"Aren't you ready?"
Sam is, as it turns out, not ready. He's standing in front of his desk, bow tie hanging loosely around his neck, and Ginger sighs.
"I thought you knew how to tie a bow tie."
"I can't - I do know how to tie a bow tie. This is different."
"It's a different bow tie?"
"It's new. It's all stiff, or something. I think they changed them."
"I think you're nervous."
"I'm not nervous." But his jaw clenches a little as he says it, and he glances at a spot somewhere over her shoulder. "Okay, maybe I'm a little nervous."
"Sam, the speech is fine."
"The speech is more than fine. The speech is great. It's not the speech I'm worried about. It's - did you know there's a pool?"
"A pool?" She's always been an excellent liar, or maybe he's just not paying attention.
"A betting pool. To see if the president messes it up."
"He usually doesn't, you know."
"He's an excellent public speaker."
"Carol won a lot of money on the trout fisherman speech."
She knows. Carol shouted them all to a night at the Hawk and Dove, probably with enough left over to cover her rent for a month or two.
"Technically, that one was my fault."
"It was an accident."
"It wasn't supposed to rain." He reaches up, flips his bow tie over; after a minute, he gives up again. "The Coast Guard hates me."
"Here. Let me do it." She crosses the few feet to where he's standing, his hands pressed against the desk. He straightens as she takes the tie in her hands, twists it into a bow; she doesn't know what he was complaining about.
"Hey, are you guys -"
She can hear Toby stop in the doorway, glances quickly over her shoulder as she finishes. "Hey, Toby."
He doesn't answer her, and she runs her hands lightly over Sam's chest before stepping back. His adam's apple bobs.
"Dear God, it's contagious."
Before she can ask what he meant, he's gone, and she shrugs at Sam. "All done."
"Great. Are you - are we ready to go in?"
He places a hand low on her back as they leave the office, and she glances over at him. "What are you doing?"
"I'm escorting you."
"We're not on a date, Sam."
"We're not? I mean, no, I know we're not on a date. It's just that, I'm the one with the tickets, and technically you're here as my date -"
"So why don't you just give me your tickets, and you can go as Toby's date?"
"What?" He falters for a minute, stepping back to look at her. "I can't - I'm not going as Toby's date. Besides, then who would be your date?"
"Bonnie?" He nearly chokes out the word, and she smiles. "You want to go on a date with Bonnie?"
"Technically, it's not a date."
"Anyway, I think Bonnie's already inside."
"Right. I mean - anyway, they're my tickets."
"Oh, well. I guess you're stuck with me, then, instead of Toby."
He smiles, steps closer to her again. "I think I'll live."
She absolutely does not smile back.
"You look gorgeous, by the way."
"I clean up pretty good, too."
"I'm better than okay."
His hand finds her back again as they walk, and she doesn't miss a step.
He lets his hand drop as they enter the East Room, hands her a glass of champagne from a nearby tray. It's almost unrecognisable at night, decorations in full swing, and she stops a moment to take it in.
"I've got to go mingle," Sam says, almost reluctantly; she nods, glancing sideways at him.
"That's okay. I'll go find Bonnie."
Something crosses his expression at that, and he nods. "Okay. But just remember, you're here with me."
"So I shouldn't go make out with Bonnie in the coat room?"
He almost spits out his champagne at that, and she touches his arm gently.
"I really do have to go mingle."
"Ginger?" He stops, a few steps away, and she holds his gaze.
She smiles, and sets out in search of Bonnie.
"That was a disaster."
"It wasn't that bad." But she's cringing even as she says it, and she thinks he can probably hear it in her voice.
"It was - it was a total disaster."
"He completely messed up the line."
"It wasn't your fault."
"It wasn't my fault." He looks over at her, still pacing nervously. "I know it wasn't my fault. It was the president's fault."
"He messed up the line."
"The president never messes up his lines. He's an excellent public speaker."
Sam stops, leans back against the wall, his shoulders still tense. "He messed up the line."
"It really wasn't that bad."
"It was -"
"Sam, it was one line. He got over it."
He pauses, and she looks down at the floor. She doesn't know if she should feel guilty about this, like she's the one to blame; she's almost entirely certain the president would still have messed up, pool or not.
Still, she's pretty sure she's going to have to go out and buy a new wardrobe. She can't live in a messed-up-speech apartment for a month.
"Why do you think he messed it up?"
Formal wear. She always chooses the occasions with formal wear; it provides a distraction.
"Did you see what the first lady was wearing?"
He looks at her like it's an odd segue, but it isn't; after a moment, it clicks.
"You think -"
"Maybe he had his mind on something else."
"I really don't want to think about what that something else could be." He pauses, and then - "What were you doing looking at the first lady?"
"I was just saying -"
"You noticed what the first lady was wearing?"
"It was kind of hard not to notice."
"I didn't notice. I mean, okay, yeah, I noticed, but I wasn't looking - I mean, she's a beautiful woman, so maybe I was looking a little, but -"
"If you hit on the president's wife, too -"
"What? I'm not - what's that supposed to mean?"
"I was -"
"Is this about Mrs McGarry? Because that was - that was a really long time ago. And it's not like I knew she was Leo's wife, I mean, obviously, if I'd known - and it's not like I was hitting on her. I was making conversation. And Mallory -" He pauses a minute, looks up at her, and offers a small shrug. "I like redheads."
"Really." He's smiling, now, and she smiles back; Toby doesn't interrupt them, this time.
"Let me buy you a drink."
The others are already waiting, when they get to the Hawk and Dove; Toby's drinking whiskey by the bar, and he shares a commiserative smile with Sam.
"I'm just going to -" Sam gestures at Toby, and Ginger nods.
"I'll get us some drinks."
