Peripheral Vision

by: Abigale

Character(s): Sam, Gigner
Category(s): General
Rating: YTEEN
Summary: "If I were you but still a man?" #2 Random Acts of Conversation Series

The bartender slides the stemmed glass over on a white napkin to the striking couple at the bar, then turns to rattle a martini shaker filled with ice.

"Is this the worst idea either one of us has ever had?" Ginger wants to know. She can think of a number of bad ideas Sam has had, but comes up short with examples of her own public humiliations.

"Yeah," Sam says from behind the ice cubes in his drink. His eyes swim over to the woman seated at his right. "I'm sorry? No! Of course not!" he corrects. "No, this is good. This will be good." He sips at the heady alcohol once more. "Everything's good. Eeeeeverything's great."

Apprehension clearly creeping across her face, Ginger brings her glass to her glossy lips. "I should have ordered something stronger," she says. "I really need something stronger than this."

Sam does a double take and nods his head. "Okay. I'll order you a - "

"No, no. God. I want to be able to, you know, drink tonight. If I have something stronger, the evening will end up with me on my back!"

"Well," Sam says, blinking once. "I'm not sure that's what I had in mind...."

Ginger's usually wide-eyed expression gets even wider, and she takes a gulp of her wine. "Sam, don't make this worse than it is, please. I need you to keep your head in the game tonight."

He nods agreeably.

"We did this all wrong," Ginger decides, and begins fishing through her small handbag. "I think I have paper. You have a pen, right?"

Sam reflexively reaches inside his suit jacket for his favorite pen, twists it until the point appears. He's about to hand it over, when he pulls back suddenly. "Wait. What?"

"We should have written down a few things," Ginger is informing him; the voice she uses when he's forgotten some simple detail that she knows will cause a major anxiety attack the moment it occurs to him. "A script."

Sam's entire body recoils slightly. "You're kidding, right? Even I'm not that - "

"Sam."

"I'm saying, I can go on a date without scripting the whole thing out first."

Ginger plops the scrap of paper she's retrieved into her lap and reaches for her drink. Fixes him with a knowing stare, which she can see unnerves him.

"I can," he insists feebly.

"You may not write it down, but you go over it a hundred times in your head." She feels mildly triumphant when he can't make eye contact with her.

"Not any more. Not since I realized that whatever's in my head seems to stay right there, and what comes out in no way resembles the script. So, no, I don't. And you shouldn't be thinking about that. You should just relax. Be yourself."

They sit in silence for a few minutes, fingers tearing cocktail napkins to shreds; twirling a pack of matches.

"So," Sam begins, shifting on his barstool to face Ginger. But, "It's gonna be fine," is all he can think to say, and turns back to face the bar.

"Sam?"

"Yeah?" he responds eagerly.

"Is it too late?" Her eyes are moist, pink-tinted lips pursed together. He can see a muscle twitch under her smooth cheek, and he's filled with regret.

Taking a delicate hand in his, he squeezes gently. "No, not if that's what you want." Ginger can see that he means it, and isn't even disappointed.

She sits for a moment, looking down at the joined hands. "Nah," she sighs eventually. "I'll do it. I can do it." Her eyes meet his. "You're very nice to do this for me."

"Well," he responds, easing his hand away to pick up his drink, bits of napkin sticking to the bottom. "I just think you deserve it, is all. I mean, all of a sudden, everyone in the West Wing seems to have a social life, and I thought at least someone in Communications should be getting some."

His glass stops in midair, and Ginger can see a wretched look of horror pass across his handsome features. "See, Sam? You really should rethink the whole writing a script thing," she deadpans.

"What I said there? Bears no relation to what I actually meant to say," he explains almost imploringly. "What I was trying to say - "

"If I haven't figured out what your genuine intentions are by now, I really haven't been paying attention for the last couple of years," Ginger tells him, and allows herself to enjoy a small smile for the first time.

She can hear Sam breath a sigh of measured relief; feels the tension ease a little for both of them.

"No, of course. Yes, you can. I mean, no to the - "

"Sam."

He knows what that means; they all say it to him enough times. "I'm shutting up," he assures her.

Finishing his drink, he gestures to the bartender to bring him a second one. Checks Ginger's glass and sees that she's not yet ready for another. She catches him glancing at his watch right before he raises his fresh drink to his lips.

