I Know 

by Grasshopper Girl 

rated PG-13 for language 

post-episode story: spoilers for The Portland Trip 

Josh tries to make amends.

This is for Cat. We had quite a rant last Wednesday about Josh's behavior to Donna, so I had to make it right. Thanks as always for the nag... um, encouragement. Enjoy :)

 

Donna's mad at me.

This isn't an unusual occurrence, but this time there is only one possible reason for it.

She is mad at me because I am the biggest idiot the world has ever known.

All right, that may be a little more obvious than I'd like to admit, but this time I really was an idiot. I told her that she has no taste in men, and that her desire to have a boyfriend will always drown out any vestiges of identity or self-worth she might have.

Yeah, yeah, all right, shut up. I know, I don't need to be told. I'm the Putz of the Western World.

I've only come to this realization after thirty-six hours of agonizing self-examination... and seeing her face as she left work Friday night. She must hate my guts. I basically accused her of being a spineless, co-dependent doormat. Sure, she let Dr. Free Ride use her for two years, but that doesn't mean I have a right to belittle her like that.

I am a mean, evil, hateful man.

Just because I'm jealous of this Todd person.

This lobbyist, this INSURANCE lobbyist, this TODD -- what the hell kind of a name is TODD, anyway? -- got to take Donna out to dinner. In that dress. In that incredible dress.

In that abso-freaking-lutely AMAZING red dress.

Did I mention how amazing Donna looked in that dress?

Okay. Ahem. As I was saying. Mean, evil, hateful... oh, yeah. I forgot malicious, nasty, spiteful, cruel, and just plain snarky.

I am the scum of the earth.

She probably went home and cried because of what I said. I made Donna cry. What kind of a stupid idiot are you, Josh Lyman, you made her cry. You shouldn't do that. She might think you don't love her anymore.

She never knew I loved her in the first place.

I try to tell myself that but it never works.

Of course she knew. How could she not know? Every time I look at her my face positively screams "I love you, Donnatella Moss!"

Of course, my face is not known for its articulate nature.

She didn't even call me. She always calls me on Saturday mornings. I'm not really sure why... she just does. And I like it. I like waking up to the ringing of the telephone, and hearing her voice on the other end of the line. I miss that.

Okay, so, just to review: I'm a putz, I'm the scum of the earth, I made Donna cry, she doesn't know I love her.

That last part is good; if she did know, what I said would've hurt her even more.

I only even said it because I don't like the kind of guys she dates. Arrogant jackasses who don't deserve her. Of course, this describes me pretty well, too, so maybe I shouldn't throw stones. My glass house is getting pretty cracked up.

So here I am... sitting on my couch, drinking beer, trying to figure out how to get Donna to forgive me. I'd settle for being listened to, to tell the truth... I don't think I deserve to be forgiven. I just need to tell Donna I didn't mean to say what I did. If she does have low self-esteem, I didn't help her any... and that's what I'm supposed to do. If someone you love has a problem, you're supposed to HELP them, not yell at them and belittle them.

I am the lowest, scummiest son of a bitch on the planet.

I have to get Donna to listen to me. I can't deal with this. I can't let her think I think so little of her. She's the most amazing woman I've ever met... I just wish SHE realized that. That's all. I want to take her in my arms and say, Donnatella Moss, you are a wonderful human being and I love you very much. I may deserve you about as much as your revolving door of local gomers does, but please give me a chance. I'll try to make myself worthy of you.

Who am I kidding? If I even TRIED to say that, I'd trip over my words and get nervous and end up saying something even worse than what I've already said.

I have to come up with a plan.

I really have to come up with a plan.

There's a reason Donna hates me right now, you know. It's because I'm no good at doing the little, sweet things that might make her believe somehow that I think of her as more than a hyper-verbal assistant.

You know who is?

Sam.

My best friend.

My best friend is Sir Lancelot reincarnated. He may be a bumbling moron sometimes -- only Sam Seaborn could ACCIDENTALLY sleep with a call girl -- but he's good at getting women to listen to him when he's been an idiot.

