It was a bright, sunny morning in early October. The leaves were starting to turn, the sky was a crisp blue, and Donna could hardly keep herself from running through the corridors of the White House. Today was the day.
Her right hand was clutched tightly around the set of keys that had just been delivered to her office, and she suspected that her wide smile had frightened a couple of loitering interns as she’d dashed past. But what did she care? Today was the day.
She was just crossing the lobby, doing her best to avoid anyone who looked like they might need to talk to her, when she saw a familiar figure disappearing into the West Wing ahead of her. Donna slowed, avoidance being her instinctive reaction. But today her heart was buoyant, overflowing with good will, and this was something that she should have dealt with long before. So perhaps today really was the day.
Lengthening her stride, she pushed through the double doors and caught sight of Amy Gardner a few feet ahead of her. Before she could change her mind, Donna called her name.
Amy stopped, then turned slowly. She was as beautiful as ever, Donna thought. But this time the realization wasn’t accompanied by a pang of envy or suspicion. Amy was Amy and always would be. Which was why she was eying Donna suspiciously over the rim of her glasses. “Hey, Donna. You need something?”
“Have you got a minute?” she glanced up and down the corridor; it was as empty as it would get.
“Sure.” Amy started flicking through the files in her arms as she spoke, a visual reminder that she really wasn’t interested in anything Donna had to say. “What’s up?”
“I just— I wanted to thank you, actually.”
“For looking out for Josh a few months back. It was…” She smiled awkwardly. “I know what you think of me, Amy, and—”
“Look, I don’t know what Josh has said—”
“He hasn’t said anything,” Donna assured her, lowering her voice a little. “It’s okay. I don’t mind that you don’t think I’m good enough for him; I never thought you were, either.”
Amy’s lips twisted into half a smile. “I know.”
“I just wanted to say thanks, for looking out for him when things between us fell apart. And because I know you care about him—”
“Hey, I don’t—”
“As a friend,” Donna assured her. “As a friend, Amy. Because I know you’re his friend, I just want you to know that I’m going to look after him.”
Amy was silent for a moment. “Okay. Well, someone has to, I guess. He might have the most brilliant political mind of a generation, but most of the time he’s pretty clueless.”
Donna smiled. “He has his moments.”
“Yeah, he does.” Amy looked away, swallowing a sigh that might have been wistful. After a while she said, “For what it’s worth, I didn’t sleep with him.” Her gaze slid back to Donna, something of a challenge in her dark eyes. “While you guys were on the rocks? I didn’t sleep with him. I could have, but I didn’t.”
Donna just smiled. “I know.”
“He told me he tried to seduce you with take-out and a bottle of wine. I told him he was a cheap date and deserved the whole shoelace thing.” Amy looked a little startled, which made Donna smile again. “Talking’s our new thing.”
“Yeah? Who’d have thought.”
“To be honest, it’s hard to shut him up once he gets going.”
Amy almost laughed, turning it into a wry snort at the last moment. “That I can believe.” She took a deep breath. “Well, I have a thing, so…”
“Yeah, me too.”
She’d just turned to leave when Amy said, “He’s got a good heart, Donna. Don’t break it again.”
“I won’t.” For an instant their eyes met, a brief moment of understanding. “I promise.”
With a nod, a curiously self-conscious nod, Amy strode away down the corridor. Donna watched her go, watched the deliberate swish of her hips that mesmerized most of the male staff, and wondered if Josh realized that Amy Gardner was still a little bit in love with him. If he didn’t, he wouldn’t hear it from Donna’s lips; she and Amy may never be friends, but Amy deserved to keep her secrets. God knew Donna understood that.
But her contemplation didn’t last long. The keys in her hand were digging into her palm, urging her to keep walking, and the smile on her face couldn’t be repressed for long. With a gleeful heart she wove her way through the busy corridors, waved at a couple of people in lieu of stopping to chat, and soon found herself outside the Chief of Staff’s office.
“Is he in?” she asked Margaret.
“Yes. Have you got the keys?”
Donna’s grin was as wide as the Cheshire Cat’s as she dangled the keys from her fingers.
“Thank God,” Margaret said seriously. “He’s been impossible all morning.”
“I’ll take him off your hands for while,” Donna promised as she opened the door to his office.
Josh was behind his desk, nose in a stack of papers, but he looked up the moment she entered. “Have you got them?”
