By Tori Morris
Author's note: My second fanfic, the first was considered "Hideous in the eyes of God " to anyone outside of my best friend. I was inspired by a couple of fanfic authors, and Philip Pullman. None of these characters (except maybe Donna's sister and her fiancee ) are mine, they belong to NBC.
"Well, I don't know if it was the wine or my own silliness or the warm are or the lemon tree or whatever...But it gradually seemed to me that I'd made myself believe something that wasn't true. I'd made myself believe I was fine and happy and fulfilled on my own without the love of anyone else. Being in love was like being in China: you knew it was there, and no doubt it was very interesting, and some people went there, but I never would. I'd spend my whole life without going to China, but it wouldn't matter because there was all the rest of the world to visit."
-The Amber Spyglass
"And at half past nine in the evening at that restaurant table in Portugal," Mary continued, "someone gave me a piece of marzipan and it all came back. And I thought, am I really going to spend the rest of my life without ever feeling that again? I thought, I want to go to China. It's full of treasures and strangeness and mystery and joy. I thought, Will anyone be better off if I go straight back to the hotel and say my prayers and confess to the priest and promise never to fall into temptation again? Will anyone be the better for making me miserable?"
"And the answer came back- no. No one will. There's no one to fret, no one to condemn, no one to bless me for being a good girl, no one to punish me for being wicked. Heaven was empty. I didn't know whether God had died, or weather there had never been a God at all. Either way, I felt free and lonely and I didn't know whether I was happy or unhappy, but something very strange had happened. And all that huge change came about as I had the marzipan in my mouth, before I'd even swallowed it. A taste- a memory- a landslide..."
-The Amber Spyglass
"Sweet food of sweetly uttered knowledge"
-The Defense of Poesy
Sir Philip Sidney
"Donna!" Joshua Lyman bellowed from his office, even though it was less than four steps from here to there. At his calling, a young pert blonde head popped up from behind a computer screen, and scowled irritably. It wasn't just the bellow, she was used to that, but the fact he'd been doing at lot more as of late.
"Yes Josh, here's the annual figures on gun related crime, just liked you asked." She said, and held out the folder with a thwack as she dropped it on his desk.
"Yeah, but I asked for it a half an hour ago," he pouted with his arms folded across his chest.
"The printer doesn't print 40 pages in three minutes, you know. Besides, it's only been fifteen minutes, the clock in here is fast."
"Why is it fast? You should fix it."
"If I fixed it, you would procrastinate till the last possible minute, and miss half your meetings."
Josh snorted. "But that's your job."
"No, my job is just to tell you to go, and to push things back after you've been late," she said, and glanced at the watch on her wrist. "And, anyhow, you are ten seconds away from being late for a meeting with Leo."
"Crap! Why didn't you warn me Donna!" He said, slamming the folder shut and getting up. With a quick movement honed from years of being late, he whipped into his jacket quickly.
"I did, fifteen minutes ago Josh." She said as he bolted out. She walked behind him, quickly so as to take advantage of the path he cleared in the semi-busy halls.
"Remind me to be angry at you later."
"Should I schedule that for after your usual hissy fit about coffee, or after?" Donna said in a sardonic way.
"While your at it, pencil in my witty reply." He said, as he pulled open the door to Leo's office and stepped inside.
The meeting was confidential, and so, with nothing else to do, Donna drifted back to her desk to print some more documents relating to the crime bill and have them on Josh's desk by the time he got back. He's in a real shitty mood, even for Josh, she thought, and as she printed, she wondered why.
As Leo spoke to the other members of the senior staff about pushing through the latest of the president's crime bills, Josh was cursing himself inside. Even for the sarcastic, mean-spirited bastard I am, that was hash. She was only trying to help.
"Josh, are you listening? What about Senator Callahan?"
"Um, What about him?"
"Is he going to vote yes or no on the crime bill, you know, since we are going to need about six more votes to pass this thing, and we could use his support."
"Yeah, I know, I think..."
"Right, I was saying that I think he said he wasn't, since he has a stick up his ass, even for a republican."
