In An Upright Position
Character(s): Abbey, Sam
Summary: Sam's trapped! #3 Random Acts of Conversation Series
"Sam, I need you to do me a little favor." Abigail Bartlet's sing-song voice danced it's way over the speechwriter as he stood, somewhat breathless, against the bulkhead of Air Force One. "Could you meet me in my cabin? And take off your sweater."
With that, she strode away from him, purposefully not looking back.
When he still hadn't appeared after two minutes, she flagged down a Secret Service Agent, dispatching him to corral the young man, and have him delivered to her without delay.
"Ma'am?" Sam croaked, lingering at the First Lady's door. "I'm terribly sorry. I thought you were just trying to be...." He crept in a little further, and a loitering agent shut the door behind him.
"Mischievous?" Abby offered.
"I was going to say frightening, but okay." Sam relaxed enough to allow a relieved smile to grace his lips.
Abby stepped up to Sam, her eyes never leaving his face. "No, Sam. Actually, I was being a doctor." She placed a red-tipped finger on his chest and gave a gentle shove. "Take a seat. And lose the sweater." Her tone left no room for misinterpretation. She meant business.
Shuffling forward awkwardly, Sam looked around the roomy cabin, visibly hoping to find another presence among the tastefully appointed furnishings. "I don't understand, Dr. Bartlet," he said, turning back to face her. "You want me to...?"
Abby shook her head at Sam's noncompliance, and swung a chair around, indicating that he should be seated. "Now, Sam."
He blinked at her once, his mouth working to form the questions that were queuing up in his mind. "May I ask - ?"
"You may sit," Abby informed him. "You may ask as well, but first you may sit." She guided him to the chair and gave him another small push, and he landed with a thud onto the upholstered seat. "Sweater, please." She smiled sweetly when he blanched.
"You weren't kidding," Sam stated with bewilderment, but obediently pulled his olive green sweater over his head, then tugged down his white undershirt. "Can I please know what your, uh, what your.... "
Abby chortled merrily. "What my intentions are, Sam?" She took the garment from his hands, and carefully placed it across the back of an adjacent chair. "My intentions are to give myself a little peace of mind; and possibly save your life."
Too late, she realized that he was looking truly uncomfortable, and she eased herself into another chair with a tiny huff. With Sam, she'd never enjoyed the kind of casual relationship that she did with the other members of the Senior Staff, but she'd hoped that his obvious respect for her would make this task easier. "I'm sorry, Sam. I don't mean to be so flippant. I've been watching you for awhile now, and I thought it was time I stepped in. My life may be circling the drain at the moment, but I am still a doctor, and I'm concerned about you."
The soaring 747 thumped through a patch of turbulence, causing Sam to instinctively place a flat palm on the table. Abby took the opportunity to surreptitiously notice the flecks of white across a few of his fingernails.
When the plane settled back into its established course, Sam withdrew his hand and speared his eye with a finger, rubbing distractedly. "Ma'am, I really don't understand. You think I'm sick? Because I can tell you, I'm fine."
Leaning forward, Abby reached across the table for a blue vinyl bag, the size of a shaving kit. Drawing it towards them, she caught a look of curiosity pass over Sam's face. "I'm going to take your blood pressure, Sam," she explained offhandedly. "Then, we're going to sit here for thirty minutes - quietly - and I'm going to take it again." She'd already unzipped the bag, and began removing a tangle of equipment Sam immediately recognized as a blood pressure cuff and stethoscope.
"You, you said I could ask," Sam ventured. "Are you just randomly pulling staff in for check-ups, or did you pick me for a reason?"
"Oh," Abby assured him with a vigorous nod. "I picked you for a reason." She held the paraphernalia in her lap, as she watched Sam absorb this news. "I told you, I've been watching you."
Sam sat back in his seat and considered this for a moment. While the First Lady's eyes continued to size him up, Sam stared hopefully at the door. "And what have you seen to make you think I need a doctor?" he wanted to know.
