Donna was halfway through a meeting with NOW when Ella appeared in her doorway, looking spooked. There was very little that rattled Ella Hartstone and Donna sat up straight at the sight of her nervous face.
“I just got a call from Josh’s office,” Ella said, eyes darting between Donna and the two women sitting in the snug chairs in her office. “Ah, he’s on his way over and needs to see you…urgently.”
“Urgently?” She kept it calm on the outside, but inwardly she was expecting anything from World War III down.
Ella’s eyes widened in a look that suggested it was personal. “Uh, Margaret said I might want to duck.”
A wave of irritation brought an embarrassed flush to Donna’s face. They never brought personal stuff to work, it was the golden rule; no work at home, no home at work. Whatever this was about, it had no place in her office.
She offered a smile to her guests, one she hoped conveyed professional authority. “When he gets here, Ella, could you tell him I’ll come see him as soon as my meeting’s over. Tell him three o’clock.”
“I should tell the Chief of Staff to leave?”
“I’m sure Josh has better things to do than wait outside my office,” Donna pointed out, deliberately turning her attention back to the meeting. But her concentration was shot; part of her was wondering if he was okay – if something had happened to him – the other part was afraid he was going to create a typical Josh Lyman scene in the middle of her office, undermining her authority with the National Organization of Women and—
There was a noise outside. She could hear Ella talking, her pitch and speed rising until…
“Donna!” Josh flung the door open, stopping at the threshold when he saw she wasn’t alone. Ella hovered apologetically behind him, but Donna couldn’t blame her for having let him past. No one – not even she – could stop Josh when he had that look on his face. He was breathing hard, she could see his chest rising and falling, but he was pale as death. And furious.
Carefully, Donna rose to her feet. “Do you need something?”
He glared, jaw working as if he were chewing a wasp, but said nothing. He didn’t leave though, just stood there as immovable as stone and waited for her to clear the room.
Still seated, the two representatives from NOW were studiously avoiding noticing anything; Donna felt their embarrassment as keenly as her own. She was tempted to tell him to wait outside, but this wasn’t the time – and definitely not the place – for a confrontation. As usual, where Josh was concerned, hers was the role of conciliator. “Marion? Gail? Maybe we could reconvene in five minutes? Ella can get you some coffee…”
They all but fled and Josh slammed the door behind them so hard that the pictures practically jumped off the wall. Donna started at the sound, which only fuelled her irritation. “What are you doing?” she hissed.
“Okay, let’s make a list,” Josh began, starting to pace, “all the things you don’t do as Chief of Staff to the First Lady. Number one—”
“Josh, what on Earth…?”
“Number one! We don’t – ever – put ourselves center stage.”
“Number two, we don’t talk to the First Lady about the petty squabble we had with our boyfriend. Number three…”
She had no idea, absolutely none. “What are you talking about, Josh? I never talk to Mrs. Santos about—”
He whirled on her. “Do I look stupid?”
He didn’t; he looked livid. “Josh, just tell me what—”
“You mean three.”
“You’d only reached number three.”
He stared. There was no humor there, none at all, and that unnerved her because humor was Josh’s lifeline – it was his self defense and his sharpest weapon. Without it he looked lifeless, his eyes… She’d seen them look like that before, dull and devoid of the twinkle she’d fallen in love with. That had been a bad time, though, a hard time. And she saw it again now, a deep-seated misery beneath the anger which, despite his incalculable ability to be a jackass, twisted at her heart.
She took a step toward him. “Josh…”
“You don’t ever go over my head to the President, Donna. Not ever.”
Stopped in her tracks, she just stared. “Josh, I have no idea what you think I’ve done, but your mind is obviously addled because I’d never dream of doing anything like that. You know I wouldn’t.”
His lips curled in a disbelieving smirk. “What I know is that I just had the President of the United States – who, I think it’s safe to say, has more weighty matters to consider – advising me to let you go play Peacemaker Barbie!”
