Part 8—

When he had gotten control of himself—much too soon, Donna thought—and they had moved to the sofa, and she was sitting on his lap with his arms around her and his face in her hair, Donna risked the subject again. This time she realized she knew the answer, but she didn't know the details, and she thought he'd be better off talking about it than not. Thirty-two years was much too long to keep something like that bottled up inside you, and she was pretty sure, from his reaction, that he'd never talked about it to anyone before, in spite of all the therapists he'd seen.

"It was because of Joanie, wasn't it, Josh?"

He nodded, his head brushing against her hair; she could feel another shudder pass through his arms and chest, and his breathing hitched. A couple of minutes passed before he could say anything.

"It was just so tied up with her. It had always been her thing; she was always going to be a musician. And it was our thing, together. We used to take turns practicing; I'd sit and listen to her, and she'd listen to me. She'd wanted to be a famous pianist. Then when I got good she changed her mind and decided she was going to be a violinist and a conductor, though she kept up the piano, too. She had this plan—she was going to conduct the New York Philharmonic, and I was going to debut at Carnegie Hall and she would conduct me. She called it The Great Master Plan. I don't suppose either of us would ever have made it that far, but she thought we would. And then . . . I was eleven when she died; she had just turned fifteen. I actually kept on playing for a while after, but then I just couldn't do it any more, and I stopped and told myself I was never going to play again. And I didn't, I really didn't, until this afternoon, when I just—it's so dark, and I get so lonely, and so—so scared, sometimes—and I thought, if I could just touch it again, maybe I could . . . I don't know. I'm sorry." He actually sounded as if he thought he needed to apologize to someone. Donna realized suddenly that it was probably Joanie.

"Josh, what made you decide to stop? I mean, if you kept playing after she died . . ."

He swallowed, hard. It took him a while to answer. "It was something someone said. A teacher, not ours; a judge at a competition I played in."

"What did he say?"

"She. She said—she'd known Joanie, had heard her play not long before— but she didn't know what had happened."

"What did she say, Josh?"

There was a very long pause. Donna waited. When he finally answered, his voice was almost inaudible.

"She said I was going to be better. Than Joanie. That I already was. She said, 'You can beat your sister into the ground, dear.'"

"Oh, Josh. I'm sure she didn't mean—"

"No, of course she didn't mean anything; she didn't know. But I went into the bathroom and threw up. And then I went home and shut the piano and told my parents I wasn't going to play again, and I didn't. I couldn't. I just couldn't."

Later, Donna asked something she'd always wondered about. "Josh, didn't you see anyone after your sister died?"

"What do you mean?" He was thinking seeing as in a date, which didn't make any sense.

"I mean, didn't your parents have you see anyone with some training, get you any help? Your family doctor, the school—usually the first thing they do after a tragedy like that is make sure everyone involved gets counseling, gets help with dealing with their feelings about it."

So they don't dig in and do stupid, self-destructive things like you did, she thought. So they don't give up half of themselves out of some misguided sense of loyalty and guilt. So they don't have nightmares their whole lives. So they don't beat themselves ragged. So their feelings aren't so twisted around they can't let anyone know them too well. So they can tell someone they love that they love them, without whatever fears and demons have been chasing you all your life.

"It was the seventies, Donna, the early seventies. People didn't really do that then. There weren't grief counseling programs on every street corner; trauma was something physical that happened to you, not something inside. Everyone thought seeing a counselor or, God help us, a shrink meant you were weak, or worse. You were supposed to sort things out on your own."

"But I thought Jewish people were more progressive than that. All those Woody Allen movies . . ."

Josh actually laughed. "That's New York. You had to be a New York Jew to be cool about psychotherapy when I was a kid. We lived in Connecticut; we were pretty waspy Jews. I think a couple of people did suggest it to my parents—my mom told me once—but they were afraid they'd give me a mental health record that would ruin my life. They had a point, too; remember what happened to Eagleton, when it came out he'd been treated for depression?"

"Nobody would care now."

"No, not about something like that. But it wasn't now, it was then. My parents did the best for me they could. Their lives had been shot to hell too, remember. It was all any of us could do just to get up in the morning and get through a day."

