"IN HEAT"

CODES: J/D, General, Josh POV
RATING: PG-13 (innuendo; language)
SPOILERS for general season two through "Two Cathedrals";
extrapolation about potential season three

DISCLAIMERS: Everything herein either belongs to or has been inspired
by the master wordsmith Aaron Sorkin and his partners in crime. I'm
just a poor writer playing in their sandbox. A few supporting cast
members have been invented to tell this story. All the hoary,
predictable clichés belong to me. I own them and am proud of my
ability to employ them.

DEDICATION: This is for Kirsten who gets what happens when you have
to wait, and wait and wait in a hellish world of holding places. And,
in spite of knowing this about me, still tolerates my own unique
brand of insanity. Happy Birthday, Scarlett!

THANKS...to Sara for enabling my Josh thing and being my compadre in
arms no matter what; to Lesley for bringing the beta; to Pix for saying "send them
my response"

ARCHIVE: Yep. But ask me first. I'm still editing and fixing
mistakes... and I have an HTML version available

FEEDBACK: Thoughts, comments, insights, corrections—you bet. Send
them to hcj@reviewboy.com

SUMMARY: A sneak attack in the Senate, a man-hungry socialite, a
broken air conditioner, a strand of heirloom pearls, a Cuban émigré
with an attitude, boys being boys and Josh, in charge, deep in denial
and more romantically-challenged than normal, make for an overheated
week in the West Wing.

NOTE: This story takes place over a week. Consequently, the narrative
is divided up into days.

********************************************************
FUSION: A fusion reaction occurs when two light nuclei (ions)
approach each other so closely that their Coulomb (charge) repulsion
is overcome, allowing the nuclei to fuse.
********************************************************

Saturday, August 4; 12:15 AM

Donna refuses to speak to me.

That she, whose loquacious observations provide a primary theme in
the soundtrack of my life, will not so much as grunt in
acknowledgement of my pleas and provocations is a matter of some
concern. Yeah, yeah--it's not as if she's never given me the silent
treatment before. On the contrary: I've said and done enough dumb-
assed things in our years together that its surprising she doesn't do
this more often.

What troubles me about this particular round of "Ignore Joshua Lyman"
is that it might not be a game. Game, by its definition, connotes
rule-bound competition for amusement and/or as an exhibition of
skill, strategy or endurance. "If You Don't Gratify Him/Her With a
Response He'll/She'll Go Away" is played by one party staging a
carefully calculated, persistent verbal siege while the other party
ignores the first party. Whoever caves first, wins. We resort to this
game when one--or both—of us reaches peak frustration; launching into
word jabs and parries provides an outlet for our overheated
emotions.  After the balm of witty banter soothes the stings, we call
a truce. An articulate offering from a man with a 760 verbal SAT can
be quite satisfactory, particularly if uttered while holding a
bouquet of salmon-pink roses (such was my gift after what I now refer
to as the Red Dress Incident).

For the time being, my tried and true approach appears to be failing
me. I mean, I've said at least a dozen things in the past ten minutes
that normally would have elicited at the very least a smirk
acknowledging my self-deprecating charm. Instead, Donna remains as
taciturn as she was upon leaving the Senate, a solemnity that
continued while traversing the tunnel to the Russell Office Building
and walking to the car. Her stonewalling tactics ratchet up my stress
level. Flailing like the human equivalent of a fully pressurized
garden hose, I impugn her to relent. 

Silence eloquently articulates Donna's position.

I think I'm in trouble.

A mere glance of her soulful eyes, letting me know that this too can
be mended, would shut me up. So what if it isn't tonight or
tomorrow.  I deserve to suffer—I'll gladly do my penance in exchange
for forgiveness. Just as long as I know that eventually she'll start
tormenting me with her dissertations on useless factoids, I'll take
her for chocolate gelato and we'll be friends again.

Maybe that's it. Maybe what happened tonight messes up the friend
thing.

I can't even go there.

And then there is that other thing. The thing I don't want to think
about that's been lurking in the wings, waiting for the President and
Leo's return to go on. I think I need to talk to Stanley about this.
He'd probably tell me this whole week has been about self-sabotage
and that on some subconscious level, even tonight's events reflect
fears I can't even put words to.

Meanwhile, without Stanley's voice of sanity, I'm trying too hard—I
know I'm trying too hard. But that's what I do. I fight until I fall
down and then, bloodied and bruised, I get up and start fighting
again.

My extended one-sided conversation has the potential to earn me a
weekend pass to the psych ward. Or the drunk tank if Donna wants to
turn me in as a stalker. Because Donna is sitting in the car beside
me, I'm certain the former isn't a real threat. Anyone watching us
would assume she's being subjugated to a boorish date. Nothing
illegal or mentally questionable about that.  She may, however, roll
the window down at the next stoplight and inform that nice looking
policeman parked next to the Department of Labor that she's been
carjacked.

In a pre-emptive move, I wave to the nice policeman. He gives us a
strange look, but waves back. It occurs to me that if he notices the
EOB/WH parking sticker on the back, he might just mention it to one
of his buddies over coffee and donuts. He'll say something to the
sergeant in charge and so on until someone on the press beat asks
about what the Deputy White House Chief of Staff was doing waving to
a cop at 1AM. CJ would sadly inform them of Josh Lyman's tragic
descent into mental illness and then she'd personally fold the
hospital corners on my bed sheets, lock the padded cell door and
throw away the key.

No matter how I look at it, this is going to end badly. Should my
paranoia escalate further, I may check myself in and save CJ the
trouble.

Calm down.  I need to calm down and think this through. Not
overthink, but think rationally, methodically... I am certain that
anything I say can and should be held against me in the court of
Donna's opinions.

Unfortunately, nothing works in my favor: the oppressive August
humidity, the mind-scrambling euphoria over nuking the majority
leader's version of the Excellence in Education act, and the very
confusing combination of arousal and repulsion that comprised my now
erstwhile, earlier-evening date.

And then there was that little incident in the Minority Leader's
conference room... 

In spite of doing my damnedest not to think about it, I find that
unless I fill in every blank in my brain, it's all I'm thinking about
and within milliseconds a tantalizing kind of craziness dares me to
act on impulses that frankly scare the hell out of me.  I'm thinking
that finding the nearest drive-through fast food joint might be my
saving grace; a large Coke, minus the Coke, extra ice, dumped over my
head might provide enough shock to assure that I don't crash into any
light poles or parked cars on the way home.

How did I get into this mess in the first place?

Must have been the swatches.

********************************************************

Friday July 27th; Afternoon

"Here," Donna said, dropping a four inch high stack of fabric on my
desk. "These are your swatches."

I looked up from reading the EPA's briefing on the status of the
Colorado River Snail Darter. This fish had no meaning to me except as
it related to the River Recovery Act that was now wending its way
through Congress. Fish would be Leo's present province since he was
fly-fishing somewhere in Oregon. Fish might be within President
Bartlet's purview during his annual summer retreat to New England--
all that "River Runs Through It" metaphysical nature hooey. Any fish
I might care about would be battered, deep-fried and served with two
well-chilled beers during my viewing of a Mets-Braves game showing on
ESPN in my favorite air-conditioned Georgetown pub. Note the
modifier "air conditioned."  The East Wing remained air-conditioned.
The central public rooms were air-conditioned. The West Wing, the
Mess and the Old Executive Office Building had lost air-
conditioning.  Sans appropriate cooling, the word `heat sick' took on
new meaning for all of us.  I swiped at the sweat dripping off my
face. "I was expecting swatches?"

"To recover the chairs."

"We can't locate the parts for the air conditioner so we're
recovering the chairs. That's governmental logic for you."

`The parts are in Buffalo."

"We need a road trip, Donnatella Moss. How `bout Buffalo?"

She flipped through the fabric samples and pulled out a richly hued
emerald matte with satin pinstripes. "This one warms my alabaster
skin tones."

"It's upholstery, not haute couture."

"For when I sit in the chair, Josh."

"Road trip, Donna."

"Jill Montoya feels we lack aesthetic congruity."

Jill Montoya, the liaison between the First Lady's staff and the
White House Preservation Society, believes the failure of the Mid
East peace process can be attributed to poorly selected hostess
gifts.  "Aesthetic congruity's some preppy permutation of Feng Shui?
Achieve inner peace through matching furniture."

"Research supports the assertion that harmonious physical
surroundings—"

"I think Rome fell because it was just too damn hot in the summer to
solve governmental problems rationally. Whether the togas matched the
statuary was irrelevant."

"Think subtext."

"Iced tea for inner peace, Donna."

"The repair people blew a circuit breaker. The refrigerator and ice
machine defrosted, flooding the Mess. They've got warm yogurt. Want
one?"

"Liquid sustenance. Cold liquid sustenance. I am a man in search of
an oasis."

"Senator McKay's office called, the decorator's scheduled in an hour,
Russert's people called--"

"For this weekend? I must have been a real bastard in another
lifetime to deserve—aw hell. What's on the menu for Meet the Press?"

"The River thing."

"With whom?"

She braced herself. "Adam Sarton."

"Sarton "let's go back to living in caves" Congressman Sarton? One of
People Magazine's Fifty Most Beautiful People, Sarton? He's one of
our guys!"

"You're still jealous."

"How seriously does anyone take a congressional pin-up boy, Donna? 
Please.  Besides, with the widower thing, he's got the sympathy angle
cornered. What's his deal?"

"From today's Post," her eyes dropped to an index card on her stack
of papers, "`The Bartlet Administration refuses to lead out on water
safety issues, choosing instead to stand behind the much more
moderate, yet ineffective, standards proposed by the EPA. Their
timidity forces me to take an aggressive stance in the hopes that
public awareness will pressure President Bartlet to take this threat
more seriously.'"

"Sam will take it. He's Greenpeace guy."

"Leo told Russert you'd take it."

I buried my head on my desk. "I'll need bullet points."

"Yup. I'll get right on it."

"Wait, Donna." I pleaded. "An oasis. Or IV fluids. You choose."

She looked me over. I imagined she saw a sweat-drenched face, heat-
crazed eyes, flushed skin, piles of useless reports with no end in
sight, and at least a dozen phone messages taped to my desk. Pursing
her lips thoughtfully, she said, "I could use a smoothie. I'll ask
Cathy and Margaret if they want something."

Christobal Arguello, Cuban émigré and loyal Republican, runs a little
shop a couple of blocks from the White House over toward the Capitol
Hilton and the Post offices. I can't fairly call it a coffee shop
because he recently threw in a contingent of blenders and started
serving fruit smoothies. The décor is a pastiche of 4th of July
cutouts, campaign memorabilia, and autographed photos of the
political and media types who turn to Christobal when the line at
Starbucks proves to be endless. His outpost features one Internet
ready computer (at $5 per hour), the Times (New York and London),
entertainment magazines, phone cards, cigarettes and cigars—the kind
that customs agents impound and bribe weak-willed Congress people
with.

Since Toby discovered Christobal's extracurricular Caribbean
commerce, he and Christobal have become best pals. When I made the
mistake of commenting on some smarmy self-righteous Republican
propagandist crap Christobal had been spouting—crap that might have
come straight out of Ann Stark's mouth—Toby actually defended the
guy. "The man survived four decades under a repressive totalitarian
dictatorship and floated to Miami on a raft lashed together with
rags," Toby snapped, "He's earned the right to cast his vote for the
Easter Bunny for president if he damn well wants to."  Amazing how
quickly idealism fades when one's favorite vices are involved.

Maybe if I joined the brotherhood of illegal cigar connoisseurs,
Christobal would hate me less. Donna thinks I'm being overly
sensitive. What does she know? He calls her "a tropical flower of
exquisite beauty." He calls me "Señor Ly-man," emphasis on the "ly"
part and I don't think that focus on that particular syllable is
accidental.

We had only cracked the door, setting off the sensor that
plays "Stars and Stripes Forever" to announce customers, when
Christobal, wearing his "Member, Vast Right Wing Conspiracy" t-shirt
called out "Hey Señor Ly-man. Donna." He said this in his usual Samba-
like cadence.  "Still no air conditioning? I tell you, I have a
cousin in Reston who could have fixed this last week."

"Regulations. Contracts. Union stuff. Can't do it," I said, examining
the menu.

"Unions?" Christobal tsked and shook his head.

"Don't get me started," I warned him.

"So many good choices, today, Christobal. Too tempting," Donna said
as she leaned against the glass ice cream case, rosy cheeked and
glowing in her soft, sleeveless raspberry sherbet colored dress. She
looked like she should be poolside in Bermuda in these very strappy
sandals that wrapped around her ankles and tied someplace on her
shins. Donna has nice shins. In fact, Donna has nicely contoured
calves. There are women who have bowling pin legs but Donna's are
firm, sleekly sculpted—

"Señor Ly-man. You ready to order?"

Startled, I lifted my gaze, hoping it hadn't been obvious where my
eyes had been focused. "Oh yeah. I'll have a—hey—wait. You raised
your prices. Yesterday I paid three fifty for a smoothie. Today it's
four bucks--"

"How's your grandson? He make it through the teething okay?" Donna
interrupted.

"Happy and healthy," he said and crossed himself. "Thank the blessed
Virgin. You are kind to ask, Donnatella. Such a pretty name, `Don-na-
tel-la.'  For you today, I have fresh peaches, strawberries—maybe you
want a caramel malt with pralines? You are like a jungle orchid
today, Donnatella. I throw in your wheat grass for free."

"Four bucks ought to get her the ginseng, the B6 and the Echinacea
too. What gives?"

He shrugged. "I have expenses. My supplier gets blueberries from
Vermont. Other blueberries are moldy. You want moldy blueberries?"

"It's called price gouging, Christobal."

"Free market economy, Señor Ly-man."

"Profiting from a desperate man's pain?"

"The American way, amigo."

"Lacking in poetry, but accurate. And why I'm a Democrat."

"I'll take the Orchard Sunrise," Donna began in another attempt to
break-up the wrangling between Christobal and me. "And whip up a Key
West Cooler and a Berry Patch Delight. All to go."

"Thirsty?" I raised an eyebrow.

"Cathy and Margaret. Oh—do you have the new `In Style'?"

Christobal smiled his approval. "Excellent choices, Donnatella—all
very fresh. And free wheat grass."

I turned to Donna. "That smoothie of yours is almost five bucks with
tax. He throws in a nickel's worth of wheat grass and you're all over
him like he's just handed you a winning Powerball ticket. You ought
to order the five cents worth of Diet Coke that he charges a buck-
fifty for in protest of this capitalistic exploitation."

"Take your protest and blend it, Josh," she sniffed. "IV fluids are
still an option."

"Fine. Follow the crowd. Be a slave to the sheep-dom that is mindless
consumerism. Principles are fine until they interfere with self-
gratification."  I waved to catch Christobal's attention. "I'll take
one of those blueberry things. And if there's one spec of mold in it—"

"I give you your money back," he completed for me. "Naturally."

Walking back to the White House, I realized Donna appeared remarkably
composed in this muggy hell we call midsummer in the D.C. swamp.
While wrapping my tie around my head to dam the sweat erupting,
geyser-like, on my forehead, seemed a legitimate tactic, she radiated
the healthy nonchalance of a Vogue photo shoot.

She noticed my scrutiny. "What? Do I have a bug in my teeth?"

"You don't sweat, do you?"

"The word is perspire and the answer is of course I do, but unlike
you, I have small pores."

"Small pores?"

"Can I have a taste?"

"You'll get lipstick on my straw. Are small pores a genetic endowment
or is it part of some arcane female beauty secret?"

"It's a sip, Josh, not a blood donation."

"I hate lipstick on the straw. "Off the lip of the cup."

"Lipstick on the lip is fine?"

"Lipstick on the lip is fine if I can have a taste of yours."

"Cup lip."

"Of course."

We swapped smoothies and continued strolling in silence.

In ten days, Congress would recess, vacation schedule, round one,
first string, would end (POTUS, Leo, Toby, CJ, Charlie, Ginger) and
vacation schedule, round two, deputy string, (me, Donna, Sam,
Ainsley, Cathy) would begin.  I should've been concerned about not
having any plans, but in three years I haven't taken a full week
off.  I anticipated that this vacation would be no different.  Donna
believes my inability to take time off is evidence of being attention
span challenged. I think of it more like my vigorous mental abilities
require constant stimulation.

If we've ever had an excuse to skip vacation, this would be the year.
With the special prosecutor and President Bartlet's efforts to take
his case for reelection to the American people, Toby and CJ have been
spending a lot of time on the road with the President, running his
town meetings, managing the press coverage, and creating the
message.  Toby feels our best odds for success lie in convincing the
people see that indeed, the President is well and that he's not only
capable of serving out his term, but deserving of another one.

Unfortunately, the business of keeping the federal government working
refuses to wait out the news cycle. I've found myself longing for the
Pony Express days when Idaho would find out about a pending bill
after it was too late for them to do anything about it—let alone
care. My office has had more than its fair share of responsibilities
coordinating the mobile White House with the one on 1600 Pennsylvania
meaning Donna has had her share of responsibilities coordinating me.
I knew things had hit a new low when I arrived at the
ancillary `Sagittarius' room at midnight on a Saturday and found
Donna and Sam sorting through the tangle that was collectively mine,
Sam's and Donna's laundry. In fact, I was likely wearing Sam's socks
the day Donna and I talked vacations.

Everything considered I was curious as to whether Donna had bothered
to make plans to leave DC. I mean, in the past, when I came back
early, I dragged her back with me. In one really desperate moment, I
flew to Wisconsin, marched into a family reunion and saved her from
having to sit through her Uncle Verlan's two-hour clogging recital.
Grandma Moss has yet to forgive me for that one.

In years past, I typically have some inkling about what Donna's plans
are before the July 4th recess. She does a big skit about the newest
addition to her swimsuit collection or what aloe-peach pit-rainforest
frappe skin product she's taking along. No Nordstrom catalogues or
spa vacation brochures had appeared on her desk (or mine) anytime in
the last four weeks. Odd. I asked her about this.

She hemmed and hawed for a moment, but finally confessed that she is
without a plan.

Some might see synchronicity to both of us being plan-less. Like this
is a sign or something. I think of it more pragmatically: considering
that I've more or less ruined her vacations for three summers, she's
realized that planning is pointless as long as I'm her boss. Okay--I
did feel a flash of contrition that I've conditioned my assistant to
believe vacations are at best futile, but in the same flash, I'm
grateful she's accepted the inevitability of the inevitable.
Flexibility is paramount when you have an attention span challenged
boss. Or rather, flexibility is paramount when you have a task
oriented and industrious boss. Whatever the worldview, I'm still in
charge.

I wondered if I should tell her about Ainsley's offer.

With Oliver Babish managing the special prosecutor's requests,
Ainsley had been assigned full-time to working the legal angles of
the White House's legislative agenda.  Two weeks ago, she interrupted
our analysis of a particularly hairy section of an education bill by
confessing her ardent desire for a vacation.  In lieu of taking her
week at the family's oceanfront cottage, the recent birth of her
sister's fourth child necessitated her assuming childcare duties.

It occurred to me that the Republican condemnation of family planning
efforts might have as much to do with assuring population dominance
in the Electoral College as some twisted desire to take all the fun
out of sex.  After all, while socially responsible liberals
everywhere are reproducing in a controlled, deliberate fashion,
Republicans are birthing like bunnies. I said this to Ainsley who
grinned wickedly and said, "Damn straight, Lyman." I could actually
see why Sam finds this woman alluring—alluring like Scylla and
Charybdes.

But this pony-tailed Scylla offered me the use of the Nags Head
house, an offer I wondered if I should share with Donna. I mean
obviously we couldn't vacation together. Obviously. Not that I had
any personal objections to spending my vacation time with her. It
might be sensible to vacation together. We could get a lot of work
done in spite of Donna's slavish devotion to Peak Tanning Hours.
Hell, we could work while Donna sunbathed. I could help her apply
suntan oil on all those hard to reach spots and then—

I paused and shook my head. What kind of heat-induced delirium
prompted that thought?

CJ would render me a prize eunuch if the `National Enquirer' garbage
divers so much as found a receipt hinting of impropriety.
Boss/assistant vacations fall into the category of questionable
judgment. I am nothing if not Deputy Decorum.

So maybe I let Donna take Ainsley's beach house. It still would save
me because I'd know where she was and how to reach her so I can say,
interrupt her vacation by Wednesday instead of having to waste a full
day voice-mail bombing her cell phone and enlisting the local FBI
office in locating a missing person.

"Do you have a plan?"

Her inquiry startled me back to my present geography, far from the
warm white sands of the South. We'd reached Lafayette Park (where
even the usual protesters had given up due to the risk of heatstroke)
and were about to cross Pennsylvania when I decided to take a seat on
a shaded park bench. "I gotta few things to do."

"Like the few things that took fifteen minutes last year?"

I shrug sheepishly. "I am not a man of leisure like those
professional lazy-asses in those Jane Austen movies you like so much."

"They're gentlemen, Josh. Like Lord John Marbury."

"Thank you for making my point for me."

"Lord John Marbury is imminently civilized. And he probably has a
plan."

"Being civilized requires a plan?"