"I'll call him," said Leo finally, eying Josh with suspicion just the same.
Josh pushed the thought of Donna being upset out of his mind for right now, to work on persuading Callahan to move on the bill.
Donna was just about to leave for lunch when the phone rang. Reluctantly, she picked it up to answer, even though it did mean she would have a shorter lunch break then usual.
"Joshua Lyman's office speaking, how may I help you?"
"Cathy?" The assistant said in surprise. Last person she was expecting to call here was her sister.
"God, am I so glad to hear you. You know Rick and I?"
"Yes..." Donna said wearily.
"He asked me to marry him!"
"What? When, how?"
All of Donna's thoughts were lost as she sat and listened to her sister.
Finally, the meeting broke up after about an hour, and Josh could get back to work. He strode through the office, searching for a particular blonde.
"Margaret, have you seen Donna?"
Leo's aide continued to work, just barely having time to offer, "She went out to lunch and said for me to tell you that the rest of those assault weapon statistics are on your desk, and that Sam was looking for you."
"Um, why was Sam looking for me?"
"I don't know. She didn't say," said Margaret as she continued with her task.
"Ah," said Josh, and with a tap on the desk nearby, went to find Sam.
"Sam!" The deputy chief of staff shouted as he spotted his friend walking down the halls.
"There you are Josh. You said you wanted to look at the wording on the crime bill, so I gave it to Donna."
"Oh, you did? You got another copy? Donna's out to lunch and..."
"You can't find it?"
"Here." And Sam pulled out another copy for Josh to look over.
"Looks good to me." He said, scanning it real quickly. "Hey Sam, was Donna angry at me when you saw her?"
"Angry? No, I don't think so."
"She didn't tell you that I'm a horribly forgetful person and if she wasn't around that I would be helpless?"
"Oh yes, she did mention that." Sam said dryly. "Over and over again."
Josh winced. Donna was angry then, and now he probably wouldn't get his coffee for a few more weeks.
"Over and over again?" Josh repeated.
"Several times, yes." Sam replied nonchalantly.
"Damn, now I'm gonna have to buy her something to make up for my ability to be a huge jackass."
"No one's doubting that, but, what did you think of section 3-1?" Sam directed, steering the conversation away from Josh's aide for a few moments.
Donna arrived back at the White House in time to catch Margaret, and find out Josh had been looking for her. Yippee, Mr. Irritability comes a calling.
"Donna," called Josh as he exited Sam's office, in time to see her swoop around the corner.
"Yes, Josh?" She called placidly, peering from around the corner. This was her test of how irritable he would be: what his response was.
"Um, how was lunch?"
"Ah, where'd you put Sam's thingy."
"Thingy...oh, it's on your desk, underneath the paperweight."
"The one in the middle of my desk?"
"That's the one."
"Why a paperweight?"
"I thought it would catch you attention, but obviously it failed." She said, taking a few steps closer to him, now that he wouldn't bite her head off.
"Well, I guess I didn't see that under there."
Donna shrugged. Last thing of all she wanted was to anger Josh again, before she asked him about the trip. Besides, she didn't particularly enjoy when he was angry to begin with. She had a lot on her mind. What had ever made her sister think she could marry him just like that? That was less than a month away! She hadn't even thought of me 'till now, probably, she thought miserably.
"Hey Donna, what's wrong?" asked Josh, looking concerned.
"Nothing. Just my sister got engaged."
"Hey that's great."
"She wants me to be the bridesmaid."
"Great," said Josh, seeming interested. Donna couldn't tell if he were faking again.
"Yeah, two weeks from now."
"Two weeks?!" Josh sputtered.
"Ah, yeah, so Josh..." now seemed a good a time as any, "Can I have the time off?"
Josh looked at her blankly. "Uh, I guess so, but how long are you going to be gone?"
"A few days, that's all I swear." She said, making puppy eyes in case he was not feeling generous.
Josh nodded. No matter how much a bastard he was, or considered himself to be, he would never say no to Donna. How could he keep her from his sister's wedding?