Where did I put that phone?

-----------------------

"YOU SAID WHAT?!"

I wince. "Sam..."

"What kind of an idiot are you?! Do you have any concept of..."

"I know."

"So what are you going to do about it?!"

"That's what I'm asking you!"

"Ohhhhh, no, buddy. You're digging yourself out of this one on your own."

"But Sam!"

"No buts."

"Just one idea?"

"Not one."

"Please?"

Click.

Well, shit.

----------------------------

I managed to make it in to work ahead of Donna. She's probably sleeping in. She deserves it. She deserves to take the entire week off. I hope my plan works... I stayed up all night coming up with it.

All right, so it's just a bouquet of flowers. Red roses. With a note apologizing for being... well... me.

Think I'm coming on too strong? Maybe carnations would have been better.

God, I'm an idiot.

---------------------------

Okay, Donna's finally showed up for work. And I'm out the door to a senior staff meeting. She's ignoring the flowers. This is not good. Maybe she's waiting til I'm gone to read the card.

--------------------------

Donna's not at her desk. Maybe she's gossiping with the other assistants. Her flowers aren't there. Maybe she went to look for a vase?

Uh oh.

The card is on my desk, along with my schedule and phone messages.

What did I say wrong?

"Dear Donnatella,

"I am so incredibly sorry for what I said Friday. I didn't mean to be so hateful. I never wanted to hurt you. I just don't think the guys you date are good enough for you... at least that's what I meant to say. I would totally understand if you never spoke to me again for the rest of your life, but please understand that I never intended to say or do anything to make you feel like less than you are.

"Sincerely,

"Joshua Lyman, Idiot Extraordinaire."

"Hey Josh?"

I turn around. Sam's standing in the doorway with a dozen very familiar-looking red roses. "Yeah?"

"Donna left these on my desk. What's going on? You didn't try to..."

He looks at the card in my hand and knows the answer.

"Oh, no. Let me see that."

He takes the card and reads it.

"Well... you didn't stick your foot in your mouth again, but you don't apologize like this for a screwup like that. You have to build up to it."

"What would you suggest?"

"Well, considering you ripped her heart out and stomped on it with your giant, freakish clown feet, at this point throwing yourself off the OEOB wouldn't be a bad idea."

"SAM."

"I'm just sayin'. She's upset, and rightfully so. You were a colossal jackass."

"Whose side are you ON?"

---------------------------

Donna didn't speak to me at all yesterday. She sent Bonnie in with my messages and anything else I needed. She did type up the memos and do the research I needed, but she didn't speak to me at all. I deserve it, I know... but I miss her. I miss being able to talk to her. Even if she does tend to yatter on about all sorts of irrelevant nonsense.

Okay, I know she'd call me a jerk if I said that out loud. I need to stop thinking like an jerk... it can only lead to acting like a jerk.

Of course, Donna isn't here. She used to come in early every day to get everything done, check my messages, and NOT bring me coffee. I miss that.

I open my office door, and the first thing I hear out of the darkness is, "BOY are you stupid."

Oh, shit... not again.

I switch the lights on and see CJ, sitting in my chair with her legs propped on my desk. To say that she's pissed would be a gross understatement. She practically RADIATES pissed-off-ness.

Yeah, I know it's not a word. It would be if you could see CJ's face right now.

I stand there, with NO idea what to say, just hoping she doesn't hurt me too badly.

She's gonna drop-kick me into a fjord.

I don't care if there aren't any around here... she is going to find one and she is going to kick me into it. If she's willing to threaten the President of the United States like that, she is definitely willing to actually do it to the Deputy Chief of Staff.

Or, as I have taken to calling myself, the Chief Executive Moron of the Free World.

"Are you out of your MIND?"

"Um, yes?"

"Have you taken leave of your SENSES?"