For a moment the world stopped turning. Or perhaps the veil fell from her eyes. Or maybe she felt a metaphorical bucket of cold water hit her in the face. One of the clichés would suffice. The odd thing was, she wasn’t sure if it was the Peacemaker Barbie comment, or the fact that he thought she needed his permission that hurt the most. Both told her exactly how he felt, and in a dizzying moment it took her back to those months after Gaza, and to all the years before that, where every affectionate gesture had been book-ended by a dismissive, thoughtless comment.
It made her want to cry – and then it made her want to hurt him right back. Lifting her chin, she said, “Okay. I assume you’re talking about Colin’s peace and reconciliation project, so let’s get some facts straight. One, Mrs. Santos asked what you thought of the idea, and I told her. Two, I did not – nor would I ever – ask her to involve the President. Three…” She let it hang and waited for his furious gaze to meet hers. “Three, I phoned Colin this morning and told him I’d be happy to be involved. ‘Peacemaker Barbie’ or not, Josh, I don’t need your permission to do this. And I wasn’t asking for it. All I wanted was your support, which in hindsight was naïve because when have I ever had that?”
“Oh, I don’t know,” he shot back angrily. “How about when you perjured yourself in front of the Congressional Committee? Or when you turned up in my office with no money and no job, and then quit, and then expected me to take you back again? Or when you almost threw away your entire career to protect your lousy, loudmouth boyfriend? Or when—”
“Lower your voice!” she snapped, glancing at Mrs. Santos’s door.
“I’ve always been there for you, Donna. But not in this. Not this.”
“Why not? I don’t see why—”
“Because I can’t!”
Silence rang as loud as a slamming door. All she could hear was his breathing, more ragged than it should be, and her own blood pumping angrily through her ears. She wanted to reach out and touch him because he looked so wounded and alone, but she wanted to slap him too and yell that he still didn’t respect her. After everything she’d done to prove herself – everything they’d shared over the past year – he could call her Peacemaker Barbie? Is that what he really thought? And did it end there? What about Chief of Staff Barbie? Or Girlfriend Barbie? Is that how he saw her?
At that moment, she loathed him – almost as much as she loved him. And wasn’t that the most exquisite of agonies? She tried to work words into her mouth, to call him on it, but the pain in her chest seemed to be constricting her throat and before she had time to formulate a sentence he said,
“I have to go. I have a…thing.”
“So that’s it? You come here, humiliate and insult me in front of my staff, then leave?”
“I didn’t… That’s not what I did.” He shook his head, suddenly distracted. “We’ll talk about it later. At home.”
“There’s nothing to talk about, Josh. I’m getting involved with Colin’s project whether you like it or not.”
He pressed his lips together, still angry. “Okay. Whatever.”
“And I didn’t ask Mrs. Santos to take it to the President.”
“Yeah, okay.” He blew out a slow, too-controlled breath. “I really have to go, I’m late.”
He glanced at her once before he turned to leave. “See you at home?”
She hesitated a fraction before she said, “I’ll be late.” Truth was, she’d arranged to meet Colin after work and didn’t feel like sharing that fact with Josh.
Nonetheless, he fixed her with a look that said he’d picked up the hesitation and guessed what it meant. Donna lifted her chin, refusing to back down, and eventually he dropped her gaze and nodded. Then he was gone, the door wide open in his wake, leaving Donna staring at his retreating back as he stalked toward the west wing. He was angry, but Donna had no regrets; if anyone was the victim here it was her, and she wasn’t going to let Josh’s hypersensitive political radar silence her. For the first time since the explosion Donna felt as if something positive might come out of the whole nightmare.
And Josh would just have to live with that.
He sat slumped on the sofa today, arms folded and head turned to gaze out the window. Usually he sat on the edge of the couch, leaning forward, at once on tenterhooks and determined to dominate the room. His confidence was daunting, born of a brilliant mind and early, sustained success, but today Alisa was seeing another side of Joshua Lyman. This was the side she rarely glimpsed, despite the fact it was the reason he was here in the first place. This was the side of himself that Josh didn’t understand at all, the side that caused him the most trouble. A side, Alisa suspected, whose voice was growing louder with every passing year.
“I’m curious,” Alisa said, watching him stare out the window, “why it bothers you so much that Donna wants to be involved with this project.”
