RATING: R for language
SYNOPSIS: The morning after the night before. Occurs several weeks after "Tentative Duet".
DISCLAIMER: This world belongs to Aaron Sorkin; I am merely a textual poacher.
Sarah Cooper turned to face the man who had shared her bed that night. Leo McGarry, she thought, do you have any inkling what a bad idea this was?
He was already up, showered, and half-dressed, headed for the kitchen. "I make a pretty mean omelet," he offered. "Want one?"
Sarah heard cupboard doors banging and saw, in her mind's eye, her carefully organized kosher kitchen falling apart. "Damn!" Flinging herself into her wheelchair, she sped to stop him.
"What's the matter?" he asked, a carton of eggs in one hand and a half-gallon of milk in the other.
"Leo, do you know anything about the Jewish dietary laws?"
"Uh, no .." he grinned. "But I have a feeling I'm about toó"
She careened over to him and snatched the egg carton away. "You're going to treyf my kitchen!" Exasperated, she reached for his hand. "I'm sorry. It's just tható"
"What's a treyf?" he asked, gently putting the milk carton onto the counter.
Sarah sighed, picked it up, and moved it to the other side of the sink. "It's what happens when things get put down in the wrong place. I'll explain it later. Want me to fix something?"
"No, I want to fix something. You haven't showered yet. By the time you get done breakfast will be readyó"
"OK." She reached into a lower cupboard and pulled out an omelet pan. "Here, use this pan, and break the eggs into one of these before you mix them together." She laid a glass custard cup on the counter.
"And I'm doing that because Ö ??" Leo scratched his forehead.
"Because if there's even a flake of blood in the egg, you can't use it. If you've got four eggs in the bowl and the one you just put in has a speck, all five eggs have to go down the disposal."
"OK .. Anything else?"
"Use this bowl, and these utensils."
"Is there some significance to the color? They're all blue."
"The kitchen is color-coded, blue for milk, red for meat. In a kosher kitchen, no meat product can touch any milk product, not even second hand."
"Second hand touch? Doesn't sound like much fun. . ." He grinned over the open refrigerator door at her. "Veggies?"
"In the vegetable bins," she laughed.
"Does it matter what knife I use to cut Ďem up?" he asked.
"Knife? You sound like you'd rip them apart with your teeth!" she grinned and handed him a chef's knife.
"I save those for Congress. But I'm in the mood to leap a few tall buildings on the way to work. Want to watch?"
"Heaven help us." She shook her head and turned back toward the bedroom. "I'm in the shower," she said, rolling off in that direction.
Twenty-five minutes later she emerged from the bedroom, showered, dressed, and ready to face the day. Leo had set the table (with the blue dishes, she noticed) and was buttering the toast.
"You're quick," he said, carrying the toast over to her tiny butcher-block table. "Don't you have to spend another half-hour at least fixing your face, or something?"
"It's not broken," she responded. "I'm pretty much wash-and-wear."
"But you're only what, six years younger than Ö than me?"
"You mean, than Jenny? It's OK, Leo. We can't pretend she doesn't exist. And she and I have spent our lives in very different worlds."
He said nothing, only reached out and squeezed her hand as he sat down across the table from her.
Sarah reached into her skirt pocket and pulled out a royal blue scarf, draping it over her head. Before Leo could grab a slice of toast, she picked up its plate and sang a blessing. She sat the plate back down and tucked the scarf back into her pocket.
"That was beautiful," he said as he dug into his omelet. "Which one was it?"
"The blessing over bread."
"Only the bread?"
"It covers everything."
"Oh OK. Someday I'll get all this stuff straight."
"Well, there's no exam." They ate in silence for a minute or two, then Sarah spoke again. "Do you think my face needs fixing?"
Leo covered his mouth with his napkin to keep from spraying his coffee at her. "No, Sarah, I don't. I like it just fine the way it is."
"Me too. But then I'm mostly an aging hippie." She glanced up from her omelet to see his reaction. This time there wasn't one.
His cell-phone rang. "Yeah Ö OK Ö five minutes." He switched it off and put it back in his inside coat pocket. "Car's here," he said to Sarah as he finished his coffee. "You ready?"
"No, I'm not .. what about these dishes?"
"For whom?? Leo, I don't have anybody to clean up after me but me!"
He carried the dishes over toward the sink. "Does it matter which side?" he asked.
"Right side. You go ahead, I'll do them and drive myself to work."
"But then you won't get to see me leapó"
Sarah held up her hand to stop him. "Leo, think. It's six-thirty. I don't have to be there for another hour and a half! Besides, people are going to be suspicious enough when you show up in the same suit and tieó Shit, where's your tie?"
He patted down all his pockets, then dashed back into the bedroom and retrieved it from the dresser. Tossing it around his neck, he went over to the sink where Sarah was filling the dishpan. He bent over and kissed the top of her head, turned to leave, then turned back and whirled her around to face him, as he bent down to look her in the eye.
"Sarah," he said, deadly serious, "we're not kids. I don't think either one of us ever were the kind of people who didn't take Ö certain things Ö seriously. It's going to take me awhile to sort out how I feel, but I need for you to know that you are important to me."
"I understand," she answered, kissing her index fingertip and pressing it to his lips. "Now go!"
The night before had been tender, and awkward, and funny. Their first date had been a mad dash to a kosher deli after a celebration in the West Wing, and had ended with a chaste peck on the cheek. Ten days later, they had dinner at his hotel and went to the symphony, topped off by an only-slightly-less-chaste tap of the lips.
Two weeks after that, she and Leo had gone to see the revival of 1776 with the President, the First Lady, Charlie, and Zoey, and listened to every conceivable joke about Bartlet's great-great-great-great grandfather. On the way to take Sarah home, Abbey Bartlet had whispered, "It's none of my business, Sarah, but if Leo hasn't showed you his etchings yet, it's probably because he can't remember where he put them . . ." They giggled like schoolgirls and refused to tell the men what they were laughing about. She was still laughing when the limo pulled away; Leo had discovered it was impossible to try to kiss somebody who couldn't keep a straight face.
