SPOILERS: Somebody's Going to Emergency, Somebody's
Going to Jail
DISCLAIMER: These characters are one hundred percent
not mine.
SUMMARY: Josh is a bit lost. Sequel to many things,
including Jo March's "Exit Strategy: Disappearing Like
Europe," my "Cardinal Points, and Jo's "Exit Strategy:
Wendy and the Lost Boys."
THANKS: To Jo, of course, for insisting that she
needed to know what was going on in Josh's muddled
little mind. It's back to you now, girlfriend. ;)


For Want of a Compass
Ryo Sen

It's almost one o'clock in the afternoon before Sam
and I feel well enough to do more than sleep, groan,
self-medicate, and drink copious amounts of water.

When I am finally able to leave the bed, I shuffle
into the living room and collapse on the couch next to
Sam. Then I commence staring absently at my bookcase.
Apparently I expended most of the day's energy
rolling out of bed.

"Thanks for letting me crash here," Sam says after a
while.

"No problem," I say. "Mi casa and all that."

Sam nods. Then, "I haven't been that drunk in a long
time."

"Me, neither."

"Josh," Sam laughs, "you get exactly that drunk every
time you're let loose in a bar."

"Hey!" I protest. But since he's right, I fail to
come up with a decent argument. "And anyway, it's
Donna's job to make sure I don't drink too much."
When all else fails, blame your assistant.

"No, it's not," Sam answers, all traces of humor gone
from his voice.

I'm so surprised by his abrupt manner that I muster
enough energy to roll my head in his general
direction. Sam is glaring angrily at the Matisse
painting on my wall, though it appears to have done
nothing to deserve it.

"What's wrong with you?" I ask with my trademark tact.

"It's not Donna's responsibility to police your
alcohol intake," Sam answers, his mouth tight. You'd
think the Matisse print had offered Sam some personal
affront from the look on his face.

"I know that," I say. Then I take a long swig of my
deliciously cold water. Which, coincidentally, buys
me a bit of time while I try to figure out what's
going on; I have no idea why Sam is suddenly pissed at
me.

Sam sits there for a long moment before he snaps. "I
mean, really, Josh. Do you see Kathy running around
behind me counting tequila shooters?"

Stung, it takes me a minute to formulate a response.
"No, but--"

"Take some responsibility for your own actions, Josh,"
he interrupts sharply.

And I finally get it. Yes, I am incredibly slow
sometimes, but I blame the hangover. As gently as I
can, I say, "I'm not your father, Sam."

Sam whips his head around and turns the Matisse-glare
on me. "I'm well aware of that, Josh. Give me a
little credit."

I am in the middle of a conversation without any sort
of idea where its headed. "Okay," I say finally.
"You talked to him last night?"

Sam shifts his gaze back to the Matisse print.
"Yeah."

"How..." I shrug, stumbling over the words. "How'd it
go?" I wince as I hear myself, because it sounds like
I'm asking about a job interview.

"Fine," he answers shortly.

"Good," I say, for lack of a better response.

Sam shrugs. "I told him my mom was right to kick him
out, and that he should be a man and make a choice.
He can't expect the family to just sit around while
he--I just..." He pauses. "I idolized him, you
know?"

I miss my own father with a sudden, surprising
intensity. "Yeah," I manage.

Sam glances at me. "I'm sorry, Josh. I don't mean to
bring up a painful--"

"Don't be ridiculous. Yes, I--" I pause and clear my
throat. "I miss my father, but that doesn't mean you
can't talk to me."

"Okay," he answers. "Can I borrow some sweats?"

"Sure. Bottom drawer of the bureau. You remember
where the towels are?"

"Yeah," Sam levers himself upright and meets my gaze.
"Thanks," he says, and I have a feeling he's not just
talking about a pair of sweatpants.

"Anytime," I answer.

Sam ambles towards the bathroom and my gaze settles on
my overflowing bookcase again. I absently make plans
to reorganize and alphabetize the myriad books while
trying to remember the events of last night. Because
not only do I get blisteringly drunk off of three
beers, I blackout. So I end up hearing about all of
the stupid things I (allegedly) did, but can never
quite recall doing them. Last night is no exception.