"Being civilized requires sustained attention and therefore a plan."

"And I suppose you have a plan for the thing on Friday night?" Where
that came from, I had no clue. Particularly since the way that I said
it sounded suspiciously like I was asking her out. The thing in
question is the First Lady and the Bartlett daughters' invitation-
only performance by jazz pianist-vocalist Diana Krall. Kind of a
while POTUS is away, FLOTUS plays thing. I also heard rumors that
this had something to do with teaching Annie that N'SYNC can't be
classified as real music (such was Margaret's take on the thing.)

"Have I ever been allowed to have a plan for a Friday night?"

"Don't play passive-aggressive with me, Donnatella Moss. Your
inability to tame one of the local ape-boys—"

"I haven't made plans for the thing because I have this feeling—"

"Would your feelings have the same prognosticating accuracy as your
vibes?"

"You do the paint-by-numbers. Leo and the President are out of town,
Congress will be in the last four days of a relatively calm bi-
partisan session—unprecedented in the level of cooperation—and all
that's pending is a seemingly bulletproof education bill. Considering
the level of calm, I figure a major detonation will occur sometime
around 7PM Friday night."

She's right, but I'll be damned if I agree with her. "I think you're
avoiding the thing because you're threatened."

"Threatened?"

"Jazz appreciation requires a certain degree of sophistication,
something not fostered out in cheese country. You danced to what—the
Dairy Maid Polka—at your prom?"

"For a man whose quasi-pimp prom persona—"

"Quasi-pimp?"

"I have pictures, Josh. White polyester pants, chunky gold chains,
brown-geometric prints and wide-collared shirts. Quasi-pimp. Disco
Inferno lives on in you."

"Where did you—how did you—were you nosing around in my stuff?"

"Your mother showed me. We bonded, your mother and me."

"You're fired."

"Your braces were cute too."

"Double fired."

"The "Youth of Joshua Lyman" spread in `Washingtonian' magazine will
be a hit. Caption one: Josh at his bar mitzvah. Witness his earliest
battle with acne, but already president of the chess club and captain
of the Math Olympiad--"

"Donna!" I zigged--

--she zagged and dashed across the street to the West Gate, leaving
the smoothies behind for me to carry. Bag in hand, I chased after
her, following the trail of her laughter.

We carried on like this all the way into the office.

"I have keys, Josh. I have keys to your apartment, your car and your
gym locker. You can run, but you can't hide. Not even your gym socks
are safe because I have keys."

"So I change the locks. Where do you keep the Yellow Pages? I need a
locksmith. Cathy! I need a locksmith!"

"Your threats are worth bobkes."

"There should be a rule about shiksa girls and Yiddish—like watching
Woody Allen movies should be illegal until you swear you won't use
the vocabulary.  Or maybe my mother's sponsoring you for the local
Hadassah chapter?"

"She likes me. We have bonded."

"Can I have that?" Sam stole Cathy's smoothie from the drink holder.

"It's Cathy's," Donna replied.

"She takes my donuts. Consider this compensatory damages."

"Five bucks, Sam," I answered, remembering vividly my lesson in Cuban
economics. He doesn't have the decency to sip from the lip. The cad.

"Didn't she already pay you?" He took a long slurp. "This has melted.
You want five bucks for a melted smoothie? It's not a smoothie
anymore if it's melted. It's a runny."

"I want five bucks for delivery, Sam, pay up," I waved my open palm
under his nose.

"You must be Josh Lyman," an unknown voice interrupted.

Our heads swiveled in unison. Sam's eyes widened—almost bulged when
he saw the voice's owner. "Now that's a cold glass of water," he
muttered under his breath.

An apt description.  Clad in a lavender macramé-ish sweater and
pewter gray slacks, our immaculately coiffed black-haired guest
rested her hand with its French manicured nails on her cheek, and
contemplated us with eyes glistening like faceted gemstones. She was
tan—not leathery, fake-and-bake tan. Maybe recently back from St.
Barts tan or twice a week tennis tan. And I was somewhat surprised
her earlobes weren't dragging from the multi-karat diamond studs she
was sporting.

"Who's asking?"  I enjoy a glass of water as much as the next thirsty
guy, but I also know enough to avoid speaking without knowing whom
I'm speaking to.

"Jordan Custis Meade," she said, extending her silken-cool hand,
first to me, then to Sam and finally to Donna. We must have all
looked puzzled because her next words were "The decorator. Sent from
Jill Montoya's office."

"Custis?" Sam's glasses dropped a notch on his nose. "That wouldn't
be—"

"Martha Custis Washington, Custis? Yes. By way of the Lees." Her
voice was husky—Lauren Bacall asking Humphrey Bogart to put his lips
together and blow kind of husky. I loosened my tie.

" As in—" Like a mosquito to a bug zapper, Sam drew closer to Jordan.

"Robert E., yes. We're Virginia Democrats back to Jefferson," she
answered, shifting her gaze between Donna and me. If she didn't have
a career in politics, she should consider one: after years of
learning lobbyist-isms and Republican double-speak, I've mastered the
art of reading the gesture—even the slickest operatives struggle to
suppress body language. Hers was almost non-existent. No nervous
twitches, no mouth quirks, no expression in the eyes. Remarkable.
Wholly remarkable.

Even so, her words exhibited more than a little self-confidence. I've
met more than my share of so-called American royalty (goes with
political territory) and it takes more than a Southern belle with a
thoroughbred family tree to impress this Yankee.  "Party's changed a
lot since Jefferson."

"Pedigree and party loyalty go together, Mr. Lyman."  Her eyes
flickered coolly over Donna. "You must be Donnatella Moss."

"Yes," Donna answered cautiously. She's learned her reticent approach
from me. "I'm Josh's—"

"Assistant. I know. Karen Cahill mentioned you."

Donna blushed deeply.

I might have imagined it, but I thought I saw a calculatedly feline
expression of satisfaction pass across Jordan's face.

"I believe Jill's office sent you some swatches?"

"Yes, but I haven't had a chance to select anything."

Sam piped up, "I've looked mine over and I quite liked the navy blue
and olive paisley."

"A nice print," Jordan said politely, "But my instructions were to
start with the Deputy Chief of Staff—since Leo's out of town."

"Oh," Sam said, deflated. He slinked off to his office.

I entered my office with Jordan following close behind. She took a
seat, delicately crossed one leg over her knee and watched while I
located the swatches. Tossing them onto my desk, I sat down in my
chair. "I'd offer you something to drink, but the Mess is out of
commission. As is the air conditioning."

"I heard, "she said dryly, fanning herself with an accordion folded
page of paint samples. "Jill had a few ideas—"

"Tell you what, Ms. Mead, whatever Jill wants as long as this place
doesn't end up looking like Caesar's Palace, is fine with me."

"I realize, Mr. Lyman—"

"Call me Josh. And let's make one thing clear. I've got a country to
run. The President is out of town, as is Leo McGarry and
redecorating, regardless of its psychological benefits means less to
me than--"

"I realize that such trivialities as chair upholstery and interior
design mean little to you, but the supplies and services for this
project are being donated to the White House Historical Association
and I'm doing this as a favor for Jill, so if you can save your
attitude for someone who might actually be impressed by it, I'd
appreciate it."

"Fair enough. You're a friend of Jill's."

"We went to school together."

I wracked my brain to see if where Jill Montoya went to school was
stored somewhere in my gray matter. "Sarah Lawrence?"

"Brown for my undergrad, the Sorbonne for graduate work. I went to
Foxcroft prep with Jill."

Foxcroft. Visions of polo shirts, riding breeches and monogrammed
Fair Isle sweaters danced through my head.

She clicked open a briefcase and sorted through several file folders.
When she apparently didn't find what she wanted, she began examining
the contents of her Kate Spade purse. I knew it was a Kate Spade bag
because Donna had illustrated her "All I Want for Christmas List"
this year and the bag Jordan was carrying matched the magazine cutout
pasted next to "purse" on Donna's list. 

Donna popped her head in. "Senator McKay on line two."

"Do what you need to—measure, drape, match," I said to Jordan.   "I'll
take it at your desk, Donna."

"Thanks." Jordan stood up and bent over slightly, and retrieved her
swatches from where they sat in front of me. Her loose V-neck sweater
allowed for a relatively unobstructed view that I couldn't miss but
didn't dwell on. Yeah, I'm a guy: I'll look.  But I'm not the sort
that goes for the easy peep. Part of the thrill is managing a look at
something you aren't supposed to be looking at, or imagining what it
is you aren't supposed to be looking at it. And from what I've seen
of Jordan Meade, she's too calculating to be bending without assuming
I'm looking.

Granted, I'm not above the occasional frat boy antics. And I have a
healthy appreciation for the `Sports Illustrated' swimsuit issue—
after all those girls are practically athletes.  But I'm not logging
on to naughty.vixens.oftheivyleague.com in my off hours; it feels
like cheating.  I enjoy the chase: to hunt and be hunted, therein
lies excitement.  

So I rose from my chair with Jordan Meade's generous endowment
staring me in the face and found it effortless to remain nonplussed.
It dawned on me, however, that it has been a long time—a very long
time—since I've had any kind of purely social interaction with a
woman. Like pre-shooting, long time. Between recovery, that whole
holiday meltdown, stress and work, there hasn't been time for
anything more than the occasional meeting for drinks or a quick lunch
between appointments. Strangely, I haven't missed dating and all its
permutations.

Annoyed, Donna sighed. "Josh. Senator McKay."

"Excuse me."  I followed Donna out to her desk.

"You're on hold. She had an aide she needed to talk to."

I shrugged.

"Foxtrot's a school, huh? Some kind of advanced Arthur Murray thing."

"Foxcroft. Prepster heaven. Mostly old Virginia money. You were
listening?—Senator. Josh Lyman."

Senator Cassandra McKay (R-Maine) co-sponsored the Excellence in
Education Act with Senator Walt Kale (D-California) with the full
support of the Bartlet Administration. Not only does President
Bartlet like Cassie McKay, he considers her a trusted friend; by
proxy, she is also the friend of everyone who works in the West Wing.
Cassie had a few final additions she wanted to review with me before
she began the press leaks, so we set up an appointment for the
following day. I hung up the phone.

"Saturday, 10AM. You need more than an hour?" she asked.

"It's freakish how you do that. You only hear my side of the
conversation and yet you know what I'm going to ask you before I ask."

"And I didn't even go to Foxtrot."

"Foxcroft."

"10AM?"

"10AM's fine. You didn't have plans?"

She gave me the `What, do you think I'm stupid look?' and said, "My
plan is to keep you civilized by making sure you are well-planned.
Besides, Saturday is shorts day. I look very good in shorts."

"Shorts are nice," I agreed

Sam appeared at Donna's elbow. "I'm going to ask her for coffee."

"Donna? She doesn't do coffee. "

"No. I'm asking Jordan out for coffee. Have you ever read her pieces
in `Architectural Review' about incorporating the Frank Lloyd Wright
ethos into furniture design? Stimulating."

"Must have missed that one," I said, tossing my notes from my Senator
McKay conversation to Donna to type up and add to the file. "Donna,
can you call Clark Swensen and see if he can do a conference call
around 7 tonight. I'd like to have a position paper on the River
Recovery stuff ready for Leo's review"

She nodded and began flipping through her Rolodex.

"So what do you think," Sam persisted.

"About?"

"Jordan."

"She fills out her sweaters nicely."

"That's it?"

"She wears expensive shoes."

"I'm asking her out for coffee."

I slapped Sam on the back. "Break a leg."

He strolled into my office--rather swaggered-- into my office.

After that back slap, a seed of an idea began to swell. Sam must be
seeing something that I wasn't.  Jordan Custis Meade had plenty to
recommend her: social standing, money, a well-tanned, finely toned
physique, a good mind, and she filled out her sweater nicely.  Maybe
being benched too long had allowed my skills to deteriorate. I mean,
here was this beautiful, single, well-connected, intelligent woman
and I had zippo reaction to her. Nada. Bobkes. Nothing.

What was wrong with me to be so blasé about a woman who practically
invited me to partake?  And when something is wrong, I fix it. I'm a
regular handyman kind of guy. I, Joshua Lyman, resolved at that
moment to do whatever it took to once again lead the pack. I am an
alpha male among alpha males. I would reclaim my superiority or die
trying. Period. Just who did Sam Seaborn think he was anyway?

What I didn't consider was whether my sudden interest in Jordan Meade
was about competition with Sam or whether I really believed Jordan
Meade to be a legitimate contender in the potential girlfriend or
social companion department. Both of those factors were irrelevant
for I was a veritable hound dog on a blood trail, a toreador with a
red cape, a--

Sam shuffled out of my office a moment later, looking dejected. "She
has plans," he muttered.

"Better luck next time slugger," I quipped and walked back into my
office, prepared to hit the ball out of the park.

Jordan wound up for the pitch before I could plot strategy. "Josh?"

"Yeah?"

"We started off on poor footing and it occurs to me that it shouldn't
be that way. I've a tee time on Sunday afternoon and I was wondering
..."

I smirked. Maybe not a home run, but definitely a solid triple. Poor
Sam.

With white boards out, maps tacked over every open space and Donna's
fingers flying over the computer keys as she pulled any environmental
impact study available on the Internet, we teleconferenced with Under-
Secretary Clark Swensen. Packaged, the bone-dry conversation might
serve as a potent antidote for insomnia, but we endured Swensen's
diatribes on sewage overflows and watershed botany with a minimum of
yawns.

Mostly, the teleconference served to stockpile munitions against
anything Congressman Sarton might ambush me with.  I'm not above
wielding verbal violence to secure the political advantage for my
President. In this case, I'm hoping Sarton's ultra-pacifist; give-
peace-a-chance hippy feelgood persona kicks in. While he's busy
sharing his feelings, I'll K.O. him before the first commercial
break. It'll show him to take sides against the leader of his party.

Both Donna and I sighed, fatigued, when we were finally able to click
off the speakerphone. The oppressive heat remained our constant
companion. She had long ago stripped off her shoes and pulled her
hair up in one of those claw clips.

"We do agree in principle with Sarton, don't we?" she said,
punctuating her question with a yawn.

"Sarton's principles mean unemployment to the 200,000 plus Americans
whose jobs will move to Jakarta if business is required to implement
the standards Sarton's demanding. In theory, yes we agree.
Practically, we're five years out from having the technology that
makes Sarton's principles affordable."

"I love it when you talk technical, Josh."  Impudently, she threw her
bare feet up on my lap.

"And I'm supposed to do what with these?" I noted her toenails were
painted a muted pink.

"A civilized man would have an ottoman because he would know my feet
are always killing me by 8:30 and he would have planned to have an
ottoman waiting for me. You do not plan so you can be my ottoman."

"You're punishing me for that comment I made about lazy-assed Jane
Austen men, aren't you?"

"Never mock Mr. Darcy, Josh. He is a man with a plan."

"And did you do the civilized thing and plan for dinner?"

"The guard called a few minutes ago. It's waiting at the gate.
Ainsley went to pick it up for us. When she heard Wong's Gong had
Fresca, she offered to treat."

"So the secret is finding every restaurant within ten blocks that
delivers and serves Fresca."

"That's what I was thinking. I'd probably save $50 a month in take-
out."

On cue, the diminutive blonde appeared in the doorway. "Who had the
Moo Goo Gai Pan and the Broccoli Beef?"

I raised my hand.

"Which means you have the Mu Shu Chicken and the Sweet and Sour
shrimp?"

"Guilty as charged," Donna acknowledged. "And there should be some
fried rice in there too."

Ainsley excused herself from eating with us claiming that she had
three more briefings to complete before tomorrow. Personally, even
knowing her voracious appetite, there is no physical way she could've
eaten all that food without help. Maybe she'd planned to lift the
spirits of the still moony-eyed Sam.

Donna and I dove in with gusto. Or rather Donna dove in with gusto
using the only fork the restaurant sent over and I attempted to dive
in as well as I could with chopsticks. A small sampling of Chinese
vegetables and meats were accumulating on the floor around my chair.
When I dripped soy sauce on Donna's ankle, she drew the line.

"Watching you eat is excruciating," she said, dropping her feet to
the floor and scooting her chair closer to mine. She plunged her fork
into my Broccoli Beef, speared a piece of meat and pushed it toward
my lips. "Eat this, Mr. Anorexia."

"Donna, I do an adequate job with chopsticks. I am multi-cultural. I
have well-developed fine-motor coordination."

"You're making work for the custodians. Eat." She pushed the morsel
against my lips.

I rolled my eyes, but obediently opened up. Immediately, she forked
another one and repeated the procedure. I felt ridiculous, but
elected not to argue with her. The third time, however, I grabbed her
forearm and halted her. "I've used a fork since I was two, mom."

We both paused for a moment, my hand on her arm, her fork frozen in
mid air. There was nothing maternal, or condescending in her warm,
expressive eyes. I wondered what she saw in mine.

"Why don't you take my fork, then. I'm full and I'll take my
leftovers home with me," she whispered, still not breaking eye
contact.

"You've got some schmutz on your cheek."  Without looking away, I
reached over and took a napkin out of the bag. Leaning close her, I
dabbed at the offending spot with the napkin hand and held her chin
in my other.

The feel of women's skin amazes me. Like somehow Estee Lauder or
Bobbi Brown or whoever those loveliness gurus are have figured out
how to transfer the texture of satin to the curve of a chin. "The
Post will say I run an uncivilized office if you're caught with
schmutz on your face..." She smiled slightly and I couldn't help
reciprocating. Reluctantly, I dropped my hands to my lap. "You are
officially schumtz-less."

She checked her watch. "I've got to catch the Metro, Josh. My
mechanic is running some diagnostics that might take a few days."

"Let me take you home. Public transportation can be dangerous late at
night."

"Aside from hell-raising GW med students, Farragut West to Kings
Street is generally pretty safe. My place is only a few blocks past
that."

"Still...." I retrieved my car keys from my desk drawer. "We could rent
a movie if you're not too tired. I mean it's too damn hot to sleep,
even with air conditioning."

"All right," she said. "As long as it isn't "Lawrence of Arabia."

"Or the A&E Pride and Prejudice. That thing is seven hours long."

"I thought you said it was too damn hot to sleep."

And so it continued, out to the parking lot, into the video store and
back to my place where we finally decided to go after Donna laid
the `you-don't-pay-me-enough-to-buy-a-DVD-player' guilt trip on me.

At least I sprung for popcorn.




 

Saturday, July 28th/Sunday, July 29th


Saturday was hotter than the day before, if that was possible.

"Yo, Heidi!" I greeted Donna.

She looked up from her desk. "No comments about the braids, Joshua."

She was very cute in these shorts that had enough pockets to keep
supplies for a Marine Battalion, a navy blue tank top and a pair of
Swiss-looking braids.

"You mean you aren't headed for a yodeling contest out on the Mall?"

"Josh—"

"A sweet rendition of "The Hills Are Alive" would be fine with me—"

"I had no hot water, Josh. I braided my hair because I was unable to
wash my hair due to the lack of hot water."

"Who needs water?  The braids are hot," I raised a teasing eyebrow.

"My roommate and her guest decided to frolic in a tropical waterfall
thus the lack of hot water."

"You should've stayed at my place."

"Teeth grinding or Blue Lagoon reenactment. What a choice."

"I don't grind my teeth."

"Josh, on the occasions that I've slept on your couch, I've heard you
grinding your teeth from two rooms away. Like nails on a chalkboard,
like a partially shifted transmission, like a--"

"Good morning, Josh. Donna," Senator Cassie McKay said as she turned
the corner into the Bullpen. She had the freshly scrubbed, make-up
free look I'd come to associate with a particularly independent breed
of New England women, Dr. Bartlet and the Bartlet daughters among
them. In spite of the gray threading through her naturally curly
brown hair, her energy and charisma shaved a decade off her fifty-
eight years.

"Senator," I extended my hand; her grip was confident and strong.

"Nice braids, Donna," she commented.

I smirked.

"Thanks for encouraging him, Senator. He'll be unbearable for the
rest of the day, " Donna said.

"Isn't he always unbearable?"

The women exchanged smiles before Cassie and I went to work.

Cassandra Liberty Wallace McKay is one of the rare Republicans that
found the balance between fiscal conservatism, social moderation and
common sense. She doesn't kow-tow to the Christian right nor does she
pay lip service to her party's belief in smaller government.  When
she says she believes government has no business regulating the lives
of its citizens, she backs her words up by refusing to support
legislation about bedroom behaviors, video rentals and putting the
Ten Commandments in the classroom. Who she is and what she believes
are in alignment; her public and private behavior is completely
congruent.

At least to my way of thinking. See, Cassie McKay might have an
Oxford PhD and be a former Stanford provost, but her judgment in men
evidences that even the best and the brightest can't have all their
synapses firing simultaneously. Her sort-of husband, Theodore Benton
McKay, is a first class putz: the kind of guy who kept Sam's lawyer-
call-girl friend in peignoirs. As the figurehead CFO at a quasi-
honorable Silicon Valley tech company, he barely escaped an SEC probe
without a felony conviction. Things have been worse since Cassie came
to Washington. She's had to have one staffer assigned full-time to
damage control whether it's paying off bad debts, tabloid
photographers or shredding his AMEX bills. The whole situation has
been tragic: a brilliant, capable politician serving her country
while her husband cavorts with interns.

