Chapter 14

The President stopped reading and took off his glasses. It was dawn and the sound of the bird song was too beautiful to be ignored. He walked out onto the portico and tried in vain to match the songs to the birds that he could actually see. Charlie looked around the office before finding him outside. "Sir."

"Are they here?"

"They've just arrived."

"Okay." He walked back into the room and picked up his coat. "Who's there?"

"Sam, Mrs Walsh, Stephen Walsh-"

"Her brother?" Bartlet interrupted.

"Yes and Ruth Powell. She was the girl that was jogging with Claire Walsh."

"Ruth?"

"Yes, sir."

"It's beautiful, have you seen it?"

"Not yet." Charlie held the door open, the President walked out and set off briskly towards Lafeyette Park flanked by his secret service agents.

Toby stood and watched as the President walked across the lawn in front of the White House. He could see Sam in the distance waiting for him to arrive. It had been three weeks since he had met Claire's mother and in that time the old Sam had begun to appear. His writing had regained its fluency and flair, he joined in with discussions and more importantly seemed interested in them. Since the night that he had told Toby what had happened the morning Claire had died, Sam had opened up to Josh and CJ as well.

Through all of this Toby was still holding his breath though. Sam was going to be alright, of that he had no doubt, but it wasn't going to happen overnight. As he watched Sam and Stephen talking, Toby thought back to the confrontation in his office that had led to Sam finally getting the help he needed.

"Are you going to meet with Josh?" Sam asked as he leaned against Toby's doorjamb.

Toby nodded distractedly, "If I can find the damn…Ginger!" he bellowed.

Sam flinched and waited until she had located the file and left Toby's office before continuing. "May I use your sofa while you're gone?"

Toby looked up at Sam and took in the pale complexion and squinting eyes.

"No you may not." He turned his attention back to checking the contents of the file.

"Oh." Sam was taken aback by Toby's refusal. "That's…has somebody already booked it?"

Toby started to flick through his diary pretending to look for sofa bookings. "Let's see, have I got any other idiots who refuse to take their medication or see a doctor wanting to use my sofa today? No," Toby slammed the diary shut, "it's just you."

"Oh I get it, well that's…you win…phone the damn doctor, make an appointment. I know, why don't you see if the First Lady's free and she can take me herself, I'm sure you're keeping her up to date-" Sam suddenly stopped talking. His knuckles were pale where he was holding onto the doorframe. Toby thought he looked a little paler than he had when he'd started his rant too, "Right, I really need your sofa because there's two of you standing in front of me now and I'm sure there was only one when I came in here."

Toby walked around his desk trying not to look victorious. He stood in front of the sofa and held out his hand.

"What's that?" Sam asked.

"It's my hand." Toby replied matter-of-factly.

"Ah." Sam replied as he let go of the door and lost his balance slightly before taking it.

Toby left a sleeping Sam in his office and went next door to use his phone. He phoned both of the doctors that the First Lady had recommended. He was sure Sam wouldn't mind, after all, he had said to phone the doctor, it wasn't Toby's fault if he didn't know whether he meant the pain specialist or the psychoanalyst.

Toby walked closer to the edge of the White House's lawn but made sure he couldn't be seen by the small crowd. Sam had seen both doctors. One of them stated that a few weeks of physiotherapy would soon solve a lot of the pain Sam was experiencing. The other's prognosis was for a longer period but he also assured Sam that his pain would lessen with time.

The President had reached the small group now and Toby suddenly felt like he was intruding. He turned back towards the White House resisting the urge to turn around and watch as the President greeted Mrs Walsh.

Catherine watched the President approaching them at a pace that surprised her. She was amused at the site of his agents who seemed to be finding it difficult to keep up. Then she spied a man talking into his sleeve on the edge of the green and then another keeping a close watch from the end of the path and she smiled at the thought that this would be considered just a stroll in the park for the President.

