Josh breezed into his office, eyes glued to the latest polling data, and flopped down on his chair with a yawn. It was late--the office was dark, and best he knew, most people had gone home. He rubbed his tired eyes, and, hearing the ghost of Donna's voice (a ghost that visited him often) tell him not to read in the dark, flipped on his desk lamp. He nearly jumped when he saw the real Donna in his desk chair.
"Jesus, are you trying to give me a heart attack?"
She didn't answer for a minute, and he couldn't read the look on her face. She'd been on the Santos campaign for just over two weeks and he was caught in limbo--half the time spent reveling in the way they'd settled back into some semblance of a routine, and the other half getting tiny reminders that everything had profoundly changed. The look on her face fell into the realm of the latter.
"Josh, we need to talk."
She didn't look sad, or angry. She just looked serious. Serious Donna scared the hell out of him.
His tone was noncommittal, his voice less warm than he would have liked. He wished they weren't so distant but he knew much of the blame resided with him.
"Listen...", she sighed, "...I'm glad I'm here. I think I've been doing some really great work, but..."
But what? *Please tell me this woman is not leaving me again.* He tried to keep himself from panicking, but everything he could imagine that could possibly come out of Donna's mouth was not good.
"It's just...we have to grow out of this routine."
He just stared at her, trying to keep his expression neutral, but he knew what she was talking about. How could he not?
"The thing is, Josh..." she continued "...I'm good. And I'm building a reputation--no, a career--of my own. And it's hard enough to do that anywhere. But here--with people thinking I only got this job because of you...it's really important that I build some credibility."
He had heard the titterings among some of the more junior staff, sadly aware of the irony that much of Washington thought he and Donna had been carrying on an affair for years, and that Donna owed the fact that she had practically been a member of the senior staff to sleeping her way to the top. Every time he heard talk that suggested Donna had done anything but earn her place in the campaign, he vehemently and vocally denied it. Donna had more political savvy in her little finger than most of the others had in their whole bodies.
"I agree completely."
His voice sounded distant again. She studied his face, searching for sincerity. He hated these little reminders that they didn't trust each other anymore.
"Then here's what I'm asking. And I need you to be honest if you can't provide it."
Now he studied her, somewhere in between scared to death that he was on her shit list and proud as hell of her for how mature she'd become, and how strong. The Donna of even a few months ago wouldn't have come to him like this.
She nodded, eyes still glued to his, and her expression softened a bit, though he could tell she was still nervous.
"If you really do support me, Josh...I need you to help me show that you and I have a healthy, professional working relationship..."
Like he knew how to do that.
"...and by healthy I mean one in which we can be in the same room together without people looking back and forth between us to figure out why, if we were the Dream Team at the White House we are now so tense that we can hardly even look at each other."
He knew it shouldn't hurt, given his role as a contributor, but it did.
"...I mean, half the time you're taking shots at me in meetings, and the other half the time you're defending me. I just think the staff is confused, and it's becoming a hot topic of speculation."
She was right. He *was* overcompensating--trying too hard to show he wasn't playing favorites but not being able to keep his mouth shut in her defense when she was right.
"I know a lot of...why things are the way they are is my fault. And I'm sure there's a time and a place to work all of it out, but...right now, the best thing we can do for this campaign is to stop people from caring about the Josh and Donna show and get them fully concentrated on Santos."
He didn't say anything for a long time, his mind racing, his heart stalled. Her initial words to him--that they needed to grow out of their routine--echoed in his mind, making him wonder how much of her request had nothing to do with her career, or the Santos campaign.
"I can do that...I can be more...consistent." he said finally, his voice once again colder than he wanted it to be, then after a minute, "Is that it?"
He could tell that wasn't the reaction she wanted. She shook her head almost imperceptibly before letting her eyes fall to the floor.
"This isn't a jab, Josh...", she whispered finally, and let her eyes rise back to his. "I'm done with that. And if you want the truth, I've been trying to figure out how to bury the hatchet with you for months."
He tried to appear calm, but inwardly he was anything but. The only thing that scared him more than serious Donna was direct Donna. His default instinct told him to react as he always did--by denying, deflecting or just plain ignoring. But something in her eyes, and in the air between them, held a certain finality he didn't like. She continued.
"I wish things between us weren't so complicated. I wish things were different. But they're not. So we have to deal with what we've got."
He nodded, speechless, hoping she would stop--hoping he didn't have to hear more about how royally they'd messed up whatever they once had.