"Sure, just make sure that you get a...a..." He said and waved his hands around.
"That's it." He said with a resigned sigh. Still, he was positive he could live three or four days without Donna. Couldn't he?
Two weeks later...
For a change, the voice ringing out wasn't calling for Donna. Instead...
"Hey, you, person..."
The temp worker lifted his head up and looked at him.
"Um..." and for once Josh Lyman was at a loss for words. No one called him sir. Maybe Leo was a 'sir', and certainly the president was a 'sir', but Josh Lyman-not a sir.
"Could I have the file on Consumer Spending?"
"Where is it, sir?"
Josh Lyman was again puzzled. He'd only been here three or four minutes and he was utterly lost with out Donna. He knew this wasn't going to work.
"Um...I don't know. In the file cabinet, I suppose." He said as he wracked his brain as to where Donna would keep a file on consumer spending.
The assistant dutifully bent to the cabinet, and flipped through files. But thirty minutes later, and the deputy chief of staff still didn't have his file and had to meet Leo unprepared.
Damn, why did I ever think this would work?
Meanwhile, in New York, Donnatella Moss was being pinned by several women in a desperate hurry to alter her bridesmaids gown. Her sister stoop opposite her, in her beautiful wedding gown, as two tailors attended to her needs as well.
"So, Donna, now that we have a few free moments, why don't you tell me about your life?"
"What's to tell? I still work at the White House, live in the same place, nothing's changed."
"Mom tells me you went out on a date a few weeks ago. How was that?"
"Awful. I didn't go out with him again."
At this, Cathy Moss looked concerned. Sure, Donna had been in several serious relationships before, but none that had ever seemed to her like they had a shot in hell of lasting.
"Donna, don't you want what I have?"
"Yes, yes I'd love to have a man like Rick in my life, but I don't really see that happening anytime soon."
Catherine Moss frowned again, and was going to ask further, when their mother trailed in, followed by her cloud of cigarette smoke, as always.
And indeed, Betty Moss was not the pushover one could expect. With a healthy stride belying her age and size, she walked over to her youngest daughter.
"If you're not seeing anyone, how about trying David again? Do you know he's almost finished his residency?"
Donna Moss sighed and slumped a little, causing her to receive a tisk sent her way from one of the tailors.
"No, Mother, I am almost positive I am not going to marry David. Hopefully, if my life allows it, I'll never see him again."
Betty Moss cocked a well outlined eyebrow at her and took another drag on her cigarette.
"That's too bad, I invited him."
"YOU DID WHAT!" Donna bellowed and leaped off the short platform she had been standing on and promptly almost tripping. Her mother had invited the man who had freeloaded off of her all the way through med school, thrown her out without a job, and she expected them to get back together like nothing had happened?
"I thought it would be nice if he came, after all, you two were so close in collage..." her mother replied again, puffing a ring away from her mouth. Behind her, Cathy looked sorry for Donna. When would she ever get the picture that Donna was happy the way she was, the way her life was?
"Mother! How could you! He practically kicked me out on the streets!"
"Well," she said and looked vague, waving the lit cigg around as she did so.
And at that, all Donna could do was lift the edges of her dress and stomp off, leaving her personal items behind.
"Well, this went swell." Cathy murmured, glaring at her mother as Donna left the room.
As a last resort at midday, Joshua Lyman was calling Donna's cell phone. Only she could solve this problem of, "where on earth are those files I need now?"
Ring. Ring. Ri-"Hello?"
"Donna, where's the consumer spending files? I needed them, like, three hours ago." He said, checking his watch and tapping his foot.
"This isn't Donna. This is her mother. Who're you?"
"Um..." Donna's mother? How did Donna's mother get the cell phone?
"Hello there Mrs. Moss, I'm sorry, I thought you were Donna. Could I ask where she is?" He said in his most polite, junior high school student who wants to ask your daughter out on a date voice.
"She's left the room, I'll tell her you called."
"But, you don't know who I am." Click.
Josh Lyman was left looking at his phone. For all that he had tried, he was forced to admit that this day was turning out to be a complete and utter loss.