Until a few months ago when Dr. Bartlet introduced her to one of her
long-time friends, a cardiology professor from Johns Hopkins. It was
love at first sight. How far its gone, I can't even speculate on, but
for the first time in years, Cassie McKay has an undisputed glow
about her and it isn't because she has a 78% approval rating back
home. 

The Excellence in Education Act that brought us together was a
solidly crafted piece of legislation that pushed American schools
toward greater accountability and offered increased opportunities for
achievement for poor and minority students. Everyone with a lick of
sense found the basics of the bill palatable. Naturally, there were a
few fringe requests for universally federalized day care or
creationism as the standardized science curriculum, but mostly,
everyone felt good about the compromises.

Mostly.

The Majority Leader wasn't too happy about the exclusion of voucher
programs for religious schools as well as tax breaks for private
school tuition for the upper 5% of the socio-economic strata.  There
were enough people who supported his point of view that it appeared
for a while that his version of the bill was going to be the one that
prevailed. Cassie was doing an excellent job of keeping him on a
leash.

As I said, I like Cassie McKay. She's a straight shooter.

The business portion of our meeting was resolved with relative speed,
so I took the chance and asked her about how things stood "outside of
the workplace."

Cassie smiled crookedly and tucked a lock of hair behind an
ear. "What a mess, Josh! I mean, I'm a married woman. I was born
about a decade too early to really embrace the free love concept."

"I was in grade school during the free love era and it hasn't stopped
me any."

"Vows are vows, Josh. I know you're a politician, but I believe in
keeping my promises."

"Vows don't mean anything to Ted, no offense meant." I've met the
bastard and he's well, a bastard.

"No offense taken, you're right. Ted has a new tart he's keeping at a
condo in Crystal City. He thinks he's being very subtle this time by
stashing her outside D.C. city limits, but he didn't realize that the
Secretary of Defense's wife works out across the street."

I made a mental note to mention this to CJ when she returned. " And
divorce?"

"Probably sooner than later. I don't want to sound like a politician
and say that I should wait until after my re-election bid, but I'm
wondering if that's the best strategy."

"Maybe. I think you're underestimating your constituents. They love
you."

"But the appearance of things, Josh...its bad. And politics is all
about—"

"Appearances. I know. But if you're in love—like the real kind of
last person I want to see before I sleep, first person I want to see
when I wake up kind of love—I'd say all bets are off."

Cassie laughed. "Could it be possible that hard-assed Joshua Lyman is
a bit of romantic at heart? As for that other...your liberal idealism
rearing its attractive head. I'm sure the serpent in the Garden of
Eden was a Democrat"

"Switch parties. Live in sin with Doctor Kildare and we'll spin it
into a `People' magazine cover and a movie of the week. You stick
with the elephants and you can pretty much plan on being burned in
effigy."

"I think I'll risk it," she answered diplomatically. "And how are you
doing? Anything special? Anyone special?"

Donna appeared in the doorway.  "Sorry to interrupt, Josh, but the
thing...."

Cassie looked between us, cocked her head and half-smiled.

"What?" Donna said, concerned.

"I'm thinking there's this smoothie guy you need to bond with..." I
said, masterfully misdirecting the conversation.  I rose from my
chair and headed for the doorway.

"Christobal?"

"You know him?" Donna asked.

"A friend of mine likes cigars," she shrugged.

I thought of mentioning Jordan to Cassie in response to her inquiry
about my personal life, but figured if anything came up, she'd hear
it through the grapevine anyway.

And so went Saturday.


Donna called me promptly at 5AM Sunday morning to get my ass out of
bed in time for my appearance on "Meet the Press. She also updated me
about the goings on up at the Manchester house.

The President was off one of his Thoreau weekends—periodic jaunts
into the New England woods with his brother, former college
roommates, fellow professors and political colleagues. It's supposed
to be this philosophical "I went into the woods to live deliberately"
bonding weekend, but what it comes down to is a bunch of middle-aged
guys running around the woods in flannel shirts, smoking cigars, and
drinking too much Scotch. Last year, the constabulary called once to
report that a sheep herd had been let loose on the town commons. This
year's outing resulted in a former congressman being cited for
kidnapping an outhouse while reports surfaced of a few souls getting
lost while cow tipping. Maybe a news note novel enough to make an NPR
sidebar where the bulk of the audience voted for Bartlet anyway, so
who cared?

While I dressed and shaved, Donna stayed on speakerphone, tutoring me
on water safety stats and running Sarton's side of the argument.

I smacked Donna—and Sarton—down good.

Around eleven in the morning, Jordan picked me up in a very nice
vintage Jaguar. Vehicles have an almost Jungian quality to them—they
communicate to the collective unconscious more about their owners
than we're willing to admit to. Jordan's vehicle reflected extreme
self-confidence and excellent taste.

Obviously why she asked me to go golfing in lieu of Sam.

The golf date yielded nothing more exciting than the revelation that
Jordan has a dazzling handicap and that we know a lot of people in
common. I liked that people at the club watched when we walked past—I
knew that many of the movers around town frequented this place—and I
liked that Jordan never pretended to be anything less than the
intelligent, well-to-do woman that she was. No false modesty or
pretense.

Sure, there was a lot of eyelash fluttering. And from time to time
she sashayed like a debutante—kind of an Ainsley times five.  Her
perfume was on the strong side and she tended to want to squeeze
close together in the golf cart.  But I knew seeing her again
wouldn't be a problem. I went home after 18 holes and didn't give her
a second thought.

Around eight, I showed up at Donna's, uninvited, and asked her to
share in a sudden craving for Italian ice. There's a nice sidewalk
café by Dean and DeLuca where they have a roving mandolin player. I
didn't feel like going alone: I don't like the sound of my voice that
much, Donna's assertions to the contrary.  Besides, I figured if her
roommate was planning Blue Lagoon II, Donna deserved a break. We ate
dessert, drank iced coffees and called it a night.

Such was my weekend.



 

Monday, July 30th

Monday morning started off with a bang. I had been in my office no
less than fifteen minutes when Donna arrived. Unsmiling. Donna is not
typically a Monday person nor is she a morning person so the
combination is not always a good one. That morning, she was unusually
pensive.

"We have a trusting relationship, don't we?"

Comments like those make me nervous. "You didn't leak my prom
pictures to Danny, because if you did, so help me—"

"No, but its nice to know I have the means of potential blackmail at
my disposal."

"Do not."

"You mother likes me."

"My mother considered adopting her butcher, the mailman and the guy
who bags her groceries so that's not saying much."

"I trust you, Josh. I absolutely do. With my life."

"What's with the melodrama?"

"I have faith in the honesty and integrity of our relationship. I
have no secrets from you."

"So when's the last time you dreamed about me?"

If there is such thing as flushing fuchsia, Donna flushed fuchsia.
Fuchsia is an attractive color on Donnatella Moss.

The phone rang. Saved by the bell.

"You think about that Ms. Moss," I said, smirking, as I backed into
my office to take the call. I picked up the phone.

"Please tell me you didn't sleep with her."

"CJ?"

"Please tell me you didn't sleep with her or I may have to fly home
and hurt you."

"It's gotta be 4AM where you are, CJ. Is it possible you're
sleepwalking?"

"I am an all-seeing, all-knowing press secretary. You can run, but
you can't hide."

"I have something to hide?"

"The Style section."

"I don't read the Style section."

"And you wonder why you're the last one to know."

I flipped open the Post section in question and examined the "Social
Notes" column.

Oh. Suddenly Donna's mood makes sense.

"Jordan Meade is a python, Josh. She will anesthetize you with her
husky voice, lather you up with massage oil and then she will squeeze
the life out of you--right after she calls Sally Quinn and dishes on
how sexy you are in silk boxers."

"It was a golf game, CJ. We had a few Bloody Marys. "

"And that's all its going to be if you want to continue breathing.
Because, so help me Josh Lyman, if I have to answer one question
about your choice of underclothing next Monday, I will hurt you.  I
am a veritable Amazon, Joshua. If you humiliate this White House, I
will dry your tears, pat you on the head and then I will dismember
you and feed you to the press corps."

"It's no big. Seriously. Besides, I wouldn't be worried about me.
It's Sam you need to watch. He may do something desperate to get
Jordy's attention and you know how witless Sam becomes around a
pretty face."

"Oh. I get it now."

"What's there to get?"

"This is some stupid-assed male posturing game between you and Sam."

"Please, CJ—"

"Don't please CJ me. Promise me you will have nothing to do with
Jordan Meade."

"All you women are threatened by a woman with a measure of confidence
in her—her assets and abilities."

"Women? You mean there's someone besides me threatening to kill you?
This must be worse than I thought."

"Donna said—"

"Donna is a sage, Joshua. Listen to her. She is a fount of wisdom."

"And then Ainsley—"

"Ainsley? It pains me to say this but even Ainsley has more sense in
her pinky finger than Jordan has in all of her surgical
augmentations. You, however, don't have the common sense God gave a
turnip."

"But I did good on "Meet the Press." I smacked Sarton down good."

"Yes you did, Josh," CJ said indulgently. "You smacked down a widower
who looks like Harrison Ford. Let's give you a medal."

"It's all about surface with you women—"

Jordan Meade appeared in my doorway, swathed in fabric samples. She
smiled, a white toothy smile.

"Gotta run, CJ. Have fun stomping grapes or whatever you do in Napa—"
And I hung up.

"Can I help you?"

"I have a gift."

"I like gifts."

She removed a box from her shoulder bag and placed it on my desk. Not
exactly your standard "it was a nice date" thank you. It was much
more generous.

"A Palm Pilot?"

"I thought you could use one."

"And that's because—"

"Josh—" She eased the door closed. "Let's be honest. You're a
powerful man."

"A given." I liked how she affirmed the obvious. A trait I could
definitely grow to admire.

"And powerful men to stay in power require a certain measure of
freedom—to make decisions, to run their lives."

"I'm still not following you."

"You called Donna six times from the golf course yesterday—"

"Yes but—"

"Yes but I think your dependence on her isn't healthy for your
career. Half the time she's telling you what to do instead of vice
versa.  Is that how you want things run?"

I paused, suppressed a gape. There was no way Jordan could know what
Leo called me about last week. But rumors have been flying and its
conceivable that Jordan, with her connections to the First Lady's
office... I narrowed my eyes, met Jordan's gaze and tried to decipher
whether she might actually know...

That aside, something in her words—something I couldn't put my finger
on—struck me as disingenuous. "Donna is an amazingly competent
employee—more than amazing—she is the Nobel prizewinner of
assistants. She's capable of directing the staff of any
congressperson or being a top aide to an senior government official—"

"I'm not maligning Donna. I agree with you. Her skills are
remarkable. So don't you think you ought to learn to be independent
enough that she can continue to grow? To spread her wings, fulfill
her potential? I mean maybe if she spent less time babysitting you,
she could actually finish her degree. Georgetown has a--"

"I would never hold her back."

"Of course you wouldn't. Not knowingly."

Okay that last comment hit close enough to make me shudder. Either
Jordan had uncannily good instincts or she's in the loop somewhere
where she shouldn't be. I'd be damned I let her know what I was
thinking though. This was supposed to be light conversation.
Flirtatious. Charming. "Hey, am I going to see you later—to like, go
over swatches or something?"

"Sam has dress circle tickets for "Aida" and we're taking an early
dinner at Morton's so I'm taking off around three to get ready."

Score one for Seaborn. "Oh. I suppose I'll see you tomorrow then."

"Perhaps." She batted her eyelashes. I swear she batted her
eyelashes. 

Leave it to me to enter a civil war over Scarlett O'Hara.

It was hot. Hot, hot, hot. Pick your cliché: hot as hell, hot enough
to fry an egg on the sidewalk, yadda, yadda, yadda.

With the air conditioning still broken, I found it difficult to focus
on my work that morning. Donna avoided anything more personal
than "Senator Stackhouse on line two" or "Toby threatened to break
your kneecaps if you didn't get this done before he came back." I
half-wondered if my dream comment crossed some kind of line or
whether she was just generally pissed because I didn't tell her I had
had a date with Jordan Meade.

So why didn't I tell her?  I tell Donna practically everything and
what I don't tell her she figures out. I'm loath to admit this, but
during my post-shooting recovery, Donna covered a few bases that I'm
uncomfortable with even my mother covering. We never talked about it
then—we've never talked about it since—it was just one of those
things. Like the time I walked in on her changing her clothes in my
office (a moment indelibly imprinted on my brain) or during that
campaign stop in Chicago when we fell asleep watching "Charlie Rose"
and woke up like practically on top of each other. Sure, it was weird
but we didn't make anything out of it. We moved on without comment. 
Which is also odd because we can't let anything go without comment.
That's what we do: we comment.

I contemplated these thoughts while I tried to figure out the Palm
Pilot. After a couple of hours, I'd managed to make `Solitaire' work.
Progress.

I had finally found the ace of hearts when Donna marched in carrying
a pile of binders. "Margaret was cleaning out Leo's stuff and wanted
to know if you would store—what's that?"

"I uh—"

"A new toy. Has an appropriately phallic quality.  Let me see it."
She snatched it from out of my hand and fussed with the
buttons. "Adequate RAM. Has Outlook loaded—that's a plus. Where's the
cradle to hot synch this baby?"

"Rock-a-bye baby cradle what?"

"Witness here a man who refuses to embrace change.  The box?"

"I do a damn lot of embracing."

"Whatever you need to believe to feel good about yourself, Josh."
Donna appeared to be searching for something as she looked under
chairs, sorted through the top layers of refuse in the garbage can.

"I represent a dying breed of men—a breed of men who understands the
value of knowledge over the ability to access knowledge."

"Call Congress and add you to the Endangered Species list." She
continued her hunt.

" As one who has yet to succumb to the aimless trendiness that is
Generation X, let me say I am proud to remain unplugged. The mighty
power of the human cerebrum will never be surpassed," I said, tapping
my forehead, "by a nest of wire and some microchips."

She balled her fists and planted them on her hips. "The box, Josh."

I reached beneath my desk and tossed what I thought was an empty box
to her. She fished around in the Styrofoam and found whatever it was
she was searching for and I think attached it to my computer.

Donna knew exactly what she was doing. Within moments, the "cradle"
was attached to my "CPU" and Donna was "hot synching" one to the
other.

She removed the gadget, unsheathed the stylus and tapped commands
onto the facial plate. "Your stuff is loaded on the Palm—your
calendar, your phone numbers, your emails, your shoe size. Not like
it will matter because --"

"I never look at my calendar."

"Cool!  You've got spider solitaire."

"And I don't read my emails unless you print them out."

"This quote of the day thing has potential."

"Jordan was right."

"Excuse me?"

"Jordan was right. I haven't begun to mine my self-management
potential."

"And she is relevant to this because—?" Donna raised an eyebrow.

"She gave me this whatever you call it. This Palm Driver."

Her face stilled, her eyes, narrowed. "I see."

For a minute, "I see" hung in the air between us.

Damned if I'm going to let this particular issue play yet. "There you
go, saying `I see' like there's some massive ulterior motive here but
it was actually very thoughtful gesture made in an effort improve
both of our lives."

Donna furrowed her brow. "So there's a Palm Pilot for me too?

"It was rather perceptive of her, really. I can't believe I didn't
think of it first."

"Do tell."

"Being the intelligent, highly capable political professional I am, I
have a responsibility to accept more well—responsibility for my life."

"And?"

"As a favor to you, Donna. Deserving Donna—that's how I think of
you."

"I deserve a raise."

"Most Americans, when asked, would take more free time over a raise."

"I deserve a raise."

"With free time, Donna, think of the possibilities."

"To--?"

"Explore new horizons, spread your wings—"

"My wings aren't spread--like I'm caged? Or do I have defunct wings. "

"Your wings are fine. Don't make more of the cliché than is there."

"You said the wings thing, not me. Or wait. She said the wings thing,
didn't she and you're just parroting her rationalizations.  Wasn't
she taught to avoid clichés like the plague? Some prep school she
attended."

I gave her a look.

"Get it? Avoid clichés like the plague?"

"Seemed like a good idea at the time, eh Donna?"

"I'm not the girl one taco shy of combo platter."

"No one could accuse you of having the lights on but not being home."

"Didn't I just say that? Not directly but by implication?"

"Maybe something about being on my last nerve..."

She harrumphed, "The only blood I'm boiling is Princess Foxtrot's.
Clearly she has control issues."

"Did I use that word? I did not use that word."

"Jordan gave you a Palm Pilot," she said as if it were self-evident
what she meant.

"Maybe you and I have a little control freak co-dependency thing, a
dysfunction deserving its own 12 step program."

"She gave you a PDA so she can get PDA without my interruptions."

"A man of my position and importance-"

"She was pissed off that you called me on Sunday."

"A pretty presumptuous assertion."

"Princess Martha Washington Foxtrot was pissed that she didn't have
your undivided attention."

"She's going out with Sam tonight. Morton's. Aida. Maybe we could go
to Buffalo."

Donna sighed. "I'm done here." She threw the Palm Pilot onto the
desk, collected items from the "In" box and prepared to leave.

"Hey!"

She paused in the door.

"Aren't you going to show me how to get my email off this?"

"Use the mighty power of the human cerebrum. You have a staff meeting
in ten minutes and that's the last freebie you're getting from me."

And with that she was gone.

She strolled quietly in and out of my office for the remainder of the
day. Shoved file folders at me and dropped off my phone messages.
Once, I thought I caught a glimpse of her working with Margaret on re-
organizing Leo's office. None of their whisperings were translatable
from the hallway, but I think I heard my name at least once.

I'm an egomaniac. Sue me.

 

 



Tuesday, July 31st


When I woke up Tuesday morning, my window thermometer read 65 degrees
(at 5:10AM). The weather guy mentioned something about 92% humidity.
Walking to work resembled a fully clothed plunge into a swimming
pool. I'm not sure even my cardiologist would approve of exercise
under these conditions, though he's constantly carping on me to read
these health magazines filled with photos of gaunt people who, in
spite of their toned abs and soybean pod stir-fries, look miserable.
If a well-burnt filet mignon brings me joy, I'll shave five minutes
off my life in payment to risk the grill-induced carcinogens. Who
wants to live to be a hundred as a gaunt old person eating stir-fried
soybean pods? 

I arrived at the West Wing to discover the parts to the air
conditioner are "in transit."  Naturally.

Donna, generously, printed a complete copy of my calendar for the day
and taped it to my door.

Trying to make a statement, obviously.

Nothing more than a cursory, "Here's the thing," "What time do you
need that appointment?" passed between us for the first several
hours. I almost wonder if I've been chosen to beta test some Pentagon
experiment on artificial intelligence. In three years, I don't think
Donna's ever been quiet for this long unless, of course, she had
laryngitis. There is no way the blonde woman sitting out in the
Bullpen is Donna. Gotta be a Robo-Donna.

I manage to make my first staff meeting without having to ask Donna
for help. Score one for Lyman.


The meeting went without incident.  Heat-induced lethargy left every
deputy, assistant and intern in a stoned-stupor. Even my verb
conjugating ability dissipated by the time the last agenda item
appeared. When I finally emerged, I went looking for Donna, who, for
some reason, never showed up. It wasn't required that she show up,
its just that she usually does show up.

"Donn-A!" I bellowed down the hall. No one came scurrying. No "Shut
up Josh!" emerged from the recesses of Leo's office. So I yelled
again, "Donn-A!"

Cathy strolled by, carrying smoothies.

"Did Donna go with you?" I asked hopefully. I'm ready to chance moldy
blueberries if it means I obtained liquid refreshment.

"Nope."

So Donna wasn't at staff meeting, wasn't with Cathy.

I checked with Margaret before starting recon through the multiple
floors of the West Wing. I was more than a little concerned about her
disappearance. In this city, anything is possible and I couldn't rule
out mugging, being run over at a crosswalk, or being wooed by a
handsome, upstart Federal prosecutor. D.C. could be dangerous for
someone as trusting as Donna tended to be. She makes friends easily
and in the oddest places.

My search led to the grounds. Maybe the Sculpture Garden, the Rose
Garden...I turned a corner and ran smack into Sam and Jordan lounging
leisurely on a heavily shaded bench, apparently in the final phase of
polishing off a picnic.

How precious.

"Have you seen Donna?" I demanded.

"Take a load off, Josh. The veins on your forehead are popping out,"
Sam observed wryly. "Have some Brie or some Crenshaw melon."

"Donna's missing," I persisted.

Jordan removed the napkin from her lap and placed it in a wicker
basket. "I thought I saw her leave about an hour ago. She was walking
toward the EOB parking lot." She batted her eyelashes delicately.

"Well dammit that was an hour ago! Has anyone contacted the Secret
Service or the Park Police or DCPD? I mean anything could have
happened—"

"Have you tried her cell, Josh?"

"She's not picking up."

Sam exchanged knowing looks with Jordan. "Caller ID," they chimed
together. Upon discovering their synchronicity, they smiled at each
other and laughed.