This time, though . . . this time was different. He had come to her place after a relatively short day at work, loaded down with videotapes and microwave popcorn. He seemed much more comfortable with her limitations, willing to let Sarah do for herself and even forgetting at one point that she couldn't just hop up and change the tape.
He blushed, then, and apologized as he settled back into the sofa, next to her. "God, Sarah, I'm sorry, I forgotó"
"I'm glad," she said.
"Uh huh. It means you've stopped thinking of me as someone who can't do things." She slid over closer to him on the sofa, and he put his arm around her shoulders.
"Can I ask you Ö what happened?"
She sat up straight and turned slightly to face him. "Guillian-Barré."
"Gee-yawn Barray? Where have I heard of that?"
"Remember the Swine Flu Vaccine? That's what people got from it."
"Is that what happened to you?"
"No, this was years afterward."
He took her hand. "If you don't want to talk about itó"
"Leo, we've been in meetings together. I'm a whole lot less self-conscious about this than I am about being an addict."
"OK, but anytime you feel awkwardó"
Sarah nodded, and went on. "I was working in California at a county hospital."
"As a chaplain?"
"As a nurse. In the ICU."
"At first I thought it was the flu, or bronchitis. After three or four days, though, I got out of bed to go to work and couldn't stand up. Guillian-Barré attacks the nerves, starting in the hands and feet and working up. If it gets to your diaphragm, you can't breathe."
"So they have to put you on some kind of machine?" he asked.
Sarah nodded. "I was lucky, it didn't get that far. But I was unlucky in another way. Oftentimes, GBS will go away completely. Mine didn't. I still have some weakness, mostly in my lower legs. I can stand up and walk a little, just not for very long or very far. I get very tired very fast."
"But everything elseó"
Sarah laughed, which made Leo blush. "Why, Mr. McGarry, are you asking if the rest of the equipment is fully functional?" She couldn't stop blushing a bit herself. "Well, it hasn't been full-out road-tested, but as far as I can tell everything else works just fine."
He leaned over and kissed her, tentatively at first, then with a tender passion. At first she was caught up in the rush, but then she started to back away.
"What's the matter?" he asked, nuzzling her ear.
"Mm-mm?" He headed south toward her collarbone.
"You sure you wanna do this?"
"Are you nuts?"
"I must be. There's no way our relationship can possibly go anywhere."
"Bullshit. And you know exactly where we're going tonightó"
She sighed and pushed his suspenders down over his shoulders. "Uh-huh. But we'll be sorryó"
"Maybe. I'm sorry after one game too many of racquetball, too, but that doesn't . . . keep me . . . from playing." He tossed her sweater on the floor and reached for her shirt buttons. "I don't mindó"
"Where're my wheels?" she murmured. "I gottaó"
"Fuck your wheels," he answered. "I always wanted to do this." And with that, Leo McGarry had stood up, thrown Sarah over his shoulder, and carried her off to bed.
Early the following afternoon, Abigail Bartlet stopped into Sarah's office. "My lunch date cancelled," the First Lady said. "Come on in and keep me company."
Sarah grabbed her lunch tote and wheeled down the hall to Abbey's plush office. "No calls," Dr. Bartlet said to her secretary, "unless it's the President" Ė she turned to Sarah and smiled Ė "or Leo McGarry." Once the door was closed behind them, Abbey bounced up and down like a teenager. "Well??"
The First Lady waited, but Sarah stayed quiet. "Sa-rah!!" she sing-songed. "I saw Leo earlier, he's wearing the same suit! So come on, girl, give!"
"Well, what can I say? I mean, what do you want to hear? It was wonderful, it was awful, I'm scared shitlessó"
"So is he," Abbey interrupted.
"My heart is tap-dancing, but my head is running red-lights-and-sirens." Sarah laughed. "How's that for a mixed metaphor?"
"You sure it's your heart?" Abbey grinned over her chef salad.
"Nope. For the moment it's probably a little south of there . . . but he's getting to me. And I shouldn't let him."
"Forget it, you won't be able to stop him. He's not somebody who backs off once his mind is made up."
"His mind wasn't exactly in charge."
The First Lady stopped eating and looked right at Sarah. "Don't you believe that for a minute."
There was a knock at the office door. Abbey's secretary stuck her head in. "The President, line 4."
Sarah studied her pita bread carefully as she tried not to listen to the conversation.
"Hi sweetheart. Uh-huh. She's here. Isn't it?? Oh I wish I could, but I've got the Children's Defense Fundó Oh I know, they're both so stubborn. We'll think of something. See you tonight. Love you."
Another knock at the door. "Dr. Bartlet, you have the Human Rights Campaign in ten minutes."
"Thank you, Sally. Sarah, you have the time to run some things down to Mrs. Landingham, don't you?" Abbey smiled her sweetest smile.
"Of course, ma'am. I'd be pleased to." Sarah gave her a look that said Ďwe'll talk later' as she and Sally left the office.
As Sarah entered the foyer of the West Wing, she saw Mallory O'Brien striding purposefully toward the corner offices, entering Leo's, and closing the door. Sam Seaborn was a few yards behind Mallory, but when he saw Sarah, fell in beside her.
"Where you headed?" he asked.
"I've got something for Mrs. Landingham."
"I believe you have to go past Leo's office to get to hers."
"Uh-huh," Sarah said.
"That would be a bad idea." Sam reached for the envelope. "Why don't you let meó"
"No," Sarah said. "The First Lady wanted me to deliver this personally."
"Okay," her young friend answered. "In that case, let's go down by my office and aroundó"
Sarah stopped rolling and refused to budge. "What's going on?"
"Well, Mallory ó well, she came by to have lunch, and on the way back she overheard someone mention . . . uh . . . that Leo was not his usual spiffy sartorial self."
