Part two in my "Collection of Prompts." Another one for the tumblr drabble meme—I always end up writing a few thousand more words than I mean to. Prompt: "I'm pregnant."
Josh Lyman is seventeen, and he doesn't want kids.
His first-ever girlfriend, Allison Jones, is taking a pregnancy test in the grimy bathroom of the Westport Public Library. Josh is holed up in the history section, pretending to read a monograph on Israel, one leg jiggling uncontrollably. The words swim in front of him—something about the rise of Zionism and European nationalism—and his breath is coming too fast, almost in little gasps, and all he can think about is the way Allison hadn't cried when she told him her period was late. Josh had been trying to kiss her (when wasn't he trying to kiss her?), reaching for her from across the front seat of his crappy Toyota. She'd snatched her hand away. Looked at him with sharp, bewildering certainty. Said, in the accusatory tone she always used when they were arguing about Model UN or Tolkien: "I'm late."
"Late?" Josh hadn't understood. He thought she meant for class, but he'd showed up at her dad's place over an hour earlier than necessary, just like he had been doing every other Tuesday for the past four and a half months. They usually spent the time before first bell making-out in the back of Josh's car, or (when they were feeling particularly anxious about college) trading chem notes. Allison had just blinked at him, twisted her hands together.
The silence unsettled him. Allison pretty much never shut up if she could help it.
"Late for what, exactly?" Josh had asked.
"My period." She blinked at him again. "I thought I'd just done the math wrong, but…"
"Wait. Like…you're saying you think you're, you know…?"
"Pregnant? Yes, Josh. What the hell did you think I meant?" she'd snapped.
He couldn't come up with a single thing to say or do. There was a shrill ringing in his ears, a sickening tug in the pit of his stomach; Josh kept opening his mouth, waiting for something (fuck, anything) to happen. Allison stared out the window at the snow melting on her father's lawn and pushed her thick, wiry black hair out of her face. Her nails were ragged.
It was the first time Josh had seen her look like that—all hard edges, clenched teeth. It scared him that he couldn't tell what she was thinking. He'd never had to guess before. "I'm sorry," he blurted.
"It's fine," Allison said. "They make tests you can do yourself now, so you don't have to go to the doctor. I read about it in some magazine. I can buy one of those, and then I'll figure out what to do next."
"Okay," Josh whispered. He thought he might cry, but there were no tears brimming in Allison's dark eyes. She didn't have the luxury to be a stupid kid about it, and so, Josh had decided, neither did he. He'd thought of his father telling him about the things men do—You don't wait to be asked, son: a man always volunteers—and then he took his girlfriend's hand, ran his thumb over her knuckles, and said: "We'll figure it out, Allie."
She hadn't said anything, but she'd let her fingers trail over his. Then, he'd driven to a pharmacy and bought her the test with the tips he'd gotten from caddying on the weekends. They drove around looking for a public bathroom, settling on the library because it was open, and empty, and also because it seemed unlikely they'd run into any members of their parents' country club.
That had all happened a little over two and a half hours ago. Allison had read the directions in the car, squinting nervously at the test tubes, before announcing it was going to take two hours to get the results and they'd better plan on skipping their morning classes. She'd told Josh to study or something, said she would just have to sit with the test until she had an answer. So, Josh has been waiting. It's nearly 9:30 AM, and he's missing a quiz in Advanced World History. Outside, an angry wind is sweeping in from the coast. He can hear it whipping through the trees.
Josh Lyman is seventeen, and he doesn't fucking want kids.
He wants to learn, learn everything he possibly can about politics, and then he wants to work. He wants to maybe get somebody elected one day. He has a whole plan, and he's going to Harvard in the fall, and Allie is going to Princeton on a tennis scholarship, and they can't possibly have a baby. They haven't done anything yet. Josh doesn't even think they're in love.
"Negative." Allison's voice in his ear is breathy with relief. She slides into the chair beside him, tossing her sensible khaki backpack to the ground. "I'm positive I did it right."
"No baby," Josh confirms. "For sure?"
"80% sure. Considering I'm a few weeks late, I'll take those odds." Allison smiles at him widely, melting back into a person Josh recognizes. The hardness is already nearly gone. "I thought I was going to die, Josh. I really thought I was going to die."
"Me, too," he groans, and then they practically crash into each other, kissing wildly across the dusty table until an angry librarian swoops down upon them, threatening to call the police if they don't get out. They go. They kiss some more in the parking lot. They make it to school in time for third period (just barely), but Josh gets distracted by Allie's tongue, and so they both miss English Lit, tangled together in the cramped backseat.
There's no baby. They're free, almost dizzy with it.
They'll break up in three more months, and Josh will cry, quietly, angrily, with his forehead pressed against a slammed door. He'll go to Harvard and lose himself in political science. She'll go to Princeton and discover that she wants to be a mechanical engineer. They'll forget each other, piece by piece, and in a little over twenty years, they will each fall in love with a person they can't have.
But now, in this moment, on a windy Tuesday in the spring of 1978, they're just two stupid teenagers making-out in a car, grateful that they don't have to be anything else for a very, very long time.
They're seventeen, and instead of a kid, Josh Lyman and Allie Jones get to have their futures.
Josh Lyman is forty-eight, and he doesn't want to talk about how unbelievably shitty his day has been.
Except, of course, he's talking about it anyway.
"Five times," he's shouting at Donna from across their living room. "I had to tell him five goddamn times—"
"Wait, this is about the Shanghai thing?" she wants to know. "Or are we still talking about the Great Wall fiasco?" She's sitting on the couch in her underwear and an old Packers t-shirt, and she's not touching the wine Josh had poured for her right when he first got home and decided they needed a drink. Her glass is still full; he's already well into his second.
