Disclaimers in PT 1
By the Bondi Gargoyle
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?"
"Well that was an amazing meal." Josh swallowed his last bite of pumpkin pie and sat back fully sated "Thank you Berti."
"You're very welcome Josh. Do you mind helping me move that platter back into the kitchen?
He stood, took a hold of the large silver platter now bearing naught but carcass and followed Berti into the kitchen
"Just over there, thanks Josh. Now then," Berti said as he turned around hands free. "I want to have a little chat."
Josh glanced at the door back into the dining room
"Oh they'll leave us alone for a few minutes. They can't do anything 'til the dishes are done, house rule. And they're all happy to put that off for as long as possible."
"Okay." Josh leaned against the fridge crossing his arms in front of his chest and feeling a little like he was about to give evidence before the Senate Judiciary Committee.
"So what's going on Josh?"
"I'm not sure what you're asking."
"Well up until last month, Donna's betrothed was called Doug and you, her boss, have always been named Josh. She thinks I'm not listening when she talks about you, but I am. Are you engaged to marry my daughter?"
Josh looked at the floor as he shook his head.
"Pity, you seem like a nice guy. Snappy dresser too. Rick's never worn a tie that matched his suit, not even the day he got married."
"Donna picks my ties." Josh admitted
"So what happened to Doug? Did he dump her?"
"I really think you should talk to Donna about that."
"Was there ever a Doug?"
"Like I said you should talk to Donna"
"If I could talk to Donna you wouldn't be in here."
"You want my advice on how to speak with your daughter?" he asked surprised
"You obviously care about her, Josh. No boss I've ever worked for would go though all this for me. She just seems to be drifting further and further out of reach. She never used to do things like make up boyfriends"
"Berti" Josh held up his hands in protest "I don't think-"
"Feel free to use complete candor"
"Actually you wouldn't like me much if I used complete candor. Its something we save for the Republican Party."
"Please Josh, tell me what's going on with my little girl."
Josh rubbed his face with one hand before standing up straight, and putting his hands comfortably into his pockets. He looked Donna's mother straight in the eye before he said "Well it would help if you all realize she isn't one."
"Isn't one what?"
"A little girl. In the twenty-four hours we've been in Wisconsin I've heard Donna referred to as 'Baby', 'Little D', 'My baby sister', 'Our baby', 'Kid' so many times I've lost track. She's twenty-eight, she's not a little girl any more."
"I know, you're right. We all forget. Pete and Joanne are ten years older than she is. They ended up being almost another set of parents. Even Betsy's five years her senior. Donna's spent her whole life as, well, as the baby. And then she seemed to take so long to find a path. Pete always had football and Jo had the law, Rick followed his dad into banking, Betsy followed me into teaching. But Donna seemed to drift so much. Then there was that whole mess with Mark. We were all very grateful when you took her under your wing-"
"Okay wait. I didn't find Donna, Donna found me. She decided to join the campaign and I have no idea how she picked me but thank heavens she did. I wouldn't have made it through the campaign without her and I don't know how I'd survive if she ever left the White House."
"Josh this all very nice but really, what she does, it's hardly a career."
" Your daughter is a White House Aide and when I say she's my assistant I mean exactly that. You think she sits in Washington, types a few pages, answers the odd phone call and brings me cups of coffee?"
Berti shrugged and nodded
"No you're wrong. I'm sorry I know that's blunt but you're so wrong." He started pacing the width of the kitchen and gesturing with his hands as he spoke.
Berti guessed that this was what he looked like when he was trying to sell a bill.
"First of all, let me say, in all the years we've worked together, Donna's brought coffee exactly once, and that was only because she thought I might be getting fired. She organizes my schedule, which by the way isn't just a matter of writing down times. She has to understand the tricky trap of Beltway politics, who gets rescheduled, who'll be irreparably offended if we push even fifteen minutes, who I'll want to talk to regardless of where I am, who I never want to speak with and how to deal with that. It's a skill some people practice for years without ever mastering but Donna picked it up like that." He snapped his fingers for emphasis.
"She has to anticipate the issues of bills we're working on so I can have access to available research. She organizes things like the President's radio addresses, greets heads of state, finds interpreters for languages I've never even heard of. She helps run the White House. If you turn on your TV set and CNN tells you we've just had a plane drop off radar or that there's a breakdown in the Middle East peace process, you can pretty much guarantee your daughter's going to be working over time. True, we don't pay her half of what she's worth but, thank heavens, she seems to have an over-developed sense of loyalty, so she keeps showing up day after day."
Berti started to speak but Josh shook his head.
"I'm sorry but I'm not quite finished. It seems to me that part of the reason that whole mess with Mark happened was because everyone keeps telling her she's supposed to be married with 2.3 children. So that's what she tried to do and Mark took advantage. You should be glad that there's isn't a Doug. That she hasn't gotten stuck with another jerk. Or at least another jerk other than me," he flashed a self-depreciating smile.
