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Eighteen Years

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Sam: August 2003

The sun angled through the blinds like a spotlight, hitting my hand where it rested on the fax machine. I pressed the send button and the machine hummed to life. Smiling, I pinned my phone to my shoulder with my chin, listening to it ring.

"Braddock and Crick, Mr. Braddock's office," a voice answered.

"This is Sam Seaborn," I said, relaxing against the back of my chair.

"Mr. Seaborn, of course." The voice was a woman's, and friendly.

"Don't tell me--it's Lorraine, right?"

"Good memory." I could hear her smile. "Mr. Braddock is actually in a meeting, but I can see if--"

"Oh, don't bother him," I said. "I just wanted to give you a heads-up that I've just signed the contract, and I'm faxing it through to HR now."

My BlackBerry chirped out a new-email alert, and I glanced at the screen. Josh. The corner of my mouth turned up. It would be another four years before Martha Jenkins would be stepping down from her Senate seat, but Josh already had me making contacts and getting backers in line. It was all work, but work had always been the part we did well. It was surprisingly nice to have a common goal again.

"That's really great, Mr. Seaborn. We're so glad to have you." Her voice was businesslike, but the enthusiasm was genuine.

I pulled the BlackBerry closer, scrolling over to the mail icon to pull up Josh's message. I can get you in to talk to the president of SF State Thursday at 2. Can you get a flight?

I sniffed. I seriously needed to hire a real campaign manager.

"Go ahead and call me Sam," I said into the phone.

"Sam. Okay." Lorraine's voice relaxed a notch. "Well, if we're on a first-name basis, then I suppose it's all right to tell you that Mr. Braddock's been walking around like the Cheshire cat ever since you accepted his offer. I haven't seen him this pleased with himself since he beat the pants off of Joe Dale at Lost Canyons last fall."

I grinned. It'd be good to have a chance to show him what I could do. "I'll do my best to live up to the hype."

I picked up the BlackBerry and keyed in a message with my thumb and forefinger. took job @ braddock & crick. days will be harder. maybe in a few months? I sent it off.

"You'll be starting on Wednesday?" Lorraine asked.

The chair rumbled against the floor as I rolled over to the desk and glanced at my calendar. "I could actually come in tomorrow, if that would be better." There was no reason not to sound eager now that the Is had been dotted and the Ts crossed.

"Your office is ready whenever you are."

The phone on my BlackBerry started ringing, and I looked down automatically. Josh again. "I'll see you tomorrow, then," I said to Lorraine.

"See you tomorrow," she repeated.

I set down the receiver in its cradle and held the BlackBerry up to my ear. "You know, I've been getting your emails just fine," I teased. "That's kind of what these handy little devices are for."

"You're taking a job? At a law firm?" He sounded incredulous.

I ran a finger down the side of my computer monitor, sending a couple of ancient sticky notes fluttering to the desk. "Yeah, I'm supposed to start tomorrow. I just got off the phone with them."

"Well, call back and tell them you changed your mind."

"What? No!" My face screwed up in confusion, and I planted an elbow on the desk. "Wait, why?"

"I have to spell this out for you?" Josh's voice had that outraged squeak to it, the one he usually reserved for talking about House Republicans. "You're running for Senate?"

I rolled my eyes. "And you're the White House Deputy Chief of Staff. That hasn't stopped you from organizing my speaking engagements."

"You're seriously going to work for a lawyer named Crook?"

"Did I key that in wrong?" I held the BlackBerry up in front of me and glanced at the screen. "It's Crick. You know, Braddock and Crick? One of the best mid-size firms in L.A? James Braddock gave a boatload of money to my Congressional campaign."

"Yeah, well, if you go work for him, it's going to jeopardize everything we've planned."

"Because of a potentially damaging typo?" I smirked. "Or wait, do they even let lawyers run for Senate?"

"Whatever happened to 'I'll never practice law again?'"

A tension formed along my jawline, and I ground my teeth together. That had been another lifetime, and we'd both said a lot of things back then that we didn't mean. "Okay, seriously. Jenkins was always going to finish her term. We both knew that from the beginning. And I need to be doing something."

"You're writing op-eds. You're giving speeches. You're...kissing babies."

I pushed out a sigh. "And I'm sorry, but I'm not going to spend another four years doing nothing but that." My jaw slid forward. I shouldn't have had to justify this to him.

"All right, cards on the table." He hissed out a breath. "This is because of Carrick?"


Then it hit me: Congressman Carrick, Democrat from the Idaho 2nd. At least, until his last showdown with Josh. Now he was the newest sheep in the Republican fold.

"You don't trust me to do this." Josh's voice was suddenly brittle.

"It's not about Carrick."

"The hell it's not," he mumbled.

I swallowed, the fog of my annoyance dissolving. Last I'd heard from Toby, Leo had reduced Josh's portfolio and they were thinking about bringing in Angela Blake to lighten his load. For the last few weeks he'd probably been banging his head against the walls of the West Wing, and they were never going to yield.

"Josh, it's really not that, all right?" I leaned forward, the edge of my desk pressing into my stomach. "Listen to me. You're the best there is. I know that, and a couple of years from now, I'm really going to need you. But right now, what this campaign needs is a manager. Somebody out here in California, not somebody who's moonlighting from the White House."

He didn't respond.

"And I'm going to need your connections inside the party to help me find the right guy. But that's all you can do for me right now."

There was nothing on the other end. I pulled the BlackBerry away from my ear and glanced at the screen. We were still connected.

"Jenkins isn't going anywhere until 2008," I said, trying again. "Willis will probably run against me in the primary, but he's nobody at this point. I need to do something else. Something I'm good at."

"What are you going to do, work for them for another couple of years and then quit?" His voice was quieter now.

"They've already said I can take leave to run. They've been very supportive." I caught a breath. "And if I win...we'll see." I leaned back in my chair, letting the sun splash against my face. "I'll give you a call if we need your help."


The corner of my mouth quirked. "When."

"You're going to be able to find time to run for Senate? While you're working eighty-hour weeks at some law firm?"

"I'll make the time." Confidence radiated from my voice, enough to carry across the line. "It's a good offer. They're good people. This isn't Gage Whitney. It's a whole different world."

"But right now, you've got to be--"

"Josh," I said, cutting him off as gently as I could. "This isn't up to you."

I could hear him breathing on the other end of the line, but the pause seemed to stretch into minutes. "Okay. I should go," he finally said, his voice rough.

A fist clenched around my stomach. Suddenly it dawned on me that this had been a fight. A fight without yelling, but somehow it seemed just as serious. "Wait," I said, holding a hand up like he could see me.

My mind grabbed for something to say, but nothing came.

"I'll talk to you soon," he said quickly, and the connection went dead.

A cavern of silence enveloped the room, and I set my BlackBerry down on my desk. For the last five months Josh had said that at the end of every conversation, and for the last five months it had always been true. But I couldn't shake the feeling that this time had been different.