Disclaimer: See chapter 1

Warning: See chapter 1, themes of violence

 

Chapter 2 

Darkness

 

Josh sat in his office Saturday morning with his feet up on his desk. He could hear some movement out of the weekend staff, but otherwise it was pretty quiet. Unlike his colleague, Josh didn’t appreciate the West Wing at its most quiet. He fed on the energy of hundred things happening simultaneously. He craved action. He didn’t know what to do with the silence. So he sat there impatiently, trying to pass time by making spit balls out of the letter left with him by the Republican wives.

 

"Hi there." Sam announced sunnily as he appeared in Josh’s doorway.

 

Josh responded by blowing two of his biggest bombers in Sam’s direction. Sam ducked in the face of this barrage. He straightened and gave Josh an "I’m too quick for you" look. Josh decided not to tell him that one of the spitballs had nestled itself prominently on the top of his head.

 

"You’re late, Sam."

 

"Not so late," Sam disagreed.

 

"Yeah, well, I don’t really feel like spending my entire weekend here so let’s get this thing done."

 

"I’ve read everything on this. It’s going to be about state’s rights. We can’t get away from it. There’s no way, Josh."

 

"Well then, we’re not using our heads, Sam."

 

"Whatever," Sam said. Josh gave him a look.

 

"Let’s review this. The Violence Against Women Act is coming up for reauthorization in the next session. If it passes with our new measures, then there is stronger recourse for women who are sexually and physically assaulted. Crimes against women can be seen as hate crimes and therefore, the federal government can step in when local authorities fail. Is that about right, Sam?"

 

"Yeah, but it’s been controversial. All of the courts do not see crime against women as gender biased. Since the act was established, it has been challenged continually. Add to that, the fact that it is more federal intrusion, and we have ourselves a tough fight."

 

"It’s a necessary bill," Josh urged.

 

"And I’m not convinced, Josh. First of all, I can’t find sufficient evidence to suggest that the states are not doing the best they can to prosecute men who offend against women. I also find little to suggest that a reauthorization of this bill is going to make a difference even if there is gender bias in the court system."

 

"Sam, you’re just not trying…"

 

"No, Josh, that’s not what’s going on here so don’t patronize me, okay? I am the most thorough person you or I will ever know. I just don’t think that this is worth our time. It’s a bill to back up what is already being done."

 

"Sam…"

 

"Listen to me. I’m not saying that violence against women in this country has been eliminated or anything. All I have to do is pick up the morning’s metro section to know the truth about that. Josh, the President doesn’t want a state’s rights battle on his hands in this session. You’ve heard him say it. The American people are tired of the federal government stepping in everywhere. So you really want to bring this half-baked reauthorization to him and ask him to risk everything for it?"

 

"You’re feeling pretty passionate about this, aren’t you?"

 

"Yeah, ‘cause I feel like a heel going against something that is supposed to protect victims. And…I don’t know. There’s something about it that makes me uncomfortable. There’s so little meat in it that I don’t really get why anyone cares."

 

"Well, women do. And I do," Josh replied firmly.

 

"So you want me to help you drag this into the President."

 

"No."

 

Okay?"

 

"There is a meeting on Monday that you should go to. It’s a girl’s group. I invited them to come and visit the White House. They have some perspective on this. They are teen-agers who have done some amazing things. I want you to go with me."

 

"Josh, you’re kidding, right?" Sam whined.

 

"No, my young friend, I am not."

 

"Is this some sort of punishment?"

 

"Sam, you do realize that I’m not Toby, don’t you?"

 

"It’s hard to tell sometimes," Sam grumbled to himself as he left the office.

 

 

 

 

Margaret pounded on her door for several minutes waiting for a response. It should have been pretty clear to her that no one was home except that she just felt so strange about all of this. Donna was always where she said she would be. She never failed. And if something intervened, she was sure to call or page. One time she even called a restaurant and had the wait staff seek Margaret in the dining room with the message that she would be 10 minutes late. Margaret paced the hallway a little when her knuckles got tired. Leo was always telling her that she worried too much and she knew it was probably true. Still she couldn’t shake this feeling that something was very wrong.

Finally Margaret pulled a key out of her bag. It was a spare to Donna’s apartment. She only used it when Donna was out of town with the President and needed her to water plants. It seemed intrusive to use it any other time. Margaret decided that she would deal with the consequences of invading Donna’s privacy.

