed, curling up with my reflections on the outcome of my visit. I replay every word, every look, every gesture, like I've got some sort of cerebral VCR in my head. But when I get to the part where I knelt down in front of Josh, suddenly the pictures in my head change and I start imagining what it would have been like of he hadn't rebuffed my attempt to touch him.
He'd have taken me in his arms, comforting me, holding me close, his arms encircling me protectively. I'd probably have cried a little. Josh would put his hands on my face, tilting it up so he could kiss away my tears.
But we'd both want more after the long weeks of being deprived of the joy of our bodies touching, so I'd lift Josh carefully from his wheelchair, lie him on the bed and stretch out next to him. I'd drink in the sight of him: the deep brown of his eyes intensified by emotion, the sweetly serious expression that denotes his total focus on me to the exclusion of everything else. I'd trail my fingers along his temple and down his cheek to finally trace the clean line of his jaw. Leaning in to him I'd kiss his forehead, the delicate skin of his eyelids. He'd smile that luminous smile and my lips would find those wonderful dimples, until our mouths met.
Oh God, I'm lying here in Josh's bed in Josh's apartment, and I'm fantasizing how we'd kiss open mouthed, my fingers in his soft curls, Josh's hand sliding down the front of my pants and rubbing me as I get harder and harder.
But it's my own hand that's touching me to feel my erection through the cotton of my boxers. I slide my hand inside the waistband and keep visualizing the scene with Josh that I've created in my head.
"Joshua, Joshua, Joshua."
I'm coming, and coming, and coming.
And now I'm crying, and crying, and crying.
I'm all alone but I cover my eyes with my arm as I sob and my other hand finishes the job as I feel myself soften.
At last my breathing slows and my tears dry up. I turn my head and look at the square of laminated paper from which Josh's face stares out. He looks determined, like he's throwing out a challenge.
Okay, baby, I can be just as determined as you. I can be just as stubborn.
I know about challenges. My whole adult life I've seen as a series of them, but it wasn't until I left my New York office and traveled to New Hampshire that I realized the challenges up to then had been preparing me for the big one. In just the same way my personal life has had its challenges, and up to now I'd thought the biggest challenge was for Josh and I to protect ourselves, our relationship and the administration.
But now *this* is the big one. No matter how long Josh makes me wait, no matter how many nights I have to lie like this jerking myself off to fantasies of Josh naked, Josh pleasuring me, Josh ... well, just *Josh* ... I'll do it. I've got my eye on the prize and I'm damn well going to make sure it'll be worth it in the end.
I'm still looking at the picture. I fall asleep with it's image in my mind. It's an image I'll look at again and again to keep me strong over the long months ahead.
END OF REDIVIVUS PART ONE
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