NOTES: They're not ours. Props to Don Henley. Deadhead Sticker on a Cadillac props to Jess.
Nags Head, North Carolina, had one cheesy miniature golf place, and you had to drive to get there. Josh sat outside the place, watching families and raucous children hit the tiny balls through absurd painted wood obstacles. He sipped his Coke and watched the end of summer crowd.
Before President Bartlet, when he'd worked in the House, a group of people he knew had always rented a house in Nags Head in August. They would pile in cars and drive down on Saturday, ending up in stop and go five mile an hour traffic when the road to Nags Head narrowed to one lane going into the small resort town. Mostly, Josh remembered the town all being made of wood somehow, painted wood chipping off and the beach. And he remembered Sam.
Everyone said Josh was insanely competitive about the golf, until the only one who could stand to play him was Sam, who was almost as bad. There had been a running debate over which of them was the better player, until Josh settled it by banking a shot off the corner of the clown's nose, a memorable hole-in-one that earned them a free game. It had been pouring rain and they'd played through again anyway, because it was free, and Josh had bribed Sam's forgiveness with a six-pack of beer and soft-serve ice cream from the shoddy stand by the mini-golf.
Sam had sneezed into his paper napkin. "You can't solve everything by plying me with fermented sugar and chocolate."
"Can too," Josh replied. He had looked at Sam's wet hair and thought he could solve the rest of it by other means. Sam was easy to bribe.
Now, Josh had this useless vacation time and this over-large house for himself for a week. He'd driven down on Saturday, but he'd left early somehow and missed most of the traffic. Mandy had made the arrangements and Josh was stuck with her ideas of fun in Nags Head. He wasn't with her anymore and she still got to decide where he stayed.
Last night he'd sat on the beach with his beer and just listened to the waves. Waves crashing into the shore, it was the kind of cliche Sam would strike out with his pen and grumble at even seeing. But Josh didn't like swimming in the ocean, didn't want to tan, found the beach during the day noisy and crowded and one of the most boring places in the world. At night, he could hear the waves and just drink his beer and watch the moon on the water. The sound and the darkness gave him a dispensation from thinking of anything at all and Josh found that intermittently precious.
Sunday morning he called Sam and begged him to come down or he would drown himself in the ocean from boredom.
"I will dive," he said into the pay phone. "Like something out of a music video, to the strains of, maybe, Van Halen."
Sam chuckled. "I have work."
"Real work? Toby doesn't have you, I don't know, writing addresses to Campfire Lasses?" A pair of small children ran by, elbowing Josh in the shins, leaving drips of ice cream in their wake. He glared after them. "Seriously, man. You've got days coming. I'm going crazy. If you don't come down here, I'm going to turn into a bad metaphor."
"You don't take my job seriously at all," Sam complained unconvincingly. "You know what would happen if I came down there, and we were both on vacation at the same time?"
"Let me think," Josh said dramatically. "Russia would invade Afghanistan? Oil companies would steal food out of the mouths of babes? Toby and C.J. would elope?"
"You're a sick man."
"So are you coming?"
"Shit," Sam said, and then, "Damn. I keep telling myself not to curse while I'm in here. Yeah. Yeah, but I have to finish up and it'll take a couple hours. Where will I meet you?"
"Golf," Josh said, "Tonight."
It rained that night by the time Sam arrived, so they went straight back to the house, getting drenched on the way. Mandy had reserved a nice one, but even this house was littered with odd knickknacks that no one would steal and Readers' Digest abridged books lined up on the bookshelves.
They drank the beer Josh had brought with him and went out at one am to buy more. Sam tapped his fingers on the car door while Josh ordered beer from the liquor drive through place near the beach.
After a few more beers, Sam knocked over one of the knickknacks -- a ceramic bear -- when he pushed Josh against the wall as they kissed. They both stepped over the debris as they lurched toward the bedroom, shucking barely dried clothes on to the floor.
They scrambled for a minute for a condom, and Sam blushed to admit he had some with him. He started to stammer something about always being prepared and girls in bikinis so Josh shut him up by kissing him again. They used Sam's girly expensive moisturizer for lube.