"Shanghai. Anyway, the Chinese ambassador complained about me to the President. Said I was unprofessional and had insulted the country's honor, all because I got a little tired of having to, you know, explain (for the fifth time) why the President isn't going to be able to spend eight full hours at a banquet in Puxi when he has to be on a plane to Tokyo at five-thirty the next morning. Eight hours? What the hell do they think they're going to do for eight hours?"
"This trip is gonna be a disaster, Donna. How am I supposed to broker another peace deal if I'm spending every last pathetic scrap of my time trying to convince the Chinese government that the President of the United States needs more than two hours of sleep every once in awhile? Is this really what my job is coming to?"
"Josh, I kind of have something—"
"And then the guy pretty much ignored me for the rest of the day, and the President told me to send Sam to smooth things over, and Sam got all pissy because he was already up to his ears in the Great Wall fiasco—oh, and then, it turns out that Bram is sleeping with one of the interns, and Lou walked in on them half-naked in a supply closet, and now I have to decide who (if anyone) to fire and I—"
He stops pacing, wincing guiltily. His wife's expression is not encouraging.
"I'm doing the thing again, aren't I?" he asks, setting his wine glass down on one of the bookshelves. "Sorry."
"You have to slow down," Donna says in a strange rasp of a voice. "I really need you to slow down."
"Okay." Josh sits down next to her, runs his palm over her bare knee. Takes a pointed, steady breath. "You're right. I know you're right."
"Of course I'm right," she snaps. "I just…you know I worry about your heart, about your blood pressure." She bites her lip and drops her gaze to her lap, where her lovely, slender hands are almost knotted together. Josh frowns, glances up at her face, at her wide, blue eyes. They're shiny and insistent and cutting right through him.
"Hey," he says, covering both of her hands with his. "What's up? You look…"
"I want you around, Josh. I want you for the rest of my life. I want to see you lose all of that hair. I want to listen to you rant about the Chinese government and Republicans and whatever the hell else you feel like from your deathbed—which I don't expect you to be in until you're at least a hundred and two, by the way. I want you here, alive, making bad coffee and leaving every cabinet in the kitchen wide open and arguing with me about anything and letting me fix your ties and just, you know, being you. You can't work yourself up into a gigantic ball of crazy every other day! You have to learn how to breathe. You have to relax. You have to figure out how to turn off your brain every once in awhile, Josh. I can't do this next part without you."
But she scrambles to her feet, marches out of the room, and Josh is left sitting there, his mouth still open, trying to decide whether or not to follow her. He doesn't have to, though: Donna's coming back towards him, and then she's tossing something down on the coffee table in front of him, and Josh is so busy trying to figure out whether or not his wife is losing it that it takes him a full thirty seconds to notice the pregnancy test.
The pregnancy test. He nearly falls off the couch.
"Wait a second. Donna. Is that…? Are you…?"
She's starting to smile. He thinks she might also be starting to cry.
"Pregnant," Josh repeats, and it seems to echo faintly into the void that is currently his brain. "As in, with a baby?"
"As opposed to what, an elephant?" She takes a tentative step forward. "How's that blood pressure?"
"A baby," he says.
"Josh? I'm going to need you to start saying other words, now."
Josh Lyman is forty-eight, and he's going to be somebody's dad.
He stares at Donna—sharp-tongued, beautiful, complicated, hilarious, endlessly clever Donna—who he's been married to for four months and three days. Donna, who he's two thousand percent sure he'd pick over oxygen, the Mets, cheeseburgers, every other person on the planet, and the Democratic Party. Donna, whose warm empathy is tempered by quiet, unyielding strength. Donna, who's probably never going to stop dazzling him. Donna: pregnant.
One minute, he's just sitting on his couch, trying to catch his breath, and the next, he's somehow standing, striding over to her, crushing her to him. Josh might never be able to make himself let go.
"A baby," he whispers against her neck, one hand caught in her hair.
"A baby," she whispers back, and she's definitely crying, now. "Are you, um…are you happy? Scared? Planning on regaining the power of speech anytime soon?"
Josh pulls back to beam at her. Maybe he's crying, too.
"This is the best day," he manages to croak. "The best news. The best everything. You are the best. And yeah, I'd say 'happy' doesn't come close to covering it."
Donna kisses him like it's the first time. Josh forgets what it's like to want anything but this.
Seven months will blur right past. There will be three major arguments about names, a string of desperate sleepless anxious nights, two serious conversations about their careers, and about ten million decisions. Donna will need an emergency C-section. Josh will remember, with Toby's bizarrely gentle encouragement, how to pray. It will be a rainy Sunday in September, and their daughter will be six pounds, two ounces, and breathtaking. They'll name her Annabel, after Donna's grandmother. Donna will drift in and out of consciousness, hooked up to machines and IVs, and Josh will spend that unending first night holding tight to his family: his daughter tucked in the crook of his arm, one of his hands wrapped around his wife's cold wrist. In about sixteen years, he'll tell Annie that story when she shouts that she hates him for the first time (it's because Josh caught her sneaking out to go to a party, and Annie will regret the words the second they leave her mouth). Donna will hear them from the kitchen, listen to Josh's calm, serious voice, how quietly he punishes their daughter, how careful he is to be kind while he's doing it, and she'll think: he learned how to breathe.
But for now, Josh and Donna are wrapped up in each other, swaying slightly in the dim glow of their living room. They have so much to do together. So many plans to make. They're going to have a baby. A baby.
Josh is forty-eight, Donna's thirty-six, Annabel currently exists only in possibility, and they all get a future—the same one.