Sarah shoved off again. "So somebody noticed that he was wearing the same suit as yesterday, and she put 2 and 2 together."
"Uh huh. I wouldn't want to run into her just now if I were you."
"Sam, I can't spend my life avoiding the fact that Leo didn't spring full-grown from the heads on Mount Rushmore day before yesterday." They turned the corner between the bullpen and the Mural Room, and Sarah lowered her voice to a mutter. "And I'm kind of hoping that this may not be the last time he shows up in the same suit two days in a rowó"
Sam leaned over and whispered, "You really should get him to leave some clothes at your placeó"
As Sarah turned toward Mrs. Landingham's desk, Mallory came storming out of her father's office toward Sam, who jumped back in time not to get plowed down. Sarah, unfortunately, was not as quick, and Mallory ran full force into her chair, turning it over onto its side and spilling Sarah onto the floor. The younger woman stopped for a moment, brushed at her skirt, stared straight ahead and kept going, with Sam chasing after her.
"Mallory . . ." Seaborn caught her by the elbow.
"Leave me alone, Sam."
Leo's voice echoed down the hallway. "Mallory Colleen McGarry O'Brien, you stop right there!"
By this time, the crash of Sarah's chair had brought two Secret Service agents down the hall, and they were helping right the chair and getting Sarah re-settled in it.
Leo marched down the hallway only to see the President's head pop out of the Oval Office. Bartlet looked around, and said quietly, "Leo, I don't know what's happening, but it needs to be dealt with privately."
Mallory pulled free from Sam and resumed her resolute advance toward the door. Leo started to call after her again, stopped, and instead walked over to Sarah.
"You OK?" he asked softly, brushing her cheek with the back of his hand.
Sarah nodded. Her hands were shaking as she bent to pick up the envelope for Mrs. Landingham, and handed it to the older woman. "Take her into the Mural Room," Mrs. L. suggested. "I'll send in some tea."
"Mrs. Landingham, would you ask Margaret to reschedule my next two appointments?"
"That's not necessary, Leo," Sarah said. "I'm OK. I'll just go back over to my office." Slowly and a bit stiffly, she propelled herself toward the lobby.
Once back on her own turf, Sarah fixed herself a cup of chamomile tea, and opened her email. The newest one was from Leo; six words. ĎI'm sorry. She'll get over it.'
Maybe, Sarah thought, and maybe not. Thank Heaven it's Friday. And she typed an address into her browser and started reading the job ads.
Late Sunday morning Sarah was reading the newspaper at her kitchen table when a knock came at her door. She looked through the peephole but could only see a yellow blur. Cautiously, she opened the door a crack, and an arm holding a bundle of yellow roses came through it. Behind them, Leo's voice asked, "Did I guess right?"
Sarah took the flowers from him and opened the door the rest of the way. "Must have been a real stretch," she said, smiling, glancing at the quilted wall hanging over her sofa, a riot of yellow roses and daisies sprung from a blue basket.
"Why aren't you taking my calls?" he asked, tossing his coat on a peg by the door.
"I don't take anybody's calls on Shabbat," she answered.
"That was over at 5 yesterday evening."
"Damn almanac," she muttered to the flowers as she put them on the table.
"Hey," he continued, "I'm over here." He sat in one of the dining room chairs, level with her, eye to eye. "Am I in trouble already?"
She hid her face behind her hands in chagrin, and shook her head. "No. I'm embarrassed."
He reached up and took both her hands in his, pulling them away from her face. "There's no need. Mallory will get over this. She's just got her Irish up because we blew her denial away."
"What about yours?" Sarah asked.
"Mine was gone months ago," he answered. "I'm not goin' back." He leaned over and kissed her quickly, then stood up. "Now get your coat. We're going shopping."
"Exqueeze me?" she responded. "You're taking me shopping?"
"No, we're taking me shopping. Furniture shopping."
"Don't tell me you're finally gonna get out of that hotel," she said as she grabbed her jacket and scarf.
"You bet your ass I am," he replied. "Left to myself, though, I'd make the new place about as attractive as a tomb. If I asked Abbey along, they'd have to empty out the store. Soó"
"Nice to know I'm second choice," Sarah grumbled, then winked at him.
"After the First Lady of the United States! You could be in lots worse company." He held out his hand for her keys, locked the deadbolt behind them, and dropped them back in her outstretched palm. "Your car or mine?"
"Mine has the handicap sticker," she reminded him.
"Yeah, but I can't drive it."
"Men!" She laughed. "Why do you always feel like you have to drive?"
"It's a guy thing, Sarah. Not that I know my ear from my elbow about cars, but it's a guy thing!"
"Oh well. Learn to live with frustration." She popped the passenger door on her van and went around to the driver's side as he climbed in the opposite seat.
"Let's go over to the new place first," Leo said as Sarah started the engine. "I want to make sure you're able to get around."
As they turned the corner to his new home, he saw Mallory's car in the driveway. At the same time, she saw the van coming, and started to open her car door to get in. "Block her in," he told Sarah.
What, so she can run me over again? Sarah thought, but said nothing as she slowed to a halt and shut off the engine. Leo flung his seatbelt off and leapt from the car toward his daughter. Sarah couldn't hear their words exactly but knew they were both shouting; she decided discretion was the better part of valor and stayed in the van until he turned and beckoned to her. Once the van door was closed again and the ramp had retracted, she could hear them both plainly.
"Dammit to hell, Mallory, you don't have to love her, but Sarah's important to me so you're goddamn well gonna respect her!"
"Respect? That's a funny word coming from you, Dad! If you'd respected Mom the way you should have, you two would still be together!" Mallory got back into her Miata and rolled the window down. "I guess love is a word you're throwing around a lot these days, though. Does it mean anything to you anymore?" She fired up the little car, backed up onto the barren flower beds, drove across what once was a lawn and back onto the street.
