Donna remembers when Christmas was a time of miracles. Well, she remembers when she believed Christmas was a time of miracles, which made everything seem like a miracle. Her seven year old self had been satisfied by this. Her nearly-forty year old self is not.
Donna worries that she might have been more fun at seven.
Certainly Chase Savorski thought so. He made good on his name and chased Donna for a good nine months, only loosing interest when the school year waned and Donna plied merrily off for horse riding camp while Chase had gone. . . Wherever Chase had gone.
Donna wonders if maybe she should look him up, but if he's gone true to the form of the other kids she grew up with, he's happily married with at least four kids who are all just old enough to know that miracles can come true. She tamps down the urge to find Chase just so she can tell his kids they're wrong about that.
It isn't as though Donna doesn't have plans for Christmas Eve. She's going to a party at the White House, for goodness' sake. After nine years of similar events, her family is still impressed when she tells them these sorts of things.
Underneath the Chanel evening gown, she is too.
Donna carefully puts on her scarf, her gloves and her coat. She holds her own doors open and drives her own car. The latter is something of a challenge given the amount of taffeta pooling at her feet. She manages.
Security at the White House holds the door open for her, which Donna, to her mortification, finds sort of sweet. She makes her way in to the party, with all the pretty girls and dashing boys. Lou looks good in something black and slinky, and Josh looks like himself in a tux. Black tie.
Somewhere in the middle of the evening Donna finds herself dancing with President Santos and that's certainly something to tell the vaguely-imagined grandchildren of her future. He says, "You look stunning tonight, Donna."
And because he's quite the handsome guy, she tells him, "Not looking so bad yourself, Mr. President."
When his wife takes him back, Donna's pretty sure she can leave, that enough people have seen her smile for one evening. She heads to coat check where the woman ahead of her is quite obviously experiencing difficulties.
"Something wrong?" Donna asks.
The woman turns and it takes Donna a second to place her before she smiles. "Oh my gosh. Elsie?"
Elsie, despite her coat worries, smiles back. "Donna, right?"
"Yeah. I didn't know you were working here."
"I'm not. Exactly. I'm over in the O.E.O.M.B."
"With the Vice President's staff?" While they had figured out a way to get Leo into the actual west wing, they hadn't yet been so lucky in getting his full complement back across the street.
"I'm his communications director."
Donna blinks. "That seems like something I would have known."
"You've probably seen my name a million times and just not figured out the connection."
This is probably true. Donna looks to her side. They've finally found Elsie's coat. Elsie takes it from the boy behind the door with a smile and tips him despite the wait. Donna has a stray thought, don't cover yourself up like that, as Elsie begins to put her coat over the elegant evening dress she's wearing, and then another one, whoa, what? She hands her ticket over to the boy, who's now waiting.
Elsie looks uncomfortable for a second. "Well, I guess. . . It was nice seeing you."
"Yeah," Donna says. "Yeah."
Elsie turns and walks three steps before Donna calls, "Are you headed to another party?"
Elsie spins around. "You obviously expect my life to be far more exciting than it actually is."
"You, uh. You wanna come back to my place? I've got eggnog. And some harder stuff."
An expression flits through Elsie's eyes, one that Donna can't read. After a second, though, she nods. "That sounds like exactly what I needed."
The boy hands Donna her coat and she passes over a tip. "You bring your car?" she asks.
"Nah, Will drove me. I was gonna catch a cab."
Donna fishes her keys from her pocket and dangles them in the air so that they clink against each other. "Cab Moss at your service."
They manage to find Elsie some sweatpants that can be rolled up so that she's not tripping over them, and a sweatshirt that Donna suspects is from her high school days. She's not sure how it made the trip to DC with her--and through five apartments--without her noticing.
Donna wants to see if she can find all the pins cleverly hidden in Elsie's hair, see if she can get that hair to fall down around Elsie's shoulders in waves. Donna's only had one glass of eggnog, though, and still knows better. She decides to switch to hot chocolate before that changes. "I'm gonna heat up some hot cocoa, you want some?"
"What brand? I hate Swiss Miss."
"It's a thing. From a long time ago." Elsie looks slightly defensive for a second before she smiles. "Anything else is fine, though. Nestle's my personal favorite."
"I was going to actually, um. Cocoa powder and milk in a pot?"
"Jesus. The girl of my dreams."
