Author's Note: This story is a sequel to "Buying Time." It was first posted on JDFF in December, 2004. Like "Buying Time," it takes place in an imaginary Season 5, in which Zoey never got kidnapped and none of the Wellsian events of the real Season 5 (or the Sorkinian ones from the end of Season 4) have happened at all.
It comes with a warning for anyone who hasn't read it before: There's a description of a rape in Chapter 6. It occurs in the past, not the present time of the story, and it should be pretty easy to spot coming and skip if you want to, but please be aware that it's there if you decide to read this.
Also, when I first posted this story, one reader was very upset with me because she thought I was making light of sexual violence. I was sorry she felt that way, but not sure what led her to that conclusion, unless it's that I described the characters as laughing "hysterically" shortly after one of them tells the story. I've thought about changing this, but it still feels like the right response to me: hysterical laughter is a pretty common reaction to highly emotional situations, and my using it here absolutely doesn't mean that I or the characters I'm writing about think there's anything funny about rape.
And, finally, a note on the medical situation I've put Josh into: I've often felt uncomfortable about having taken things to such an extreme in this story. The condition I describe is actually a potential side-effect of certain cancer drugs-or it was, at the time I wrote this-but if you don't like melodramatic fic, you'd probably better not read this one.
(On the other hand, the other major plot line in this story, for which I've received quite a few accusations of writing Josh out of character? I'll stand behind that all the way. :-))
That point on the celestial sphere directly opposite the zenith and directly below the observer; the lowest point. The sun is at the nadir at the very middle of the night.
The period of time following chemotherapy when the white blood cell count is at its lowest, and the body's resistance is at its weakest.
An extreme state of adversity; the lowest point in a person's career or fortunes; the time of deepest despair; the darkest moment.
"Why on earth?"
"Yes, it is."
"Enormous. Vast. Hulking."
"All of those things."
"Your living room has just shrunk to half its usual size."
"Yes, it has."
"Why on earth?"
"I mean, it's not as if you played."
"You don't, do you? I've never heard you."
"No, of course I don't."
"No, that's pretty hard to imagine—Josh Lyman, sensitive musician. What on earth was she thinking of?"
"God knows. What is my mother ever thinking of? She's a nut."
"It's true, Donna—don't look at me like that. She's always been a nut. A nice nut, but a nut just the same."
"I like your mother."
"I like her, too. She's still a nut."
"Oh yes, definitely artistic. Vague, dreamy, totally impractical."
"Absolutely charming. Just off in her own little world, part of which includes being convinced that, since I'm her son, I must be artistic too. I had to do drawing lessons after school for years, until the teacher finally told her it was hopeless. I narrowly escaped ballet."
"That bad, huh?"
"What are you going to do with it?"
"I dunno. Leave it there, I guess."
"It takes up that whole end of the room."
"Yeah, it does."
"If you send it back, she'll be upset, won't she?"
"Afraid so. I'm stuck with it."
"What was she thinking of?"
"Pretty good, thanks. Almost too good; he's so restless he's driving himself crazy."
"And you too, huh?"
"Definitely me too."
"I heard he was going to start coming in again? Just for a couple of hours a day?"
"Not for a while yet. He's dying to, but the President and Leo are holding firm."
"Poor Josh. And poor you."
"Yeah. I was thinking, would people like to come over to his place tomorrow night? We could do pizza or Chinese. He'd love to see you all, and it's been a while since we've been able to get everyone together at once."
"Can Josh manage that? The food, I mean."
"He'll be okay as long as there's stuff that's not spicy. He's doing a lot better that way."
"That's terrific. I'll rope in Toby; you check with Will."
"Will you ask Carol, too? And I'll get Charlie, and Zoe if she's free; Josh always likes seeing her. There's going to be a surprise guest, too."
"It wouldn't be a surprise if I told you, would it?"
"No comment, madam Press Secretary."
"If surprises are the order of the evening, can I bring another one along?"
"Wouldn't be a surprise if I told you, would it?—Go on, you can say it."
"No comment, madam Deputy Deputy."
"Tomorrow night then. At Josh's place."