"She is not avoiding me!"

"By the way Josh, Jordan has an college chum whose coming into town
this weekend. If you'd like she could fix you up with Gabrielle for
the Krall thing."

I refused to acknowledge the blatant provocation Sam tossed out in
that last comment. "Some friend you are to her, Seaborn. She could be
stuck out on the GW Parkway with a flat tire or be facing some
gangbanger's Saturday Night Special and all you can think about is a
double date."

He shrugged. "If she needed something, she'd call."

And that's what worried me because something inside me wondered if on
that day she would have called me. Me, Josh Lyman. Would Donna call
me if she needed something?

While I raced down the walkway toward the building, my cellphone
rang. "Donna! Where are you?" My own panicked tone surprised me.

"Is your head lost somewhere up your ass, Josh, because if you don't
know where Donna is, do you know where you are?" Leo's voice boomed
accusingly through the static.

"I'm looking for Donna, Leo. What can I do for you?"

"How long has she been gone?"

"An hour. Maybe ninety minutes."

"Aw hell Josh, she's probably just shopping for shoes."

"What is it about this place that no one accepts the gravity of
situations like—"

"Shut up!"

I obeyed.

"While you've been busy playing hide and go seek with your assistant
out on the White House lawn, Rush Limbaugh launched a "Kick The Cons"
out of the White House thing on his show this morning. Chris Matthews
has already picked it up. Get inside, grab Simon Grazer and tell him
we gotta get this covered in the 2 o'clock briefing."

"What are you doing listening to that crackpot?"

"Here in middle of nowhere Oregon, Josh, there is nothing on AM radio
but right wing nutjobs. On this particular morning having nothing but
AM radio probably saved us from looking like a Ringling Brothers
sideshow when the human interest story on every major news broadcast
turns out to be President Bartlet's buddies getting busted for
stealing outhouses."

"*That's* Limbaugh's battle cry? Come on, Leo. It's a non-story."

"A non-story that'll be on Letterman, Leno and the morning news
shows. Last thing we need is having our credibility undercut by
something this asinine!"

"I'll handle it. We'll spin this thing."

"Yes, you will." And Leo hung up.


Upon returning, I discovered that during my tour, Donna had come back
to her desk. Relief flooded me. And once the relief emptied out, I
was irate.

She sat reviewing a well-worded memo I'd dashed off that morning.

"Where were you?" I requested as pleasantly as I could muster
considering the emotional duress I'd experienced during the last
quarter hour.

"I took my designated lunch hour. For the first time in three years,
I might add."

"You weren't at staff meeting."

"I'm not required to be at that particular meeting"

"You always go to staff meeting."

"I had an appointment. For a manicure." She fanned her
hands. "Lovely, aren't they?"

"You ditched staff meeting to have your nails done?" I screeched.

"It was on the calendar."

"Well, um, I—I didn't realize it was on my calendar." The floor
suddenly seemed like an appropriate place to stare at.

"You're the one who wants me to spend more time taking care of my
needs. True?"

"Yeah, but--"

"I had my nails done. Was there a coup?"

"Uh--"

"Where are there lines of people you've offended in my absence?"

"Uh--"

"A person with your superior intelligence has the ability to succeed
at self-management and I'm simply giving you the room to do so. Do
you know when your next appointment is?"

"I'm not certain--"

"I'll give you a big hint: River Recovery."

"Okay. Clark Swensen. Interior. Thanks, Donna." I started to walk
away and it occurred to me. "Wait a sec. We have a real problem here.
Leo just called and—"

Without looking, she hands me a cassette and videotape. "The
recording of Limbaugh's show this morning; the footage of Matthews on
MSNBC. I also had Mike tack on the filler anchor comments—they were
attempting to make jokes, poor ones, at the President's expense.
Simon Grazer is on his way up from the Mess. He'll meet you in
Margaret's office. She's set up a teleconference with the Manchester
house."

Truly, she is a wonder. "How did you--?"

She sighs tiredly. "After all this time you still have to ask that?"

I started walking towards Leo's office, but paused to look back at
Donna. "This is retribution for the whole Palm Pilot thing, isn't it?"

"Josh, I am a woman who understands strategy. So when my compulsively
workaholic boss, permits me the rudiments of a life, what kind of
meshugine do you think I am to not take the opening?"

I supposed that made sense. I mean, of course it made sense. Still, I
felt like I'd just been force fed a tablespoon of cod liver oil under
the guise that it was good for me.



Wednesday, August 1st

Simon began to wrest control of the Limbaugh non-story out of press,
but not before the President's Thoreau weekend gave Letterman
his "Top Ten Criminal Acts Perpetuated By The White House" list.

Ha. Ha. Ha.

Remind me to cross Letterman off the White House Christmas card list
this year.

Wednesday was more of the same. Sam being nauseatingly smug about his
success with Jordan Meade, Donna procuring a bagful of summer
bargains during her lunchtime shopping trip to 'The Gap' and Leo
calling every few hours to remind me what a lousy job I was doing.
And heat? Did I mention that the parts didn't FIT!

The average midweek goings on from purgatory.

About three in the afternoon, Sam appeared, panic-stricken at my
door. Dr. Bartlet's office had called. The guy from the local public
radio station who was supposed to MC the show had been admitted to
the hospital with an emergency appendectomy.  Lilly Mays had
recommended to Dr. Bartlet that Sam be asked to replace the now post-
operative DJ.

Except Sam had a date. A very big, very serious date.

I resisted the urge to crack my knuckles, Godfather style.
Eventually, Joshua Lyman wins. I'll cede the skirmishes and the odd
battle, but in the end, victory is mine. Before this conversation was
over, Sam would believe I was doing him a favor by escorting Ms.
Jordan Custis Meade to the Friday night concert.

There was still, however, the business of running the country. Not to
worry, I covered that too.

"Donna, you have to work Friday night."

"I have a date."

"Cancel it."

" I invited him here."

"Him who?"

"Larry Fitzgerald. McKay's chief of staff."

"He's a nerd."

"He's nice."

"He has no neck. You are standing me up for a neck-less man. A neck-less Republican man, I might add."

"Standing up implies a plan and we had no plan."

"We have standing plans unless it is otherwise stated."

"Says who?"

"It has always been—"

"I'm supposed to live on perpetual hold for your benefit?"

"You're leaving me in the lurch for a date with a neck-less man."

"This compares how with a woman who has her plastic
surgeon on speed dial?"

"I knew this was about Jordy. You'd find a way to pin the collapse of
the Russian economy on her."

"News flash: no one cares who wins this thing between you and Sam.
Both of you are strutting around here like a couple of peacocks in
mating season, acting like your carbonated hormones should have some
relevance in the greater scheme of things."

"You're jealous."

"I'm nauseated."

"I need you in the Bullpen watching the phones on Friday."

"And I need you to get a life."

"That's why I have this." I remove my palm-top organizer from my
pocket and wave it in front of her. "I absolutely do not require your
input as to what my needs might or might not be, Donnatella."

"I hope you and your Palm Pilot are very happy together!"

Yeah Donna, we'll be very happy together. Long after you're gone,
baby!


Thursday, August 2nd

On the continuum of passive-aggressive behavior, we hit a new low
late Thursday afternoon.

By this point, communication between Donna and myself consisted
primarily of items taped to my door, left on my chair or shoved into
my hands as I passed by her desk.

She was also spending an inordinately large amount of time with
Margaret.  And frankly, I didn't give a damn. Really. Let them put
their assistant heads together and conspire to take over the entire
executive branch. My world did not hinge on the secretarial stylings
of Donnatella Moss. In fact, I felt grateful to Jordan for her
perceptive gift. Other than misplacing the stylus and dropping the
thing under a table at the Mess, I managed to retrieve my schedule at
least once a day and I actually was able to print it out. By myself.
Take that Donna.

About 4PM, I was feeling very secure in my independence. So secure,
in fact, that I took a seat in Donna's chair and decided that I'd
retrieve my own emails and download my calendar.

I felt eyes boring holes in the back of my head.

"What!" I barked, spinning around in the chair.

Cathy was standing at the copy machine, arms crossed across her chest
and mouth tightly puckered. "I wouldn't do that if I were you."

"Let me remind you, Cathryn, that Donna works for me. Consequently,
while this particular piece of equipment is appropriated for her use,
she is using it in the service of me. Therefore, I have a right to
use this computer in whatever way I see fit. Nudie pictures, pipe
bomb directions, dancing chipmunks—I am within bounds. Keep your
advice to yourself."

"I'm just saying..." she collected her copies and scooted back to her
desk.

And Sam finds her frightening. What a wimp.

I spun back to the computer and examined the icons on the desktop.
They ran the gamut from "Fish" to "ChristmasList2001." I finally
located a miniature calendar labeled "Josh's Life" and clicked on it.
The pleasure suffusing me upon its opening defied description: I had
crossed into the New World. Free at last, thank the Lord, I can take
care of myself thank you very much.  I quickly perused its contents.
I needed at least a spare hour to prep for my date on Friday and
wanted to make sure Donna hadn't scheduled something right up until
the last minute to piss me off.

And then I saw it. Not Friday. Not yesterday. But today. 3PM, an hour
ago to be precise.

"DONNA!" I screamed.

Within seconds, I was barreling down the hallway, speeding toward
Margaret's office with the deadly precision of an ICBM. She was
there, of course, standing on a stepladder, arms loaded with Leo's
copies of  "The History of English Speaking Peoples." Upon seeing the
look on my face, Margaret clamped her hands over her ears.

"DONNATELLA MOSS!"

"How many times have I told you that's its impolite to scream at
people Joshua?"

"Get off that ladder. Now. We need to have a talk."

She rolled her eyes, placed the books on Margaret's desk and followed
me out into the hall.

"This whole thing this week—you being snippy about the Palm Pilot and
me telling you to cancel your date and the air conditioning—it's all
pretty much the same routine we've always had. I can deal with that.
But the deliberate, calculated maliciousness of this last thing? How
could you possibly think that--!"

"Whoa back there boy, what deliberate malicious thing have I done?
Other than recognize your adolescent antics for what they are and
allow you to make a complete jackass of yourself in front of the
staff. Last time I checked, you didn't need me any more."

"You want REVENGE! You're upset that I've taken some initiative. That
you're losing control—that I'm not some marionette. Well this puppet
managed to pull up his own calendar and expose your petty deception
all by himself!"

"Give the boy a gold star: he learned how to point and click."

"You deliberately allowed me to miss the 3PM Legislative Liaison
meeting up on the Hill, the final meeting of the session when we've
got a critical education bill pending!"

"That meeting is on your calendar. I know because I uploaded it into
your Palm Pilot this morning!"

"Bullshit!"

"Hand me the thing."

"Why?"

"Because I'll prove it."

"No."

"Give it here."

"No. I won't let you—"

She reached into my inside jacket pocket and removed the Palm Pilot.
With astonishing speed, she brought up the document in question, and
turned the screen to face me. "See. There it is. 3PM. I even inserted
a reminder to go to the EOB for your car pick up."

Damn. She was right. But—"That's not what it said when I checked at
lunchtime."

"Show me what you did, Josh."

I took the stylus from her, pressed the buttons I usually do and
thrust it right back at her.

Glaring, she growled, "See this at the top? It says `Tentative
Schedule—Josh Lyman 7/30-8/3.' The key word here is `tentative.' It
means proposed, not definite. Besides, this is a Word document. Your
schedule is in Outlook."

"Why didn't you tell me this before?"

"You said you didn't want my input. You said you could handle this
yourself."

"But I missed the meeting!"

"I'm supposed to put on my Swami Precognition hat and divine that you
were going to miss the meeting today? UGGGH!" She clenched her teeth
and started back toward the bullpen.

I chased after her. "Where you going?"

"Home. I'm going home."

"Your work day doesn't end for at least two hours."

She removed her sweater from the coat rack and her purse from her
bottom desk drawer. "You don't pay me enough for this. No one could
pay me enough for this."

"I'm here at the pleasure of the President and by corollary, you are
here by my pleasure. You'll leave when I tell you to."

"The Constitution guarantees freedom of assembly. I'm choosing not to
assemble." She walked toward the door.

I yelled at her back as she stormed toward the exit, "The only reason
you assemble here at all is because I took one look at this penniless
girl who didn't even have a degree after four years of changing
majors. This girl who was dumped by her boyfriend and I decided that
letting her donate her services to the future President of the United
States might make her feel less pathetic."

I actually said that.

Astonishingly, I said that.

I began formulating the apology before I vomited that last
adjective. `Donna, you officially have permission to flog me...' 

She stopped in her tracks but kept her back to me. "There are dozens
of crueler things I could say to you at this very moment but I won't
stoop to being you just to win an argument."

I wished I didn't stoop to being me to win an argument either.

I watched her leave. I wondered if she would come back. I wondered if
I would come back if I were her. My answer to that last question was
definitive: not a snowball's chance on a DC sidewalk in August.


Calling Donna's cell about twenty times proved to be futile. I called
Bellagio Pizza in Alexandria and had two large Veggie Delight Combos
and a liter bottle of Diet Coke delivered to her apartment. I threw
in a pint of Haagen Daz Dark Chocolate Truffle for good measure.
About twenty minutes later, Bellagio's manager phoned to inform me
that Ms. Moss had instructed the delivery boy to drop my order off at
the homeless shelter and did I have a problem with that? By the time
the pizza fiasco wrapped up, all the local florists had closed
leaving me no recourse but to consider purloining blooms from the
Rose Garden.

I left the White House at an uncharacteristically early 9:30PM. I had
spent two hours calling to apologize to the various members of
Congress I'd inadvertently stood up. After being reassured that my
failure to show at the meeting wouldn't adversely affect the
education bill, I figured I probably should go home to my air-
conditioned condo and literally chill-out.

Instead, my car, possessing a mind of its own, moved to the left
lane, over the Roosevelt Bridge and into the traffic headed for
Alexandria.

Add sitting in a parked car outside Donna's apartment to the night's
agenda. I flipped on the radio, tuned the station to a late evening
repeat of "All Things Considered," pulled out a notepad and began
drafting what I called my concession speech. Whether I actually
deliver this epistle to Donna is irrelevant. I'm essentially going
through a variation on an exercise Stanley's given me. He calls
it "allowing your subconscious to bubble to the surface" or some such
psychobabble. It involves writing a letter to a person or an emotion
or a situation with the logic being that talking about it in a more
abstract, detached fashion will help you discover how you truly feel
about something. I've written letters to the gun that shot me, my
father, and music over the course of my therapy.

Draft one.

Donna:

As a man who, you have pointed out, refuses to embrace the latest
trends in communication, I'm left with nothing but the mighty pen to
express my deepest regrets, especially considering the fact that I
can't figure out how to transfer a document from my laptop to the
printer.

Scratch that.

Bella Senorita Donnatella:

I think that's the scope of the Italian I know. Except of
course `ciao,' `vino,' and `al dente,' pasta names and what I learned

from watching "Roman Holiday" with you last summer. Italian is such a
pretty language and seemed appropriate to use for such a beautiful
woman. You do know "bella" means beautiful in Italian? Of course you do.

You know everything. And I sound like a complete fool in this
letter so I'm just going to crumple it up and run over it a few times
with my car if you'd excuse me.


NPR aggravated me. I punched buttons on the radio until I found
Smooth Jazz for a Summer Evening. Whatever. Couldn't be worse than
listening to Henry Shallick and Nina Totenberg going the rounds on
the death penalty.

I sighed, turned back another sheet of paper and waited for
inspiration.

The paper stared at me. I stared back. I doodled in the margins, sang
along with a Kenny G version of "Somewhere Over the Rainbow" and
stared at the paper some more.

Ridiculous.

I climbed out of the car and walked determinedly towards Donna's
place. She lives on the second floor of a marginal apartment building
that primarily services the revolving door of college interns doing
resume building.  I came within a flight of stairs of her place
before my nerve started to fail me.  I knew how much trouble I'd be
in by showing up at her place, particularly after she'd screened out
my calls and refused my pizza offering. I stood at the base of the
stairs for a while and when I grew tired of standing, I sat on the
bottom step. My clothes became damp with sweat and heat sick nausea
heaved though my insides.

Maybe a walk.

I circled Donna's building feeling like there was some archetypal
Troy thing going on here. Turning the final corner before I'd again
be facing Donna's steps, I caught a glimpse of something, no someone,
seated on the fire escape. Before my eyes could confirm her identity,
I stopped dead in my tracks. I stepped into the shadows where she
couldn't see me.

Dangling her feet over the side, she squeezed up close to the railing
cupping what probably was an ice cream container. What looked like a
wine bottle sat behind her. She'd twisted her hair up on her head and
wore what I guessed were pajamas—something gauzy with scanty straps
and hitting her about mid thigh. I leaned against the wall,
considering her.

The waxy full moon backlit her in a film-noir fashion; the sun
illuminated the moon and the moon illuminated Donna, whose blonde
hair and fair skin radiated in the descending dark. She was the
landscape's most distinctive feature; an elegant object d'art on the
pedestal of a rusted, rattling fire escape, with an overflowing
dumpster and the anemic square of grass that passes for lawn as a
backdrop. The voices of raucous swimming pool partiers resonated
through the compound, emphasizing her uniqueness.

Part of me thought I should call out to her like Romeo to
Juliet. "But soft, what light through yonder window breaks!" Reality
dictated that Romeo came seeking boyfriend status and speaking words
of love. In contrast, I'm an obnoxious boss suffering from diarrhea
of the mouth, prepared to grovel. She'd welcome me with the same
enthusiasm she reserves for root canal.

A balcony scene is probably a bad idea this evening.

But I felt like I needed to do something. I ducked into a doorway
opposite the fire escape, pulled out my cellphone and hit autodial.
And I watched.

She picked up on the first ring.

"Josh. I'm only picking up the phone because I know if I don't you'll
keep calling me all night. Both of us losing an entire night's sleep
is unquestionably a bad idea. Before you say anything—and I mean
anything including um, uh or hey—I'm warning you I will hang up if
you speak. I'm going to pause now and you are permitted to answer by
maintaining absolute silence."

I bit back a smart remark, but did as she requested.

"Fine then. I know you feel bad. I know you were probably formulating
an apology before I even left the building. And please don't go
cutting the stargazer lilies out of the back beds. The last time you
did that, it took two weeks to calm down the gardening staff. Though
the flowers were gorgeous. My apartment smelled heavenly for a week."

I swear I felt ESP vibes.

"But I am simply not ready to forgive you for this one. Not yet. In
the interest of diplomacy and considering that tomorrow is Friday, I
will agree to temporary détente. We will be civil. We will discuss
things in a rational manner sans any and all snarky remarks. Agreed?"

I answered with the appropriate silence.

She sighed deeply. "I hate that you keep pushing me away. I know this
is actually what you're doing when you spew the bile that you do
because, as you so aptly pointed out, I spent four years in college
changing majors, with psychology being one of them. I don't know what
it is about me that terrifies you so much, but obviously I must be
Godzilla to your subconscious. You probably ought to talk to Stanley
about it. I'm sure he has a theory."

Will do. Next?

"We'll figure this out when it isn't so hot, when we're both not so
tired and when we're both ready to be honest with one another. Fair
enough?"

Once again, she cut me to the quick. Not a lot of snappy comebacks.

"And Josh?"

Silence.

"You have permission to say one thing before I hang up."

One thing?  That's easy. "Thank you for not leaving me."

"You're welcome. You know I should."

I was left standing in the humid dark, clutching my cellphone,
wishing for her voice instead of a dial tone.  


Friday, August 3rd

"Have I been demoted since last night?" I asked Donna upon entering
my office. At least she was in my office and not skulking around,
hiding in corners and trading deep dark girl secrets with Margaret.
In my office, she was on my turf, my domain, my kingdom.

And she was quite regal that morning, curled comfortably into my
chair where she sat watching NBC and drinking an iced coffee from
Starbucks. That morning's clothing ensemble drew on a garden party
theme for inspiration: white linen blouse, a stunning strand of
pearls—all she required was a wide-brimmed hat and she'd be off to
the Queen's Box at Wimbledon. 

"The air conditioning's working," she said, her eyes not leaving the
television screen.

"And is there anything else I can get you, madam? Maybe Eggs Benedict
or something from the buffet?"

"Sarton's on."

"Turn it up," I ordered, moving in beside her to perch on the edge of
my desk.

"He's handsome."

"But do you listen to one word that comes out of his mouth? He thinks
we ought to ban those Kate Spade bags you covet, don Birkenstocks,
stop using deodorant and move into the trees. Do you even recycle?"

She shrugged. "Yeah, but he's so passionate—"

"Wait—what did he just say--?"

"I heard it to." Donna scrambled out of my chair and rushed into the
Bullpen.  "Kevin—I need all the feed from the Today Show. As soon as
they go to commercial, I want the Sarton piece."

I raced behind, shouting into the hallway. "Cathy, I need Sam to prep
Simon for the 9AM briefing."

Sam poked his head out of his office. "You rang?"

