Author's Note: I'm posting my other works to FF that never quite made it here. This was posted at B4A and on my website, way back when it was written. That was... 2005.
December 31, 2010 - Edited for section breaks and grammar.
It's been a hell of a week. I got hired on with the Santos campaign, without Josh's knowledge. Then, Josh and I had a very short conversation in which we started to say what needed to be said and then ended up saying nothing about everything that's happened between us in the last few months. Tonight, Congressman Santos delivered a hell of a speech at the Al Smith Dinner, despite coming down on the wrong side of the issue.
Now, I'm exhausted. I have a hotel room and six solid hours before I need to be anywhere. I kick off my shoes and flop haphazardly onto the bed. Aside from the campaign, it's emotionally exhausting to work with someone you long ago fell in love with and then recently discovered could barely stand the sight of you after the perception that you turned traitor. I've been trying to avoid Josh since that practically disastrous conversation.
So, when my cell phone plays his dedicated ring I'm both elated and apprehensive. It takes me half the first run-through of the polyphonic song to decide whether or not to answer. And, now that I've decided to answer it, I actually have to work up the nerve to do it. Okay, one…two… "Josh."
"So, the Congressman did well tonight."
"Uh-huh." This man is a Fulbright scholar?
"I probably would have hit the point about limits a little harder but—"
"Donna." He interrupts me. "I didn't call to talk about Santos, the speech, abortion, the campaign or anything else you're going to try to use as a diversionary tactic."
"Oh." It seems I've caught the bug now, too.
"Come have a drink with me."
"Yes, now." He sounds exasperated.
"Well, there's a charming little lounge just east of the hotel lobby…" Now he's just being sarcastic.
"Okay, Josh. Give me fifteen minutes." I guess it's a yes because he's hung up.
I take a minute to put myself back together. I mean, if he's going to break my heart all over again I want him to at least regret it. My hair has been in a sensible ponytail since about three o'clock. I take it down and shake it out a little. This new cut has a lot more body than the way I used to wear it. The end result is decidedly sexy. I lose my now much wrinkled blouse and sort through my suitcase for the green chenille cardigan I threw in on impulse. I also exchange my sensible, comfortable, logical two-inch-heel sling-back pumps for a killer pair of black stilettos. Sure, they're a little over the top, but I look hot in these shoes. After touching up my make-up I give myself the once over in the full length mirror on the bathroom door. Yeah. I look good. All right, Josh. Eat your heart out.
I know the moment she walks into the lounge. The two guys next to me stop their conversation, fixate on her and then watch her walk the entire length of the room. I want to send the universal signal for, "Back the hell off…she's mine!" but I'm not altogether sure she feels that way about me anymore. As soon as I shake the Neanderthal-like thoughts I'm having, I finally look at her. If it's possible, she's even more beautiful now than she was when she left.
Looking at her right now makes me forget why I never made a play for her in the first place. Right. She used to work for me. Then she didn't work for me and I treated her like shit. Except for that one very perceptive moment where I sort of told her that I missed her. A lot. Everyday. And now, she works for me again.
She's standing here next to me now, looking…nervous. And she's been standing here. I can do this. "Thanks for coming." See? That was nice, civil and polite. Three things I have not been to her in quite some time. But, she broke my heart when she left. Did I deserve it? Absolutely.
"Well, we definitely need to hash this thing out. It looks like we're going to be working together. Again." Her smile looks almost rueful. She sits down next to me and signals to the bartender. "I'd like a dirty martini please, three olives."
"No more whiskey sours?" I ask with a grin. I'm not sure how to talk to her anymore. Every time I try I end up acting like a jackass.
She simply says, "Nope."
The bartender slides her martini across the bar, winks at her, and then moves along when she seems disinterested. Inside, I'm doing back flips because while she smiled at him, she didn't really smile at him.
We sit quietly for a moment. Then, "I never thought it would be this hard to be around you. What happened to us?" She delicately slides an olive off the toothpick and pops it into her mouth.
"You left me." Okay, so I sounded like a petulant child, there, but she got the message.
"Yes, I did." Well. I wasn't expecting that. I expected something along the lines of, "I didn't leave you, I left the job." But, it is what it is, right?
"You were right to leave, I think."