I have some fragmented bits of memory, but I figure
some of it must be snippets of my drunken dreams. I
mean, I clearly couldn't have kissed Donna in a cab,
right? If I had, she would have, you know, broken my
nose or sprained my finger or something.

Absently, I flex my body to be sure I haven't just
missed an injury in my general morning-after malaise.
Nothing. Damn.

My left side is feeling weaker than usual, though,
which is unfortunately not a Donna-inflicted wound.
Can I just state for the record that nerve damage
sucks? Of course, some of the residual stiffness is
my fault; I haven't had much time to devote to
physical therapy since going back to work.

The phone rings, startling me upright. Thankfully, I
can reach the end table without actually getting off
the couch.

"Hello?"

"How're you feeling?" CJ asks cheerfully.

I grin at the middle distance. "Fine. You sound
quite happy yourself; is Toby around?"

"You're an idiot," she answers. "And please tell me
you're not fine because Donna went home with you."

"What?" I practically shriek.

"Good," CJ answers, and I can tell she's smirking.

"You," I sputter, "were just trying to freak me out."

There's a pause. "That idea freaks you out?" CJ asks
carefully.

Again, I get that frustrating feeling of being dropped
into the middle of a forest without a map. Although,
according to CJ and her crackpot cartographers, a map
would do me very little good. Aside from boosting my
self-worth as an egotistical, culturally self-centered
American, that is.

"Josh?" CJ prompts.

"Yeah?"

"You didn't answer my question."

"What was your question?" I ask. Maybe she'll forget
after I skillfully talked her in circles like that.

"Does the idea of you and Donna being, you know, *you
and Donna* freak you out?"

So much for my blinding blizzard of words. "Um," I
answer, ignoring the way my stomach flutters around at
the very thought. "Yes?"

"Thank god," CJ mutters.

"What?"

"Nothing."

"No, you said, 'thank god,'" I repeat.

"So?"

"Why'd you say that?" I press.

"I was just, you know, offering up a little Saturday
morning prayer."

"You're Catholic," I point out.

"So?"

"So your holy day is tomorrow. Does the idea of Donna
and I freak *you* out?"

CJ sighs. "Absolutely."

I am offended and intrigued and utterly lost (again)
all at once. "Why?" I demand.

"I'm the press secretary, Josh," CJ answers. "Take a
wild guess."

"Yeah," I say, nodding even though she can't see me.
The press would have a field day with the Deputy Chief
of Staff dating his assistant. His young, blonde,
leggy, gorgeous assistant. Also witty, intelligent,
and a lot of fun.

It occurs to me that I may have wandered into an
inescapable thicket of dangerous thoughts.

"CJ," I say. "Joey Lucas said something to me."

She sighs. "Is this about chemical bonds again?"

"No," I answer.

"It's just that I hated chemistry. So pick another
metaphor."

I stare at the bookcase some more. I wonder if Donna
would help me reorganize it. She likes converting
chaos into order. I smile stupidly at Dostoevsky's
The Brother's Karamazov. Donna would hate chemistry
too. That whole entropy rules thing would drive her
right up the--

"Josh?" CJ asks. "Did something happen last night?"

"No," I answer quickly. "I just... I can't remember,
but I may have told Donna what Joey Lucas said."

CJ waits a moment, obviously expecting me to clarify.
Then, exasperated, she says, "What did Joey Lucas
say?"

I close my eyes and blurt, "She said Donna likes me."

I wait, cringing, for CJ's response. When she doesn't
say anything, I open one eye slowly, then the other.
My shoulders inch away from my ears. "CJ?"

"Yeah?" she asks, her voice strangely high.

"Did you hear me?"

"Yes," she says quickly. "Did you know that the
cardinal points are really arbitrary--?"

"CJ?"

"What?"

"You're not going to say anything?" I ask,
incredulous.

"I am," she points out. "I'm talking about the
cardinal points--"

"CJ, I meant about... you know, the Donna thing."

"The Donna thing?" she repeats innocently.

"CJ," I whine. She is not going to make me ask her
outright. "The thing Joey Lucas said."

