Disclaimers in PT 1
By the Bondi Gargoyle
"You make it sound like they're about to make love on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, Leo. I'm just saying they make a nice couple"
"And I'm just saying leave well enough alone."
Northwest Flt 6007 BWI-Milwaukee
6:00 p.m. CST
"I booked a rental car." Donna declared after about twenty minutes of complete silence. Josh put down his book, reached over and began to eat the peanuts that she had opened but failed to ingest.
"Why do peanuts always taste better on airplanes?" he asked
"Because they only give you about six. Did you hear what I said?"
"That you rented a car."
"Okay. You know as much as Airforce One is actually more comfortable, I find I miss the peanut thing. "
"It's about an hour and a half drive to my parents place from the airport." Donna explained, refusing to be distracted by Josh's comparison of commercial and presidential air travel.
"You don't mind driving that far, in the dark?"
"Cause I thought it would be better if we had our own vehicle. Just in case."
"It sounds fine."
Another five minutes passed. Josh picked up his book again.
"I reserved a large one."
"A large what?"
"Car. Some big sedan."
"But it's snowed and maybe I should have asked for an SUV or something."
"Donnatella listen to me!" he commanded, slamming his book. " I've never seen you like this before. You need to relax before you implode."
"I know. I'm little freaked."
"You deal with the leaders of the free world on a daily basis."
"I don't have to eat Thanksgiving dinner with them."
Josh chuckled at his sudden image of the G8 and Donna around turkey and stuffing. She glared at him
"It's not funny Josh"
"No" he agreed trying to look serious. He took her hand "It will be fine. I promise. The car will be fine; the drive will be fine. We'll make sure there are chains in the trunk before we leave. I won't argue politics with your father. I'll remember I'm a dinner guest and not the Deputy Chief of Staff and say please when I ask your mother to pass me the gravy, of which I will definitely ask for seconds because its her specialty. Most importantly, I will not say anything bad about the Green Bay Packers despite the fact that this year their passing game sucks and my high school football team ran a better defense."
"I'm just getting it out of my system."
"Do you remember who everyone is? We could go over it one more time"
"I've got it. Your dad is David and he just retired last year but he was a bank president-"
"Don't bring up the S'n'L scandals"
"Check. Your mother is Roberta, Berti to friends and she's a junior high principal-"
"Better steer away from the Education Bill."
"Donna, if you keep taking away topics at this rate, then by the time we get to the house they're going to think I'm a mute. Moving on to your brothers and sisters. Pete and Joanne are twins then Rick then Betsy, then you. Is that right?"
"Trust me its all going to be fine."
"It's not too late to back out." Donna noted as they walked through the Milwaukee airport
"Stop." Josh turned and looked at her. "I give you my solemn vow I am not going to screw this up. I help run the country, for pity's sake, I can manage one long weekend. Will you please trust me?"
Donna smiled "I have every faith in you Joshua." Her face fell as she added, " I'm just worried that once you've seen my genetic programming you'll want to fire me."
They were interrupted by a booming voice calling "Donna!' across the concourse. They turned to see two figures waving and cutting through the crowd toward them.
"Do you know them?"
"It's my brother and sister."
Josh stared at the huge man approaching.
"Your brother is the Chicago Bears' defensive co-ordinator? He's that Pete Moss?"
"Your brother played in and in fact won three Superbowls."
"Not by himself."
"He played in eight consecutive all-star games, won countless MVP's and was a first round draft pick."
Donna turned "I'll get you an autograph." she hissed "But for now, drop it."
"How come he's with the Bears and not Green Bay?" Josh whispered as the couple came to a halt in front of them
"That's another topic you can't bring up." Donna muttered as she was pulled into a literal 'Bear' hug
"Hey Little D!" her brother swung her around much to Josh's amusement.
"Please put me down" Donna begged in vain
The tall elegant woman next to Pete looked Josh up and down with an expression that left him feeling as though he was standing in the terminal naked. Given that Donna was in no position to make introductions, Josh took the first step.