"Do you have a doctor, Sam?"
"Of course. But I haven't been sick since... I guess it was a sinus infection, last year. Really, Dr. Bartlet, I'm fine. I wish I knew what this was all about." A thin wash of irritation colored Sam's words, and he shifted to the edge of his seat. "I'm not sure you're aware of it, but right now I should be out there briefing CJ on the questions she's going to be asked when we land in Houston, and I really need to get back." Sam gave a weak smile, and began to come to his feet.
"I'm pulling rank here, Sam. I'm the First Lady, and if I say stay, you stay." Abby watched him hesitate before he dropped back into the chair, a cloud of defeat around him. "I understand you have a job to do. And believe me, mister, if you'd been doing your job five minutes ago, instead of holding up the wall, sweating and breathing heavily, you wouldn't be sitting here now, holding out your arm." Abby ignored the shock on Sam's face. "So," she scolded. "Hold out your arm."
Sam complied wordlessly.
"Do you have regular checkups with this doctor of your?" Abby asked casually, as she wrapped the fabric of the cuff around his upper arm.
"I wouldn't call them regular. I go when I need to. But she's thorough."
"And do you know what your blood pressure was last time?"
"Yeah," Sam answered. "118 over 78."
Abby looked up quickly, mild surprise in her eyes. "That's very good, Sam. Do you happen to know, what your average - "
"Around 110/70." Sam's chin rose slightly, clearly a man who prided himself on his health.
"Excellent," Abby murmured. "Then we should be able to learn something today." She curled the stethoscope around her neck, and blew on the metal disc, warming it with her breath. Sliding it against Sam's arm, she positioned it under the cuff, and nestled the earpieces into her ears.
Sighing deeply, Sam squirmed slightly in his chair. "Dr. Bartlet, earlier, when you saw me - "
"Shh," Abby admonished, as she began to squeeze the bulb. "On the President I use an electronic monitor, so he can check it on his own when I'm away. But I still prefer to listen myself. There's something oddly comforting about listening to a patient's heartbeat." She stopped pumping, her continence turning serious, gaze fixed to the small dial.
"I'm not a patient," Sam mumbled under his breath.
A moment passed, and by the time Abby stripped the cuff from Sam's arm, the blush had begun to fade from his cheeks.
"140/91, Sam. That's what we call a high normal," she told him, pulling the stethoscope from her ears. "I'm willing to chalk that up to the little scene I witnessed between you and Bruno when you stormed out of the conference room, so now we're going to just sit here and chat awhile before I take it again."
Sam stared open mouthed at the First Lady. He obviously hadn't been aware he'd had an audience earlier. "That's what I was trying to explain, Ma'am." Reaching for his sweater, he threaded his arms through, and shrugged it over his head.
"For pity's sake, Sam; everyone calls me Abby, why can't you?" Perturbed, Abby coiled her equipment on the table, then stood and walked to a desk. "And I realize that what I saw is probably the reason for the elevated reading. But I want to ask you a few questions, while we wait. Water?" She held up a bottle, eyebrows raised expectantly.
"Please," Sam was growing noticeably frustrated with the pace of the conversation. Abby returned to the table carrying two glasses with the presidential seal etched into them, and poured from the bottle as she spoke.
"What do you eat, Sam?"
"Well," he began, seeming a little surer of himself. "I try to watch what I eat. I've always attempted to maintain a balance between healthy foods, and the crap we often rely on in the White House."
"And over the last three months or so, which side has been winning?"
"Crap, Ma'am," he blurted as he took the water he was being offered. "Thank you."
Sam took a long swallow from the heavy glass and kept his eyes down. "I'm eating crap, just as you would assume. We all do."
Abby paused momentarily, before chortling lightly. "I imagine you do, at that. I wonder if you have any idea how much sodium is in that crap you consume?" The question sounded rhetorical, so she was surprised when Sam answered.