“Went like clockwork,” she said, waving the keys and making them tinkle.
“Yes!” He was out from behind his desk in a heartbeat, grabbed her face and kissed her soundly. “Oh my God. We’ve got it!”
She grinned. “Yes we do.”
“We have to go. We have to go see it now!”
“So get your coat!”
As Josh stepped out of his car into the crisp, fall air, he didn’t think life could get any better. Donna’s hand found its way into his and for a moment they both stood there, in silence, just looking.
Looking at their house.
“We own a house,” he said at last. “We own this house.”
“This beautiful, perfect house,” Donna agreed, squeezing his hand. “Shall we go in, or just admire it from the sidewalk?”
“I’m savoring the moment,” he told her with a smile. But he was already walking, his eyes ranging over the windows, the roof, the front yard. “I’m going to have to learn about…drainpipes and stuff.”
“For the love of God, Josh, tell me you’re not going to try and…do stuff to it.”
“What do you mean, ‘do stuff’?” he said as they climbed the steps to the front door. “I’m the man of the house, home improvement is my domain!”
“I see. So they teach that at Harvard do they? Or was it Yale?”
“It’s in the blood. It’s a guy thing.”
“Josh you can barely change a light bulb…”
“Just open the door will you, woman. I’m freezing.”
She smiled, and he knew she was only teasing. Kinda. “You want to?” she asked, offering him the key.
“No. You did all the hard work, you do it.”
With an excited little grin she slid the key into the lock, turned it and the door swung open. It smelled a little odd inside, of packing boxes and other people, and his footsteps echoed in the empty rooms. But it was theirs, all of it. It was their house.
Holding hands they toured all the rooms almost at a run, trying to see everything at once: the bedrooms, all five of them (one to become a study), the family room, the dining room, the open plan kitchen, the den, the walkout basement with Jacuzzi and steam room, the yard that stretched out in a swath of grass and ended in tall, elegant trees. It was perfect, even with the scuffed paintwork and scratches on the hardwood floor. It was all perfect.
“We should have brought some champagne or something,” Donna said, coming to stand next to Josh as he gazed out through the full length picture windows at the leaves turning crimson on the trees. Their trees.
He smiled. “We own trees, Donna.”
“We do,” she agreed. “And a Jacuzzi.”
“Yeah…” This place, this house…their future. He glanced at her sideways, wondering if now was the moment. She wasn’t looking at him, but her eyes were smiling as she gazed out through the windows into the soft, golden sunshine and he didn’t think she’d ever looked more beautiful.
Swallowing a sudden, nervous lump in his throat, he moved so that he was standing behind her and wrapped his arms around her waist. For what he was about to say, this was better; he didn’t dare watch her face as he spoke. But her arms folded over his and her head sank back to rest on his shoulder so that they were almost cheek to cheek, and that was almost enough to dry the words on his lips.
Not quite enough though. “Donna, I’m going to say something now and I don’t want you to say anything until I’ve finished, okay?”
He felt her stiffen in his arms, but she didn’t speak.
“Okay?” he asked again.
“I thought you said I shouldn’t say any—?”
He took a deep breath. “Okay… Okay, I’ve been thinking. I’ve been thinking a lot over the last few months – since we got back together. And it’s been so good, it’s been so… I feel like I’ve woken up, or something. My whole life, it’s been about the job. Even before I had the job, it was about the job. But now… I sit in that office and I watch the clock. I think about getting home instead of the getting the votes in, I think about this house instead of the White House.”
“Shhh…” He tightened his arms around her. “Just listen. Donna, I’ve made a decision and maybe it’s one I should have discussed with you first, but I really needed to make this on my own because it’s been my whole life.” He paused, just at the last moment, hesitating before he said the words out loud for the first time. But there were no lingering regrets; he was sure. “After the election, win or lose, I’m going to step down as Chief of Staff.”
“Josh!” She turned her head to look at him, eyes wide. “Are you serious?”
“Yes. Sam and Amy have it covered, easily. They can bring in other people if they need to, and the President doesn’t need me like he used to.”
“No, I mean… are you sure? What will you do with yourself?”
He quirked a smile. “Home improvement?”
“There’s any number of things I could do. Sit on a couple of boards, some speaking. Teach, I guess, if I wanted.”
She smiled at that. “Teach?”
“What? I could do that.”
