A/N: Fluffy, humorous, fun. It popped into my head and just begged to be written. Hope you enjoy!
Also, I don't own The West Wing or Josh and Donna. I do, however, own all the kids in this story, because I made them up. Whee! It's nice to own something.
"All right, Josh, check in on the girls every so often and make sure they don't need anything, okay? We'll probably be back around six," Donna says as she fishes around in her purse for her keys.
I watch her numbly, trying to look calm, confident, and composed. I have had more than enough practice at this from all my years in politics. By the time she looks at me, I have my trademark grin on my face. You'd never know that I am scared out of my mind.
Except if anyone could tell, it'd be her. Because she is Donna. And somehow she knows pretty much everything about me.
Whoops, must have been concentrating on looking calm. "Yeah?"
"You're going to be fine here, right?"
I roll my eyes as if the very idea that I might not be able to handle this is downright ludicrous. "C'mon, Donna. I got this. Piece of cake." Flash million-dollar grin.
Donna doesn't look completely convinced. But since her only other choice is to let me take Noah shopping and do the other various errands that I still can't seem to complete to her satisfaction, she ushers our son out the door and turns to give me a quick peck on the cheek before leaving. I smile confidently as I shut the door behind her, reassuring her with my body language that I am totally at ease and in control.
As soon as the door shuts, my grin fades. I stare at the door through which Donna just disappeared, wishing that somehow she would decide take pity on me, put off the usual Saturday errands and the shopping trip until tomorrow, and come back.
A couple minutes pass. Donna doesn't seem to be planning on coming back to save me. I am still standing behind the door, completely terrified and trying to act like I'm not completely terrified.
Donna just left me alone with four seventh-grade girls, only one of whom I'm related to.
Relax, Josh. You can handle this. I take a couple of deep breaths.
This is silly. Why should I, a grown man who's handled senators, congressmen, governors, and presidents—with bravado and confidence, I must add—be scared of four tween girls?
I mean, really, how hard can it be to take care of some girls? I do all right taking care of Leanne. These girls are just like Leanne, right?
Except three of them are most definitely not Leanne. And I actually haven't been doing as well with Leanne these days as I used to. I just can't seem to win with her anymore. I used to always be able to make her laugh. Now she just rolls her eyes at me and acts embarrassed.
Donna assures me that it's just a phase. I hope so. Women are hard enough to understand. Thirteen-year-old girls are downright baffling.
I really shouldn't avoid this any longer. Donna said I had to check in on the girls every so often. And considering I didn't let any of them in when they got here to work on a school project of some sort, I should probably say hi and let them know who I am.
With one last deep breath, I plaster on my confident face again. I rest one hand on the doorknob to Leanne's room, the other hand poised to knock. I can hear voices and giggles on the other side of the door and almost lose my nerve. Finally, I convince myself to take the plunge.
I knock softly. When there's no response, I open the door and stick my head in, smiling brightly. "Hi girls," I say, hoping I don't sound creepy or dumb or anything. Four tweeny-boppers look up at me from their positions cross-legged on the floor next to Leanne's bed. They seem surprised by my intrusion. "I'm, uh, I'm Leanne's dad."
"Why didn't you knock?" Leanne asks, sounding a bit annoyed. Oh great. If Leanne's already upset with me, I can only imagine how this is playing with the Nameless Tween Trio.
"But I did knock," I protest, keeping my smile in place by sheer force of will. How can these girls make me feel so stupid? No one else can. Donna always says my ego is too big for my own good. I tend to disagree with her, but either way, I do not usually lack self-confidence.
"Then why didn't you wait for an answer?" Leanne accuses. I'm fighting the urge to remind her that I have fed and clothed her for thirteen years, not to mention that I am partially responsible for her very existence. But that's probably not the best thing to do in front of her classmates.
"I assumed it was all right when you didn't answer. Sorry. Am I interrupting anything?"
Leanne sighs exaggeratedly. "No, it's okay. Dad, this is Lizzie, Tiffany, and Sophie."
Okay, well, this is progress. At least I have names to put with my irrational fear. "Nice to meet you, girls. Mind if I ask how the project's coming?"
Leanne gestures to a poster board on the floor. It has a few pictures scattered around for placement, and bits of construction paper are floating around the workstation as well. It's nice to know that some things still haven't changed. "It's all right."
I open the door a bit wider and manage to get most of my body into the room without getting glares from the girls. Again, progress. Maybe I can handle this, after all. Leaning against the doorframe in an attempt to look casual, I try once again to be a personable and cool dad. "What's the project about?"