At half past six, Donnatella Moss has recovered enough to straggle into the wedding rehearsal. How could her mother invite him to this event. As she trudged in with the dress in her hands, she took her place in the processional.
Sometime after the third practice run, everyone had decided it was enough, and down as final as it could be.
"Donna," said a familiar voice behind her.
"What on earth do you want, Mother?"
"I'd like to apologize for inviting David. You know, I could always un-invite him."
"No, that's ok." Donna said harshly. "We'll get along somehow." God, this is turning out to be an awful mess, she thought and turned around to see her mother.
"Oh yes, a nice young fellow called you on your cell phone today. Several times, in fact. Why hadn't you told me you had a new boyfriend? You could have brought him with you..."
"Um..." Donna said slowly, stalling for time. New boyfriend? She had nothing of the sort. Who...
"Was that Josh?" She said slowly.
"Oh, I don't know. I forgot to take his name." She said, reaching in her purse to take out some more cigarettes. "I'm impressed, he sounded very gentile."
"If that was his name."
Donna was too shocked to argue, so she picked up her things and went outside to hail a cab.
Ring, Ring. Joshua Lyman barely heard the sound of the phone. It was such a pleasant dream he was having, what with the white rabbit having showed up for his tea party in a wedding dress.
Ring. There it was again. He vaguely remembered saying "No cell phones allowed,." on the invites, hadn't he?
Finally, it struck Josh that the phone might be for him...
His eyes snapped open and he picked up the phone.
"Josh Layman's office, speaking."
"Josh? Did you call me today?"
"Donna?" He mumbled, in half speech, half yawn.
"Are you sleeping in your office? That's not what the president pays you for."
"Yes. Wait, no. No, he doesn't pay me to do that, he pays me to answer the phone, I think." He said as he woke up a fraction more.
"What did you need Josh?"
"You called me on vacation-what was it?"
"Oh, um...the consumer spending files."
"Underneath the paperweight."
This threw Josh for a moment till he realized that it might be under other papers. With a bit of a dig, he did find a small White House paperweight, with several different files underneath.
"Donna, if I didn't see it the last time, what made you think it would work this time?"
"I didn't think you'd be stupid enough to miss it twice."
"Donna, once again, never underestimate my stupidity." He said and glanced at the clock. "So, how's the wedding going?"
"What, you mean, 'Let's torture Donna week?'"
"Yeah, how's that torture going?"
"Awful. You'll never believe who my mother invited. Dr. David."
"Who?" asked Josh, although he was sure he already knew. The doctor who had dumped a poor collage girl in the streets and left her to go beg for a job at Bartlet's campaign headquarters. The thought of such a cruel act towards Donna made his blood run cold.
"Yeah, him. She thought we'd get back together now that he's some hotshot resident somewhere."
"Oh, your mother must be the queen of fantasy land."
"I thought you were the one who thought I dated jerks."
"Yes, but, see, I think you deserve better, where as your mother doesn't." Wait, Josh, that didn't come out right.
There was nothing but silence on the other end.
"It's amazing how you can manage to insult my mother and my choice in men in one fell swoop."
"Donna, I really didn't mean to draw attention to the fact that you date assholes."
"Thanks Josh. I think I'd better hang up now."
"No, wait! I didn't mean that one..."
"Night, Josh." Click.
"Damn." He said and slammed the phone down on the hook. Just when he had apologized for last time too.
A voice inside him asked, Josh, why do you care what your assistant thinks or doesn't think? He was without an answer for several minutes, but the answer left him colder than the conversation itself.
Because you do care.
He knew the answer had significance, but he relegated it to the back of his mind, to call up the airport.
"When's the next flight to New York?"
A few hours later...
He shouldn't be here. He was a fool to have thought that he could just show up, unannounced, at the wedding. Like that would make Donna any less angry at him.
But, none the less, Joshua Lyman had skipped the rest of the day at work and hopped the very next commercial flight to New York from Washington. It happened to be one of those cheaper airlines, but he had miles saved up in any case.
