Five Times You Wished You Were That Other Guy
by Oro

i. I Am Josh's Raging Hormones.

Gabe passes him the joint and it feels like an Ave Maria.

Josh is nineteen years old and it's been however many years since Joanie died, today. He inhales the bittersweet inside, until it's past the point he can feel it; feel anything. He lets the smoke from his lungs mix with the already smoke-filled air, and smiles nonchalantly as he does so.

He closes his eyes and hopes to God that he's already high and done with like everybody else around him. Opening his eyes again, he lets his pupils a few seconds until his eyes adjust to the dim light.

Everything hits him at once, then; the sight of the room, which now seems a lot brighter, hits his retina like a million rays of light. God-awful music pushes itself into his veins and makes his blood dance. He has no idea what the hell they added to this seemingly- innocent drug, but it doesn't feel light at all; he feels light. He is the light, he is darkness and he is hallelujah, and the coeds across the room are much sexier now.

He is bravery.

He dances with a blue art history student who smokes a lot and talks about Rene Magritte like Josh is supposed to understand the finer aspects of the dead artist's work; he pretends to understand.

The sexy coed steps closer and whispers something in his ear. They dance like sex and smoothness and music. He is music and she follows along. She's not blue anymore but purple, and red, and when the old- fashioned disco-light turns white it doesn't occur to him that she's just a reflection of something else.

Her tongue is down his throat and he can't remember her name. Could have been Miranda, Winona, Alice; she tastes like marijuana, but maybe everything does; and maybe the 1980s are just like the 1960s, only with more computers.

Josh feels classical and somehow he ends up in a more secluded area of whoever's house this is, and there's a soft bed to drown in and a soft woman to caress, lick, kiss.

She calls him Joshua and he kisses her neck and breasts and stomach. She calls him Joshua, Joshua, Joshua, and he isn't completely sure why; she leans down to kiss him and they're a supernova together.

The music in his blood makes him dance and fuck and scream, and the sweetness in his mouth makes him shudder when it's gone.

"Fuck me, Joshua," says -- whoever the hell she is, he barely cares by now -- and his ear bleeds when she screams at the side of his neck to go harder.

He comes, and it's the most alive he's ever been.

She snuggles up next to him and kisses his cheek. "You're sweet," she says, and he looks into her eyes.

He regrets not knowing her name now.

"I don't feel very well," he says. Everything is hot and sticky and he vaguely recalls it being cool and wintery outside; though he could be mistaking. A fly flutters its wings too loudly and the buzz drills into Josh's head like too many bad hangovers.

He is vulnerability.

Mystery Girl offers a joint of her own. He's grateful enough and she sparks it. She lets him have the first go, and he can feel the bittersweet enter his lungs again. He lets it out and he is his lungs and everything he says that he is. He can feel his heart beat erratically and the music from the other room thumping inside his brain. It feels hollow. He takes the joint into his lips and inhales again.

"Thank you," he says. He is gratitude.

"You're welcome." She smiles. Her lips are swollen from making out and her voice is cracked from shouting in his ear.

He hopes he'll remember these things, because he never does, and she was nice enough to waste a joint on him. His mouth is suddenly very dry.

"I have to go now." He's halfway into his pants and she gets out of bed to embrace him from behind. He hopes she doesn't think he's her boyfriend now, or something; he doesn't want to be a couple. She kisses his shoulder and then lets him go.

Outside of the room, he can feel the nausea again. He is stickiness and melting and a puddle of whatever it is he was before, only liquid. People push him as they walk by him and he just wants everyone to go away and leave him the hell alone.

He runs to the bathroom, but his roommate's latest lay is in there; Amy. She yells at him to stop banging so loudly on the fucking door, she'll be right out, but her shout comes out muffled.

Josh mentally beats himself for knowing the name of the girl Chris is having sex with but not having a clue as to what the girl he just did is called. Maybe it was Andrea? Barbara? Chloe? Susan, possibly.

The door opens. Amy's hair is dark and her eyes are red and somewhat misty. She gives him a look when she emerges from the bathroom. "You look like shit," she says.

