DISCLAIMER: All recognizable characters and situations belong to Aaron Sorkin. If he wants to sue, he can, although I personally believe I'm treating Sam much better than he has lately. 'Cat's in the Cradle' belongs to the great Harry Chapin. Adam Seaborn belongs to me, so you can't have him.

CATEGORY: Sam drama/angst. Hints of CJ/Sam, but nothing blatant.

SPOILERS: Mostly from Somebody's Going to Emergency, Somebody's Going to Jail. Brief allusions to the 'MS episodes'.

SUMMARY: And as I hung up the phone, it occurred to me, he'd grown up just like me. My boy was just like me.

ARCHIVE: Yes to the Sam Seaborn Archive if they want it. Anyone else, please ask.

THANKS: To Liz, Lisa, and Jess--my own personal Fellowship of the Wing. Love you guys.

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CAT'S IN THE CRADLE

by, Sid

* * *

Sometimes when he's tired, Vivaldi's 'Winter' plays in his head. It comes out of nowhere, unbidden, unprompted, the opening strains seeping gently into his brain without warning. He sees winter in his mind, the frosty Colorado of his youth--dark gray skies, snow-laden trees, and air so cold and crisp it burns at the lungs. He can hear every movement of the music, every upsweep in the tempo, so beautiful and clear, as if it's being played by someone extraordinary--the Academy of St Martin-in-the-Fields, maybe.

Because he's tired, his memory distorts, and he can't recall if it snowed for eight days when he was ten years old, or for ten days when he was eight. Because he's tired, his mind plays tricks on him, and he mixes moments from his own youth with that of his son's. He remembers a Christmas when he received the entire collection of Dickens and went into spasms of joy, and it's only after several minutes that he realizes that is not his memory, it is Sam's, his son's.

He's not old, not yet, but he's getting older; his memory isn't always reliable. He rubs at the back of his neck and looks out the window, out onto the Santa Monica beach, which is only six blocks from his office complex. He tries to remember when it was that he last spoke to Sam, his oldest child, his only son.

The nameplate on his desk reads Adam Seaborn, and the sign on the office outside proclaims this company as half his. He's an important man in Santa Monica. Not everyone knows who he is, but his influence spreads far and wide. His name commands respect, and his handsome, silver-haired figure commands attention. He has the world at his fingertips: a gorgeous wife, three beautiful daughters, a wildly successful business, and more money than he can possibly spend in two lifetimes. Adam Seaborn has it all, and yet he does not have his son.

When he met Joanna Mulholland in the lobby of the Harbor Heath Hotel, nearly thirty years ago now, he knew his life had changed forever. In hindsight, of course, he had had no idea just how much. He thought she would be a fling--a gorgeous, sophisticated woman in the prime of her life, a warm body to spend a night with. She wanted him and he wanted her, and it was no more complicated than that. He had already been married to Annie for six years by then. Sam was just a toddler; Annie was devoted to him and Adam was feeling neglected. He loved Annie passionately, but after years of having her attention and love all to himself, he was resentful that he was now overlooked. He loved his son, but to suddenly be ranked a distant second in his wife's affections was terribly hard on his ego, and even harder on his heart. He still thinks of those early days with a twinge of pain.

So he found Joanna, without meaning to. She was there and she was beautiful and she wanted him. She flattered him, kissed him, stroked his hand, her thumb brushing over his wedding ring. Joanna didn't care that he was married. His looks canceled out any qualms she may have had over meddling with a married man. She was enthralled with his blue eyes, he was drawn to her wide smile, and within hours they were in bed together.

That was nearly thirty years ago, and after decades of lies and duplicity, he and Joanna are together. They are married. Happily married, in fact. They have their ups and downs of course, like any couple, but they're happy.

He had not known, that night in a Santa Monica hotel, that Joanna was the beginning of a new life, the beginning of new hope. He had insisted on seeing her again--had, in fact, demanded she give him her telephone number, and she had happily complied. And for weeks after that, they had met in secret; Adam had cooked up business trips and day-long meetings, weekend retreats and flat tires, all to explain away his frequent absences. Annie hadn't questioned any of his excuses. She had stood idly by as Adam's lust had turned into infatuation, as his infatuation had turned into love, as his love had grown and magnified till there was no room left for Annie herself. He had fallen in love with Joanna, and if Annie was content to trust his love, Joanna never made any such mistake. She cultivated Adam's love, nurtured it, coaxed it to life, and never failed to respond with love of her own. It was intoxicating. It still is.