"NPR, huh?" She lifts her chin bravely. "So, he's smart."

"So are you."

"But he's smart in an able to make conversation in a great many areas kind of way." She scratches at the stem of her glass. "And I'm just smart enough to work for those kinds of people."

"Criminy, Ginger," Sam grumbles. "That kind of attitude isn't very smart at all." He touches her wrist lightly. "Look, I've know Mark for years. He doesn't have a criminal record; he's never been married, and his last long-term relationship ended a healthy nine months ago. He plays softball, and interacts well with his peers; his mother lives out of state; he owns his townhouse, and his car is four years old. He's been a producer at NPR for six years, he's stable, serious about his work, knows how to have a good time, is a liberal democrat. And he's good-looking." Sam cocks his head at her openly interested expression. "I mentioned that first thing, right? He's really good-looking."

"If he's so amazing, maybe you should date him," she says earnestly, if a little bitterly.

Sam's pupils fill his eyes, crowding out the last vestiges of blue, and he curls his hand around the sweating glass, squeezing so hard it nearly pops out of his grip. Clearing his throat, he looks sidelong at Ginger. "Okay, I told you, to decrease the pressure on both of you, we're not calling this a, a, a, a date," he stutters adorably.

"It's still a date. A blind date, no less!"

"It's a, think of it as a pre-date."

"Sam."

"An introductory date."

"Semantics!" Ginger argues, swilling the remainder of her wine.

"And you thought 'Sam' came from 'Samuel'?" He has nothing left to offer her but one of his patented warm smiles, and a perfectly cued twinkle in his eye.

She accepts both gratefully. "And you're staying?" she asks, looking for reassurance.

He points a finger at her empty glass, and nods his head toward the bartender. "Of course I am."

"Even if the woman over there keeps looking at you like that?" Ginger bows her head slightly after flickering her eyes over Sam's shoulder.

She wonders if Sam heard her, because he's leaning forward in his seat, eyes latched stubbornly to the barman pouring chardonnay into Ginger's glass.

"Sam...?"

"I'm not looking, you can't get me to look," he sniffs, ending the subject neatly.

Sam wants another drink, not so much for the alcohol, but for the distraction. He can hear Ginger make little gaspy sounds whenever someone enters the hotel's bar, and he chides himself for suggesting they get here a half an hour early so she'll feel comfortable.

Pushing his now watered down drink aside, he asks for a glass of club soda, and steals a long look at his companion.

"What?" Ginger's voice intrudes as her hand slaps against her throat. "What's wrong?"

Startled, and a little afraid, Sam shakes his head adamantly and scoots his stool back a bit. "Nothing. What do you mean? I was just... I was just noticing that you look very nice. I, I hadn't noticed before."

"Oh." She seems surprised, but then it's sometimes hard to tell. Looking down at her gray skirt and pale pink, fine wool cardigan sweater, Ginger runs a hand over her stomach. "It's too businesslike, huh?" she wonders aloud. "Donna always manages to leave straight for a date looking so crisp and put together. I look like I've put in a ten hour day running after a bunch of - " Her eyes snap up in time to catch the bemused look on Sam's face. "Being of assistance to the Director, and Deputy Director of Communications," she finishes weakly.

"You really do look... what am I allowed to say?" he asks, sharing a knowing smile with Ginger. "Can I say you look lovely? Luminous."

"Well," Ginger drawls. "You can say it, but we both know what you mean." A tiny frown mars the delicate skin between her eyebrows.

Sam huffs. "If I were you, I'd look in a mirror once in awhile. You're an attractive woman, Ginger. And now I'm taking the next available flight out of this conversation."

Ginger pulls the corners of her mouth up into an almost genuine smile. "Relax, Sam; you're among friends. But... what else would you do if you were me?" Her voice sounds unsure, and a little hopeful. "I mean, from a man's point of view...."

"If I were you, but still a man?"

Ginger finally laughs out loud at the perplexed expression on her boss' face. "Sorry, Sam; I forget sometimes how easy it is to derail you," she chuckles.

"No, no," he assures her before taking a sip of water. "I know how to do this. If I were you, but knowing what I know from my experience of being a man. Yeah, I get it."

