Disclaimers in PT 1
By the Bondi Gargoyle
Josh barged out of the kitchen
"Okay Pete bring it on!"
The pass Pete fired at him hit him right in the numbers and almost knocked the wind out of him. Fortunately he was saved from having to make immediate comment by Berti's command to "Take it outside."
The Moss's had a large backyard flanked at each end by a couple of tall oak trees.
" Those are the end-zones." Pete explained pointing at the four trees. "We play three downs, first team to eighty, wins. Or whoever's leading at dinnertime."
"Dinner time?" Josh looked at his watch
"Which today is at three o'clock." Donna whispered
"That's five hours away."
"You wanted to do this"
"So since Rob's still not here." Pete glared at Joanne, who flipped him her middle finger "Rick and I will take on the rest of you."
"So what do you women folk do, while all this is going on?" asked Josh, jumping up down to try and warm up. "Cook?"
"Like Mom lets anyone into her kitchen. No we stay here and watch your humiliation."
"All of you?"
"Its part of the tradition, hence the bleachers." Donna pointed to a small multi-tier bench against the back wall of the garage.
"I'm going to regret this aren't I?" Josh said finally accepting reality.
"Yes but I love the fact that you're willing to go though it." She smiled benevolently.
"Any final advice?"
"Stretch" Josh repeated watching her walk away
"Boys!" Donna called out "I have to give him back to the President on Monday. Just remember this, if you break him, you have to explain it to the Commander-in chief of the Armed Forces. All of them even the SEALs and Rangers and Airhorn guys."
"Airborne guys" Rick corrected
"You know what I mean."
"Okay," Kevin said joining Josh and speaking for the first time. "Rick is a horrible football player. The girls always say 'my brothers', plural, out of kindness but he's a cream puff. If you've got the ball, deke him out and if he's got the ball, hit him low."
"And what do I do about Pete?"
"Pray." Kevin said solemnly.
"Ready boys?" David joined them. "Now my daughters' honor is at stake. I don't want it said that they brought home whoosses."
"Don't worry, Sir, we'll make them proud." Kevin assured his father-in -law.
"Okay first play. I'll fake to Kevin, Josh go long, I'll pass to you."
Rick and Pete stood waiting
"Think he'll open with fake to Kevin pass to Josh?" asked Rick
"Has he ever opened with anything else?"
"You want Josh or Kevin?"
"Oh lets give him one." Pete said generously
"One what?" Rick frowned
"Nothing. I'll take Kevin."
David's team broke the huddle and came to the center of the field. On cue, Stacy pushed 'play' on the portable CD player by her side and Edwin Starr's 'WAR' echoed across the peaceful neighborhood.
Josh turned and looked at Donna, hands and eyebrows raised in question.
"Tradition" she mouthed back
"Can't wait to see the half-time show," he muttered crouching down opposite Rick
"Forty-two blue, Forty-two blue Hut hut hike"
Kevin snapped to David who turned, faked and fired an amazingly crisp pass downfield. Of course he had no fear of getting hit. Josh took Kevin's advice, eluded Rick and surprised himself by catching the ball in the end-zone. He turned and bowed to the stands where Donna, Betsy and Chloe were all doing the wave.
"You know Pete's just playing with him right?" Stacy asked as Donna sat back down
"Oh sure but I don't want him totally demoralized."
"What d'you think they'll do Kevin?" David asked, as his sons conferred at the opposite end of the field.
"Well it's my experience, Sir" Kevin said thoughtfully, "that they usually have Rick carry it on the first down. Hit him low, Josh he'll crumble like a cookie."
Not only did Rick crumble but he also fumbled. Josh landed on the loose ball, re-establishing possession.
"Roz is it just me or does Rick get worse every year?" Betsy teased
"He's not warmed up yet" Roz retorted sticking out her tongue.
"Lets try running it this time, what d'ya say, Boys" David declared "Josh you take the snap and just take it straight up the slot."
"Okay." Josh said doubtfully
Kevin shook his head sadly as he patted Josh's shoulder and they crouched for the snap.
Josh licked his lips. It was, he told himself, all a matter of positive thinking. He therefore he tried not to think about the fact that he'd played non-contact sports in college, like tennis.
"Forty-three, Seventy-two Hut hut hike" He felt the ball come into his hands and the next thing he knew he was lying on his back in the snow.
"That'd be a five yard loss for the Packers. The Bears' defense is hot today" Pete announced "First and fifteen."