Adam Seaborn lived a lie for twenty-eight years. If you ask him why, he will be hard-pressed to tell you, though at first there had been a hundred and one reasons. He had told himself Annie would fall apart, that he would break his son's heart, that it would damage his reputation. He had believed the lies at the time, when the truth would have been easier. The truth was that he was scared to leave Annie. She was security; to leave her meant to change. The fear had passed after the first few years, and then suddenly Annie had gotten sick. Ovarian cancer. She had endured chemotherapy, a hysterectomy, and years of remission. Both Adam and Joanna had agreed that only a bastard would leave his wife at a time like that.

He had left Annie of course, eventually. When he looks back on it now, it amazes him that he was so successfully deceitful for so long, and it angers him that Annie never had a clue. It seems further proof that she took him for granted; not to question the lies? Not to once take him aside and voice her suspicions? He had loved Annie the moment he set eyes on her their freshman year of college--he had loved her beyond all reason, had cast a jealous eye toward any men who had looked twice at her, and yet she had not loved him enough to believe someone else could take him away from her. Her unquestioning trust and the easy way she waved off his explanations stung.

But that's over now. Adam closes his eyes against the California rays, against the sight of the beach littered with sun-worshipping bodies. He doesn't think of Annie much anymore. When he signs the alimony check or pays the bills for the house in San Francisco, maybe, but rarely other than that.

Who he thinks of mostly is his son. He's so proud of him. His son works for the President of the United States. His son crafts speeches for the most powerful man in the world--speeches that Adam listens to with pride that bursts within him, imagining he can tell which words were written by his son.

Adam subscribes to The Washington Post, one of the oldest, most venerated papers in the country, and also to The DC Digest, which is far less reputable. The Post details the Bartlet Administration and Sam's place in it; it credits the writing team of Toby Ziegler and Sam Seaborn as bringing out the best in Josiah Bartlet's oratorical legacy. The Digest divulges that DC is abuzz with rumors surrounding Sam's interest in CJ Cregg.

Adam swells with pride as he reads of his son's accomplishments, and he gazes at a photo of CJ Cregg, subdued by her unconventional beauty. And everything he reads of his son chips away at his heart, because he is learning it from cold black and white print, and not from his warm son who bursts with color.

They exchange emails sometimes--Adam's hopeful and forthright, Sam's cold and reserved. Adam asks about the latest health care amendment and how the re-election campaign is going, and his son, normally so voluble, responds with short, polite sentences that betray anger and irritation. Adam asks if there's any truth to the rumors that Sam is interested in the beautiful, awe-inspiring CJ Cregg, and his son ignores the question altogether.

Bit by bit Adam is being edged out of his son's life. And as much as he would like to blame this on Sam, on his immaturity and his unwillingness to accept the demise of his parents' marriage, Adam knows that he is just as much to blame. He knows that he is more to blame than anyone, because although Sam is pushing him away now, it is he who began pushing all those years ago.

Adam rises from his chair and goes to stand before the big picture window, shoving his hands in his trouser pockets, staring out into the blue, blue ocean. He can see surfers riding the waves, tiny as pinpricks in the distance. He can see people wading, playing volleyball, dogs bounding alongside joggers.

He misses the mountains. All his life he grew up with the mountains just there, towering in the west, and without them, even now, he has no sense of direction.

He and Annie and Sam used to make trips back to Denver every winter for the holidays. Annie hated the cold, but Adam couldn't bear the idea of a sunny Christmas. They didn't go skiing--Adam was a Denverite through and through, and skiing was something Denverites didn't really do--but they stayed in nice hotels, or with Adam's family, and Sam loved it. Adam smiles as he remembers his black-haired son, rosy-cheeked and smiling, clinging to his hand as they walked down the 16th Street Mall in the falling snow. Even though he invariably brought paperwork on these trips, and had to make what seemed like fifty phone calls a day, Adam always made a point of taking his son off for one day together. In truth, he looked forward to it all year.

Once, when he was about nine years old, while preparing for the yearly trip, Sam had come into his mother and father's room, beaming with joy. "I like when we go to Colorado, Dad," he'd said, "because you spend a whole day with me."