"Are you Betsy or Joanne? I'm Josh."
"Josh?" she repeated "Everyone seems to think your name is Doug."
Too late Josh remembered Donna had named her mystery date, 'Doug'. It was one of the few details on which she hadn't drilled him.
"Why would they think that?" asked Donna having been restored to her feet.
"'Cause that's what you told us."
"No, I didn't. I wish people would listen for once." Donna lied without hesitation. "Josh Lyman, this is my brother Pete Moss"
"I'm a big fan" Josh gushed as they shook hands, ignoring the swift kick Donna delivered to his ankle.
"Well if you're taking good care of my baby sister, the feeling is mutual." Pete assured him, smiling broadly
"And this is Joanne, who I thought was in Oregon with her in-laws for the holiday." Donna continued, her voice becoming noticeably cooler.
"Nope here I am" Joanne said a tad smugly. "Here we all are."
"Which leads to the question 'why'?" asked Donna "I told Mom we'd rent a car and drive out to the house."
"Yeah, Mom told me," Pete said, shaking his head. "You should have known Ricky or I would come get you. I don't want you driving all that way in the dark. Besides, it snowed."
"Pete I grew up here in Wisconsin, Josh grew up in Connecticut, we've both driven in snow."
"What kind of family get together is it, if no-one meets you at the airport? Come on lets go."
"I thought the extra car..." Donna began as Pete began to walk away
He turned and walked backward, correctly assuming people would scatter around his bulky frame. "There's my Tahoe, Rick and Roz's Minivan, Mom's Volvo, Jo's Volvo, Dad's Intrepid, Kev and Betsy's, um what do they have Jo...Pathfinder. Kid, if we get any more cars in the front of the house, people are going to start accusing us of marrying our cousins. Come on."
Donna stared after her brother, utterly miserable. Josh put his arm through hers in the most fianc"e like manner he could manage." It will be fine," he breathed in her ear. "Okay?"
As they passed the rental desks, Donna made one last attempt to regain control.
"Pete we're going to get charged for the car, we might as well use it."
"You're not going to get charged, not this weekend" Pete replied confidently. Then he turned and called out: "Anyone here need a car reservation? We have one we aren't using."
Pete was immediately swamped and Donna watched helplessly as he sorted out who was first, cut in front of about twenty people to make arrangements with the clerk, was forgiven by all twenty as he was recognized and started signing autographs.
"I don't believe it," Donna muttered. "He's a football coach, you work for the President, he's the one they recognize."
"Yeah well I'd rather not get recognized, thanks very much," Josh pulled Donna into his arms, "and, as you may remember, we lost Wisconsin"
"Which as I recall was my fault." Donna smiled
"Hey it's your state."
"By the way, what are you doing? "
"Hugging you." said Josh "Though technically, this might be holding rather than hugging. Hugging might be sort of tighter"
"Why are you doing either?"
"I'm keeping up appearances." He muttered through, what was now a slightly forced, smile. "I'm supposed to be marrying you."
"I told you this was going to get weird."
"Only if you make it that way. You minored in drama, pretend I'm someone you find attractive."
She closed her eyes for a minute. "Its no good. I just can't see you as Matthew MacConnaughey."
"Yeah what were his SAT scores? "
"Aren't they cute?" Joanne's voice cut through the din, a razor dipped in syrup. " Can't keep their hands off each other."
"I remember when Stac and I were like that," reminisced Pete. "Make the best of it now, Buddy" Pete slapped Josh on the back "Things will change once you start having kids."
Donna wasn't sure if it was her brother's enthusiastic slap or the thought of having kids that caused Josh to cough but he dropped his arms and stepped back from her.
"All taken care of?" he asked weakly
"Piece of cake" Pete declared
"You the man."
Pete elected to drive through the city so his soon-to-be brother-in-law could see it. Josh politely followed Pete's monologue with one ear, nodding and making affirmative noises as the city's highlights were highlighted. Most of his brain was trying to remember what Donna was doing when they'd been here during the campaign. Probably whatever he'd told her to do, he concluded. He had a vague memory of her canceling lunch with her mother to help him prep for a press conference.