"You never just "think", Joshua. You operate in absolutes. Either you believe I was right to leave or you believe I was wrong to leave. But, you have to choose."
I set aside how it feels to hear her say my name that way. That's too complicated right now. She's gotten so strong. It's amazing what just a few months can do. "You're right. You were right to leave."
"I know." She sips at her drink. "It was a very hard decision. But, I had to make a change. I couldn't be your secretary forever." She has a hard time wrapping both her mind and her mouth around the word "secretary". I wonder why she chose that particular word.
"You were never my secretary, Donna."
"When did you stop loving me?" I'm mentally banging my head on the bar right now. I didn't mean to ask her that. We've never talked about it before. Seven years of dancing and we've managed to never, ever, talk about it. And now, after months of treating her like she's somehow of less consequence to me now, I've decided that the timing was appropriate to ask her a question using a declaration I only suspect to be true.
I'm startled by the question, but not shocked. We've never talked about it, but we've both always known. "I never stopped loving you. But I couldn't do it anymore. Day in, day out. How I felt about my work was affecting how I felt about you. When I realized that I wasn't in love with you anymore I knew it was time to go."
"You never stopped loving me but you realized you weren't in love with me anymore?"
"Please, Donna. If we don't do this now, we're never going to do it." When did he get to be mister in-touch-with-his-feelings? Okay, fine.
"I do love you. I was *in* love with you, for a while. Gaza happened and you were there…it was tragic and perfect all at the same time. Then, when I came back it all started to come apart. We weren't us anymore. We were two separate entities coexisting in the same space. The work wasn't challenging, I wasn't moving up, making progress. I was angry at you; I thought you were holding me back on purpose. That anger stole the love. All I was left with was the remainder. The residual. The feeling of loving someone after being in love with them. It's the difference between wanting to share a laugh with someone and wanting to share a life with them."
Her speech was so impassioned. I have never wanted to kiss her more than I do right now. But now's not a good time. Aside from the fact that we're in a bar, she's just confessed that while she loves me, she doesn't love me like she used to. I've got to say something to her. I've got to tell her how much she meant to me.
"You were so constant. I knew that no matter what I ever did to you, you'd be there." She looks hurt. That's definitely not what I was going for. "It's true that you always hurt the ones you love. We hurt the people we love because we know that they'll always be there. It doesn't matter how much you hurt them because their love is supposed to heal it. But, then you left. You were supposed to fix it, and you left."
"I can't fix something that isn't broken, Josh." She says quietly. "What you felt for me wasn't what I felt for you. We were playing the same game by different rules. In order for your theory to work we would have had to love each other the same way." She takes a deep breath and long sip of her drink. "The way I felt about you was unhealthy." What? "What I felt for you went beyond loving you and being in love with you. It was hero worship. You saved me, time and time again. You gave me a job when I needed one most. Then I left and came back and you let me have my job back. You gave me friendship when I felt like I didn't fit in. When you were sick you needed someone and you let me pretend that you needed me. You came to me when I needed someone. You came before I knew I needed anyone. You are strong, smart and powerful—emotionally, physically and mentally." Another deep breath and another long drink. "What I felt for you was all consuming and it ate me alive."
I was wrong. I have never wanted to kiss her more than I want to at this moment. I have also never had this strong a desire to make love to someone. That speech of hers was more arousing than visual stimulus could ever be.
"You don't know what it's like to feel like that. You'll never know what it was like for me to feel you walk into a room. To know what you were going to say before you said it. To empathize with you so completely that I lost how I felt."
And, as long as we're laying it all on the line here…"You don't know what it's like to want someone so badly that you physically ache for them to touch you. To want them so badly that everything they say or do leaves you in a constant state of arousal. That hearing their name, seeing a picture or smelling their cologne can send a lightening bolt through you. And you don't know what it's like to try to hide as much of that as you can from everyone and know that there's still so much you can't hide that is completely obvious and that no one could possibly understand what it's really all about." I take a deep breath and drain my cocktail. "That's what it was like to be in love with you, Joshua Lyman. And that's why, when it came apart, I had to go."
With that, I stand and walk out on very shaky legs. There's no going back now.