I shut the door. I do not want the rest of the office to hear this. Although my idiocy is now pretty much public knowledge. Leo kept giving me this unbelieving, horrified look all through staff, and none of the girls would speak to me. I keep expecting the President to come up with some sort of bizarre punishment for me.

Maybe this is it.

"Joshua Lyman, I knew you were capable of some pretty stupid things, but I never would have expected this, not even from you." She's standing up now, backing me up against the wall. She's going to hit me, I know she is...

Have I ever mentioned how unnerving it is to stand right next to CJ? Especially when she's wearing those four inch heels she loves so much.

"I never thought you could be capable of such HATEFUL behavior. Hateful is the word, Joshua. Do you have any idea how much you hurt her?"

"In my defense, yes I do know that."

"Shut up, I'm not finished. Donna may well have low self-esteem, but it's not your place to tell her so, and certainly not in such spiteful language."

"Donna and I were -- are -- friends, friends call each other on mistakes all the time."

"Not the way you said it. What was going on in your HEAD, were you THINKING at all?"

"I was... I was..." Funny how you get tongue tied when a woman who towers a good five inches above you gets in your face. And Claudia Jean is especially fierce.

"You were a putz." She smacks me across the back of the head. "I wouldn't blame Donna a bit if she handed in her resignation tomorrow."

All the color has drained from my face, I know it. She couldn't do that to me, no matter how horribly I had behaved.

CJ's eyes narrow. "No... she should stay on and make the next two years a living hell for you. And when we get re-elected, she should stay for the next four years, and make those years a living hell for you. Then maybe, just maybe, she can cut you a little bit of slack."

"I... I..."

There I go, Mr. Eloquence.

"Shut up, Josh." She smacks me upside the head again. "If I ever hear of you doing ANYTHING like this again, I will personally see to it that you spend the rest of this administration listening to President Bartlet ramble on about national parks."

Ouch. That's almost as horrible as losing Donna due to my own stupidity.

Almost.

Not even close, really.

Damn I'm an idiot.

------------------------

Cathy's sitting at Donna's desk. This is not a good way to start my Wednesday.

"Morning, Cathy," I say casually on my way to my office.

"Good morning, jackass."

I stop dead in my tracks. "What?"

"Donna and I have swapped jobs for the rest of the week, and while she is not speaking to you, I am, and I addressed you as 'jackass' on her behalf."

"It's gonna be a long week..." I mutter under my breath and hightail it to my office.

"Your schedule is on the desk, and your messages."

"Thank you, Cathy."

"Bite me."

Yes, it is definitely going to be a long week.

--------------

I take Sam aside after staff. "I'm sorry I ever teased you about Cathy scaring you."

"May I assume that you aren't liking the Assistant Exchange Program?"

"She insults me every five minutes. I think I like Donna's silent treatment better than the constant verbal abuse. How are you enjoying Donna's steady stream of inane chatter?" Inane chatter... yes, friends, I made yet another snarky remark about Donna. Go ahead and kick me.

"Actually, she asked about you today."

"She did?"

"She knocked on my door and just stood there in the doorway with her hands on her hips, pouting or sulking or whatever that thing is she does with her eyes and her lower lip..." The Donnatella Moss Wordless Rebuke, I know it well. "...and asking me why you are such an ass."

"And your response was, because it's just part of my charm, and she should be used to it by now?"

"My response was, you were out of your supposed mind."

Good answer.

"She's really, REALLY upset, Josh. You made her cry."

I knew it. I am the bacterium that feeds on the crud that grows on the grout in my shower.

"She sat in my office and cried."

SHE'S STILL CRYING OVER IT?

I wonder if I could slip away to the roof of the OEOB without anyone missing me.

"Um... did she say anything?" I don't want to sound too desperate. I don't want Sam to think I've been desperately waiting for any word of any kind from Donna... any sign of how she might be feeling. That would make me look TOO pathetic.

Yeah, shut up, I know.

"She said a lot of things."

"Mind sharing?" We're standing outside my office now, just out in the hallway, discussing my personal screwups for all to hear. Not that Donna hasn't already told everyone anyway.