"You're right." he said finally. It sounded lame, but it was all he could manage.
He wanted to tell her that he was sorry, that he knew she deserved more, that he did want her to succeed in her career, that he knew things were complicated and he wanted to make peace between them, too. But he couldn't do any of that--not yet. He felt himself getting angry--not with her--but that he couldn't figure out the right thing to say--couldn't figure out what the first step was. They watched each other for a few minutes longer before she stood to leave.
"Thank you." she said, and walked out.
Clad only in a hotel bathrobe, hair still wet from the shower, an exhausted Donna angrily answered the urgent knocking at her door.
"Josh! what the--"
Not waiting for an invitation, he barged in the door of her room, surveying he attire before walking immediately to her closet.
"We're going on a field trip", he announced authoritatively.
He pulled out her sneakers and a pair of jeans. She gaped.
"It's past midnight!" she managed finally.
"Yeah, we'd better get moving," he said, not looking back at her.
He pulled a black fleece vest that hung over the arm of a chair off of it and threw it to her. She caught it reflexively, yet made no other move.
He wasn't looking at her at all--only busily rifling through her stuff, throwing socks, and then a golf shirt her way. She knew she should protest--knew she couldn't swiftly adhere to his commands. But inwardly, she ached to be close to him again, and suspected this was some backwards attempt on his part to achieve that.
"Not until you tell me where we're going at nearly one in the morning." she said finally, her voice taking on its own tone of authority.
His back was to her as the words left her mouth, and he stopped for a moment, not turning toward her. After a moment, he spoke.
"Donna, I know you don't really trust me anymore. But...do you think you can make an exception this time?"
She turned her eyes from him as he turned around to her.
Without looking back up at him she walked into the bathroom with the armful of clothes he'd placed in her arms.
"I'll be in the car." he said just before the door closed.
A few minutes later, she climbed into the black Expedition and found that two coffees and a bag of Dunkin Donuts stood on the middle console. The car smelled wonderful and it reminded her of how many times they'd stopped at Dunkin Donuts on the campaign trail--how Josh drank so much of their hazelnut coffee he'd get the jitters and she'd have to wean him on to half-caf without him knowing.
"Are we there yet?" she asked after about 20 minutes.
The joke fell flat. During Bartlet for America, he'd asked that question so many times, she'd gotten into the habit of wadding paper and throwing it at him at the slightest hint of impatience. After a moment, he actually answered.
"We're about 45 minutes away."
She didn't dare look at him directly. Instead she pretended to stare out the window while studying his image in the reflection. The car rode smoothly and silently beneath them, while the Connecticut countryside whirred past.
Though she tried, through her silence and the pout she'd pasted firmly on her face, to appear that she utterly disapproved of being kidnapped and taken to undisclosed locations, inwardly she felt calm, and secure. She knew it was because she still found comfort in his presence, though she didn't always let herself indulge in the feeling.
At some point, they turned off of the main rural road and down a long dirt road that must've gone for miles. They soon turned onto another dirt road that looked more like a private driveway. Donna saw several yellow signs--hand-hung and nailed to trees--that said "No Trespassing" in the first half mile. Scenes from the movies "Deliverance" and "Texas Chainsaw Massacre" passed through her mind, but she didn't dare voice waht she was sure Josh already knew she was thinking.
Finally, they reached a clearing, and Josh drove off the road entirely, and clean onto a field. The ride became bumpy, but only for several seconds. He stopped abruptly, turned the car off, and looked at her for the first time since she'd gotten in the car.
"This is it."
She turned towards him.
"And "it" would be...where?"
"Not where, what."
"Fine, what is "it"?"
"It is you and me, out in the middle of nowhere, too far away from civilization to walk away from the conversation we need to have."
"And what conversation would that be?"
"The one where we finally stop pretending we're not so mad at each other and just...have it out."
"Come with me."
With that, he abruptly got out of the car and walked toward the trunk. She had no choice but to follow. He popped open the rear window, collapsed down the door, and took a step back. When Donna looked inside she could hardly believe what she saw.
Laying on a blanket were two shovels, two sets of work gloves, and what appeared to be some sort of handaxe.
"You have *GOT* to be kidding me...", she said in disbelief.
"It was your idea."
"Since when are you so literal?"
"I thought about it, and it turns out you were right, so I thought--"
"Jo-osh!! when I said we needed to bury the hatchet, I meant the metaphorical hatchet! I'm not digging a hole in the ground and putting that in there!"
