SPOILERS: The Portland Trip
SUMMARY: A much-needed conversation.
DISCLAIMER: Yadda, yadda, yadda. I don't own these characters.
THANKS: To Jo March, for writing a wonderful Angry!Donna, as always (go read Dinner Conversation immediately; this could well be considered a sequel). And for the constant support. I hope I made it all better. :)
I am feeling cranky. Also somewhat hostile.
This should come as no surprise to anyone who's been in my company for more than, say, ten minutes, but I really hate compromise. It's worse than losing. Which is why I have to put the Defense of Marriage Act debacle out of my mind as I leave the White House. I can't deal with it tonight.
I emerge into the parking lot and find Donnatella Moss glaring at her car. The hood is propped up, and she looks very pissed off. And she's shivering.
"Donna?" God, it's cold out here.
She focuses on me and frowns. "You."
"Yes," I say. I gesture at her piece of shit Toyota. "Car trouble?"
"Of course," she growls. "I hate this car."
"You should get something else, then," I say, reasonably. I wish I had gloves with me. It's freezing.
"With what money, exactly, Joshua?" Donna turns on me. "The pittance you pay me to stand there and be insulted?"
I am pretty sure my mouth is hanging open.
"Forget it, Josh," she turns her back on me and releases the hood. It slams home with a jarring clang.
"Donna, do you need a ride?"
She throws me a scathing look. "No, I figured the brisk walk would do me some good. Especially in these heels."
I attempt a joke. "I never could figure out why you women insist on wearing little stilts instead of something more practical."
Okay, so that was a tactical error. The glare she gives me causes my grin to freeze in place.
"Josh, I am not in the mood for any more of your digs right now, okay?"
"Yes, Josh. Your digs. Your funny little remarks about my love life or my shoes or--" She stops and shakes her head.
I am standing here, shivering in the cold and completely flummoxed. "Donna?"
"Forget it. Can we just go?"
"No, Donna. Not until you tell me--"
"Joshua, it is, like, fourteen degrees out here and I'm wearing a very skimpy dress, sheer nylons, and a discount-rack coat. Could we *please* move the discussion inside your car?"
Not a bad idea. "Sure," I say, ushering her towards my Audi. She steps out of my reach, her back stiff. I am very afraid to be in a car with her. I think she might actually kill me. Or quit, which would be catastrophically worse.
Donna climbs in and slams the door behind her while I circle to my side. I slide inside and glance over at her. She's staring blankly out the windshield, her breath coming in short, white bursts.
I start the car and fiddle with the knobs. Anything to postpone the fight we're having. A fight, I should add, that I don't feel wholly prepared for, as I'm not sure where this is all coming from.
"Josh," Donna says, "let's just forget it, okay? I was upset about my car, and I said some things I shouldn't have."
"I don't think that's true."
She gives me a sharp look. "So I'm a liar, too?"
"Donna, I'm saying you probably should have said them." I reach over and touch her jacket sleeve. "Please tell me why you're so angry with me. What did I do?"
She gapes at me. "What did you *do*?"
"Yes," I nod. "I'm not the brightest bulb on the block about stuff like this."
"Stuff like this?" Her words are clipped.
I am clueless. I am utterly without a clue. "You know, relationship stuff."
Donna makes a disgusted noise and turns away from me.
"Donna," I say. "Please talk to me."
"Take me home."
"Josh, I don't have the energy for this right now. Take me home."
I watch her for a moment, but her expression is unreadable.
"Fine." I slam the gearshift into reverse and pop the clutch. I am starting to get irritated myself.
We ride in silence for about a minute before she turns back to me.
"Why do you say things like that, Josh?"
"Things like what?"
I hold her gaze for too long and nearly rear-end a 4Runner.
"Forget it," she says.
"Donna, you've said 'forget it' about seven times since I found you in the parking lot, but we're fighting anyway. You might as well say it, because I have no idea what you're talking about."
"That's nothing new," she mutters.
"I'm sick of it, Josh," she explodes. "I'm sick of that attitude you get with me sometimes, like I'm this poor, stupid girl who needs your guidance or your approval or... or..." she shrugs helplessly. "Whatever."
"I don't treat you--"
"You do," she insists. "You did it tonight."
"When did I do it tonight?"
"You made fun of me," she says, her voice softer now. "About my date."
"I didn't make fun of you, Donna," I pull the car into a drug store parking lot and turn my full attention to her. "I didn't."
"You did," she argues quietly. "You said I have no sense--"
"About guys," I shrug. "I didn't say you have no sense. I said you have no sense about guys. You *don't*, Donna. You have dated a steady stream of losers since--"
"Since I met you," she finishes, her voice filled with hurt.
I have no idea what's going on with her. "Donna," I say. "You were dating losers before you knew me. What about Dr. Free Ride?"
She looks crushed, suddenly, and I want to grab her and hug her.
She crosses her arms defiantly. "You know, you can be a real jerk sometimes, Josh."