"I spoiled her," Leo said, rubbing his forehead. "She had everything she ever wanted, or I even thought she wantedóexcept me. Now I'm . . . what do they call it? . . . Ďemotionally available'?" He let out a deep sigh. "Available all right, available to be kicked around. I might have deserved it ten years ago, or even six years agoó"
"You said it yourself, she's got her Irish up. It'll pass." Sarah reached up and wiped the single tear from his cheek. "I've got a confession of my own, though, Leo."
"Uh oh. What?"
She grinned at him. "I'm part Irish myself."
The twinkle crept back into his eyes. He smiled back, and pulled out his house keys. "Wait here." Two or three minutes later, Sarah saw the garage door open. It was a huge garage Ė big for two cars, but not big enough for three Ė and in the back there was . . . a ramp!
Sarah squealed with delight. "What . . . ? How . . . ?"
"The previous owner was a little old lady from Philadelphia who only lived here on Sundays . . ."
"OK," he said, walking behind her to push her up the ramp and into the kitchen. "The previous owner had a teenager who broke his leg in four places and was in a wheelchair for six months. He thought that meant that Mom would start doing his laundry again; he was wrong."
The house was huge compared to Sarah's apartment, with three bedrooms and two bathrooms, separate dining room, walk-in closets, hardwood floors and a deck. "What, no hot tub?" she asked.
"You Californians," Leo muttered, "and your hot tubs. Come to New England for awhile, you'll understand."
"Yeah," she laughed, "I heard you folks define a hot tub as the Charles River after a thaw!"
After the Grand Tour, he stood in the middle of the family room and opened his arms wide. "So, whaddya think?"
Sarah thought hard for a bit. "I think you're not going to be here much, and that when you are, it's going to be a lot of house for you to knock around in all by yourself."
"Well," he answered, shrugging, "I was thinking I'd get an apartment in the District so I could stay closer to work, and just use this place to get away."
Sarah shook her head. "Will you be any happier in two houses than in one? And besides, when was the last time you were able to Ďget away' to anywhere besides Camp David or the New Hampshire house for a working vacation?"
"Now you sound likeó"
"óJenny," Sarah finished. "No, Leo, there's a difference. I've never known you any other way. I know up front what your priorities are, so if they pinch, I've nobody to blame but myself." She looked at the bare rooms around her and added, "If this place will make you happy, then go for it. But don't do this because you think it's what you're supposed to do."
He turned and walked a few steps away from her to stare out the sliding glass doors leading out to the deck. After a little while, he turned back and returned to where she was sitting, and squatted down next to her chair. "Sarah, how the hell do you know me so well?"
She reached out and stroked the side of his face. "We're a lot more alike than you think. There was a time when I would move every time I got a new job, so I could live close enough to work to come in quickly every time a patient went sour. I wanted so desperately to be needed, worked so hard at it, and convinced myself that everybody in the ICU would die unless I was personally available. Then this happenedó" she said, waving a hand toward her chair, "and you know what? They survived."
"Now I'm confused," he said. "First you said I'd never have time to come here, and when I did, I'd go nuts being alone in such a big place. I should get a smaller place closer to the White House. Now, you seem to be saying I should get away, because the world will go on spinning without me . . . which is it?"
"I'm saying, do what makes you happy. If it revs your engines to be close to the Oval Office, great! Get a little place in town, and have somewhere more comfortable than the office sofa to sleep when you need to be available. But eventually you'll have to turn over the reins to the next guy's Chief of Staff, and the world will go on without Leo McGarry's personal attention. It will be nice then to have a place outside the District with a dog and a deck. You don't have to do both now, just because you think that's what people expect."
"What did I ever do to deserve you, Sarah Cooper?" He reached out to put his arms around her, and hit his knee on one wheel of her chair. Reflexively, he pulled away and stood up. "Ow! How do you live with that thing?"
"It's easy when you have no choice," she answered quietly.
"I'm sorry. That was a stupid thing for me to say."
"No, you're right, it is frustrating. But we'll figure it out somehow." She turned toward the kitchen and started in that direction.
Once they were back in the van, Leo took out his cell phone and punched in a number. "Hi, Margaret, it's me. It's Sunday at about 1:30 in the afternoon. When you pick this message up tomorrow morning would you call the realtor and tell her I've changed my mind about the Alexandria property? Get the keys from me and send them back to her by messenger. Thanks."
"Ouch," Sarah said as she put the van in gear. "That's gonna cost you a few bucks."
"I've got a few walnuts laid aside for the winter, I'll be OK."
As they bounced down the Beltway, they sat in silence for a few minutes. "What's next?" She asked with a grin.
"Oh, didn't I tell you? We're having dinner in the Residence tonight. it's Zoey's birthday."
"Damn. What time is it?"
Leo looked at his watch. "Three-thirty. Don't you wear a watch?"
"I have a pocket-watch in my briefcase, but of course it's not here Ė and the van clock hasn't worked since God was a little girl. I'm not usually time-bound on weekends." She glanced over to see him shaking his head. "When was the last time you spent a day without one?"
He thought for a long time. "Near as I can remember, basic training. That would have been, let's see, 1968 . . ."
"You're kidding, right?"
"What time are we supposed to be at the Residence?"
"Seven-thirty. It's come-as-you-are."
"Thank God for small favors. Listen, I still have a little work to do on Zoey's birthday present, so I need to go home. Is that OK?"
"Sure. I've got some briefing memos in my car I can read while you do whatever."
Sarah pulled into her apartment garage. Leo retrieved his briefcase from the car and they went back upstairs; ten minutes later he was on the sofa engrossed in a two-inch-thick stack of verbosity. Another ten, and she was putting the finishing touches on a quilt with a paisley frog in the middle. Around the border were appliqué letters: Before You Find Your Handsome Prince, You Have to Kiss a Lot of Toads.
As she put in the final stitches, Sarah felt hands on her shoulders, and looked around to see Leo behind her, grinning.
