Alabaster by 

Jo March

Disclaimers, etc., in part one.

 

I brought my favorite bubble bath-a lavender and chamomile blend, highly recommended for those of us with sensitive skin. I thoroughly intend to soak in this tub for an hour. If Deputy Chief of Staff Simon Lagree doesn't approve, well, I'm damned good at what I do; I can always find another job. Hell, I call move. Who says I have to live in DC?

I let my body sink a little farther into the tub, close my eyes, and consider my options. I could move back to Chicago and be close to my family.

Maybe not.

New York. I like New York. One night during the campaign, Josh dragged me to this great Chinese place he'd found near the World Trade Center-

Maybe not New York.

Why not here? L.A. What's not to like about L.A? Great weather-no more mid-January winds off the Potomac. And there's great shopping. I checked all the tourist guides, even though I knew I wouldn't have enough free time. Where else besides L.A. would you find something like the La Brea tar pits? They've found skeletons of wooly mammoths and saber tooth tigers there. And it's right in the middle of downtown L.A. Okay, I'm not saying that's something I'd want to look at every day, but it's definitely a change of scene from DC.

Yeah, I could stand to live in L.A. I bet an executive assistant to a studio head gets paid tons more money than I make for doing a lot less work. And wouldn't it just serve him right?

I play around with this fantasy in my head, and I must say I like it. A studio executive-a tall, dark, handsome, single studio executive-will be at the fundraiser. We'll get to talking. In front of Josh. The studio executive will immediately be overcome by my wit, grace and poise. He'll realize that he can't run his movie studio without me.

"I'm sorry," I'll say nobly. "But I can't. For I am a dedicated public servant and an appropriately attired member of the Bartlet administration."

"Besides," Josh will say, "she's a lousy typist and you don't even want to know about her handwriting."

And then I will turn to Josh and utter the words that will destroy his life: "Screw you, Lyman. I quit."

The studio executive is whisking me away on his private jet, and Josh is screaming, "Donnatella!" in agonized tones when something truly bizarre happens.

The phone in the bedroom rings.

My pager beeps.

My cell phone chirps.

Simultaneously.

Dear God, that's three appliances. I mean, how many hands does the man have?

I wrap the towel around my body and head for the bedroom to pick up the phone.

"Go away, Josh," I say.

"Your personal time was over thirty minutes ago."

"I'm getting ready for the fundraiser. Go away."

"But don't you want dinner?"

"I was going to order room service."

"Great. I'll have the prime rib. Well done. And get me a baked potato. Maybe some cheesecake."

"Josh! Doesn't the president need you?"

"He's having dinner with Zoe."

"What are CJ, Toby and Sam doing?"

"Didn't ask them."

"Don't you think you should?"

"I don't know, Donna. Your room's awfully small. I don't think we can all eat in there unless we get pizza and sit on the floor. And I'm not much in the mood for pizza."

"You could call your friend Joey Lucas."

Why do I keep telling him that?

I know why. I suddenly get it.

Because I want to see just how far I can push this until he says the right thing. Until he says he'd rather be with me than with her.

"She left me another message. Well, Kenny did. She won't be back to the hotel until after the fundraiser."

Damn him again.

So I rate after Joey (and by extension, Kenny) and the president, but before CJ, Toby and Sam. It's useful to know where I stand.

"All right," I say. "But I just got out of the tub. I am standing here soaking wet. Give me an hour to get dressed and dry my hair."

"Half an hour. We have work to do."

Of course we do. Don't we always?

* * *

Dinner passes in, for us, relative calm. A meat-eating Josh is a happy Josh. I take a bite of my chicken Caesar salad.

"Is there anything in particular you want me to say in your eulogy, Josh?" I ask.

He looks at me, then down at his plate, and back up to me once more. "Why? Did you poison the prime rib when I wasn't looking?"

"Yes, and I'm withholding the antidote until I get a raise."

"You know, I'm fairly certain that poisoning a high ranking member of the president's staff is a federal crime."

"No, it's not. I checked."

"You checked?"

"It seemed like a useful piece of information."

There wasn't enough room for all Josh's food on the tiny table in my room. And, anyway, the table is littered with all the work Josh brought along. So he is currently sitting cross-legged on my bed, leaning his back against the headboard. My salad and I have been relegated to one corner at the end of the bed. I'm trying to keep a respectable distance between us, but it isn't easy.

"I suppose," he says, "that I'm about to get the red meat lecture again."

"No, for I have seen the error of my ways. Since the last twenty-five lectures didn't get you to cut back on red meat, I've decided to accept the fact that you're going to continue clogging your arteries until your heart can no longer stand the strain. I'll have a difficult time delivering your eulogy, however."

"Because you'll be overcome with sorrow, realizing that you could have been a better assistant. You could have eliminated some of the pressure from my extremely important and demanding job, thus preventing the additional strain on my poor heart."

"Because I'll find the letter you've written with your last ounce of strength, declaring the passion a misguided sense of duty prevented you from revealing in life. And naming me the beneficiary of a very generous life insurance policy."

"I hate to disappoint you, Donna, but my mother's my beneficiary."

"A girl can dream, Josh."

A girl can also help herself to half his cheesecake.

"Hey!" he protests. "That's mine."

"But it looks really good. And I'm still hungry."

"Yes, but I know you. You'll eat my entire dessert while I'm still on the main course." He gestures toward the phone. "Have them send you up another one."

"It'll take an hour, and I only want half. God, Josh, you're so damn selfish sometimes."

He gives this elaborate sigh, because I am forcing him to give up the three bites of prime rib he has left, and starts putting the plates on the floor. Finally there's just the cheesecake, two forks and us. Josh pats the spot on the bed next to him, and I should tell him I changed my mind. I'm not hungry. I should tell him he has to leave so I can get dressed for the fundraiser.

I sit down beside him on the bed, and we eat cheesecake. We don't talk. This is new. Being quiet with Josh. It's not what we do. I didn't think I could do quiet with Josh. I like it. I like sitting on a bed, quietly, with Josh Lyman.

"You've got strawberry sauce," he says, pointing at the corner of my mouth. He wipes it off, very slowly, and I don't think I'm breathing. I'm thinking that, right this minute, if he asked, I'd say to hell with office decorum and I don't care if CJ and Toby and Leo and Sam and President Bartlet would all disapprove. I don't care about scandals and public relations disasters. I just know that there's a moment in every relationship when you stop talking and you decide-you finally decide-that either you're going to be lovers or you're going to be friends. And I just decided.

And then Josh looks away. He looks away, and I know he just decided too. But we didn't make the same decision.

"So how long's it going to take you to get ready for this thing?" he asks.

I am not going to cry. I am not going to let him know I want to cry.

"About an hour," I say. I'm proud that my voice doesn't sound shaky. "Ninety minutes maybe. I should pack first."

"Okay." He gets off the bed and heads for the door. He has his hand on the doorknob when he turns around.

"What do you think I should say?" he asks.

"What?"

"To Joey. At the fundraiser. I need a good opening line."

"I find that 'hello' frequently works."

"'Hello'?" he repeats. "That works?"

"It's a start."

"And if it doesn't work?"

"Make something up. You're a politician. Now go. I need to get dressed."

He nods again and leaves.

And I'm not going to cry. 

* * *

 

Alabaster - 4

 

 

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