When Josh woke up, Sam was already in the living room, picking up and folding the clothes. Josh stood in the hallway, naked and shivering, watching Sam in his khaki shorts, bending over with a broom and dustpan to clean up the decimated bear.
"Quit staring," Sam said without looking up.
Josh didn't. "Okay, Mr. Clean."
"I'm not Mr. Clean."
"Okay, Ms. Pine-Sol."
Sam straightened up and balanced the dustpan carefully. He dumped the fragments into a small metal wastebasket, with an enamel image of a little girl at prayer. "Anyway, you should stare, standing there tackle out and everything."
"I'm a free man." Josh looked up at the ceiling, beaming for no reason at all. "This is really great."
Sam folded his arms. "Can I tell you something?"
"Nobody likes Mandy."
Josh glanced at him wearily. "I know."
"And by nobody, I mean, you know, nobody except maybe her mom."
"Her mom doesn't like her much either," Josh informed him.
Sam's cheekbones flushed. "Well, you, you know. You liked Mandy more than we did."
"Not really," Josh said. He rubbed his eyes with the heels of his hands. "And if you say her name three times she might appear. New topic."
"Last night was fun," Sam said frankly.
"Yeah. Yeah, I'm glad you came."
Sam blinked and began to laugh. "I'm sorry," he snorted. "But your phrasing."
Josh shot a disdainful look his way. "This is why you're six years old."
"So what are we going to do today?"
"Well, it's Nags Head. There's the beach."
Sam frowned. He sat down on the brownish gray couch. "First thing we do, I think, is you get dressed. Then we should go to Roanoke Island."
Josh walked into the living room and sat down on the couch next to Sam, his naked thigh next Sam's. "Roanoke Island? What the hell is that?"
Sam grinned. "The lost colony." He slapped Josh's thigh. "They won't let us in with you like that. Put on some clothes."
Josh started to tug at Sam's shorts with one hand and used the other to pull up his button down Ralph Lauren denim shirt. He smirked at Sam and said, "In a bit, I will definitely put on some clothes."
Josh lay back on the bed and rubbed his stomach. He heard Sam in the shower. His three days in Nags Head had been much more relaxing than he'd anticipated. He and Sam had gone to Roanoke Island and seen the park dedicated to the lost colony. Josh had spent the whole afternoon speculating on what 'Croatoan' could have meant, getting increasingly ridiculous.
"Possibly a code! Maybe it meant "gone to McDonalds, seeya suckers" if you arranged the letters right."
"Josh, did you take any history classes at all? Cause I don't want to start on everything that was wrong with that."
Then Josh had grinned at Sam and admitted he just liked seeing him hot under the collar.
The next day they went to Kill Devil Hills and flew over the Outer Banks in a frighteningly small plane. Josh tried not to think about the FAA report he'd read before he left on the number of accidents these things had every year. Today, they'd played miniature golf, with Josh narrowly winning the first three games and Sam taking the fourth.
They checked their email and talked to Toby and Leo and read the Washington Post and CNN's website. They ate at roadside restaurants and argued about environmentalism. And every night, and sometimes in the morning and sometimes in the afternoon, they fucked. They woke up naked and sweaty and threw off the sheets to sleep easily in the heat.
Josh hadn't exactly forgotten how much he enjoyed doing things with Sam, but he had certainly filed it away someplace distant. Sam had an amazing mouth and his manual dexterity couldn't really be beat.
Josh shut down that train of thought. He was starting to remember Sam's nervous fingers, years ago, fiddling with beers at the bar where he'd told Josh the first time that they had to end it. Josh shook his head and sat up.
Sam came out of the bathroom, a towel around his waist. He sat down at the end of the bed and flipped the TV to C-Span. It was just after one o'clock and in a few seconds they cut from a quorum call on the Senate floor to the White House Press Room. They watched C.J. step up to the lectern and take command of the room. "She's good," Sam said, mostly to himself.
"Yeah." Josh watched the screen over Sam's shoulder. "Yeah, she was always good, but she's growing into the role."
"We all are."
Josh couldn't see Sam's face but he was sure it had darkened. "Well, there isn't much of a choice, is there?"