"It's going to be a bit crowded."
"If everyone makes it, yes it is."
"More crowded than that."
"What do you mean?"
"What the hell is that?"
"It's a piano, Tobus. Haven't you ever seen one before? The only instrument that's classified as both string and percussion—"
"I mean, what the hell is it doing in Josh's living room?"
"Maybe we should ask Josh that. Josh! What the hell is that?"
"It's a piano, C.J. Haven't you ever seen one before?"
"She means, what the hell is it doing in your living room, Josh?"
"Ask my mother."
"Yeah, she sent it up from Florida. It came a couple of days ago."
"Why did she do that?"
"I mean, most people associate Florida with other things. Beaches, shells, floppy straw hats. Citrus fruit. If she wanted to send you something from Florida, why didn't she send you a box of oranges or grapefruit?"
"Well, the acid's not too great on my stomach these days, but I don't think she was going for a souvenir of the sunshine state, C.J."
"Josh's mother lives in Florida, C.J. She's not just there for a holiday."
"I thought she lived in Connecticut."
"She moved. A few years ago."
"Well, why would she send you a piano, Josh? They're pretty expensive things to ship, and that one must have cost a fortune."
"It's not as if you play. You don't, do you? I've never heard you."
"No, of course I don't."
"Yeah, I can't really imagine that."
"He's so clumsy."
"And not exactly the sensitive type."
"I do too have soul!"
"Not that kind of soul. A political soul, maybe. A rip-their-throats-out, Republican-hating soul."
"We've all got that."
"Don't forget his Doobie Brothers soul."
"'Old black water, keep on rollin''"—
"Oh God, now you've got him started."
"'Mississippi moon, won't you keep on shiiiii-nin' on me?'"
"Someone shut him up!"
"'I'd like to hear some funky dixie-land—'"
"Shut UP, Josh!"
"'Pretty mama come and'—Ouch! Hey!"
"Doesn't your own mother know what you're like?"
"It's a wise parent knows her own child."
"Don't get all Scriptural on us, Will; Toby will try to take you to temple."
"Josh's mother is artistic."
"She thinks he must be, too."
"Yes, it's sad, really. She must have been so disappointed."
"Yeah, all I ever did was graduate from Harvard and Yale, and work at the White House. Never gave her anything to brag about."
"What are you going to do with it?"
"Leave it there, I guess. What else can I do?"
"Wow. You're willing to live with that? It really dominates the room."
"For a while, anyway, until I can figure out how to get it back to her without hurting her feelings."
"There's the doorbell. Get it, Josh."
"Hey, Josh! How are you? How are you feeling, buddy?"
"I'm fine. A lot better. What are you doing on the East Coast?"
"I had a big meeting in Boston yesterday."
"This is D.C. There's a few hundred miles' difference."
"Same coast, though. And I wanted to see you. I talked to Donna about it yesterday."
"Well, thanks for coming, bro. She's over there, waiting to put lipstick marks all over your face and give you a beer. C.J.'s here, and Toby—hey, everybody, look who's here!—and Charlie and Zoe are coming over later. Your doppleganger's around somewhere-get over here, Will, here's Sam! And—wait a minute, who's this? Danny, what the hell are you doing here?"
"C.J. told me to come. She said Donna said it was okay."
"Donna! What are you doing inviting the press to a private party?"
"DANNY! What are you doing here?"
"You told C.J. he could come."
"I didn't know it would be Danny! C.J., why didn't you tell me Danny was coming?"
"Hey, I thought you guys would be glad to see me."
"Yeah, man, we're glad. We didn't know you were back in town, is all. Guinness, or Sam Adams? Or Toby's brought some Jack, and there's some decent gin."
"I'll take a Guinness, thanks. So how're you doing, Josh?"
"Getting sick of that question."
"Yeah, I'll bet you are. You should stop getting yourself into states that force people to ask it."
"I'll try to keep that in mind."
"Josh, what the hell is that?"
"It's a piano, Danny; haven't you ever seen one before?"
