Chapter 12 (Revised 5/9/08)
He doesn't think first dates are really supposed to be like this. They're supposed to be full of awkward pauses and small talk that doesn't matter and wondering how far she's going to let you get, but they're not supposed to be about avoiding topics and pretending everything is great when you both know that very little is.
Still, it's a start, and for now he's willing to overlook those other things and concentrate on what he has. Which is Donna, dressed to kill in something that could be considered by some to be somewhat revealing, with her hair up and little twirly things hanging down, sitting at a table of white linens with the glow from candles surrounding her face. He's seen her dressed up countless times, seen her looking as amazing as she does now, but this time it's for him. And that's never been the case before.
The band in the corner plays a Frank Sinatra number while they're waiting on their food and he asks her to dance. It's primarily so he can wrap his arms around her small waist and touch the large expanse of back left exposed by her dress, something he's never been allowed to do before, but it doesn't hurt that although he's not stealthy, he's actually quite good on the dance floor. And for a few minutes they can be together without trying to find things to talk about that don't include work.
She wraps her arms around his neck out on the dance floor, which is something they've done numerous times, but he pulls her closer than ever before; close enough to feel her chest and hips against his. She doesn't look him in the eye, but he can see a small smile grace her lips and a slight flush on her cheeks. She smells incredible, and he buries his face in her neck, also something he's never done before. It's not long before her hands find their way into his hair, and suddenly he's counting the new and different things he can do with her now if they can just figure this mess out.
But when they go back to their table, silence crowds them again. They're both work-centered people, so to take that out of their conversation leaves them with little to say. He still doesn't know how they're going to make this work; the only thing going for them is that one of them should be unemployed by late spring or early summer. Odds would say it's going to be him, but it's not. He knows it.
She spends far too long telling him about her trip to Wisconsin for Christmas, and he spends way too much energy nodding and smiling and asking questions about it. It's not that he doesn't want to hear about it, but the detail she goes into is only proof that she knows this is not going well. When the silence stretches on for too long at one particular point, he reaches over and takes her hand, tangling their fingers together. He knows he must've touched her hand before, in fact he knows he held both of her hands the night they spent together, relishing in the feel of her tight grip as she climaxed for the first time. But tonight her hand is softer than he ever imagined it could be, and it makes him want to touch other parts of her and compare.
She looks at their joined hands and then up at him. "I need to tell you something," she says quietly.
He raises an eyebrow and tries to squash the sudden swimming of his stomach.
"About the vice-president," she continues.
"No," he says, sitting up abruptly and pulling his hand back into safe territory. She looks shocked and he takes a deep breath and leans in to speak quietly to her. "I know I was an ass about it yesterday," he admits without much trouble, shockingly. "But we can't talk about work."
"Donna, I'm going to do whatever I have to do to win. Don't give me anything I can use."
She starts to say something, but their waitress interrupts by bringing the bill. He keeps his eyes on Donna, but reaches into his pocket and pulls out his wallet, then thumbs through it and hands the woman his Visa card. By the time she's walked away from their table, Donna's face has hardened and her jaw has set. Neither of them says anything until he's paid and they're in his car on their way back to her apartment.
After a few blocks of driving without sound, he sighs. "I didn't mean to upset you back there," he says in a warmer tone.
"Why don't you believe in me?" she asks harshly out of the blue.
This causes him pause and he looks over at her with a confused look on his face. "What?"
"Why did you spend two weeks telling me not to work for Russell instead of letting me make that decision for myself?"
"In case you hadn't noticed, I'm trying my damndest to let that go," he shoots back, looking forward at the road. "I have no idea in hell how we're supposed to… whatever… while you're working for that…" he stops suddenly and takes a deep breath. "While we're working against each other. But I'm here and I'm trying."
She shakes her head, then turns and looks out her window. "That's not what I asked."
"No," he spits out. And damn it, how did the anger surface again? "You asked why I don't believe in you. Even though it's me who believes you're too good to work for him. Even though it's me who believes you should be working on a harder, more rewarding campaign as the deputy director. I'm not the one who doesn't believe in you, Donna," he says, the implication clear.
She turns and looks at him. "Yet you didn't believe I could make that decision. You believed instead that you needed to manipulate me to show me the better candidate and then make it abundantly clear that if I wanted to be with you, I had to do things your way."
"That is absolutely not true!" he yells, screeching to a halt at a red light. "I'm here, right now, trying to make whatever the hell this is work! And I haven't said a damn thing about you choosing to work for Russell. Not one thing."
"You're missing the point, Josh!" she yells through gritted teeth. "You didn't believe in me to make the right decision."
"Sorry to be blunt, Donna, but you didn't make the right decision!"
She turns and looks out the window again and he tries to regret what he said. He knows it had to hurt, knows how hard she works to prove herself, knows damn-well that it didn't help anything. But he's hurting too, and to be accused of not believing in her? For the longest time, he was the only one who did.
