Twenty Six Hundred Miles From Home
Summary: Mothers and Sons. #4 Random Acts of Conversation Series
"....oh, Sam; I used to slather you with that stuff! You remember? You hated the smell and would wriggle and squirm!"
"You were such a squirmer."
"I'm squirming right now. Can we get back to -- "
"And you'd get so embarrassed when I'd smear it on your little tush. I wouldn't have had to, if you'd just kept your trunks on."
"Mom!" Sam exclaimed, feeling the blush rise to his cheeks. "I have, I have a very limited amount of time here to get lectured about sunscreen." Sam trapped the phone between his shoulder and his chin. Pressed it against his ear with a huff. "I just called to see how you were, not take another stumble down memory lane." He leaned back and crossed one leg over the other.
Maggie Seaborn sighed in his ear. "Traipse, Sam. Or just walk. Most people walk down memory lane. My son stumbles."
Sam smiled to himself.
"I'm fine, honey," his mother assured him quietly. "And it makes me happy to remember some of the good things."
Which was why Sam had been putting off this call. Ever since his mother had moved past the white rage, then through the black depression, she had settled into a rose-colored wonderland of fond memories and gray justifications. So he'd been placing his calls to her at times when he knew there would be restricted time to talk.
Sam still hadn't figured out how he felt, or what color his world was.
"....just made you look tired, Sam. Can't they do something about that with makeup?" she was now saying.
"I'm sorry, what?" he asked, rubbing at a spot above his brow. He pulled the receiver from his ear and switched hands. Picking up his pen, he tapped it a few times against the legal pad on his desk before beginning to draw the face of a clock.
"On Friday. I saw you on television, and you looked... I thought to myself he looks so tired." Maggie's concern was thinly veiled behind the observation.
Friday. Friday. Where was he Friday, that his mother would have seen him on tv? "Oh. No, mom," he said. "That was just because we were coming off of a long flight. I was tired, so there, uh, there really wasn't anything I could do about that."
There was a crackling sound coming from the line that vaguely reminded Sam of a campfire. His nostrils twitched at the sensory memory. "Are you cooking something?" he asked.
"Why, no," Maggie answered breezily. "I'm just wrapping a few more things to send you. A debating trophy, and your swimming medals...."
Sam finished his clock, and began the outline of an American flag. "Oh, god, Mom," he groaned. "I don't have room for that stuff. Why are you, why do you need to send that?" He cringed slightly at the whiny properties his voice had taken on, and abandoned the flag for a girl with pigtails.
He was concentrating so hard on getting the shape of her head right, it nearly escaped him that there was silence on the other end of the line. "Hey, Mom? Are you still there?" he asked with mild concern.
She sighed deeply, and Sam's pen stopped its dabbling. "Mom?"
"Well, Sam," Maggie began, her voice quaking a little on his name. "I just thought these were things you'd like to have. They were important enough for you to save, so I supposed you'd like to make sure they're safe."
On the word safe, Sam noticed a definite crack of emotion, and he put his pen down, the certainty of what he was hearing like a punch in the face. "You're going somewhere? You're selling the house." Of course, he realized, annoyed that he hadn't started out the call by asking her not only how she was doing, but what she was doing. "Have you already...? How far have you "
"It's been sold, Sam. The first day it was listed." Maggie's voice was stronger now, distinct pride coloring the words. Her home was what she'd made it; a sunny, open, warm place filled with the things and the people she loved. The comfortable living his father made wasn't something the Seaborn's flaunted, but Sam neither wanted for anything, nor had everything he wanted.
His leg slid from his knee, and he placed his elbows on the desk, leaning onto them. "You never said." The petulance was there again, laced with mild shock. Shock that his home, which hadn't been his home for many years, never would be again, and surprise that his mother had done all this without a word to him. Without him.
"Well...." Maggie let the word trail off, seemingly gathering her strength. "Well, Sammy, it had to be done. It was something I wasn't going to spend a lot of time arguing myself out of, so why put it off?" Her voice grew softer, like Sam remembered when they had their talks after he'd steal in from a date just before a summer dawn. "I didn't want to argue, Sam," she admitted.
She'd fix him eggs, scrambled soft, with bits of whatever she had on hand. And fresh orange juice, but no coffee. "You'll never get any sleep," she'd chide him.
Sam pressed a hand to his head and sighed. "What makes you think I'd have argued?" he wanted to know, though of course he understood her reasoning. He often joked that he argued for a living, but the idea that she would withhold something so monumental just to avoid that hit a little too close to home.