Donna sat quietly for a while. She'd actually never thought about what the immediate impact of his sister's death must have been on Josh's family; she'd been too busy sorting out its long-term effects on him. She wondered what they had done, in the first days after, the first weeks. How it had changed his father, his mother, the whole dynamics of their family life. How did you go on after something like that? Yet people did. And then, to do it in the context of upper-middle-class suburban seclusion, which allowed you a couple of weeks to have your funeral and mourn, and then expected you to get back in the familiar groove and go on just as before. So you wouldn't disturb anybody else with your feelings. So other families wouldn't have to think too hard about your tragedy and your grief. The wonder wasn't that Josh had ended up as twisted up inside as he had; it was that he wasn't much worse.

They must have been a strong family, she thought, to have ridden it out as well as they had. And he must have been strong—almost frighteningly strong, to be able to leave one talent and passion behind, and find others to drive him forward into such a successful, accomplished life. But she thought she understood a little better the hardness he sometimes showed people, the sarcasm and the mockery that could be almost cruel at times, the pitilessness with which he could go after someone who was getting in his, or the administration's, way. He had had to learn to be hard to do what he'd done, and to do it on his own. Cutting the music out of his life must have been like cutting off his own arm, or leg, but he had had to do it to survive. Or he'd thought he had to. She wondered what he was going to be like, now that he'd let it back in.

oooooo

"Your hair's starting to grow back."

"I know. It itches like hell; it's driving me crazy."

"It's all fuzzy up on top. And here, on your chest, and under your arms—"

"Ouch! Cut it out; that hurts."

"Hurts? You've got to be kidding. Your skin's only a little pink there."

"It's radiation burn, Donna. You're supposed to feel sorry for me; I've been irradiated. It's like having a sunburn under your armpit."

"That's not a burn; it's just a teeny, tiny touch of color."

"It hurts, I tell you."

"You big baby."

"Have you ever had a sunburn under your armpit?"

"Yes, actually, I have."

"You have?"

"I was wearing this bikini, and I wanted to get a tan on my side, so I sunbathed with my arms over my head—"

"With your arms over your head?"

"Well, one arm at a time."

"In a bikini?"

"A very small bikini, Josh. An itsy-bitsy, eeny-weeny—"

"This small? It came down to here?"

"Smaller than that."

"To here?"

"Smal—ooo, what are you doing?"

"Put those arms up over your head. I want to figure out where this bikini went. See, I don't think you could have got sunburned in the same places I am . . ."

oooooo

"Donna?"

"Yes, Josh?"

"Donna—are you wearing something blue?"

"Yes, it's my tank to—Oh, Josh. Oh God, Josh. Can you really—?"

"Yeah. Yeah, I can."

"Oh God, Josh."

"Yeah."

oooooo

"Why is it taking so damn long, C.J.?"

"I don't know, Josh. I keep telling you. Why don't you just go read that briefing paper, and shut up about it for a bit?"

"I've made like a million calls about it."

"I know. Maybe that's why. Maybe they're sitting on it, on purpose, just to pay you back for being such a pain in the ass about it."

"I'm not being a pain in the ass. I'm just asking. I'm just enquiring. I'm just trying to find out why it's taking so damn long."

"And I really don't know. But I can think of possibilities. Maybe someone's sick. Maybe they're on sabbatical. Maybe they have too many classes to want to deal with it. Maybe—"

"Maybe they're all a bunch of incompetent morons who should be fired."

"They're probably tenured."

"That proves it then. They're tenured, they're morons; it's a law, like gravity."

"Honestly, Josh—"

"Haven't you ever noticed? They can be absolute dynamite while they've still got Assistant in front of their title. Then they get tenure, and make Associate, and it starts to decline. By the time they've hit Full, they're morons."

"Is that how it was at Harvard? Or Yale?"

"You bet. All the best teaching was done by graduate students, or new PhD's."

"Yeah, it was like that at Berkeley, too."

"I just wish they'd get on with it. It's been months, for Christ's sake."

"Go read that briefing paper and shut up, mi amor. You've got that thing with McSheffery in half an hour, don't you?"

"God, yes. Is it really 12:30 already? Donna'll kill me."

"Get out of here, then."

"I'm going, I'm going."

"Good. 'Bye."

"But you'll call them again, too?"

"Out of here!"

"You'll call, C.J.?"

"I'll do anything to get you out of here."

"Call, then."

"I'll call."

"I'm gone."

"'Bye."

oooooo

"Your tie's crooked, Josh."

"I need help."

"You're pathetic. You'd think a man your age could tie his own tie straight."