"I hear what you're saying, Josh, really I do. And you're right, but, well for instance I wish she'd finish college."
"So do I, though as much as its selfish I hope its after Bartlet's second term. To tell you the truth, I don't see the value in walking away from something you're good at to go back to school, just for the sake of it. Especially, if what you're good at brings all those things college tries to teach you, right to your doorstep."
"You went to university to learn your job."
Josh rubbed his jaw contemplatively before he spoke again. "Mrs. Moss, Berti, I'll make a deal with you. When we leave the White House, whenever that is, I will do whatever it takes to help Donna finish school. I will write recommendations, co-sign loans, help her cram for biology, whatever. But in return, you and I mean all of you, have to start giving her some credit for what she actually does right now. I realize you all love her, that's overwhelmingly clear, but I'm not sure how well you know her anymore."
"I try to talk to her but-"
" You want your daughter to talk to you. Start by telling her you're proud of her."
"Of course I'm proud of her. She knows that"
"I wouldn't bet the farm on that fact. She knows you love her, the rest is still up in the air."
Berti eyed him keenly. "Does she know you feel this way?"
"I very much doubt it."
"But you have no intention of telling her?"
"I'm her boss, not part of her family."
"Don't count on it, Kiddo." Berti smiled at him "It really is a pity."
"That you're not planning to marry her. If Kevin and Rob had talked about my other girls that way, I'd never have lost a minute of sleep over them."
Josh resumed studying the gloss on his dress shoes
"Okay Josh you can go."
"Are you going to blow the whistle on our 'engagement'?"
"That's up to Donna."
"One last thing. Josh where did you sleep last night?"
"On the floor," he paused, then grinned at her. "Same place Rob and Kevin used to, right?"
"Pete has his uses."
"Tell me about it." Josh rubbed his ribs.
"Lets go get the dish patrol" Berti ushered him through to the dining room
The family was all talking animatedly, all except for Donna and the still absent Joanne
"Okay dishes, dishwasher, now!" Berti called
They rose as a unit and started stacking plates, silverware, gravy boats and glasses.
"Did you just yell at my Mom?" Donna asked as Josh took a cluster of wineglasses from her hands.
"You could hear all that?"
"Not what you were saying so much as the rise and fall of your voice. So did you?"
"I wouldn't say I yelled. I strongly sold my case."
"Democrat or Republican?"
"Democrat or Republican what?"
"Did you talk to her like she was a Democrat or a Republican?"
"Donna, I cross my heart." He swore, illustrating with one of the glasses
"Careful, you'll get wine on your tie."
" On which by the way your mother complimented me or more accurately you."
"What was your case?" Donna asked cautiously "That you were trying to sell?"
"That" said Josh heading for the kitchen "Is between me and your mom."
"I hate you, you know that right?" she called after him
"Quite clear on that" his laughter drifted back to her
10:36 p.m. CST
"Law of Gravity." Donna said again that night. She was sitting cross-legged on the bed watching Josh trying to crack his back. "You should write for Hallmark."
"Let it go, Donna." He twisted uncomfortably.
He shot her a sideways glance
"I tried to stop it. I begged Pete."
"Its okay. In some demented way it was fun. My dad would have enjoyed it." He tried a new position. "Your brother-in-law was in fine form tonight."
"I actually kind of felt sorry for your sister."
"Well you can plan on her being in fine form tomorrow. She won't want anyone to think it's affected her. You handled it very nicely though."
"The guy was just getting in a few punches before conceding the match. I could afford to be generous."
"Well, all the same, you won the hearts and minds of the people."
"That's cause I'm a pro." He sat down on his nest of blankets and groaned
"Josh take the bed."
"We've covered this, no pun intended"
"You'll never get a decent sleep on the floor. You're too bruised up."
"Donna at this point I could probably sleep sitting up. And look if I'm still tired, I can always stretch out tomorrow and have a nap."
"The thing is, they might make us go shopping."
"Shopping? On the day after Thanksgiving?"
"First day of the Christmas sales."
"Uh-huh. Donna, no-one in their right mind goes shopping tomorrow."
"You played football against an NFL all-star and you're questioning our sanity?"
"Is this another family tradition?"
"Well unlike Snowbowl, there's some latitude. But they all like you so much, I think they're going to want you to go along."
"It's going to be a war-zone out there"
"Consider us the Moss family Rangers, well-schooled in urban warfare and blitzkrieg shopping
Josh shook his head in defeat
"Take the bed, Josh."
"Much as the mall scares me, much more, may I add, than Snowbowl; the other arguments remain the same. I am a gentleman-"
"-And I am not kicking a lady out of bed"
"Oh for pity's sake, Lord Fauntleroy, we'll share the bed"
"It's a big bed Josh, there's plenty of room. We're both essentially dressed. It's not-"
"I know, you're not seducing me. You're doing it out of pity. I got that. Look, I told your mother I was sleeping on the floor."