"You're right--the hatchet doesn't get buried until we have a long- overdue talk. And it's not just you that's digging--it's both of us."
He pushed her back away from the car gently--it was the first time he'd touched her in a long time--and, once she was far enough away that the rear door wouldn't hit her, closed it. He turned his back to the car, put the keys in an inner pocket to his jacket, and sat on the back bumper.
"Listen. I'm sorry this isn't exactly...consensual. But we need to
do this. And we're not leaving until we do."
"This isn't fair--you kidnapped me." she protested weakly.
"So get mad at me." he challenged, "It wouldn't be the first time you hated something I did. Scream, and yell, and kick my ass, but whatever you do, do it here, and now. Because you're right, we *canNOT* keep doing this on the Santos campaign."
She shivered a bit, even though it was balmy and humid. The scene was surreal. For the first time in what felt like forever, she and Josh were truly and utterly alone. She doubted they even had cell phone reception.
"You start." she said finally.
"Fine." he agreed.
He broke their gaze and thought for a minute, staring at the ground. For a moment, she wasn't sure whether he would actually speak, and when he did it was blunt, abrupt.
"I'm angry with you for walking out on me when I said I wouldn't hire you."
"I'm angry that you couldn't understand why I couldn't." he
continued, when she didn't respond.
"And why couldn't you? I'm here now, in a role not completely dissimilar to the one you refused to hire me for...why did you hire me now and not then?"
"First of all, I didn't hire you. Lou did. Second, the reasons I listed were real reasons...you were too fresh out of the Vice President's--"
"Bullshit." she interrupted.
"No, that's not bullshit, Donna."
"That's not the whole story", she challenged.
He started to open his mouth, then closed it.
"Good..." she said finally, "...at least you're not lying about that."
They stared at each other, and both knew what she was waiting for.
"Fine." he admitted "...but it's not what you think."
"And what do I think?"
"You think I don't see how good you are. You think I see you as some college dropout who's incapable of playing at my level. You think that I think you're unqualified."
"That is what you think, Josh."
"If I think you're so unqualified, why were you the only assistant in the White House who had the responsibilities you did? How did you end up running meetings on the Hill, and negotiating important pieces of legislation, and working on special projects, and going to G--", he tripped over the word Gaza, and caught his breath for a moment before continuing "...if I thought you were so unqualified, why would I entrust you with so much of my own job? Because, Donna, it *WAS* my ass on the line if you screwed up..."
She was momentarily silenced, seeing the situation differently than she had before.
"Josh...I'm not saying you didn't give me opportunities, or that I'm
not grateful for them because, believe me, I am, but most of the new
responsibility you gave me, I fought for tooth and nail."
"Donna, most of the responsibilities you had were so far out of your job description that it was never just a matter of letting you take on more. You look back and remember how many times I told you no. I look back on it and remember how many times Leo told ME no and I fought for you...Leo who, by the way, without my pushing the issue NEVER would have allowed you to take on the responsibilities you did."
"If it was like that, why didn't you ever just tell me?"
"And add to your inferiority complex? Donna, you're already so terrified that people won't think you're good enough...I would never do anything to give you an excuse to believe it."
"Did you ever consider that I don't give a damn what Leo thinks? That I care a whole hell of a lot more what you think, and that me thinking that you don't have confidence in me is nothing short of devastating?"
By now, both of them had raised their voices. They weren't yelling, but they were close.
"Donna..." he sighed, his voice having softened significantly. He ran his fingers through his hair, "...I know I didn't always say it as often, or as directly as I should've, but...sometimes I did...sometimes I told you how brilliant I think you are. Did you really not get it?"
She sighed, and moved toward him, tentatively sitting next to him on the rear bumper before settling her weight down onto the car.
"I honestly don't know anymore." she admitted, "Sometimes you would
say things that made me think you thought the world of me...and
other times you would say or do something so far in the other
direction...I never really know with you."
"Well...for the record, it's the former."
He didn't say anything more, just looked out into the field and kicked absently at the ground.
"So what else are you angry with me for?" she asked finally, the venom having left her voice.
He looked back up at her and shook his head.
"Your turn." he said simply.
"Fine." she submitted.
She took a shaky breath, shivered again. The night was cloudy, which covered the moon. She looked out into the barely-lit field.
"I'm angry that you kept me in a box."
He looked up sharply at the accusation, waiting for her to meet his eyes, to explain herself. She didn't.
"Donna, we just talked about this.", he said unconvincingly.