"I can. I just pretend I can't to get you close to me, you know. No, you're not doing it right; you need to be closer. Mmmmm . . ."

"Cut it out, Josh! We're at the office. And I don't want to have to fix my makeup again; we're due in the Rose Garden in fifteen minutes."

"That gives us ten minutes to neck, three for you to fix your makeup, and two to get over to the Rose Garden."

"You're impossible. It takes me at least five minutes to fix my makeup after you've been all over my face. And we're not supposed to be late. Debbie and Margaret seemed to think the world would come to an end if anyone was even a second late."

"You think?"

"Yes, I think. How could you have missed it? I can't imagine why it matters; it's just the assistants' party."

"The Staff Appreciation Tea. In the Rose Garden."

"What's gotten into them this year, anyway? They've never made such a big deal about it before."

"I can't imagine. I really can't imagine."

oooooo

"And so, all of you, I hope you know how very much your work here is appreciated. Without each one of you, and the extraordinary dedication and skill each one of you brings to work every day, none of the legislative accomplishments I've just mentioned could have been accomplished. It's not an exaggeration to say that, without each one of you, there would be no White House. There would be no Presidency. There might be a building—1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, a grand and beautiful building, rich with dignity and history—but it would have no contemporary significance, no meaning in our country or our world today, beyond the aesthetic and the historic. There might be a man living in that building, and he might be called the President of the United States, but he would be nothing but a figurehead, a powerless and empty symbol, who effected no change in our laws and made no difference in our country or our world. For it is only through you and your work, your dedication, and your skill, that I have been able to keep any of the promises I made to this country, when they elected me to this great office and entrusted me with the title I bear. Thank you, each of you, for all you do. I hope you'll keep on doing it—if you all went out on strike, I'd never be able to find another group of people talented enough to fill your shoes, or crazy enough to work the hours you usually do. Especially for the money Congress has deemed fit to pay you.

"In just a minute I'll be setting you free to dig into that wonderful selection of pastries Manuel and his staff have put on that table over there. Yes, Margaret, I saw how longingly you were looking at it while I was talking. But before I do, there's one last piece of business I want to take care of.

"Each of you who works at the assistant level is, in some way, overqualified for the work you do. You all spend part, at least, of your day answering telephones, scheduling appointments, making photocopies, and sometimes forcing your boss to change his—or her—shirt when he or she has been working for forty-eight hours straight and hasn't had time to go home and take a shower. Each of you also does much more than that. You act as a sounding-board for the senior staff member you assist. You research complicated questions. You write reports; you help draft sections of bills or speeches. It's impossible to overstate the value of this part of the work you do, and yet often, in the rush of daily business, it gets overlooked, or seems to.

"I'm glad to say that it's possible to attach a real measure of significance to this work, however. As some of you may know, many of the fine universities in our country have begun to give academic credit for what they call "life experience." Their faculty are willing to accept such work as I've been describing as having equal value with essays and research papers written by a student formally enrolled in a class. If a student has been enrolled in a university, and has accumulated enough credits in the regular way, his or her work in a job like yours can be used to count towards the achievement of an academic degree.

"One of you has recently completed her bachelor's degree in this way. I've asked the president of her university if I might stand in his stead to award her diploma today, and he has graciously agreed. It's apparently very important that I say the right words, so I will now announce that, by the authority invested in me by the faculty and administration of the University of the great state of Wisconsin, I hereby bestow upon Donnatella Moss the degree of bachelor of arts, cum laude. Donna, if you'll just come forward, I can give you this piece of paper that says you are entitled to all the rights and privileges of a baccalaureate. I'm supposed to shake your hand while I do it, but I'm hoping you'll bypass the hand and give me a big hug, instead . . ."

oooooo

"I can't believe it!"

"Calm down, Donna."

"I can't believe it! I can't believe it! I can't believe it!"

"Calm down, Donna. You're squeaking."

"I can't believe you DID that. You actually submitted my notes and reports for life experience credit, so I could get my degree?"

"It was C.J. and Toby who did it, Donna. I think they had quite a bit of help from Carol and Bonnie and Ginger, too. I wasn't able to do much."

"It was your idea, though! Josh—"

"You already had an awful lot of credits. You'd crammed more work into two years than most people do in five."

"How did you do it?"

"Easy—I called the university Registrar."

"And they told you things? They actually divulged my academic record without my permission? They accepted papers without my signature?"