It had been a terrific evening. Sam had ended up playing show tunes, badly, on the big Steinway while C.J. sat on the piano and sang. Both Danny and Toby had spent a lot of time watching her. Carol hadn't been able to make it, but Charlie and Zoe had dropped in, and everyone except Josh had drunk too much of a variety of alcohols, and stuffed themselves on kung pao chicken, moo shu pork, and moo goo gai pan. Josh been able to eat some of the mango chicken, and had allowed himself half a pint of beer; his stomach was doing a lot better than it had been, but he still had to be careful. Now everyone had left except Donna, who was fussing around the kitchen, putting the last of the food away and waiting for the kettle to boil for another cup of coffee for herself. He'd actually tried to help with the cleanup, but Donna had taken one look at his face and pushed him down onto the couch. He was tired enough not to protest very much.
He was struggling to stay awake for her when the doorbell rang. Josh pulled himself to his feet and walked over to open it. "Leo! You've missed the party. Come on in and have some coffee, though; Donna's just getting some."
Leo McGarry looked his deputy over carefully. He wasn't sure he liked what he saw. Josh was looking a lot better than he had a month ago; rest and a better diet—the Bartlets had kept their promise and had arranged for most of Josh's meals to be delivered from the White House kitchen—had definitely had their effect, and he'd put on some weight again, though he was still a lot thinner than he'd been before he got sick. He looked tireder than Leo liked to see, and something about his eyes made the older man think he might be in pain. A headache, maybe; he'd had a long evening. Leo wondered if he should have dropped by so late, but he'd promised Donna he'd make it, and he hadn't wanted to let the opportunity go by. With Leo's crazy schedule and Josh still at home on sick leave, Leo wasn't getting to see his deputy as often as he liked. He still felt terrible about having missed what was happening with Josh, and was feeling a need to check in frequently to make sure he didn't overlook anything else.
It wasn't until he was settled in a chair, sipping the coffee Donna had brought in, that Leo noticed the object that filled the entire end of Josh's living room by the window. "When did you get a piano, Josh?"
"Two days ago. My mother sent it up from Florida."
"It's a nice one."
"Yeah. I think she's really slipped a gear this time."
"Never diss your own mother, Josh. She's worried about you, and she doesn't like your being so far away."
"Yeah, I know, but sending a large, bulky object I can't use that fills up half my apartment? That's definitely a sign of serious gear-slippage."
"What do you mean, you can't use it? You play, don't you?"
"Me? Are you nuts?"
"You used to, didn't you?"
"Gear-slippage, Leo, definite gear-slippage. You want to watch that; you'll end up in a retirement village in West Palm Beach, along with my mother. The next step's a locked ward."
"I'm sure I remember something—"
"Joanie, Leo," Josh said in a quieter voice. "You're thinking of Joanie."
Leo winced; he hadn't meant to remind Josh of his sister. He wished, not for the first time, that he remembered more about Josh's childhood, but he really didn't. He and Noah had been colleagues, business friends who found each other's company congenial. They had seen a lot of each other for a while—had golfed together; dined and talked politics and played bridge at their clubs together; enjoyed a drink together, until Leo's drinking had got out of hand—but he'd only been to the Lymans' house a few times. He remembered a mischievous little boy with a big grin and a mop of reddish-brown hair, and a quiet, pretty girl with a mass of dark curls, a few years older. She'd been talented, he remembered that. Yes, musical; now that he'd been reminded of it, he could just recall her playing for them on the grand piano in the living room—it was probably the same piano, he realized suddenly—and Jenny saying afterwards that that girl was going to be something someday. How sad. He remembered that Josh had tailed his sister everywhere, pestering her for attention, and that she had been surprisingly patient with him, motherly. He had a vague memory of Josh sitting, uncharacteristically quiet, listening while she played for the party. Other than that, nothing he could be sure of; the drink had muddled a lot of his memories from that period, anyway, and then he and Jenny had moved to Chicago and had fallen out of touch with the Lymans, except for cards at Christmas—at the holidays, he corrected himself. He remembered the shock with which they had learned about the Lymans' tragedy, the fire and the pretty, talented girl's death. He hadn't seen Josh again until he was grown up, a young man fresh out of law school, working on the Hill. So much he didn't know.