She's likely halfway to her room before I've processed all of that. I have this gaping hole in my chest where my heart is supposed to be and the biggest hard-on I think I've ever had in my life. Is it wrong that I'm aroused by the things she had to say? How can a love like that not be arousing? We need to finish this conversation. I have to tell her how I feel about her. But somehow I think anything I could say would pale in comparison to her impassioned diatribe.
How do I feel about her? And really, how does she feel about me now? She says she still loves me, but that she's not in love with me anymore. That's got to be one of those female distinctions I'd better get a grip on if I have any chance of making this right. And, if she felt that strongly for me before, is it possible for her to trust me enough to lose herself in me that much again? Would she want to lose herself again? Do I want that?
She's right. I've never felt those things she described before. Sadly, not even for her. I do love her. And, if ever I was going to love someone like that, I would bet that it would be and could be only her. I've never had a relationship with a woman that I would call wholly functional. But, the relationship I had with Donna, despite the years of repression, is probably the closest thing to a functional relationship I've ever had. She's definitely the longest relationship I've ever had.
But if I'm going to pursue this I have to be willing to accept the kind of love she described—even if only at a fraction of the original intensity. And what would that feel like if she thought she could share it with me?
I'm barely in my room before I'm sobbing and ripping my clothes off. I need complete and total release. The tears are starting to cleanse my soul, but what I really need is to come. By the time I reach the bed, my sweater and my bra have been hastily discarded, my shoes may or may not have made it into the room, and my slacks are unbuttoned and falling further down my legs with each step I take. I kick them all the way off and fling myself onto the bed. This is not going to be soft and gentle. Still, I'm crying loud, sucking sobs that have me close to hyperventilation. My left hand is pinching and rolling my nipples and my right is buried between my legs furiously frigging my clit. As I approach my orgasm I abandon all thoughts of my breasts. My left hand pumps methodically in and out in a counter rhythm to the hard circles my right hand is crushing on my clit. Thirty seconds more is all it takes before I'm coming hard, sobbing, Josh's name fading on my lips.
She's been gone for twenty minutes now. How long should I give her before I find her and finish this conversation? I know she left because she had to. She was only moments away from crying. I hate that I can do that to her. She deserves so much more than I can give her.
And now it's starting all over. I'm her boss. Again. Lou couldn't leave well enough alone. And I can't fire Donna just so I can have a relationship with her. Do I want to have a relationship with her?
There has always been something between the two of us. Sexual tension, for sure. How can two people walk and talk like we did, banter like we did, and not just know that we'd be perfect in bed? I've had a crush on her ever since the stamp project. I fell in love with her after Rosslyn. She was so strong. An absolute and constant force when my world seemed to be imploding. She made rules in a world that didn't seem to have any. She enforced rules and kept me safe after I was most vulnerable.
But, I'm scared of what having a relationship with Donnatella Moss would mean. I have a feeling that would be that all consuming love she was talking about. Right now I have the boundary lines in my head that help me keep my distance. If I were to allow myself to really look at her, touch her, be touched by her…well, I think that would be a point of no return.
And then, what happens when it falls apart. All my relationships do. I know I'm not an easy man to be with. My work is my life. It's my world. It's the one thing that I've always wanted. It comes first. Every woman in my life has played a distance second to my career. Would Donna? Is what we could have together different than what I've had with other women? If it's not, does she love me enough to not be the most important thing in my life? And doesn't she deserve to be the most important thing in her partner's life?
And then there's the age thing. I'm fourteen years older than she is. When we're working together it doesn't matter. As friends it doesn't matter. But if we were in a relationship…it would matter. I don't like to go the places a woman her age would like to go. And then there's the matter of kids. I don't even know that I want any. I mean, how much of a father could I be spending sixteen hours a day on the hill and another four gearing up for the next? How much of a husband could I be?
Yeah. Donna and I definitely need to talk.
I can't believe that conversation happened. In a way it's good because at least now it's out there. But, how will I ever be able to look at him again? Especially not knowing how he feels. If he felt even a little of what I felt, then maybe this will be okay. But, if I've been misreading signals then I'd better just pack up and go back to my parents now.
Part of me wants to go to him and ask him how he feels. Just so I'll know. But, I think it's a really bad idea to hunt him down when I smell like sex. I think it's probably a bad idea to hunt him down anyway. God, I need a shower. And room service.
