"So answer this. If you could fold yourself in half and suck your own cock, would you?"
Josh just stared at him a moment before casting a slightly paranoid glance around the edge of their booth into the crowded bar area of the restaurant. He blinked. Bemused at his friend's obvious discomfort, Sam smiled.
"It's a little late to be worried that someone can hear our conversation which, by the way, they can't. So answer the question."
Sam was right. Given the noise level at Wolfgang's, which was always at a dull roar, and the large, elegant booths that spaced one table rather far away from the next, eavesdropping was impossible. When he picked the venue for them to have dinner, privacy had been his primary consideration.
"Fine. If I could…" Josh couldn't say it out loud "…I would."
The waiter came and delivered martini number two for Sam—Josh was still on his first beer. Sam took a long sip of his Belvedere martini, made dirty with olive juice and thick with cold. He was getting wasted, but that had been the plan.
"Why would you?"
"Sam…" Josh whined.
"Hey—you asked me what's the appeal, and I'm explaining it to you."
Sam didn't know how he'd expected this conversation to go—in fact, every scenario he'd run through in his head looked different. But he certainly hadn't expected Josh to be so curious about the details of his attraction to men. If anything, he'd expected him to focus on the political ramifications in the event that anyone found out. From the look on Josh's face, this line of questioning was making him uncomfortable. He threw him a bone.
"You would want to do it yourself because you'd know exactly what to
do. You'd know exactly how to please yourself."
"So women are worse lays because they don't have penises of their own and therefore can't possibly know what to do with one when they get hold of it?"
"…because I've had quite a few women who knew exactly what they were doing when they got hold of it."
Josh was matter of fact, and the look he was giving Sam was a fair, but not totally convincing, attempt at righteous indignation.
"I have nothing against women. I still sleep with women. I slept with one just last week, in fact, and she was very good at what she did and I enjoyed it very much. But being with a man…it's like comparing apples to oranges."
He could see the wheels turning in Josh's head—felt the unspoken questions aching to drip off of his lips—saw the confusion. Of course he didn't get it—few straight men did. It was the kind of thing you had to experience yourself to understand.
"So…why are you telling me this now?" he asked finally "I mean, you could've told me before. You know I have other gay friends, and it's not a big deal for me…I mean…"
Josh was fumbling over the words. Sam had expected this.
"Is what you mean to say `Sam, I'm your best friend in the world so why the fuck don't I know about this already'?"
Josh, he could tell, was trying not to look as wounded as he felt. Sam had tried to steel himself for the conversation, but he'd known Josh would be hurt and seeing it right in front of him like this released a strong pang of guilt.
"I wanted to tell you…so many times." He managed finally. "For a long time, I didn't consider myself bi, so it didn't seem significant. I experimented in college, but I thought everybody did, and just because you experiment doesn't make you…"
Sam took a shaky breath and played with the stem of his martini glass as he searched for the words to continue. When he looked back up at Josh, his gaze had softened into one of encouragement and support, as if to say `please, go on'.
"It was really on and off for years…In between college and grad school I only dated women. And when I started seeing guys again… well, let's just say they weren't exactly relationships. To this day, I've never really had a boyfriend. Until I broke up with Lisa, I always thought that's how it would end for me—with a wife and kids."
Josh raised his eyebrows.
"I always thought it was me that broke you up," he admitted. "I
always felt guilty about bringing you to Bartlet for America because
I knew it was that decision that broke up the engagement. Are you
"The campaign was just the straw that broke the camel's back—things were rocky before then. It was like, the more items I crossed off my list of things I wanted to achieve, the more miserable I was. Then I realized I was working off of the wrong list. So I started rewriting it." Sam looked at him shyly. "You helped me rewrite it."
He dropped his gaze, and felt Josh's eyes on him as he pretended to concentrate on stirring his martini around with the giant olive at the end of an equally oversized toothpick. Based on what he'd just said, he knew the alcohol was kicking in.
"So…are you seeing anybody?"
Sam shook his head. "I have seen a few people since the beginning of the administration…but nothing even resembling serious. And all very discreetly."
Josh nodded and didn't say anything for awhile. Sam knew more was coming.
"Who else knows?"
"Nobody—only the people I've been with, and none of them are in politics so I doubt they have any idea who I am."
"Are you going to tell anyone else?"
"I hadn't planned to, no."
"Why are you telling me now?"
"Because for the past week we've been talking about how to negotiate Skinner off of his position on gay rights and it is utterly ridiculous for us to have already had several conversations behind closed doors about it without you knowing my whole story."