"I charmed them. I made full use of the Lyman charm. Also White House letterhead. I think it was the lure of the letterhead that really did the trick, actually. Your transcripts were here on file anyway, so they didn't have to divulge anything. And I remembered that Margaret's rather good at forging signatures."

"So I got my degree under false pretenses?"

"Only if you refuse to acknowledge the signatures, which might be a little unkind to Margaret. Not to mention the President, who was inordinately pleased to get to award a degree. It seems he's always wanted to."

"He did Zoe's."

"That wasn't enough. It gave him a taste for more."

"Josh?"

"What?"

"What was my major?"

"It says on the diploma; haven't you looked at it yet?"

"About fifty times, but I'm too excited to read anything."

"Political studies. With minors in collecting trivia, talking too fast, philately—OUCH!"

"Josh?"

"Yes, Donna?"

"This is the very nicest thing anyone's ever done for me."

"I didn't do it for you, Donna. Everything that counted, you did yourself."

oooooo

"Congratulations, Donna."

"Oh, thank you, Dr. Bartlet. I still can't quite believe it."

"You earned it, dear. All they did was gather your work together and send it to the right people."

"And forge my signature."

"Shhh! I didn't hear that. I don't want to hear that. Was it Margaret?"

"That's what Josh says."

"I've always suspected her of criminal tendencies. Donna, is there any news about Josh yet?"

"Not yet, Dr. Bartlet. He's going for an exam this week."

"It's been a year, hasn't it?"

"Yes, it has. They say this is an important one to clear; if he's okay now, the odds get better."

"Yes, that's right."

"We still won't be sure."

"After five years, the odds of it recurring are the same as they are for anybody to get it the first time. This is one step towards that."

"I know."

"Try not to worry too much, Donna. He's been doing really well."

"I know. I know he has. It's just—I'm still so scared."

"I know. I understand. But he's made it this far. You know there was a good chance he wouldn't, don't you?"

"Yes. Yes, I know. It's all been so hard for him, Dr. Bartlet."

"Yes, it has. But he's a strong man, Donna, amazingly strong."

"Yes, he is."

"I don't mean just physically."

"No, I know."

"Let us know when you hear. We'll have a party to celebrate, when you get the good news."

oooooo

"Nah, you can't get rid of me that easily."

It was becoming his standard line. They were all gathered in the Residence, for the party Abbey Bartlet had promised. Josh had been hugged and slapped on the back until he was red in the face with embarrassment. He had also eaten three large hamburgers, which Manuel had obligingly burnt for him, and drunk as many beers as Donna would let him. It was nice to have an appetite again.

"Come on, C.J.," the President was saying. "Sing something. Leo's told me you do something called 'The Jackass.'" His eyes were twinkling.

"'The Jackal,' Mr. President?" C.J. answered the twinkle, laughing. "I only lip-sync to that, sir. I don't think you have it in your CD collection."

"Well, sing something else. You sing—I've heard you. Come on, we need some music here. We're celebrating."

"I only sing when I'm drunk, Mr. President."

"You're drunk now, Claudia Jean."

"When I'm drunk and when I have accompaniment, sir. I don't do a cappella, no matter how drunk I am."

"Well, let's get you some accompaniment, then. I have a piano here, a very good piano. The best of pianos. Arthur Rubenstein played on this piano; Vladimir Horowitz played this piano. Don't let that intimidate anyone, though. Come on, who'll do it? We need someone to play the piano so C.J. can sing."

"Not me, sir."

"Don't look at me, sir."

"I don't play. Not a chance."

"I took lessons for a year or two, but—"

"You'll have to look somewhere else, Mr. President. Maybe call the KennedyCenter, ask them to send someone over. I'm sure they'd interrupt a concert if you asked them to."

"Come on, one of you must play. I want to hear C.J. sing."

"Josh plays," Donna said, suddenly. Everyone turned and looked at her, then at Josh, who blushed. He'd managed to keep his extra-curricular skills quiet so far, and he'd been planning to go on keeping them that way. He still felt a little odd about the whole thing.

"Josh? Have you been fooling around on that big Steinway your mother sent you?"

"What have you picked up? 'Chopsticks'? 'Heart and Soul'?"

"Doobie Brothers hits. I'll bet he plays Doobie Brothers."

"Well, if the President can stand it, I can sing to that. Come on, Josh, mi amor, show us what you can do. You can't be much worse than Sam."

