Alabaster by 

Jo March

Disclaimers, etc., in part one.

 

This is a great party. I particularly like the champagne.

I met David Hasselhoff; can you believe it? David Hasselhoff talked to me. So did Matthew Perry. I don't want to sound like a star-struck teenager here. I mean, I work in the White House. I see famous people every day. But still. Movie stars. Or at least TV. I'm liking this.

And the champagne is fantastic.

Do you know what the best part of this incredible party is? The very best part of all?

I'm avoiding Joey Lucas.

I haven't had to spend one minute talking to her or to Kenny. I haven't had to give her messages from Josh. I haven't had to give Josh messages from her.

Oh, she's here. I've seen her in the crowd. In fact, she's talking to Josh right now. He finally got out of that crumpled old suit, and I must admit the boy cleans up good.

Great, great champagne!

Now you might think I'm drunk because it is a fact that I have had entirely too much champagne and I will have a headache in the morning. But here's the thing: I do not get drunk. Honestly. I can drink as much as I want and the worst that will happen is that I'll get a headache.

Me. Donna Moss. Personal assistant to the only politician in America who passes out after one beer.

You gotta love irony.

CJ and Sam come over to where I'm sitting. "Donna?" Sam asks. "You okay?"

"I'm great. This is a terrific party."

"Cause I've got to say that you don't look real perky there," Sam says. "You are definitely without your usual perk."

"I have a headache." I'm looking a little to my left, which coincidentally is where Josh is talking to-well, we all know who he's talking to. CJ and Sam look in that direction too.

"Oh," CJ finally says. She draws that syllable out like it's an entire sentence, and I know she gets it. I know she's completely figured out what happened in my hotel room and why I'm sitting here getting so not drunk alone.

Sam, who is the closest thing Josh has to a best friend, looks conflicted. Then he sits down next to me and takes my hand. "Hey," he says, "look on the plus side. This is Josh we're talking about. Sooner or later, he's going to do something to screw it up."

That's just sad. That's just the saddest thing I've heard all day. I start crying. CJ hands me a Kleenex from her purse.

"But I don't want him to be unhappy," I sob. "I couldn't stand it if Josh was unhappy."

You know, I don't think I like this party any more.

It may also be possible that, for the first time in my life, I am actually drunk.

Won't Josh be proud? * * * I take a cab back to the hotel. CJ said she'll tell Josh I got a headache from drinking too much champagne, which is the truth. I get back to my room and cry for ten minutes. Then I wash my face, pack my cocktail party dress and put on my regular clothes.

I look at myself in the mirror and get back some of my usual perk. To look at me, you wouldn't know I was tipsy, much less that my insensitive jerk of a boss just broke my heart without even trying.

Someone is knocking at my door.

It's the insensitive jerk.

"Are you okay?" he asks. "Cause CJ said--"

"I had a headache. I'm better now."

He comes in. Notice that he doesn't bother asking permission.

"Donnatella, did you get drunk?"

"Why do you do that?" I ask.

"Do what?"

"Call me that. I hate when you call me that."

"Donnatella?" Okay, now I'm just confused. Is he calling me Donnatella, or is he asking me why I don't want him to call me Donnatella ever again?

"You only do it when you're making fun of me. Or when you're angry. Or giving orders."

"Do I?"

"Yes, you do. And I've decided I don't like it. I think it shows a lack of decorum on your part, Joshua. I think it blurs the lines."

"What lines?"

"The lines. The lines between employer and employee."

"I didn't know we had lines."

"Well, we should have. You're my boss, Josh. You're not my friend; you're not my brother; you're not-you're my boss."

"I'm not your friend?" He sounds bewildered and hurt. I've made him unhappy.

Oh hell. I've made Josh unhappy.

"I don't mean-I just mean-Just don't call me that if you don't mean it, all right?"

He grins. He's just a big grinning goofball. "You do realize that made no sense whatsoever, don't you?" He pauses for a second, like he's judging whether he can get away with it. "Donnatella," he says. * * * Sam would be pleased to know that I have gotten back my usual level of perk. I'm in Josh's room waiting for him to finish collecting every soap and shampoo and lotion he can find.

I'm convincing him that he should say goodbye to Joey Lucas. "Cause you're whisking back to Washington and you had to see her one more time before you left cause God knows what fate awaits you once you get there."

I'm rather proud of that speech. Proud of the fact that I have him completely fooled. Perky-that's going to be my new strategy. Thank you, Sam.

The minute Josh leaves, of course, I kick myself for saying it. Because I'm tempting fate and I know it. That sort of thing never turns out well.

He's back in ten minutes. Which means that either something went wrong or I've been seriously overestimating Josh's potential as a lover.

"What happened?" I ask.

"Nothing," he says. He goes back to packing his things.

"Did you see her?"

"Yes. I also saw the man she was sleeping with."

"Oops."

"Oops? You encourage me to go make a total fool of myself and all you can say is 'oops'?"

"That tramp. That slut. That hussy," I say. I want to giggle.

"You have a deeply disturbed sense of humor," he replies.

"Maybe you were misreading the signals."

"No. No, I'm sure I wasn't."

"Then I repeat-tramp, slut, hussy."

"You're mocking my pain, aren't you?"

"Maybe just a little," I say. Because that's what I do. It's not in the job description, but there it is. I mock Josh's pain when necessary, so he won't get depressed. And hostile. And belligerent. Just my little contribution to the efficient running of the Bartlet administration.

"I love you, Donna," he says. Of course, he means it in that Platonic sort of way. "But don't make fun of this, okay? I'm not ready for fun to be made of this."

"Okay," I say. He takes my hand in his for a second, and we walk out the door. 

* * * 

I can't sleep. It is three a.m. EST. I am on Air Force One, the most comfortable vehicle you will ever encounter, and I can't sleep.

I have an entire row of seats to myself. Everyone else around me is sleeping. Almost everyone.

Josh sits in the opposite aisle, and he just starts staring out the window. It isn't often that he becomes this interested in a woman, and I feel deeply divided. I have discovered in myself this irrational desire for Joshua Lyman's happiness, but I have also discovered a deep desire to be the cause of that happiness.

And that's not going to happen.

So, fine. Let him have Joey Lucas if that's what makes him happy. Let him.

Just let me find a way to survive it.

After a while, he notices that I'm awake too, and he sits down next to me.

"Still got a headache?" he asks.

"Actually, I think I may be a little sunburned."

He smiles. "Alabaster skin," he says. "Who knew?"

"I hate when you're sarcastic."

"I wasn't-Okay, sorry."

I wish I were asleep. If I were asleep, I could rest my head on Josh's shoulder and no one would notice. I could pretend for a little while that we weren't in a relationship that desperately needs lines. I could pretend I love him.

Josh puts his arm very loosely around my sunburned shoulders. "Go to sleep, Donnatella," he says.

We do need those lines.

I close my eyes and let my head fall against Josh's chest. I can hear his heart beating, loud and clear. Unbroken. Strong.

If I weren't so tired and so worried about blurring the lines, I would tell him that. I would say, "You have a strong heart, Joshua Lyman. You have the strongest heart of any man I know."

But I don't say anything, and neither does he, because we're pretending to be asleep. We're pretending, Josh and I, and there isn't anything we can say.

* * *

 

The End

 

 

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