"I know that an average dinner-sized portion of Kung Pao chicken has more than 2,600 mg of sodium. So, yes, Ma'am, I do have a vague idea. But since I stopped going home to sleep and shower, it's a little unrealistic to think I'd just stop by to fix a healthful, home cooked meal." His expression was at once challenging, and guilty.
Abby understood both emotions. She too felt pangs of guilt; for her role in concealing her husband's health issues from these loyal people who'd given up their lives to serve and advise him, as well as the sometimes overwhelming urge to challenge the onslaught of blame she felt rolling off some of them.
"Well," she said, deciding to allow Sam the rare opportunity to express his obvious frustrations in the safety of the private cabin. "You need to watch that. All of you," she added.
Looking up at her through his lashes, Sam cocked his head. "But you've singled me out. And I'd really like to know why."
A knock at the door drew their attention away from one another, and Abby rose to her feet when it opened a crack. A steward inquired whether the First Lady would be joining the President for lunch, and she surprised them both when she informed him that she'd be lunching with Sam, there in the cabin.
"That's all right with you, isn't it Sam?" she asked as an afterthought, the directive all too clear.
"I'm sorry? I really need to get back to work," Sam stammered. "I can't just sit here - "
Abby cut him off with a sharp hand through the air. "Please tell Toby Ziegler that he'll need to finish briefing CJ, and send in two grilled chicken salads in about twenty minutes," Abby instructed the steward, then moved to the door and pressed it shut after he departed.
"Dr. Bartlet!" Sam exclaimed, getting to his feet, eyes flashing somewhat.
"Sam, you get headaches. You've lost weight; you have small, broken blood vessels in your eyes; you don't sleep, you eat nothing but 'crap'; you stopped going to the gym six months ago, and you're under immeasurable stress." Abby waved her hand in the direction of his own. "The specks of white in your nails could be an indication of kidney dysfunction, a common effect of hypertension, and I just caught you leaning against a goddamn wall out of breath after plowing through three junior staffers. You're in trouble. I'm a doctor."
After planting his glass firmly on the table, Sam settled back in his chair, and wiped a hand over his eyes. "I've always gotten headaches. But I've cut back on the number of pain relievers I take, because my doctor warned me about the kidney thing." He dropped his hand and met Abby's gaze squarely. "I read an extraordinary amount, Dr. Bart- Abby. And I stare at a computer screen at least eight hours a day. My eyes get bloodshot." He pursed his lips together and plastered on a thin smile. "I'm under a lot of stress? How's your blood pressure?"
Forcing herself to ignore the sharp, underlying hostility in his question, Abby met his tight smile with a warmer version of her own. "A little on the high side, if you must know. So I deal with it. And you have to make some changes, if you don't want these little chats of ours to become a regular event, Sam Seaborn."
He cleared his throat roughly, and took another sip of water. "If you don't mind my asking, Ma'am." Back to Ma'am. "You are checking on the rest of the staff, right? I haven't been singled out because I whine about headaches, and always miss when I try to use eye drops?"
"Oh, yes; you have." Abby felt a twinge of regret from the look of despair on Sam's face. "Oh, get over it, Sam. I don't worry about the others, because frankly, they appear to be dealing with things much better than you, and that's the overriding health concern you should have right now."
"What?!" Sam yelped, a bubble of incredulous laughter coming to the surface. "I have trouble dealing with things? Whatta ya call Toby, the, the epitome of stress? The man turns three shades of red just hearing his phone ring." Sam bolted to his feet again, and paced to the other side of the room, hands firmly planted on his hips.
Abby shook her head. "Toby, at least, doesn't hold it in. When he wants to yell, he yells. When he wants to throw something, everyone knows to duck. No, I'm not worried about Toby." She fingered her wristwatch, watching Sam carefully. "And CJ? She deals. She deals with things in a very forthright manner, that woman does. When she starts to blow, she doesn't try to keep it back. It may not be pretty, but at least it's honest."