A dark smile slipped onto his face. “You… I don’t mean to be rude, but you probably wouldn’t understand. It’s politics.”
“Why don’t you explain it to me?”
He glanced at her briefly. “It’s— There’s a code. We serve at the pleasure of the President. We don’t glorify ourselves.”
Alisa nodded. “So you feel that by taking part in this exhibition, Donna’s elevating herself in the public eye?”
“Yeah,” he agreed, although he was gazing out the window again and not meeting her eye. “The Press will be all over it – all over the photos, they’ll be everywhere again. On TV, in the papers. I don’t see the point in going through all that again.”
“There was a lot of TV coverage when the attack first took place. In fact, didn’t you hear about it on TV?”
A frown flickered across his face. “Yeah. In the office. CJ told me there’d been an explosion, but she didn’t have more than the press so we just—” He stopped, jaw clamping shut.
“You saw it unfolding on television,” Alisa said gently. “And now, in a way, Donna’s going to put you through that again.”
“Not just me,” he said quietly. “I mean, there’s her parents. Her sister… It’s just— I don’t know why she’d want to…do that.”
“Have you asked her?”
He barked a sharp laugh. “She thinks… Colin Ayres, he— He’s sold her a bill of goods. She seriously thinks that plastering a three foot image of herself bleeding to death across some gallery is going to bring peace to the middle east! She’s— Donna’s very trusting. She likes people too much, she believes the crap they tell her.”
“So self-promotion isn’t her objective then?”
“God no,” he laughed. “Donna? No, it’s Ayres. He’s the self-promoter, but Donna doesn’t see that, of course. Mr. Perfect can’t do anything wrong.”
Alisa considered that a moment. “I, uh, I’m not sure you’ve told me how Donna came to know Colin.”
The arms grew tighter, jaw clenched. “They… I don’t know. They had some kind of thing while she was in Gaza.”
“A romantic thing?”
He snorted. “She was there less than two weeks. How romantic could it be?”
“And this was before you and Donna became involved?”
“Yeah,” he nodded. Then frowned, “No, not— It was complicated.”
“So her relationship—”
“Okay,” Alisa smiled. “Her involvement with Colin bothered you? You felt betrayed in some way, even if your relationship with Donna was still platonic.”
“No.” The denial was instant, and even Josh winced. “I don’t know, maybe. Not at the time, I wouldn’t have thought about it like that at the time, but I guess in retrospect… Yeah, I hated his breathing guts.”
“And now he’s back and Donna’s involved with him again, albeit in a professional sense.”
“And so here’s Donna bringing back a lot of bad memories for you, Josh. Colin, the photographs he took and, I sense, a feeling of powerlessness over the situation. When it happened you were thousands of miles away, watching on TV. There was nothing you could do. That must have been very difficult.”
“And Colin was there.”
“Yes, he was there and you weren’t and now he’s got those photographs and, in a way, he’s using them to take Donna back there. Without you. And you can’t stop her.”
Josh was silent, taking it all in. After a long pause he said, “I’m not using the political fallout as an excuse, if that’s what you think.”
Alisa shrugged. “I wouldn’t say that. But I guess I’m wondering what would happen if you said to Donna something like, ‘look, your involvement with this project is bringing up some difficult feelings for me. Can we talk about what happened around the explosion? About your relationship with Colin and how that fitted into our relationship at the time’.”
“What would happen if I said that?” Josh asked, eyebrows rising. “Do you mean before or after Donna stopped laughing?”
“I don’t… I’d never say anything like that.”
Alisa smiled. “Communication, Josh. It’s as important in a relationship as it is in the White House press room.”
“We communicate.” He was defensive now, legs crossed, arms crossed, body half turned away from her. “It would just irritate her if I said something like that. She doesn’t like to feel like she has to— She doesn’t like feeling like she has to look after me. And I don’t want her to! I don’t want her to feel like I’m getting in the way.”
Well this was interesting, and typically only arising five minutes before the end of his session. It was too important to drop however, so Alisa pressed on. “That seems unusual to me, Josh.”