The cold air sucked his breath away as he looked for his cell phone. How stupid, he hadn't even thought that he didn't know where the church was. Or even if it was in a church.
"Damn." He said as he fumbled around pressing buttons. Before he could catch a cab, he had to have some nice clothes. It was a wedding, and he wasn't that socially inept. And of course, he had to find out where it was.
"Donna, please...Hey there Donna!" he said cheerfully and as un-suspicious as he possibly could.
"This isn't Donna, it's her sister." Josh could here the rustle of a fine dress all the way from here. "Um, ok. Sorry to disturb you, but..."
"It's not a problem, really, although, I don't understand why you aren't here...she should have..."
Josh cut her off. "Well, I'm on my way, you know, and I got lost. Where is it again?" he asked vaguely, in case it wasn't a church at all.
"First Presbyterian, and she rattled off the address which Josh scribbled on a page from the phone book with the flight attendant's pen, which still had the little ball chain hanging from it.
"Mmhmm, thanks, I'm on my way. Hope to make it in time."
"Don't worry," the bride said cheerfully, "you have plenty of time. Want me to tell Donna you are on your way? Mom's been chatting about the wonderful new man Donna's dating..."
Josh winced in the phone booth. Nowhere in his mind did the words, "Donna's boyfriend," and "wonderful" mix. He hadn't even known she had a new one, although he was clearly being mistaken for him. Unless she was talking about Doctor Demented, in which case he would wince more.
"Huh? Did you say something?"
"No, I didn't..."
"What do you mean, the napkins are going to be blue, instead of red?!" Cathy said, and started to walk with the phone, many of the words being muffled by the sound of lace and silk swishing together.
"Well, I'd better get there."
"Huh? Oh yes, sure." Click.
Hanging up the phone, Joshua ripped the page from the phone book and stepped out, to try and find a cab.
Donna swished the dress, admiring it in the mirror. The way it swirled around her ankles elegantly. I'll never make fun of Cathy's fashion designer friends again, even if it is a bit too large in the bust. For a moment, the assistant of Josh Lyman was lost in a fairy tale where she was the one getting married to a wonderful man. One who was interesting, made decent money and she wanted to take care of for the rest of her life.
Donna hummed the wedding march softly to herself, still twirling, before she caught sight of her mother leaning against the door in the reflection.
"Mother! What are you doing there?"
"Nothing, nothing. Just watching my youngest child enjoy herself. You seemed so happy right then." Mrs. Moss said with a deep sigh, the one of a clear voice. Just then, she noticed, there was no cigarette in her mother's mouth, and her eyes were sparkling. She hadn't seemed so alive since the divorce.
"Oh, just lost in a daydream is all, and geez, look at the time. There's only twenty minutes, and I was supposed to help Cathy with her makeup."
"It's fine, Donna, I took care of it."
"Are you sure?"
"I'm positive. Cathy looks wonderful, so radiant. She's so worried about every little detail."
"It's her wedding, she wants it to be perfect."
"Donna, napkins have nothing to do with perfect. This wedding will be perfect, or not so perfect, entirely based upon the love between her and Rick." Her mother opened her purse, and began to nervously look for a smoke, but she caught herself and stopped. Donna remained silent, thinking about the words her mother had spoken. It was true, and nothing could ruin the wedding now except the bride and groom themselves.
There was a knock at the door. Donna twirled around, and stared at the man in the tux. One of Rick's brothers. They were the doormen, she recalled, but a name didn't show up.
"Donna, there's someone here who claims he knows you. Says you are his assistant?"
"Joshua," she said, the voice cracking in the middle, because it was caught between an angered mutter , questioning and wondering. What was he doing in New York, at eight o'clock, at this church? How did he get here so fast?
Her mother remained silent, absorbing the whole scene in her mind.
Donna glared at her, and wondered angrily what she thought. She probably thinks I am dating my boss.
"Well, what are we waiting for? Let's let him in." Her mother said, urging her out the door with a swish of the hand.