The light turns green and he shifts his attention back to the road. They're only two blocks from her apartment now and the car remains silent the entire way. He finds an empty spot not far from her building and pulls into it, then turns off the engine. He considers letter her out and leaving, but as stubborn as he is, he knows he can't leave for Texas on Tuesday with things like this. They've got to fix it before they run into each other in New Hampshire and are too pissed and too busy to try.
She, however, must have other ideas, because without a word she undoes her seatbelt and starts to open the door. He's about to say something when she knocks him off the ground. "I turned down Will's job offer."
He snaps his head in her direction. She's looking out the window, her hand still on the door knob, and she's very still and very quiet, as if she hadn't spoken. "What?" he asks dumbfounded.
"I turned down Will's job offer," she repeats just as quietly, still not moving.
"When…" he shakes his head. "When did you…"
"Yesterday," she says, finally turning to look at him. "When I found out he was no longer the best candidate for the job. Why didn't you believe in me to make that decision for myself?"
His eyes widen. "You didn't make that decision! You decided..."
"There was no decision to make until the congressman agreed to run," she says, cutting him off. "You just assumed I'd decided, even though I specifically told you I hadn't."
"And you let me believe that!" he yelled.
"Yes," she says, nodding. "I did. And maybe that was wrong, but I wanted you to want to be with me regardless of that decision. I wanted you to pick me, Josh. For once, I wanted you to pick me!"
"That's what tonight was," he shrieks in that unflattering voice of his that he hates.
"Yes," she says quietly with a slight nod. "Which is why I tried to tell you at dinner."
He lets his head fall to his chest, half-relieved half-scared. "What are we doing?" he asks himself as he scrubs a hand over his face.
She laughs humorlessly. "Making each other miserable."
He didn't expect an answer, but hers actually helps and he looks cautiously over at her. "You're miserable too?"
She looks at him thoughtfully. "If you're miserable, I'm miserable. That's how it works."
He watches her for a second before ever so slowly reaching a hand up and grazing her cheek. She closes her eyes and leans into his touch and he's struck again by how damn beautiful she is. "I don't want you to be miserable," he whispers.
This makes her smile; he can feel the corner of her mouth turn up against his palm. She opens her eyes and looks at him. "Can we talk about this without yelling?" she asks softly.
He takes a deep breath. That's not the easiest request. Finally he nods. "Yeah," he says quietly.
With a little grin, she adds, "Can we do it inside so I can take off these shoes?
He chuckles, but it takes him a second to willingly pull his hand from her face so he can get out of the car. When he does get out, he waits for her to round the car and join him, then lets his hand find that place on her lower back meant just for him as they cross the nearly deserted street and head up the sidewalk towards her door.
He instinctively goes into strategy mode, devising ways to convince her to work with him now that she's turned down Will's offer, but he forces himself to put it out of his mind. The worst case scenario is gone from the picture. They might not be working together, but at least they won't be working against each other. If she doesn't want to work with him, he's going to have to live with it. More than that, really, he's going to have to be happy for her regardless of what she chooses to do next.
They make it to her building silently, but when she starts digging through her purse for her keys he leans forward slightly and kisses her neck. He's not trying to distract them from the issues at hand, but usually her hair covers her neck and tonight it's exposed because of the up thing she did to her hair. She stiffens a bit, and he hates that they can't just be one of those couples that are new and exciting and without baggage.
She does kick off her shoes as soon as they enter her apartment. She takes off her coat next and hangs it up, then holds a hanger out to him. After a brief pause, he takes off his coat and hangs it up next to hers, then looks at them there together in the closet. That looks right, he thinks to himself.
"Do you want to…" she trails off gesturing to the couch.
"Yeah, sure," he says. He walks to the couch and awkwardly sits down, then watches as she chooses to walk to a chair instead, isolating herself from him.
Silence descends again, both of them waiting for the other to start. She's staring at the wall, he's staring at his shoes, and he starts thinking about what she said in the car. He finally looks up at her and says, "I believe in you," because he does and it both angers and upsets him that she doesn't think so. That should be something she never questions and never has to question.
She turns her head and looks over at him. After a second she nods, but he's not convinced.
"I panicked," he says, scrubbing a hand over his face. "You'd just quit and I was desperate to make you stay. When Will told me about the job offer and I went into strategy mode."
"He was the best option we had when I accepted that position. You've worked too hard to hand the White House over to the republicans."
"You've worked hard too," he says pointedly. They all have, of course, but she's forever diminishing her own work there because of the position she held.
She smiles awkwardly. "I know, but…"
"Don't do that," he says shaking his head. "The only person who thinks you were just an assistant there is you."
"Josh, I was an…"
"My successes there had everything to do with you," he says, cutting her off.
She seems genuinely surprised by that statement and tears spring to her eyes. It takes her several seconds to find her voice and even then it's no more than a whisper. "Thank you."
"I should've told you that years ago."
"You have," she says a bit stronger. "You haven't used those words, but you've told me."
"I believe in you," he says again, because it's so incredibly important for her to believe.