He glanced up, dark eyes slightly accusatory. “What does?”
“That Donna doesn’t like taking care of you. I mean… Isn’t that what love relationships are all about? Taking care of each other?”
“Maybe, if this was an episode of ‘I love Lucy’. Donna doesn’t stay home worrying about my day.”
Alisa sat back in her chair and cocked her head. “I didn’t for a minute think that she did, Josh. But what I don’t understand is… Well, let me be blunt for a moment. If your relationship isn’t about taking care of each other, what is it about?”
He thought about that for a good long while. Eventually he shrugged. “I don’t know. We’re…partners, I guess. A team. We work best when we’re together.” He shifted around to face her. “I don’t mean ‘work’ work, I just mean that life is easier when we’re together. But I don’t expect Donna to take care of me. That was her job for seven years, she doesn’t want to do it anymore.” He gave a soft, self-deprecating laugh. “I don’t blame her.”
It sounded very sad, Alisa thought. Empty. And she wasn’t sure she entirely believed the picture he was painting. “I’m going to go out on a limb here, Josh,” she said, “and guess that this isn’t something you and Donna have discussed.”
A brief flicker of triumph lit his face. “It is, actually.”
Okay, so she was surprised. “You’ve discussed Donna not wanting to take care of you?”
“Yeah. Well, it was more her telling me that she found it irritating, but I think she got her point across.”
Alisa took a deep breath. “I see. When did this happen?”
“Couple of years ago.”
“But after you were involved romantically?”
His eyes shifted away. “No. No it was before that, before she… Before she left.”
“Before she quit her job?”
“Right before she quit her job?”
Alisa couldn’t help the sigh that drifted past her lips. “Josh…”
“Have you considered that, maybe, what Donna said only reflected her feelings toward her job – and, perhaps, toward you in the role of her boss?”
He shrugged. “She pretty much hated working for me, that’s true.”
“Hated?” That didn’t sound right, either. “From what you’ve told me, Josh, your relationship with Donna started while you were working together. How could she have hated—”
“You’d have to ask her!” he exclaimed, the words riding on the crest of a humorless laugh. “But she tells everyone how much she hated it. She doesn’t even— She deliberately avoids walking past the desk she used to work at, says it brings back bad memories or something.”
Alisa frowned and struggled not to judge Donna in absentia. “What about you?” she asked quietly. “How do you remember that time?”
A smile touched his face, the first genuine one she’d seen since he arrived. “It was…incredibly exciting. Backbreaking. Frustrating. I loved all of it – almost all of it.”
“And Donna? How do you remember her?”
The smile wilted. “She was— It’s like when you see a great movie by yourself – you know it’s a great movie, you enjoy it and appreciate it, but when you go and see it with a friend… It’s incomparably better. That’s what she did, she just turned everything into a joy.” He laughed, melancholy as sunset. “I told her that once. Well, not told. But I wrote a note in a book I gave her one Christmas. Donna’s a joy bringer, she made everyday a good day.”
He shook his head, the smile sliding away. “It’s different now, it’s more complicated.”
“Does she still make everyday a good day?”
Josh didn’t answer, just looked down at where his hands sat motionless in his lap.
“What I’m hearing, Josh, is that Donna took care of you for a long time. And that you valued her a great deal for that. But then Donna got frustrated – both professionally and personally. She wanted to move on and the ‘taking care’ aspect of her job came to represent the fundamental inequality in your relationship – again, both personal and professional. So it became grudging, it became a source of tension. And now, I sense, you’re afraid that if you ask her to consider your feelings – to take care of you – the tension will return. And I think you’re afraid that, maybe, she’ll leave you again.”
His jaw worked, lips pressing together and then moving in silent denial. Both eyes closed and he sank his head back against the couch. “Maybe,” he said, in little more than a whisper. “Maybe that’s it.”
Alisa let the silence ride, let Josh live with the idea for a moment. Then, “I think, if you expressed some of this to Donna, you might be surprised by her reaction.”
Josh shook his head. “I’m not going to hold her back.”
“It’s not about holding her back, Josh. You don’t have to make any demands, just tell her how this project makes you feel.”