It hadn't meant much to Adam then, but looking back on it now his heart splinters, and he sees the truth behind his son's innocent words. Looking back, he tries to remember other days spent with Sam, just the two of them, but he can't. The mountains are always in the distance, or the snow falling on Denver streets; there is never the beach or the sun or Disneyland. It was only on these winter breaks, ten days in the Mile High City, that he set life aside for his son. At home there was always the office and clients and, of course, above all things, Joanna.

His mind is clearer now, no longer playing tricks on him, but being brutally honest. When Sam turned thirteen, instead of being there to celebrate his son's journey into manhood, Adam had been at St John's Medical Center in Santa Monica, watching as Joanna gave birth to their second daughter, Elizabeth. Annie had taught Sam to drive, because by the time he was sixteen, Adam's 'business trips' had grown more frequent and more lengthy. Adam had missed Sam's high school graduation party, and it had been three weeks before he knew that his son had been accepted into Princeton. He hadn't known of Sam's first girlfriend, he hadn't known that Sam's best friend from elementary school had been killed in a car accident, he hadn't known that Sam had graduated top of his class at Princeton--he hadn't known any of it until long after these facts were a part of his son's life.

When the news of the president's MS had broken, Adam had phoned Annie. She was not cruel--Annie was never cruel--but there was a hint of satisfaction in her voice when she informed him that Sam had just phoned her, needing to hear his mother's voice reassuring him that things would be all right. And even though she meant only to hint at what he was missing, and had no intention of hurting him, the reminder that he was not close to his son cut like a knife, and he hung up on Annie without another word.

Life is good, he tells himself. His three daughters are growing into beautiful, mature, capable young women, and they adore him. That should be enough, shouldn't it? But the memory of his son is too great.

He thinks of the things Sam could teach his sisters, of the doors he could open for them. He thinks that if they knew their brother, his daughters would admire him, and he knows that they would love him. He thinks Sam would love them too.

They are so like him sometimes--the same black hair, the same strong jaw, the same unwitting arrogance, the same idealism. Susan shares Sam's passion for the law, and Elizabeth is a gifted writer. But it is Julia, the youngest, who most resembles Sam, in tenacity and intellect and sweetness. Adam nods his head without realizing it. Yes, he thinks, they would love their brother.

This can't go on, he tells himself. It's a new year, and a new year holds promise and opportunity. He owes it to himself to try again, to build a bridge with his son.

It's a new year, and as dusk turns into darkness, Adam Seaborn picks up the phone.

At first Sam doesn't hear the phone ringing. The laughter is too loud, the music is too loud, and he's paying more attention to Josh's story than to his surroundings. Everyone is paying attention to Josh; the tiny group is focused entirely on the wild-haired man before them, all of them leaning forward, smiles plastered to their faces as he recounts his story. It's a story they've all heard before, but it's New Year's Eve and they're tired and exhausted and defeated, and they need laughter. Josh is giving them this gift.

The phone keeps ringing and Sam finally hears it, but decides to ignore it. The answering machine will pick it up, and who the hell calls on New Year's Eve anyway?

But the phone keeps ringing, and with a start Sam remembers that he unplugged the machine earlier because CJ needed to recharge her cell phone.

Donna pokes him in the arm. "Aren't you going to answer that, Sam?"

"Ah, let it ring." He shrugs and downs the last of his champagne. Whoever it is can't be important. Everyone he loves is right here in this room, apart from his mother. She's in Paris and she's already called to wish him a happy 2002, so he knows she won't be calling again.

Whoever it is can't be important.

The ringing goes on, steadily, insistently, until Toby makes a face of disgust. He slaps his wine glass down onto the table and goes to answer the phone. "For auld lang syne, what do you *want*?" is how he answers. He listens for a moment. No one pays much attention. They're still laughing at the story of Josh and the apron with the daisies on it.

"Sam," Toby says in a strange voice, "it's for you. It's your father."

The smile drops immediately from Sam's face and the taste of champagne clings bitterly to his lips and tongue. "My father?"

Everyone has stopped smiling now, because they all know the story of his father's betrayal. And while some of them privately think Sam is perhaps being a tad dramatic about the whole thing and should just forgive his father already, they all love him and know how much he still hurts. It's quiet now and they look at Sam, gauging his reaction.