Sam snorted. "Okay, maybe. But Josh." The sense of certainty that his friend was at least as dysfunctional as he was gave Sam a little boost of courage. "No one's been more tense than Josh. And his diet? Please! His b.p. has to be a good 180/110! You should check it! I, I can go get him, if you want?" Sam took three long strides toward the door, his eyebrows shooting up hopefully.
"There's Secret Service right outside that door, Sam. One word from me, and you're going down like a calf at a rodeo." Abby gracefully placed herself in his path. "And Josh? Stress is like rocket fuel to him. He knows how to funnel that tension into action. Now sit your ass back down, or we're going to have to wait another thirty minutes for me to retake your pressure." She bestowed a glowing, yet menacing smile on Sam as he slunk back to his seat.
"I'm beat, aren't I?" Sam grumbled. "I'm beat; whipped; finished." He sighed in defeat. "I may as well lie down right here, and let you do whatever it is you've been wanting to do to me."
Abby saw his eyes snap up, feel his gasp suck the air right out of the room. His cheeks flashed red, and before she could do anything about it, his forehead hit the table with a satisfying, yet bone-chilling thump. She winced when he slowly brought it up, only to let it drop again with equal force.
"Sam!" Abby, tried to keep the laughter from her voice, if only to spare him the further humiliation of being laughed at. Placing a firm hand on his shoulder, she pushed him back into an upright position. "If that's the line you used on Jenny McGarry, I can understand why Leo was so pissed off at you." Sam's eyes rolled back in his head as a low groan escaped his lips. "Although, I can't for the life of me understand why Jenny was so scandalized. Women of our age - "
"Ma'am," Sam moaned.
" - don't get invitations like that very often, you know. In fact, the last time a handsome young man like you asked me to - "
"ABBY!" Sam howled. "My, my, blood pressure! You're gonna kill me!" He reached for the glass, but only managed to brush his fingers against it, pushing it further from his grasp. Whimpering softly, Sam dropped his head into his hands, and rubbed at his face. "I want my mommy."
"Now that's kinky," Abby shot back. "But it brings me to my next point."
The color on Sam's face drained away, leaving him pale and unfocused. "Please tell me you're not going to say something about sex?" he begged weakly.
"I want to talk to you about sex, Sam."
She could see that the idea of meeting up with a few armed Secret Service Agents wasn't looking too bad to him right now, so Abby reassured him with a pat on his arm. "I'm kidding, Sam. Jesus, but you're a tangle of nerves."
"Yes, Ma'am," he managed to squeak out. Swiping at his brow, Sam took a few deep breaths. "Some day, I'm going to get up the nerve to ask one of you women why you enjoy tormenting me so much."
Abby sniggered. "Well - "
"This is not one of those days," Sam said pointedly. "Ma'am."
It was hard not to feel sorry for him, Abby mused. She'd seen him in action, or, what passed for action when it came to Sam Seaborn. One of the reasons she'd encouraged Mallory O'Brien to make a move, was that Abby thought Sam would be more comfortable with a strong woman taking the initiative. Despite having been blessed with his physical attributes, she knew he could sometimes be unsure of how women would react to him.
She'd mentioned to Jed once, how catastrophically 'off' Sam's radar seemed to be. His rare attempts at passes, whether completed or not, always seemed to be with the worst possible choices. Abby speculated whether Sam was somehow unconsciously sabotaging his chances with women. He and Josh seemed like a matched pair sometimes, though since the campaign she had few opportunities to observe any of the staff's social lives.
Exhaling quietly, Abby refilled Sam's glass, and gently placed it in front of him. "What I was going to suggest, Sam, is that you need to find a way of releasing the strain you're under. Sex isn't such a bad way of achieving that," she chuckled dryly, cocking a slim eyebrow at him.
"For the love of god," Sam whispered hoarsely. He brought his eyes up to meet hers. "Is it time yet?"
"No. There's a gym right in the White House. Surely you could sneak off a few times a week."