The fact that he seems somewhat proud that he's sorted this out on his own causes Ginger to giggle some more. A friend of Sam's can't be all bad, she ponders silently, and begins relaxing into the back of the stool she's perched on.

Sam's blinking hard. "What would I do, what would I do?" he's muttering. She can tell, when he sits up straighter, that he's actually thought of something. "How 'bout this?" he says, turning to face her easily, grinning satisfactorily. "You don't have to laugh at all his jokes. He's - I may not have told you this - Mark's a pretty funny guy. And we funny guys - "

"You funny guys?" Ginger asks incredulously.

"I've been told!" Sam protests. "The point it, sometimes, when a woman is acting overly amused, and engaged, we feel as if we're carrying the entire night by ourselves. So, I always thought it might be helpful if the woman I was speaking to didn't always laugh out loud at me. It would keep down the pressure to maintain that same level of humor throughout the whole evening, if you know what I mean."

Ginger looks like she has no clue. "Even if he's funny, I shouldn't laugh, because... Sam, I have to be honest. I'm still struggling here to keep from saying something cruel about how women laugh out loud at you."

"I - "

"No, no," Ginger reassures him with a wave of her hand. "I know what you were trying to say. And that's so not the point." Her smile is toothy, and bright, and Sam can only shrug, and smile back.

Her hand sweeps over her hair once, and she tugs gently at her sweater before she retreats backwards in the conversation. "I should have worn something else."

Sam rests a discerning eye on her, then looks away quickly.

"What, Sam?"

"Um. Nothing. I told you, I think you look fine."

There's no mistaking the disappointment on Ginger's face. "Oh. Fine. Right. I guess I just, I was hoping for something beyond 'fine'," she mumbles. She spontaneously downs the remainder of her drink, the alcohol crashing into her inhibitions like a tidal wave. "I suppose a remark like the one you made to Ainsley would be a little unrealistic," she pouts.

She sees guilt and embarrassment flicker in Sam's eyes, and although Ginger does have sympathy for him, she also knows a man like Sam Seaborn would never notice her the way he's noticed other women. She's suddenly self-conscious and uncomfortable, sitting beside him in his dark, perfectly pressed suit, the eyes of more than a few patrons finding him in the shadowy bar.

"This is a mistake," she whimpers, sliding off her chair. She finds that she's standing close to Sam, who is still seated, and looking quite alarmed.

Before she can draw another breath, he has her by her upper arms, and is gently pushing her back into her seat. "Ginger, listen to me." His voice is low, and reverberates through her, as he brings his mouth close to her ear. "If I were a woman, and I knew what I know as a man, I'd button one more button of your sweater, because although the sight of skin can be alluring, the vision of that soft, plush fabric pulled gently across your, uh, chest, the space between the buttons gaping ever-so-slightly, but not-quite vulgarly would be enough to make me stay in this seat talking to you all night."

He breathes into her hair for a second, then continues. "And I'm telling you this as a friend, and a man; and to the side of your head, and not to your face, because if I did, I'd never be able to look you in the eyes again, and I wouldn't choose that for all the call girls, or teachers, or... producers in the world." Sam pulls back and finally looks into her eyes. "Understood?"

The word can't make it past the lump in her throat, so Ginger nods slowly at first, then more enthusiastically. Her cheeks are flaming, and she gains strength when she notices Sam's are too. And he has a fine sheen of sweat above his upper lip. Without moving her eyes from his, she reaches up between them, and gracefully slides the button through its hole.

Sam resumes his place against the back of his stool, and hands his water to Ginger, who gulps it greedily. He smiles apologetically at her, and she wants to hug him, but he's already moving away, turning back to the bar.

"You're staying, right?" Ginger squeaks.

"Of course," he tells her with a nod. "So anyway, you're in luck," Sam begins chattering. "Usually you'd have to steer away from the topic of politics on a date, but in this case, you're probably on pretty safe ground with Mark. Just keep in mind, please, he is a journalist, though if you hear me claim to his face that he's not, just play along, okay?"

"Okay," Ginger agrees quietly, aligning her posture with his. She smiles tenderly while she watches her friend from the corner of her eye as he continues to instruct her on his top ten winning strategies for a successful dating experience.

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