TITLE: Looks Like Nothing's Gonna Change, Everything Still Remains the Same
AUTHOR: Karen T
DISCLAIMERS: Except for Jenn and Matt, they're still not mine. I borrowed the title from the Otis Redding song "Sittin' on the Dock of the Bay." No copyright infringements intended.
SPOILERS: Everything up through Season 2 is fair game. This story is a continuation of my "Jennverse" series. Previous stories in the series are "High Expectations" and "Stormy Monday."
ARCHIVE: I'd be honored. Just let me know where so I can visit.
FEEDBACK: Always appreciated. Please send to firstname.lastname@example.org.
NOTE: Story picks up right where "Stormy Monday" left off.
Josh trudged through the lobby with bloodshot eyes and a headache that was threatening to incapacitate him. Slung over his right shoulder was his old beat-up leather backpack that dated back to his college days. He'd been meaning to replace it (with a newer backpack, that is; not something more 'professional'), but just never seemed to get around to it. He knew he could probably get Donna to pick him out a replacement from one of those Web sites she always denied surfing during work hours, but he just never seemed to get around to asking her to do that for him, either.
A pack rat. That's what his mother called him, and during their more cantankerous arguments, he became a sentimental pack rat in her eyes. He knew he wasn't a pack rat; he simply preferred to get full usage out of everything he owned. And who likes dealing with change? Now his father…there was someone who was a pack rat. If it weren't for his mother, he would've grown up buried under all the knick-knacks and gadgets his father had collected and then refused to discard. And sentimental?! How could anyone accuse him of being sentimental? It wasn't like he was the only one in the world who had his baby blanket carefully tucked away in a plastic storage container on the top shelf in his closet. And it wasn't like he was the only one who—
"Wha?" Josh turned his head to the left and had to blink several times before his eyes were able to focus enough for him to recognize a slightly out of breath Sam walking beside him. "Hey, Sam," he greeted his friend distractedly. "When did you get here?"
"Didn't you hear me calling your name and asking you to wait up?" Sam demanded. "I practically had to sprint down the lobby to catch up with you."
"Oh, sorry. My mind was…somewhere else."
"On the Jenn thing, huh?" Sam sympathized with an understanding nod.
"Uh…" Josh furrowed his forehead and twitched his nose like a bunny as images of rats draped in baby blankets danced in his head, "sure. Let's go with that."
"You get any sleep?"
"I think I passed out between four and five this morning. You?"
"I wish I was that lucky. Toby had me on speed-dial all night. But I think I might have caught a small cat nap."
"Well, it's all kind of…confusing." Sam scratched the side of his head in perplexity. "I remember grinding some coffee beans in my grinder this morning, pouring the grounds and water into my coffee maker, and then turning it on. But then that's it. The next thing I remember is opening my eyes and finding myself still standing in front of my coffee maker. The only difference was that it now contained a full pot of coffee. I think I may have fallen asleep on my feet. Is that weird?"
Josh eyed Sam for a moment before mumbling, "Not any more than anything else that's gone on around here lately."
They continued walking side by side until Josh suddenly reached out and grasped Sam by the shoulders. "Did yesterday really happen?" he asked as a hint of desperation trickled into his voice. "Or was it all just a disturbingly realistic nightmare?"
Sam's eyebrows shot upwards and his mouth fell slightly open in surprise before he recovered enough to say, "Yesterday really happened, Josh."
"Damn." Josh removed his hands from Sam's shoulders and dropped them back down to his sides as he sighed loudly. "So the President really did have an affair and there really is a new Bartlet daughter running around out there?"
Josh and Sam resumed walking in silence until they reached the juncture in the lobby where they needed to go in opposite directions in order to get to their respective offices. "Did we even settle on a game plan?" Josh asked as he began to turn towards 'his' area of the West Wing.
"Yes, definitely," Sam responded, his head bobbing up and down fervently. But the nodding slowly dissipated until a look of doubt overtook his face. "Well…maybe not so definitely. Oh, I don't know. Toby really doesn't like the idea of going with the tried-and-true formula, but I think he's going to let us stick with it."
"Jenn really lit a fire under him, didn't she?" Josh asked with a smile.
They shared a small laugh before Josh's face twisted up into another pained expression. "We'd probably find that a lot more humorous if our asses weren't also on the line, huh?"
"Yeah, probably. I'll see ya."
"Later." Josh watched Sam hurry off towards his office before he whirled around and almost collided into Donna.
"Donna," he gasped as his hand reflexively shot up to his chest. He could feel his heart quicken in pace underneath his now damp hand.
"Sorry," she said cheerily. "Good morning, though."
"Yeah, morning," he muttered. "What are you doing here?"
"I work here, Josh. Maybe if you paid me more, you'd remember that."
Her chipper tone was beginning to grate on his nerves, but he managed to swallow the nasty words that had originated in his head before they escaped through his mouth. "But it's only…seven. You don't usually get in until 7:45."
Donna broke out into a smile, pleased that he'd noticed what time she always came in to work every morning. "Well, since you let me go home early last night, I thought I'd return the favor by coming in early this morning."
"Donna, it was 8:15 when I told you to go home last night. Not many people would consider that early."
"Josh, believe me, getting home at any hour in which sitcoms are still showing on TV means I got to leave work early."
"Okay." Josh maneuvered around her to get into his office.
"Oh, Leo just called," Donna reported as she trailed behind him. "Senior staff's been moved up to 7:30."
Josh stopped mid-stride and grimaced at the news for he knew why the time of the meeting had been changed. "Okay. Thanks."
Donna stood in his doorway and watched him throw his backpack onto his cluttered desk. "Josh, is…is everything okay?" She internally cursed herself for allowing her concern to seep into the tone of her voice. "You just seem…"
Josh stared intently into her blue eyes as his desire to tell her everything that had transpired over the past fourteen hours almost cracked his chest open. He wanted to tell her, he really did. He was sick and tired of being one of only a handful of people who were supposed to keep the President's deep, dark secrets under lock and key. It wasn't fair. It wasn't fair to any of them. "Donna, I," he began to say before his loyalty to the President got the better of him, "I need some coffee. Be a dear, would you, and grab me a cup?"
Donna smirked. "Nice try, Lyman. Don't forget: you've got staff in thirty."
"Yeah, yeah, yeah," he said as he waved her away dismissively and pretended to search through the papers on his desk so that she couldn't see how much it destroyed him to have lied to her once again.