The apartment was dark save the early evening sunlight drifting in through the curtains. She called Donna’s name and got no answer. She tried again, turning on the lights. She saw the message light flashing crazily on her machine. She knew that quite a few of those messages had to be from her calling Donna from Nordstrom’s. Everything looked fine and in its proper place. She was going to check the rest of the apartment when she saw something that made her gasp. There was a hole in the wall near the hallway to Donna’s bedroom. Broken plaster was still clinging to the edges. Margaret found herself breathing faster. All of a sudden, it didn’t seem so wise to be in Donna’s dark apartment by herself. Margaret was going to the phone when she heard a soft noise like a cry coming from Donna’s bedroom. Margaret stood petrified unsure of what she should do next. Tears of fear had formed in her eyes and her breathing came in short bursts. She willed herself to move forward. If Donna needed her, it couldn’t wait. At the door to Donna’s bedroom she pushed softly. In a shaky voice, she announced herself. The shades were drawn and the bedroom dark. She saw a dark form sitting on the bed regarding her quietly.

 

"Donna?" She begged for answers.

 

"It’s me." Came a sob.

 

"Are you alone?" Margaret ventured.

 

"Yeah."

 

Margaret was lost in the dark and Donna was providing no clarity to the situation. Somehow it felt wrong to turn on bright lights so she walked over to the shades and drew them slightly so that hazy rays of light streamed into the room. She could see Donna better now. She was sitting on her bed in a robe with wet hair. Her face was red from crying and she was shaking. Margaret could wait for the details. She climbed onto the bed with Donna and took her into her arms. Donna accepted her embrace gratefully and dissolved into tears again.

 

 

 

 

Margaret set the coffee down in front of Donna who smiled a thanks at her. Margaret then returned to the stove to serve up tomato soup and grilled cheese sandwiches. Donna had insisted that she wasn’t hungry, but Margaret had gone ahead anyway. It was clear that she had more than a little of her Minnesota grandmother in her as she busied herself in the kitchen and fussed over Donna. Despite her protests, Donna found herself looking forward to eating something. She hadn’t had anything since dinner the day before and the tomato soup smelled good to her.

 

"What time is it?" she asked.

 

"Midnight."

 

"My God. I thought I only fell asleep for a little while," Donna said.

 

"You were exhausted. I’m glad you got some sleep."

 

"Thanks for being here, Margaret. I didn’t know what to do.

 

"Donna," Margaret was trying to approach this carefully. "Do you think you could tell me what happened?"

 

Donna looked down into her soup for a minute. "I’m such a fool, Margaret. In one short night, I completely ruined my life," she mumbled, her eyes still focused on her food.

 

"Donna, you’re the least foolish person I know. There is no way I can believe that you did anything to cause yourself this much heartache."

 

"If you only knew." Donna was shaking head slowly.

 

"Well, I want to know. And I’m here. You’re not getting rid of me no matter what you do or do not tell me." Margaret reached over and put her hand over Donna’s. Donna raised her head for Margaret and smiled at her with moist eyes.

 

"My date wasn’t so good," she said.

 

"I want to know." Margaret persisted.

 

"It started out so amazing. I’ve told you how charming and handsome Tucker is. He went to the best schools and comes from a very prestigious family. And yet, despite all of that, I never questioned that his interest in me was genuine."

 

"You shouldn’t, Donna. You’re a beautiful, bright, and wonderful woman."

 

"Well I sort of thought so too. That’s why I was so upset when Josh said that Tucker couldn’t be after anything but information. He was so right, Margaret."

 

"I’m listening."

 

"You know we had been out together a few times before. And he had promised me that he would take me out to Le Cirque again which is a very wow place, you know. And he did take me. We had a great time. He was so interested in everything about me. We talked about our dreams in life. It was really great." Donna stopped for a minute and regarded the spoon she had in her hand. Margaret waited patiently for her to return to her story.

 

"I invited him back here, Margaret. I wanted him here. I wanted to be with him last night."

 

"That sounds perfectly reasonable to me."

 

"Well, it wasn’t reasonable at all." A sob caught in her throat.

 

Donna…"

 

"It started just fine. We were talking about our work. We had been doing that all night. He was telling me stories about Senator Sherman and I was telling him about Josh. Nothing bad. We were just talking about how crazy they could be sometimes. You have to admit that Josh certainly gives me a lot of material for a conversation like that."

 

"I have had my share of Leo stories to tell." Margaret assured her soothingly.

 

"I can’t remember the exact moment it happened, but I think it was when he started asking me about the trade bill that Josh and Toby are working on. It became perfectly clear to me that he was fishing. Here I was having a wonderful time with this guy and all of a sudden, I could tell that he was only interested in the damn trade bill. He wanted to know if I was putting together the final draft. He tried to be nonchalant, but I could see the fire in his eyes. So I called him on it."

 

"And then what happened?" Margaret needed to know, but at the same time she was afraid of what Donna was going to tell her.