“It doesn’t matter,” he said, cutting her off. “I’ll do something. I’m not looking for a new career, I’m looking for a life.”
She went very still in his arms, turning to gaze out the window again; he wasn’t sure she was still breathing.
“I’m looking for a life, Donna. With you. A life and a—” Here it was... “And a family.”
He wished he could see her face now, because she wasn’t speaking. The moment stretched to eternity as he waited, and waited…
“I think,” she blurted, her voice a little wobbly. “I think… I was thinking that the little room, you know the one with the long window? I was thinking that the sun is so pretty when it shines in there that, if we painted it a soft yellow, it would be perfect for a…nursery.”
Something caught in his throat; he couldn’t seem to find any words. Luckily he didn’t need them, because she turned in his arms and he saw everything he’d hoped for in her eyes. “Yes,” he said at last, his fingers on her beautiful face, “Yes, it really would.”
She grinned, sniffed, and then threw her arms around him. “I love you,” she whispered fiercely.
“I don’t have a ring or anything,” he said, speaking into her hair. “But I figured we’d choose one together and there’s plenty of time, because it’s over a year until the election and then—”
“I don’t want to wait that long,” she said, pulling back to look into his face. “Let’s not wait that long.”
He shook his head. “I can’t quit before—”
“No. No, I didn’t mean that,” she said. “But we could— We could still get married.”
Just the word made him grin and her enthusiasm made him so happy he could have danced. But it wasn’t possible. He took her face in both his hands. “We’d have no time for a honeymoon, and if we— If there was a baby I’d want to be there for the whole thing and—”
“It’s okay.” Her smile was more brilliant than the sunshine, her eyes so full of love. “I can’t think about have a baby right now, Josh. I didn’t mean that. But we can get married. I don’t want to wait a year for that.”
“But I was going to take you to Hawaii,” he protested. “And there’s no way, this close to the elections, that I can get away for—”
Her soft finger touched his lips. “Be quiet,” she said firmly. “Listen to me. I know exactly when we should get married.”
“December twenty-second. This year.”
His eyes widened. “That’s just a couple of months away! That’s—” And then the significance of the date dawned on him. December twenty-second. The day she’d quit. “Donna…”
“It’s perfect,” she insisted. “Right before Christmas, so you’ll have a few days after. We can find a cute little New England cottage or something, with a log fire and snow…”
She dipped her head for a moment, but met his eyes again before she said, “You’re going to remember that date anyway, Josh. I know you. And I don’t want you remembering it as the day I left, I want you remembering it as the day I promised to stay forever.”
Because he simply couldn’t answer that, because she was just too, too wonderful, all he could do was grab her and hold her tight until he found his voice. “Okay,” he said, gruff and emotional. “Okay. But one thing… I think we should spend Christmas in Wisconsin.”
“With your family.”
She pulled back, her eyes liquid with happy tears. “You want to spend our honeymoon with…my family?”
“Our family,” he said with an uncertain smile. “And I hardly know them.”
“Josh…” Her hand was over her mouth, her eyes spilling tears again.
“Then, after I step down… A month on the beach in Hawaii.”
She just nodded and smiled and he had to kiss those smiling, beautiful lips. His fiancée’s lips. He was light as a feather, giddy as a schoolboy, happier than he’d ever dreamed possible, and it was all because of her. Because of this incredible, wonderful woman in his arms.
He pulled back again, just enough to see her face. He wanted to see that face everyday, forever. With one finger he traced the faint lines around her eyes, the soft angles of her cheek. “I am the luckiest…”
She just shook her head, too emotional to speak.
“And we’re getting married!” It came out as a laugh. An incredulous, joyful laugh. “We’re getting married, Donna!”
“Yes,” she beamed. “Yes, we really are.”
And so they were, on a cold, bright December morning in Washington, D.C. And it was, of course, perfect.
Alisa MacCallen often walked down the Mall on warm sunny afternoons. It was a relief to get out of the office, and the buzz of people helped her feel anonymous. In a crowd, she was unlikely to be noticed by one of her clients, and if she was, it was easier for them to ignore her. By and large, people didn’t like bumping into their therapist out of context.