“But it’s implicit, isn’t it?” He opened his eyes again and fixed her with a sharp look. “If I tell her how the very idea of Colin Ayres taking those pictures makes me sick – if I tell her that I never want anyone to see them – then I’m asking her to choose between my feelings and her own. She wants to do this project with him. I know she does. I’m not going to make her choose between what I want and what she wants.”
“It’s not a choice, Josh. You’re just telling her how you feel. You have that right.”
He shook his head. “I doubt she’d see it that way – she’d feel manipulated.”
“Do you know that, Josh? Have you asked her?”
“I— You don’t understand. There’s history and she—” His jaw snapped shut and a smile spread across his lips; the mask falling into place. “We’ve run over.”
“Just a little.”
“I have to go now, I’ve got meetings all afternoon.”
“Okay,” Alisa agreed. “Will I see you next week?”
He gave her an odd look. “It’s Christmas next week.”
“Yes, and Donna will be away.”
Another frown as he rose to his feet. “Yeah.”
Alisa remained seated, but smiled up at his hurting face. “I’ll be around if you need an ear, Josh. Christmas is difficult for a lot people, for a lot of reasons. And you know it is for you.”
Again the half-mocking, half self-deprecating smile. “Okay. Thanks.”
“Be well, Josh,” Alisa said as he turned toward the door. “And try the talking thing. You might be surprised.”
He just smiled, nodded once, and was gone.
It was a cold night, and damp with it; a penetrating cold that seeps through the heaviest coat and right into your bones. Even the festive Christmas lights on the White House lawn couldn’t warm Donna as she hurried through the gate and out onto Pennsylvania Avenue. Despite the cold, tourists still took photos and a hardy band of carolers sang their hearts out into the unforgiving night.
It was strange, but Donna wasn’t in the mood for Christmas this year. Probably because she was so busy, she reasoned. The five days she’d be spending with her family was a sizable chunk out of her schedule and without Josh…
She sighed, a plume of white condensing in the freezing air. Sometimes she thought he used his Judaism as nothing more than an excuse to avoid spending time with her family; the Lymans of Westport certainly had little in common with the Mosses of Madison. Perhaps the thought was unworthy of her, but after his performance this afternoon Donna wasn’t in a forgiving mood. He could be so damn superior! Peacemaker Barbie… She couldn’t get his words out of her head, or—
“Donna?” The nasal tone cut through the city noise and grated on Donna’s frazzled nerves.
Her feet slowed, despite her urge to keep walking; politeness got the better of her and she turned around. “Hey.”
Amy Gardner smiled as she sauntered toward her, apparently oblivious to the cold. “I thought it was you.”
“Just heading out to a meeting at the Radisson,” Donna said, hoping she’d take the hint. “You heading home?”
Amy shook her head. “Drinks with Senator McKenzie.”
“All part of the job,” she smiled. “Listen, you want to share a cab? I’m heading your way.”
“Great!” Donna’s grin was so fixed it felt like plastic; a Barbie smile if ever there was one.
It didn’t take long to hail a cab and pretty soon they were sitting in the congested DC traffic watching their breath steam up the windows. Donna peeled off her gloves, loosened her scarf and scrabbled through her mind for idle conversation. She needn’t have bothered trying.
“So,” Amy began, watching her with that predatory gaze of hers, “how’s Josh?”
For a moment Donna was at a loss. This was something they’d never discussed. At least, not since that humiliating night four years ago when Amy had called her on her feelings for him. Donna refused be feel awkward now, refused to feel triumphant either; they were all grown ups. “He’s good. Over worked, but who isn’t? Anyway, you know that. You probably see him more than I do.”
“I guess I do,” Amy agreed with a smile that might have been sly, although Donna didn’t trust her own judgment on that.
“I didn’t mean—” Donna smiled coolly. “I mean you see him a lot, so I was just wondering why you asked.”
Amy shrugged. “I don’t know, he’s seemed a little off his game the past few weeks. I just wondered if everything was okay.”
She wanted to tell her it was none of her damn business, but at the same time she couldn’t stem a swell of concern. “How do you mean, off his game?”