Over the next two hours, Josh discovered that when it came to the ways a grown man could be knocked into the snow, there were an infinite number of possibilities. Despite that fact, it also seemed that they were wining.
As he lay in the snow after yet another bone crushing tackle, he heard David call out. "That's eighty, Gentlemen. Greenbay takes the day again."
"Surprise surprise." Kevin knelt before him "You still conscious?"
"Hard to say. What are the symptoms?"
"Well talking's a good start." The other man laughed
"Not for Josh," Donna joined them "He'll still be lecturing all of us at his own funeral."
"This isn't my funeral?"
"Alley oop." Pete came and yanked him up by a hand.
"I don't think you're supposed to move me without a spine board." Josh grunted
"Buddy you did a great job out there." Pete dusted him off "You can play with us any day."
"Gee thanks. You know you guys kept calling this football. I've seen football, but this, the ice, the pain, you should be honest and call it what it is"
"Which is what?"
Pete laughed clapping his future brother-in-law on the shoulder, which almost brought Josh to his knees. Again
"Okay, give him back to me now," Donna slid an arm around Josh and began steering him toward the house. "Come on, we'll get you into a hot bath then you can stretch out on the couch till dinner."
"I know this is going to sound like a stupid question but did we win?"
"Yeah you did"
"Its fixed, the boys always let Dad win."
"So really its just an excuse to rough up their brothers-in-law."
Kevin walked over, also limping. "Good game, Josh. I'd rather have you than Rob, no question."
"Speaking of Rob," Donna gestured to the back door. A short stocky man with salt and pepper hair wearing a rumpled but expensive suit was leaning against the interior frame. As they got closer, he slid open the glass.
"Gee did I miss the football? What a pity."
"Hi Rob" Donna greeted him softly
"Donna. Kevin. Who's the latest victim?"
"This is my fianc"e Josh."
"I'd shake your hand, except I can't remember how to move my arms" Josh admitted
"Been there," Rob said, shaking his head. "Anyone seen my wife?"
"Jo went upstairs at half time." Stacy answered as she and Pete joined them. "I think she had a headache."
"Well I better go face the music. 'Yet another way you've disappointed us Robert, missing Snowbowl'."
"Pete I think he's been drinking." Stacy murmured as Rob disappeared into the depths of the house.
"Oh that's great," her husband sighed "I'll get his keys out of his coat, why don't you and Bets put the kids in front of a video downstairs. Dylan gets in enough trouble without learning any more swear words from Unca Rob."
"Should we be doing anything?" Josh asked concerned
"Nothing to do." Kevin replied quietly "Rob and Jo fighting is unfortunately another holiday tradition."
1:12 p.m. CST
"Are they still going at it?" Josh joined Donna on the landing, muffled angry voices floating up to them. After soaking in a hot bath, he'd put on dry jeans and a grey T-shirt with the presidential seal till it was time to dress for dinner and was feeling moderately more like himself.
"They'll go at it, 'til Mom calls them to the table."
"Wow." Josh slid down the wall to sit beside her. "And they're always like this?"
"I think its getting worse personally."
"I keep hearing about how Rob's a disappointment. What did he do? Hold up your father's old bank?"
"He ran for Congress."
"Oh well that explains it."
"He got beaten, badly. In fact a dead man beat him."
"One of the candidates died a week before the election and the ballots were already printed."
"And he got more votes than Rob."
"You can imagine the field day, the boys had with that. They don't mean it but they don't realize when they're crossing a line. Pete's always been successful at his chosen field. The only thing that keeps him the least bit grounded is Stacy. As for Rick, he doesn't want to be world famous, he wants to be Dad; a task for which he's ably suited. He's doing well at the bank; he's got a nice family, his life is right on track. He doesn't understand why anyone would want to do anything else. Together they hammered poor Rob. He changed after that. Before the election, he used to, well actually he was a little like you"
"That doesn't bode well. Your family has yet to say one nice thing about Rob."
"They've all forgotten that they used to think he was great."
"So how was he like me?"
"I don't know; he was smart, funny, idealistic; out to right wrongs and save the world."
"I think you have me confused with Sam."
" You try and tell people that but I know things."
"You had a crush on him."
"I did not."
"Donna I can hear it in your voice."
"Well okay, maybe a little, but give me a break I was sixteen and he was-"
"And what did he see in your sister?" Josh shook his head skeptically
"She wasn't always such a raving bitch. Back then she was pretty cool. I don't know if I go as far as 'nice', Betsy was always the 'nice' one. Jo was... Well she was talented and accomplished, capable and beautiful. Men were always falling over themselves to get to her."