"In a nutshell, you are an insensitive jackass."

"I knew that. What ELSE did she say?"

"She said in all the time she's known you, you've never stooped to such... such... I don't know what she said, it sounded like hateful and cruel behavior, but I couldn't tell, she was crying too hard."

I wonder if the Secret Service would be so kind as to put a bullet through my head right now.

"What the hell am I going to do?"

"Just thank your lucky stars you got Cathy... I saw Ginger and Bonnie with what looked like voodoo dolls earlier."

"Sam, I'm serious."

"How should I know? She's your assistant."

"Well, obviously she's comfortable confiding in you, so you should have some insight, Mr. Ladies' Man."

"I don't know! Call her roommate and ask her. If she'll talk to you."

That's not a bad idea. I'll have to try that.

"Can you give Donna a message for me?"

"Yeah, can't guarantee that she'll listen, but..."

"Tell her I know exactly how huge of a putz I've been, and I hope she'll give me a second chance."

Sam looks doubtful. "I'll tell her, but don't get your hopes up."

I sigh, a sigh that comes from the very depths of my being. "I know."

--------------------

Donna's roommate will not speak to me.

Scratch that. She won't help me.

I've called her three times since yesterday and she still says Donna refuses to even listen to anyone TALK about me.

Work is still hell. Cathy's tossing out insults at the same speed Donna tosses out random trivia. Sam said Donna listened to my message with a totally blank expression, then said, cold as ice, "Well, he can keep on hoping," and walked away. This did not inspire confidence.

I have to come up with a plan. If I could just get her to listen to me... yeah, I know I don't deserve her forgiveness, but Donna isn't the hard-hearted, snarky person I can be. She has a much softer heart than that. Otherwise how could she put up with all the shit she gets from the endless parade of yokels she goes out with?

There I go again. She SHOULDN'T forgive me. She would be well within her rights to put out a hit on me. I'm sure she's dated at least one...

GOD, WHAT IS MY PROBLEM?! Why can't I keep myself from saying things like that? If she DOES grant me an audience, I'm just gonna screw up and stick my other foot in my mouth. I'm running out of room in there. I'm going to have to train myself not to say the first thing that comes to mind all the time, or she not only won't forgive me, she'll quit, and the thought of going to work without Donna... well, I know just from the past couple of days that that is not an experience I wish to have often.

You know, at one time I harbored fantasies of having a real relationship with Donna... now I'd just do anything for her to be my assistant again. I would be happy just being her boss for the rest of my life if she would just talk to me again.

Who am I kidding? I still love her. I still want to be the one she buys sparkly red dresses for... the one she wakes up next to in the morning. I want to be the last in her series of complete dumbasses who don't deserve her... I don't kid myself, I'm no better than her local gomers in a lot of ways, but I do respect her... and I am often in total awe of her. She's so competent and intelligent and just... she's an amazing woman.

Fine way I have of telling her that, huh?

Thank God tomorrow's Friday. I don't think I can take another day of Cathy's dark glares and frequent obscenities.

------------------

I can't take another week of that.

It's Friday night, a little after ten, and I just got home. I've been working without benefit of an assistant since six. Cathy doesn't take kindly to being asked to stay late on Friday nights, and she scares me too much for me to say anything to her. Also, she's technically Sam's assistant, not mine. Although I may have to get used to her, if Donna stays mad at me. Not that I don't deserve it -- I'd just rather have her yelling at me all day than not speaking at all. Call me a glutton for punishment. The one thing I don't want to see her do is cry. It kills me when she does that. I always want to hold her, and I can't, because I am an insensitive chickenshit jackass. I can handle her pouting, but crying is something I just can't deal with.

I take that back. The two things I don't want to see her do are cry, and go out with more assholes that aren't good enough for her. But since that takes me out of the running altogether, I think I'll just stick with the one thing. As long as she doesn't cry, I think I'll be okay.

And as long as she doesn't wear another sparkly dress to work.