Sam leaned back against him for a second, bare shoulder blade against bare collarbone. Then he pulled away and stood up. "You know, we're younger than the average historical age of White House staffers."
"What's the average historical age of White House staffers?" Josh asked, feigning interest.
"The hell if I know, but we've got to be younger than it, right?" Sam laughed mirthlessly. "Kissinger was fifty when he became Secretary of State. We're young. We're a new breed."
Josh leaned back on his elbows. "Viva la revolution."
Sam grabbed his jeans off the floor and yanked them on. "First queer boys in the White House."
"You don't know that. Hushen and Rumsfeld might've had a thing going on the side."
"You think it's funny?" Sam cocked his head toward the television. "You think C.J. would think it was funny?"
Josh heaved a sigh. "We're on vacation."
Sam loomed over him until he dressed. They took briefing books to the beach. After an hour of reading, they fielded a flurry of phone calls from Toby and Leo over utility deregulation and some idiot representative from Oregon mouthing off about it. Josh looked up from yelling into his cell phone and saw Sam walking towards the water. He'd carefully stacked his briefing books on the corner of his towel. Josh looked back at Sam, his sculpted back and browning skin walking towards the ocean.
"Josh? Josh, you there?" Leo crackled in his ear.
"Yeah. Yeah. Leo, ya need anything else?" Josh repressed a sigh.
"Nah. Enjoy your vacation."
"Call me if you need anything." Josh closed the phone but kept it in his hand. He walked to edge of the water and felt the tide come in around his toes and retreat across the sand. He watched Sam swim and bob in the waves, he thought, for hours.
Mandy sent him an e-mail on Friday morning, a group e-mail that went out to twenty other people, with her new swanky address in New York. He deleted it.
"Why?" Sam said, when Josh told him.
"'Cause I don't have any interest."
"No, why did she want you to have her address?"
Josh stuffed his sweatshirt into his suitcase, trying halfheartedly to separate dirty clothes from dirtier ones. "She likes to fuck with my head. She won't give that up without a fight."
"I thought she was never going to speak to you again. I thought she was pissed about you and Sarah Wissinger." Sam frowned thoughtfully at a coffee cup with the Georgetown Hoyas logo on it. "You think I'd get in trouble for taking this?"
"Yeah, with the crockery police. Grab it." Josh looked up as he piled a stack of folders in on top of his clothes. "There's no me and Sarah Wissinger."
Sam shook his head. "You're a prostitute."
"I didn't ask her for anything."
"Whatever you say, Lolita."
Josh forced the top of his suitcase down. "Anyway. Mandy. She's a bitch being a bitch, and I'm not gonna keep playing into her hands."
"Let me ask you this." Sam turned the blue mug around in his hands. "Do you hear yourself when you talk?"
"Do you hear yourself?" Sam repeated. "Or is it like on Charlie Brown when the adults speak and all they hear is jazz music?"
Josh stood up straight and walked over to him. "You got a problem, Sam?" They were inches apart and he could smell the beach on Sam.
"I. I don't have a problem, Josh." Sam went to the bathroom to get his razor and shampoo. Josh saw him holding the girly moisturizer. Sam shook it and threw it out. It was empty now.
Josh sat down on the bed. "I never slept with Sarah Wissenslut -- I never slept with her. Nothing happened. She's just -- she's weird."
"Mandy?" Sam called from the bathroom. He was rooting around in the bathroom, making sure they didn't leave anything. "Or Sarah?"
"Well, Sam, I said I never slept with her, so clearly not Mandy. I definitely slept with Mandy."
Sam came back into the room. "Mandy, though? Definitely weird."
Josh grinned. "Definitely. A degree of weird that baffles human understanding."
Sam picked up the Hoyas cup again and sat down next to him. "And not nice. Mandy? Not nice."
Josh watched Sam's hands as they played with the Hoyas cup. Josh said, "Mandy's not nice. And therefore, no more Mandy."
Sam laughed. "Yeah. 'Cause when you first started going out, she was like Mother Theresa."
Josh took the cup from Sam's hands and put it in Sam's bag, behind them. "Mother Theresa wasn't that nice, either."
Sam turned around to look at his bag. "It's stealing to take that cup."