 

"He apologized. Said he was tired. Told me that I caught him in a moment of weakness. Then he got tender with me, touching, and kissing. I almost bought it, but there was still something there. So I told him to go."

 

"He didn’t?"

 

"No," she sobbed. "He wouldn’t give up. Said I didn’t understand and that I was being too critical. He acted like he couldn’t leave without getting something out of me. I was yelling at him to leave and starting to go to the phone when he hit the wall with his fist. I have never experienced anything like that before. I was paralyzed. His face was red and so ugly. I didn’t want to pass him on my way to the phone and so I ran into my bedroom.

 

"Oh Donna…"

 

"And he followed," she was crying again. Margaret was stroking her arm and telling her it would be okay. "I don’t want to say anymore," she finally said.

 

"I understand. But I need to know if he injured you, Donna."

 

"He didn’t hit me if that’s what you want to know. I’m bruised, but I think that’s all." Margaret sat with her silently as Donna slowly started to calm again.

 

"Donna, have you been to a hospital or the police yet?"

 

"No."

 

"We should do those things."

 

"I don’t know, Margaret. It’s not that simple. I don’t think I can press charges."

 

"Of course, you can. You should, Donna. We can’t…you can’t let him get away with this." Margaret’s voice was starting to raise.

 

"I invited him here. I was hoping something would happen," Donna shouted back at her.

 

"Donna, stop it. You did not ask to be brutalized," Margaret said in a low, deliberate voice.

 

"But there’s more. Before he left, he went through the work I brought home. He took everything I had on the trade bill. I was going to edit Josh’s draft before it went to Toby. He took it.

 

"You brought it home with you?" Margaret said in disbelief.

 

"I know that I’m not supposed to do that. But I was going to work on it and it was going to be my way of making it up to Josh for the Republican wives." Margaret sat there trying to absorb all of this information. You couldn’t take sensitive material home unless you were expressly approved to do so by your boss. To take anything out of the West Wing without this express permission was grounds for immediate termination.

 

"He’s going to fire me, Margaret." Donna looked at her with sad eyes.

 

"He would never do it, Donna," Margaret shook her head slowly.

 

"He won’t have a choice," she cried. "He can’t set one standard for me and another one for everybody else. He’ll lose all of his credibility."

 

"Donna, we can’t just sit here."

 

"Well, tonight we can. I am not making another move until I can figure out a way to fix this for me and for him." Donna leaned back in her chair with a heavy sigh. She and Margaret looked at one another as the clock behind them ticked the night away.

 

 

 

 

Toby looked up from his morning coffee and surveyed the craziness in front of him again. For three days of camping, there were no less than 15 different bags, duffels, and boxes that needed to be loaded into the SUV CJ had rented. "I thought camping was supposed to be a return to a simpler existence." He thought critically looking over the massive pile of stuff that he would undoubtedly be required to carry to the vehicle.

 

"How do you like your new things?" CJ chirped as she sailed into the living room and threw yet another bag on the pile.

 

"Fine," he lied.

 

"Now come on, Toby. Tell me what you really think."

 

"They’re weird. I feel like a human parachute."

 

"Toby, these are synthetic fabrics. They are very latest in casual wear this year."

 

"So in other words, you are taking me out into a forest wearing state-of-the-art nylon clothing. Why? Nobody’s gonna see me except you. Besides I am not a state-of-the-art kind of guy. Why don’t we just pack a bunch of cotton t-shirts and a pair of jeans for me?"

 

"Are you going to be like this all day?" She looked at him with arms folded.

 

"CJ, you have me dressed like I’m going to ride the tour de France this afternoon. I look like a frickin’ flame retardant nightmare."

 

"You look nice."

 

"I do not. These clothes mold all over me like a second skin. What the hell kind of sense does that make? I thought that the whole point of clothing was so that other people didn’t have to see what was falling apart on a person. I’ll tell you one thing, I’m not going to wear those tight, Nike things on my legs. I would like to leave a little more to the imagination."

 

"That’s fine. We’ll just pretend that I didn’t spend all day yesterday shopping for you," CJ said sinisterly.

 

"Well now, CJ. You did get me a nice pair of jeans. I haven’t had a pair of these in years. And I have to admit that I am sort of looking forward to wearing them." Toby tried to salvage the conversation.

 

"Okay. That’s fair. And I did get you those loose fitting Adidas jogging pants?"

 

"I suppose I could see myself in those."

 

"All right, you pack what you think you can wear. We’ll take the rest back next week."

 

"Before I do that, I need to check on a situation, okay? It won’t take me long."

 

"We’re going to leave at noon, Toby."