"She'll love it."
"I know. It's so . . . college-dorm-room." She turned off the sewing machine and packed it carefully away. "What'd you get her?"
"A pair of earrings, they're in my briefcase. Listen, I had no idea you knew how to do that kind of thing."
"There are lots and lots of things you don't know about me. I made both the quilts on the bed, and I make a lot of my own clothes. It's relaxing. Want me to crochet you a sweater?"
"Who would have thought, such an old fashioned girl!"
"In some ways," she responded, smiling, as she folded Zoey's quilt carefully in tissue and put it in a box.
Gently, Leo took the box from her and laid it on the sofa. "We've got some time before we have to go," he said, brushing Sarah's hair back off her neck, then bending to brush his lips against it. "Want to road-test that engine again?"
At six o'clock, Leo and Sarah were curled up under both of her quilts. She was half-asleep, her head buried in his shoulder, his fingers playing with the ends of her hair. He let out a long, slow sigh.
"That goes double for me," she said. "But tonight'll be fun."
"Not as much fun as this was."
"You go ahead and hit the shower." She pushed him gently away.
"Uh-uh. If I come out of the bathroom and you're still here like this I'll only want to get all sweaty again." He grinned that mischievous Irish grin at her.
By seven they were on their way in Leo's car, and they got to the Residence by exactly seven-thirty. Zoey met them at the door, and was greeted with hugs, kisses, and two boxes, one very large, and one very small. "Happy birthday, kid," Leo whispered to her.
"Thanks, you guys," she answered as her parents strode over to greet the newcomers. It was only the five of them for a casual family dinner.
"Please tell me we're not having chili," Leo said as he sat down in the family room.
"We're not having chili," Abbey said. "The kitchen is off limits to our chili chef until he learns that pain pills and sharp knives don't mix."
"Dad!" Zoey laughed. "So that's what the bandage on your finger is about!"
"I'm in trouble now," the President said. "The word is out. But I'm fine, an alert Secret Service agent wrestled the onion to the ground."
"We won't tell, sir," Sarah responded, trying to keep a straight face.
"So," Abbey started, "did you close on the house in Alexandria?"
"No," Leo answered. "We went out there this afternoon, but Sarah convinced me it was too much house for right now. I'm going to find a place in town for the time being."
"Well I'm just glad you're getting out of that hotel. Aside from it costing an arm and a leg, I'm sure your lipids will thank you for leaving. Two hundred forty and change isn't healthy for a man your age."
"Leo!" Sarah exclaimed. "Two hundred and forty? Abbey, please tell me you put him on something."
"Yes, she did," Leo shot back. "She put me on an omelet-free diet."
"And you've got to get more exercise," Abbey added. "Or maybe Sarah can take care of that . . . " She smiled over her wine glass at them.
"What about his triglycerides?" Sarah asked.
"Not bad, a hundred and eighty. HDL's low, though."
Leo turned to the President with a look of resignation. "How do you put up with it?"
"Hang in there," Bartlet answered. "After awhile it gets vaguely erotic."
Dinner arrived in time to keep him from having to respond.
After dinner, Zoey opened her gifts, then Charlie arrived to take her out to a show. Sarah sat down next to Abbey on the long sofa.
"I don't know whether it's appropriate for me to say this now, Abbey, but I think I'm going to have to resign."
The First Lady nodded slowly. "I wondered if you would."
"Well, we haven't really talked about it, but if Leo and I are going to be seeing one another, it would at least look questionable for me to be on the payroll."
"She's right," the President chimed in. "But don't worry, Sarah. I'll hook you up with a couple of people who can help you find something."
"Besides," Abbey added, "it's not like we'll never see you."
"Unless Mallory runs her down again," Leo said sadly. "We had another fight today. When Sarah and I went out to the house, Mallory was already there. She assumed, Abbey, that when you and I decided not to go out looking for furniture she could just invite herself along."
"It's got to be hard for her," Sarah responded. "It'll just take time."
At around eleven, the couples went their separate ways. Leo helped Sarah out of the car and into her chair, then walked with her to her door.
"Want to come in?" She smiled up at him.
"I'd better not. I won't want to leave." He bent down and locked the wheels of her chair, then put one arm around her shoulders and another around her waist and pulled her to her feet. Clutching her to him, he kissed her long and hard, then gently released her back into the seat. Grinning at her flushed face, he said, "Hold that thought," and unlocked the door for her. Then he slipped away.
Monday morning Sarah gave the First Lady her notice at eight-thirty. By nine o'clock, word had gotten to the West Wing. By eleven o'clock Thursday night, everyone at the "card game" had heard as well.
After the meeting broke up, the Vice President fell in beside Sarah as she rolled down the OEOB hallway. "I understand you're leaving the White House," Hoynes said casually.
"Yes sir," she responded.
"Want to come work for me?" he asked.
Sarah came to a screeching halt. "I'm sorry, sir, say again?"
"The President has asked me to work with DVA on coordinating their technology efforts. I need someone who knows health care, knows computers, and can be relied upon to tell me when they're bullshitting me. Your credentials are an excellent match."
"Which ones, sir? Health care, computers, or bullshit?"
Hoynes laughed. "You have graduate degrees in each of the first two, and I'm sure in the past few months next door you've honed a fine sense for the latter . . ."
"As you well know, sir, my mother was a pillhead. I developed a reliable bullshit detector almost before I could talk."
"I suspect you did. Anyway, it's there if you want it, just let me know." He turned on his heel and started up the stairs, protection in tow.
"Don't you even think about it," Sarah heard coming from behind her.
She spun around to see Leo trotting in her direction. "What did you say?"
"Can I drop you? I've got my guy, and somebody said your van was in the shopó"
"I'm getting the clock fixed," she said. "I had intended to take a cabó"
"Ride with me, and I'll explain the facts of life on the way."
"It's a little late for that, don't you think?"
His only answer was a smirk.
