I wrote this long before I ever had an account here -- hopefully folks here will like to read it, too.
Author's Notes: Thanks to Natalie who was a great beta and sounding board. Of course, MANY thanks to Jessie, Beta and friend extraordinaire; you rock my literary world, hot-stuff. *wink*
The fire warmed her face and she pulled the afghan a little tighter around her shoulders. From her seat on the floor the fire and the afghan kept her toasty while her father's wing back chair, behind her, supported her shoulders.
The snow continued to drift down around the house and she had no doubt that within only a few hours, the entire city would be snowed-in and shutdown.
"So much for Christmas with my folks," she muttered to herself, reaching for the mug of luke-warm cider that sat on the hearth in front of her. It had been hours since she had originally made the cup. Had it not been in front of the fire, it would have been chilled beyond room-temperature.
She had been through the newspaper twice and the Madison Times crossword puzzle had been less than challenging. Bored, she'd made it half way through one of her father's mystery novels when she had given up and begun staring into the fire, unconsciously seeking out peace in the flames' reckless flicker.
She tilted her head back, resting it against the seat of the chair. This was not how she had planned her trip. This was not how she had planned her holiday. Hell, Donna thought, this isn't how I planned my night! I was supposed to be dressed in a beautiful gown, dancing with Josh at Andie's fundraiser. I was supposed to be putting Amy to shame with my stunning new dress- the dress that I returned to fly out here. Damn. Damn this holiday! Damn this week!
The thudding out on the porch caught her attention and her head turned sharply, her eyes casting a wary gaze towards the noise.
What the --? She untangled herself from the blanket and set the mug back down on the hearth and began a cautious creep towards the door.
She put a hand on the heavy old door just as the knock fell from the other side. With a tug, she opened it a crack and peered out.
He was covered from head to toe in snow and had a rolling suitcase, his backpack, laptop, and his carryon all slung around his feet on the large porch.
"Happy Kwanzaa?" he said and she couldn't help but smirk as she opened the door the rest of the way and let him in.
"What are you doing here?" she asked, stopping herself from grabbing his bags and helping him. It was his choice to track her down. His choice to follow her. And it was his choice to bring so much damned stuff! Not her job; not her responsibility.
"My best friend stood me up for our benefit tonight. So I thought I'd track her down and see if she wanted to hang out."
"Maybe she had a reason to stand you up."
"Yeah," he said as he set the backpack and laptop down on the bench in the entryway and then tugged the carryon and suitcase inside, allowing her to shut the door behind him. "She did. She had a good reason- I was an ass."
"Think she'll forgive me?"
"She might. If you brought chocolate and tickets to Hawaii."
"I don't know—this friend is very into the spirit of Christmas and I think she'd prefer to wait till Christmas morning to open her presents."
"Like hell she would," Donna replied, finally allowing herself to smile slightly. "Take your shoes off- you're covered in snow," she said, starting towards the kitchen to fix him a warm drink.
He toed his shoes off and nudged them under the bench as he pealed his jacket off, dumping a bit of snow onto the hard wood floors. He flinched when he shifted and his sock squished into melted snow.
She rounded the corner with a mug in her hand and held it out to him just as he pulled his scarf over his head and hung it on the peg.
He reached out for the mug, wrapping his hands around and stopping in mid motion as his eye caught sight of the liquid. "Coffee?"
"Yeah." She turned and headed back to her spot on the floor.
"You brought me coffee?"
"Do I have cancer?"
"Not that I know of. "
"But you brought me coffee."
"You never bring me coffee unless I'm loosing my job." He finally managed to un-stick his feet from the floor and he wandered through the entrance hall and towards the open living room.
"This is true."
"I don't work for you anymore, Joshua," she said softly, sipping her now-steaming cup of cider, her body again warming in front of the fire.
"Yeah. About that-"
She cut him off before he could continue; "I'm not coming back."
"I know," he said, his voice suddenly sad. He lowered his frame to the floor next to her.
"I'm not, Josh."
"I know," he said again, this time more firmly. He looked up and caught her eye. "I need you, Donna, but… you don't need me anymore and …." He paused. "Sorry- I'm still kinda stuck on you bringing me coffee."
"Don't get too used to the coffee!" She paused. "I do need you, Josh. But I still can't be your assistant for the rest of my life….. Even if I was the Deputy Deputy Chief of Staff."
"That was a good title, you know."
"I know," she said, nodding.
He sipped his drink. "How is it that in our history you've only brought me coffee once but you still know exactly how I like it?"
"I know a lot about you."
"Yeah, you do."
"You know how I like my coffee, don't you?"
