“Let’s get a drink.” Josh was bracing himself in Sam’s doorway, his chin stubbled, dark shadows under his eyes.
Sam set the NEA address aside and capped his pen. “Amy?”
“She put,” Josh enunciated carefully, “my cell phone into her stewpot.”
“That wasn’t a metaphor, was it?” Sam asked, but he reached for his coat.
Josh had always been a lightweight. Three beers later, he was already beginning to wobble. “That woman,” he said, slurring slightly, “is gonna drive me over the deep end one day.”
“You don’t say.” Sam signaled to the bartender.
“I’m a laughingstock, Sam. How the hell am I s’posed to control Congress when I can’t even keep my own girlfriend from taking up arms against the President?”
Sam glanced quickly over the receipt and groped for his wallet. “First of all, there’s a little thing we like to call the separation of powers, and second, I sincerely hope that the bit about Amy was just a figure of speech.”
“Very funny.” He eyed Sam owlishly. “You’re not denying it.”
“You noticed.” Sam tossed a handful of bills onto the bar and slid off his stool. “Come on, I’m taking you home.”
Josh fumbled with his house key and then tripped over the threshold as he entered.
“Fred Astaire you’re not,” Sam said and helped him take his overcoat off.
As he was hanging it on the coat rack, Josh pressed up against his side and slung an arm around his shoulders. “Wanna stay over?” His breath was warm and beery.
Sam stiffened, his pulse speeding up. “I don’t know if this is such a-“ Josh clasped his jaw, turned his head, and kissed him. He tasted like Heineken and something else, something impossible to describe but achingly familiar that Sam hadn’t even realized how much he’d missed. There was a sharp tug at Sam’s waist, followed by Josh’s hands sliding up under his shirt.
Sam broke the kiss and swallowed hard. “Josh-“ he tried again.
“Sam,” Josh murmured against the side of his neck, “There’s no problem. We’re done. I’m free.”
He’d heard that before, but Sam surrendered, cupping the back of Josh’s head and bringing their lips together again.
When Sam opened his eyes, it was full morning, and he was sprawled on his belly across a strange bed, a heavy arm pinning him down. “Josh,” he mumbled into the mattress. This was answered only with a groan. “Josh.”
The arm jerked along with the naked body beside him. “Huh? Whuh?” Empty air then, and Josh rolling awkwardly away from him. “Oh, shit.”
He’d promised himself that it wouldn’t happen again, but of course it had. And again.
Every time Josh and Amy encountered each other in his vicinity, he could hear their skins sizzle with their own special brand of pleasurable antagonism. Half of Sam was sure that Josh was still seeing her on the side, falling into bed with her after their latest little spat, hanging up the phone with a furtive look whenever his friend walked into the room.
The other half chose to disregard these suspicions because, if this was the only way that he could have Josh, then to hell with anything else, he’d take it.
One evening as he was lying on his back, waiting for his breathing to slow, the landline shrilled. Josh glanced at Sam, his expression halfway between apology and defiance, then picked up. “Hey,” he said, and turned away, cupping his hand over the receiver.
“Of course I am,” Sam heard him say. “What? Don’t be ridiculous. What did you need?” He listened impatiently, fingers of one hand drumming against the mattress, but Sam could see him starting to stir in renewed arousal. “Oh, you’re doing me a favor? When pigs fly.”
Sam shifted restlessly against the sheets. “No, twenty percent. I swear to God, Amy, twenty per- Yeah. Okay.” He rubbed the back of his neck, an absentminded gesture that sent a stab of something ugly through Sam’s gut. “Tomorrow at 8. Yeah, see you.”
Josh slammed the phone into its cradle and then looked over at Sam with a little shrug, as if to say, what can you do?
“I can’t believe,” Sam ground out before he knew he was going to, “that you let her jerk you around like that.”
Josh was staring at him in obvious incomprehension. For a second Sam thought that his look meant, What are you talking about? But abruptly the alternative occurred to him with a sickening jolt: Why do you think that’s a problem?
That was when Sam finally realized that Josh liked this. He liked that Amy was a firecracker, that he could never be sure whether he was about to be dazzled or burned. Sam had always been too soft for him. Too gentle, too predictable, too dependable. Boring. He’d rather have the resplendent rise, followed by the inevitable fall.
And the hell of it was, he’d been allowing Josh to do exactly the same thing to him.
Abruptly he pushed Josh away and swung his legs over the side of the bed. “Hey,” Josh protested, sounding more surprised than disappointed. “Where are you going?”
Sam fished around on the floor for his boxers, reflecting that nudity didn’t grant the level of dignity that the dramatic exit he envisioned demanded. “Home,” he said shortly.
Josh raised his arms imploringly towards the ceiling. “The night is young.”
“Well, why don’t you call Amy back?” Sam suggested, trying to keep his tone light. “Maybe she could move up your appointment.”
Josh stared. “Is that what this is about?”
“Forget it,” Sam snapped, and stalked out, his belt unbuckled and his shirt half-unbuttoned.
At home, he picked up the phone and stared unseeingly at his address book for several seconds. Won’t you come home Bill Bailey… won’t you come home… At last he dialed the old area code, resisting the habitual urge to follow it with his own number.
“Campaign headquarters for Horton Wilde.” The girl’s voice was cheerful and alert. Three hours behind, Sam reminded himself.
“This is Sam Seaborn,” he said. “Will Bailey, please.”
Sam taped the last box shut, running his thumbnail over the seam to smooth it. His office was hardly recognizable, just blank walls and bare shelves, with a stale emptiness already beginning to settle in.
Out of the corner of his eye he caught a sudden glimpse of someone striding past the bullpen. “Josh!” The name left his lips before he could stop it.
Sam watched Josh briefly consider pretending that he hadn’t heard, then swivel on his heel and summon a smile. “Sam. You leaving today?”
“Did Toby tell you how much he’s gonna miss you with the inaugural coming up?”
“Well, he yelled at me for packing my Lakers pennant and trying to steal a stapler.”
That earned him a chuckle. “Practically the same thing.”
“Yeah,” Sam agreed with a small smile.
“Well, listen, I’m in the middle of something, so...” Josh jerked a thumb over his shoulder.
“You took it to Leo?”
“Yeah.” He scratched his chin with his thumb, considering. “It was the women.”
Josh held up his hand. “And please don’t be the umpteenth person to ask whether it was your particular women. It was Amy, on behalf of the women.”
I have no women, Josh, Sam almost pointed out before realizing just how pathetic that would sound. Instead, all he said was, “I figured.”
Josh cocked his head slightly, obviously wondering whether this had been meant as a dig, then apparently decided that it hadn’t. “Yeah. Anyway, I’m running late, so… have a safe trip.” He extended an arm and stepped forward as if to embrace him, then faltered and clapped Sam fraternally on the shoulder instead.
“Thanks,” Sam said, his tongue suddenly too thick. He could barely get the words out. “Well, I’ll see you.”
“See ya.” Josh’s features were set in an expression of resolute cheer as he turned on his heel and walked away.
Sam remained standing alone next to his desk for a long time before he finally lifted the last box and flicked off the lights.