CJ is silent for a moment, then says, "That's an
interesting point of view."

"CJ!"

"What?" she protests. "I answered you!"

"You sound like you're in the pressroom!"

"Habit," she retorts.

"I'm asking you if--" I stop. Why can't I say this
out loud? "If you think Joey Lucas may have had
something of a point in this specific situation."

Silence.

"CJ!"

"Shut up, Josh!" she answers. "I'm framing my
response."

"I'm not Danny or Katie or Fred," I say angrily.
"Don't frame your response. I'm asking as a friend."

"Donna's my friend too, Josh," CJ says. "I do not
want to be in the middle of something neither of you
understands."

Interesting. I ponder that for a moment. Donna
doesn't understand this... thing either? What the
hell does that mean?

"Josh?"

I glance up and Sam is standing there, in my sweats
and an old Bull & Finch t-shirt.

"Yeah?" I ask.

On the phone, CJ says, "Huh?"

Sam gestures to the phone. "Is that Donna?"

I stare at him. "Why would it be Donna?"

CJ barks, "Who the hell are you talking to?"

"Sam," I answer absently.

Sam raises an eyebrow in amusement. "It's Sam on the
phone? Have you been drinking again?"

"It's CJ on the phone," I say to them both. "And Sam
is standing here pestering me."

"Oh," CJ says. "You should talk to him then. I've
got to go anyway."

"CJ, I'm not done--"

"Josh, we're not going to have this conversation," she
says firmly. "If you're confused about your
relationship with Donna, you should talk to Donna."

"But--"

"Bye, Josh. Give Sam my love."

And she hangs up. I shoot the receiver a dirty look,
then toss it on the couch cushions.

Sam runs a hand through his damp hair. "I need a
haircut."

Distracted, I nod. "Yeah, you do."

"Hey!" he protests. "What's that supposed to mean?"

"Just," I shrug, "your hair's been getting kind of
long and, I don't know, eighties-esque."

Sam gives my head a pointed look. "Thanks for the
fashion tip."

"Sam, do you think Joey Lucas may have had a point?" I
ask. Someone is going to explain this to me, dammit.

With a confused look, Sam says, "I don't know what
Joey Lucas said, so I can't really say."

I shake my head. "They let you write. It's
unbelievable."

"I'm saying, you never told me what she said."

I squirm a little as Sam takes a seat and looks at me
expectantly. "I've got to take a shower," I decide.
Maybe that'll help jump-start my thought processes so
that I will figure out where the hell I am right now.
I'm feeling very lost, and not just because the
mercator map is a big old lie.

"You're temporarily out of hot water," Sam says with a
grin. "Joey Lucas?"

Damn. I glance in the direction of the kitchen. "Are
you hungry? Cause I could use--"

"Josh, did Joey Lucas tell you that Donna likes you?"
Sam asks.

I stare at him, keeping my mouth shut only with a
concerted effort. "Why would you guess that?"

He rolls his eyes. "No reason. Except that you
sabotage her dates, you expect her to take care of
you, and she's the only assistant that consistently
does social things with the senior staff. When we do
social stuff," he adds, "which admittedly, isn't
often."

"Sam," I say, "you're reaching. Donna and I are
friends. You and Donna are friends. CJ and Donna are
friends. Toby and--well, Toby doesn't hate Donna, and
she finds his grumpiness endearing. So why wouldn't
she do social things with us?"

Sam stares at me for a moment. "God, you are
pathetic."

I stand up. "I'm getting some food."

"Josh," Sam calls after me. "You and Donna should
really have a conversation."

"We have conversations all the time," I point out,
burying my head in the refrigerator. Why don't I have
food? "In fact, we have more conversations than any
other cou--" I stop short, staring at a half-empty
carton of milk with an expiration date long past.
What did I just say?

Sam is laughing uproariously in the living room.
"Couple?" he suggests. "You should really call her."

"I really shouldn't," I retort. "She calls me on
Saturday mornings. Except, she apparently didn't
today. Why would I call her?"

Sam still sounds gleeful. "To tell her you're a
couple, maybe?"

