Flashback

by: Abigale

Character(s): CJ, Josh, Sam, Toby, Margaret, Cathy
Category(s): Humor, Pre-White House
Rating: YTEEN
Summary: "We have tequila - what more could you possibly want out of life?"

The whole thing started with a seemingly innocuous observation about Sam's balls.  By Margaret, of all people.  Over the years it had taken on near mythic proportions until now, even those who had not been around during the first campaign felt part of the tradition.  It was Sam's birthday, and Margaret made him rum balls again.

~~

"This is not enough beer," Josh whined, dumping yet another bucket of motel ice into the cooler.  "We should have gotten a keg.  Even Cow Fuck Iowa should have someplace open this late, to get a keg."

"It's Council Bluffs, Iowa Josh, and let's make sure the voters hear you talk that way," CJ scolded.  "This isn't a frat party, it's just a casual little get together for a fellow campaign worker's birthday.  Get a grip."  CJ swatted at a few stray ice cubes with her foot, watching them skitter under a nearby desk.  "Besides, we have tequila.  What more could you possibly want out of life?"

Josh stared down at the battered cooler, hands on hips.  "Wouldn't mind having another shot at turning 30," he mumbled to the forest of brown bottles standing at attention among the round flat cubes. 

"I finally stopped turning 30 a couple years ago, and I gotta tell you, it wasn't so bad," CJ quipped as she drifted away from Josh.  It was nearly 10:30 at night, and half of the volunteers had gone home, leaving a mix of a few locals and paid staff.  If this party didn't get started soon, having enough beer was not going to be a concern.  Reaching over to a shelf, CJ flicked the volume up on the radio, feeling the day's tension begin to loosen its hold on her.

The door leading directly from the parking lot banged open with a crash, and a thin redhead tottered cautiously into the room, balancing trays on each hand.  A wicker basket dripped from her wrist.  A blonde female volunteer in a too-tight Pearl Jam T-shirt - a few years away from voting age, CJ guessed - dipped in front of Margaret and scooped one of the trays out from under her.  Tilting her head towards the cleared desk near CJ, Margaret scurried over to set down her burden.

CJ looked over the food admiringly. "Nice looking deli platters there, Margaret."

"And I made rum balls.  'Cause ya know, you don't have to cook them or anything,"  Margaret announced, unveiling a large basket brimming with the small sugary confections.

"So, now we have the food, and the alcohol.  Just find the birthday boy and we can get this party on the road,"  CJ declared to no one in particular.

"They're still in with the Governor and Leo?"  Margaret arched a well defined eyebrow.  "Do you suppose that's good or bad?"

"Oh it's bad, it's very bad," Josh responded, striding over to the women.  "Nice platter."  He reached a hand out to pluck a tomato off the plate, and was slightly surprised that it wasn't slapped away. 

"Is it really bad?" Margaret whispered, eyes widening. 

"Nah.  It's fine, they're just going over some stuff for Saturday.  Tomorrow's address is in the bag."

Margaret exhaled dramatically, rolling her eyes toward the closed blinds of the small office Leo had commandeered.  "So...  is he going to let them out soon?"

In answer to her question, the door to the office swung open, revealing four men crowded around the doorway.  Leo and Governor Bartlet emerged smiling, followed by a rumpled but relieved looking Toby.  The three men paused and shook hands, then dispersed throughout the room.  A moment later Sam slipped through the door, laden with files and notebooks, looking distractedly down at a typewritten page.

"Hey, birthday boy!" Josh shouted across the room, wiggling a beer suggestively above his head.  "Let's get this party started!"

He was immediately rewarded with a blinding smile from Sam, who was close to being accosted by Pearl Jam Girl.  Sam, misinterpreting the girl's enthusiasm, absently transferred the armload of debris to her, and strode purposely over to CJ, Josh and Margaret.

"Oh, bring it on," Sam commanded, snatching the icy bottle from Josh with one hand while checking his watch on the other.  "It's still officially my birthday, at least for a few more hours.  Let's make them count, shall we?"  With that he downed his beer in a few gasping gulps, and moved into the center of the party.