"Sam, I knew what you'd say." There was more of the crinkling sound, more of his childhood being packed into a shipping box. "The market is soft, I should wait for values to come back up," she recited. "But dear, I don't want to feel tied to this... place. You can understand."
"I wouldn't, no Mom, I would never try to talk you out of selling if that's what you -- "
" -- I mean, it isn't as if it's home to anyone but me now," Maggie broke in, then became suddenly silent.
Sam's throat constricted, and he felt a burn in his esophagus. He removed his glasses and laid them carefully on the desk before bowing his head again, and pinching the bridge of his nose. "If you want me to come..."
"I don't, I've told you."
"And I've told you I want to."
"Maybe when I move into my new place," she compromised.
'My New Place.'
He almost said the words out loud, just to make sure they were real. Selling the house; why did that seem like a completely different thing than her actually living somewhere else? Somewhere he didn't know, hadn't been, never shared with her?
It made his eyes sting to think of her directing movers to set down the armchair she'd spent every Sunday reading the newspapers in, or the soft, scarred antique kitchen table with all the whimsically mismatched chairs. Or the king-size bed... no. She wouldn't keep that, he knew instinctively.
"And where is this, uh, your new place?" he asked through the tightness in his throat. Is it safe? Do you know anyone there? Can you afford it? Will it be the showcase it took you a lifetime to assemble; a place where new met old, artsy met antique, bold never overshadowed beautiful?
Our home. Will it still be our home?
She was talking in his ear, chirpy and excited. He'd missed the location, but caught that it was a gated community, near the beach, where she'd lived before she was married. There was excellent shopping nearby, close enough that she could walk for small trips, or maybe, she'd buy a bike.
"A bike?!" Sam yelped involuntarily. "When was the last time you rode a bike? God, Mom, that's all I need!"
"I'm not your president, sweetie. I am familiar with the solid properties of a tree, and know better than to argue with it." Her voice sounded delighted to have found something to tease him about, and it made Sam relax a little.
"I'm worried," he admitted. "If something happened - I mean, not that I think you aren't the most graceful woman I've ever known - but if something happens, who - who - who -"
He was stuck, dammit. How had that happened? Who would she call, and who would take care of her, and how could he be so insensitive?
"Well, Alan; you remember Alan?"
Sam's head whipped up and his eyes fixed on his partially closed blinds. "Alan?"
"The lawyer you got me, Sam!" came Maggie's amused answer. "He's taken care of everything so far, from the sale of the house, to re-writing the insurance policies, to... well, he even fired that accountant for me, and hired the one you wanted." She made it sound like an ordinary job. Sell a house; secure her financial future; fire a crook. Why not nurse her back to health when she tumbled from her bike into the path of the treacherous traffic on the way to buy a few mangos?
"Sweetie, either it's your hearing, or you're ignoring your mother; which is it so I know whether to speak louder or hang up?"
"Hm?" Sam mumbled into the phone, forgotten in his hand. "Sorry, Mom. Someone needed my attention for a second," he lied.
"Is it Josh? Is Josh there?"
"No." Sam picked up the pen again, and began doodling a skyscraper. "I'm glad Alan's working out for you." He didn't add, at what I'm paying him, he'd better.
There was no way, even with the more than comfortable amount of blood money his father was supplying to Maggie, she could afford to pay for a lawyer of Alan's standing. But she didn't know that; only that her son had a friend from Duke, who could do her a favor....
"So, Alan's making sure the money from the house is going to be put into -- "
"Yes, Sam," Maggie said with amused exasperation. "My living trust is up to date, and any proceeds of the sale - after I've paid for the new house - "
"Wait," Sam interrupted, stopping at the tenth floor of his skyscraper. "You're buying another house?" He couldn't say why this confused him, except that in his mind, he was seeing an exact replica of his childhood home, only stripped clean of everything that gave it it's unique charm and history. "Why are you selling one house to buy another?" he challenged.
Maggie didn't answer immediately, as if weighing her words. "Sam," she began, sounding just like a mother should when her son was being obstinate. "I'm buying a small bungalow in a retirement community. I will. not. end my days in some condominium, stacked on top of five other strangers." She waited a beat, and then her voice smoothed out like honey. "Sweetie; are you having a problem with this?" she asked gently.
Sam snapped up his pen, and slashed at the pad with bold, decisive strokes. He was drawing waves, he told himself. "Not a problem," Sam said easily, though the words nearly choked him. "Except..."
