Three steps past his door, Josh pauses long enough to drop his shoulder bag before he lurches through the dark and into the kitchen, still wearing his jacket and shoes. He learned to navigate his apartment without his eyes years ago; hundreds of late nights and pre-dawn mornings have taught him the value of memorization and touch. Bedroom to kitchen, refrigerator to coffee machine, kitchen to bathroom, back to the kitchen. He gravitates toward the counter and retrieves a tumbler from the shelf. A moment later, a tray of ice cubes from the freezer.
As he twists the tray, an ice cube skids over his knuckles and onto the floor. Josh ignores the chipped pieces, furiously focused on filling his glass with ice before abandoning the tray on the counter. No need to go back to refrigerator; no mixers on the menu.
Josh's heel slides on an ice chip, and his arm windmills for balance before he rights himself and lunges for his liquor cabinet. He reaches for the foremost bottle-a full, eleven-day-old bottle of Smirnoff-and twists off the cap before he returns to the counter. The vodka splashes inside the glass and over the rim, streaking the surface with a thick, lingering wetness like a coat of fresh paint.
Josh wraps one hand around the glass in a secure, firm grip-the other hand holds the bottle-before he spins toward the couch. He stretches across the couch with his glass, the bottle, and a mission. The glass chills his fingers as he raises it to his mouth, tipping his head back, determined to succeed. No room for failure, not tonight. Not anymore.
He managed to keep his composure-hold himself together-until he left the White House.
The irony nearly bowled him over as he entered the Mural Room, his ears instantly filled with the din of unexpected birthday wishes. Under normal circumstances, he would have shook his head, snorted a laugh, and mock-fired Donna over the chorus of loud, cheery voices. But under normal circumstances, Josh would have seen a room full of friends, not a Colosseum mob, seconds away from turning their thumbs for a defeated, useless gladiator.
As Donna drew him forward, he mustered a smile-false enough to cause Donna's brow to furrow-and wordlessly accepted a cold Heineken from CJ. The sound of his heart hammered over the noisemakers and the last strains of "Happy Birthday", but Josh forced a breath and downed a swig of beer before he blew out the line of candles. He made an effort to hide Carrick's envelope, gripped by paranoia and dread at the thought of every eye in the room pivoting toward it. His palm sweated, skidded against the paper as he folded it-not exactly in half-and shoved it into his pants pocket.
Later, as the crowd thinned, Josh surrendered the envelope to Leo, not to the President-three beers hadn't given him the courage. Josh swallowed and bowed his head, unable to look at Leo's face. "I'm sorry, Leo," he whispered, barely able to hear himself, before he turned and walked away.
Still sprawled across the couch, Josh grinds his teeth and shudders as the vodka carves a path down his throat. It scorches his sinuses and burns behind his breastbone before it plummets into his stomach. Josh closes his eyes and feels the world slide off-kilter as he licks the leftover alcohol off his lips. Another swallow, and another; he funnels it down fast, a steady stream, until his face feels warm, his lips numb, his head light. Until he can no longer differentiate between the burn of the vodka and the sharp singe of his inadequacies burrowing through the center of his chest.
The phone rings-the fourth time in fifteen minutes, maybe ten-and Josh flinches at the noise. He twists, feeling his spine crack as he squints at the caller ID. Amy. Again. He huffs and rubs his forehead, drawing another notch beside Amy's name on his mental scorecard. This call gives her the edge, one over his mother, Donna, Sam. The next call originates from the White House, and Josh considers an impromptu round of 'Guess That Caller'. Toby, maybe, ready to berate him over the phone because he missed the chance to do it in person. Or Leo, about to instruct him not to come to work on Monday.
A flare of anger blazes in his chest. Josh arches, grasps the phone-receiver and base-and tears the chord out of the wall, severing the connection. His saliva sticks to the back of his throat, but he forces a swallow as he hurls the phone to the floor, convinced that no one could tell him anything that he didn't already know. Leo, the President, the party, the country-no one could count on him. Simple as that.
When a frantic knock pounds through the thick air in the apartment, Josh strands his glass and bottle on the coffee table and stumbles to the door. As he hears the faint jangle of keys, he stifles his guilt and stretches the chain across the door. He sways into his bedroom, unhindered by the jerk-and-jolt of his door and Donna's voice-pleas to let her inside-before he crashes, face-first and numb, onto his bed. Mission accomplished.