"If not for Skinner, would you ever have told me?"
"Yes, but the plan was to wait until the end of the Bartlet administration. I had mixed feelings about putting you in a position where you were keeping my secret."
Josh still looked a bit disturbed. The small part of Sam that feared rejection surfaced a bit, and his heart started beating a little faster.
"Are you mad?"
"Mad? Of course not…I just hope you know you could've told me."
"I'm sorry, Josh. I really am."
"You don't have to apologize."
Sam's heart snagged at Josh's acceptance of him—acceptance he wasn't sure he deserved given that he was leaving out one of the primary reasons he'd never come out to Josh. As Josh stared out at something else thoughtfully, processing all of the new information, Sam studied his face. Though his stature was tall and imposing and broader than Sam's, excepting his wide forehead, Josh's facial features were quite fine. Sam had often stolen admiring glances at his nose, his chin, his lips—had secretly delighted in his dimples. Now that Josh knew his secret, he wondered whether it would be easier or harder to keep his feelings in check.
The next round of drinks arrived, and Josh finally spoke.
"You know, now that I think about it, I'm actually not surprised at all."
A slight smirk played at his lips and a smile reached his eyes.
"Are you saying there were signs?" Sam lulled, gladly taking the
bait, biting back a smile of his own.
"Well, for one, the polo shirt you wore to brunch last Sunday was pink."
"Actually, the color was salmon…"
"…and on the campaign trail, you were, like, addicted to showtunes"
"I'm not going to gratify that with a--"
Josh just kept going on as if Sam hadn't spoken at all.
"…and that time I caught you and Donna poring over a Williams Sonoma
catalog and having a heated discussion about bed sheets should've
been a dead giveaway"
"600 thread count Egyptian cotton sheets are nothing to shake a stick at."
By that time, both men were smiling openly. Sam almost felt a physical sensation connected to the lightening of the burden.
"So we're okay?" Sam asked finally.
"Yeah, we're okay."
He didn't dare show signs of his contentment to Josh, who, at that moment, was walking beside him as he took a pull from the flask of scotch, but inwardly, Sam was glowing. Back in the early days, during Bartlet's first year in the White House, they'd had dozens of nights like this. It was usually Josh who came to Sam—Josh who was the only person who knew Sam well enough to understand how hard those first days were on him; that he was working himself into the ground; that he needed Josh to pull him away from the office some nights—needed Josh to talk him down. He would show up in Sam's office, coat in hand, backpack slung over his shoulder, saying whatever he needed to to coax Sam away from his work, and the two of them would just go. Sometimes it was dinner; sometimes it was drinks; but many times, they would just go for long, late night walks.
The walking part was Sam's thing. Before he had Josh as his companion, Sam often took long walks by himself, walking being the only thing that cleared his head. The flask of whiskey was his as well, and even though he was not a huge drinker, he kept the flask in his briefcase for nights like this. He realized early on that Josh had really warmed to their walks, and those times they spent together after work became more than a place for them to vent about what was going on at the office—it gave them the space to reconnect as friends. It was on one of their walks that Josh opened up to Sam about his father's death, and that Sam opened up about his own father's infidelity. It was on these walks that it was hardest for Sam not to tell Josh his secrets.
"I forgot how beautiful the monument is at night", Josh said, breaking the silence.
They were, indeed, walking alongside the reflecting pool, the Washington Monument lit and glorious before them.
"Why did we stop doing this?" he continued, looking over at Sam.
"You got shot. Things got crazy." Sam answered gently.
They settled back into a comfortable silence, and Sam settled back into his thoughts. If he weren't so drunk already, there was no way he'd be allowing himself to indulge in the images his mind had conjured. He'd become adept at keeping his feelings in check at work, but being alone with Josh never failed to arouse him—and it wasn't just sexual. Certainly, Sam had entertained countless fantasies about what he would do to Josh, and what Josh would do to him, on the off chance that he ever got him in bed. But he was also incredibly attracted to his mind, and his spirit. He was wickedly smart, and Sam loved to hear him speak on just about any topic. He loved his passion for politics. He loved his smile, and his laugh…
"I don't think I could ever be gay." Josh said finally, decisively.
Was that some kind of sign from God? Here Sam was, thinking about what he would do to Josh if he were gay, and here Josh was, proclaiming that he never could be gay. Sam said nothing as he entertained the notion that maybe him coming out of the closet to Josh was meant to be some kind of turning point—that if he knew decisively that Josh had no such leanings and nothing could become of them, he should forget about it once and for all, and give himself some peace. But, again, he was drunk. And some large part of him could not accept that there was nothing between he and Josh.