His face is drained of color, a frozen stillness to his face. CJ notices how his beautiful blue eyes suddenly dull and how his lips are set in a tight line.

"My father?" Sam says again, and his voice is disbelieving.

Toby just nods, holding the phone to his chest so that Adam Seaborn will not hear if his son doesn't wish to speak to him.

"What does he want?"

Toby lifts the phone again, prepared to ask Sam's father--a stranger--just that. But Sam stands, and goes to Toby, and takes the phone from him.

Before raising the receiver to his lips, Sam conjures a mental image of his father. It's like looking into a mirror, and he knows without a doubt that as he ages he will inherit the same lines around his mouth, the same flecks of gray at his temples. He knows that in ten years, or maybe twenty, he will begin to sound like his father; he already has his mannerisms. Sometimes he catches himself moving his hands the way his father does, echoing things his father used to say. Yesterday he heard himself telling Leo that the bill would be 'right as rain', and it startled him to hear his father's words coming out of his mouth.

He wonders how often he quotes his father without realizing it. He wonders if among all the things he's inherited from his father--his black hair, his smile, his love of classic literature--if he will also inherit the man's talent for duplicity.

"Hello?" he says.

"Sam?" His father's voice is so familiar, and yet not. Sam remembers CJ once telling him that one of her strongest memories was of her dad, warm and soothing, reading her bedtime stories. He remembers that in all his life his father never uttered the words 'Once upon a time' or 'And they lived happily ever after'; his memories are of 'See you soon, Sam' and 'Not now, Sam, Dad's busy'.

"Hello, Dad."

"Happy New Year, son."

"Happy New Year to you."

"Who was that who answered the phone?"

Sam looks over to see his friends, all watching him with undisguised curiosity. "Ah, Toby. Toby Ziegler." The 'Ziegler' is not necessary, of course, since his father asks about Toby by name in most of his emails. Sam knows it's an effort on Adam's part to become involved. He knows he should be moved by this, but he's not because it's thirty years too late.

"Are you having a party? I thought I heard lots of voices."

The eagerness in Adam's voice doesn't touch Sam either. He notes it with the detached interest of an anthropologist. "Not really," he replies, "just a few friends."

"Is Josh there?"

"Of course." Josh used to like Sam's father, but after he left Annie Seaborn for his mistress, Josh hasn't had much good to say about him. It's not that he fell in love with someone else, it's the lies that bother Josh.

"That's good."

Sam can't remember the last time his father sounded this awkward. His father is just not an awkward person. His movements are fluid, his words brazen and confident; he's never faltered in his life. It amazes Sam to hear him falter now. "Dad, why did you call?"

"Does a father need a reason to call his son?"

Sam turns his back to his friends, who are trying to pretend they're talking about something other than him. "Let's not play this game, okay?"

"What are you talking about?"

Don't do this, he thinks, don't you do this, Dad. You destroyed my mother, you shattered my past, and then you tried to pretend nothing ever happened. He thinks this, but he doesn't say so, because it won't solve anything. "Dad, I have guests."

"They're your friends. They won't mind you talking to your father."

"Dad--"

"I just wanted to talk to you, Sam," his father says plaintively, and then, "Please."

Sam wants to say no. He wants to, because he's still so angry with his father, but he can't, because he still loves him too. And he can't help holding out hope that this time--this time it will be different. This time his father will actually talk to him, as if he were a fully-cognizant adult instead of a child from whom the truth should be kept.

In silence Sam takes the cordless phone into his bedroom, shutting out the sounds of his friends' laughter and the strains of Benny Goodman playing in the background. "So talk," he finally says.

And for a few minutes, it's okay. It's not great, it's not even good, but it's okay. They talk like familiar strangers, two men who have met occasionally and know a little about each another, enough to hold a decent conversation. They don't sound like father and son.

Sam keeps waiting. He keeps waiting for the subject that never comes, for the explanation that never surfaces. He mentions his mother at least five times, but his father always changes the subject, skillfully and swiftly.

It's not as if Sam hasn't tried; in fact, he tried for weeks. He called his father the night his mother phoned him in tears, and again the next day--that disastrous day with Stephanie Gault--and again the week after that, and the day after that. But his father persisted in pretending that everything was fine, that the past 28 years had never happened. He's happy with the way things turned out, and he wants Sam to be as happy as he is. And Sam can't be.