He tries to think of a smartass comeback, but instead he just runs to the toilet and throws up. Amy stays there, her hand moving in circles over his bare back.

She doesn't say anything and he's silently grateful for that.

Throwing up feels like after he was in a fire and inhaled too much smoke, and the doctor checked his lungs to see if there was any damage done.

Music feels like Mom crying behind the hospital-green curtain, and the doctor telling him to stand pressed against the wall so that he could take a picture of his insides; he was nakedness, he was humiliation, he was fear of internal damage. He still is.

It's glory and an anniversary of a sort, and he's empty inside.

Amy's hand rests on his back, and he shuts the world away.


ii. The Fall of Joshua Lyman.

"Madeleine, darling, you don't know what you're talking about," Josh shouts into his super-new, super-impressive cell phone. Not many have these now; they're black and big and he can't fit them into his pocket, but it has a flipper thing and fairly good reception. Or, hell, a cheaper long-distance rate than the other companies offered. It still makes him look impressive, which is what really matters. He's in the middle of the street, trying to bribe people to vote for John Hoynes. The city sidewalk cement is hard underneath the soles of the black leather shoes and his shoelaces are tightly knit, and he considers this a very good Tuesday. Super.

"Joshua, darling," she says smugly, and he can practically taste the peppermint gum between her teeth, "I think you need to look at things from my perspective, because that guy is going to cream you guys, and when he does, I'll be standing there. I'll be standing there, Josh, pointing and laughing."

"I never did like you much."

"Then why did you sleep with me for three years?" Mandy's smirk is nearly audible, in spite of distance and a million phone lines. Josh imagines her in a black and white high tech sort of office, overlooking Los Angeles pollutions and the UCLA Med School. He imagines an unused silver ashtray on a black hardwood desk, if only because its owner prefers to donate her share to the collaborative effort of destroying the environment altogether.

"Eh, you were an easy lay." He pauses. "Right. I gotta go now."

"Don't count on my vote today." Click.

Josh hangs up the phone, feeling superior. He counts fifty-nine minutes to zero hour, and he didn't even notice when the polls closed. He's just happy to be there, happy to be a lobbyist for the leading democratic candidate; at least, it was so this morning, and the exit polls don't look bad at all.

Now he needs to spit however many times to avoid tempting fate. They did just lose New Hampshire last month; these things are still to delicate to be trifled with.

Walking back to the campaign headquarters takes another thirty minutes, and he walks fast enough to make it twenty-eight. He walks in the door and nice old Texan ladies from Hoynes's mother's bridge club, who decided that following the campaign trail would be like going on vacation, wave at him. He waves back.

Josh yells at somebody's secretary to get him coffee, and anxiety begins to build up inside of him. He sits, eyes glued to the television, and his hand reaches to touch his own bristles. Though the Shiva passed, he hasn't had the time or energy to shave them off, and now they're thicker than ever and with the dark circles under his eyes, he looks like a homeless person. He thinks his father would've liked this, his son being with the survivors; Hoynes's people may have lost the Illinois primary, but they haven't given up on the campaign after that. Josh went back home for a week and then joined Hoynes in Ohio for the Super Tuesday. His father would have been proud. Josh blinks at the television.

They're winning; Hoynes won Maryland, Idaho, South Carolina, Texas. Texas gets the most cheers, of course, and Josh feels like things are starting to turn around for this campaign. Jed Bartlet wins New Hampshire, but it was a lost cause to begin with. Jed Bartlet wins Arkansas, and Josh's heart skips a beat.

And then it happens, and it's so painfully clear that Josh refuses to accept it.

They lost Super Tuesday.

He lost; New York, New England, California -- even Ohio, and the nice people at the polls said they were voting for Hoynes. Josh looks at his surroundings, and the room seems so useless. The people seem useless, and all the papers, and the cheap champagne they have in the fridge, just in case.

It is the most silent he's ever been, and he thinks that he can't hear the words; he can't possibly be hearing them.

