(cont'd from part 1)

Luckily it's a short ride. Unluckily, Josh manages to fall asleep during it, and our driver gets more and more irritated as I stand in the street outside the apartment complex, shaking Josh's shoulder and worrying about alcohol poisoning and other diseases of frat boys and politicians. "Josh? Josh, please wake up. Josh, I swear, if you don't wake up - "

He comes awake with a start and looks around in obvious confusion. Before he can say a word I grab his arm and pull him from the cab. The door swings closed and the car squeals away into the night.

The first words out of Josh's mouth: "Where are we?"

I feel like the long-suffering wife of an alcoholic, and I'm not even getting social prestige or good sex out of it. "At your apartment. Come on."

He trails after me into the building. "How did we get here?"

"I told you not to drink. You drank. I wanted to leave you passed out at the bar, but the better angels of my nature told me there'd be more work for me tomorrow if I did. So I brought you home." A small lie, but only to keep our relationship brisk and professional. If he knew I thought he was cute, he would use it shamelessly to his advantage.

As he follows me into the elevator, he says, befuddled, "I don't remember getting drunk."

I hit the button for his floor. "I think that's the wrong verb tense."

"What?"

"That makes it sound like the drunk part is in the past. But you're drunk right now."

He considers this for a moment. "I don't feel drunk."

"Believe me. You're drunk."

"That's kind of funny, though, don't you think?"

"Hilarious." The elevator stops, and we get off. Josh fumbles in his pocket like he's looking for something, and studies his hand when it comes up empty.

"I don't have keys," he confides in me.

"I've got your keys."

A brief pause. "Why do you have my keys?"

"Because you're drunk and can't be trusted with them."

Another short silence. "I'm drunk?"

I sigh and stop in front of his door. From the pocket of my coat I produce his keys, unlock the door, and open it. He stands there looking at me until I go in, and then he follows me. I toss my coat on his couch, which looks threateningly small, and head towards the kitchen to boil water for tea. Josh follows me there, too.

"Go get in bed," I tell him. "I'm making tea for you. You're going to drink it, and then you're going to go to sleep."

"I am?"

"Yes. Go. Go away."

He wanders forlornly out of the kitchen. Some people are obnoxious drunks. Some people are quiet drunks. Josh is a confused drunk. And the more he drinks, the more confused he gets. I remember one time... well, never mind. If the press ever got a hold of that, the Washington Post would laugh itself into California. Not to mention Josh would never forgive me.

I leave water heating on the stove and go to get mugs from Josh's cabinet. I think I know this kitchen better than he does; I can only recall seeing him cook in it three times.

Tea bags... chamomile, I think. It's relaxing, and although Josh may not need it or notice, I certainly do, and will. It's going to be a long night on the couch.

The water's boiling. I pour it into the two mugs I've picked - one proclaiming "I Left my Heart in San Francisco!" and the other bearing the Presidential seal - and set the cups with their bobbing tea bags on the counter so the tea can steep. A noise behind me startles me, and I whirl to see Josh, looking even more forlorn (if possible) in boxer shorts and an oversized white T-shirt from a 1997 D.C. marathon.

"The tea'll be ready in a few minutes," I say. "Let's get you into bed, okay?" Teenage babysitting experience to the rescue.

"Okay," he says wisely, and lets me lead him to his bedroom.

I have to shake my head. Despite the neat perfection in every other part of the room, the bed looks like it hasn't been made in a month, give or take a few days. Josh practically falls into the rumpled sheets and pulls the comforter up to his shoulders, curling up with his knees against his chest in a way that can't be comfortable. I don't know whether to stay with him or go check the tea. I start to leave, but he glances over his shoulder at me in a lost-boy way, and I sit on the edge of the bed instead.

"I'll sleep on the couch," I say, just to say something. "Tomorrow morning we'll take separate cars to the office, because if we walk in together CJ won't ever forgive me for the gossip. You better be sober by six o'clock, Joshua Lyman, or I swear I will dump water on your head until you are. Or make you take a cold shower. With your clothes on."

He doesn't say anything, but he smiles faintly and I feel a little better.

"I'm going to go get the tea," I say. "Stay awake till I come back."

I'm actually surprised when I return and he's listened to me. We drink our tea in silence. He spills some on his shirt out of sheer lack of motor control, but it's not enough to make a fuss over. When I'm sure he's got a significant amount of something beneficial in his digestive system and I see him starting to drift off, I stand up and walk to the doorway. I reach for the light, but as I do he murmurs sleepily, "Leave the light on, Joanie."

My hand freezes halfway to the switch and I have to consciously withdraw it. Joanie? He doesn't even seem to realize his mistake; he's already asleep. But I wonder. Old girlfriend? I hate the indignation that wells up from a jealous place deep inside of me. I got him home. I made him tea. I'm staying the night to make sure he's okay. The least he could do is remember who I am. But it's too late and I'm too tired to sustain the irritation. I finish the last of my tea and, setting the mug carefully on his coffee table, I take off my shoes and curl up on the couch. It's uncomfortable, and from the angle I'm lying at I can see the clock on his TV set glowing red: 2:00 AM. Three hours till Josh's alarm goes off and I have to get us both up and ready to face another White House day. I don't know if it's even worth going to sleep.

But I think of Josh sleeping soundly in the other room and can't prevent a small smile from stealing across my face. No matter how miserable I may be, I know I've done the right thing. Like I said, when I signed on at the White House, there were certain responsibilities I agreed to take on. Loyalty was one of them. And while love may not have been, it tends to follow naturally from the first. I am loyal to Josh; I'd protect him with my life. Love - well, I can't think of a better expression for love than lying on a cramped couch at two in the morning, exhausted and with a headache starting in the back of your skull, listening to the quiet sounds of sleep from the other room and being happy. That's the simple truth: Josh makes me happy. In a city known for its cutthroat politics and its bitter politicians, he keeps me sane. He always will. So just before I go to sleep, I send this thought to him: Good night, Josh. And I love you.

--------------- Finis


 

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