"Shut up, Sam," I say, my face uncomfortably warm.
"That's not what I was going to say."

"Oh, really?" he challenges. "Then what were you
about to say?"

I slam the refrigerator closed. "I'm taking a
shower."

"Josh--"

"We talk more than any two people I know," I
interrupt. "How's that?"

Sam watches me stalk past, an annoying grin on his
face. "And why do you think that is?"

"I'm taking a shower," I repeat, retreating to the
bathroom.

Sam was right the water. I only get about five
minutes of hot, then it starts fading to lukewarm. I
occupy myself while shampooing my hair by convincing
myself that I'm right about Donna. Joey Lucas is
wrong, and I am right. This is how the universe
works. North is still north, screw the crackpot
cartographers.

While conditioning, I tell myself that not only does
Donna *not* have feelings of 'like' for me, I have
none for her. Yes, I can admit that she's gorgeous,
intelligent, witty, and probably the first woman I've
been in any kind of relationship with for more than
six months, save my mother. And CJ, who, come to
think of it, acts kind of like my mother.

But Donna, she is my friend. Our relationship is
purely platonic. There is no sexual chemistry there,
regardless of the dream I had of kissing her. My
subconscious was as drunk as the rest of me, right?
Doesn't mean anything. And the other dreams I've had?
Clearly just... I don't know. I wonder what it means
that I've never had sexual dreams involving CJ.

Hmmm.

I rinse my hair and reach for the soap. The water is
getting chilly, which is probably not a bad thing,
considering the direction my thoughts are headed.

No. I am not going to go there. Donna and I are
friends. That's it. I am not in love with her. She
is certainly not in love with me. And that slip of
the tongue... I lose track of my argument for a
moment, remembering a particularly vivid dream.

Dammit!

I turn off the hot water completely and stand there,
shivering, in the cold spray for a few moments. When
I can't stand it anymore, I turn it off and hop out,
drying myself hurriedly. I pull on some old jeans and
a thin brown sweater, then head back into the living
room, rubbing a towel through my damp hair.

I can hear Sam laughing, and I really hope he's not
still remembering my Freudian slip. No, not Freudian.
No hidden desires. Besides which I hate Freud. He
was a sex-obsessed misogynist. There be dragons.

"Sam," I say as I reach the living room, "You
better--"

Sam's on the phone, but he glances over and gives me a
cheerful wave. "He's right here," he says into the
receiver.

My eyes go wide. Who the hell is he talking to?

"Yeah," Sam grins. "I know. He'll figure it out
eventually."

I think my jaw is hitting my knees. What the hell is
he talking about?

"You want to talk to him?" Sam asks into the phone.
He glances over at me with a scrutinizing look.
"Better than he did last night." He pauses, then
grins. "Jeans and a sweater."

"Who *is* that?" I explode, draping the damp towel
over the back of a chair.

Sam is too damn amused. "It's Donna," he answers. "I
hope you don't mind that I answered your phone."

I stare at him. "No," I manage. "She called?"

Sam nods, then answers Donna, "Yeah, hang on." He
holds the phone out to me. "She wants to talk to
you."

It takes me a moment to move. Then I take two steps,
grab the phone, and wedge my hand over the mouthpiece.
"What did you say to her?" I whisper urgently.

Sam is laughing again. "About what? Your Freudian
slip?"

"It was *not* Freudian," I answer. "And... yes, about
that. What'd you tell her?"

"Nothing," Sam says, still grinning annoyingly.
"Really."

I examine his face for signs of misdirection, but find
none. "Okay," I say finally, then freeze when I
realize I have to talk to Donna.

Not that I don't want to talk to her, but I'm feeling
a bit... lost still. My kingdom for a compass.

"Hello?" I figure you can't go wrong with a
traditional greeting.

"What's wrong with you?" Donna asks immediately.

"Nothing!" I answer.

"You said hello," she points out.

"So do most English-speaking people."

"You never answer the phone with hello," she argues.
"At work, you say your name, and at home... well, you
look at the caller ID and say, 'Hi, Donna!'"

I grin. "I say 'Hi, Donna!' to anyone who calls me?"