Tomorrow's Saturday. Donna always calls me on Saturdays. I'm going to miss that. I just want to hear her voice, although I'd prefer to see her, in person, so she can slap me and kick me and generally beat me to a pulp and get it out of her system. Then, maybe when she's done venting her hatred of me, things could go back to semi-normal. Cathy brings me coffee... although I'm not sure she doesn't spit in it. I'm not used to having someone bring me coffee, obscenities or not. Bringing me coffee is something Donna does when I'm upset about something, or as an apology for something, or when she wants to ask a really big favor. And I like it that way. I may bitch about having to get my coffee myself, but I really do like the little arrangement we have.

I just want to see her again. That's all.

Hold on.

That's it.

Joshua Lyman, you magnificent bastard. You've got it.

I go to sleep happier than I have been in a week. I have a plan. And it's going to work, so help me.

Either that or I'll go throw myself off the Washington Monument.

---------------------

I approach the apartment door with trepidation. If Donna answers the door I'm sunk... if Casey answers, I'm cool. I talked to her again yesterday, and she's worried about Donna. She agrees that I am a total blithering idiot, but she knows how much Donna usually enjoys her job and doesn't want to see her lose that over an argument. Casey is a generous and forgiving woman. I like her. I just wish her temperament had rubbed off on Donna a little.

And here's... Casey! Yes! I'm still alive. Those hairballs of hers wrap themselves around my ankles immediately, and I am grateful I'm wearing jeans instead of a suit. Cat hairs are impossible to get out of suits. "Um... hi. Is Donna here?" I ask, even though I saw her piece-of-shit car parked outside.

"Hi, Josh. Yeah, she's here... she probably won't talk to you, though."

"Still mad?"

"I think she's gone from mad to depressed. She borrowed my Fiona Apple CD yesterday and hasn't stopped listening to it since... she doesn't even listen to music that much."

Donna, depressed? I won't have it. I won't stand for it. "That's... odd. Where is she?"

"Bedroom." Casey gestures to a closed door.

"Locked?"

"Doubt it."

"I'm going to try to talk to her."

"Good luck."

Casey gives me a look of what I'd swear is pity as I go to Donna's door and knock. There's no response, just the faint sound of music coming through the door. I open it a little and peek in -- she's sitting on the bed, reading a book. Steeling myself for the expected rain of hard objects being hurled at my cranium, and praying her book isn't hardcover, I step inside and shut the door behind me.

Donna's bedroom is simply furnished, and very feminine... soft and comfortable and everything I'd imagined her bedroom must be like. I wish I was here under better circumstances, or I'd go over and look at the family pictures on her dresser.

I'm a man on a mission, so I sit down on the end of the bed -- far enough away from her that she can't slap me, but still well within book-throwing range. I sit there, waiting for her to acknowledge my presence, listening to the music. It's not bad, if you like brooding, husky-voiced women who play the piano. I concentrate on the lyrics, forcing myself to clear my mind and not give in to the temptation to make some bitter remark. I'm not really bitter, and I want her to come back to me so much it hurts, but my usual defense mechanism -- biting sarcasm -- keeps wanting to kick in.

This is an angry song. "When I think of it, my fingers turn to fists... I never did anything to you, man, no matter what I try you beat me with your bitter lies, so call me crazy, hold me down, make me cry..." No wonder she's listening to this. This is the whole week in a nutshell.

"Donna?"

Silence. The flipping of a page. I glance at the book out of the corner of my eye. The Art and Artistry of Alpine Skiing, with the original drab boards.

It's a sign. I don't know what it means, but it's a sign.

"Donna, I've been an asshole."

"You can say that again."

Well, at least now she's talking to me.

"I was way out of line, saying what I did."

"No kidding."

"I hurt you, and I never, ever wanted to do that."

"Then, why did you say it?"

"Because I'm an idiot."

"Well, I'm glad you're just now realizing this."

The song just changed. This one's sad. "I've wished on the lidded blue flames under your brow, and baby I wished for you."

Sing it, Fiona.