"Cause she asked. I'm not the first by the way."
"Well if she already asked, she won't ask again. So come on."
He had to admit a mattress sounded very inviting.
"Suit yourself, Joshua." Donna reached for the light.
Josh sat in the dark for a minute then with great effort lifted himself off the floor and crawled into the empty side of the bed.
"Better?" asked Donna as he sighed in relief
"I think I've reached a new understanding of salmon." Josh sighed as his shoulder was knocked again by the oncoming flow of bargain hunters.
Donna flashed an apologetic smile.
They had reached a crossroad within the mall and while Roz and Jo argued as to which direction they should head, Josh recalled his phone call to Leo that morning
There was, Josh had concluded, simply no escape and so like a lamb to slaughter he had climbed into Pete's truck and allowed himself to be transported to the seventh level of hell. Of course there were parts he was enjoying, even if he wasn't about to publicly admit it. He enjoyed watching the kids with Santa Claus: Mike and Tony double teaming the poor man, Dylan's careful explanations accompanied by descriptive hand gestures and Chloe's wide eyed suspicions. He'd also achieved some revenge over Pete and Rick by beating them on the electric race-car track Toys 'R' Us had set up. It was a moral victory, understood by men, even if the women had all regarded them with particularly pitying expressions.
By the end of the day, Josh was forced to admit it hadn't been quite as bad as he had been expecting. There was however something, he had found a little disconcerting, and that was Joanne's sudden attentiveness. If Donna was on his right, Jo was always on his left. When they went to Brooks Brothers to replace a shirt and tie that had been ruined a few weeks earlier ( CJ had turned too suddenly whilst holding a clipboard and nearly broken his nose), it had been Joanne who held up the ties to see which colour brought out his eyes. At the food court, it was Jo who had pointed out the mustard on the corner of his mouth and had wiped it away with the ball of her thumb before he had a chance to move. That evening when the younger generation was left with their grandparents and the adults had headed out to a movie, Joanne had slipped an arm through his as they'd all waited in line. It took some cunning choreography on the part of Betsy and Stacy to ensure that he ended up next to Donna, even if it meant he was sandwiched between the youngest and eldest sisters. He guessed it was, as Donna had suggested previously, Joanne's way of disguising the pain she felt over Rob. Nevertheless he wished she would find a new focal point. As for Donna herself, if she noticed her sibling's behaviour she made no comment, she was however slightly quieter that night as they retired to their room.
"Everything okay?" Josh asked as they climbed the stairs.
"Sure why wouldn't it be?"
"I don't know. You seem-"
"I seem what?" Her temper sparked.
"Nothing. I just wanted to make sure you're okay. In general."
She nodded, her composure restored "I'm a bit worn out," she confessed "I'm out of practice with the day-after consumer marathon."
"Not for amateurs," he agreed "but you have to admit I showed a certain prowess with the race cars."
"Josh you're clinging to straws."
"You think the fact that you can hold a little trigger thing down better than my brothers somehow cancels out your performance at football."
"One, with regards to the football, I scored a touchdown against an NFL all-star. That's the part of the story I intend to tell Sam, Toby, Charlie and CJ and most importantly the President. If I find out Carol, Ginger. Bonnie, Kathy, Nancy or Margaret have heard anything different, you and I will have words"
"Words? What type of words Josh? SAT words?"
"Strong words. Two, its not simply holding down a trigger. Racing requires a precise understanding of the balance of physics, of speed versus centrifugal force, of-"
"Yeah Josh, you're a regular Richard Petty"
"I sense that you're mocking me"
"Gee whatever gave you that idea?"
He laughed, relieved that whatever Jo had been attempting, it hadn't had any lasting impact on Donna.
"So where did you put the spare bedding?" he asked her
"You couldn't have been cold last night, you stole half the blankets"
"I did not!" He stopped, refusing to be drawn in, "I wasn't cold, but I think I'm going to be if I sleep on the bare floor."
"Why do you want to sleep on the floor?" Donna looked vaguely hurt
"I don't specifically, I thought... I'll sleep where-ever you want me to."
"Sleep where-ever you want" she returned
Josh had the feeling that they were having a fight but he wasn't sure exactly what it was about.
Then he heard her mutter "Go sleep with Jo for all I care" under her breath.
"I like the tie you picked out" he commented trying to change tack "It'll look great with my charcoal suit."
"That's what I said." She was fluffing pillows and not looking at him "I'm not sure what you're going to wear the green one with, even if it does bring out your eyes."
"Actually I was going to give it to Sam."
"Cause it doesn't go with a thing he owns, and he'll wear it anyway because it was a present."
She looked up at him, half-smiling
"Donna, I bought it to be polite."
"No other reason?"
"Okay. So if I promise not to steal the covers tonight, can I have the right side of the bed again?"
She tossed a pillow at his head
"I'll take that as a yes."