When Sam had first contacted her about his idea she had been speechless but when she had discovered that the President wanted to be involved Stephen had to take the phone from her and continue the conversation with Sam. At first Stephen had been sceptical about it until he had found out that there would be no publicity and that it had been arranged for as early as possible in the morning to minimise any obvious disruption caused by the closure of the Park.

Catherine looked at her son who stood next to Sam. The two men had met earlier in the week to finalise arrangements and she had been proud of how Stephen had handled the meeting and resolved his issues. Standing between her and Stephen was Ruth. The news of Sam's plan had been enough to cause her to return to Washington and end her self-imposed exile to Queens. Catherine's thoughts were interrupted by the sound of Sam greeting the President and she looked up as she heard her name to find the President smiling warmly and holding out his hand. She shook hands with him and watched as her son and Ruth were introduced.

"Mrs Walsh, I am sure you appreciate the necessity of keeping this brief but I want you to know that I was honoured when Sam told me that you had agreed to my being here today. I understand that Sam will be giving you a tour of the White House later. I have arranged for the Chairman of the White House Historical Association to accompany you as well. Sam is a brilliant speech writer but believe me he knows very little about the White House."

Mrs Walsh smiled and thanked the President. Bartlet liked her immediately and told Sam to make sure that he included a visit to the Oval office later on so that, if circumstances allowed, he could sit and talk to her and Stephen some more. He glanced at Sam and sensing his nervousness moved quickly to stand in front of the small group.

"Mrs Walsh, Stephen, Ruth," Bartlet began, "When Sam told me what he planned to do here this morning I admit I questioned if it would be something that you would be comfortable with. It didn't take long for him to persuade me that it was. I understand that you had told him how Claire used to jog by the White House most mornings and then rest here before jogging home. Sam knew this was the exact spot because you described it so well. I know that Sam told you about the bench but I suspect he didn't tell you that it is hand carved Teak and is one of a kind."

"No, he didn't Mr President," Catherine said as she took hold of Ruth's hand.

Bartlet walked over to the bench that was covered with a drape. He took hold of the end of the cover and pulled it back to reveal the bench that Sam had spent so long deliberating over. Silence greeted the unveiling. Sam looked nervously at his companions' faces trying to gauge their reaction. It was Ruth who broke the silence that had descended. "She would have loved it," she declared and Stephen and Catherine agreed with her.

"When I jogged with her we always stopped here, she used to like to sit and look at the White House. She used to like to think of all the people working away inside while we were out here lying on the grass." Ruth laughed at the memory.

"I know," Sam said as he walked towards Ruth. "Catherine told me about how Claire spent more time sitting here than actually jogging."

It was the first time Sam had seen Ruth since the morning of the accident. He looked at her and remembered her screams and wondered if she was remembering what he had looked like that morning. "There's an inscription," Sam pointed to the brass plaque on the bench that had been placed to face the White House.

Ruth read it out. "I like work; it fascinates me. I can sit and look at it for hours." She smiled at Sam's choice of quote. "That's perfect…she'd laugh if she…she'd have loved it." Ruth finished reading the rest of the inscription, "In memory of Claire Walsh 1977- 2002."

Stephen walked up to Sam and held out his hand. "Thank you…I feel I should have something profound to say but Claire was always better with words than me."

"Mrs Walsh would you like to walk to the White House with me?" The President asked. It was, of course, a rhetorical question. Stephen, Ruth and Sam followed the President and Catherine back across the park and onto the front lawn of the White House.

"Do you have anything to say about this room Mr Seaborn or shall I carry on?" the beleaguered Chairman asked. Sam had tried to join in with the tour but it had become increasingly clear that his knowledge of the history of the White House was indeed poor.

"No, but I could tell you an interesting story about that fireplace," Sam offered.

Ruth, Stephen and Catherine listened with interest as their guide regaled them with anecdotes about the room they were standing in. When he had finished Ruth turned to Sam. "I'd really like to hear the fireplace story. It sounds like something the tour guides might want to add to their programme in the future."

Sam began an earnest but unwittingly comical tale of how he and the Deputy Chief of Staff had nearly set fire to the White House. When he was finished Charlie came in to tell them that the President had five minutes free.