"Extra Cream and sugar- so you can hardly taste the coffee."
"But you prefer the new white mocha from Starbucks. With Raspberry."
Donna turned and looked at him thoughtfully. "I only got that one time with you. How did you remember?"
"I remember most everything about us, Donna," he said, watching her out of the corner of his eye. Josh flinched as he heard his own words. "Wow, that was pretty cheesy, wasn't it?"
She chuckled and nodded. "Yeah. But I appreciate the sentiment. And I'm still impressed by your vast knowledge of my coffee preferences."
They sat in companionable silence for a few moments, each lost in their own thoughts.
"Donna?" Josh said cautiously. "Its really quiet in here."
"Yeah. Big farmhouses get like that when they're empty," she said wryly.
"You have a huge family. Where is everyone?"
She sighed and set her mug down on the hearth again before stretching out and reclining back on the floor, propping herself up on her elbows. "At my Grandparent's." Her voice was heavy with resignation.
"Which is where?"
"So they'll be back tonight?" he asked.
"Nope." She sighed. "I didn't know I was going to be able to make it this year, Josh. I didn't have a chance to tell my parents since this," she gestured between the two of them with her hand," was all kind of last minute. I was going to surprise them. I get here and –Surprise!No family!"
"So… We'll go to them! St. Paul is, what, like, 2 hours away?"
She snickered. "More like six."
"I'm awake enough; you can sleep while I drive," he said, draining the last of his coffee out of the cup and moving to stand.
She placed a hand on his leg, stalling his movement. "Josh- there's already a good foot of snow on the roads here, another foot is predicted and the weather in St. Paul is even worse. We'll never make it. My parents flew in just like they do every year; I've already called the airport to try to get a last minute flight. St. Paul is grounded, flights both going and coming: the snow's too thick right now for them to be flying safely."
"Oh," he said, slumping back down on the carpet. "I'm sorry, Donna."
"Wow. That comments a rarity," she said with a small smile.
"Yeah, well, just 'cuz I don't say it doesn't mean … you know. I know I should say it more often- I know I'm an ass. And I know that since I didn't take your lunch-meeting seriously, I now royally screwed up your Christmas. So… I'm sorry."
She turned towards him. "Thank you," she said, her voice very sincere. "I … Really. Thank you, Josh."
He looked down at her and smiled. "So if there are no flights out, and we're snowed in… you're going to have a really crappy Christmas stuck here with me! I don't even do Christmas."
Donna rolled her eyes. "Its ok. The airline lost the bag that had my family's gifts in it. Your presents are at your Brownstone by now, waiting on your doorstep to be stolen, I'm sure. So, I'm batting a thousand."
He sighed. "Sucks to be a Gentile some days, I guess."
She reached over and lightly whapped him upside his head. "Be nice."
"I was!" He chuckled. "So we're really stuck here?"
"How long do these snow storm things usually last out here in Cheeseland?"
"Josh, you're from Connecticut. Don't' pretend like you've never dealt with snow before."
"This is Midwestern snow. Its different."
"Its snow, Josh. It lasts until it melts. I'd say we're going to be stuck here for a few days."
He smirked and leaned back, copying her body position. "Could be worse."
"Yeah. You could be stuck here with Amy."
"That would have been much easier than being stuck here with you," she said with a snicker.
"Definitely!" Donna rolled onto her side and eyed him. "I'd tie her to a chair and stuff her in the basement and have the entire house to myself. Walk around naked, eat junk food, listen to music really loud… it'd be great!"
He frowned. "Give me a second to process the mental image of you wandering around naked….OW!" he said, holding the now-stinging side of his head. Her quick thwack had surprised him. "What?"
"Well put an image like that in my head, what do you expect me to do?"
She rolled her eyes. "Yeah. Amy would have been MUCH easier!"
"Ya know, I never did understand why you two hated each other so much," he commented.
"Yeah- You're my best friend and she was my girlfriend. Why didn't you guys bond over your common fondness of me?"
"I swear- you're the most stupid intelligent man I've ever met," she muttered. "Josh, really. You really don't get why we hated each other?" She processed the blank look on his face and sighed. "She was an absolute bitch to me at the office, Josh. She treated me like your errand boy! You didn't even treat me like your errand boy. She played you when it came to Mrs. Bartlett! She tried to manipulate your relationship to further her political goals! God, not to mention that damned mumbling."
"Yeah, that was kind of annoying," he agreed with a chuckle.
"You still don't get it, do you?" Donna prodded, seeing the somewhat vacant expression on his face.