"Except, Mom, I feel as if...." He ground the nib of his pen into the thick yellow pad, digging a dark, inky hole. "I don't know. You can probably guess how I feel," he mumbled, feeling an almost welcome sense of release.
"Letting go is hard," Maggie granted. "But I'm being taken care of, Sam, if that concerns you too, which it shouldn't. I'm not a helpless -- "
"God! No, I never meant -- "
" -- I know you worry, Sam. I wish I could take that from you, because you don't need that in your life."
"You're my mother," Sam nearly whimpered. He felt as if he was being scolded for something, but he couldn't imagine what.
He could hear Maggie smack the counter with an open hand. "Yes! I'm your mother. But you've got to stop seeing me as only that. I'm an independent woman, Sam. I'm not helpless. I never was."
Shit. Sam blinked rapidly in the diminishing light in his office. "Mom, I never think of you as being helpless," he gasped. "Every ounce of strength I have I got from you." He threw himself back in his chair, in his office, in the West Wing of the White House, and shook his head. "I'm what I am because of you."
Maggie's voice floated through to him. "And your father," she said.
"No." Sam rested his head against the back of his chair wearily. "You can't compare us."
The tiny gasp on the other end of the phone brought Sam's head up.
"Sammy. Oh, Sam," Maggie murmured. He could close his eyes and remember her soothing him after Tammy Crockett broke his heart in the tenth grade, or when he allowed his father to talk him out of joining the Peace Corps. "You don't have to ever worry about becoming your father. You've already proven a thousand times over that you're Samuel Seaborn, and no one else."
Sam didn't want to cry. He'd shed enough tears, washing the extremes of his reactions out long ago. An hour here, fifteen minutes there, sometimes just a mute trickle down his cheek. And then one day, he could think of the man who had been his father, and not feel the pressure building behind his eyes, forcing him to hang up moments after hearing his voice.
That day, he picked up the phone and dialed the number on one of the dozens of message slips that filled his pockets or were stuffed in his desk. He spoke to the man for ten minutes, not bothering to excuse the aborted attempts to call, and not feeling the need to hide his hurt and disgust. It hadn't gone well, and when he told his mother about it, she cried for his loss.
Since those first horrific weeks, he'd moved past the intense emotion of the situation, and could now at least deal with his father from a more detached and distant position.
Sam didn't want to cry.
"It's, it's not just that I worry, Mom," he said, bouncing gently against the cushioned back of his chair. "You took me by surprise, is all. I didn't know you wanted to move on this so fast, though I should have, I suppose. I think, if you wouldn't mind, I think I would like you to send me whatever you have laying around. If you can't store it in your, uh, your new place until I can get out there, I mean."
Sam reached for his pen, and held the cool metal to his brow. A gift from his father; the only thing left of the man that could calm Sam.
His mother's voice was firmer now. He realized the rustling had stopped, and Sam wondered if she'd finished, or had abandoned the task at some point. He couldn't remember when it had ended.
"I do think if I find the right box, I can put everything that's left together," Maggie told him, a sense of purpose in her words. "You should be getting the first package this week. I mailed it on Saturday."
Sam leaned forward again, and began drawing a lopsided apple. He'd skipped dinner.
"More medals?" he asked distractedly.
"No, that one, I think that one has a few things, and your old Cobalt sailing knife. It's all I could fit in with your portfolio
from Edie," Maggie explained.
"My what?" Sam asked as he sketched out his fruit.
Maggie mumbled something, as he heard her move the phone away from and then back to her mouth. "I'm sorry, I said I'm sending you the portfolio Edie did of you back when she was getting the studio started. She came across the one she kept for clients to look at when she was moving to the new building, and thought I'd like an extra set."
Sam's apple grew leaves at the stem, and he was about to add a charming cartoon worm when --
His pen froze above the paper, and his blood turned prickly cold in his veins. Aunt Edie? The woman who single-handedly rained buckets of humiliation down on Sam when she'd hounded him into doing some reluctant modeling for her budding photography studio when he was sixteen? The same Aunt Edie who --
"Mom! Did you, did you, did I hear you say?!" Sam's pen flew out of his hand and rolled jauntily to the edge of the desk.
"Sam, sweetie, what on earth?" Maggie scolded her stuttering son.
"You sent me those awful pictures?" Sam squeaked. The images came back to him with a vengeance; Sam, shirtless, body hairless, squinting into the sun on the beach. Sam, leaning against a mottled tree trunk in too, too, too-tight jeans (he'd thought that's where the term blue balls came from), and a black tee-shirt. He'd begged her to destroy the pool pictures, the ones where his hair fell across his face and the sun glistened over his wet torso. (He'd stolen the one of him posing on the rugged boulders, the spray from the waves an exotic background over his shoulders. It was the only shot he liked, and that didn't shame him into the depths of hell).