~~

"Sam?!  Sam?!"  Josh tried to get his friend's attention through the thin group of bodies bouncing around to the music.  Sam sat perched on a table against the wall with Toby, their assistant Cathy, and CJ, lined up like seventh graders at a school dance.  Margaret sat across from them in a wooden chair, picking randomly at the peeling paint.  "Sam, ya gotta hear the story the Governor and Leo are telling over there!" Josh gasped, breaking through the sweaty throng.  "This is what political collateral is all about, man!"  He grabbed the second bottle of tequila sitting snugly between Cathy and CJ's hips, and looked around for a clean paper cup.  "Hey, does it seem like there are more people here than there were before?"

"Yeah, I guess word spread the Liberals throw a good party," snorted Toby, raising his cup to his bearded mouth.

"What else they gonna do in Butt Wipe Iowa at 12 am on a Thursday?"

"Jooosh!" the entire group moaned in exasperation.

"Council fucking Bluffs, you condescending asshole," growled CJ.  "Do I need to put a muzzle on you?"  CJ shifted around on the table so Josh could lean a bony hip against it.

"I don't care what they call it, it's a hell of a place to turn 30," Josh mumbled into his cup.

"It is a hell of a place to turn 30."  Cathy and Toby both leaned forward a little to look down the table at Sam, who raised his cup solemnly.  "This is democracy in action.  That man over there might be the next President of the United States.  I work with amazing, blindingly talented people, doing unspeakably noble things, and I think it's the only place on this planet I want to turn 30."  Quite satisfied with himself, Sam drained the rest of his drink and reached for the bottle.  "I am now a man," he declared emphatically, eliciting giggles from CJ and Cathy.

~~

Margaret's face held a look of pure misery.  "I can't believe I forgot a cake.  I'm so sorry, Sam."  Eyes cast down, she really did look as if she was going to cry.  It was 1 am, and truth be told, no one had given the absence of a birthday cake a second thought.  The mountain of rum balls Margaret had made that afternoon sat half devoured on a nearby table.

"S'okay Marg-a-ret," Sam slurred pleasantly.  "I like the rum balls. I pwo-probably wouldn't have eaten a cake too." 

Margaret, clearly distressed, moaned and took another sip of her drink. "Yeah, NOW.  But before?  When it was your birthday?  Then you would have eaten it."  Even his comforting arm placed around her shoulder couldn't soothe her guilt.  30th birthdays were big deals. She was in charge of the food, and she had missed the most obvious element of a birthday party.  The fucking cake.

Sam pulled away from her with a jerk and stared into her face, his blue eyes visibly struggling to focus.  "What did you say?" he asked cautiously.

"I heard her," snickered Josh.  "She said 'fucking cake,' is what I heard."  The snicker dissolved into hiccups, as Cathy reached over to remove the cup from his flapping hand.

"Did I say that out loud?" Margaret wondered.

~~

"...we're gonna change it Sam, in the morning, you heard the man, he wants it changed!"  Toby's voice had been gradually rising in intensity, until he had the young man nearly cowering against the table.  Nibbling at a rum ball, Toby sighed dramatically.  "Nobody says 'I'm decidedly dismayed' when speaking to a bunch of local business owners."

"But he's talking about voter apathy, Toby!  He's dismayed!  Decidedly so!" Sam wailed, quickly gulping the last of his tequila.

Reaching for the bottle with his right hand, Toby steadied Sam's cup with his left, and poured.  "I swear, how do you come up with this stuff?"

"Sometimes, I hear voices."

"Oh, that's good."

~~

"So I'm thinking, since I didn't get you anything for your actual birthday, I could, you know, take you to dinner or something, as soon as we get someplace where they have nice places.  Um, ya know, like restaurants or something...."  The hopeful look on CJ's face melted Sam's alcohol soaked heart. 