"Nobody sees when you are lying in your bed and I want to crawl in with you, but I cry instead." Ouch. Ouch. I can't listen to this anymore. It's going to kill me. I have to say something. Anything. Just as long as I don't stick my foot in my mouth.

"Donna, what I said to you was inexcusable. Unforgivable."

"No, Josh, you're right. I do have horrible taste in men. And I do place too much emphasis on dating. If I hadn't done that in college, I would've finished my degree... some degree."

"And you never would've driven to Manchester, and we never would've met. And that would've sucked."

"You'd have had another assistant."

"She wouldn't have been you."

THAT gets a reaction. She looks at me this time. I can see tears in her eyes and a glimmer of what I hope might be forgiveness, but this thing isn't over yet. I could still screw it up. Please, God, don't let me screw it up.

"Donna, whether what I said was true or not, the way I said it, WHEN I said it, was inappropriate. I only said it because... because... I hate the kind of guys you go out with. I hate that you settle for such losers when you deserve so much better. You deserve someone who'll respect you and love you and appreciate you for who you really are. An intelligent, competent, creative, talented, beautiful woman. Beautiful in the ways that really count."

Oh, shit. She's crying now. This cannot happen. I, Joshua Lyman, will not stand for it. I move closer to her, and put my hand on her arm. "I've been a grade-A asshole, Donna. I've never been good at expressing my feelings, and you know how sarcastic I am. I just... I got scared. I get scared every time you go out with somebody new, afraid you'll fall for him and he'll end up hurting you like Dr. Free Ride did. Or that you'll quit your job at the White House for him."

She's crying harder now. I set her book on the nightstand and pull her into my arms. I run my fingers through her hair -- such soft, beautiful blonde hair -- and hug her as tight as I can. Her tears are soaking through my sweater now. After a few moments, "Donna, I cannot begin to express how sorry I am for hurting you. I'm no better than the endless parade of jerks you see. I just want you to find someone who truly understands what a wonderful person you are... and I want you to understand that too. I want you to see in yourself what I see in you. Because what I see is rare and precious and beautiful."

She wraps her arms around me and hugs me so tight I almost can't breathe. "Joshua... I..."

"Shh."

I lean back against the pillows, still holding her. This feels so good, so right, I never want to let go. We lie there for a while, just holding each other, while Donna cries. I feel a few tears trickling down my cheeks too (yes, I am a big enough man to admit that I cry on occasion). What did I ever do to deserve to have a woman like this in my life? She shouldn't be working as my assistant, she should be finishing a college degree and moving on to a real career. Somebody should be supporting her while she goes to school. God knows I'd love to be the one to do that...

Donna's looking up at me now, and I can tell I've been forgiven. I smile a little. She smiles back, then reaches up and wipes the tears off my cheeks. That done, she settles back into my arms and rests her head on my chest. She doesn't seem in any hurry to go anywhere, and who am I to argue? I just lie here, enjoying the opportunity to be close to the woman I'm in love with. I close my eyes and listen to the music again. It's a love song this time, a simple piano melody.

"And when the crowd becomes your burden, and you've early closed your curtains, I will wait by the backstage door, while you try to find the lines to speak your mind, and pry it open hoping for an encore. And if it gets too late for me to wait for you to find you love me and tell me so, it's okay, no need to say it."

I don't need to say it right now. It's enough to just lie here and be close to each other. Someday, though, I will say it. Someday very soon, when the specter of our fight isn't hanging over us. And I'll buy her that sparkly red dress and take her out for a real date. Drinks and dinner and dancing and dessert. I'll probably screw up and stick my foot in my mouth, but I will never, ever, EVER say anything so brutal to her again. Joshua Lyman has learned his lesson. And he has been rewarded. Because as Donna looks up at me again, and reaches up to kiss me gently on the lips, she doesn't need to say a word. I know.

 

Lyrics from "Limp", "Love Ridden", and "I Know", from the album "When the Pawn..." written by Fiona Apple

The End

 

 

 

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