"Must run in the family."
"Oh yeah, I'm really beating them off with a stick. That's why you're here remember?"
"I think its lack of oppourtunity rather than lack of motive."
"Is that supposed to be a compliment, Josh"
"I felt I had to ask since you're describing my love life in terminology usually used for murders."
"Well I'm not trying to imply that its dead but if the shoe fits..." he teased
"Anyway," she continued shooting a glare in Josh's direction, " back then he was the family's shining star. I think he even managed to tackle Pete once."
"The ultimate test of a son in-law. So what happened he failed to win a seat in Congress and he got disowned? "
"No it wasn't that quick. After he lost though, it was like he couldn't get back on the horse. He didn't want to try at anything."
"It's not unheard of as a reaction."
"Then there's the issue of children. You might have noticed that they have failed to assist with the Moss family's contribution to the population explosion."
"Donna there's so many kids running around here I hardly know who belongs to whom."
"Well none of them belong to Rob and Jo and everyone else, bar me of course, has managed to provide at least one grandchild. I don't know whether it was a conscious decision to not have kids or if they've tried and it hasn't happened but their lack of children is...noticed."
"Doesn't the fact that she's a lawyer with a six-figure salary compensate?"
"Compensate, it doesn't even register, except with Rob who's not doing anywhere near that well."
"It's a pity." Josh mused, then he asked: "Donna was your family happy when you got together with Mark?"
"Oh you betcha, they were thrilled to death when I dropped out of college to support him"
Josh shifted his weight and winced
"Come on" Donna said standing up and offering him a hand which he waved off. " Come lie on the bed and I'll give you a back rub."
Josh looked dubious.
"Its not a seduction attempt, you're not going to be able to move pretty soon.
"Why is it," asked Josh as he lay down on his stomach, "that every time the word 'bed' enters the conversation, you think I'm going to think you're trying to seduce me?"
"Because you live under the misguided impression that all women want to sleep with you."
"And you're saying they don't?" he feigned misunderstanding "Oww!"
" Josh?" Donna began some time later "Do you really think "
She looked at him. He was fast asleep. "Just as well" she muttered
Donna had told him ahead of time that the family dressed up for Thanksgiving dinner so he'd packed his navy suit (known to Donna as the Thursday suit.) He adjusted his tie in the bathroom mirror, smoothed a wayward hair and went to present himself for inspection.
"Donna? You decent?" he tapped her bedroom door.
Donna opened it "You tell me."
Her dress was a simple cut but of a dark red shimmering material that made her seen faintly iridescent.
"Thank you. You clean up pretty well yourself" she said reaching for his tie.
"I've fixed that already," he protested.
"You always say that, and it's always a little off-center. I think you might need to get your eyes checked"
"My eyes, your delusions; which ones get us into more trouble?" he grumbled under his breath but he lifted his jaw and allowed her to re-set his tie and collar.
"Ready?" He offered her an arm.
"Josh. I...well thanks again for doing this."
"Hey tonight's the hard part, after this we'll have a couple days to kick back and relax before we go back to Washington."
Donna looked about to speak and Josh's eyes narrowed suspiciously but all she said in the end was "Right"
They descended the stairs arm in arm.
"Well don't you both look nice." Berti declared as Stacy and Pete both wolf-whistled "I think that's everyone, let's go in."
"Mom." Joanne said pointedly
"Well Jo, is he coming in from the car or not?"
The group looked at each other uncomfortably for a moment. Donna glanced at Betsy for explanation
"Rob's sitting in his car." Bets whispered "He can't leave because Pete took his keys but he doesn't want to come in."
"Leave him there" Rick declared but Kevin said he'd get his counterpart.
"Well the rest of us can sit down and get the kids settled at least," Berti ushered them into the next room.
The door between the dining room and the living room was propped open and a card table for the younger members of the family, had been set up over a protective layer of newspaper.
"Josh you mind, if I walk my baby in to dinner " David asked gruffly.
"No at all, Sir." Josh stepped aside; smiling at the way David Moss beamed at his daughter. In turn, Josh offered his arm to Berti
" Why yes, thank you, Josh. I don't know when I was last escorted into dinner by one of the boys."
"Hey you wanted grandchildren" Rick defended himself as he tied a napkin around Tony's neck.
"Too tight!" the little boy gasped for effect
"What? Oh sorry, Tony. Is that better?"