"We're giving a presentation about a book for English class," Leanne answers. Her voice contains a warning that my time is running out.
"Ah. Neat. Well, your mom had to run out for some errands, but I'll be around all afternoon. So, uh, just, uh, let me know if you need anything, okay?" I begin backing out of the room in what I hope is not too obviously a hasty retreat.
"Sure, Dad," Leanne says, dismissing me. I enter the safety of the hallway and shut the door, breathing a sigh of relief. That went pretty well, considering.
I stand in the hallway for a few moments, congratulating myself on my victory and trying to decide what to do next. Just as I'm about to leave, a voice through the door catches my attention.
"That was your dad?" One of the girls says.
"Yeah," replies Leanne's voice.
"Not your real dad, right?"
A pause. "Yeah…what do you mean?"
At this point, I realize that I'm eavesdropping. I feel a twinge of guilt. Even though they are talking about me, I should still respect their privacy…who am I kidding? Of course I'm going to keep listening. I lean a little closer to the door so I can hear better.
"Well, he's just so…old."
Oh. So they didn't think I was a cool or even a normal dad. They just thought I was old. My victory sure didn't last very long.
"How old is he?"
"He's fifty-nine." Leah's voice is matter-of-fact. I can't tell if she's embarrassed by my age or not.
"Fifty-nine? Oh my gosh. That's ancient!"
Okay, now I'm getting a bit angry. I am not ancient. And do I really look that old? I think I aged rather well, personally. Sure, my hair is mostly gray now, but a lot of men younger than me have gray hair. At least I still have hair. Toby was balding long before he reached fifty-nine. I wonder briefly if Toby's kids ever got teased about their dad being old.
"Why is he so old?"
"Because he was born fifty-nine years ago. Duh," Leanne responds, sounding a bit testy now. That's my girl. Let 'em know when they've asked a dumb question.
"He's only a little younger than my grandparents."
"Yeah, well, my parents didn't get married till he was 45, so it's not like they randomly decided to have kids after waiting a really long time or something." I know that tone in Leanne's voice. It's usually reserved for me. It sounds a whole lot like a tone that her mother has, which is also usually reserved for me.
"But we met your mom. She doesn't look that old."
"That's because she's younger than he is." Exasperation was setting in now. "Do you think we should put this picture down here or over here on the left?"
"Hmm, I think over there on the left. With some red paper behind it," said one girl. Either she has picked up on Leanne's tone, or she is really anxious to get back to the project. Either way, I am grateful that she's become a sort of ally for Leanne in this embarrassing mess.
"It's just so weird."
"Yeah. Isn't it weird, having a dad that old?" Apparently, Leanne's other two teammates aren't as bright. Or just not as intrigued by their project.
"No," Leanne begins, and I can already tell that they're in for a lecture. "Who cares how old he is? It's not like it's made a difference. He's always had enough energy to play with me and my brother when we wanted him to. He spent years working for the president in the White House, helping run the country. He's really, really smart, and he always makes time to come to my recitals even though he's really busy. And he loves my mom and my brother and me. Compared to what I've seen of some other dads, I think that makes me pretty lucky."
There is silence in Leanne's room. There are tears in my eyes.
"I think this picture should go here under this heading, like that. What does everyone think?" asks the ally girl from before.
A pause. Then, one by one, all the tweens answer. The conversation turns back to their poster. I silently leave the doorway, my forced grin replaced with a real smile.
The tweens (with the exception of my tween, of course) are all safely turned over to their parents by 5:50. Donna and Noah return a little after six, just like she promised. She seems relieved that I don't look completely frazzled. I'm just as relieved, though I'm trying not to show it.
Noah hurries off to show his big sister something he found outside that is sure to gross her out. I start helping Donna unload the groceries.
"So, how'd it go this afternoon?" she asks, placing some apples in the refrigerator.
I pause for a moment. I can't help but remember how scary those girls seemed, or how embarrassed I was for myself and my daughter when I overhead her classmates interrogating her about her "ancient" father.
"Ewww! Noah!" Leanne's voice floats down the hall, followed by Noah's laughter. "What is that thing?"
Donna shakes her head at the antics of our kids, but she is smiling. "Josh? You never answered me."
And then I remember my daughter defending me. Just for a few moments, she had reminded me of the pre-tween Leanne, the one who always laughed at my jokes. But at the same time, she had sounded very much like her mother, and I had been so proud of her.
"Huh? Oh, how'd it go this afternoon? Good. It was good."