"You know when you do that you look like a middle-aged leprechaun?"
That made him laugh out loud. "Well, considering that most leprechauns are wrinkly old guys, I guess a middle-aged leprechaun is just a pup. So thank you!"
Sarah swung herself from her chair to the limo. After the driver had stowed the chair and Leo had settled himself, she leaned toward him. "You were going to explain the birds and the bees?"
"No, I'm going to explain the West Wing and the OEOB. Hoynes is playing you."
"He's a good man and you know it. He started that meeting, keeps it safe . . ."
"I know he's a good man. He's also a world-class player. You don't survive umpteen terms in the House and two in the Senate without knowing how to make the right friends who have the right friends . . . Sarah, he's handling you. He thinks if he gives you a job, you might accidentally repeat some pillow talk, and he'll have an ace he can trump us with when he needs to."
"Oh, so he couldn't possibly be offering me a job because I deserve one, it has to be because I'm sleeping with you?"
"Dammit, Sarah, this isn't the People's Republic of Berkeley, it's the District of Columbia! You're not being asked to sign off a few charts for patients you never saw in your life in exchange for a parking permitó"
"How did you know about that?"
"Sarah, the FBI works for me."
"You had me investigated?" She could feel the flush rising in her face and took a long, slow breath to keep from hyperventilating. "This is mishuggas."
"Crazy. This is crazy." Her eyes were big as saucers, staring out through the windows into the cold night. She folded her hands in her lap so Leo wouldn't see them shaking.
The limo stopped in front of her building. "I knew everything about you before I even told you where the meeting was last summer. I had to find out if it was safe."
"Safe for what?"
"Well, at first, safe to let you come to the meeting. That was before my interest got . . . personal."
"I'm so pleased that I measured up to your standards." Sarah turned toward the driver. "Mike, can you get my chair please?"
"Mike, don't you dare move," Leo contravened.
"You want to see just how far I can walk?" She reached for the door handle.
"No, goddammit, I want you to shut up and listen!" He grabbed Sarah's shoulders and gently but firmly held her still. "You are a brilliant and beautiful woman. You are strong and you are stubborn and sometimes you take my breath away. You did an incredible job keeping the staff from self-destructing after Rosslyn. But believe me when I tell you that you are 'way out of your league here. Don't put yourself between John Hoynes and Jed Bartlet, Sarah. I'd hate to see you get run over."
"You'd do that?" She started to blink back tears.
"I'd have no choice," he answered.
"Then I guess there's nothing more to say. Mike, please?"
This time Leo didn't stop him.
The following Tuesday afternoon saw Abbey Bartlet off to an AIDS conference in Nairobi. Wednesday morning, Sarah called the Office of the Vice President and accepted his kind offer.
"Good," Hoynes said. "Just let me know when, and I'll have a couple of people go over to your office and move whatever you want to bring with you." He hesitated, then added, "It will be a personal and a professional pleasure to have you on board."
Then she called Sally to say she wouldn't be in, set the alarm, and went back to sleep.
Two hours later, the alarm clock rang. Two hours and five minutes later, the phone rang. "Hello?"
"Sarah, have you completely lost your mind?"
"Well, good morning to you too, Sam. How has your day been so far?"
"You know damn well how my day has been so far. Listen, my friend, I've fairly recently been snookered like this myself, so believe me when I say that it isn't fun."
"But Sam, now that I know he might try to play me, I can be watching out for it! This job is just too juicy to pass up. I went to school for ten years for this."
"You think you'll be feeling better in time for lunch?" he asked, with an exaggerated cough
Sarah laughed. "I suspect so, why?"
"I'll be there at . . . eleven-thirty." He hung up.
"It's been so nice chatting with you," she said into the dead phone.
At exactly eleven-thirty Sarah's doorbell rang. When she opened the door, Sam strode in resolutely, followed by Toby, who had a large bag of bagels. He put the bag down on the kitchen counter. "Before you ask," he called back at her, "the bagels are kosher parve and I have lox and schmear. Where are your dairy knives?"
"Top drawer between the sinks and the Ďfridge."
"Ah, blue. How original."
"It's wonderful to see you again, too, Toby. Why don't you take your coat off and sit down."
"I think I will," he replied, setting three plates and three knives down on the little table.
He took his coat off and threw it over the chair, then brought the food in from the kitchen. "I'm going to tell you something, but if either one of you ever breathes a word of it" Ė he waved one of the knives at both Sarah and Sam Ė "I'll call the Enquirer and tell them that Sam is a love child you had with Peter Lillienfield."
Sarah heard Sam stifle a laugh, but Toby continued anyway.
"Evidently somebody started a rumor a few months ago that I wanted to date you. At the time I recall thinking that might not have been a bad idea. Now, though, I'm very glad I didn't follow up, because the last thing I need right now is to be caught in a pissing contest between John Hoynes and Leo McGarry! Sarah, this isn't about the President and the Vice President. It's personal, between Hoynes and Leo, but neither of them will ever admit it." He slapped a thick piece of lox on half a bagel.
"Sam," Sarah suggested, "eat something. A stiff wind would blow you away."
"See?" Toby went on. "You even sound like his mother!" He waved one finger in the air until he could swallow the bite he was chewing.
"That's not true, Toby. That can't be true. Those two men have to trust each otheró" She stopped. In her mind's eye, she could see one of the signs posted in nearly every AA meeting room: What we see here/ what we say here/ when we leave here/ let it stay here. But these two men don't know that Hoynes is in recovery...
Sam reached for the schmear. "You're kidding, right? Leo doesn't trust Hoynes any farther than he could drop-kick him."
"There aren't many people that Leo trusts very much. I guess now I'll never make that short list."
"Sarah, you did. That's the problem," Toby said. "He does trust you, and he's scared to death that he's wrong."
"Not to bring up a sore subject," Sam added, wiping the schmear from the corner of his mouth, "but even Mallory has noticed how lousy he's felt and acted since you guys fought. I said she should come over here and tell you that herself."