She sighed. "Ok, let me put this in a way you'll understand. Josh- why do you hate all of my boyfriends? Why did you go out of your way to keep me late at the office when I had a date, or call me in the middle of my dinner plans for something you could have handled on your own? What made you treat Jack like an ass before he screwed me over?"
"Because you're mine! You don't get to spend time with other people!" He blurted.
She nodded. "Yeah. NOW you get it," she said.
"Wow," he paused and cleared his throat. "I didn't realize I was so territorial."
"Well you are. And so am I."
He rested his head back on the floor. "We need therapy."
"No, I mean, it's got to be really unhealthy that I can't share my assistant! I should call Stanley," he reached for his cell phone.
"Don't you dare; its past midnight, Joshua," she reached over and covered his hand with her own only to find him looking at her with a smirk. "Jerk," she muttered as she chuckled.
He shrugged. "I'm sorry I don't like the idea of sharing you with other people. You're mine."
"Yeah, I am," she agreed, ducking her head. "That's why I can't work for you anymore."
"I know you can't work for me anymore, Donnatella," he said softly, his hand twisting inside of hers, his thumb now stroking the soft of her palm. "And I don't want you to. This is your turn; you deserve to do everything you've ever wanted and I want to help. If that means I let you go work for someone else, as much as I hate the thought, that's what it means. I'll struggle and life will definitely suck without you."
"Well you kinda quit and moved to Wisconsin."
"I didn't move to Wisconsin."
She shook her head slightly. "No. I did not."
"So you're still in DC? In the ghetto?"
She snickered. "Its not the ghetto- its eclectic and ethnically diverse. But, yes, still in DC."
"So, maybe we can do lunch once a week so I don't lose you?"
"Lose me?" She smirked. "Josh- I really doubt that we're going to have to have a set lunch planned just to see each other."
He frowned and moved his hand up to cup her cheek. "Donna, I lost sight of what's important when I pushed aside our lunch meeting three times. I don't want that to happen again. You're what's important to me. If I have to cancel baseball game night at Toby's to spend time with you, I will."
"Don't think for one minute I believe that, but none the less, who are you and where is the selfish Josh that I know so well?"
"We're phasing him out and phasing in sensitive and caring Josh. Its this thing we're trying."
She squinted at him. "I'm not sure how I feel about this change. This requires me to learn a whole new Josh."
"Time well spent?" he asked, the slightly rougher texture of his palm contrasting against the smoothness of her face and sending pleasurable chills through them both.
"Yeah, I'd think that any man who flies half way across the country on Christmas Eve to apologize to me for missing our lunch meeting deserves some time outside of the office," she said, barely managing to stifle a yawn.
He grinned and leaned forward, planting a gentle kiss on her forehead. "You need some sleep."
"So do you," she said, reaching up and touching the dark circles under his eyes. "Dad turned the heater off before he left- right now this is the only room really warm enough to sleep in. I'll get the pillows and blankets." She rose from the floor and shuffled off towards the first floor guest-room.
When Donna returned, arms full of pillows and thick blankets, she found that Josh had cleared the living room floor by pushing the large wing-backed chair out of the way. She opened her arms, dumping the pillows and blankets haphazardly onto the floor. "Can you make up your bed? I'm going to throw a few more logs onto the fire for you."
"My bed?" he asked.
"I'm taking the guest room upstairs," she said, stacking three large logs onto the flames.
He frowned as he constructed a pallet with the pillows, comforters and afghans. "You just said this is the only room warm enough."
"I know, but I'll be ok. I'm from Cheeseland, remember? I can deal with Midwestern Snow," she said, mocking his earlier remarks.
Josh rolled his eyes as he reached up and grabbed her hand. "Donnna- don't be ridiculous. Stay down here- be my protector in case any odd Midwestern snow-beasts come try to kill me."
"Snow-beasts? Its really frightening to think that you're helping to run the country," she muttered, acquiescing and stretching down on the blankets, taking the spot furthest from the fire.
Josh flinched. Guess we have to talk about that tomorrow, he thought to himself, sliding down next to her.
Donna sighed. "Josh?"
He turned on his side to face her, "Yeah?"
"Thanks for coming. It means a lot that you'd come all this way just to try to .… I don't know. It means a lot. Thank you."
He smiled, dimples visible. "Thanks for opening the door. And, Donna, honestly? I wouldn't want to be anywhere else right now."
Grinning fully, she leaned down and pulled the blanket tighter around her, rolling onto her side and away from him. "Goodnight, Josh."
"Night, Donnatella." He said, laying behind her. Closing his eyes, his last conscious thought was how nice her hair smelled.