"Don't knock it `till you've tried it."
Sam was mildly annoyed, not at Josh, but at the common sentiment he was expressing. In his experience, the ones who stayed as far as possible away from the gay thing were the ones who were most repressed. In college and grad school especially, he'd known several guys who swore up and down against having the slightest of gay tendencies, and before it was all over, many of them had, in fact, tried it.
"I don't think I ever could try it…I mean, I've thought about it before, and tried to understand it…"
Sam stopped walking and looked at Josh, who also stopped walking.
He could not help noticing how his fingers brushed against Josh's as he took the flask from his hands.
"I've been to a gay bar, and I've even seen a little porn, but I didn't even get a hard on from it."
Josh had been to a gay bar? Maybe he wasn't as repressed as Sam thought.
"That doesn't mean you wouldn't get turned on hooking up with an
actual person." Sam reasoned, "Gay bars can be intimidating and
scary, even for people who know they're gay, so feeling out of place
there has nothing to do with it."
"Alright, then, what about the porn?"
"Porn is porn…sometimes it's hot, sometimes it's not. I've seen plenty of porn in my life that hasn't given me a hard on. Are you saying you get turned on each and every time you watch porn with women?"
"Well, no…I guess you're right."
"There you go."
Josh took the flask back and took a long pull from it. Fleetingly, Sam reconsidered the wisdom of convincing Josh he might not be as straight as he thought. Josh put it together at the same time he did.
"So, wait a minute…are you saying you think I'm gay?"
"No, I'm saying I have experience with this kind of thing, and, for
some people, the extent of the gayness or any lack thereof does not
become clear until an actual encounter clarifies things."
"So you're saying I should sleep with a guy to find out if I'm really gay?"
"Josh, I'm not telling you to do anything! If you're happy with things the way you are, I say don't do a goddamn thing."
"But you still think I might be gay!"
"Josh, I don't care if you are gay or if you aren't. You brought this up."
That silenced him. He could tell that, strangely, it seemed to trouble Josh that Sam wasn't convinced of his straightness. Maybe he had pushed too hard. He decided to explain himself.
"Do you know what they used to call me in college?", he said finally. When Josh didn't answer, he continued. "The weedwhacker."
Josh, who had been looking out at the reflecting pool, looked back at Sam, the hint of a smile playing at his lips.
"Why'd they call you that?"
"Because I deflowered more virgins than anyone."
Josh raised his eyebrows.
"It wasn't like…I wasn't a slut or anything." Sam's attempts to fumble through an explanation were complicated by his drunkenness. "But somehow…I got propositioned a lot by the same type of guy—guys who could hardly say out loud that they were attracted to men; guys that—after hooking up with me—would pretend in public they didn't even know me; guys who, in the bedroom, were totally into it, but on the outside, just…couldn't handle it."
"But how do you know they were really into it? How do you know
they weren't just drunk? That it wasn't just a one time thing?"
"Because they always came back for more…no matter how they dealt with their public personae, privately, they always came back for more."
Somewhere in the last minute, a new intensity had surfaced between them. Now the two men stared at one another unwaveringly. Sam's heartbeat had quickened in his chest, and he saw where this was going before it went there. But the alcohol and the surreality of the situation made him powerless to stop it, even if he'd really wanted to.
"I bet you couldn't deflower me." Josh said finally, his voice intoning slightly higher on his last word.
This wasn't how Sam had ever imagined it. He'd expected any overture from Josh to be a kiss, or a touch, or even (only in his steamiest fantasies) a command. But never this.
"Josh, within the space of ten minutes, I could have you begging me to let you come."
Fucking alcohol. Sam maintained his composure outwardly, but inwardly he couldn't believe how far out of control this was spinning. Josh attempted to scoff, but it came out more like a nervous laugh.
"You're that cocky?" he asked finally.
"I'm that good," Sam answered smoothly, convincingly.
Josh and Sam studied one another for a long time, each waiting for the other to make the next move. But the ball was in Josh's court, and from the look on his face, he knew it.
"Sam, I know you're perfect at just about everything. But no matter
how good you are at…whatever it is you do, I am still 100% sure that
you couldn't make me come."
"Really?" Sam purred.
"No offense, Sam—you're a great looking guy and all. But I'm straight—end of story. You couldn't even get me hard."
If he hadn't been convinced before, he was convinced now. Josh was drunk—really, really drunk, judging from what he was saying. Somebody had to stop this.
"So are you. Doesn't change a thing."