A disappointed clatter starts to buzz around him, and his ambitions and dreams of a West Wing office crash to the ground silently, terrifyingly. His assistant, Janet, lets out a long sigh and offers coffee, because she's the only one practical enough to do so. Their speechwriter, Alan, who gave up writing for the Sacramento Bee to work for Hoynes, breaks out the champagne; he drinks straight from the bottle, and nobody cares because Hoynes passed on playing Vice President in case Jed Bartlet won. Always second place in the polls, and they could've been running with Bartlet by now, eating his cake and doing `the robot' to his music.

They never thought Americans were dumb enough to elect Josiah Bartlet over John Hoynes.

Somebody pats him on the shoulder and he blinks once, twice. He realizes that the television set he's been staring at has been turned off, and that his candidate is sitting in the other side of the room with his mother, already acknowledging the same thing Josh has been trying to shut out. Hoynes's mother offers a cookie, and her son turns to look at Josh. Suzanne's head is resting on Hoynes's shoulder and she looks the way Josh feels; he knows she hid victory balloons inside their War Room. Having a War Room is as useless as these balloons now.

Hoynes notices Josh's immobility and smiles a sad smile, and all Josh can think about then is that he bet the wrong horse when he could've had the winner. And the analogy seems so wrong, but it's too appropriate for the situation.

"An easy lay, eh?" Mandy says into his ear, from the other side of the continent. "I'm standing here, Josh. I'm pointing and laughing."

The agony of defeat is bitter in his mouth.


iii. Hardcore Superstar by Far; You're the Ultimate Star.

They interviewed him after Leo left, for Vanity Fair and George and whatever the hell else, he barely cares. It felt indecent, somehow; it's only been a week since Leo stepped down from his chair as Chief of Staff, and already they've buried him and declared Josh the new Chief of Staff. He is practically a superstar in the making, with his smile on every damn newsstand and Leo doing organic gardening in his home in Connecticut.

Lisa Sherborne asked him, for Vanity Fair, about his new office. He thought it was a stupid question and faked an arrogant smile as he said something about having a more comfortable chair, sure, but that wasn't the issue. Lisa didn't even bother to look embarrassed about it, she just moved on to the next question. He thinks now, after reading the article, that maybe there was something to it - the question, maybe a little insight about his personal stuff replacing Leo's model airplanes and model ships, but he felt uncomfortable to say that it hadn't changed at all. Leo smiled his fatherly smile when Josh asked him to leave some of his things there, and only said he'd miss this place, and Josh felt like a traitor. He still does, whenever he gets a little bit too comfortable in Leo's chair.

Josh flips through the glossy pictures and hates the pop star feeling all of this gives him. The way he got to his current status feels wrong - he couldn't save Leo from his public image, and now he's been promoted for not being able to do his old job. He fucked up and now he's being punished by sharing a door with the President of the United States.

Lisa Sherborne asked him, for Vanity Fair, what the biggest change in his job was. He said, "well, I get paid a lot more." She asked if anybody treats him differently now, and he replied that nobody does. Of course, they all do, but it's not any business of Lisa Sherborne or the readers of Vanity Fair.

Bartlet still hasn't gotten used to it; he still walks into Josh's office, sometimes, fully expecting to see Leo, but then he remembers that Leo doesn't work there anymore. There's a certain way he tries to hide his disappointment, by biting his lip and clearing his throat, that Josh feels worthless. And maybe he is only there to fill a chair and have his picture taken. Donna weeds out the fan mail he gets but never ceases to tease him about it.

Lisa Sherborne asked him, for Vanity Fair, about his added responsibility. He started his answer by saying, "yes, Lisa…" and it was obvious he blew that one, but it was the last question and it didn't matter because soon Lisa Sherborne was up close and pinned against the wall of her office. She breathed into his mouth and unzipped his pants, and somehow it made sense at the time. Later, she said that his answers don't matter anyway as long as he is on the cover of Vanity Fair. She said, "Everyone will know you're what's what," and he felt sleazy and business-like and sweaty, and of course he wasn't going to tell Sam, Lisa, you didn't have to remind him that.