“Tired, irritable. He’s missed a couple of things. I mean, it’s okay, I’ve caught them. But Josh never misses things, does he? Not in legislative affairs.”
“He’s got a lot on his plate, Amy. And he used to miss stuff all the time.” She smiled. “What do you think I was doing for seven years?”
There was a pause, as if Amy was considering what to say next. Whatever it was she seemed to dismiss it because she looked away, out the front windscreen. “Okay. I just thought I’d mention it. He seemed really down this morning, I thought you might know why.”
Donna bristled. “I’m sure he’d have told you if he wanted you to know.”
Amy smiled at that, still gazing out the window. “Talking was never our forte, Donna.”
“No,” she agreed. “It wasn’t.”
“I was fond of him though,” Amy said quietly. “Still am, I guess.”
Was this some kind of warning? Some kind of declaration of intent? She turned her head to watch Amy who was still staring pensively through the window. Her face was closed, her dark eyes unreadable, and Donna wondered if that’s how she’d looked herself all those years ago, when the situation had been reversed. Is that how she’d looked those mornings when she’d known, without needing to ask, that he and Amy had been fighting? Did Amy feel that same sense of helpless anger, that same forbidden desire to hold and comfort him?
Amy glanced over and Donna looked sharply away. “We’re here,” Amy said mildly as the cab pulled up to the curb.
Without another word they got out and Donna paid, waving away Amy’s offer to split the ten dollar fair. “Buy me a drink sometime,” she muttered, knowing full well that that would never happen.
Amy smiled brightly. “Have a good meeting,” she said and, with a toss of her thick hair, strode away.
Donna didn’t move for a while, watching the other woman’s elegant progress down the street and thinking, again, about Josh. Those memories were so sharp, so painful… How often had she ached to comfort him, to wrap her arms around him and tell him it would all work out? Too many times to count. And now that she could, what was she doing? Arguing. Pushing him away. Did she really need Amy Gardner to tell her that Josh was unhappy?
Suddenly she didn’t care that he was a jackass, or that he hated the idea of the peace project, or that he wouldn’t spend Christmas with her family. All she wanted was to see him, to make it right between them again.
Her cold fingers were slippery on her cell phone as she pulled it from her purse and dialed. “Colin? Hi, it’s me. Look, I’m really sorry. Something’s come up and I can’t make it this evening.” He was mercifully understanding and she kept the conversation short. For some reason even talking to him felt wrong right now. Dialing again she stamped her feet and listened to the phone ring until Margaret eventually picked up. “Josh Lyman’s office.”
Donna smiled at the strangeness of those words in another’s mouth. “Hi, Margaret, it’s Donna. Is he in?”
“Let me just check.”
For a horrible moment she thought he might refuse her call, but a heartbeat later she heard a click on the line and then a quiet, “Hey.”
She closed her eyes in the middle of the bustling street and smiled. “Hey.”
A long silence followed before he said, “Where are you? It sounds like the middle of Dupont Circle.”
“I’m just walking,” she said, blinking open her eyes. “I just— I hate it when we fight.”
He sighed. “Yeah, me too.”
“I’m heading home,” she said, casting about for a cab.
“I thought you had a…meeting.”
There was an edge to his voice that cut a little, but she ignored the sensation. Wrapping an arm around herself as she walked, she said, “I cancelled.”
“You cancelled Colin?”
“I didn’t say it was with Colin.”
Another pause. “It was with Colin.”
She puffed out a sigh. “Okay it was, and yes I postponed the meeting. I just want to go home, Josh. I’ve had a horrible day.”
“Yeah.” There was no victory in his voice, but a lot of feeling beneath the surface. “Yeah, me too.”
Her feet stopped walking, her eyes closed again and all there was in the world was the cold night air, the hard plastic of the phone against her ear and the warmth of his distant voice. “Can you come home?” Please.
“Yeah.” No hesitation, not a beat. She loved him for that alone. “Yeah, I’ll just tidy up some things. I’ll be home in about twenty. Is that okay?”