And so the three of them went down the hallway, the bridesmaid, the confused brother and her mother, who was itching for a smoke by the way she fingered the clasp of her purse.
"Joshua Lyman!" Donna yelled frustrated, at the figured slumped in the corner of the doorjamb, while two husky men in suits surrounded him.
"Donna." He looked relived. "See, I told you, I'm not crashing the wedding, I know these people."
"You are too crashing this wedding, and after you insulted me and my mother. How could you even show up here? How did you get here?" She said, hands on her hips, as she looked him up and down.
He wore a bewildered look on his face, and a wonderfully cut Armani suit she didn't know he owned. Someone other than her must have picked it out, in fact, she could still see a price tag on the jacket.
"Well, I hopped a plane. Certainly couldn't drive here that quickly," he said meekly, as if he were worried that she really was angry.
Donna fumed, and let out a sigh, then took his hand. She could be angry much later, but that tag hanging off his sleeve really bothered her. "Come here. You didn't even take the tags off first."
"So, you're gonna let me in?"
"I guess I have to, don't I?" She said, pulling on the plastic tag until it came off with a sharp pop. "There." She said, handing it back to him.
"Thanks." He stuffed in his pocket, and then took a look around him. "Nice place."
"What are you doing here, Josh?"
"I'm not a frequent visitor to churches. Is this typical?" He said, pointing to the high roof.
"No, not really." The assistant turned bridesmaid muttered, seeing an avoidance of the question.
"Well, it's really nice is all. And the electric lights, the roses..."
"Josh. You aren't going to answer the question, are you?"
"Okay then, find a seat, because I have to go get in the processional."
"Now?" He said, with a glance to his wrist.
"But it doesn't start for ten more minutes."
"Right, so I have ten minutes to get there." Donna said, turning to head back to the others.
"Did I mention you looked great in that dress?"
"No." She stopped mid step, and turned to hear the rest of this.
"Well, you do. Salmon is a very becoming color on you."
Donna smirked and folded her arms. "Flattery will get you everywhere."
"I know. It got me this far didn't it? Nine minutes." He said, grinning and tapping his watch.
"You're making me become as bad as you." Donna said, from across the busy hall as she went off to join the bride. As Josh watched her disappear down the hall, Betty Moss observed the whole thing with a smile the whole time.
The deputy chief of staff slid into a pew at the last possible second next to a group of people he didn't really know. Actually, he didn't even know what Donna's family looked like, so for all he knew, he could be sitting next to her mother. Or Doctor Evil. Just in case, he nodded politely, and they gave him icy stares in return.
He sighed, just as the wedding march began. It all moved so very slowly, it seemed, the groom, the groom's best man, the other people he didn't really know. He felt himself starting to nod, drifting off to dreamland...
"Owww..." he muttered softly, opening his eyes in time to see Donna gliding down the aisle, holding her sister's train, in that softly reflective salmon gown. She continued to walk slowly down the aisle after her sister, not looking behind her.
That DORK! Donna was screaming in her mind. First he shows up uninvited, then he falls asleep in the middle of the wedding?
Josh stood up straight in his seat, determined not to fall asleep once more. He rubbed his face, then looked at the others next to him. They seemed to be more interested in the vows than anything else. Josh could care less, really. The only reason he was here was because he thought Donna might be less angry if...
No, Josh, that isn't true. You came here on your own accord, not to please Donnatella Moss. You came here because you care about what she thinks.
"You may now kiss the bride," rang out the voice of the elderly priest, and once again, the deputy chief of staff snapped to attention, to watch the passionate embrace.
Donna chatted pleasantly with the people who knew her, as they slowly filed out to head to the party. She had seen most everyone, but...
"Donna?" asked a familiar voice. Mike.
"Hello there Mike. Or is that "Dr. Mike" now?"
The semi-charming man behind her sighed. "You still angry about that? You weren't really a free-loader, I was just..."
"Shut up, you and I both know I paid your way through med school."
"I know, and that's why I was going to say, how about we put the past behind us? Get to know each other a bit better now that we're both here, in the same room again. You know, let bygones be bygones, now that the heat of the moment has passed.