And they were all coming his way. To...
"Where did you send them, Mom?" Sam asked breathlessly. "Did you send them here?"
He heard Maggie scoff. "Of course I did. I know you don't like things sitting at your apartment door indefinitely." He could hear the admonishment in her voice, gentle disapproval for the hours he kept.
Sam struggled to keep his own voice level. "And you said, in this same package that you sent here to the White House, you also enclosed my Cobalt knife? My sharp, pointy, dangerous Cobalt, in a package, with photographs of -- " Sam knew his voice was rising an octave a word, but the picture was becoming all too clear to him now. " -- all those photographs of me posing in my bathing suit and tight jeans and this package has a weapon in it, and my name on it and it's COMING TO THE WHITE HOUSE?" he cried.
"Oh my god, Mom," Sam wheezed into the phone. "Do you know what you've done?" He slowly lowered his head to his desk, all thoughts of his mother selling off the things that furnished his childhood and moving into a sterile, modern bungalow wiped from his mind.
"Mom. They'll x-ray it. Mom. They'll open it," Sam said with defeat. "Mom," he whimpered.
At least she had the decency to finally get it, Sam thought morosely.
"I'm sorry, Sammy." And then she giggled.
"What the? Mo-om!" His head came up urgently, and the tittering continued. "This is not an amusing situation," Sam said sternly. "These guys, you just don't know how they eat this stuff up!"
"But surely there's a certain degree of discretion necessary to work at the White House," Maggie assured him between chuckles.
Sam wasn't unmindful of the fact that his mother was laughing. Out loud laughing, the way he hadn't heard in so very long. But the warmth that brought to his heart was nothing compared to the fire that burned his cheeks.
"Discreet? You've met Josh, right?"
"I don't suppose it helps to know that they're all exceptionally beautiful photographs; the portraits especially," Maggie recalled.
The portraits. Close-ups of Sam's face, full of youth, brooding self-consciously into the camera. He remembered visiting his Aunt Edie's studio shortly after it had opened, and spying the open portfolio on a table where it awaited some couple to look through thinking Edie could transform their own awkward teenage son into a thing of exquisite splendor as well, and wondering if that's what he really looked like to people.
Sam hadn't minded the portraits so much.
He collapsed back against his chair again. "It really doesn't help, no," he told his mother.
She snorted into his ear. "Well, Alan wanted a copy of that one of the sunset. He thought it was very artistic," she teased.
Groaning, Sam sat up straight, and fixed the phone to his other ear. "Look, Mom, I need to get back to work, but I'm glad to leave you sounding so chipper." His eyes looked over the subdued Bullpen. "I want you to keep me posted on how things are going though, okay?"
"I will, Sam. But don't worry."
"I won't. Just let me know what's going on, and if there's anything you need me to do." Sam considered the distant possibility of taking a weekend off and flying out to surprise her. "I'll stay in touch with Alan, and he has my numbers."
"Here, home. My cell and my pager "
"Yes, Sam!" Maggie said. "We all know where to find you at any time." She sounded wistful and proud, and it tore at Sam a little to think that the entire country - who's job it was for him to help run - stood between them.
"Just let me know, you know, where you're gonna be living." He felt as if he was stretching the conversation out, reluctant to hang up. "I need to know where you are."
"I have nearly a month before I have to clear out of here, Sam. You'll have plenty of notice." There was a lightness and a lilt to her voice that brought her features to his mind as clearly as if she were there.
"Okay, then. Okay, well I should let you go."
"I love every part of you, Sam," Maggie recited.
"And every part of me loves you," Sam answered faithfully, the forgotten childhood incantation rolling off his tongue effortlessly.
There was a silent pause on both ends of the line, then they quietly said good-bye.
Sam sat for a moment, staring at the yellow pad in front of him full of squiggles and half-finished doodles. His eyes drifted to his bookshelf, where a small photograph of him and his mother sat among pictures of Sam and the leaders of the nation.
He felt powerful in his surroundings, and powerless in his life, but he could do something about that.
Pulling out his desk draw, he slipped his platinum Visa from his wallet, and held it in his hand as he turned to his pc. Quickly bringing up a search engine, Sam dropped in a few phrases, and within minutes he was cruising through the Sports Authority website, shopping for the highest-rated, snazziest bike helmet he could find.
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