This time when she nods, it is convincing and he breathes a sigh of relief.
"I think I expected you to drop Russell as soon as Santos came onto the picture," he says, resting his elbows on his knees and leaning over to look at the floor. "It hadn't occurred to me that you might say no, so when you didn't say yes, I told myself your decision was made and that it was my job to change your mind." He rubs a hand over the back of his neck and sits back up again. "But I tried to let you decide for yourself. When you were in Wisconsin I really tried. I just…" He raises an eyebrow and looks over at her. "I'm not so good at that."
She smiles slightly at him. "Patience isn't one of your virtues, I know."
He smiles back but it fades. "And I know you think I… that night, that I…" he can't say it even now. He turns his head and looks out window at the black sky. "That I did that so you'd…"
"I never should've said that," she whispers with a shaky voice. "I'm so sorry I said that."
He closes his eyes. "I just wanted to be with you," he says so softly he wonders if she hears him. "I'd waited so long and I just… didn't want to wait any more."
He hears movement and opens his eyes. In the reflection of the glass he watches as she gets up and walks to the couch. He turns his head and she's standing in front of him, then after a brief pause she straddles him with her knees on either side of his thighs. "I'm sorry," she says, cupping his cheeks in her hands. "That night was so wonderful… so amazing… and I turned it into something ugly and I'm sorry. I'm so… so, sorry."
He thought it would be hard to let go of that, but the agony on her face and the tears pooled in her eyes make it easy and he nods. She closes her eyes briefly and he watches one of the tears escape and roll down her cheek. He wipes it away with his thumb and she leans forward, wrapping herself around him and resting her chin on his shoulder.
They sit like that for a few minutes, neither of them talking, and he finds himself wondering what this means; if she's going to work with him or if she's taking the EPA job. He's going to have to live with it either way, but if they're not working against each other it'll be an easier pill to swallow. But he puts that out of his mind, or at least tries to, and pulls her tightly against his body.
"NOW has an opening in their legislation department," she whispers into his neck a minute later. "I have a second interview in the morning."
He closes his eyes tighter and tries to fight off the thought of the next eleven months on the road alone followed by eight years in the White House without her there to walk with him. "Kay," he whispers back, tightening his grip a little. Being with her part of the time will never be enough for him, but he's willing to take what he can get. He needs her too much to not have her at all.
He feels her mouth twitch against his neck and hopes he's made her happy. She pulls back a moment later and his hands drift around her back to land on her hips. She looks down at him and smiles. "Yeah?"
He tries for a smile, but doesn't really manage it. He's happy for her, he is, but that doesn't make it any easier. "You'd be a good fit at NOW."
"You think so?"
"I do," he says with a slight nod.
"Am I a good fit for the Santos campaign?" she whispers.
"You're a perfect fit for the Santos campaign," he says emphatically.
She watches him for a second and then slides off of him and sits on the coffee table in front of him. The loss of her warmth causes him to groan, but she takes his hands in hers and lays them in her lap. He knows she's about to say something, and he knows it's going to be important, so he scoots closer to the edge of the couch and looks at her carefully.
"I have reservations," she says slowly. "About working for the campaign."
"He'll win," he says with determination. "If that's what you're worried about. I know it's a long shot but he'll win."
She shakes her head and smiles. "Of course he'll win; he has you. I knew he'd win the very second you told me he was running."
There's a clenching in his heart and he finds himself lost in her eyes. He wants to thank her, but his throat is dry and he doubts anything will come out, so he pulls their hands to his mouth and kisses her knuckles.
"What about this?" she asks, gently pulling her hands free and gesturing between them.
He grabs one hand in mid air and pulls it to his chest. "This happens regardless of what you choose."
Her eyes light up. "And if I choose to work with you?"
There's a feeling of hope there he hasn't felt all week and he can actually feel his heart rate increase. "Then we go into it making sure everyone knows the deal. The congressman won't care, and I'm long past the point of paying attention to what others think."
"Deputy Campaign Director, right? Not deputy to the Campaign Director?"
He nods. "Deputy Campaign Director. You're the only one I trust to do it."
She raises an eyebrow. "So I'd get the guy and the job?"
"You're stuck with the guy, I'm afraid. If you want it, you get the job too."
She bites her lip and squints her eyes before smiling widely. "I want the job."
For the last two weeks, he's felt like he was drowning, but with those four words he breaks the surface. "You do?" he asks in an excited and not at all quiet voice while jumping up off the couch.
She nods quickly and stands. "I do," she says, matching his tone.
And then he's crushing her to his body and holding on tighter than he ever has to anything.
"Thank you," she says, holding on just as tightly. "Thank you for making me part of this."
He pulls back just enough to get to her lips. "Thank you," he whispers before kissing her slowly, deeply, his fingers tracing her jaw. She sighs and buries a hand in his hair, kissing him back until they both run out of breath. Breathing heavily, he leans his forehead against hers and closes his eyes. And he knows, knows for certain, that everything's going to be ok. Because he's never letting go of her again.