He stares into the windows of a model airplane and wishes he was somewhere else; maybe in Connecticut, helping Leo with his organic gardening. He isn't one hundred percent sure of what exactly that is, but he'd like to help. The plastic shines in the lamplight, and Josh thinks, somewhat wishfully, about somebody familiar walking into his office without knocking. He dismisses the thought as whimsical and goes back to his five-page memo from Nancy McNally's office.

He is practically a superstar in the making, and this is the high life.


iv. Politics. Boy, I Don't Know.

He breathes in that new car smell, of leather and that thing they put on the dashboard, and a pine air refresher dangling from the car mirror. The car CD player blares Frank Sinatra, and it's the beginning of what seems to be a lovely day in Hartford. Josh's fingers tap on the wheel to the rhythm of Mack the Knife, and he checks his watch for the time; 8:30AM. The car drives smoothly and stops at the end of a traffic jam. He turns down the volume and presses 5 to speed-dial his office.

"Debevoise, Plimpton & Lyman, Joshua Lyman's office," his assistant, Marcia, answers the phone after three rings. She nearly spits out the words, fast and business-like, wasting no time.

"Hey, Marcia, it's Josh."

"Good morning, Mr. Lyman," she says efficiently. There's no friendliness between bosses and assistants in Debevoise, Plimpton & Lyman, though sometimes he wishes there would be.

"Right. Listen, I'm stuck in traffic, I don't think I'll be able to make it to the Bauer meeting. Do you suppose you can call Adrian and tell him to sit in for me?"

"Alright, Mr. Lyman, I'll get right on that." He can hear her type up his instructions.

"Thanks. And Marcia -- Mr. Lyman is my father. Call me Josh."

There's an awkward pause. "Okay, Mr. -- Josh," she finally says.

Josh presses `end' and turns the volume back up. He doesn't know why he even bothers with Marcia. The traffic jam begins to move forward a little bit, and Josh switches to radio to try and catch the results of last night's Yankees game in vain. Every station he switches to is covering Election Day, which he finds a mind-numbing bore.

Yeah, he's a registered Democrat, and he carries his card in his wallet, next to his organ donor card and pictures of Sarah and the kids, but he doesn't usually care for the game. He just doesn't get excited about these candidates who always end up being either stupid or liars or stupid liars. Voting is something he does casually, on the way to do things that actually matter. He looks at his watch again, and he's got a free half hour before he has to be in the office. He'll go and vote while he's at it, if only because he believes that a person has to vote in order to ever argue about politics with other people, and he just likes to have the option.

It takes another fifteen minutes of playing the license plate game with the same three cars until he manages to free himself from the horrid traffic jam.

Josh's car shines silver when he parks it in front of Hartford Public High School, where a line has already begun to form. He smiles faintly; he feels like he's seventeen every time he walks into that place, even if it was too many years ago and he's made it to their successful alumni list. He still feels like that guy with the potato bong or whatever it is his social life used to consist of. Now he thinks about little Katie and Joanie attending that school a few years from now. But there's still time for these things; Katie is only in second grade, and Joanie is in fifth.

A twenty year old college girl with half-rim glasses and a Bartlet for America button pinned to her gray sweatshirt offers him a button, and he looks at her strangely, because he hasn't considered who to vote for yet. He voted Bartlet last time he was hear, without giving it a moment's doubt, but things have considerably changed since then. He used to think of Jed Bartlet as a good, honest, intelligent man who would make a good president; but Bartlet fucked it all up with his stupid MS lie. Josh takes the button anyway and sticks it inside the pocket of his charcoal Armani suit.

An old lady in a long plaid skirt guides him towards a booth, and it feels dirty. These booths are small and always remind him of port-a- potties, from the way they're arranged to their trivial rectangle shape. He's there a good ten minutes before finally marking Ritchie's name on the ballot. He just can't vote for Bartlet -- not again -- and Ritchie has something nice going with his tax policy, maybe, he is quite sure. Josh hopes that this is the guy he's thinking of, anyway, and regrets not having paid more attention to these things before. He stares at the white paper, and he knows that inside his brown leather wallet, his voting card wilts with shame. He doesn't really mind.