"Adam Sarton announced on the Today Show that he will personally
stall any version of the River Recovery Act pending in the House and
that he's joined forces with Seth Gillette to do the same in the
Senate."

Sam's eyebrows shot up and his glasses dropped down onto his nose.

"Lest you think that tree-hugging yahoo would limit his protest to
legislative blackmail, Sarton admitted he'll considering supporting
Gillette's third-party presidential bid if this White House doesn't
make a serious commitment to the environment."

"He certainly knows how to liven up take out the trash day, doesn't
he?"

"Fix it, Sam!" I snarled.

"I warned Toby that drop-in was a mistake—"

"FIX IT!"


There aren't adjectives in English language that adequately address
the nuances of the headache I had by 11AM.  Every nerve attached to
every hair on my head throbbed like a finger slammed in a door. The
pain, in summary, resembled the exquisite, tedious agony of ants
eating my eyeballs. Massaging my temples with the heels of my hands
accomplished nothing—just like our efforts to defuse Sarton.

Leo called Sarton's office from the banks of the Deschutes River only
to have his call taken by Sarton's chief of staff; the President
spent the morning on the phone with the EPA, Labor and the Interior. 
Toby, off building houses for Habitat for Humanity, would return
after his day hammering to about fifty messages on his cell. Donna,
God bless her, managed to wrangle four ultra-green House members and
three Senators into a noon meeting in the Roosevelt Room in the hopes
that Sam and I could persuade them to label Sarton as a malcontent
publicity hound. Simon had done a remarkably competent job of
fielding the press corps—even CJ called to compliment him.

But talk, more talk and spin remained ahead of us. A perpetual
laundry cycle of a day.

And my head hurt. I rubbed my forehead, rested my face on the desk,
and longed for a nap. "Donna!"

"Shut up!" she snapped, "My head hurts too."

I moseyed over to her desk, leaned against the doorframe and
contemplated my assistant.

Tendrils of hair fell into her eyes. I could see from her hunched
posture that her shoulders hurt. Her shoes sat next to her chair and
I recognized her sixth cup of coffee for the day sitting next to a
half-eaten apple fritter.

She raised her eyebrows at me as if to say, `What do you want?'

For once—for once—I decided on the benevolent gesture. I can be and
usually am a self-centered cad. In this case, I recalled that we'd
settled on temporary détente, and as I expected a fully ratified
peace treaty by days end, I knew I needed to initiate diplomatic
negotiations.

When my hands touched her shoulders, she tensed, only relaxing as I
began kneading her muscles.  I pressed my thumbs along the bones of
her neck. She moved her head from side to side, stretching.  She
sighed, tipping her head back against my stomach.

`"The Advil is in my top drawer," she mumbled.

"I'll get it in a minute." Spreading my fingers over her forehead, I
rubbed the bones above her sinuses. 

Drowsy, she smothered a half-yawn. "I ordered you an end cut of the
prime rib for lunch at the thing—burnt as per normal. But you have to
have the lowfat sour cream. I saw those blood pressure numbers."

"What time did you get to bed?"

"You called for the twenty-fourth time after Nightline ended, so I'd
say maybe an hour or two past that."

"Couldn't sleep?" I had felt restless myself, tossing and turning for
the better part of the night.

"Half the building was in the pool. Talk about noise."

"Yeah, when they started the limbo contest--"

She paused, sat utterly still for a moment. "Josh, how did you know
about the limbo contest?"

"I heard it over the phone. When I called you," I stammered.

"The limbo contest began halfway through Conan O'Brien. You called
before O'Brien's monologue began."

"A good guess?"

"You were at my apartment building last night," she stated.

"Donna--"

Without a word, she grabbed one of my hands in hers and dragged me
past my office, toward the exit and before I could protest we walking
at brisk clip down one of the pathways threading through the grounds.

The oppressive midday heat threatened to swallow me alive. "We
couldn't have this conversation inside in our now air conditioned
office space?"

"We need to have this conversation on neutral ground because this is
a conversation about boundaries," she answered coolly.
  
"Boundaries?"

"Yes, Josh. Boundaries."

"Define what you mean by--"

"You shouldn't have come to my apartment last night!"

"Lest you doubt the sincerity of my sorrow--"

"I rejected the pizza, I refused your calls—I made it clear how I
felt."

"My persistence is endearing."

"You're interpersonal-relationship colorblind."

"Have you been reading Margaret's chick magazines, `cause--"

"You don't see the signals. Whether the signs say stop, go, caution,
yield—you plunge ahead blindly, operating on the premise that you are
true north and all maps should be Josh-oriented!"

"And doesn't it make your world easier to assume I'm true north and
guide yourself accordingly?"

"There are no boundaries on your map, Josh. I am dizzy with not
knowing where I am! You say horrible, spiteful things and then you
drown me in a tidal wave of contrition."

"I operate at extremes."

"I'm interchangeable with a Palm Pilot and yet you follow me to my
apartment like some kind of penitent stalker? I'm a yo-yo, Josh. 
Play a few games, dangle the string, spin me out when you find me
inconvenient or annoying and spin me close when you...when you..." She
stuttered to a stop, turning her pensive Donna face on me. The one
that makes me wonder what I should be feeling guilty about.

From time to time, an impulse strikes me that I know, unequivocally,
is a bad idea.

I reached for her forearm, "You mean like this?" and I spun her
tightly into my arms. Her palm flattened on my shirtfront as she
prepared to push away. I snaked an arm around her waist and secured
her close to me. With her heels on, we were practically nose-to-
nose.  I turned on the `Who, me?' innocent face.

Donna gulped. "You can't touch me."

And for the record, let it be noted that Donna willingly lingered in
my arms. "Pardon me for stating the obvious, but I am touching you." 

"Touching means something. Touching your assistant this way is
inappropriate workplace behavior--Dammit, Josh don't laugh. I could
report you to the EEOC." 

I felt a knee come up and winced with worry wondering where that knee
was going to connect—

"Sonofabitch!" I yelped, hopping on one foot while shaking out the
foot she stomped on. "I'm sorry, really I am I was just teasing—
owwwww!" The excruciating pain hinted a potentially broken bone.

She shook her head and began walking back toward the West Wing. "I
can't do this any more," she muttered under her breath. "I give up."

"Donna," I limped after her. "I mean it. I won't touch you, if that's
what you want. I'll stop calling you all night long if that's what
you want. I'll do what you want."

Her gait gradually slowed until I caught up with her. "You never have
before, why should I believe you?" she said. "Oh. And don't look now,
Josh, but here comes your date."

A vision in electric teal, Jordan materialized from around a shrub.
Donna's eyes hardened.

She strolled, fluid and catlike, in our direction. "Josh. Donna. I
went looking for you inside. Cathy said you'd be out here."

"Jordan," I said.

"I wanted to let you know, Josh, that I'll have to take a rain check
on dinner tonight. I have to pick-up Gabrielle from the airport at
5:30 and you know how traffic is."

"I'll see you back here around 8 then?" I observed Donna for a
discernable reaction to Jordan's perfectly polite persona.

The Cold War was back. 

"Eight's fine," she paused, smiled coquettishly. "Those are lovely
cultured pearls, Donna."

"Thank you, but they aren't cultured. They belonged to my Grandmother
Rossi. She danced professionally in Paris during the `30s."

I recognized this Donna face. This was the `I'm humoring you' face. 
I found perverse pleasure in the territorial battle playing out
before me.

"An heirloom, even? Gracious, Donna. I know little about you. We'll
have to do lunch sometime. Compare notes on grandmothers. I'm sure it
will be fascinating."

"Right. Fascinating," she said perfunctorily. "Josh, you've got a
meeting in fifteen minutes. You coming?"

I shook my head no and waited for Donna to pass through the security
check before turning my dimples on Jordan. "Alone at last."

"How's the Palm Pilot working out, Josh?" she asked, slipping her arm
through my elbow.

Jordan liked being touched by me. She enjoyed my company. I'm certain
she wouldn't have broken my toe with her pumps. Donna demanded
boundaries. Boundaries make me antsy.

"You want to walk before my meeting?" I asked.

She grinned.

I regaled Jordan with witty observations about political life, we
shared anecdotes about people we knew in common and we had more than
few laughs before she dropped me off at the Roosevelt Room.

Time with Jordan was not about a full-on frontal assault or guerilla
warfare to make territorial acquisitions. Jordan was about the
carefully negotiated terms of surrender leading to new alliances.

Before tonight ended, I would be master of all I surveyed, all maps
oriented to Josh-north and all boundaries placed at my discretion.

Sam called down from the East Ballroom when Jordan arrived. I had had
a few items of business to wrap up before I could join her, that and
some sprucing. A little cologne, a new tie, brushing my teeth. Your
basic ready-to-get-lucky pre-date prep. In this case, proxy date prep
as Sam had made certain I knew. Repeatedly. Jordan was his date in
spirit, he asserted.

Right, and Niagara Falls is a trickle of water through some rocks. I
knew I was the man.

I exited the men's room and before I rounded the corner, I heard
Ainsley and Margaret talking. From their conversation, I gathered
they were talking about Jordy.

"She's wearing palazzo pants." Margaret sounded incredulous.

"A confident choice," noted Ainsley.

"Oh yeah. Palazzo pants look good on just about nobody. But with that
thing—"

"It's a Versace halter thing. With a dose of Jennifer Lopez for good
measure."

"Whatever. No one cares about how big her butt looks in the palazzo
pants because their eyes are going due north."

"Couldn't be real."

"Too spherical. Like that mutant Stepford fruit at Costco."

"Men so fall for that, though. They wouldn't know mutant fruit from
real fruit. I mean, have you ever seen a perfectly cylindrical
orange? They're more oblong."

"Or how melons kind of get pointy and grapefruit are more flat-round
and squishy."

"A grapefruit and an orange is more true to life, don't you think?"

"Craving fruit salad, ladies?" I said as I strolled by.

"Hey Josh!" Ainsley called after me.

I turned around.

"I left the keys and a map to my family's beach house in my desk if
you decide you want it."

With any luck, I'd be luxuriating in the lap of the aristocracy—the
Custis-Lee-Meade aristocracy—over my vacation, but I nodded and
thanked her anyway. 

I made one last sweep through the Bullpen before I headed up to the
East Room to squire Jordan to the concert. So I was a proxy date. I
could live with that. I'd be the best damn proxy date ever and before
the night was through, Jordan would want proxy dates for every night
on her social calendar.

Wearing headphones, Donna didn't hear me approach. From off a plate,
she speared asparagus, broke off delicate bites of what looked like
salmon. Her generally sour demeanor made me wary to disturb her.

Maybe it was the food.

I slid the headphones off her head and moved in front of her. "Good
dinner?"

"Larry had something sent from `The Palm.' He understands that even
the help deserve a decent meal from time to time."

So maybe it wasn't the food.  "I bring you food."

"Three month old cookies from the vending machine are food?"

"It's the thought that counts. Promise you'll keep the volume down
low enough that you won't miss the phones."

She fired off a salute and slid the headphones back on.

So the neck-less man attempted to seduce my assistant with delectable
food and thoughtfulness? Just who did he think he was, anyway, the
yutz.


Up in the East Room, Dr. Bartlett and her daughters clustered around
the piano, chatting with Ms. Krall. Sam, always the host
extraordinaire, had his arm around Zoey while smiling amiably at
Ellie.

Let Sam have the superficial social duties. I've got a hot babe to
steal away from his clutches.

Jordan had already retrieved a glass of wine from the serving staff
when I arrived.  A social-climbing Deputy Secretary of State who
recognized a chance to mingle with the in-crowd when he saw one had
cornered her. With her pashmina shawl slid down around her elbows, I
could take in the full, splendorous view of her finely toned arms,
her flat stomach, her voluptuous womanliness. The bellybutton
piercing added a hint of danger. This was a woman in the mood for
seduction.

Being the generous guy I am, I felt persuaded to attend to her needs.

I moved to her elbow, retrieved a glass of wine from a passing tray
and politely attended my "date" as she finished her conversation with
a social-climbing under-secretary of State.

When the bore she was talking with finally took the hint and wandered
off, she sighed. "Your appearance was timely."

"I live to serve." I ran my eyes from her head to her feet, very
slowly, lingering in the right places, giving her all the reason in
the world to assume that I was ready to provide whatever it was she
might ask for.

"I hope you mean that," she said with a small, wry smile.

I tingled with anticipation.

The lights flickered twice, the signal that the performance would
start shortly. Placing my hand on her back, I steered her towards our
places, several rows back from Sam and the Bartlet women.

When Sam took the microphone and began talking, Jordan leaned over
and whispered, "I knew he'd do a marvelous job."

Taking this as a "why I like Sam better than you moment," I bristled,
but she quickly changed my course of thought with her next comment:

"It was my idea that he host tonight."

Puzzled, I looked at her. "What? I thought Dr. Bartlet asked for him."

"Why do you think she asked for him? I suggested him to Jill, Jill
suggested him to Lily Mays and Mrs. Bartlet took the recommendation."

"And this is relevant because--?"

She tilts her head to the side, licks her lips lightly with her
tongue, casts her gaze first down and then up toward me as if she's
about to share a guilty secret.

"Jordan?"

"If Sam had to M.C., I knew I'd get to come with you tonight instead.
It's what I wanted all along," she said coyly. "I've always wanted
you, Josh. I just wanted you on my terms. And frankly Josh, you've
been rather slow to see the virtue of my terms."

The lights dropped, and Ms. Krall sat down at the piano.

I joined the polite applause but my mind spun over Jordan's
revelation. This was a set up. Behind those perfectly plucked brows
and those wide eyes she'd been maneuvering me all over the board like
a chess piece. What CJ said Monday--Donna's snide comments all week--
even what Ainsley and Margaret were gossiping about before I came up
here all of a sudden seemed less baseless. I mean, I couldn't blame
Jordan: clearly I was the superior catch. But still...

I've been played.

I'm not sure I like being played.


Sometime during the third song, Jordy clamped her hand on my thigh.

Combined with the smoky sensual tones of Ms. Krall's rendition
of "I've Got a Crush On You", this should have been pleasurable
sensation. An hour ago, I would have been overjoyed that she had
taken the initiative and made the first move. I believe in women's
liberation—in sexual equality. The first move need not be a man's
responsibility. I appreciate a woman who knows what she wants and is
willing to take the risks to get it. Unfortunately, when the muscles
in my shoulders tensed and my whole body went to DEFCON two, her
massaging hand stopped feeling enjoyable and started feeling
predatory.

And then she started stroking my leg with her long nails.

I flashed back to every therapy session I've had for six months to
help deal with stress-related anxiety. I understood her offering. I
wasn't completely oblivious to her manipulation, contrary to Donna's
thinking.

This woman offered me a decadent interlude the likes of which I'm not
certain I've ever experienced. This is a woman for whom the
noun "butterfly" has no meaning in entomology. This is a woman who
has summarized every issue of Cosmo, downloaded it into her Palm
Pilot and uses it like a librarian uses the Dewey Decimal system. She
is toned, tanned, massaged, primped and prepared with 350 thread-
count sheets, a magnum of champagne and assorted pillow favors from
the Kama Sutra. I knew precisely what she wanted from me and if I had
a modicum of sense I would've slid my arm around her waist and run my
fingers up her spine until intermission at which time we would bolt
for the parking lot where we still might not escape without steaming
up the windows of her Jag. I could use her and throw her away with as
much callousness as she appeared to be using me. The least I could
get for my troubles is a night of spectacular sex.

Alas, my sense must have been left in my other suit.

And the other part--the weird part-- was that I felt, of all
ridiculous, stupid things, guilty. It's not like I was stealing
something from Sam, Jordan made that clear, nor was it as if I had a
little missus and 2.5 children awaiting my return in a 2500 square
foot suburban Chevy Chase colonial. Au contraire. I lacked any and
all entanglements that might have provoked any permutation of guilt.
Free as a bird, footloose and fancy free in the land of the free and
the home of the brave.

The guilt, however, refused to abate. Must be a genetic thing.

I admonished myself to reveal nothing of my discomfort; I smiled
pleasantly, tapped my foot to the music's beat. The air conditioning
was working so why sweat beads erupted on my forehead made no sense.
Instead of stimulated, I felt more and more like a fly tangled in the
Black Widow's web, panicked and helpless as he waits for the spider
to suck the life out of him. I loosened my tie a bit, ran my index
finger under my collar to assure that I continued breathing and
focused on the music. Focused intently on the music. Smile at the
pretty lady and figure out how to pawn her back to Sam
, I told myself.

Come into my parlor said the spider to the fly...

I started when there was a tap on my shoulder. A butler passed me a
piece of paper and I hastily unfolded it, grateful for the illegible
scrawl therein. Hoping my glee didn't show, I whispered my excuses to
Jordy and slid out the side aisle.

Donna awaited me, crossed arms and pursed lips, in the hall. Man, I
was so happy to see her. I could practically hug her, I was so happy
to see her. I could pick her up, swing her around and bring her
coffee for a week I was so happy to see her.

"So?"

"It's in the note."

"Which is written in some obscure cuneiform script. Translation?"

"The Majority Leader objected to proceeding on the EE Bill. He's
called for resolutions. Of course his guys and their resolutions are
waiting in the wings.  Our package is going to be shelved until the
Senate reconvenes after the recess—if then. The Majority Leader might
be able to push it far enough down the Calendar of Business to make
it disappear."

"McKay can stop it."

"McKay's nowhere to be found and our guys can't get the votes to stop
the Majority Leader's resolution without her. The head count for our
side stands at 48 if they can find those two Southern blowhards—the
pseudo-Democrats--you hate so much."

"Price and LaPrell."

"Right. We think they're at a fundraiser in McLean. Kale's office
will bring them in. They've asked us to find McKay. Meanwhile, the
Presiding Officer has a roll call underway.  The Sergeant at Arms
will be requesting the presence of absent Senators shortly."

"We're three down. McKay's only one."

"And she can strong arm Danner but Danner needs a friend to remind
him where he left his backbone. If Danner goes for it, Leonard will
bite. Leonard couldn't find the bathroom without Danner."

I smack my forehead. "We gotta find McKay."

"And for that astounding insight they pay you the big bucks."

"Look, I'll go down to the Bullpen and starting calling but I need
you to go back and get Sam out of the concert."

"I'm not paper-training Sam tonight, Josh."

"Tell him to take Jordy home. He'll love that it—it'll save his
evening. Tell him to tell her how sorry am but duty calls and blah
blah blah, the best man won. You know the drill."

She gave me the look that says she'd rather have her sinuses drilled,
but she run-walked back to the East Room anyway. 

When I made it down to the Bullpen, I discovered Donna had been
listening to what Sam and I jokingly refer to as the "50 reasons why
dealing with men drove me to the arms of a woman" CD—a CJ special.
Combine Charlie's Napster lessons, tequila shooters and Danny
Concannon's job offer and CJ crafted a feminista music anthology that
rivals anything conceived by Lillith Fair. CJ's producing talents
have provided anthems for every pissed off woman assigned to the
Executive Branch. Margaret adopted this anthology the day after Leo
gave her his Christmas list and every time Toby starts throwing that
ball against his office walls and windows, I swear I see Ginger put
on the headphones and delve into "I Will Survive." Tonight's
listening pleasure had been comprised of "I am Woman," Carly
Simon's "You're So Vain" and the Dixie Chicks "Goodbye Earl."   Aretha
and "R-E-S-P-E-C-T" are queued up next.

Assuming the music reflected Donna's mood, I placed her somewhere
between livid and frothing at the mouth.

I flipped through her address book, her rolodex, her file drawers—
whatever I can to find her contacts.

Donna appeared momentarily. "I've already called everyone in there. I
was hoping you'd have another number I hadn't used yet."

I rushed into my office and started throwing any irrelevant papers
aside. I sorted through drawers. "I'm not finding anything, Donna."

"I'll get Larry out of the concert."

"Larry the neck-less wonder?"

"For a man facing the guillotine, I'd say you don't have a lot of
room to talk."

She was right: Leo had the potential to be a wicked Robespierre.

While she located Larry, I hurriedly placed calls to all my Hill
Senate connections and Kale's office. Donna's assessment had been
dead on. If we didn't move fast we'd lose this bill, possibly
indefinitely.

After a private moment with his cellphone, neck-less Larry pressed a
piece of paper into Donna's hand with "Hay Adams" and a name
scribbled on it. I had to practically drag Donna away from his cow-
eyed stares.

We pulled into the rear of the Hay where valet attended to my car
while Donna and I hurried inside. A concierge waiting inside the door
indicated that we were expected and asked us to follow her. I could
think of multiple reasons why Cassie would be sequestered in a hotel
on a Friday night. In fact, if I had a minute, maybe I should stop by
the reservations desk and book a suite for Jordan Meade and myself.
I'd pay to see the look on Donna's face when...

My thoughts about waging psychological warfare with Donna ended when
the helpful concierge left us standing in front of a fifth floor
suite that overlooked the White House, literally a $680 per night
view.  I'll say this for Cassie: she has excellent taste in locales
to stage extramarital affairs.

Donna rapped the door a few times and said, sotto-voce, "It's Josh
Lyman and Donna Moss."

The door clicked open a moment later.