When I approach her door, number 426, I'm nervous. I'm not yet sure what I'm going to say. Donna's one of my best friends. I've always been able to talk to her about anything. Now, though, there's this big white elephant in the room because she's bared her soul to me. Don't get me wrong, I'm glad she did. I may go the rest of my life never having someone feel that way about me and it's somehow comforting to know that someone actually can feel that intensely for me.
After another minute or so of collecting myself I finally find the courage to knock on her door.
I hear the knock at the door and I'm expecting my raspberry cheesecake with peach sorbet. But when I pull the door open there's Josh. Somehow he's better than the cheesecake, but I'm fighting slight disappointment. Not to mention horrific embarrassment. "Hi." My best friend and I don't even know what to say to him. "Come on in." I wave him in. He comes into the room like he's always come into my hotel rooms…like he owns the place. He takes off his suit jacket and throws it over the wingback chair next to the small dinette table and flops down on the bed leaning against the headboard. I'm suddenly very aware that I'm wearing on my hotel issue robe and have my hair bound up in a towel. "Um, give me just a sec to change. If room service knocks, would you answer it, please?"
Donnatella Moss is a beautiful woman. She answered the door wearing a robe, her hair up in one of the towel turban things that defy the laws of gravity which no man can pretend to understand, face rosy from her recent shower. She invited me in to her room and habit kicked in. I was settled against the headboard of her bed before I realized that that probably wasn't appropriate anymore. Hell, it probably wasn't all that appropriate when I used to do it. While I'm berating myself for my forwardness, she politely excuses herself to change her clothes. Damn. That could have been interesting.
She's only gone for a minute or two but when she comes out of the bathroom she's just as put together as anyone could expect her to be. In jeans and a T-shirt, wet hair pulled up in one of those claw-clip thingies…she's still a raving beauty. "What are you doing here, Josh?"
"I thought we should finish talking. I…uh…wanted to give you a moment alone, though, before we continued."
"That was kind of you, but I think I've said everything there is to say."
"Maybe, but I haven't." I contemplate her for a moment then pat the space on the bed next to me. "Sit down, we'll talk like we used to." She does sit down next to me. Sits no closer to me nor any farther away than she ever did. I offer her my hand, palm up. She studies it for one heartbeat, then two. Very gently she places her hand atop mine so our fingers align. I relish the connection for a minute and then thread our fingers together. I keep looking at our hands.
"Josh?" She asks quietly.
"I've been thinking a lot about you and me." I can't look at her right now so I keep staring at our joined hands. "You were right before when you said that I didn't know what it was like to feel the way you felt for me. But, I did have…I do have feelings for you. I do love you Donna. And I know you don't think so, but being the most constant thing in my life really is a compliment. I know I'm not an easy man to deal with, but you've always been around. Even when I was at my worst I knew I could count on you to be there.
"I don't know what I want and I'm not sure what I'm ready for. All I know for sure is I can't stand to watch you walk out of my life again. I've been treating you the way I've been treating you because I was hurt. I never really expected you to leave. You were supposed to be my constant, Donna. Don't you understand?"
I hits me like a ton of bricks when he says it. He's used to being left and I was the one person who absolutely stood by him no matter what. I was the one person in the last half dozen years that hadn't somehow left him. And then, I did leave him. And in his frame of thinking, I did it with no warning. Eventually I could probably get him to admit he's at least a little at fault for putting me off for so long when I wanted to talk to him about leaving. But I hardly think now is the time to point that out. He's hurting and he's bearing his soul to me. We needed to do this. We've got seven years of pent up emotions that have been threatening to boil to the surface the entire time.
"And, Donna, I have to admit that this whole thing is throwing me for a loop. Now we're working together again and it's all so complicated."
"It's us, Josh. It's never going to be easy. But I can promise you that I'll never walk out on you like that again."
I have to look into her eyes when she says that to me. I know Donna wouldn't lie, but I need to see the truth in her eyes. I see it there. "I know."
"I don't know what to do now."
"Me either." And I really don't. How do you go back to being friends when you've both admitted deeper feelings? And how do I get back to a point where I can operate in absolutes?