Sam knew that part of the reason why Josh was even pushing the issue was because he thought Sam was questioning his sexuality. On the other hand, to suggest something like this must mean that he was truly curious. Studying the look in his eyes, feeling the tension of the conversation, he was dazzled by the hypothesis that Josh had secretly wanted something like this to happen. Problem was, they were best friends.
"Actually, Josh, it would change everything."
Sam thought he felt an actual pain in his chest as he heard the words that he himself had said. And then the tight pain turned to sadness. Because even though he wanted Josh desperately, he knew he couldn't survive without him as his best friend. Josh understood what he was getting at. Neither said anything for a long moment. The look in Josh's eyes changed.
"What if I promised you it wouldn't?"
"Sometimes we make promises we can't keep."
They continued looking at each other. Sam's heart continued to race in his chest. So much of him wanted to acquiesce.
"Sam, nothing would change."
Sam was weak—especially when confronted with a request from Josh—and he knew was going to cave. The least he could do was limit the fallout.
"Today is Friday. I'm giving you the whole weekend to sober up and come to your senses on this. If, on Monday, you still want to do this, you will give me some sort of signal. I'll take it from there."
Josh thought about this for a minute.
"What if you change your mind?"
"Then I'll give you a signal."
"What if I'm right?" Josh asked.
"If you're right, you can think up a fitting reward. I trust you to choose something fair."
"Fine. Same thing goes for you. If you're right, you can choose your reward. I trust you."
Josh's proclamation of trust, and the look in his eyes, burned into Sam. He couldn't believe what he'd just agreed to.
Monday came and Josh wasn't sure whether Sam was avoiding him. Leo and Toby were out of town until evening so they'd done senior staff over conference, each staffer from his own office. Every time he discreetly strolled through the west wing, papers in hand, pretending to have a purpose and a destination, he saw no sign of Sam—not in his office, not locked into meetings in any of the windowed conference rooms, not anywhere. By 4PM, as he hovered outside the entrance to the communications bullpen, he caught Ginger's eye. She waved him in.
"Hey, Josh. I was just about to bring this over to Donna. Sam asked me to give you this."
She handed him a small, folded piece of paper. Convinced that it contained a message that Sam wanted out of their little bet, he faltered a moment before taking it.
"Thanks." He managed, before turning and making a beeline for his office.
He didn't dare open it there, walking through the halls. He walked swiftly, unaware of anything around him, almost unable to breathe as he anticipated the message the note held. As he breezed into his own area, he saw Donna approaching him with some papers, clearly wanting to talk to him about something.
"Give me five minutes." He said before she could even speak.
He closed the door to his office, sat behind his desk, and put the offending piece of paper on the desk. Whatever was held within, he felt, would change his life forever. He finally opened it, and found the last thing he expected. Sam wasn't backing out. Not at all.
I'm still in. If you are, you know what to do. If you're not, no hard feelings. I'll be back at the office around six.
It was going on 9 o'clock. Everyone else was gone, and Sam was running out of work he needed to do at the office. He'd spent hours rehashing the events of Friday night—in fact, he hadn't been able to concentrate on much else throughout the weekend. He knew that it was a bad, bad idea—that it would change everything, if not for Josh for him. But the fact was, something had already changed between them, just by virtue of having the conversation. So he rationalized it. And even though he didn't really believe it, he told himself it would all be okay. And in a moment of weakness, he wrote a note that bound him to it—that said definitively that he'd thought about it and he was in. But it was 9 o'clock, and he hadn't heard a peep from Josh.
He was disappointed. Worse than that, he was disappointed in himself for being so disappointed. He began packing up his things, putting his papers in his bag, and getting ready to go home. Maybe he'd been a fool to believe that Josh's drunken talk held even a thread of sincerity. He didn't know. All he wanted now was to go home and lick his wounds for awhile. He grabbed his coat and walked out his door, turned to walk down the hall and debated over whether to take an alternate route out of the west wing—one that didn't make him pass by Josh's office.
But when he turned the corner, he saw Josh standing opposite him at the other end of the hall. Incidentally, Josh had just turned the corner himself. Could he have been making his way to Sam's office? Both men stopped. The bullpens were empty and they were utterly alone. Neither said a word, and Sam began to think that maybe Josh was speechless because he was afraid Sam wanted an explanation. He struggled to think of something he could say to let Josh off the hook.
And then it happened.
Josh cupped his fingers, and let his hand guide his arm up across his body. It was the very signal that Sam himself had invented to let the president know about the pilot—the one from the night of the shootings. Josh had given the signal. And it was a go.