She was smiling again, feeling warmer than she had all day. “It’s fine. I’ll get dinner on the way home.”
“That sounds great.” His smile was loud on the line. “You want to pick up a bottle of wine or something too?”
“Already on the list.”
“Okay, I’m outa here.”
“Like a bat outa hell.”
She grinned as she snapped shut her phone, her heart lighter than it had felt in a long time. This was how it was meant to be, this was what they did. None of that other stuff mattered, not really.
Peacemaker Barbie doesn’t matter?
She ignored the niggle, buried it beneath a cloud of euphoria. In twenty minutes they’d be home, together, and she’d be happy. Being with Josh was the only thing in almost a decade that had truly made her happy, and every couple had their quarrels didn’t they? It didn’t matter, it was best forgotten.
Determinedly putting the row out of her mind, Donna hailed a cab and made her way home. It had been a horrible day; she was determined it would be a wonderful night.
Most of the time Josh didn’t mind his security detail, after all he’d been around these people for the best part of two decades. Sure, it had been a little strange to get used to a guy standing outside his apartment, but it wasn’t something that really bothered him most of the time.
Tonight, however, as he ordered the car to pull over outside a florist, he noticed. Mike, the guy on nights, stood patiently outside the store while Josh bought the flowers, and although there wasn’t a flicker of anything on his face Josh just knew what he was thinking.
He was a guy, even behind the black suit he was still a guy. And that meant he knew.
Mike was thinking ‘he either screwed up or he’s hoping to get laid’. Josh felt like he had a neon sign pinned to his forehead and half expected Mike to give him a nudge and a wink as he turned the key in the lock to his apartment. He didn’t, of course. Mike was a professional, but it didn’t help Josh feel any more relaxed as he stepped inside clutching flowers like a peace offering.
The door clicked shut and at the sound Donna appeared from the bedroom door. She smiled and his heart melted.
“Those are pretty,” she said, strolling toward him. She must have been home a while because the suit was gone and she was wearing the little shorts/spaghetti top combo that she knew drove him nuts. He took that as a good sign.
“I’m sorry,” he said, dropping his heavy bag on the floor and meeting her halfway. “I shouldn’t have come to your office like that…”
Donna smiled slightly and took the flowers from his hand, burying her face in them as she breathed in the scent. “Don’t worry about it. Although I think you owe Ella an apology.”
“Top of my to-do list.”
She looked up, her smile gone and her eyes serious. “Thank you.”
“I was just…” Alisa’s words hung in his mind, but for the life of him he couldn’t remember how she’d suggested he phrase this. Something about Colin and the photos and old feelings. “It’s just,” he stammered, “this whole peace thing, it’s—”
Donna reached up and put a finger on his lips. “Don’t.”
She shook her head. “Let’s not do this again, Josh. I don’t want to argue.”
“Neither do I,” he said, his voice made a little more breathy than he’d anticipated by the slow passage of her fingertip across his bottom lip. “I just thought we could…you know, talk. Or something.”
Her smiled was languorous, like a satisfied cat. “Or something?” The flowers hit the floor with a soft crunch of paper. Her lips were warm and perfect as she pressed herself into him so fiercely he stumbled back a step or two. “Something works for me,” she murmured as she nuzzled his neck.
Alisa’s advice dissipated, like mist in the heat of the sun. Donna was here, and she wanted him; that was all that mattered.
She was still here.
His hands found her face, touching every treasured angle, every perfect imperfection. He needed her, it was terrifying how desperately he needed her. Body and soul craved her like oxygen and if she ever left him again… God. It was a stiflingly sweet pain; the need and the fear and the utter ecstasy of possessing her in this single, perfect moment.
Don’t leave me, he wanted to plead. Please, God, don’t leave me again.
But he didn’t say it. He couldn’t. The words stuck in his chest, not even making it to his lips.
Who needed to talk anyway? Didn’t a touch speak a thousand words? Couldn’t this fire between them incinerate any lingering hurt or grievance? Couldn’t he tell her everything during those transcendent moments of perfect peace they shared in each others’ arms?
Surely that was enough.
It had to be, because it was all he had.