Donna laughs shortly. "Yeah. You and everyone else." She goes to dig a pot out of one of the lower cabinets in her kitchen only to remember the pots are in the upper cabinets. This apartment is the first one she's ever lived in without a roommate since moving out of her parent's home and she keeps forgetting that she's put all of her things in exactly the place she wants them to be. "Winters are cold in Wisconsin. Hot chocolate is a tool of survival."
"So is firewood. Do you chop?"
Donna measures out the requisite amount of chocolate and then tips just a bit more in the pot. "Actually, sometimes my dad would take me out. He'd let me hold the axe with him. I couldn't have lifted it if I'd wanted, but he always thanked me for helping."
"My dad introduced me to sitcoms. Not quite as rugged as wood-chopping, but it led to my first career. I'll let him off the hook for his lack of good ol' fashioned North-American ruggedness just this once."
"When I went to school, college that is," Donna fidgets unnecessarily with her hair, trying to tuck already-pinned strands behind her ear from habit, "I mean, I left because my asshole of a then-boyfriend was in med school and we had this deal and I believed him, which I shouldn't have, but I was nineteen.
"It was easy to leave, though, because even though it was a state school it was Wisconsin at Madison with its reputation for all sorts of things and the kids there didn't have stories about their fathers chopping wood or their moms actually killing a chicken for special dinners or their cousins carving sleighs or even the summer they got anemia from going swimming in the nearby lake and not finding a leech until the damage was already done."
"Those are good stories." Elsie leans forward over the counter, balancing on her elbows.
"They're stories you'd put in a sitcom," Donna tells her, eyes perhaps a little bit colder than she intended. Donna knows what her stories are worth, both to herself and to other people. She knows this city of men who dress in their suits and hang their Ivy League diplomas in offices with rich wood desks and speak with "accentless" American English and think that poor means ignorant but would never say that in mixed company.
"If I did," Elsie doesn't deny the accusation straight out, "it would be because I'd found the right way to tell them."
Donna admires honesty. It isn't something she sees a lot of these days. "I don't know why I'm yelling at you."
"It's Christmas, and you're a long way from home."
Suddenly, Donna asks, "Are you?"
Elsie thinks for a second. "Hard to say. My dad currently lives in New Mexico but other than the sitcom thing, we were never very close. My mom had good reasons for packing up and moving out. She took me with her when she got a promotion at the aerospace technologies development firm she was working for at the time. The promotion involved a move to Houston, their headquarters."
Elsie makes a sound of disgust. "We both hated Houston and when she was offered some liaising work overseas she took it, which was how she met Tom. After they were married it was sort of one European town to the next. I took up boarding school after a while just to be in one place for a nine month stretch. Tom and her are in Berlin at the moment but Will's here, so fifty-fifty I suppose."
"You probably have some pretty good stories, too."
"I've been trying to pitch a sitcom of my life for years."
Donna turns off the stove and pours two cups of cocoa directly from the pot with practiced ease. Elsie says, "I would be spilling everything everywhere right about now."
"Lucky I'm the one holding the pot." Donna asks, "You really wanna go back to writing sitcoms?"
Elsie says, "Stories are important."
Donna knows that laughter is too.
It's around three in the morning when Elsie says, "I should get home."
Donna looks out the window. There's a light dusting of snow on the ground, nothing too extensive. Still she says, "Baby, it's cold outside."
Elsie laughs. "At the risk of sounding like a loser, Will's mom is in town so he's spending tomorrow with her, and I was just gonna go into work while it's relatively quiet and-"
"Yeah, my family's in Wisconsin. You honestly think I had other plans?"
"You seem like the type who makes things happen."
"So do you," Donna throws back. Then, "Christmas is Christmas."
And although that doesn't really mean anything, not on the surface, Elsie bites her bottom lip and nods. "Yeah."
"You should stay. I'll make pancakes when we wake up and then drive us in. If you need a ride home from there I can give you one of those too."
Elsie tilts her head. "Pancakes?"
"Well, from a box. President Bartlet sends me a bottle of New Hampshire maple syrup every year for Christmas, so I like to have something to put it on after I open the package up."
Donna shrugs. "He knows I like it."
"Were you on close terms with him?"
"Not. . . Not like others."
"There were times when our paths crossed. He's meticulous in certain ways."
"Will said something like that."
"So you'll stay?" Donna asks. "It's good syrup, even if the pancakes are a little pre-fab."
"I like pancakes anyway they come." Elsie pauses. "And I like you."
Elsie smiles. "Yeah. Okay. You're welcome."
Donna frowns slightly. "Oh." Then, "Oh." She smiles back, bright and just a little unsure, "Really?"