"Hey, Donna, I got us a cab, you ready?" A familiar and more comforting voice asked. Josh, she had forgotten he was waiting...
She wasn't finished with Mike yet, however, and she turned around to face him. "No, Mike, I don't think that's a good idea. After all, you can only leave a girl so many times before she stops coming back. The heat of the moment ended two years ago, and you didn't care to come after me then. I don't care to chase you now."
Donnatella Moss stomped off, to meet Josh and the cab. She chuckled softly at the look on Mike's face. Why had he ever thought she would come back with him? Because of his job, what they once had and he blew? Well, if so, he was horribly mistaken.
"Who was that?"
"Mm?" Donna said, stepping lightly into the cab.
"Just an old friend who wanted to talk about the good old days."
"No it wasn't..." he said, and squinted his eyes to take a good look at the man still watching them, as the cab drove out of sight.
Josh supposed the party was good, if you minded that sort of thing. He was slinking in a corner because currently, Donna was dancing with the best man. He sighed jealously and swirled the beer around in it's bottle before taking a sip. He wouldn't drink the whole thing, unless his assistant went off to have passionate sex, which looked like might happen.
Why do you care?
Um, I don't know yet, I'm working on it. After all, I am socially inept. Besides, she didn't want me here in the first place, otherwise I would have been invited along.
Who wants to take their boss to a party?
I dunno, I don't. The President would be talking about the symbolism of marriage, Leo would be looking bored and glance once or twice at the bar before self-control would win over and he would join in the conversation, and Sam and Toby'd probably be knocking a few back, while I razzed him about the call girl.
"God Josh, don't look like that!" The aforementioned assistant said, suddenly in front of him. He was looking at the floor, but he could see the edges of her silk dress brush the table cloth as she approached him.
"What? Look like what?"
"Demonic and evil. You're scaring the ring-barer." She said, dipping a finger into some gooey frosted slice of cake.
"Well, then I'll try to be angelic from now on." He said, staring at the floor, still not looking up.
"Here, I brought you some cake," she said, as the band started a new song. Something country western, yet appropriate for weddings, it was about love. Of course, love. He wondered what that was like.
"Yes?" He said, still looking at the floor. Love, had he ever been in love? He'd thought, with Mandy, that was it, there would be no more. He'd expected to be here someday, at a wedding, pushing cake into her face. His wedding.
"Cake?" She said, pushing the plate in his face, forcing him to look up. A soft blue light behind her, used to illuminate the dance floor was reflecting off of her hair, and she looked absolutely angelic. That was the first word that came to mind as a funny feeling spread up his spine and caused him to sit up straight and shiver slightly.
The hairs on the nape of his neck stood on end and he literally could not tear his eyes off of Donna. She cared about him so much...all the time. He hadn't seen it before, but now he did. She'd taken care of him since that day, the day in New Hampshire, when she was in his office, cleaning his mess.
She'd been there at the hospital, waiting for him to wake up, and everyday after, even at his house.
He'd never considered it before, or if he had, he'd shut it out of his mind until the last possible time he could ever think. It was ever so clear now, and that was what was spending his nerves into shock, his body pulsating in a sudden...awareness of it all.
"Josh?" Donna asked, gently, waving her hand in front of his face, and slowly he moved, but he was still trembling with the fading shock of that moment.
"Are you sloshed? How many of those've you had?" She asked again, tapping the bottle.
"No, no, I'm fine Donna." He said softly, as if a harsh voice would banish the remainder of the tingling sensation which even now was still faintly to be felt.
She cocked her eyebrow once more, then took the bottle from him and placed it on the table. Where her fingers brushed himlike the feeling one gets when their leg falls asleep and they suddenly move it , but different, with the shockwaves still rushing through him.
Donna pulled up a chair and sat beside him. "So, why don't you tell me why you came here?"
I love you, Donna. I was so blind, and I couldn't see it before...
But, of course, he didn't say that. "I wanted to say sorry, for what I said."