Josh walks out of the school and back into his silver SUV. He turns Frank Sinatra back on and sings along to Mr. Bojangles, and it feels like he's made the right choice this time. The car drives smoothly on the newly repainted road that undulates before him, and he might just make it on time for his next meeting.


v. I Woke Up Early the Day I Died.

Josh can't feel his hands anymore.

Donna comes by every day to feed him with a spoon and try not to break down in tears when he begins to spasm. She turns on the television in Josh's bedroom in hopes that he still cares about the news; he rarely does care about anything anymore, but Donna can't tell the difference. She holds him close and, in the part of him that's still able to produce coherent thought, he wonders if someone's paying her to do this. He knows he's disgusting.

At least he can't feel it when he's shaking anymore.

He's in a wheelchair, and sometimes he has visitors other than Donna. His family is no longer alive, but CJ Cregg, Toby Ziegler, Leo McGarry -- even the President and Dr. Bartlet -- try to stop by every now and then to show they still care. Try to pretend it doesn't hurt to see a brilliant mind go to waste; a friend who is younger than most of them dying.

And Josh really thought things were looking well for him, before. Before his hands started to shake too much during the Bartlet campaign, before he forgot to finish sentences. When he was still able to fucking pee on his own.

There's all this anger he's been building up inside these past months, at this body of his that betrays him, locking him inside forever. He can barely speak now, and he's losing his hearing.

Donna wipes off excess food that drips from his mouth and wonders if he can recognize her at all. She hugs him as his body shakes involuntary, and she whispers in his ear that she does not get paid enough to do this. Her tears fall into his hair and the room blurs in front of him.

Sam shows up too fucking late.

Josh wants to throw things at him, anything, and ask where the hell he was all that time. This is the ideal scene, in Josh's mind, but instead of throwing a tantrum, he just shakes pathetically. That's all he ever does anymore. He looks like Riff Raff on the Rocky Horror Picture Show now, only with different hair. The analogy would've been funnier, maybe, if he could make the words come out. But maybe it was lame to begin with.

"I'm sorry, Josh," is all Sam says. He sits on the edge of Josh's bed, and the room smells like old people and medication. It smells like illness, preparing for the quieter moments when Josh's brain ceases to function and his lungs stop moving; the morbid strangeness of death.

Josh is like a stranger now, and Sam wishes he could tell Josh something nice.

He doesn't have anything nice to say.

"Donna says you've agreed to eat now, that's good." Sam says quietly, eventually, sing-song-y, like he's talking to a small child. "She says you've been sleeping more." She said, that she thinks your pain could end any day now. Or do you even feel anything anymore?

Sam feels like an idiot and he can tell that he's only upsetting Josh further; maybe he shouldn't have come at all. He watches his best friend's body moving involuntarily, his face thinner from not being able to eat solid food anymore. Something about the greatest minds of our generation, but it doesn't fit at all. He doesn't know what to tell a man who's been worn down by something he can't control.

He wraps his arms around Josh, trying to stop him from shaking, and the tears fall down freely then. He's not a very strong person or a very brave person, and the reason he hasn't come until now is that he's not a very good friend, either. "I'm so sorry," he cries into Josh's shoulder, "I'm so sorry."

Josh becomes very still then.

He can't feel anymore.

The time of death is 5:47pm, just enough time just in time to make it into the six o'clock news: Joshua Lyman, Bartlet White House Deputy Chief of Staff, dies at the age of forty-three, after a long battle with Multiple Sclerosis.

500 people will attend Josh's funeral. They will all feel sad at the sight of his shapeless body inside a sack and wonder why Jewish funerals can't be nicer. 240 of the funeral attendees will cry. Twenty-seven people will only be there to make sure, but that's what it's like when you're Joshua Lyman. There will be numerous speeches, because the deceased was a very important man during his lifetime, which everyone will agree ended up being too short.

Toby Ziegler will get to read one of his speeches, for once. The President will read another. Both speeches will be thoroughly polished after twelve drafts.

Nobody from Josh's family will be there; he was the last one.

It will be a windy day, just at the end of September.


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