"I know," I say. I am a jerk. Often. "I'm sorry, Donna. I just hate to see you settling for these--"
"Well, yes. Losers."
She gives me an evaluating look. "Including yourself?"
"Excuse me?" I'm sure I must have misheard her. I think she just included me in her steady stream of losers.
"You heard me," she nods. "Including you."
"No, Josh," she is fierce now, all the hurt burned away by her anger. "I'm so sick of the way you talk to me sometimes."
"How do I talk to you?" I am incredulous. I really am.
"Like a condescending, heartless jerk."
I'm glad she's not pulling any punches, but I can't quite figure out how to respond to that.
Donna keeps talking, "I have no sense of self-worth?"
Her voice is tremulous, like she's either about to cry or yell at me, and she's staring at me with big, hurt eyes.
"Donna," I say. "You know I speak without thinking sometimes."
"Sometimes," she snorts.
"Most of the time," I amend. "I can certainly be thoughtless, but I want you to know that I never, ever mean to make you feel less than you are."
"Could've fooled me," she says, averting her eyes.
"I'm serious, Donna," I take her hand, which feels like a block of ice. I grab her other hand and rub them between mine. "It makes me crazy to see you settling for these losers that have no business being within ten feet of a woman like you. You're..." I trail off with a shrug. There's really not a descriptive that captures how I think of Donna. I settle for "amazing."
Donna looks back over at me, her statement cautious. "You shouldn't say things like that, Josh," she says quietly. "I went on my date and instead of listening to Lobbyist Guy, I was sitting there drinking whiskey sours and wondering if I could access Monster from the White House computers."
I am unable to breathe, suddenly. The thought of losing her is terrifying. I can't speak, but I hold her gaze for a long moment.
Donna sighs. "I'm not leaving, Josh." She glances out the windshield, breaking my paralysis.
She gives a bitter laugh. "God has nothing to do with it, Josh. I probably should leave."
"Because," she says, "you can't treat me like that and then turn around and treat me like--" She stops suddenly.
I give her hands a gentle squeeze. "Treat you like?"
The corner of her mouth lifts up slightly. "Like you're one of the parade of losers."
The thought comes without warning, and I am again struck dumb. Do I really want Donna to think of me that way?
I stare at her with wide eyes.
She notes my statement and gives a curt nod. "Yeah," she says, "that's what I thought."
"Donna?" I manage.
"Forget it, Josh."
"Would you *please* stop saying that!"
She looks startled. "Josh--"
"No, it's my turn to talk, Donna," I interrupt. "I hate that you're more concerned with finding a man than with finding the right man. I hate that you're willing to compromise your standards for a bunch of losers, when the best men in America should be begging for your attention. I hate it, Donna, because you should be with someone who is constantly in awe of you."
Donna is staring at me now, an odd statement on her face. "Josh," she says, "I have yet to meet someone who is constantly in awe of me."
"That's not true." I speak before I have time to weigh my words.
Donna is shocked. "Josh?"
"Come on, Donna," I backpedal quickly. "How could I not be in awe of someone who can organize my desk, hold her own against my incredible wit and debating skills, and still spout endless trivial facts off the top of her head?"
She watches me for a moment, then pulls her hands away. "Okay."
"Forget it, Josh."
"You know, if you never say that to me again, it'll be too soon."
"I'm serious, Donna."
"So am I, Josh," she argues.
"You're serious?" I repeat, confused.
"I'm serious about dropping this subject, yes."
"Because all we're doing is fighting about it."
"Which begs the question," I say, "of why we're fighting about your love life."
"We're not fighting about my love life," she is staring out the window again. "We're fighting about how you treat me sometimes."
"I already apologized for that, Donna," I say, frustrated. "I am *sorry* I'm a jerk. I will try not to be a jerk, but I am rather set in my ways at this point of my life."
"You already apologized, but you didn't explain."
"You want me to explain?" I ask, incredulous. What the hell is she talking about?
"Yes," she pins me with her gaze. "I want you to explain to me why you feel entitled to comment on my personal life. I want you to explain why you make comments to me that are wholly inappropriate in the workplace--"
"'If you want to have sex, you better do it during dinner?'" she quotes angrily.
Okay, so that was slightly inappropriate. "I apologize for that comment," I say.
Donna rolls her eyes at me. "But *why* did you say it in the first place, Josh?"
I am getting really tired of this conversation. "Donna--"
"Because," I explode, "the thought of you having sex with some loser makes me crazy!"
I think I am as shocked as she is by my words. I can't believe I just said that.
Donna shakes her head a little. "You're not my boyfriend, Josh."
"I know that." And that fact makes me a little bit sad.
"Do you?" she says. "Do you really? Because when you act like a jerk, it corresponds with the times when you act like you're my boyfriend."
"I act like your boyfriend?" I ask.
"How do I--?"
"Josh," she interrupts. "Just stop it. You know you do it. The way you touch me, the way you look at me, the way you talk to me sometimes, it's the way you would look at your lover."
