Dancing to the Rumour Mill - part 3
Margaret looked wonderful, Toby thought, as he helped her into the car. He had seen the dress before at one of the White House receptions, but she had her hair up and was wearing some kind of necklace that really suited her. Margaret is a nice looking woman, he thought, with a certain amount of surprise.
"I'm really looking forward to this." Margaret said, as he put the car in motion. "I've seen most of the classical ballets, but I've never seen this one."
"The Firebird isn't done all that often." Toby replied. "I saw it a long time ago in New York, with the Harlem company."
"How was it?"
"I didn't like the interpretation." Toby said easily.
"Did they use Fokine's choreography?"
"I couldn't really tell, not having seen the ballet before."
"I heard that this is the classical interpretation, with the full score and the original choreography." Margaret commented. They talked about ballet and music all the way to the theatre and all through the interminable wait for the curtain to rise.
Toby relaxed into his seat. It was nice to be at the ballet with someone who knew so much about it. It was rare to find another ballet aficionado in the political world.
Margaret watched the ballet with rapt attention. She loved the ballet. She would scrimp and save to be able to buy tickets whenever she could, but this one was sold out long before she could save enough for it. She would have been here tonight in any case, hoping for a last minute cheap seat. She had never been able to afford orchestra seats, but now she was here, in a very good seat, with a date who actually liked the ballet.
She glanced at Toby, feeling very happy. He was surprisingly charming when he wanted to be. And the look on Leo's face all day at the thought of her dating Toby was worth every moment of the teasing the rest of the assistants gave her.
Then the music swelled again and she turned her attention to the stage.
"Oh, that was wonderful." Margaret enthused, leaning on Toby's arm and they walked to a nearby restaurant. Her high hells made her taller than him, but he didn't seem to mind either the height difference or the fact that she was leaning on him.
"It was great." Toby replied. "I particularly liked the fireball effect."
"That was very well done." Margaret said critically. "It didn't overshadow the pas de deux, though."
"You know a lot about ballet." Toby commented as he held her chair.
"I studied it for a few years." Margaret admitted. "I wanted to be a dancer."
"I hit twelve and started falling over my feet." Margaret said matter of factly. "Then I got too tall. Chorus girls can't be six feet tall en pointe and fall into the sets. How do you know so much about it?"
"My father was first violinist with the New York Symphony. He used to play for the various ballet companies and we'd go see him play." Toby admitted. "I think I can replay the music for every classical ballet in my head."
"I used to dream of going to New York and seeing all the concerts and ballets." Margaret said, with a smile. "I save up and go whenever Leo can spare me for a weekend."
"I haven't been back to New York except for work in years." Toby said ruefully. "I guess I forget how much is there to see and do."
"It happens when you live somewhere." Margaret said practically. "It's hard to get excited about something when it's always there."
"True." Toby consulted the menu, then turned to the waiter. "A split of champagne, please?"
"It's your birthday. You should celebrate." Toby smiled, taking a small package out of his pocket. "Here. Happy birthday."
"Oh, Toby." Margaret picked up the package with shaking fingers. "You didn't have to do this."
Margaret opened the box and took out the gift. It was a silver pin in the shape of ballet slippers. She put one hand to her mouth, trying to stifle tears. It wasn't an expensive, and therefore inappropriate, gift, but it was a pretty trinket.
With unsure gestures, she pinned it to her dress and leaned over to kiss Toby on the cheek.
"Thank you." She said, through a lump in her throat.
"You're welcome." Toby said quietly. He had seen the pin on his way home and thought it was a perfect present. He had been married long enough to know that most women liked jewellery on their birthday.
"Leo almost remembered my birthday this morning." Margaret commented, as they ate dessert.
"Has he ever remembered?"
"Not in the last eleven years." Margaret shook her head. "I keep hoping. He's getting better. Now if he'd only remember..."
"Remember what?" Toby prompted.