I'm certain the look on my face could have come straight out of
Looney Tunes—one of those guys with the rubber tongues that fall out
of their mouths and hit the floor with a big "BOING."  Here I'd been
expecting a respectable, graying cardiologist in a Brooks Brothers
weekend apparel and instead, I found myself watching Donna extend a
gracious handshake to bathrobe clad, widower, father of two sons and
fire-breathing liberal Assistant Minority Whip for the US House of
Representatives, Congressman Adam Sarton.

Adam suppressed a grin. He probably enjoyed my shock.

He poured himself a glass of water from a tall, imported bottle
standing on a silver tray. "Would you like something to drink while
we wait for Cassie? She jumped into the shower as soon as Larry
called and should be out in a second."

Donna looked at me, looked at Adam, hesitated and shook her head `no.'

I took in the burning tapers, the dinner linens, the chocolate dipped
strawberries and the sparkling view of the White House by night and
was not amused. "Maybe we should call Sam and Cokie and do a remote
spot from your suite. We could have some drinks from the minibar,
bring Cassie in for the roundtable segment and order room service
during the commercial break Whaddya say?"

"I think your mad as hell about what I said regarding Seth Gillette
and if you weren't required to take Cassie up to the Hill, we'd have
to take this outside where we'd duel at fifty paces."

"Last time I checked, our party believes in gun control, isn't that
right, Congressman? So instead of dueling pistols, I'm all about taking this outside and
beatin' the sh-"

Cassie emerged from the bathroom, pausing in the threshold to put on
a pair of earrings. "Adam—could you zip me? I think I caught the
zipper on the fabric."

"Sure, hon." He instantly walked to her side and negotiated the stuck
zipper. Leaning in, he placed a kiss on a spot right beneath her
ear. "I'll wait up for you. I think we've got cable."

Cassie laughed as if they were sharing an inside joke and nuzzled his
neck before kissing him good-bye. Cassie said, directly to me, "Sorry
about this. I had the Majority Leader's assurance this wouldn't
happen and I made the mistake of taking him at his word."

"Probably Ann Stark," Donna observed.

"Probably," Cassie agreed. "Let's go, shall we?"

"You want to ask me about it?" Cassie offered, once we began
barreling down Pennsylvania.

"Politics makes strange bedfellows and in this era of bipartisan
understanding..." I began sarcastically.

"I rear ended his car."

"What?"

"We were doing a spot on Good Morning America.  During our segment,
Mr. Smug and his feel-good liberal junk food made me look like
Cruella DeVille. I stormed to the parking lot, backed out too quickly
and into the front end of his car."

"And he was so taken with your emerald eyes and feisty spirit that he
spun you into his arms and kissed you on the spot."

"No, he called me several unprintable names, phoned my insurance and
then threatened to sue me."

"Love at first sight."

"When his outrageous list of car repairs arrived at my office via
private messenger—talk about unmitigated gall. No manners. I walked
from the Russell to the Rayburn, demanded he behave in a fashion more
becoming a public servant and he had the nerve to laugh at me."

"And that's when it started?" Donna prompted softly from the backseat.

"Yeah. That's when it started. He's insufferable, it makes no sense
and our relationship grew out of a threatened lawsuit. But I can't
fathom...he helps me be more of what I really am." Senator McKay's
voice trailed off. "So you don't think I'm the corruptible cretin Ted
is, there never was anything between Dr. Bartlet's cardiologist
friend and me. He needed a companion for several official functions;
Abbey knew Adam and I couldn't be seen in public. The press snapped
it up and made it into something it wasn't. I've gone along with it
because I've stopped being scrutinized and speculated about by Sally
Quinn and her ilk."

"Wouldn't want to be discovered behaving in a fashion unbecoming a
public servant."

"Josh," Donna warned.

I shut up.


Donna kept us apprised of the Senate's status as we navigated toward
Capitol Hill.  Most of our allies were on their way, but we still
didn't have the vote sewn up. Donna and I would have work to do once
we arrived. About the place where Constitution crosses Pennsylvania,
we encountered a herd of goats being shepherded onto the Mall for
a "Celebration of Appalachia." Other than the brief interlude when
Donna sweet-talked a nice policeman into not giving me a ticket for
crossing a solid yellow line to circumvent said goats, our trip was
generally as awkward as one might expect it to be under the
circumstances. It's not everyday you find out your supposed to be
Republican enemy, actually a friend, is consorting with your supposed
to be friend, a Democrat, who is actually your enemy.

Cassie sleeping with Adam took the credo of loving them that despise
you too far. The "eye for an eye" way of doing business gained allure
with every passing block.

Being attuned to the tense social dynamic, Donna employed her usual
misdirection tactics by sorting through my CD case and offering
running editorial commentary. I hear this commentary every time Donna
rides in my car. I could script this conversation if asked; in fact,
it's become our own weird version of "Who's On First." 

A sample:

Donna roots through the case, removes "Born to Run."
D: A classic. The man is fine in blue jeans. Good choice, Josh.
Me: Glad you approve, Donna. Never mind his astute insights into
urban and existential angst. The man has a good butt.

She moves onto Credence Clearwater, The Who and The Doobie Brothers,
The Beatles

D: The Beatles—are like, the Beatles. But this other stuff: do you
not believe in music written past 1977?
Me: About the time God gave us the Bee-Gees, I figured the apocalypse
was upon us so why buy anything new.

Next up, Billy Joel...
D:  Loved `Uptown Girl! What a bummer he and Christie got divorced.
Me: Mentioning `Uptown Girl' while holding `The Stranger' is
blasphemy! Do all you Reagan Era teenagers have faux music tastes?

Then the embarrassing stuff. The stuff you order at 2AM when you're
feeling nostalgic for your frat days...
D:(hysterical, girly laughter) Ronco presents—Power Ballads of
the `80s
Me: Donna--
D: (more hysterical girly laughter) "Total Eclipse of the
Heart?" "Waiting for a Girl Like You?"
Me: Donna--!
D: I'm sorry (hiccup) Josh, I just don't see you as the slow-dance
to "Open Arms" kind of guy. More like "Stairway to Heaven."
Me: What should I slow dance to, Donnatella Moss?
D: Take me out and show me, Joshua Lyman.

I think Cassie was grateful we dropped her off at the steps.

We swung around and parked over at the Russell Senate Office
Building, taking the underground tram to the Hill.  As we arrived, a
Senate page, a blonde-haired, seventeen year-old wearing a navy blue
blazer and slacks, approached us. The Minority Leader had sent her
down to escort us to a conference room where we were to continue our
efforts to secure the vote.

Before the door clicked shut behind us, Donna and I went to work.

"Start at the top with the junior senators, I'll work the list of
senior senators. Get a hold of anyone you can who will confirm how
the senator will vote on the bill. If you sense that any of them are
wavering one way or another, turn on the charm. Either that, or I'll
force my winning personality on them. If that doesn't work, I'll kick
drop them into the Pacific Ocean. Got it?"

Donna nodded and seated herself at a corner end table with her
notepad and a phone. I did the same in the opposite corner.

The wall clock indicated we had ten minutes before the vote was going
to be called. I've talked to four guys who know who their friends are
and indicate they're on our side. Donna held up the same number of
fingers indicating confirmations on her side. Alas, she also held up
two fingers on the negative.

"Who are they?"

"Willis and Jovanavich. You can't be surprised--"

"Give me their numbers."

"Josh, they aren't going to change their minds with three minutes to
go."

"Like hell they won't, give me the phone."

"No."

"Now, Donna."

"Josh!"

"Donna!"

Grumbling, she leaned back into the chair and reached for her
Rolodex.

I tapped my foot.

"Stop that!"

"I'll get it myself."

"No, I've—oh. Damn. Josh. My necklace is stuck."

"I need those phone numbers."

"Unsnag it for me?"

I sighed, annoyed. Sweeping the hair off her neck, I found the
offending clasp. I don't know how she managed to hook that thing into
the chair but it was hooked and hooked good. All it needed was a
solid yank—

Time suspended in the moment the pearl strand snapped. Before I could
gasp, before Donna could yelp, the string broke and like something
out of a slow-motion cartoon, the pearls leaped into the air before
falling, ever slowly to the floor.

When the first pearl hit, Donna jumped to her feet, shrieking.

We both dropped to our knees and began scrambling after the small
spheres rolling away beneath chairs, tables and desks.

"My grandmother's pearls!" she wailed.

"Donna, I'm sure we can find them. Once Cassie's done, we'll have
some staffers come in here and help us look. Hell, I'll call the
whole Senate over here to move chairs if we need to."

"No! That one rolled into the vent! Josh. Oh Josh! Another one—what
am I going to do?"

I felt horrible. I knew this particular item of jewelry, besides
being sentimental, was likely one of the nicest things Donna had.   I
wracked my brain for any possible way to fix put this thing back
together. Observing another pearl rolling into an air vent, I knew
the odds were rapidly going against us.

I tried reasoning with her, using a rational, methodical approach.

I tried apologizing. Apologizing for breaking her necklace.
Apologizing for breaking her date with Larry, for not bringing her
real food, for being a man, for the heat, for starvation in Africa.

Then my irritation set in.  I moved from Patient/Sympathetic Josh
mode and into Shut-The-Hell-Up Before-My-Head-Explodes mode.

And no, Shut-The-Hell-Up mode is not my usual state of being.

Her mouth continued moving, her words blended together in endless
yammering. I knew she was upset, but blabbering on this way was
getting us nowhere.

I conceived a plan. A radical course of action that required daring
strategy and the element of surprise. I was, in that moment, a man
with a plan.

I swooped in and kissed her.

My reasoning went like this:

Her emotions needed punctuating—like an endless run-on sentence. To
plug the hole, stop the leak—whatever metaphor worked. If I could get
her to shut up for even a moment, I could take advantage of her
shock, rise as the voice of reason and bring a sense of order to the
multi-headed Hydra that was Donna's emotional equilibrium.  Yes, she
would be angry but when she realized how deftly I took control of the
situation, she would appreciate my sensibility and eventually forgive
me.

I was wrong.

I was wrong because there was no way I could have known how touching
her would send my senses swimming. Foolish, stupid jackass me,
thinking that I could control this thing, control her, control me and
all control evaporated when our mouths met. All sense of reason
washed away and I was drowning. Even drowning, as a word, fails
because drowning connotes yielding or succumbing and what happened to
us there had nothing to do with either. This was not a city wall
crumbling after a relentless siege or a hostile invasion by rampaging
Cossacks.

This was fusion.

Not that namby-pamby fission stuff that goes on at Three Mile Island.
That's for sissies. No, fusion merges the nuclei of two disparate
elements and generates enough energy and heat to fuel a sun. It is
about transformation and violence. There was nothing delicate about
the demands of her mouth on mine, or the brazen intimacy with which I
touched her: no first date, first kiss, gentleman's protocol here.
Mr. Darcy would have been appalled. If I'd taken such liberties with
another woman, I would have earned a knee to the groin or a full on
slap across the face. But with Donna, it felt curiously familiar,
almost normal. As if rolling around on a conference room floor in the
venerable US Capitol, making out like fiends was an everyday
occurrence for us.

Somewhere in our thinking places, we knew this thing was dangerous.
Me, a well-known, senior White House official; her, my assistant
engaging in ethically questionable conduct in a public place. If we
were caught, the tabloid scandal over Sam's call girl would seem like
an episode of Brady Bunch.

But neither one of us wanted to think.

Which is probably why we didn't hear footsteps.

"Josh, Senator Tilden's office—" The door flew open and Cassie McKay
stood silhouetted in the hallway light.

We lurched a part. Donna's hand flew to her swollen lips, the other
smoothed her skirt; she modestly tucked her legs behind her and
within seconds looked composed, in spite of her ragged breathing. A
little lipstick, attending to those few undone buttons and she'd be
good to go.

I looked like hell and no leg tucking or smoothing would fix it.

"I'm sorry—we just had the vote and I wanted—"

I ran my fingers through my hair, nervously. "And?"

"We won," she smiled, shrugged. "In no small part thanks to you two.
Five more minutes and the Majority Leader's people would have been
able to table our bill until fall or start a filibuster."

Donna was on her feet now, collecting her Rolodex cards scattered
over the conference table. She pocketed her cellphone. "I'd better go
make some calls. I'll be in the Cloakroom, Josh."

I nodded.

Cassie stepped aside and allowed Donna to walk past her.

We stood in silence for a moment before we simultaneously launched
into explanations. A small laugh broke the tension for both of us.
Cassie started over.

"Josh, I swear to you I had no idea that you—"

"Actually, Cassie, this wasn't on the schedule for us either."

"It goes without saying that what I saw will never ever be discussed
after this conversation I'm having with you right now."

"Thanks. I've screwed up enough things this week that one more might
give Leo a reason to fire me."

"You could work for me. "

I smiled, in spite of myself. "Damn shame that someone with your good
taste is a Republican. What a waste."

She laughed and then, after a moment, became serious. "About you and
Donna—"

"Define what you mean by `you and Donna.'"

"Is she the last person you want to see before you go to bed and is
she the first person you want to see every morning?"

"The fact is, 95% of the time, she's literally both whether she likes
it or not. The hours I demand from her are tantamount to slavery," I
said flippantly. "Maybe you should hire her."

"You know what I meant," came her stern reprimand.

"Yeah I know and I'm not sure I'm prepared to answer that question."

"Because if my opinion matters one iota, I figured you two as lovers
six months ago."

I choked. "Now that's a place we are absolutely not going to—"

"You haven't been there already? Can you look at me, after what
you've seen of my life tonight, and honestly tell me that you're not
in over your head with that woman?"

"I'll have to take the Fifth, on that one, Senator."

"It's not worth it. I've lived lies."

My skin still tingled from Donna's touch; her smell is on my hands,
my clothes. "And aren't you still living one?"

"Not for much longer, I hope." Smiling, she extended a hand, "I
regret having to return to being your opponent, Josh.  You make a
magnificent ally. I hope we can join forces again someday."

I shook her proffered hand. "I can drop you back at the Hay if you
need a discreet lift."

"I'll manage. Donna's waiting for you."

She left me standing in the dimly lit conference room, with only a
moment to indulge my thoughts.  I straightened my tie, made certain
was I was presentable and geared up for what promised to be one of
the most terrifying encounters of my life.

Most of the senators had dispersed by the time I reached the
Democratic Cloakroom. A few tired pages were dispatched to clean up
the Senate Floor and generally prep the Chamber for the following
day's session. Otherwise, the phone booths and chairs were empty.

Donna had taken a seat and was chatting with the Cloakroom managers.
She didn't look up when I entered and I certainly wasn't going to be
the one to start chatting.

"You ready?" I said, focusing intently on the wood grain patterns in
the desk.

She nodded and rose. "'Night, guys. Good work."

We'd traversed half the distance to the door when the phone rang and
one of the managers called out, "Josh—you've got a phone call."

I paused, waiting to see if Donna had an opinion one way or another
about whether I took the call. It was almost 1AM.

She shrugged.

"Can I take it at the desk?"

He held up the phone and I promptly took it.

"Josh Lyman."

"You should answer the phone: Deputy White House Chief of Staff,
Joshua Lyman. You sound so much more powerful that way. I'm waiting
for you, Deputy White House Chief of Staff, " she whispered throatily.

It was Jordan.

"How did you find me here? Are you drunk?" I stuttered.

"Sam practically has a photographic memory."

"Where is Sam, anyway? I thought he was supposed to take you home."
My tie felt tight again and I loosened it. I caught a glimpse of
Donna's face.

With the hardness of her expression, she could have taken a spot
aside Abe, Teddy and George at Mt. Rushmore and felt right at home.

"I sent him on an errand to find a different bottle of wine. I wanted
to call you and let you know I'm getting rid of him and I'm waiting
up for you."

"Uh, don't do that. I'm pretty wiped and—"

She responded with a relatively graphic description of her plans: I
didn't know bodies could do those kinds of things. My ears pinked up.

Donna threaded her arms across her chest.

"Gotta go. Give my best to Sam." I hung up the phone, strode over to
Donna, grabbed her by the elbow and pulled her alongside me.

"So," I said while we waited for the elevator.

"So," she answered and walked into the elevator.

We exchanged no words from the elevator to the tunnel, through the
tunnel and to the Russell Senate Office Building Parking Lot.

Trouble.

 

 



 

Saturday, August 4; 12:40AM

We pull into her parking place outside her building. I turn off the
ignition.

She reaches for the door but I hit the auto-lock before she can exit.

"I am not your hostage, Josh."

"She speaks!"

"Let me out. Let me out now or I will pepper spray you."

"I want to talk."

"Imagine how adorable Jordy will find you when you show up at her
place with lips covered in blisters."

"This is not about Jordy—"

She beats her fists against the windows. In a minute, she might wake
her neighbors.

"Donna—" I say calmly.

"I'm a hostage!" she bellows against the glass.

"Donna—"

She pounds the windows harder.

"Dammit, Donna!" I grab both of her hands and twist her to face
me. "Don't you get that less than an hour ago I was ready to make
love to you on the minority leader's conference room floor!"

I can't believe I said that.

She stares. She relaxes, but her eyes never leave mine. 

I feel her pulse racing.

She is beautiful. The streetlamps and the August moon etch her
profile in silver against the shadows. I muster my all my self-
control to stop thinking about kissing her because that's what I
want. I know I'm tired. I know I'm operating on pure, mindless
adrenaline, but the velvet of her inner-wrist against my thumbs is
enough to make me crazy with wanting things that I have absolutely no
business wanting. Gotta stop going there.

The warning claxons sound; the red lights flash...


Her lips part slightly, as if she considered speaking but thought
better of it. Instead, she gently breaks her one of her wrists from
my grasp, takes my hand that had been holding hers and raises it to
her cheek. She turns her lips to the silvery scar slicing the center
of my palm.

The railroad crossing barriers go down, the sirens whine...

The warm ache I've been resisting since we left the Senate suffuses
me. And still I'm paralyzed. I close my eyes. She murmurs my name
against my fingers.

I don't care if I'm insane—I don't care if this makes sense to
anyone else because right now the only thing that makes sense to me
is being with her, consequences be damned--

The shrill chirp of a cellphone startles us both into the reality of
a muggy car, the late hour and the public place where we're parked.

Shocked, she drops my hand, backs against the car door and flattens
her palms against her thighs, poised for flight.

The phone rings again.

It's my phone and I answer it.

"Josh, what exactly is going on here? Because if you really want a
shot at Jordan, I'll back out. It's the honorable thing to do."

"Go away, Sam."

"Excuse me?"

Donna unlocks the door, vacates the car and slams the door with
emphasis.  I hurriedly grab my keys and engage the alarm. I'm out of
the car chasing after her; I try to avoid losing sight of her as she
strides purposefully down the sidewalk towards her building.

"Lose this phone number for the rest of the night," I hiss.

"I was given some understanding that you and Jordan had plans—
substantive plans."

"If this phone rings again with either of you on the other end, I'm
going to shove it up your collective--"

"I get it, but what am I supposed to tell—"

I snap the cellphone closed and drop into my pocket.

Donna ignores my pleas and is halfway up her stairs before I catch up
to her. It requires jumping onto her porch, right in front of her
door, to halt her from moving further.

"Donna! Please listen to me, I--"

"I will not be the warm-up act."

"I told her—"

"I am not the pinch hitter, the substitute, the understudy!" she says
through gritted teeth.

We're having different conversations. "I'm a little lost here, Donna,
help me out because I was thinking we were talking about--"

"I am SICK of being the fill in the blank in your life, Josh. Don't
want to sit alone at the State Dinner? Donna, grab your dress, you're
going to a party. Frustrated with the licking you took at the hands
of some uppity Republican? Who else but Donna should I visit, drop-
dead drunk, at 2AM?" Her voice crescendos with each word. "Your
doctors appointments, the supply of toilet paper at your apartment,
I'm just supposed to do it all—and now THIS. This tops it all!"

I could care less whether I wake her neighbors. I've done it before
with less cause. "This?" I shout.  "I don't have a clue about what
this is!"

"This? Of course you don't have a clue about this. You are so obtuse
you are a 220-degree angle. Of course you wouldn't get this."

"Then tell me. Explain this to me," I plead.

"This? This is get in the foreplay with your trusty all-purpose Girl
Friday. Ditch the placeholder when a better offer prances along!"

"WHAT?" I'm incredulous. "You think I kissed you because I couldn't
have Jordan? That's stupid. I don't want Jordan, I just wanted you to
shut up."

Donna closes her eyes as if she had just been slapped.

That last comment was clearly a mistake. 

I am now deserving of any objects she might decide to hurl my
direction. "I don't think I did a good job of saying what I just
said. You have to know that, what I really meant was—"

"Get the hell off my porch."

"I—I'm not—Donna—I told Sam that—that shut up thing, it wasn't what I
meant--"

Still facing the door, she states in clear, measured tones, "I'll be
at work by 11. It's shorts day. I look damn good in shorts, Josh."

"Donna—" I touch her arm. I try to insinuate myself into her gaze but
she's determined to get into her apartment without looking at me
again. "What can I do to fix this? There's gotta be something I can
do!"