"Oh. Well, I wasn't really that angry. I would have gotten over it after a while. You could have called me even."
"I could have...that reminds me, I have to call Leo. Excuse me." He said, and ducked down a hallway, knowing that Donna probably didn't buy that, but not caring all the same.
The hallway was dark and the sounds of the D.J were muted. He leaned against the wall for support. The spine that had seemed so electrifyingly rigid just a moment before was gone, the emotion was gone, and all he had left to comfort himself was the fact he was still breathing heavily. As he ran his hands through his hair, Joshua realized that it wasn't he who was breathing heavily at all.
Across the way from him, the glow of a cigarette lit up the face of an older woman he didn't know.
"You must be Joshua," she spoke in a voice husky with age, and years of tobacco. She sighed slowly, allowing the smoke to curl up above her head. He stayed silent, quiet, not knowing what further to expect.
"I have three daughters you know. Cathy was the oldest, and the most serious. I knew one day, she'd find herself happy with someone and I wouldn't have to do anything but cry."
"I saw you, at the wedding. You didn't cry." He said softly.
"No, no, I didn't. I thought I would cry, but really, when you expect the day to come, for your daughter to leave you and become her own woman, well, I relished it. There's no use being sad, it was too beautiful for that."
Betty took another puff on her smoke, and examined Joshua closely with her eyes. "No, no," she said again, "it was always Donnatella I was worried about. She was so sweet and innocent, she wears her heart on her sleeve, and I thought she would never get over Mike. I thought the task fell to me, you know, to pick up the pieces."
Josh turned to her, interested.
"But, you're not a mother forever, and eventually, Donna grew up, fell in love and lost it, and she didn't even need me to help. I prayed to God anyhow. I thought, it was my responsibility, to find love for her. I didn't think she could do it on her own, and I didn't know if I could either."
"Maybe she can't. She doesn't have much taste in men." He refrained from commenting about Mike the doctor.
Betty cocked her eyebrow and smiled serenely, still hiding in the shadows.
"But, now I don't have to worry about what will happen when I finally leave. Someone'll still be there to to take care of Donna."
"What do you mean?" He asked, in the dark on the floor.
"Joshua Lyman, 'The dignity of truth is lost without much protesting'."
"I mean, no man has ever hopped a plane from Washington to New York for a woman he didn't care about."
"You're an awful liar. Your forehead crinkles up."
"So, Joshua Lyman, you love my daughter."
"Love?" He croaked. "I admire her, she's my friend."
Betty snorted, sending clouds billowing his way.
"Lying again. How do you work in Washington with that terrible habit?"
"I try not to lie too often."
"Ah, I see. So, now that you and I know the truth, what are you going to do about it?"
"I'm not sure I love her, that's why."
"Do you admit it's a possibility, then?"
"I saw you just now, talking to her. You looked bewildered for a moment, and then I knew I had to talk to you now. I was going to walk over there, but..." and she motioned to where he sat, slumped on the floor.
He stood up, and headed for the exit.
"Where're you going?"
"I think I should leave now."
"No, no, nonsense. You haven't finished your cake, haven't said good bye to my daughter."
He stopped and met her for the first time in the eyes. "You're right."
"I always am. Now, get going, and enjoy the rest of the party," and she had pushed him slightly, as if he weren't moving on his own volition.
As he was walking back, a thought occurred to him. No matter how long he lived, what he did with the rest of his life, he would always remember this moment, this here and now. The memories of the chat with Donna's mother was already fading in his mind, but a jump, the slightest thought and the remembrance of the tingle, of the way the blue lighting glowed behind her, the sweet smell of the cake adding to her peach scented perfume would remain with him for the rest of his life.
He had thought he wasn't loved, and no, maybe he wasn't, but, he did know what it meant now, and nothing could ever shake that from him.
Author's final comments: Hmmm...didn't come out exactly as I had planned, but, I think it's a bit more successful than the first one. The whole thing was inspired by the moment I first "knew" what love was, and by the eloquent chapter of "The Amber Spyglass" entitled "Marzipan".