"Let's see your ring," Joanne demanded of Donna
Holding her hand out to her sister, Donna met Josh's eyes in the rear view mirror, her expression clearly that of gratitude. Josh had insisted that she should be wearing an engagement ring.
"Donna they're going to ask." He'd said roughly forty times until she'd given in. He'd insisted that she leave it to him and that morning had tossed her a small jewelry box on his way to senior staff. Not the world's most romantic presentation, but given their situation, quite appropriate.
"It's sort of odd isn't it " Joanne commented.
Donna could have slapped her.
"Actually" Josh said in the calm, amused, condescending tone he usually reserved for members of the opposition who were about to be served their words with a side of fries and a coke. "My mother gave me that ring. It is in fact a family heirloom, and it means a great deal to both Donna and I"
This was, actually, in fact, a blatant lie. The ring, which was based on the ornate Faberge eggs, consisted of an interwoven green enamel pattern overlaid with a small cross of diamonds. It was originally designed in 1911 for the Russian royal family. Donna knew this because it said so on page thirty-four of the Metropolitan Museum of Art catalogue. Six months earlier, Josh had been reading over her shoulder as she browsed through the catalogue on a return flight from New York. She had forgotten that she'd circled this particular ring until Josh had given it to her.
"Did I say odd? I meant unique"
Donna hoped her sister didn't do much catalogue shopping
Caton Park, Wis.
9:52 p.m. CST
"Nice touch." Donna murmured as Josh opened the car door for her.
She held up left hand
Are you ready for this?"
Josh grinned, "Ready."
"Lets go." Donna put her hand on the front door, took a deep breath and pushed it open.
The Moss family was assembled in the living room and they all stopped talking as the newcomers stepped in.
"Hi" Donna sketched a wave feeling like she was waving at a cage of tigers, all of whom pounced at once.
Josh found himself in the middle of a whirlpool of people shaking his hand, hugging Donna, tossing names and questions at him from every direction.
"Okay time out." Berti Moss yelled out with a well-used voice of authority. Her family fell silent as surely as did her eighth graders.
"You'll cause the poor boy's brain to melt. Josh, welcome to our home."
"I thought his name was Doug," said a woman who Josh thought was either Pete's wife Stacy or the middle sister Betsy
"That's what I said." Joanne piped in.
"No, his name is and always has been Josh." Berti said firmly.
"Thank you for inviting me Mrs. Moss" Josh said carefully when he realized everyone was waiting for him to speak.
"Please, call me Berti. You're marrying our baby after all. Now you've met Pete and Joanne. Let me introduce the rest of the clan. This is my husband David."
Josh stepped forward and shook the older man's hand "Go Packers" he said
"I like him" David announced.
Donna nodded, rolling her eyes slightly.
"This is my other son, Rick."
Still holding Josh's offered hand Rick looked at his brother "We could take him, 'cha think Pete?"
"No!" Donna half shouted.
"We? You could take him on your own." Pete replied shaking his head
"Donna what are they talking about?" Josh looked vaguely worried. Maybe this whole thing was a set up to punish him for not always being as nice as he should to his assistant.
"They're talking about Snowbowl, and he's not playing."
"Richard." Berti snapped
"The heck he's not Little D, it's a family tradition."
"He's not family yet"
"Of course he is, Baby" David Moss interjected. "You'll play football with us won't you Josh?"
"Sure." He answered suspecting it was a rhetorical question.
" 'Course he will. He'll play on my team. Packers Man." David patted his new teammate's shoulder
"We'll discuss this later," Donna said firmly though no one other than Josh seemed to hear.
Berti restarted the introductions "This is Rick's wife Roz, their boys Tony and Mike are asleep down in the rec. room." she said the second part loudly and there was a muffled sound rather like small feet descending carpeted stairs. "This is my middle girl Betsy and her husband Kevin. And this is little Davy." Berti paused to coo over her youngest grandchild, asleep in his father's arms. "You'll meet their daughter Chloe in the morning Lets see who else? Rob, Jo's husband, will be joining us tomorrow. Right?"