"Uh. Look around. This is a nautical kitsch theme museum. Someone left that cup -- it did not come with the original furnishings. You're -- you're liberating it from this graveyard where stupid boat things go to die. You're setting it free to hang out someplace better." Josh put his hand on Sam's hip and kissed him hard. It was another hour before they finished packing.
They loaded their separate cars. Josh tried not to notice how Sam was looking at him, and was pretty successful at it. He'd practiced it after the first time they'd had sex, an abortive and plainly silly attempt on Josh's couch. He'd practiced it the next day when Sam kept darting looks at him, looks with tiny piercing questions attached, "are we okay?" and "what's next?"
He'd practiced the not-seeing after Sam sat down and said he was going to New York and ended everything the first time. But Sam's hands were nervous and fumbly, and Josh looked at them instead of his face and knew it wasn't exactly over.
Driving out of Nags Head, Josh stared at Sam's license plate and wished he would drive a little faster. They went past the golf place. Josh resisted the temptation to wave goodbye to the cheesy, decrepit windmill. He was only half surprised when Sam pulled off the road by the last ice cream stand.
"You're a sugar junkie," Josh called out the window as he stopped his car on the gravel.
"You can't get good soft serve in Washington," Sam yelled back. "I knew it eight years ago and I know it now."
Josh got out of the car and leaned against it, folding his arms. "We're gonna be late getting back, you know."
"And everyone will be really shocked, I'm sure." Sam dug some change out of his pocket and led the way to the counter. "God, I have so much to do when we get there. Chocolate, please, sugar cone. I don't want to think about what Toby's gonna do to me."
Josh winced at any of half a dozen mental pictures that came from that. "You know what I thought of today?"
"I can imagine."
Josh rolled his eyes. "I was thinking, you nymphomaniac, that this time last year was the convention."
"Men can't be nymphomaniacs," Sam pointed out. He gazed past Josh at the road. "That was huge."
"It was great."
"And, you know, now we have actual jobs." Sam paid the woman behind the counter and took his ice cream. He spoke around a mouthful. "And I can't take vacations like this anymore."
Josh turned and looked at the road too. Cars went by, expensive cars that probably belonged to retired men and women. He remembered driving some girl's piece-of-shit used Toyota around the area while five or six of his friends threw up out the windows. He didn't know how he'd managed to be the sober one. "You have a tendency," he said.
"Oh, God and Jesus." Sam pushed his free hand through his hair. "I have no tendencies."
"You have a tendency to make things that are really very simple--"
"Into these massive works of drama--"
"Shut up," Sam repeated. He walked past Josh toward his car and then turned back. "You can't just call me because you're bored."
"No." He squeaked just a little when he spoke; Josh didn't think it was cute. "No. You can't just call me because you're bored, and you can't just call me because Mandy's a bitch. Which she is. She's a tournament-level bitch, but it's not like that makes it all okay. And we--" Sam glanced behind him as if he expected to see a microphone or a camera. He lowered his voice to a hiss. "We work for the President, and almost everything is important now. So I can't just take off, and neither can you. Fun and boredom are not justifications. Let's go home now."
Josh didn't bother looking at Sam's face. He watched Sam's hands instead. "We had the days coming," he said, quieter than he'd intended.
Sam chuckled sadly to himself, but his hands were steady. "Okay."
"I mean, I didn't bring you down here in my trunk, buddy."
"Okay." Sam caught Josh's eyes and looked down at his hands, too. A drop of melted ice cream trailed down the cone and onto the base of his thumb. He licked it off quickly. "I'm gonna finish this. There'll be shitloads of traffic." Sam grimaced. "I gotta stop cursing so much."
Josh took a backward step. "Yeah. I'll probably stop for gas pretty soon."
"Later." Sam faced eastward, ruffled slightly by the breeze, and ate his ice cream. Josh stood for a moment, thinking of things that needed to be said and things that didn't. Then he walked back to his car and slid inside.
He turned on the air conditioning, letting it cycle through hot air before it offered any relief. As he waited, he dug an old pair of sunglasses out of the glove compartment, cleaned them on his sleeve and put them on. The car cooled down, and he drove out of Nags Head as fast as the other cars let him go.
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