After soul-searching Sam can admit to himself--and after a few beers he can admit to Josh--that at first his reaction to the news of his father's infidelity was purely that of a child's. His illusions about his parents were shattered, he found himself questioning his entire childhood, he wondered if he could ever believe in something like love again. But after the initial reaction had passed, and he had accepted the new status quo, even then he couldn't stop being angry at his father. Because his father wouldn't stop pretending.

"Dad," he says now, interrupting, "why did you call?"

But Adam doesn't have a ready reply this time. He stops talking altogether and says nothing for several long, quiet moments. Finally he says, "Can't I just call?"

"No," Sam says firmly, "you've never in your life 'just called'. You can't start now."

Another silence stretches, an interminable distance. "It's a new year, Sam." He says it as if that should explain everything.

"A fresh start, huh, Dad?" The sarcasm rises to Sam's voice, but his tone is level.

"Something like that."

"It's kind of late for that, don't you think?"

And then Adam's voice grows sharp. "For God's sake, Sam, grow up, will you? People make mistakes; they don't need their sons raking them over the coals for things that can't be undone."

Now it is Sam's turn to think in silence. He almost doesn't respond. "Is that really what you think, Dad?"

"I--I don't know." His father breaks off to sigh. "I just...I can only wear the hair shirt for so long, Sam. I can only punish myself for so long. It's not fair to ask me to do more."

Sam knows that his father is right in a way--the past 28 years cannot be undone. Even if they could, who's to say his father would not have destroyed his marriage another way? Who's to say there would not have been another Joanna? Who's to say it would not have been something else entirely? He reminds himself that there were two people in the marriage, that it's really nothing to do with him; he is their son and they both love him.

But it's not that his father fell in love with someone else. It's not that he so callously broke his mother's heart, though that is hard to forgive. It's the lies, the deception, the pretending, that eat away at Sam.

"I never meant to hurt you. Or your mother."

The words are unexpected; earth-shattering in their simplicity. His father has never acknowledged that his actions had consequences beyond his own happiness.

If he closes his eyes, Sam can visualize his father perfectly--the black hair tinged with gray, the chin so like his own, and the aloof expression in his dark eyes. All his life Sam knew that his father was somewhere else in his head, somewhere happier, but not with him or his mother. He thinks of winter vacations in Colorado, the slushy Denver streets, his father's childhood home filled with cousins and aunts and uncles, and the smell of snow in the air. "Yeah, well, you did," he says at last.

His father sighs on the other end of the phone. "I just called," he says, and then his voice trails off. "I just called because..."

Sam realizes that he can't find the words. Now would be the perfect time to fill in the blanks, but he can't bring himself to throw his father a lifeline. He can't bring himself to make this any easier for him than it already has been. He just waits quietly.

"I just called," Adam Seaborn says again, "because it's a new year and because you're my son, and because..." He stops, blows air through his teeth, a trademark gesture.

"What did you expect?" Sam finally says, and his voice is laced with steel. "Did you expect me to accept evasion as the truth? Did you expect me to pretend right along with you?" He wants to sound angry, but he is horribly afraid that he sounds hurt instead. He can hear the tremor in his voice, can feel the five-year-old boy taking over the man inside him.

But it's just not right, and what's more, his father knows it. His father walked away to a new life, with a ready-made wife and family, while Sam and his mother were left behind to pick up the pieces. Inside he screams at the injustice of it all.

Sam never had an idealized impression of his parents' marriage, but like most children who grow up in a two-parent family, he felt that it was at least sound. Arguments came and arguments went, but the years passed, and the seasons passed, and nothing altered his belief in his parents' marriage.

He knows that sometimes Toby thinks he's being too hard on his father; he knows that sometimes Leo confides in Josh that he thinks Sam should just move on and accept that his father made a mistake; he knows that sometimes CJ refrains from talking about her own father, whom she adores, because she feels it will upset him.

But they don't know the thoughts tumbling inside Sam's head. His heart isn't hardened against his father, it's broken. He has accepted that his father made a mistake, he's even forgiven him for it; what he can't accept is that his father is not the man he thought he was. He never explained, he never apologized, he only glossed over the facts and pretended he had done nothing wrong. Sam can respect many things in a man, but he can never find it in himself to respect that.