"Right Mom, " Jo mumbled, the wind momentarily pulled from her sails Donna regarded her eldest sister with curiosity.
"And this is Pete's wife Stacy."
Stacy shot him a particularly sympathetic look.
"Mom!" a small voice rang out.
Stacy sighed. "Dylan I told you to get some sleep," she called over her shoulder.
"I want a drinkawata."
"And that's Dylan." Berti finished as a little ginger-headed boy peeked around the corner, only to be shooed back toward the kitchen by his mother
"Wow." Josh said meaningfully "If I ever needed a cheat sheet."
"Don't worry, you'll figure out who we all are," Berti promised.
Actually, Josh thought, it wasn't that hard. Donna looked remarkably like her sisters, and he could recognize Pete easily. Rick looked like a dead ringer for his father David, so all Josh had to keep straight were spouses and children. Only he could only remember Dylan's name. Okay it was going to be harder than he figured. But if he managed the names of every ruling leader of every country in Africa, he could manage Donna's family, couldn't he?
"You must both be tired after your flight. Donna, you're in your old room."
"Great where am I?" asked Josh.
Everyone looked amused
"Donna's old room" said Berti her eyes twinkling
"Who's in the study?" Donna tried and failed to sound nonchalant
"Chloe. You weren't thinking of putting Josh in there were you Donna? On the love seat?" Jo laughed "He'll turn into a human pretzel. Hardly good preparation for Snowbowl."
"I cannot have been this bad as a child" Donna moaned under her breath. She tuned to Josh "Come on."
"Come on!" Donna repeated turning bright pink and yanking him out of the room.
She led him up two flights of stairs into a midsize room in what had once probably been the attic. One wall was taken up by a bookshelf/desk unit, which still held relics of Donna's childhood and adolescence. On the other wall was a sofa bed, pulled out and fully made up. On it rested two sets of towels. In between were two dormer windows and a large armchair. Josh dropped his bag onto the floor and himself into the chair.
Donna sat on the bed.
"Donna," he began quietly
"I thought you'd be in the study. I forgot Chloe was old to sleep on her own. If I was trying to get you into bed believe me I would have done it in Washington."
He smiled slightly
"I didn't realize you'd given that any thought at all."
"Josh, don't. And don't say its going to be fine."
"Well maybe I can sleep somewhere else."
"Like a motel? My brothers and sisters are in their old rooms. Dylan, Tony and Mikey are down in the rec. room. Mom has the same plan every year."
"I could sleep in the bath tub."
"Look take the bed I dragged you out here it's the least I can do."
"And where will you sleep?"
"I'll grab some spare blankets and sleep on the floor."
"There are spare blankets with this many people in the house?"
"You and I are the only ones who don't live within driving distance. They all travel like they're heading across the Great Divide; food, blankets, Barney videos."
"Well go grab some and I'll take the floor."
"Oh what kind of gentleman do you think I am? Besides if it ever got back to President I'm sure as punishment, I'd have to listen to the American history of bedding."
Donna went and fetched blankets "It's not going to get back to the President is it?"
"No." Josh assured her, taking them out of her hands and beginning to construct a pallet. "I am however really surprised that your parents let their as yet unmarried youngest daughter share a bed with a man."
"You know in colonial times, engaged couples often slept together. In a practice called 'bundling' they were separated..."
"I know what bundling is," Josh cut her off. "Is your mother going to sew me into a sack?"
"She doesn't have to. You've seen Pete; you rattled off the statistics of his career. If we were actually involved, would you be doing anything of a sexual nature to his baby sister under this roof?"
Josh thought for a moment "Not a chance."
"See. You're going to pay for it anyway though."
"Snowbowl. If I were you, I'd sprain an ankle when you come down the stairs tomorrow."
"It's a friendly football game."
"It's full contact and Dad and Pete don't play on the same team."
"That's a guarantee?"