Hearing her say "your lover" in reference to herself--even in the subjunctive--is breathtaking. I have to pause for a moment before I speak. "Donna, you know that you're more than just an assistant to me, right?"
She looks at me warily. "I consider you more than just a boss, Josh."
"Exactly," I nod. "I consider you a friend, too. Maybe sometimes I get carried away with the friendly side of our relationship--"
"Forget it, Josh."
"Fine," she says. "*Drop it*, Josh."
"If you're not going to be honest with me, the conversation is pointless."
"How am I not being honest?" I am practically sputtering.
"You're not admitting that there's something here," she waves one pale hand between us. "Something more than professional and something more than friendship."
For the third time, I find myself unable to speak. I have never met another woman who can render me speechless.
She watches me for a long moment, then sighs. "Never mind."
"Donna, I don't know how to respond to that."
"Maybe that's for the best," she says, staring once again out the window.
"No," I say. "It's not. We need to talk about this."
"We really don't."
"You're upset," I point out. "And now I'm upset."
She glances at me. "You don't look upset."
"You look terrified."
I give her a small grin. "I may be a little terrified, too."
"Am I really that scary?"
"No," I shake my head. "But this conversation is scary."
"Why?" she asks. "Is it really out of the blue?"
"No," I admit. "But I was hoping to put it off a little longer."
Donna looks hurt. "Thanks, Josh."
"Donna," I say. "You have to admit that this conversation could do more harm than good."
Her gaze slips away from me, "We need to settle this, Josh. We've got this big, gigantic purple hippo sitting in the car with us."
I can't help it. I start laughing. "A big, gigantic purple hippo?"
She tries to give me a stern look, but ends up smiling. "Shut up, Josh."
"Really, I'm flattered you think of our relationship as a big, gigantic purple hippo."
"I do not," she says, with a playful swat at my arm. "I think of our mutual, you know, thing as a big, gigantic purple elephant."
"I think of it more as an oversized orange orangutan, myself."
"You're comparing me to an ape?" Donna grins. "You sure know how to win over the ladies, Joshua."
My smile fades. "Do I?"
Donna gestures at the windshield. "Are we really going to do this in the parking lot of a pharmacy?"
"We're quirky," I say. "I think this is as good a place as any."
"For this, though?" she asks.
"The long-awaited discussion of purple hippos and orange orangutans?" I say. "I think we should be within walking distance of a place that sells sedatives and alcohol, yes."
"Josh," she ducks her head, but I can still see her smile.
"How do we do this?" I ask.
"I don't know," she admits, looking straight at me. "I guess we just do it."
I can't help but smirk. "We do?"
"Josh," Donna rolls her eyes. "You have the mind of a twelve-year-old boy sometimes."
"Hey, you're the one who said we should just do it."
"You know what I meant."
We are grinning at each other. And somehow, I'm not as terrified as I was before.
"I do," I say. "We should just start talking about, you know, our thing."
"'Our thing?'" Donna snickers. "Now you've got me doing it."
"If only that were true," I say with a grin.
"Joshua, be serious for a minute."
"Sure," I say, attempting a serious statement. "We're going to just do it."
Donna cocks one eyebrow. "Maybe that isn't such a bad idea."
"Well, it would answer the question once and for all," she points out.
"Which question, exactly?"
"You know, if the thing is real."
I stare at her for a moment. "Is that really in question?"
She gives me a soft smile. "No."
"Okay," I say. "Which begs the question: What the hell do we do now?"
"This is very complicated." Donna shrugs beside me. "I have no idea."
We watch each other. I have never been one to believe in unspoken communication, but I think we reach some kind of decision during the long moments that pass. Neither one of us is ready to take the next step.
"Me, neither," I say. "Are you still angry at me?"
She narrows her eyes. "Irritated, yes. Angry, not so much."
"Why are you still irritated?"
"You're an irritating man," she says. "But you apologized for your offensive remarks and I'm willing to believe you won't do it again--"
"I won't," I promise.
"I know," she says. "Because I'll beat you about the head with something large if you do."
"Maybe the 2001 budget?" she suggests, grinning.
"That's certainly large enough to do some damage," I say.
"Josh," Donna touches my arm. "Take me home?"
"Am I invited in?"
She gives me a small smile. "Not tonight."
I acknowledge the unspoken promise with a nod, then say, "You should definitely keep the dress."
"Joshua, I don't really understand your sudden obsession with my wardrobe."
"You own a mirror, don't you?"
"Go home, take off your coat, look in the mirror, and take a wild guess why I have suddenly become obsessed with your wardrobe. Or, more precisely, certain items of your wardrobe."
"It doesn't bother you that I bought this to wear on a date with another man?"
"Another man?" I smirk.
"No, it doesn't bother me. Look who's driving you home."
"I've been told that before," I grin. "But you should really keep that dress. You know, for the next time."
"The next time?" she asks, puzzled.
"Yeah," I nod. "When you do invite me in."
Donna gives me a slow smile. "Okay, Josh."
Feedback to email@example.com