"You've broken enough things, tonight, Josh Lyman. Go away now." She
pushes the door open, slides inside and slams it before I can insert
the other foot in my mouth.


The fact that I make it back to my condo with my car intact is
remarkable.

I ran two red lights because I wasn't paying attention and I almost
turned the wrong way onto a one way street and I nearly backed into a
VW Bug when I was maneuvering into my own parking place.

My head is not in the game.

By rote, I unlock the door, ditch my keys on the coffee table and
collapse on the couch, plopping my head on the first soft thing it
comes in contact with. Because I'm being careless, I realize, too
late, that the soft object I'm nestling my face into has a familiar
scent.

Damn. It's Donna's sweater. I think it's been here since April when
we stopped by before the Rodin opening at the National Art Gallery.
Inhaling Donna's perfume while I sleep is probably a bad idea. I'll
end up with a dream like the one I had about her taking off that red
dress-

I'm awake.

I'm awake. I'm awake. I'm awake.

I jump off the couch and head for the kitchen in search of potato
chips and beer. Maybe I'll click on some CNN and pop open a few cold
ones.

Instead of beer in the fridge, I'm greeted by Donna's Brazilian
coffee beans ('Grind 'em yourself, Lyman '); Donna's favorite
chocolate-covered shortbread cookies; and Donna's Diet Coke.

I'm noticing a theme here. It's like Scrooge's Christmas Ghosts
decided decorating my condo with props from Donna's Zabar's, 7-11 and
Bloomingdale's shopping sprees would prove more effective in forcing
me to face my egregious errors than actual supernatural
manifestations would. If Donna's head appears in lieu of my
doorknocker, I'm going to be regretting every illegal chemical I've
ever ingested.

I decide actual bed sleeping is preferable to boring myself to sleep
with beer and Bernie Shaw. I don't even bother to turn on the lights
to undress. I don't even bother with covers.

The ceiling is fascinating at 2AM.

Turning on my side, I stare out the window at the moon dropping lower
on the horizon as dawn approaches until that, too, becomes pointless.

I click on the lamp on my nightstand. Three books, a stack of
magazines, several briefing memos and some unopened credit card
offers wait to be read. The best candidate is a Timothy Ferris
physics book. I crack it open and an assortment of papers flutter
out: newspaper clippings, magazine articles, a photo, a pink phone
message slip, and a receipt from George Washington Medical Center
Gift Shop.

I'm getting a strange feeling about this.

'Assassination Attempt; White House Deputy, Critical' "Washington
Post;" 'Who is Josh Lyman?' "People Magazine;" `Our Prayers Are With
You,' Molly Ivins, Special to the NY Times; 'Deputy Fights For His
Life; A Nation Waits' "Newsweek."

These specific clippings aren't mine; they're already yellowing and
faded. I stack them on the bed and consider the photo, also an
unknown: a 5 by 7 color print with the 'Washington Post' copyright
stamp affixed to the back. The scrawl looks suspiciously like
Danny's. In the background, balloons fall from the ceiling, confetti
flies through the air: it's clearly election night with the out of
focus "Bartlet for President" signs interspersed among the streamers.
It's a picture of me-one that appeared repeatedly in the aftermath of
the shooting.

The phone message reads to 'Ms. Moss from Dr. Martell,' my cardio-
thoracic surgeon.

This must be her book. She must have kept this photo with her in the
hospital or perhaps Danny gave it to her while she was waiting. Maybe
she used it as a bookmark.  Indecipherable pencil scribbling in the
back of the book is a list of errands:

pharmacy (pain meds; wound dressing; hydrogen peroxide);
market (Gatorade, Lysol, yogurt, bleach, ice cream);
Call Sam, CJ--no visits until next week
Return video-pick up Stooges
physical therapist appt. ?
Thank you note-Margaret, Jenny, Liz & Annie, Sen. Grissom

I flip through the pages and see highlighted sections with the
letter "J" penned off to the side--subjects I remembered rambling on
about.

I thought she hadn't been paying attention.

I thought I knew what happened after Rosslyn.

I thought I knew Donna.

The potential meaning of all of this swims in my head. I'm thinking
if I'm reading the meaning correctly all bets are off.  In the hopes
that I'm hallucinating and indeed interpersonal relationship
colorblind, I fall back on the pillow and close my eyes.

I last for about thirty seconds.

I open my eyes and I turn toward the alarm clock sitting on the
opposite nightstand with the intention of checking the time.

I freeze.

I can be cavalier about playing amateur psychoanalyst with evidence
Donna has inadvertently left behind. But I only face my own truths
when they're beaten over my head with a brick.  And nothing has
beaten understanding into my own psyche faster than the indicting
evidence I'm presently staring at. My ability to maintain my present
position as captain of the Barge of Denial slips swiftly away.

I'm a single guy. I'm a single guy with a remarkable mother, a boss
who's the President, and powerful connections among former
classmates, business leaders, celebrities, and politicians.  Starlets
have made passes at me; senior aides have dropped me their phone
numbers and gossip columnists have had me in their sights for years.
I have boxes filled with evidence, from newspaper clippings and
autographed photos that prove that I, Josh Lyman, am a man who is
known in many influential circles. And so what does a man who has
kissed the hands of royalty and ridden horseback through Central Park
with Katie Couric have sitting on his nightstand?


A birthday card from his assistant.

A cheesy Hallmark card paired with a small photo, straight from one
hour film developing, propped against it. It's a picture Sam took. He
had purchased a new camera and was being obnoxious taking photos of
everyone in the office-at 2AM during a campaign stop in Des Moines.
My personal favorite from this roll of film was a memorable, but
unflattering, portrait of Margaret after two-dozen cups of coffee--
your basic Bride of Frankenstein moment.

The photo I'm staring at is of a group of us collapsed in front of my
makeshift desk looking liked we'd been tear-gassed. Coffee cups and
take-out remains litter the floor. Half-stuffed envelopes overflow
boxes on the desk. CJ's wrapped in the fetal position around her
laptop. Toby is nose-down in a Baja California enchilada platter.  As
for Donna: a briefing binder the size of Delaware sits open on her
lap, her hair droops into her face, and her shoes are off. My tie is
AWOL, my sleeves are rolled up and my hair looks like a gerbil's
nest.  And we're asleep. She's conked out on my shoulder; my head
rests on top of hers. Sam found this pose hilarious because our half-
open mouths hinted at serious drool potential.

This photo is three years old. This thing has been out there for
three years. Where have I been? The events of yesterday evening flash
through my mind with the rapidity of a dying man's last visions.

I feel physically sick.

What have I done?

Within minutes, I've pulled on sneakers, shorts and whatever clean t-
shirt remains in my drawers. I'm out the door and onto the humid
streets of Georgetown to walk.

I am a rat-faced bastard schmuck. I deserve to be boiled in oil and
served as the main entrée at the next NOW luncheon. I am living proof
that every allegation regarding my gender is true and that the
difference between an ape and me is that an ape hasn't learned to use
a shaver yet. And yet none of this matters because Donna is in pain
and I am the cause of that pain.

I keep walking. The streets blur together. A group of pub-crawling
college students stumbles onto the sidewalk in front of me. I side
step them and maintain a steady pace. Though it is approaching three
in the morning and I know a bed awaits me back at my apartment, she
is everywhere within those walls and I can't face that right now. She
is everywhere in my life and I never saw it until now.

My favorite sheets-the olive and maroon striped ones on my bed--she
bought, knowing I would spend bedridden weeks recovering from the
shooting. Boxes of Wong Gong's Chinese food, ordered when we were
hashing through the details of the River Recovery Act, sit in the
fridge. The "Rear Window" DVD, rented together five days ago, waits
to be returned. The bathroom drawers contain her spare toothbrush, a
pair of black nylons and a hairbrush.

On my bed, a down pillow, too soft for my liking, sits next to my
regular pillow. Last fall, the down pillow in question regularly
spent the night on my couch, especially after mother returned to
Connecticut. I'm remembering last August, and what it was like to
awaken, hung over from the narcotics, to the sounds of her puttering
around my kitchen as she made my breakfast before she headed for the
office. And there were days when the pain was a bitch and I said
things to her...and she still came back.

I awoke Christmas morning after sleeping on that down pillow, my hand
throbbing from the saline irrigation and glass extraction and my arm
sore from the antibiotics shot. Before I could reach for the Tylenol,
I realized she slept next to me, curled on her side, still wearing
her scarf and shoes from the night before. I remember carefully
sliding her shoes off, covering her with an afghan and then laying
back down beside her.

We slept until noon.

We've always been touchy. We are tactile people, Donna and I. Tactile
and kinesthetic people. After she brought me the news about my dad's
death, she held my hand while I talked on the phone with my mom. I
danced half the night with her at every victory party-even when I was
dating Mandy. She jumped into my arms the moment we knew we'd won the
national election. Every day, I place my arm around her without
thinking. Every airplane trip, she falls asleep on my shoulder.  She
knots my ties; I rub her feet. We brush shoulders, arms, and hands.

And this is normal?

Donna's right: we've got a problem with boundaries and the problem is
there are no boundaries. We assumed ownership of pieces of each other
without ever asking for permission. We've slid into the corners and
vacancies and empty spaces. The intimacies-the relationship shorthand-
-have become so intuitive that I never recognized when I crossed the
line to become part of a whole.

Until tonight. Or last night or whatever the hell time it was that my
subconscious, disguised as my ego, suggested that maybe a solid,
strategically timed kiss was the appropriate means by which to shut
Donna up.

Sleep deprivation makes me maudlin and poetic--a lot like the
earliest stages of drunkenness so I'm walking aimlessly and instead
of watching street signs or considering the rows of town homes and
businesses, I'm remembering how my hands and arms found their way
around her waist and linked in the small of her back. Parting her
blouse to grip her bare skin, pulling her hard against me and feeling
satiated. Living with emptiness had left me oblivious to hunger; I'd
become numb to its needs and demands after ignoring it for so long.
And now I want more but I'm uncertain exactly what more is or what
the ramifications of more are.

Because during those brief stolen moments in the conference room, I
never opened my eyes. My memories are Picasso-like impressions of
tangled limbs and the sensations of butter-soft linen and her
cornsilk hair sliding through my fingers. How her trembling hands
loosened my tie, worked my shirt buttons, and then slipped inside to
rest on my skin. How she traced the ridge that is my scar with her
thumb.

I don't know why I didn't open my eyes.

The earliest hints of dawn pink-up the periwinkle sky though the
temperature and humidity feel more like noon. I'm exhausted. I drop
down on the nearest curb and rest my face in my hands, hoping that
the repulsively cheerful morning people out walking their dogs write
me off as a well-dressed homeless person instead of recognizing me as
the Deputy White House Chief of Staff having a nervous breakdown. I
consider my options:

1. Pretend it didn't happen
2. Pretend it didn't happen
3. Deal with it.

I'm thinking I need advice.

Ten minutes later, I stumble through CJ's front door into her living
room full of luggage.

"I thought you were vacationing, not relocating."

"For someone who looks like he's been ridden hard and put away wet,
I'd say you've got room to talk."

"Yet another colorful aphorism from the wild, wild West."

"If I didn't think you'd end up in the radar of a reporter out for
Saturday morning bagels, I'd kick you out on your ass right now."

"And to think I came here in search of sympathy."

"Sympathy falls between shit and syphilis in the dictionary, Josh."

"That pretty much summarizes my life."

She stands there, contemplating my words and her eyes bulge. "Please
tell me this has nothing to do with Jordan, because if it does I have
a butcher knife in my kitchen and I'm sure I'll get off on temporary
insanity-"

"Sort of but not really and not what you think. Can I sit down?" Her
furniture serves as a repository for incomprehensible feminine mall
frenzy. I throw overflowing shopping bags from Gump's and Neimans
onto the floor and sprawl on the couch.

"Go ahead, make yourself comfortable," she says sarcastically. "I'll
make us some coffee."

It occurs to me that it is actually nearing 5AM and it could be
construed bad manners to show up at anyone's home at 5AM. "I didn't
wake you up, did I?"

"Actually, no. My red eye landed 90 minutes ago and I'm still wired
to Pacific-it's only 2AM according to my biological clock." She
thrusts a cup of coffee at me.

I can't muster the energy to pick it up.

"Okay, mi amore, you've got half-an-hour before the confessional
closes so start spilling."

I close my eyes and somehow, my brain is able to find the words and
put them together in a comprehensible enough fashion that I actually
form a narrative. I can't bring myself to look at CJ while I'm
talking because I can tell from her finger tapping and her sighs how
alternately annoying or pathetic I'm sounding. When I get to the part
about the epiphany I had in my apartment and out walking the streets,
she's quiet and she remains so until I finish.

Her silence continues to be deafening, so I crack open an eye and
squint over at her. CJ's lips are pursed, she's leaning back in her
armchair with her palms together, fingers flexing in contemplative,
Jesuit priest pose.

"So?" I finally say. "Whaddya think?"

"A Republican caught you groping--"

"It was not groping!" I interrupt indignantly. Groping sounds so
tawdry. Nothing that's passed between Donna and me is tawdry. Not
now, not ever.

"Fine then, kissing your assistant while rolling around on a Senate
conference room floor."

"Senator McKay won't say anything."

"She's likely calling the Christian Coalition right now and handing
Mary Marsh the hatchet."

"She won't talk."

"Don't be naive."

"Trust me on this."

"What aren't you telling me?"

"Get past it, CJ. What else?"

"I'm wondering how many levels of PR hell we're going to have to slog
through to sell this as Cinderella instead of some 'Graduate' in
reverse thing."

"I am not Mr. Robinson on the prowl for an easy lay--," I begin
defensively.

"Oh I know. You might have a hard time selling Toby on that-he thinks
you slept together during the campaign."

"Please! I was in a relationship during the campaign."

"Mandy was a relationship?"

"Okay. I was in an arrangement during the campaign but I wasn't
having sex with Donna."

"But you slept together," CJ parses my words

I slam the heel of my hand into my forehead. "I have no carnal
knowledge of my assistant." I think I can say that. Walking in on
someone getting dressed can't be construed as carnal knowledge.

"Look, Josh, if bantering was lovemaking, you two have been
copulating like bunnies for three years and there's no point in
denying it. I've witnessed more foreplay in the Bullpen than I've had
in my bedroom in a long time."

"You want to join us? Could be fun."

"A tabloid waving cash under the noses of junior staffers or interns
could unearth plenty of ammo. 'Were there ever any public clues that
Ms. Moss and Mr. Lyman were involved?' 'I'll tell you, Geraldo, I
heard Mr. Lyman make a crack about Ms. Moss putting on a Catholic
school uniform--'"

"I get it, I get it."

She sighs. "You've never had a real relationship with a woman."

"If real means sex, cohabitation, toilet seat up or down arguments-
get real. I'm almost forty."

"You are forty."

"Almost forty."

"And that's what you define as real relationship. Arguing about
squeezing toothpaste from the bottom or the middle of the tube."

"This has what to do with my present predicament?"

"You haven't seen it, have you? I mean, you felt it last night and
it's obvious to even the non-English speaking custodians
eavesdropping on your middle of the night repartee, but you don't
actually see what's right in front of you."

"You're suggesting I have a real relationship with Donna."

"Whatever you have with Donna has more substance than where you
choose to squeeze the toothpaste. Do you know when she gets her
period? Her shoe size, her birthday, her favorite perfume, the last
movie that made her cry?"

Two weeks ago; 8 ½; October 3, 1972; Ralph Lauren; Old Yeller-but
I'll be damned if I admit it to CJ. My knowing these things means
absolutely nothing. I have a mind for trivia. I shake my
head. "You're sleep deprived and crazed..."

"Come on--isn't she the one you go to when you need someone to talk
to?"

"For that there's always you, Claudia Jean," I sass. And then it
occurs to me. "You know what it is?"

"Is this a question I want an answer to?  Because if I have to say
anything to a Grand Jury—"

"It's like one of those Venn Diagrams."

"Excuse me?"

"You know. Those things you learn about fourth grade. Where the
circles overlap."

"We're not going into the whole Unified Theory of Psychics again are
we?"

"Donna and I have stopped being set A and set B. We overlap and
create area C."

"They have pills for this kind of delusion."

I sigh and rub my tired eyes. "What counsel has the Sphinx for her
weary petitioner today?"

"You're on your own, schmuck."

"Maybe I'll grab that butcher knife and commit seppuku," I groan.

"Can Jews do that? Isn't the coat-renting thing more traditional?"

"Coat renting implies that I want to keep living. I'm not sure that
accurately reflects my present state of being."

"I've got a contact over at Tiffany's that can help with the pearl
thing and I can give you a few talking points on what not to say, but
ultimately, this is your truth. I offer no absolution."

"Tiffany's?"

"Many a quarrel has been mended by the appearance of a robin-egg blue
box, Joshua. Never underestimate the power of the pale blue box."

"So this is fixable."

"I didn't say that," she says, rising from her chair. "Tell you what.
Since you're riper than Limburger, take a shower-you can borrow
something—and generally make yourself presentable. If you're going to
apologize to Donna, you need to not look like you slept on a park
bench. After you've cleaned up, you can go out for bagels. I'll track
down my sales friend and see if we can get you in before they open."

"Bless you," I sigh. "I really liked that Donna Karan number from two
weeks ago, you know the one with the yellow skirt and the jacket--you
think it will fit me?"

"Josh--!"

I scoot toward the bathroom and hope she has something more manly
than Bath and Body Works Melonberry gel waiting in the shower stall.

"And if you use my razor to shave I'll slit your throat with it," she
calls after me.

"Psycho" on a Saturday morning would be a fitting end to nightmarish
week.


Three hours later and CJ's pulled strings to get me into Tiffany's. I
swung by my apartment to retrieve what pearls I had in my jacket
pocket. I'm prepared to pay whatever it takes in the hopes that CJ's
assertion that little blue boxes are the way to forgiveness is true.
I am presently a man in search of a simple plan.

"They're fakes," Louisa Card, assistant manager, informs me.

This, I'm not prepared for.

"What? They can't be. They were a gift— an inheritance from her
grandmother." I wonder if Donna knows this. I strongly doubt she does
and after the folderol surrounding this particular strand, I'm
thinking she'd feel humiliated if she knew.

"I didn't say they were bad fakes, just that they were fakes. These
came out of Spain in the `30s—very skillfully executed and popular
with American expatriates. The Scott and Zelda crowd. The whole
handful of these will cost more to be re-strung and have a new clasp
put on them than they're worth." She gingerly pours Donna's pearls
into a silken bag, draws the string and hands them back to me.

I hesitate for only a second before I reply, "Show me the real thing."

"Yes, sir." She places several velvet covered boxes on the counter
and unlocks a drawer. "The first strands I'm showing you are South
Seas White pearls from the rare mollusk Pinctada Maxima..."

She deserves this. At the very least, she deserves this.


"Stars and Stripes Forever" greets me with its usual subtlety as I
sprint through Christobal's door. He materializes from his backroom
where I'm certain he's carrying on in his typically morally murky
fashion, but I don't have the luxury of hunting down an honest
Democrat this morning. A heartless Republican will have to suffice.
Isn't using heartless to modify Republican a redundancy?

"Buenos Días, Señor Ly-man," he greets me warily.

I drop my sunglasses down a notch on my nose so the master capitalist
can see the whites of my eyes. "I have a favor."

"That could be tricky..."

"Listen you tobacco-addict enabling cigar Mafioso, I'm doing
something for Donna and you can either help me or you can explain
your after-hours business to the IRS."

"Some of my best customers work at the IRS."

Smug SOB. What is this country coming to? "Fine. A delivery is going
to arrive here sometime in the next hour. Can I trust that it's going
to remain here until I come back with Donna?"

"You think I pawn it or something? Please. I have an IRA, a margin
account and a blind trust at Morgan Stanley. Whatever it is, I can
buy it from you a thousand times over."

I'm thinking I should ditch politics for the smoothie business.


I sit in my office and wait. The clock moves slowly but eventually
the small hand reaches the eleven and I know that Donna will arrive
soon. I can't wait to give her the pearls. My glee at imagining the
look on her face is almost reimbursement for their outlandish, car
down payment-sized price. At the first sign of the distinctive box,
her eyes will widen with surprise. `For me?' she'll say, maybe
raising a hand to her mouth. Her eyes will tear slightly, finally
erupting when she slides open the box and finds a single shimmering
strand of South Seas pearls. Instead of telling her to plug the
waterworks, I'll gather her into my arms, smooth her hair, rub her
back and let her know in a dozen unspoken ways how sorry I am.

This is gonna be good. CJ was so wrong. I know how to do the
relationship stuff.

Within minutes, I hear her footsteps. She fails to sing out her
typical greeting. Not even a grumbled "Hey You."  Her keys jangle as
she drops them in her top drawer.  I hear her computer whirr on, her
chair slide out from beneath her desk and a couple of file drawers
slide open and closed.

Game time.

She refuses to look up when I cross the hall to the Bullpen. Not that
it matters. She's got a European Monaco socialite look going with
these white capris and black tank top. She's also wearing sunglasses
and apparently feels no compulsion to remove them.