"No," she said slowly, with difficulty, "...this is something different."
She finally met his eyes, and in an instant saw that they both knew exactly to what she was referring.
"This goes way beyond telling me what to do as my boss, or even
asking me to do things as your friend. You have always...just...put
me where you wanted me."
"Donna, I've never had you where I wanted you," he replied finally, almost too quietly for her to hear.
"What did you just say?"
"Don't you get it, Donna?"
Now his voice was a whisper.
"...you know me better than anyone. You know how fucked up I am."
She could not speak, and did not dare interrupt wherever he was going with this.
"We're being honest, right?", he continued after a few moments.
"I know this makes me the biggest asshole on earth, but...once I figured out how much I needed you, which took all of a week, I did everything I could to make sure you would never leave me."
The way his voice was shaking had her frozen in her spot. Something in her mind told her to protest--to stop him from continuing down a path that she knew had to be excruciating for him.
"But then..." he failed to muster an ironic chuckle "...then you
left me anyway--twice--so all that assholery turned out to be for
"Josh--", she started. He interrupted her.
"Not that it should make a difference to you, but it wasn't until you left...the second time...that I saw how it was me who pushed you away."
"Maybe that's worse...it was so inherent that I couldn't even see what I was doing."
Donna could neither breathe, nor move, nor speak.
"On the ride over here..." he continued "...I tried to go over in my mind all of the dozens of reasons it's so...hard for me to be normal with you. And some of it is your fault. But most of it is mine. And most of why I can't even look at you half the time anymore is because I'm so ashamed of..."
He couldn't continue, and even though she couldn't see his face in the darkness, she could hear how labored it was for him to breathe, for him to fight the emotion. Donna tried to speak, but found an enormous lump in her own throat. Minutes passed.
"You're right..." she managed finally, "You owed me better...but I
owed you better, too."
"No, Josh. You made your confession, now so will I."
He closed his mouth. She collected herself, her voice shaking not because of her vocal chords but because her whole body had begun to shake.
"I wanted more...more than you could give me...and when I couldn't
get what I wanted, I was the one who pushed. I pushed you so hard,
you had to do some of what you did just to keep me at a safe
distance. Because what I wanted wasn't safe."
"What we wanted," he corrected gently.
"...not for the President, not for--"
She completely blanked on what she was going to say next as soon as what he said registered.
His tired-sounding voice broke her out of her reverie. She didn't even realize she'd gone someplace else for awhile, or how long she'd been gone.
"...I've done everything short of write it in the sky by now. Do you get it?"
she nodded dumbly.
"Do we have to keep telling each other why we're angry?", he asked finally, "...because for me, it pretty much boils down to that."
She shook her head. More minutes passed. Whenever she'd imagined this moment of vindication--the moment when Josh finally admitted that at least some of the time, he'd wanted something more--it had been different. Now she had no idea what to do with what he'd just told her--what they'd just told each other--particularly given the bizarre circumstances. She voiced the question she knew they were both asking themselves.
"So what now?"
"I don't know."
His voice was small, vulnerable.
"I knew tonight would be the night I'd finally come out and...tell
"...but you didn't know it wouldn't solve anything?", she offered helpfully.
"More like I didn't know you'd tell me, too..."
"Tell me what you want, Joshua."
It was the first time in a long, long time she'd addressed him by his full name, and she sensed something in him startle upon hearing it.
"You know what I want."
"Josh...I have no idea what 'us' looks like to you"
"I know exactly what it looks like...I just don't know how to get there. After all this time pretending...how do we just...stop?"
"Maybe we just did."
His head fell, and he exhaled deeply.
"What happens when I screw it up again?" he asks finally "...you know I suck at this."
She sighed, wishing his voice of reason wasn't so reasonable.
"Josh...we don't work in the White House anymore, and I get the
impression Santos couldn't give a damn about either of our personal
lives. In the absence of having to sweep anything under the rug at
this point, neither of us has any excuse to pretend anymore...so to
answer your question, we're both going to have to get used to not
having to hide, and being honest with one another. It's the only
"I want to try, Donna."
They turned to each other, a bevy of emotions passing through their stare despite the darkness.
"So does this mean we just called a truce?" she asked finally.
"I don't know--I've never apologized to anyone before.", he said sheepishly.
She let out a little laugh. She couldn't totally see his face, but she thought maybe he smiled too.