"Much as I'd like to delve into your love life, though, Sarah, that's not the subject at hand." Toby sighed. "You're stuck between two guys with their tape measures out, and no matter which way you turnó"
"Got it," Sarah said. "Are you saying that I shouldn't trust either of them?"
"Absolutely not," Sam responded.
Toby dabbed at his beard with a napkin, folded it carefully, and put it down on the table. "Sarah, I would trust Leo with my life. He believed in me when nobody else did. And for the better part of a year, the sitting Vice President was The Other Candidate, doing his best to see that our guy Ė Leo's guy Ė was an also-ran. And I haven't seen anything since Inauguration Day to convince me that he's suddenly become a cheerleader for the President."
"Well, it's too late now. I've given my word. I took the job."
"So un-take it," Sam shot back. "At least think about it."
Toby reached for his coat. "We've gotta go, we have a meeting on the Hill. Promise me you'll think about what we've said."
"OK." Sarah handed him the camel's hair topcoat, but didn't let go when he reached for it. Instead she grabbed his hand, and he stopped in mid-rise; she reached up and kissed him on the cheek. "Thanks. Maybe things would have been better if they'd worked out differently."
"Don't believe it. Leo McGarry is ten times the man I'll ever be." He stood up and put his coat on.
"Hey," Sam complained, "what about me?"
"I've already got Mallory pissed off at me over her father, I don't need her bent out of shape over her fella too." She beckoned to him anyway, and he leaned over to get a kiss on the cheek.
"Seeya, Mom," he said.
"Don't stay out too late."
Sam nudged Toby in the ribs as they walked away. "You know, Mom always did like you best. . . "
Abbey returned from Africa late on a Monday night. Tuesday morning when Sarah got to the East Wing, there was a hand-carved gazelle on her desk with a note attached: "Come see me. Abbey."
Golly, I wonder what she wants to talk about, she thought. She hit the speed-dial for Sally's connection. "Hi Sally, it's Sarah. When will she have a few minutes?"
"Her nine o'clock is running late, come on down then."
The First Lady was sitting on the sofa in her office when Sarah arrived. Sally closed the door behind her, and after offering tea, Abbey asked sweetly, "Sarah, have you gone completely out of your fucking mind?"
"I guess so," she answered. "In this town I guess it's insane to expect that the man I'm sleeping with wouldn't have had the FBI check up on me first."
"Is that what this is all about?"
"Partly." Sarah put her teacup down. "No, entirely. It's entirely and completely about trust. I let him in, Abbey. I let him in places where nobody had been for years. Do you knowó Well, no, you wouldn'tó Nobody but my doctors had seen me naked since . . ." She waved her hand over her legs. ". . . since this. That was five years ago."
"Well let me tell you a few things about this man, the one you're not sure you can trust." Abbey stood and walked over toward her desk, picked up her phone and punched a button. "Sally, hold my calls for a few minutes, and when my nine arrives, make them comfortable until we're done here." She picked a folder up off her desk and returned to the sofa.
"I've known Leo since before Jed and I were married. He put himself through Michigan, and enlisted in the Navy after Michigan because he wanted to fly. Actually thought he'd make a career of it. He and Jenny married before he went overseas; Jed was his best man. He was shot down Ė twice. Once was over friendly territory. The second time he was in Cambodia and was in the jungle a week before our guys found him. He got captured and had to take a guy out with a bungee stick to get away; his leg got racked up during the escape and he couldn't fly jets anymore, so he opted out. Got the Purple Heart and the Distinguished Service Cross. Came home not sure what he wanted to do.
"With Jed's encouragement, he did law school on the GI Bill, and graduated Law Review. He was fine through law school, but afterward the nightmares came and he began to drink.
"He got a job as a labor lawyer, settled down, he and Jenny had Mallory, then a beautiful boy; they called him Sean. When Sean was five, Jenny had taken him out shopping, he got away from her and was killed by a drunk driver." Abbey tossed the folder down on the end table and photos of the accident spilled out: a towheaded child with the face of an angel, limbs askew, neck twisted and clothes torn.
"Leo and Jenny were both deeply changed: she got depressed, he threw himself into his work, and Mallory was too young to understand. You more or less know the rest of the story.
"He was married to Jenny for thirty-two years. Drunk or sober, stoned or straight, he never even looked at another woman. God knows he had the chances; as far as I know he never took them, and Jed says the same. He was as devoted to her as I've ever seen one man be, but ultimately Ė and I know this sounds corny beyond belief Ė it came down to his wife or his country. And after already having given his health, his youth, and half his life to her, he still chose his country.
"This is the man who asked the FBI to check you out before he trusted you with information that could bring down a sitting President."
Sarah sat, stunned and silent. After a minute, she took a deep breath. "Abbey, I don't know what to say."
"Say you won't put him in that position again, having to choose between love and principle. He may not have put the words together yet, Sarah, but he knows you're a keeper Ė at least, he's acting like it.
"He also knows you're not sure if you can trust him. He's already trusted you. If you care about him at all, don't make him sorry."
Sally knocked lightly on the door. "Your nine o'clock is here."
As Abbey got up to walk Sarah out, she put a hand on her shoulder. "Leo has no idea I shared any of this information with you, although it's all more or less a matter of public record. Handle him gently, Sarah. There is a limit to his strength." Then she smiled and added, "And, by the way, no matter how this works out, you owe poor Margaret a lot because she's taking the brunt of all the frustration he's afraid to aim at you."
She wheeled herself out of the First Lady's office and back down to her own. Then she picked up the phone and hit a speed-dial key. "Janeane, is there any chance that the Vice President could find a few minutes for me today?"
It was much later before Sarah could get to see Hoynes, who was having dinner at his desk when she arrived. "You hungry?" he asked, waving a sandwich. "I can get you somethingó"
"No thanks, Mr. Vice President."