And so, when she spotted a familiar face strolling toward her, she instinctively slowed and moved to the other side of the wide pathway. This client, in particular, would have good reason to avoid a public acknowledgment. She hadn’t seen him in a long time, however; well over a year if she remembered correctly. Whether that was a good or a bad sign, she hadn’t liked to speculate. She’d called his office a couple of times after their last session, because he’d been very down, very broken, but he hadn’t called back and he wasn’t the sort of man you pursued. So it was with some interest that she observed him now, walking along hand in hand with a tall, elegant blonde woman.
He was, undeniably, well. Less tired than she remembered and not wearing a suit. She didn’t think she’d ever seen him without a shirt and tie, and the casual look worked very well; it took ten years off him, at least. As Alisa watched, the woman said something to him and he laughed, the sort of open, happy laugh she’d never seen in her office. And it was contagious; Alisa couldn’t help smiling herself as she slowed to watch them walk past.
Perhaps it was because she was standing still, however, that she drew his attention because suddenly his quick, dark eyes met hers with a look of surprise. Alisa offered half a smile and was about to leave, when,
Surprised, she stopped and turned. He was talking quietly to the woman at his side who was regarding Alisa with a look of real interest. Alisa took this as a good sign and smiled as they walked over to join her. “Hello, Josh,” she said. “It’s nice to see you.”
“You too,” he nodded, and then, indicating the woman at his side, said, “This is Donna. Donna Moss? My, uh, wife.”
The infamous Donna Moss… “Congratulations,” Alisa beamed, regarding the woman with real interest. “It’s a pleasure to meet you, Donna.”
“You too,” she answered, holding out her hand to shake. She was beautiful, Alisa realized, and Josh had never mentioned that. Intelligent too, and with a sweetness that was immediately obvious. Not quite as Alisa would have drawn her from Josh’s description, but then his view hadn’t been entirely reliable at the time. She seemed at ease with herself too, her smile was genuine, her expression honest, and as she moved to shake Alisa’s hand her loose dress shifted in a slight breeze and tightened over her delicately rounded belly. “I’ve heard a lot about you,” Donna said, taking her hand in a firm grip.
Alisa smiled politely, but didn’t say ‘me too’; client confidentiality was paramount. Instead she turned to Josh. “I saw on the news that you’d stepped down. I wondered what you were up to.”
He looked a little sheepish. “I feel bad for not calling, or—”
“It’s my job, Josh. I’m not your mother. You don’t have to call me.”
“No,” he agreed with another smile. “No, okay.” He scratched his head, a little nervous in her company she suspected. “I’m doing some teaching, actually. At Georgetown. Just for a while. Donna’s still working at the White House, so it’s convenient for now.”
Donna smiled – she had a beautiful, wide smile – and her hand fluttered toward her stomach. “We’re expecting a baby in December, so…”
“We’re just going to see how it goes,” Josh finished.
“Well, that sounds like a healthy approach,” Alisa said. “Congratulations, Josh. It’s wonderful news. And it’s so good to see you this happy.”
“Yeah,” he agreed. “And, listen, thanks. You know, for all the…stuff. It really helped.”
It was unprofessional, but she couldn’t help her eyebrows lifting at his openness. “I can tell.”
“Seriously. I recommend you to all my screwed up friends.”
“Josh!” Donna elbowed him sharply.
“What? She knows I’m joking.”
Alisa laughed. “Trust me, Donna, I’ve heard worse.” She turned back to Josh, catching the quick, amused grin he sent his wife. “I have to go, Josh, but it’s been wonderful to see you again. And you know where I am, anytime…”
He shrugged that familiar, arrogant shrug of his. “Thanks, but I doubt that’ll be necessary. I think I’m cured.”
“Really?” Donna asked.
He looked over at her. “What?”
“You’re about to become a father, you don’t think that’s going to raise some issues?”
“You don’t think this is an odd place to discuss it?”
“I’m just saying…it’s life, Josh. You can’t be cured of life.”
She was looking at him with laughing eyes and with a great deal of love. Donna might be right – undoubtedly she was; life was a journey, not a condition – but Alisa saw something rare between them in that moment. Something permanent and nurturing, something that meant they’d bend against the storms to come and weather them together. And it did her heart good to see it – to see them.
After they’d said their goodbyes she watched them walk away, still hand in hand, still smiling, and she knew she’d never see Josh Lyman again.
He’d found his rock, his shelter, and that was all he’d ever needed. In the end, it was all anyone ever needed.
Thanks for reading! I hope you enjoyed it. Feedback makes me smile. J