"How old I am." Margaret admitted, looking sad. "He thinks I'm thirty five this year."
"How old are you?"
"Thirty." Margaret braced herself for the look of surprise on Toby's face. He masked it better than most. "I know. I look a lot older than I am. I looked thirty when I was sixteen. I shouldn't let it bother me, but between Leo and my mother..."
"Your mother?" Toby echoed, still recovering from Margaret's revelation.
"My mother thinks I'm on the shelf." Margaret frowned. "I'm not married, not seeing anyone, and I've been in the same job since I was nineteen. I started working for Leo as soon as I graduated from secretarial school. She thinks it's time I moved on to something more important."
"How more important does she want?" Margaret burst out. "I work within twenty feet of the Oval Office. I love working at the White House. I would walk through fire for Leo, even if he does treat me like a backward child sometimes. Leo would be completely lost without me. I have one of the most important jobs in America."
"You and Mrs. Landingham."
"She's a role model for me." Margaret continued. "She doesn't think being a secretary is demeaning."
"Anyone who does obviously doesn't have one." Toby said dryly.
"Exactly." Margaret nodded. "As to the other thing, well, I don't have a lot of time on my hands. Leo keeps me pretty busy."
"And you don't want to settle for second best, just to please your mother."
"No." "My family wasn't happy when I married Andi." Toby said quietly. "They tried to talk me out of it. Not that talking me out of anything I believe to be right is really possible, but they tried. I wasn't willing to settle for second best."
"But... it didn't work out, did it?" Margaret laid a sympathetic hand on his.
"No. But I had fifteen years with a woman I loved instead of making do with someone else." Toby finished painfully.
"Was it worth it?"
"Oh, yes." Toby said fervently. "Don't let your mother talk you into anything less."
"I don't intend to." Margaret shook her head. "I tell her that. It's just that thirty is a milestone and I didn't really want to hear about how life has passed me by. Then Leo thinking I'm five years older. I just felt... old. Did you feel old when you turned thirty?"
"No." Toby's lips curved into a smile. "My thirtieth birthday was memorable, but it had nothing to do with my age."
"What were you doing?"
"I was working on Garry Templeton's campaign." Toby pushed away the remains of his dessert and sat back. "It was going well. I thought we had a real chance of winning that one. Until he went on television that night."
"He said, and I quote, a campaign is not the time to talk about issues." Toby shook his head. "Of course, that was the soundbite for the next two weeks. I grabbed him as soon as he went off air and gave him hell. I think I called him every synonym for stupid in the dictionary."
"And...?" Margaret was laughing. "He fired you."
"He punched me." Toby chuckled. "I took that to mean that I was not welcome on his campaign any longer."
"I take it he didn't win."
"Lost by a landslide."
Margaret was sleepy by the time Toby dropped her off. It was later than she was used to and she had had far too much champagne. Toby walked her to the door and she wondered if she should invite him in for coffee or something. It was a wonderful evening, but she really, really wanted to get to bed.
"Goodnight, Margaret. I'll see you Monday." Toby said simply, then, to her surprise, leaned forward and kissed her gently on the lips. "Happy birthday."
"Thanks." Margaret whispered. She watched him go back to his car with her hand to her lips, then went inside.
As she changed out of her dress and took the pins out of her hair, she thought back on the date. Toby was really very sweet. She hadn't thought he could be such a charming date, but she realised why he had been so nice to her. In that brief conversation about his ex-wife, she knew.
He was proving something to himself. He was proving his ex-wife wrong; proving that he could be attentive and considerate. The baggage from his marriage had been practically trailing behind him. He still loved Andrea; that was obvious. So was the effort he was making to prove to himself that he hadn't lost the ability to charm a woman. And, she thought as she brushed her teeth, he hadn't. She didn't want to go out with him again, but she could tell Leo with perfect truth that she had a terrific time. That would drive Leo right round the bend.