"What can I do for you, then? I hope you haven't changed your mind about coming over to help us."
"No sir, but I want you to know what you're getting before either of us go any further."
"Okay." Hoynes came out from behind his desk and walked over to the sofa, motioning for Sarah to pull up next to the table. He leaned back and unbuttoned his coat.
She leaned forward a little and went on. "Remember that particular . . . sensitivity you wanted me to exercise as part of my job?"
"The bullshit detector? Yeah." He smiled. "Tell me it's gone off already."
"Yes, sir. You see, some of my friends across the street are trying to convince me that I shouldn't come over here. They say you're playing me because I'm Ö friends Ö with Leo McGarry.
"What they may not be aware of is the other relationship that the three of us all share. The one that makes it impossible for them to be right.
"I'm well aware that scrupulous honesty isn't a currency valued highly inside the Beltway, but you and I Ė and Leo Ė all know that it has to be, for us." She leaned away from the Vice President, seeming to relax. "So you tell me, sir, when should my bullshit detector be going off, at the Card Game or when I'm talking to my paranoid friends across the way?"
Hoynes smiled but his face saddened. "I'm too well aware, Sarah, that most of the President's staff doesn't trust me as far as they could drop-kick the Jefferson Memorial, but I can't let that dictate the way I run this office, or the personnel choices I make. I didn't offer you this job because you're sleeping with Leo, regardless of what anyone has told you. I want you here because you can help me do what needs to be done. And I would have expected no less than this conversation from you; it only confirms that I made the right decision in bringing you on board."
Sarah heaved a small sigh of relief. "Mr. Vice President, would you be willing to repeat that to Leo at the Card Game Thursday night? Unless you and I can intervene, it's coming down to a choice between my relationship with him and my loyalty to this office, and I have to say, sir, that he was here first." She smiled at Hoynes and folded her hands in her lap.
"Why don't the three of us sit down after the Card Game and iron this all out?" he responded.
"Thank you, Mr. Vice President. I'll see you Thursday night, then."
One down, she said to herself as she headed for the door, two to go.
Sarah went back over to the East Wing and began packing the things in her office. There wasn't much, just some small pieces of Armenian pottery, a couple of books, a bowl of fruit, a stuffed rabbit. As she was getting ready to leave, she decided to take a chance and called Leo's private office number.
"Yeah?" He sounded tired.
"You busy?" she asked.
"Not very. Why?"
"I'm on my way out of the building, I thought I might stop by." She held her breath as he hesitated.
"OK. See you in a couple of minutes." He hung up.
When she reached the West Wing, Josh was poring over the late wires. "Hey," he said.
"Hey yourself. Leo in?"
"Yeah but he's not alone. He sure has been in a lousy mood lately. You know anything about that?" he asked nonchalantly.
"As if you weren't already sure, it's at least partly my fault. Hey listen, can we talk a second?"
"Sure, c'mon in." They went into his office. He closed the door and leaned up against the front of the desk. "What's up?"
"Josh, you know John Hoynes better than anybody else here. Do you think he's playing me?" Lyman's was the one opinion she'd trust to be more informed by experience than by testosterone.
"To be honest, I don't think he's stupid enough to be that obvious. I mean, you may have just come into town on the turnip truck, but there are lots of us here who haven't, and who know you, and who know Leo, and who'd warn you and kick him if any such thing even looked like it was happening." He grinned. "I, for one, would take particular pleasure in banging that gong."
"Sam and Toby both think I'm getting suckered."
"Sam just got suckered himself not too many months ago, and he's still smarting over it. Toby . . . well, he's a paranoid by inclination as well as by profession." He stood up and ran his fingers through his hair. "Listen, I'd love to chat, but I've got two weeks worth of work to do in the next two days."
"I can take a hint," Sarah responded, heading for the door. As she closed it behind her, she turned briefly and said, "Call me before the holidays, ok? I miss our midnight talks, and besides, I have a Hanukkah present for you."
The door to Leo's office was open, so she rolled right in to find Abbey sitting on the sofa with her shoes off and her feet up on the table.
"We've got to stop meeting like this," she said to Sarah with a wink.
"Uh huh," Leo shot back, "I've heard about you two talking behind my back. What's she been telling you about me?" He grinned at the two women impishly.
"I told her everything, Leo," Abbey said with a serious face. "Everything."
He took off his reading glasses and put them down on the desk. "Everything?"
"Yep. Well, except about that panty raid you got arrested for . . ."
"Still got the panties," he said. "Keep Ďem in my safe deposit box."
At that the President wandered in through the connecting door. "Say, are you two going to make up, or do I have to haul you off to Camp David for negotiations?"
Leo cast a cautious eye at Sarah. "I don't know, sir. This might take some shuttle diplomacy."
"Well?" Bartlet said to her.
"Mr. President, I couldn't possibly stay angry at a decorated combat veteran with thirty-five year old panties in his safe deposit box."
"Hey," Leo shrugged, "it's not the years, it's the mileage."
Abbey laughed as she got up and headed for her husband's office, carrying her shoes. "I thought that was, Ďwe're not getting older, we're getting better'." As she passed the President, she grabbed the end of his tie with her free hand. "Come on, let's go play slap and tickle and leave these two alone."
"Take you home?" McGarry asked. "I've gotó"
"I know, you've got your guy. There's something I want to say first."
"OK," he responded, packing up his briefcase.
"I'm still not sure this is a good idea," she began.
"You're a mick, I'm a yid."
"I'm a pinko commie hippie freak, you're a fascist bomb-dropping warmonger."
Leo began to smile. "OK. . ."
"You're New England, I'm California"
"Uh-huh . . ."
"You made forty thousand a night, I made forty thousand a year."
"You finished yet?" He was grinning ear to ear.
"Your daughter hates me."
"She'll get over it," he said as he passed her to open the door. "Come on, Toots, let's go home."
Mary Sue Page