"You know what I mean," she answers. "Why'd you say
hello?"

I cast about for a convincing answer. "Because I'm
hungover."

Donna snorts inelegantly. "You sound okay."

"You should've heard me earlier," I say, turning away
from Sam's interested expression. "Speaking of which,
it's nearly three o'clock."

"Yes, I can tell time, Josh."

"You usually call in the morning."

"Josh, I told you last night before you--" she stops
suddenly, then says, "before you got out of the cab
that I was spending the day with Steph."

I am momentarily at a loss. She sounded really funny
about the cab. I couldn't possibly have--No, that way
lies madness. The conversation can not go in that
direction. "I was drunk," I answer finally. "I don't
remember."

"You don't?" she asks, sounding... disappointed?

"Not really. Just bits and pieces."

"Oh," Donna says.

We sit there in silence for a moment. I have a
sudden, clear memory of Donna's shocked expression
after I kissed her. Oh, god, did I really kiss her?

"Donna," I say, my voice a bit unsteady. "I remember
something about the cab."

Please fill in the rest. Please.

Behind me, Sam snickers. I could kill him, but that
would take some of my concentration away from hanging
onto Donna's every word.

Donna is silent for a long moment, then says, "Did you
call your mother?"

Okay, my mother in no way figures into what I remember
from the cab. "Huh?"

"You," she clears her throat. "you were going to call
your mother. To tell her about, you know, Joey
Lucas."

Oh. God.

"I was?" I ask, sounding like a ten year old soprano.

"Yes," she answers. "Listen, have you talked to CJ?"

Why is she changing the subject? "Donna, I--Yeah, I
talked to CJ. But, when I said--"

"'Cause I was supposed to call her today, but I
haven't, and I was wondering, if you talk to her
again, could you tell her I'll talk to her on Monday?"

I am completely lost. Utterly directionless. In the
tall grass. Without a map. Or, more importantly, a
compass.

"Yeah," I answer. "I'll tell her. Donna, I have a
vague recollection of--"

"Josh, I should go. Steph's going to be back any
second."

"Donna, hang on. Did we make plans for today?"

The silence is uncomfortable as I wait for her answer.

"No," she answers finally. "You're supposed to spend
the day with Sam. You know, do what men do. Cheer
him up."

"I am," I say. "But I remember something about
tonight--"

"We don't have to work," Donna interrupts.

"I know, but I'm saying, I thought we were supposed
to..." I shrug. "Do something."

"Josh, Steph just got back," Donna answers. "Why
don't I call you later. Spend the day with Sam, and
maybe later..."

She doesn't finish it, but I feel better. To an
alarming degree. I am actually grinning like an idiot
because Donna might call me later, and there's still a
slim possibility that we might do something together.

I may have to rethink that whole 'I'm not in love with
her' thing. I'm finding it slightly implausible right
now.

"Okay," I say finally. "Call me later."

"I will," Donna promises, then hangs up.

I stand there for a moment, grinning at the Matisse
print.

Then Sam says, "Did you just ask your assistant out on
a date?"

"No!" I yelp, whirling to face him. "We might, you
know, hang out later."

Sam is looking decidedly skeptical. "Hang out?"

"Yes," I answer haughtily. "I think we decided last
night."

Sam nods, but he clearly doesn't believe me. "Right."

"In the cab," I say. "We decided then."

With an amused look, Sam asked, "Do you remember the
cab, Josh?"

"Yes," I answer. "I'm getting food. You want
anything?"

"Sure," Sam answers, thankfully letting the subject of
my confused relationship with Donna drop. "What are
you thinking?"

"Pizza?" I suggest.

"Sounds good," Sam nods. "Hey, is there a game on?"

"It's Saturday," I answer. "There's got to be a game
of some kind on."

And so I order pizza, and Sam and I settle in to do
what men do. I will watch this sporting event and be
manly. I will not obsess over Donna, or what may or
may not have happened last night. I will not attempt
to figure out which direction we're headed without a
compass.

I will, in fact, postpone any further thoughts of
Donna until she calls tonight. Because that's what
men do.

THE END

 

 

Home        What's New        Author Listings        Title Listings