"You don't have to get me anything, CJ.  Weal - really, I don't expect that."  Sam batted his eyelashes at her in what she could only hope was a purely innocent expression at humility, and not a sultry attempt to take advantage of her pickled brain. 

She snatched up a rum ball and popped the entire thing into her mouth, leaving a smudge of powdered sugar around her bottom lip. "Urph.  No Sam, I want to.  I mean, I wanted to get you something, some thing, but to be honest with you...."

"There's just not a whole lot to choose from here in Puke Brain Iowa."  Josh looked around the assembled faces expectantly.  Significantly baited, CJ expelled a violent sigh.

"Could you be any more offensive?!" she exclaimed.

"Well I'm certain I could, since I wasn't even really trying this time."

~~

"9 am; you've all got an extra hour tomorrow to recover before we get on the bus,"  Leo announced to his remaining staff.  Bleary eyes and sloppy grins, and he was so glad he didn't drink anymore.  The place was a mess, and he felt a little guilty about leaving it for the fresh-faced crop of volunteers in the morning, but right now he was more concerned with getting his staff poured into their beds. 

CJ scooped up the four empty tequila bottles and inspected them carefully before tossing them into the recycling bin by the door.  Margaret conscientiously placed the plastic grocery bag filled with leftover rum balls around Sam's wrist, much like a mother securing her child's lunch before he got on the school bus.  Toby was shuffling his feet as he moved unsteadily around the room turning off lights, and Josh wavered in front of Cathy, trying to remember if he had ever known her last name. 

~~

They stumbled out of the building in an intricate overlapping knot, but as soon as the cool night air hit them, they broke away from one another and drifted a few feet in varying directions.

Sam took a couple of steps forward, heading somewhere in what he hoped was the direction of his room.  In his left had, the grocery sack swung between his legs, catching him up in its greedy grip.  In the process of untangling himself, one handle broke, causing the bag to sag to the ground.  Taking a few more labored steps, his head snapped up at the sound of Margaret's clear voice ringing across the parking lot.

"Sam, you're dragging your balls."

Josh wasn't at all sure if it was the distinct, sober tone of Margaret's voice cutting through the still night, or the look of abject horror on Sam's face that did him in.  But done in he was, collapsing to the ground where he doubled over, kicking at unvoiced puns while sputtering away at his friend's expense. 

CJ felt her legs give way in a graceful motion of boneless surrender, sliding to the ground against the side of the rough brick building.  She was dimly aware that a god-awful snorting sound was coming from her, but recognizing that she was powerless to contain it, CJ allowed it instead to fuel her hysteria.

Toby had been lurching across the parking lot, and was vaguely concerned that he kept ending up bumping against a black Mazda parked innocuously in its space.  But when he whipped his head around at the sound of Margaret's voice, taking in the miserable expression on Sam, he embraced the offending vehicle with both arms, saving himself the indignity of falling flat on his face.  Wave after wave of undignified giggles spilled out of him, and no amount of self-conscious tugging on his beard could staunch the flow of tears cascading down his cheeks.  Through the haze of alcohol and giddiness, Toby just knew in his heart that he'd never drink tequila again.

Cathy was still on her feet, though she'd recoiled so swiftly from Margaret she had grabbed onto the nearest thing to maintain her balance, nearly choking with laughter.  Looking up through tears, she was vaguely aware of the stunned, paternal face of Leo looking back at her, and she let go of his arm, eventually slumping onto a bench.

Leo's head swung back and forth over the writhing, limp forms of his staff, the nauseated pale face of his long-standing assistant, and the whimpering young man kneeling in the center of the bizarre tableau.

~~

It could have so easily gotten out of hand.  In fact, for about a week there, Sam was sure he'd have to quit the campaign altogether.  Even the Governor got in on it once, at the end of a long night returning from a stump speech in Springfield, Missouri.  "You're dragging your balls there, Sam," he'd beamed as Sam struggled out of the van at 1 am. 

Now it was only on his birthday, when Margaret would proudly present the box of rum soaked treats, innocently marked 'SAM'S BALLS.'

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