Less than a week after his wife’s funeral, Al Eddington made a point of showing up at the Thursday Advisory Board meeting. He was greeted warmly by the group. Sharon, sitting next to him, at one point, reached over and touched his arm. He yanked it away.
Some minutes later, Sharon made a comment on Chinese armaments.
“That’s nonsense,” Al suddenly snapped.
“I got it from my usual source,” Sharon said. “He’s been pretty accurate.”
“He’s an idiot!” Al snarled.
“Al, what’s going on?” Mark asked, cautiously.
“Nothing. Nothing at all.” Al shifted uncomfortably.
Mark moved the meeting forward quickly, asking Sharon for a private briefing. As the meeting broke up, he pulled Al aside.
“Al, you didn’t have to come in today,” Mark said.
“It’s better than staying at home,” Al grumbled. “Look, I’ll be fine. I’m better off keeping active.”
“That may be,” said Mark. “But I don’t want you distracted. It’s hard on the team.”
“I get it. I’ll be fine.”
“Well, do us a favor and take tomorrow off. I get not wanting to hang around the house, but you need to be someplace else for the time being.”
Al frowned. “Is that an order?”
“Yes, it is.”
The next day, a sense of relief rippled through the room when it became obvious that Al was not going to show. The meeting moved on in a timely fashion, and after it broke up, Sharon, Karen, Mackie and Gus met at a local restaurant for lunch.
“So is it true Jugs banned Al from the meeting?” Mackie asked as she frowned at the menu.
“That’s the rumor,” Karen said. She laid her menu down and leaned on the table. “You should have seen him go after Sharon yesterday.”
“He’s entitled to his opinion,” Sharon said, then buried her head back in the menu.
The waiter appeared and everyone ordered, then chit-chatted until the food arrived.
“Are you sure you’re okay?” Gus asked Sharon as he dug into a good-sized salad.
Sharon glared at her pork cutlet. “I’m raw, I guess. I know Al doesn’t always agree with what I come up with, but he’s never been that harsh before. It really caught me off guard.”
Mackie frowned. “He did seem really angry at the funeral. Would it be safe to say he’s not dealing with his grief well?”
“He’s not dealing with it at all,” said Karen between bites of a smaller chicken Caesar salad. “I talked to his daughters at the gathering afterwards. He’s been pushing them away, yelling at the grandkids. His eldest suggested he go to grief counseling and he almost threw her out of the funeral.”
“It’s really hard for guys like Al,” Gus said. “He’s had to keep himself buttoned up all his life. The only acceptable emotion for him to show is anger.”
“It’s worse than that,” said Karen. “He’s feeling guilty. At least, his daughters think so.”
“That makes sense,” Sharon said. “He’s been smoking so long and Caroline was the one to get lung cancer. He probably feels like he gave it to her.”
“You could almost say that he did,” said Mackie. “I don’t have the stats on second-hand smoke to hand, but I’ve read that it’s worse than the actual smoking.”
Gus reached for his phone. “I could look it up.” He paused. “Nah. What’s the point? And besides, Caroline did choose to live with him smoking like that.”
“That’s kind of irrelevant,” said Sharon. “The bigger question is what do we do to help him? I’m not wild about playing bullseye for his target practice, but if it will help him get past the anger stage.”
Karen and Mackie shook their heads.
“There really isn’t much we can do,” Mackie said.
“Plus he shouldn’t be allowed to abuse you just because he’s upset,” Karen added.
Which put a slight pall on the lunch. However, when the group got back to the White House, Al was waiting in Sharon’s office.
“I owe you an apology,” he grumbled.
“Accepted,” said Sharon.
Al looked up and saw Gus, Mackie and Karen. “I guess I owe you guys, too.”
They murmured their acceptances and Al stalked off.
“You think Jugs..?” Karen asked.
Sharon shrugged. “Maybe he’s getting past his angry stage.”
“I doubt it,” said Gus. “He’s just getting a better grip on it, is all.”
“So now what?” Karen asked.
“Just let him be,” Gus said.
The following Tuesday, Al didn’t show up for the Advisory Board meeting until it was almost over. It was Gus’s birthday that day, so there was a small party for lunch. Afterwards, Al announced that he’d asked Mark for an office in the West Wing.
“It’ll be easier to keep on top of things,” he said. “And I don’t have to hang around an empty house all day.”
“Maybe you could get a dog,” Eli offered.
Al glared, then forced a smile. “We’ll see.”