"I was just sitting here, in my office, and it occurred to me that I hadn't spoken to you in...weeks? Months?" his father is saying.

"We've gone longer than that without talking, Dad," Sam reminds him bitterly.

"Well maybe I don't like the idea of not talking to my son for weeks at a time."

Sam laughs, a short, broken laugh. "That's your guilty conscience talking."

"I just can't win, can I?" Adam mutters under his breath.

"I know why you're calling," says Sam, ignoring the remark.

"And why is that?" A trace of the old Adam Seaborn, cocky and defiant, creeps back into his father's voice and eases Sam's discomfort. He can handle his father when he's like this.

"You want my approval."

His father says nothing, and this is how Sam knows it's the truth.

"You want me to absolve you." He's clutching the phone so tightly he can feel his knuckles aching with tension. "You want me to wave my magic wand and make it all better for you. You're so eaten up with guilt it's like a cancer inside you and you don't know what to do about it because you've never felt guilty about anything in your life. So you called me."

"I sure as hell didn't call to listen to you speak to me like this."

"You're not particularly worried what you did to Mom, because you've got another wife, but you don't have another son, do you, Dad?" continues Sam. "Do you?"

"I just wanted..."

But the words are coming too fast, hot and angry, and Sam can't stop them. "Why didn't you just say so? You could have saved us both a lot of grief. I absolve you, Dad, okay? I absolve you." His voice is shaking now, his hands trembling.

"Sam!" Adam shouts down the line, desperately. "That is not why I called. I called because you're my son, and I care about how this has affected you; I care about what *happens* to you."

Sam would laugh if he could, but his anger is too great. "Yeah, well, you're about twelve months too late to worry how this has affected me, and you're about thirty years too late to worry about my life."

"It's not too late," says Adam in a voice that tells Sam he doesn't believe his own words. "It's never too late."

His head sinks down to his chest and Sam tries to remember the good times: The times when his father would bring home Dickens and Tolkien and Steinbeck and hand the books to him, saying, "I bought these for you, son. I know you'll enjoy them." The cold, dark nights in Denver, standing with the crowd in front of the Capitol Building as it was lit with gaudy, multi-colored lights. The evenings when his father would help him with his homework, patiently explaining Newton's three laws of motion, or why the British and the French were fighting in 1066, or the parallels between Arthur Miller's 'The Crucible' and the McCarthy hearings.

He remembers thinking his father was invincible. He's not sure what he thinks anymore.

"Dad, I have to go. I have guests," he says numbly.

"You can't spare a few more minutes for your old man?"

I've spared my whole life, Sam thinks. "No, I really can't," he says.

"Okay," replies Adam in a quiet voice. "Sam?"

Sam pinches the bridge of his nose with two fingers. "Yeah?"

"Am I a lost cause?" The jovial tone falls flat.

Memories surface in Sam's mind--entire weeks and months without his father's presence--his graduation from Duke and the empty chair beside his mother where his father should have been--his mother's broken, sobbing voice on the phone the night she called to tell him his father had gone. He thinks of his anger and his frustration and his bewilderment. He wants to hate his father, but he can't. He wants to distance himself from his father, but so long as the man's blood flows through his veins, so long as he shares his chin and his smile and his drive to succeed, he will never be free of him.

"No one is a lost cause," he says at last. Because he means it, and more than that, he believes it.

Adam draws his breath in slowly. "I love you, son."

He doesn't want to say it back. He wants to punish his father, to hurt him more with cruel silence than he ever could with words. But though he has his father's weakness and arrogance, he also has his mother's spirit, and like his mother, he is not cruel. He clears his throat. "I love you, Dad."

He holds the phone next to his ear long after the dial tone has begun, and then he presses his thumb to the 'Talk' button and there is silence.

"So I was eavesdropping," says a voice. It's CJ's voice. She's leaning against the wall by his bedroom door, her arms folded over her chest, her legs crossed at the ankles. She looks beautiful and festive, with silver confetti sprinkled in her hair.

Sam smiles faintly, touched by the concern in her eyes and the teasing in her tone. "How long have you been standing there?"

"Long enough," she says. She crosses the room and seats herself next to him on the bed, one long leg curled up underneath her. She nudges his shoulder with hers. "You wanna talk about it?"

Gently he replies, "Yeah, I do. But--"

"But not with me," she says. Her smile tells him she's not offended. "I understand."