"I'm thinking we need to go for a walk."

"Pardon me for stating the obvious, Josh, but I just sat down."

"Yeah, but I've been here for an hour so I'm ready to take a walk."

"I suppose you're going to nag me and be a general pain in the ass if
I don't agree to leave my ergonomically designed chair and follow you
down the yellow brick road. And by the way, is that CJ's t-shirt?"

I walk around the corner, squat down to her eye-level, grab the
sunglasses by the bridge and slide them over her ears.

Puffy and bloodshot eyes glare angrily at me.  "I have allergies,
Josh," she says, her voice cracking only a little.

I slide the glasses back over her ears, pry one hand off her armrest
and lace my fingers through hers. "Come on. I'm buying."


We walk in silence until it becomes more than obvious that she won't
be initiating a conversation any time soon.  I might be able to
rationalize her reticence as being reflective of the lack of privacy
we have out on the city streets. Street vendors hawking their roasted
half-smokes and hot dogs perch on every corner, waiting for the
wandering hordes of Bermuda short clad tourists with their gargantuan
Japanese cameras. Staffers from the Post and the two EOBs wander the
streets. Cabs honk; bus wheels screech; traffic signals flash. I
swear I can see the heat rising from the sidewalk.  Not the most
ideal setting for a serious conversation. What the hell—I might as
well stand up and be a mensch.

"Donna, something happened last night and I have to know if it's real
or not."

"Are you talking some grand hallucination, because if you are, I
experienced it too."

"Nah—it's like both of our emotions were overheated last night. You
were justifiably furious. I was tightly wound and—"

"Sexually frustrated."

"I was not, well I was, but not why you think. Anyway. I need to do
some fact-finding."

"You're some kind of Congressional oversight committee and I'm the
evidence?"

"More like, I think I need to figure out what all this means and I
don't know how else to do it but to try again."

"Should we grab a cab and head to the Hill? You know they're working
today and—"

"Donna--"

"Josh."

"I know I don't have the right to ask you for anything, but if it
makes it easier, this is really hard for me."

"And it will be harder before it's over. Believe me Joshua Lyman, you
will be spending the next months of your life working your way out of
the deepest level of hell."

"I guess this is a bad time to renegotiate the coffee thing," I try
to tease.

"This is more like the time you renegotiate the 'do I keep working
for you thing.'"

This last revelation gives me pause. With those words, it's finally
out there. The thing I've been avoiding. I find her eyes and attempt
to search for answers in them but they remain opaque.

"Yeah." My stomach convulses. "The do you keep working for me thing.
Funny you should say that because..."

"I know."

"How could you know? Leo brought this up less than two weeks ago and
I couldn't have been more surprised if--"

"You weren't surprised. This is been coming since May. I saw the look
on your face when he asked me to research that storm for him. You
knew."

I nod noncommittally because damned if she's not right yet again. She
ought to seriously consider getting her own hour on the psychic
network. "And so?"

"Be real, Josh. None of the temps have worked out. Nancy is
overwhelmed—she's plenty competent but she has a hard time taking the
initiative. Margaret definitely has the experience and the skills,
but I think, truth be told—"

"She makes him a little nutso."

"Yeah. I think working with Leo all these years, having to adapt to
all his quirks and demands has warped her irreparably. She'll likely
never be good to work for anyone ever again. He might as well marry
her since no one else will put up with his crap."

I wonder if the same will be said for Donna after our years together.

"I knew things were getting out of hand when Dr. Bartlet sent Liz
down from Boston to sort through all of his personal papers. The
leader of the free world doesn't have anyone he trusts to find his
college report cards?"

"He keeps his report cards?"

"In the third filing cabinet on the left, fourth drawer in the back
somewhere."

I give her a look.

"I just happened to be talking to Mrs. Landingham when she was filing
them. Read nothing into the fact that I know where the President's
report cards are filed."

I have to ask, even though I don't want to know the answer because I
think both of us know what it has to be. "So what are you—have you
decided—is there a chance that--?" I fumble for words.

She stops and removes her sunglasses.  Leaning against a mailbox, she
sighs deeply and folds her arms. "I don't—it is such an honor! Of all
the assistants, to even be considered is incredible! And there is so
much to learn, places I could push myself to really grow—and it's not
like I don't adore him-and-oh hell--" Turning on her heel, she spins
into me, grabs my arms, shoves me against Café De Politico's brick
wall and presses herself hard along the length of my body. Her lips
assault mine in a bruising kiss.

Add Donnatella Moss to the list of incendiary devices my mother
warned me not to play with.

And it begins again. All of it. The explosive fusion of our mouths,
the vestiges of sense being burned away, the undeniable awareness of
this amazing truth between us is. And yes it's real. And because I
accept how much I want this, I don't bother to consider the propriety
of allowing this to play out on a tour-bus lined street, not even
three hundred yards from the White House in the middle of a
sweltering Saturday afternoon.

I simply yield.

"I think your idea of shutting up via kissing is, in fact, a good
one," she whispers into my neck afterwards, when the demands of our
respective physiologies for oxygen required that we, well, breathe.

I hold her, my head thrown back against the brick, her head nestled
against my chest. I don't think I could will myself to walk if I
wanted to. Our hearts slam in frantic concert. My eyes are closed.
Again. I am such a coward.

"Josh?"

I feel her lift her head. My eyes flicker open. Her face...

Her wide-eyed consideration of me presents a contradiction of wisdom,
innocence and something more: faith. That's always been Donna. When
the rest of us shook our fists at God in jaded unbelief, when we
retreated to our bunkers of cynicism feeling vindicated by the
confirmation of our doubts, Donna's faith never wavered. Her faith in
the President, her faith in our cause—and yeah, her faith in me. 
That she would allow me to see this after all that I've done is a
gift I don't deserve. Yet I know she's giving me this now because
she's asking for my permission to make a choice.

I raise my hand to her cheek, wrap a lock of hair around my fingers,
and trace the line of her face with my thumb. I know all I have to do
is say the word and she'll remain by my side in whatever capacity I
want her in. As my aide, my friend, my confidante, my lover and who
knows what else.  She's asking for my blessing not because she's
incapable of making the decision for herself, but because how I feel—
what I think—matters to her.

She's asking me to have faith in her. To have faith that she, too,
will do the right thing.

Her trust has considerably more value than—well, than a strand of
pearls.

My superficial offering.  I could walk into Christobal's, hand her
the Tiffany's box and assuage her with the extravagant gift. Yeah
she'll love it. She'll hug me and I'll have the pleasure of seeing
that gorgeous strand nestled in the hollow of her throat.

And it would mean absolutely nothing.

I know what I have to do.

I drop my hands to my side. "You know, I just forgot that I've got a
thing back at the office."

Puzzled, she backs away from me. "You don't have to buy me a
smoothie, Josh. This whole thing is silly--"

"No. We're almost there anyway."  I already ache from our physical
separation.


Christobal never hints to Donna that he was part of a carefully
conceived conspiracy to placate her with expensive baubles. He fills
our orders, smiles, and makes small talk with Donna. I think I've
figured out how to work this, but I need a moment alone with
Christobal's phone. A chance presents itself when Donna takes a
detour to the women's room.

"I need to use your phone," I whisper across the counter.

"I'm guessing the original plan is off, no?" he whispers right back.

"Correct, amigo. Can I use your phone?"

"$1.00 for the first minute local; $2.50 a minute for the first
minute long distance."

"You're going to charge me?"

"A man has to pay his bills."

"Fine." I fish around my pockets for change managing to come up with
two dollars in quarters.

He hands me the phone with a grin. "Pleasure doing business with you,
Señor Ly-man."

I tap in the number and hurriedly scribble out notes on a napkin.
When the White House operator answers, I ask for Katie in the Travel
Office. I'm surprised Katie even knows who I am. After all, Donna
usually makes all these phone calls.

Apparently, Katie's heard me bellowing.

When Donna emerges from the restroom, I shove the napkin, the phone,
and a twenty at Christobal. "Give this person the information written
on this napkin, comprende?"

"I am a man of honor!" he says with alacrity.

"Whatever."

"Could this be the beginning of a beautiful friendship, Señor Ly-man?"

"Don't push it, Christobal."

He smirks. I watch his animated conversation through the window until
we're past his storefront.


And apparently, he performs the assigned task correctly because when
we arrive back at the West Wing, a bulging legal sized envelope sits
on my chair. I ask Donna to come into my office; I close the door
behind her.

Without saying a word, I hand her the envelope. I watch expectantly
as she unfolds the contents.

"A plane ticket?"

At least she's surprised.

"You fly into Raleigh-Durham this evening. Your rental car
reservation is at Hertz. I went ahead and put you in a nice little
bed and breakfast that Ainsley recommended, assuming that driving 200
miles isn't really on the agenda for tonight."

"I'm confused. Ainsley has what--"

"You don't have to stay in town. The cottage is vacant as of now, but
I figured that since you didn't sleep much last night, you might want
to take a break before you head out for the coast."

"You're sending me to Nags Head? To the Hayes beachfront cottage?
Aren't you afraid the Republican National Committee has the place
bugged?"

"Ainsley also said that the fridge is stocked with your basic
condiments, but if you want something more exotic than ketchup and
pickles, you might want to grab some groceries on your way there."

She's speechless.

I love it when I can do that to her. And I can hardly resist sharing
one more detail.  What's the point in being a hero if you can't brag,
even a little bit? "You've got a convertible, by the way."

"Josh. Josh. Joshua." She shakes her head, smiling.

She's leaving me. No, I'm sending her away. I can read her body
language well enough to know that she wants to hug me, but I look
down at my desk and start fiddling with my pens to avoid having to
look at her. I can't bear to let her hug me—to thank me for giving
her permission to go--because my resolve to do the right thing will
melt in an instant. I'll dissolve into a puddle of four-year old
little boy-ness and beg her to stay. To never leave me.

Please don't leave me, Donna....

"We'll swing by your place so you can pack and I'll drop you at the
airport."

If I'd had sense, I'd have dropped her at the curb, we could have
said cursory good-byes, I'd rib her about sunscreen, order her to
keep her cellphone hanging from the strings of her bikini and be done
with it.

Since I'm in a glutton for punishment mode, I'm carrying her bags to
the gate check-in.

We sit side-by-side in the vinyl chairs. Donna roots through her
purse searching for chapstick and gum. She always has this problem
with her ears when she flies. I remove a pack of Extra peppermint
from my shirt pocket and hand it to her.

"You remembered," she says, pleased.

"I'm not entirely obtuse," I reply, referring back to her comment of
the night before.

"Only about most things," she amends.

"I think there's a compliment in there somewhere."

"You're the only Democrat I know who scours National Review in search
of anything that could be construed as personally favorable."

"I'm a lovable kind of guy."

She laughs.

The gate attendant calls for the first boarding group.
We stand awkwardly, hands shoved in pockets, allowing the others to
file by. Neither one of us can find the words which for us is saying
something.  On the surface, we've always been about words. Maybe we
need to look past the surface.

"I haven't decided, Josh." She gnaws her lower lip and rocks back and
forth in her sneakers. "I still don't know if I can do it and I don't
know if it's the right thing to do even if I can. It could be hard
and if I mess up there are real, serious consequences. I don't know
if I can do this."

I see her standing before me, as she has thousands of times and I'm
remembering the day I left a staff strategy session to find this
naïve twenty-five year old with unbelievable chutzpah rummaging
through my desk and impertinently answering my phone.  She came to me
determined to set off on a quest to find her confidence, to find her
redemption. I never fathomed her emerging as this radiant creature.

I am awestruck.

"Of course you can do this. You are, after all, Donnatella Moss, very
good at this. I have found you to be," my voice becomes
husky, "infinitely valuable." I notice her White House ID still
dangling around her neck. She won't need it in Nags Head. I step
forward, feel my throat tighten, and gently ease her ID over her
head.

Her eyes glisten.

I don't know who moved first or who touched who first or whose tears
began first, but I am holding her too tightly and she is clinging to
me as if holding could bind us. I take her face in my hands and our
noses are touching. With open eyes, I touch my lips to hers. I sense
her breath catching in her throat. I smell her sweet, citrusy scented
lotion and feel the heat exuding from her skin. 

And I see her.

All too soon, we break apart and she's walking toward the gate. I'm
content to stand here and wait until I see the plane take off knowing
that when she returns next Sunday, we might be exchanging hellos as
different people than the people who are now saying good-bye.

She passes her boarding pass to the gate attendant, moves into the
walkway and then suddenly pauses to look back at me. "Josh!"

"Donna!"

"There won't be beer in the fridge and don't even attempt to bring
your own."

"Huh?"

"You know. For when you show up skulking around on my front porch
around, say, Wednesday night."

"I will not crash your vacation Donnatella."

"You have no self-control, Joshua."

"Not where you're concerned, anyway," I say flirtatiously.

She blushes and waves as she vanishes into the airplane.


And I let her go without screaming, clenching my teeth or beginning
to plot the means by which I will hunt her down and bring her home.

Hell, I can't crash her vacation. I'll have to spend the week
figuring out her filing system and how to translate three years of
notes buried in and around my office. After all, the ever-capable and
talented Ms. Moss may just be going to work for the President of the
United States. Considering that's been my personal ambition since I
was like, barely out of diapers, how can I possibly be unsupportive
when my—my—well, whatever Donna is, has the same lofty goal.

I will respect whatever choice she makes. I will write this fifty
times a day until I start to believe it. I will allow her the freedom
to follow her own path because that's what people do when they feel
strongly about one another; I'm kidding myself if I think that this
weird, convoluted emotional miasma between us doesn't have a ribbon
of intense attachment and affection, possibly indicative of a desire
for a more interpersonal connection, swirling in there somewhere. If
you are excessively fond of something, set it free.

Damn I hate it when the greeting card sentiment proves to be the
right one.

But I am proud of her. And I absolutely will not pout or torment
anyone, except maybe Sam and CJ who deserve torment, should Donna
choose to move to the Oval. I will not. On the positive side, I might
be able to find an assistant who doesn't have moral objections to my
having the occasional adult beverage with my peers. That's gotta be
worth something.

On my way back to the parking lot, I decide I'll bring her coffee on
the first day she sits at Mrs. Landingham's old desk. She'll laugh,
her eyes will twinkle and she'll know that it takes more than
geography to change what we are to each other.  The pearls can wait.

...Maybe I'll present them to our daughter on her sixteenth birthday...

Man, sleep deprivation is making me maudlin again. If don't get some
rest—and soon--at any moment I'll be serenading the airport
with "Sunrise, Sunset." I should go home and call Sam. Find out how
things wrapped up with Jordan Custis Meade, watch baseball, drink
some beers and figure out new ways to mess with CJ's head. Maybe burp
a chorus of "Layla" for good measure.

And I will absolutely not think about Donna and any potential gene
mingling.

I step out of the terminal into the open air and immediately feel the
change. A cool breeze brushes my face as if Mother Nature herself is
breathing a sigh of relief. Within seconds, the percussion of thunder
quakes the air; the lightening crackles and the sky releases summer
rain.

I stand there in the center of the roadway, palms up and laughing
until a grumpy driver with diplomatic plates honks at me. I wave in
acknowledgement before finishing the distance of the crosswalk

Soaking wet, I climb into my car and begin the search for the parking
receipt. Donna better not have put it in her wallet because I am not
paying $25 bucks for the privilege of leaving National Airport. I
might as well park here for the day and take the Metro home as pay
$25 bucks.

In the course of my search, I look through my briefcase, under the
seats and finally in the glove compartment where I find the letter
I'd written to Donna after "stalking" her to her apartment on
Thursday night.


Dear Donna:

I begin this letter "Dear Donna" because indeed, you are dear to me
and I don't express those sentiments often enough. I'm writing by
streetlamp while parked across the way from your apartment building.
We just talked on the phone and I'm feeling strangely calm. You said
you didn't forgive me.  You said, in essence, that I'm mentally ill
and that I anger the White House gardening staff. I should be
perturbed.

But I'm not. I'm practically laughing when I should feel chastised. 
Instead, I'm relieved that you aren't packing your bags and taking a
red-eye to anywhere in the world where I'm not.

There aren't adequate words that describe my regrets, nor are there
any punishments, reasonable or unreasonable, that I don't deserve. I
suppose if I offered you a pound of flesh, you might be tempted to
take it simply for the joy you'd receive from inflicting pain on me,
but then I have to wonder what you'd do with a pound of flesh.
Somehow, I don't see a replay of the Donner Party in your future.
Still, should you decide to forgo punishing
me, I'm certain Karma
will dictate I come back as a mosquito larvae or paramecium in an
effort to equalize things. That being said, I think I need to explain
something.

While I entirely own my behavior of late, there are reasons.  Yes,
I'm self-absorbed and arrogant and those traits often forget to bring
their manners along when they decide to come for a visit. That in and
of itself is not adequate justification for how I've behaved toward
you. It's more like something has happened over the last three years
that defies any experience I've ever had with another human being. I
don't know what it is—Stanley could probably free up another hour for
golf if I did. I'd try to explain it, but it's doubtful that anything
I say would make sense. Instead, I will employ the words of another
and hope that you somehow understand what I can't find the words for.

I have not spent my entire adult life living and breathing for CNN,
contrary to what you might presume. There was a semester my freshman
year at Yale when I was quite well read. Tonight's goings on about
where we started lead me to this memory.  I think I memorized this to
impress a girl I bumped into sideways and fell instantly in love
with. I doubt even Sam could write it better. Toby? Maybe.

The First Day
I wish I could remember the first day,
First hour, first moment of your meeting me;
If bright or dim the season, it might be
Summer or winter for aught I can say.
So unrecorded did it slip away,
So blind was I to see and to foresee,
So dull to mark the budding of my tree
That would not blossom yet for many a May.
If only I could recollect it! Such
A day of days! I let it come and go
As traceless as a thaw of bygone snow.
It seemed to mean so little, meant so much!
If only now I could recall that touch,
First touch of hand in hand! - Did one but know!

Yes, I know it doesn't literally apply to our situation because in
fact, I do remember the first moment I met you. Vividly. You make a
helluva first impression Donnatella Moss. What this poem did say that
I agree with is that you changed me forever that day you showed up in
New Hampshire. I don't know what wild urge possessed you to come when
you did or move into my office when you did, but I will never again
be the person I was before you walked in and began answering my
phone. Yeah, yeah. I know I'm prone to exaggeration, but in this
thing, I kid you not. I'd better shut up before I start sounding like one of those country western songs that makes perfect sense when you're depressed and drunk off your ass.

Maybe I'll file this letter away to give to you when we are crazy old people getting on each other's nerves and I need to make nice with you. Hopefully, by then, you'll be bringing me coffee--especially if I need a walker to reach the creamer.

Love,

Josh


I fish through the utility bin separating the front seats until I
find a pen. There are more words to say. Knowing I'll have to cough
up a credit card to get me out of the parking garage, I decide I
might as well take my time. I don't have to be anywhere. There's no
one waiting at home or the office and for once that emptiness means
something to me.

I explain this to Donna in the postscript I write, listening to the
rain clattering on the roof of my car. I explain to her what I
learned walking the streets of Georgetown last night and the whole
Venn Diagram thing. Maybe I'll let her read this when she gets home--
if I have the nerve. Because she is coming back.

I understand Donna may not be coming back to me--

But she'll be coming home to us. Whatever that means.

~~The End

 

 

 



"The First Day" was written by Christina Rossetti

And what would fanfic be without at least a nod to some music? I
listened to waaaaay too much Sting writing this, but also a gorgeous
song by Kim Richey called "Let the Sun Go Down" that will likely be
the the soundtrack to the sequel, should there *be* a sequel.

This song itself didn't inspire "In Heat," but some of the verses and
refrains captured the mood that I was feeling as I tried to put
myself in the position of the characters—the idea that a few minutes
can change your life forever and no matter how hard you might want to
run from the consequences of those minutes, you can't do it. 

A MATTER OF MINUTES by Shawn Colvin and John Leventhal
(From the CD Whole New You)

I've been thinking about you and me
Maybe I was just seeing what I wanted to see
You can call me crazy but you know this time I swore
That I wouldn't run but I can't do that anymore

I can't find my way to stay and I can't see my way to go and I can't
give up without a fight
I can pack myself up in a matter of minutes and leave you all far
behind
All of my old world and all the things in it are hard to find
If they ever were mine

You've been trying and I know its been hard
And I'm afraid of all this blood in my heart
If there's one thing certain it's there ain't nothing for sure
And I want to run but I can't do that anymore

I can't meet you half way and I can't have it my way and I can't give
up without a fight
I can pack myself up in a matter of minutes leave you all far behind
And all of my old world and all the things in it are hard to find
Like they ever were mine

I could count the good times we had on one hand
All the rest was sort of a means to an end
Now it's done and I can never go back to where I was before
And I wanna run...

I can get myself clean in a matter of minutes and get it wrong every
time
All of my whole world and all the things in it are hard to, hard to
find

Everything changed in a matter of minutes
And nothing was saved in time
All of my old world and all the things in it are hard to find
But they never
Never
Never
Were mine


 

 

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