 

"You got it, Claudia Jean." Toby waited until she had disappeared back into the bedroom undoubtedly so that she could find things to pull out of the walls and take with them. He picked up the phone and dialed. This was going to be unorthodox, but there was no other way he was going to be able to enjoy the next few days. That look in her eyes on Friday had haunted him all weekend. He wanted to say something to CJ, get her opinion, but he didn’t. There was something so intimate about what he had seen in Donna’s eyes that he didn’t feel comfortable sharing it with anyone. He tried to assure himself that she was fine, but he couldn’t shake a feeling of dread. He was not close to Donna. In fact, he couldn’t admit to knowing her well at all. Still he needed to know for certain that she was not in some kind of trouble. The phone rang on the other side.

 

"Ah, hello, is Bonnie there…Yes, it’s me…Yeah, but let me explain before you start with the yelling…No, I am not asking you to come in on your Sunday…I didn’t realize that you had your whole family there…I just want to ask a question…Of course, I remember your mother…Yes, you tell her "hi" from me too…No, I really don’t have time…Uh, hello, Mrs. Wilson, you sound well…Yes, Bonnie is doing a great job…And yes, I am doing well…Your peach cobbler was wonderful…It’s not necessary to send along anything more…Well, I am naturally pale…Yes Ma’am, even for a Caucasian…Perhaps you should adjust the tint on your television screen because I am definitely not green…Ma’am, I am so sorry to disturb your gathering. If I could just speak to Bonnie again…Yes Ma’am, I think that I should get more exercise too…Of course, Ma’am, you are welcome to come by any time you like…You take care too…Bonnie, is that you…Do not pass me off to your Aunt Mildred…No I don’t have time…I just need an address…Aunt Mildred, how nice to hear your voice…"

 

 

 

 

Margaret woke from her sleep to hear a persistent knocking at the door. She shook her head trying to wake up. From her place on Donna’s living room couch, she looked around for a clock in the room. She saw one on the mantel that said 9:00 a.m. She drew in a breath. It had only been a few hours since she had been able to get Donna back to sleep again. The knocking became louder. She pulled herself upright and headed for the door.

 

"Who is it?" she called at the door.

 

"Donna, is that you?"

 

"Answer my question," Margaret said firmly.

 

"Donna, I need to talk to you. Your phone is not picking up."

 

"It’s him." Donna was in the living room behind her.

 

"Then we call the police."

 

"Maybe we can get the draft back," she said softly.

 

"Donna, I think that we shouldn’t talk to him."

 

"You’re here. Nothing will happen. I need to get those papers back."

 

Margaret looked at Donna once more before reaching for the door. Tucker Grey pushed his way in once he heard the latch open.

 

"Who are you?" he demanded of Margaret.

 

"Well, I’m certainly not a fan of yours." Margaret stood glaring at him.

 

"Donna, I need to talk to you." He was choosing to ignore Margaret for the time being.

 

"What do you want?"

 

"Hey, no hard feelings right? Things got a little out of hand for both of us, I would say, wouldn’t you? I would be willing to make repairs on your wall. And if you need anything, you just let me know, okay?"

 

"I want the papers you stole from me," she hissed.

 

"Listen, Donna, I feel bad about that. But you know, it’s the nature of this business. You have to be a little aggressive to get ahead in this game."

 

"I want those papers," Donna said firmly.

 

"It’s not going to happen. I am sorry about that. But I am hoping that you and I can still be friends." Margaret gave a strangled cry when she heard this. He gave her a disgusted look. "Does she have to be here?" He pointed at Margaret.

 

"I know why you’re here. You came to make sure that I wasn’t thinking of going to the police." Donna said with complete certainty.

 

"Well, there is no reason for you to go to the police. You’re a big girl. You knew what was going on. Hell, you invited me up here." Donna just stared at him. The audacity of his presence and his words stunned her. Everything in her world was crumbling and yet he stood there completely oblivious to his starring role in it. Margaret could see the shock in her eyes.

 

"You have to go now," she said to the ignorant man.

 

"This is between myself and Donna. If there is anyone who’s going to leave, I think it’s going to be you," he shot at her. Donna took a sharp intake of breath. Her eyes filled with terror. He wasn’t going to leave. Margaret did the only thing she could think of in her anger. She grabbed a lamp and came at the large man. It surprised him to have her attack. He was barely able to keep the lamp from crashing down on his head. He deflected it to one side and grabbed her arm, twisting sharply. Margaret screamed and kicked him with her bare foot. Still holding her by the arm, he swung her body around and punched her once.

 

"Maybe that will shut you up," he said letting Margaret fall to the ground. He stood up and found Donna in front of him with a large knife in hand.

 

"Go." She said in a soft, dangerous voice. He stood there for a minute considering his odds and then turned on his heel and left.

 

 

 

Feedback is appreciated.

Sheila

 

Standing Tall - 3

 

 

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