"Am I being ridiculous, CJ?"

"That depends on how much you think I heard."

Sam laughs. No wonder they're all so crazy about this woman.

"I think," she says, choosing her words carefully, "that you were very hurt, that you're still very hurt, and that it's going to take a lot more than one phone call from your dad to fix that."

He makes a face, feeling embarrassed. "You're saying I need to get over it."

"Don't be obtuse. What I'm saying is that this all goes much deeper than your dad's affair."

"What do you mean?" he asks warily.

"It always goes deeper, Sam. We react to situations based on previous experiences. This isn't the first time your dad has let you down."

Sam sighs and leans back against the headboard of his bed. "I'm okay," he tells her. What he means is, Don't think less of me because of this. He wants to explain that he really is all right, that he's moved on and though life keeps on handing him disappointments, he thinks he's stronger now. He wants to ask her if their friends think he is weak like his father and if she thinks he is a lost cause. "I'm okay," he says again, and then his father's words come to him, "I'm right as rain."

And he knows that he is. The sins of the father have been visited upon the son, and life will always hold a trace of bitterness because of them; his mother will never gain back the light in her eyes, he will always doubt himself, will always wonder if he will hurt people the way his father has done--but despite all this, life will go on.

It's a new year, and as the darkness is lit with stars, and the clock creeps closer toward midnight, Sam knows that despite promises broken and questions unanswered, he'll be fine.

The beach is packed now, revellers littering the sand with party favors and beer bottles. Fireworks are going off in the distance. Adam can hear the laughter and commotion even from his office. He knows he should go home, but he can't. He knows that Joanna is probably dressing for the annual party at the Sorenson's and that Susan and Elizabeth's friends are swarming over the house. He can picture Julia, his baby, curled up on the couch with a box of Kleenex by her side as she nurses her cold.

He thinks of Sam a continent away, drinking and laughing with some of the most important people in the country. He thinks of Sam's words and the truth behind them.

He wonders when he went wrong, and knows that it happened long before Joanna came into his life.

He wonders if he will look at his son thirty years from now and see himself. He fervently hopes not.

It's a new year, and Adam Seaborn leaves his office and walks to his car, and knows that his chance has passed and that it is too late for new beginnings.

- fin -

__________________________________

My child arrived just the other day,
he came to the world in the usual way.
But there were planes to catch, and bills to pay.
He learned to walk while I was away.
And he was talking 'fore I knew it, and as he grew,
he'd say, "I'm gonna be like you, Dad.
You know I'm gonna be like you."

And the cat's in the cradle and the silver spoon,
little boy blue and the man in the moon.
"When you coming home, Dad?" "I don't know when,
but we'll get together then.
You know we'll have a good time then."

My son turned ten just the other day.
He said, "Thanks for the ball, Dad, come on let's play.
Can you teach me to throw?" I said, "Not today,
I got a lot to do." He said, "That's okay."
And he walked away, but his smile never dimmed,
he said, "I'm gonna be like him, yeah.
You know I'm gonna be like him."

And the cat's in the cradle and the silver spoon,
little boy blue and the man in the moon.
"When you coming home, Dad?" "I don't know when,
but we'll get together then.
You know we'll have a good time then."

Well, he came from college just the other day,
so much like a man I just had to say,
"Son, I'm proud of you. Can you sit for a while?"
He shook his head, and he said with a smile,
"What I'd really like, Dad, is to borrow the car keys.
See you later. Can I have them please?"

And the cat's in the cradle and the silver spoon,
little boy blue and the man in the moon.
"When you coming home, son?" "I don't know when,
but we'll get together then, Dad.
You know we'll have a good time then."

I've long since retired and my son's moved away.
I called him up just the other day.
I said, "I'd like to see you, if you don't mind."
He said, "I'd love to, Dad, if I could find the time.
You see, my new job's a hassle, and the kid's got the flu,
but it's sure nice talking to you, Dad.
It's been sure nice talking to you."
And as I hung up the phone, it occurred to me,
he'd grown up just like me.
My boy was just like me.

And the cat's in the cradle and the silver spoon,
little boy blue and the man in the moon.
"When you coming home, son?" "I don't know when,
but we'll get together then, Dad.
You know we'll have a good time then."

--Cat's In the Cradle, by Harry Chapin--