She orders two vodka martinis, extra olives, and takes them over to where CJ and Carol are sitting.
"You're buying, right?" Carol asks as Ginger sits down, and she smiles.
"You won?" CJ looks disappointed, but it's mostly for show; she's put more money into the pool than any of them. (She says if she's going to have to clean up a mess, she might as well profit.)
"Who won?" Sam's bow tie is already coming undone as he approaches. Carol nods at Ginger, and he glances down at her. "What did you win?"
"It's nothing -"
"Wait, you won the pool?" He straightens a little, and she cringes. "You won the betting pool."
"You entered the pool."
"You bet against the president."
"Sam, I'm sorry."
He looks shocked for a moment, but he places a hand on her shoulder as he slides into the seat beside her. "It's okay."
"I really am sorry."
"It's really okay." He picks up his drink, and smiles at her. "You're buying, though, right?"
"Who's buying?" Toby tugs at the collar of his shirt as he sits down, and Ginger smiles.
"In that case, I'm drinking the good stuff."
"You're already drinking the good stuff," CJ points out, and he drains his glass.
"Well, then, I'm drinking more of it."
Sam goes up to get the next round, and when he comes back, his hand falls along the back of Ginger's chair. His fingers slide, occasionally, across her bare shoulder, and she tries not to let it show.
CJ's the first to leave, followed closely by Carol; they both claim an early start tomorrow, cleaning up the president's inadvertent error, and Ginger promises them another night out the next time they're all free. (Which may be in another four years or so, but none of them says it out loud.) By the time Toby leaves, too, smiling as if at some private joke, Sam is playing with her hair, sending it in waves down the back of her neck.
"So," he says, and finishes his drink; she does the same. "This is, um - I mean, I don't mean to - just stop me if I cross a line here, okay?"
Ginger thinks maybe they've already crossed a line, but she doesn't say so. "Okay."
"Okay. Earlier, when you - I mean, when we were talking about - did you really want to go to this thing with Bonnie?"
"You mean, like on a date?"
Sam looks away; that's exactly what he meant, then.
"Bonnie's an attractive woman."
"She is an attractive woman."
He isn't playing with her hair, any more; she smiles softly. "Did you want to go with Toby?"
"What? that's - no, I didn't want to go with Toby."
"Well, there you go."
"I just meant - I'm not trying to, you know, and if you did - if you and Bonnie were, well, I wouldn't want to -" He swallows; she almost takes pity on him. "Because that would be okay, obviously, and I'd understand if -"
Instead of answering, she reaches out, places a hand on the collar of his shirt. She can feel the warmth of his chest though the fabric.
"Oh." He swallows again, but his hand is back, tracing her skin. "So, you -"
"If you want to know if Bonnie and I made out in the coat room, I'd be happy to give you details."
"Oh?" He's smiling a little, now, and she inches closer. "Because when I said before that you shouldn't do that, I mean, it's be okay, if I was there -"
"Sam!" She's laughing, and his hand dips lower to her waist.
"Or you and I could, you know - there are lots of coat rooms in the White House, and I have this office -"
"It's a nice office."
"And technically, you're Toby's assistant, and he does all your paperwork, so -"
"Unless you're still uncomfortable with the whole boss thing, or I could be reading this completely wrong -"
Her hand is still on his chest, and she pops open the top button of his shirt; he stops talking.
"I'm probably not reading this wrong," he says, after a strangled pause. His hand grips tighter on her waist.
"I was kidding about the whole coat room thing, though. Mostly. I mean, I do have this office, and it'd be a shame to let it go to waste -"
"You mean, if you only used it to do your job."
"You could probably get in trouble for that."
"They'd probably start a betting pool on that."
Probably. Ginger wonders if they'd let her enter. "So, when you said this wasn't really a date -"
"I'm very good at lying."
"Really. For example, if someone asked me if I was dating my boss' assistant, I'd say -"
She kisses him, then, leaning forward only slightly to take his bottom lip in between hers. He doesn't hesitate before returning the kiss, pulling her closer, and when they finally break apart, he looks dazed.
"Yes. I'd say yes."
"It's probably a good thing you don't do my paperwork, then."
"It's a very good thing. Mostly because I'm lousy at paperwork."
"That's why you have assistants."
"Is that why? Because I thought, maybe, it was for the other thing -"
She kisses him again, slower this time; he tastes like vodka, and smiles against her lips.
"You should come to my place," he says in a rush. "I mean, if you wanted to, you could come to my place, which, obviously, you don't have to, but it's close, and -"
"Sam," she says, and he looks at her. He's still smiling; nervously, now. "Let's get a cab."
"Yes. Absolutely." He kisses her again, before standing up, and she takes his hand.
Sam is carefully not smiling as he comes out of his office, and she glances up from her desk.
"I need you, for a thing, um, in my office."
He's a terrible liar.
But he doesn't waste a second before shutting the door behind her, and then he's kissing her, his hands on her waist, and she leans into him.
"This is a good office," she mumbles against his lips, and he smiles.
"I told you."
And then she's backed up against his desk, his hand between her thighs, and she stifles a moan against his shoulder. If anyone is outside, there will definitely be a betting pool.
She straightens her hair as she walks out of the office, tossing a line about memos over her shoulder. Toby's waiting outside; she catches his gaze for a moment before looking down, and she could swear he smiles.
"Is Sam -"
"He's working on the thing," she says; maybe she's not a fantastic liar, either. "I was just helping him, with the -"
"Okay, well, can you get me a meeting with Graydon, if you're done? I need to go over some of the wording in the 319 draft with him."
"Yeah?" She hopes she looks innocent; she can't help smiling, just a little.
"Don't ever let Sam do your paperwork, okay?"