"Charlie," Sam called him into the room. "You were here, am I, or am I not correct in saying that The President was misled when he was told the fire in this room was not started by me and that the Deputy Chief of Staff had just as big a role in it?"

"I don't recall Josh Lyman being there at all Sam," Charlie lied as he began to lead Catherine towards the Oval Office.

As they reached the outer office and their guide said his goodbyes Sam grabbed his arm as he was turning to leave, "If that story does become part of the tour you might want to mention that it was me and Josh Lyman the Deputy Chief of Staff who started the fire. In fact the kerosene was his idea so really…"

After they had left the White House Sam returned to his office and closed the door. He stood by the window and didn't turn around when Toby knocked and entered.

"They liked it?" He shut the door but stayed standing in front of it.

"Yeah, Ruth especially, I think it may have helped her," Sam said.

"And Mrs Walsh, what did she think?"

"She liked it too." Sam took his hands out of his pockets and folded his arms. "Stephen looked…I was going to say well but that's not it, he looked…"

"Stronger," Toby offered.

"Yes," Sam agreed.

"Good." Toby walked closer to Sam. "And you? Are you stronger?"

"I think so." Sam unfolded his arms. "I still feel guilty, I think I always will, but I'm not looking to be punished. I don't see her like I did. See, she was haunting me, I couldn't close my eyes without seeing her." Sam turned and faced the window. It had started raining a while ago and it was lashing heavily against the window. "This is the first time I have been able to listen to the rain without seeing her hurtling towards me," he confessed.

"I still feel sick if I hear a car backfire," Toby said quietly. Sam turned at his admission. He knew it had taken a lot for Toby to say that to him. He nodded and was stopped from responding by Josh's entrance.

"The press have already sniffed out your bench. They were taking photos until rain stopped play."

"Hey guys, guess what I'm about to be asked in the briefing." CJ flitted gracefully around the doorjamb and into the office.

"Is sex better than chocolate?" Josh offered.

CJ ignored him. "Sam, any ideas,"

"Let's see, how about, 'CJ, can you tell us if Sam Seaborn has anything to do with the bench in Lafeyette Park that is dedicated to the memory of Claire Walsh?'"

CJ pointed at Sam. "That's a good question and I'm glad you asked. And I can tell you that the WBC will be meeting…"

"WBC?" Sam interrupted.

"Washington Bench Committee," CJ explained. "The WBC will be meeting on Tuesday to try to answer just that question."

Toby smiled, impressed once again with CJ's ability to turn 'no comment' into a fabrication that made him suddenly panic that he hadn't written a statement either for or against it already.

Sam shook his head and smiled also.

Josh looked slightly confused. "I don't think…I've never heard…okay, is there a committee for benches in Washington?"

His statement was greeted by the sound of Sam's laughter. CJ joined in and shook her head at Josh.

"Well I think you should go with the chocolate thing then," Josh continued unperturbed," it's topical. In a recent poll 70% of women asked said they preferred chocolate to sex."

CJ picked up her notes that she had placed on Sam's desk. "Well, they must be buying really good chocolate and having really bad sex," she replied as she left the room and headed for the briefing.

Sam looked at Josh and considered saying something to console him when Toby's sudden movement caught his attention. Although it was still raining the sun had come out and was streaming through the window.

"Let's go for a drink. I'll tell Carol to tell CJ where we're going. But we can't be long Sam we have to write that speech for the WBC when we get back." Toby started to move away but noticed that Sam's gaze was fixed on the window where he had been standing. Josh went to get his coat mumbling something about it not surprising him if there really was a committee for benches.

"You coming?" Toby asked Sam. He opened his mouth to reply and then closed it again.

"What?" Toby asked.

"It's nothing." Sam finally turned away from the window and started to follow Toby. He suddenly stopped and turned towards the window again pausing before he quietly said, "There's going to be a rainbow."

He followed Toby out of his office and shut the door.

THE END