"Kinda from the first," Elsie admits. "When you were nice to Will even though everybody was playing practical jokes on him. And you were Sam's friend so I figured you had to be super nice pretty early on. And Will would talk about you on the campaign trail during the primaries. I like feisty in a girl."
"I like funny," Donna says.
"I'm funny," Elsie assures her. "I mean, if you were thinking you might like me."
"I was thinking about it."
"Good first step. Wouldn't do to be too hasty."
"No," Donna says, before taking a few steps to where Elsie's sitting and folding herself into a position where she can reach to skim her lips over Elsie's. "Hasty's. . .bad."
Elsie obviously agrees, as she pulls Donna down atop her lap, opens her mouth to give Donna's more space to work and releases the merest breath of a, "yes."
Donna gets to undo the pins in Elsie's hair and bury her fingers in its length. She gets to slide her hand up underneath the borrowed shirt and find the smooth expanse of Elsie's breasts. She gets these favors returned.
Donna has no idea how long they make out and feel each other up on her sofa. She hasn't done anything like this with a girl since college and she's in no big hurry to move things along. When Elsie splays her hands across Donna's back, warm in the space between her skin and her sweatshirt, and murmurs, "Tired," over Donna's cheek, Donna nods.
"Yeah. You wanna go to bed?"
Donna miraculously remembers to set her alarm clock before wrapping herself around Elsie, buried underneath the layers and layers of comforters on her bed. "Night," she says.
"Morning," Elsie says.
Donna's still smiling when she drifts off.
Donna's toes burn at the first touch of heated shower water hitting them, and she closes her eyes together at the always-surprising pleasure of that moment. Then she hurries herself up. She uses the candy-cane scented body gel that her mom sent her for Christmas because it makes her happy, and Donna's pretty sure she could use an overdose of happiness right about now.
With a pretty girl still sleeping in her bed, it doesn't seem like all that far of a reach.
Elsie's brushing her teeth when Donna emerges, still betowled. Elsie rinses and spits before pressing a kiss to Donna's shoulder. "You smell like Christmas."
Donna grins before disappearing into her closet to find some jeans and a sweatshirt. Elsie asks, "Mind if I use your shower?"
"When you come out there'll be breakfast," Donna says.
She's nearly right. Elsie doesn't scold her for having to wait, just looks until she finds two plates and sets them on the table. She does the same with the forks. Donna scoops three of the pancakes onto Elsie's plate, three on to her own and then noses around the small tree she's set up in her living area until she finds the appropriately-sized box with the same austere green and gold wrapping as every year, and a solidly written, "To Donna. Merry Christmas. The Bartlets."
Donna removes the wrapping neatly and releases the bottle from its packaging. She's not much of a neat present unwrapper, but there's something about receiving a gift from the President of the United States, current or former, that makes her pause before just tearing in. She stands over Elsie's plate and tips the bottle. "Tell me when."
"When," Elsie says, and digs into her pancakes. Donna likes the way she eats as though nobody's watching. That takes guts.
Once Donna's seated and eating, Elsie takes a breath to ask, "You gonna open your presents?" eyeing the pile around the tree.
"At some point, yeah." Donna will probably call her family later and do it then. Opening them in the silence gives her the creeps.
"Because I mean. Like I said, I haven't got any plans and I thought maybe after work we could have ourselves a Christmas party. I could bring the take out. I've a deft hand with the paying of bills."
"That's quite a skill."
"So people tell me. Also, I know all the good places for rum, and how to heat and spice it."
"You make spiced rum."
"You try living in Europe for a while and see if you don't end up having odd gifts."
"You'd wanna do this here?"
"My presents are in a pile in my hallway still in their shipping packaging. You were obviously far less lazy about getting into the holiday spirit and therefore deserve hosting privileges."
"That sounds. . .like the best idea I've heard since us sneaking out of the party last night." And proceeding to make out like fifteen year-olds. Donna has some class. She knows when silence is golden.
"I almost didn't go."
"To the party. I wasn't really in the mood."
"Yeah. I was bordering on maudlin, if you want to know the truth."
"You do it prettily," Elsie tells her.
"I'm glad you think so," Donna says, and wonders if Christmas miracles haven't gone away entirely but changed into small things. The quick curl of Elsie's smile, the thick sugared rush of New Hampshire maple syrup, the anticipation of another night in bed with more than covers keeping her warm.
Even if those aren't miracles, Donna's willing to label them that way.