Donna pushed him towards the Presidential piano.

"What do you want, Mr. President?" he asked, as he pulled out the bench and sat down. C.J. came over and leaned on the piano beside him.

"What can you do, Josh?" the President asked.

Josh pushed his sleeves up, flexed his fingers, and sat for a minute, thinking. Then he grinned. If he was going to out himself, he might as well have fun doing it.

Slowly, with one finger, and as if he was having trouble finding the notes, he started to pick out a familiar tune. Everyone laughed. C.J. stood up straight, and began to sing. The others joined in.

"Hail to the Chief, we have chosen for the nation.

Hail to the Chief, we salute him, one and all.

Hail to the Chief, as we pledge cooperation,

In proud fulfillment of a great, noble call.

Yours is the aim to make this country grander,

This you will do, that's our strong, firm belief.

Hail to the one we selected as commander,

Hail to the President! Hail to the Chief!"

"Hail to Josh! A noble effort," the President said, as he applauded. He was laughing so hard his eyes were watering.

But Josh didn't get up. Instead he started to play the tune again, this time using the fingers of his right hand properly. After the first line, he brought up his left hand, and started to add an accompaniment, chords and little rippling arpeggios that began very softly, then bit by bit grew louder as he began to work variations on the theme. Simple ones at first, adding a grace note here, a trill there; then more elaborate changes. He varied the rhythm, trying the melody out first as a waltz, then as a polka—which got him a laugh—then in ragtime. He shifted to a minor key, and treated the phrases with rubato, as if they were Chopin. Every time he played it through, he transposed it up a half-note, and played a little more loudly, till the piano was booming. When he figured he'd shown off enough, he started to wind things up with big, dramatic cadences, but he couldn't resist the temptation to do a Dudley Moore-like parody of Beethoven, and carry on from one crashing conclusion to another until his audience was laughing out loud. Finally he just took his hands off the piano in mid-phrase, looked at them, and grinned. The applause was huge. He took it with a mock bow from the piano seat. Then he cocked an eyebrow at C.J., who had been standing staring at him, her mouth open in amazement.

"Now, what was it you wanted, C.J.? Doobie Brothers?"

The party went on for some time.

oooooo

"Donna? Come out here with me."

"It's late, Josh. We've got to get home."

"Come out here."

"You were brilliant tonight, Josh."

"Nah, just having fun. I was ready to kill you when you said I played."

"The President wanted someone to play. You can't just ignore the President."

"I serve at the pleasure of the President. And at the pleasure of Donnatella Moss."

"Josh, what are you doing? Where are we going? We can't wander around the White House grounds at night; the Secret Service will kill us. Literally."

"It's okay, Donna. They know we're here."

"They do?"

"I talked to Ron earlier."

"You talked to Ron? Earlier? About wandering around the White House gardens with me, tonight, in the middle of the night?"

"We're not wandering, Donna. We're moving with purpose. Direction. Intent."

"Intent to do what?"

"You'll see."

"Oh, look Josh. It's beautiful."

"Yes, it is."

"The moon—it's so big tonight. And the roses. I've never seen roses by moonlight, Josh. Look at them."

"No thanks."

"What? Why ever not? They're beautiful."

"I've got something much more beautiful to look at."

"Oh, Josh."

"Oh, Donna. Beautiful Donna, Wonderful Donna, Amazing Donna—"

"Josh—"

"Smart Donna, Talented Donna—"

"Josh—"

"Sweet Donna, Sexy Donna, Darling Donna—"

"Josh, dear—"

"Funny Donna, Silly Donna, Indispensable Donna—"

"Josh, sweetheart—"

"Donna-of-my-heart, Donna-of-my-life—"

"Joshua."

"Donna-of-my-love, all my love, always—"

"Yes, Joshua?"

"I'm stalling, you know. Buying time."

"Yes, Josh dear, I know."

"You know what I'm trying to say?"

"Yes, of course. But I want to hear you say it."

"I do love you. You know that, don't you?"

"Yes, sweetheart. I love you too."

"Will you—do you think you might—do you think you could—ever—want—"

"Want what, Josh?"

"To—Damn it, I didn't think I was going to do this again."

"It's all right, sweetheart. I'm crying too."

"Will you?"

"Yes, dear."

"Really?"

"Yes."

"Marry me?"

"Yes, Josh. Of course I will."

Finis