Tony nodded, panting dramatically
"Newsbreak," announced Rick, crouching by his son, "this is dinner, not dinner theatre. Behave!"
"Like he understands what dinner theatre is," Pete said to his brother
"He understood the last word."
"Guys, I think we have enough children present without you two re-living adolescence. Could you stop competing for parent of the year and come sit down?" Stacy reproved, shaking her head.
"I thought you liked my boyish charm" Pete joked putting an arm around his wife.
"That was before we had a son and I realized how much better at it he is."
Berti was artfully directing them into their seats David took the head of the table, with Pete on his left and Donna on his right. Josh sat next to Donna across from Stacy, who sat next to Joanne. It should have been Roz next but she subtly switched with Rick, so as to avoid spending the meal with Jo. Berti took the other end, next to the kitchen door On her left was a chair for Kevin. Between his chair and Betsy's, a folding chair had been pulled in, and Davy's carrier was set on it. There was one more empty chair on Josh's right. It was obviously for Rob, though no one made actual mention of this fact.
"Are we ready?" David asked surveying his brood.
He was answered by the sound of the front door shutting. Kevin came in, followed by Rob. Kevin smiled briefly as he took his seat next to wife. Rob kept his head down as he pulled out his chair and slid into it. He glanced up at Joanne but she wouldn't meet his eyes and he dropped them back to his plate.
"All right then, " announced David "Lets say grace"
As everyone began to wind down, mopping at their plates with bits of bread and chasing the last few peas around the plates with their forks, David leaned over to Josh
"Do you want to make the official announcement now?"
"Which official announcement?"
"Your engagement. I realize everyone already knows but I think it's always nice to do these things properly."
"Of course. Yeah sure."
"Any excuse to give a speech." Donna needled him quietly.
David rang his water glass with his knife "Josh would like to say a few words."
Josh stood up. "Well first of all, I want to thank you all for bringing me into your home and including me in your traditions, though some more than others." He smiled at a grinning Pete. "I wouldn't blame you if you had regarded me with a certain degree of suspicion. I know Donna means a great deal to all of you. I hope won't I sound too presumptuous when I say that she means as much to me. Donna is, well she's the law of gravity. She keeps me from spinning into space. I would be beyond lost, if she were ever out of my life and so I hope I have your blessing in my plans to make her my wife."
His audience clapped
"Law of Gravity?" his 'intended' whispered
"He caught me off guard."
"Now I understand why you were never in the running for press secretary"
"Josh, you most certainly have our blessing" David beamed at him
"I'd like to say a few words." Rob stood up.
"Rob!" Jo hissed at him but he ignored her.
"In what will presumably be my last Thanksgiving in this house I'd just like to say a few words."
"Come on, Pal. Sit down." Pete suggested, his friendly tone muted by the hard glint in his eyes.
"First of all" Rob continued undeterred "While we're making announcements I feel I should officially announce my intention to un-marry your eldest daughter."
Joanne pushed back her chair and left the room.
"That's right, Honey" Rob called after her "You've finally failed at something. How does it feel to be back down here with us mortals? And as for you two" he turned around to his left "Joshua Lyman, Deputy Chief of Staff. You know I could have been where you are. I could have been the toast of Washington"
"Rob if you think I'm the toast of Washington, you haven't read a paper since the last Federal election."
"I could have been on the Hill, you would have had to come groveling to me to get your bills passed. Of course the DNC wasn't exactly supportive of my campaign. At the time I thought, 'No problem, I'll be back'. But know this Joshua Lyman: you sit there now and everyone's smiling at you, but one of these days you'll screw up badly and they'll turn on you. They'll turn on you and suddenly you'll find yourself wishing you could spend Thanksgiving with your worst enemy instead of your so-called family. Even that wouldn't be so bad but take a good look at the woman beside you. Take a good hard look at the way she looks at you now. You stare into her eyes and you feel like you hung the moon and placed the stars. Remember that when the day comes when she looks at you with complete contempt. Remember that and hear my voice saying 'I could be you'"
Josh stood up slowly, "I'll take my chances."
He and Rob stared at each other for a moment. Then Rob picked up his water glass, "To the victor, the spoils. I hope you're luckier than me Josh, I doubt it but I hope." He offered his hand, after a moment Josh cautiously shook it.
"Pete can I have my keys?"
They're on the piano."
At the doorway Rob stopped and looked back, his bravado gone, his eyes sad. He seemed about to speak, even opened his mouth, but some larger instinct won out and he left without a word
"So" said David "How about some pie?"