"Bears. Packers. Need I say more? And Rick'll play with Pete because Rick's always followed his big brother around. Try very hard to get Kevin, Rob's useless. Providing Rob even puts in an appearance," Donna paused lost in thought over her sisters marriage, but as she glanced at Josh she remembered his impending doom." Then there's the fact that both my brothers know if they hit Dad they have to answer to Mom so, instead, they'll hit you."
"You're sleeping with their little sister."
"Not so much," Josh protested pointing at his makeshift bed.
"I tried to get you out of it but no, you had to jump in and agree."
"I'm supposed to be your fianc"e! I was trying to be agreeable."
"Josh you're the least agreeable person I know, well next to Toby. Why start now?"
"Speaking of Toby, I knew you should have brought him."
"I'm still voting for Sam."
"Donna in retrospect, I would have been better served by hearing less about the rental car and more about Snowbowl."
"I know. I'm sorry."
She looked so apologetic that Josh's ire dissolved, "Don't worry about it too much."
"Do you want the bathroom first?"
"No thanks, you go ahead."
As she went to change, Josh turned to the Donna-museum occupying the bookshelves. There were soccer trophies, drama certificates, a photo that indicated she held at least a green belt in some martial art. The books ranged from Trixie Belden to Catcher in the Rye to Dostoyevsky. A collection of Dorothy Parker caught his eye and he pulled it out looking for a favourite quote. The inscription in front read "Donna I will always love you, Mark" and tucked between the pages was a photograph. It was Donna sitting on a set of steps. She was wearing a U.W. Badgers T-shirt and a man sat behind her, his arms around her, his cheek pressed against hers. The date on the back was exactly one year before Donna had walked into Bartlet's New Hampshire campaign headquarters.
"Put those back please."
Josh looked up. Donna was standing in front of him. Her expression spoke of invasion.
"I didn't mean to pry. There's a great Dorothy Parker quote I wanted to show you-"
"Its alright just put them back."
"Donna is this-"
"Josh what part of 'put them back' isn't clear to you?"
He carefully replaced the photo on the page where it had been and returned the book to the shelf.
"Sorry. I'll go get changed."
"End of the hall just before the stairs."
Donna was already in bed when he returned, dressed for bed in Harvard boxers and a Yale T-shirt. Quietly he got under his covers.
"Will you be warm enough?" she asked softly as she snapped off the bedside light.
"I'll be fine."
So you keep saying." She chuckled softly
"Yeah, well, that was before I knew about Snowbowl," he replied, his smile evident in his voice.
"I'm sorry I snapped before."
"My fault. I shouldn't have been digging. I was just curious. I don't know that much about you before you joined the campaign. I know you had more majors than some liberal arts colleges but beyond that you're a bit of an enigma, Ms Moss"
"Perhaps because you never ask?" she returned falling easily into their comfortable patter.
"I asked fifteen minutes ago and almost lost a vital organ."
"Yes," she said after a moment's hesitation.
"Yes?" Josh repeated
"Yes the guy in the picture is Mark a.k.a. Dr Free Ride."
"Why do you keep them, the book the picture?"
"To remind myself not to make the same mistake again."
"In that case, perhaps you should take them back to Washington."
"Oh gee, I wonder why I don't open up to you more often" she rejoined laughing
Josh propped himself up on one elbow "Donna, maybe I shouldn't say anything but did Mark realize that... well I've never read anyone as cynical as Dorothy Parker when it comes to romantic love."
"I would say Mark's entire canon of literary experience consisted of assigned texts and Spiderman comic books. I have always suspected he asked a recently broken-hearted bookstore clerk for a recommendation."
They both laughed.
"So who dumped who?" Josh ventured
"As I said when I first met you I dumped him."
"Came to your senses?"
"I always hated Peter Parker. Green hornet, now there was a hero."
"Night Josh. "
Some time later after she was sure Josh was asleep Donna muttered "Or I suppose it could have been the fact that he had an affair."
Still awake, Josh imagined having Mark run over by a tank division or three.