The night before, they'd done what he set out to do. Though their conversation ended prematurely, he'd followed through on making them work together to dig the hole and (symbolically, at least) lay their animosities to rest. They'd dug diligently, and silently (having said quite enough to one another earlier), until a small but deep hole wide enough to lay the hatchet flat inside was complete.
"I think we should put it in together", she said once they had the hole dug and were staring into the rear cabin of the car at the hatchet.
He just nodded. And with that, they picked it up, she with her right hand and he with his left, and, arms touching, the most that either of them had touched one another in ages, walked the hatchet slowly to the hole, and knelt in tandem. Kneeling deeper, their shoulders, then foreheads touched as they placed it into the ground. At the moments their arms emerged from the hole, some clouds that had been covering the moon parted, and for the few minutes it took them to stand and silently shovel the loose dirt back into the hole, they were in full view of one another.
Josh surprised her by taking off one of his gloves before they were finished refilling the hole and pulling a packet of seeds from his jacket pocket. He opened the packet and sprinkled the seeds on their soil before allowing them to shovel the final bit of soil into their hole.
"What are you planting, Joshua?"
When he looked at her, he was almost smiling.
"One day you'll find out, Donnatella."
Despite all that had been said the night before, the next morning, Josh still held the same fear that things couldn't change overnight-- that the excruciating tension might have dissipated slightly, but in reality would have barely been moved. He walked into headquarters, trying to act natural, pretending not to be scanning the room for her, even though he was. He finally spotted the back of her--she was standing in the door of one of the conference rooms, leaning against the frame, Starbuck's cup in her hand. She was talking to whoever was inside and she definitely did not notice him. He didn't know whether to be disappointed or glad.
Walking into his office, he closed the door, needing a moment to collect himself. A mere 25 seconds of trying to manage his nerves had proven too much and he found that he needed to regroup. He set his bag down, and walked toward his desk, flopping down in his chair and putting his head in his hands. It wasn't until he smoothed his hair back and opened his eyes some moments later that he saw what was sitting on the desk.
Pinned under a large cup of something from Starbuck's was a note written on her pale green stationery and in her unmistakable hand (both of which he recognized immediately). A smile took root on his face and widened magnificently as it dawned on him what she'd done. He remembered back to a conversation they'd had that must have been five or six years before...
No answer. He swiveled around in his chair so that he faced the door. Maybe shouting in her direction would work better.
Still no answer. He got up and took a step toward the door. When he looked outside, he saw her clicking away at her computer.
She didn't look up.
"You know, Josh, it's pretty backwards that you start yelling louder the closer to me you get. You think it'd be the other way around."
His jaw dropped.
"Donna?! Am I invisible, here? Being that I'm your boss, it's probably best if you answer when I call."
Finally, she looked up at him.
"Under normal circumstances, with normal bosses, yes. But now, with
"Josh, I know what you wanted, and I also know that my answer was going to be not a chance, so I figured I'd save both of us the trouble of having the actual conversation and just ignore you."
He was dumbfounded. What the hell could she be talking about?
"You have no idea what I was going to ask--that's impossible--"
"You were going to ask for coffee."
Josh shut his mouth, silenced by another reminder of her eerie ability to read his mind.
"...and since you know about my no coffee policy, it seemed pointless to answer."
He still didn't say anything--he knew he couldn't admit she was right, but he feared that if he pushed it, she would do even more of her sorcery on him. She continued typing, but when he didn't leave after a minute, she stopped again, sighed heavily, and looked up at him.
"You're in my light." she said in a tone that said 'take a hint and leave'.
How did she do this to him, he wondered? How did she maintain complete control at all times? How did she manage to control a control freak? He couldn't just bend over and take this!!!
"One day, Donna...", he growled finally, in a warning tone, "...one
day, you will not only bring me coffee--you will bring me a Venti
double half-caf whole milk caramel macchiato--and you will like it!"
"Josh, I doubt you even know what that is--you would never go for half-caf. Tell the truth--did you hear that on TV?"
"One day, Donna..."
And with that he stormed back into his office. Just before the door slammed shut behind him, he heard her retort.
"Don't hold your breath!"
Now, sitting in his office on the Santos campaign, staring at the starbuck's cup with multiple "x"s in the little boxes indicating special instructions, he was 100% sure that the beverage awaiting him was indeed a Venti double half-caf whole milk caramel macchiato. He picked up the cup, took a sip of the warm, sweet coffee, and slid the note off of the table.
What better way to start your day than with a steaming cup of olive
branch? Consider this mine. Thanks for yours.