Sam blinked at her, his expression dulled by apprehension.
"What the hell's wrong with you?!" Abby teased. "I meant to exercise."
"I'm not sure I can ever assume anything you mean again," Sam said defensively. "Is it time yet?"
Abby's head moved back and forth. "Lunch should be here soon. Would you like anything else?"
"I like a squirt of lemon on my salad. You should try it; no fat, no calories, and it gives it a little kick - "
Sam put a palm up between them. "Please, Dr. Bartlet, can we just sit here until it's time? You said we were going to sit quietly."
Abby sighed, and sat back in her chair. "Well, sure, Sam. We can sit here like strangers, avoiding the topic, pretending you aren't falling apart. If that's what you want." She shrugged her shoulders and ran her hand across the table. "We'll just sit here, saying nothing, thinking nothing, doing - "
"I'd actually like that," Sam interrupted. "That sounds great. Let's, let's do that." He dared to steal a sidelong glance at the First Lady. "We're not going to do that, are we?" He matched the slow back and forth motion of her head. "No, we're going to talk this to death. Flog it until it screams. Run it into the ground."
"I get it, Sam!" Abby groused. "My god if I lived in your head I'd be hypertensive too!"
Peeking at his wrist, Sam grimaced slightly. "Do you think I could get some coffee?" he gambled meekly, tapping a finger against the face of his watch.
"I don't think that's a good idea." Abby's entire demeanor softened as she saw him flinch. "And if that headache that's creeping up on you is from withdrawal already, that oughta tell you something."
A whoosh of air escaped Sam's lips. "How did you know - ? Yeah, it's the lack of caffeine that's giving me a headache. Not the, whatever; fact that you've locked me in here and become scary, crazy lady on me. Crazy First Lady. Ma'am."
Her laughter caught Sam off guard. "You think this is scary? Oh, honey; you should see me whenever I find out that Jed's been sucking back the steaks when I'm away." She was relieved to see a genuine smile appear on Sam's face.
"Just out of curiosity," Sam ventured warily. "You understand that when Toby or I come to you and say that we recommend you, oh I don't know, change your hair, or lighten up on the make-up, that's not us saying that. We're just passing on the consultant's suggestions. I mean, there's no reason for you to feel the need to retaliate on a personal level. Right? Right?"
Abby eyed her companion carefully.
"Well." Sam crossed his arms over his chest, and his eyes wandered around the room before returning to Abby. "I'm sure you know how that works. And I can't see you as the type to - . I honestly never thought you were the sort of woman that would - . I'm saying.... Is it time yet?
"Yes, Sam, I think it's time."
His blood pressure was 121/80, and because Sam was so smug about it, she took it in his other arm as well. Slipping once more into his sweater, Sam stood to stretch his legs, his shoulders squared and confident, while Abby concealed her relief behind a benevolent smile.
"Listen up, and don't get too cocky here, Sam," she warned calmly. "You're probably anemic, and you could still be hurtling straight into the path of a serious health crisis, if you don't make some changes."
"You need to find a way to manage the stress, eat better, sleep with your eyes closed."
Their lunch arrived with a firm knock on the door, and Sam retook his seat without argument, sniffing at his salad before picking up a fork.
Abby rolled her eyes and sighed with exasperation. "I mean it, Sam. Unless you want me breathing down your neck...."
"I hear ya, Ma'am. And I promise, I'm not only going to change my ways, but you can be sure I'll do my level best to impart my newfound commitment to healthy living on the others, because I care about them too." Sam took a deep gulp of his herbal iced tea before digging back into his chicken. "In fact, just the other day, when I'd made some stupid - well, not stupid so much as senseless - remark to Josh, his face got so red and I could have sworn I saw some spittle at the corner of his mouth. When he started shaking, I got a little worried about him."
"Oh, reeeally?" Abby asked, a look of concern settling on her face. She glanced toward the door, completely missing the sly smile that Sam was struggling to keep from his lips.
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