“What?” Josh asks. Then, because he actually heard her, and he doesn’t really have time to be having this conversation, he asks the more important, “Why?”
“I had to reschedule something,” Donna tells him. “That was the only night this week that worked.”
“That night doesn’t work,” Josh said. The night in question was Sunday, which was the one night they made time to see each other, no matter what. Well, all right, assuming that there had been no recent threats to national security, they made time. But Josh thinks that honest-to-G-d terrorism should be an exception to pretty much anything. “That’s our night.”
It’s possible that Josh is being whiny, but if he is, he’s going to make her call him on it. She does, of course.
“Stop whining. I promise to take another night off this week and have dinner with you, if nothing else.”
The promise does not do much to make Josh stop whining. Luckily for Donna, he’s got a sit-down with the governor of Georgia in ten, so he pretty much has to let this go. “Sunday night? Really?”
“If you stop whining and wait up, sex isn’t off the table just yet.”
“Got a meeting,” Josh tells her.
“Mm,” she says.
It’s a sickness, Josh knows, but he ends up at the office on Sunday night. It’s weird, given all the years Josh enjoyed living by himself, but the house is loud in its silence, and he can’t handle it, doesn’t want to. The weekend janitor actually rolls his eyes upon seeing Josh, but just says, “Evening, Mr. Lyman.”
The President works from the residence on Sunday nights, except in cases of emergencies, so it’s a surprise when Josh hears someone in the Oval. He looks over to discover Helen and says, “Oh, ah. Everything okay, Mrs. Santos?”
“Helen, Jesus Christ, Josh, we’re not even on the clock. And you wouldn’t happen to know where Matt left the file on the suggested District DCFS revisions?”
“Probably the upper left corner. He doesn’t need to look at those, I’ve got—“
“It’s for me.”
“Oh. Well, probably still in the same place.” Josh smiles briefly at her. He wonders if he should ask Donna what she’s up to. He wonders if Donna knows. For that matter, he wonders if Donna would tell him if she did.
She holds up a file and says. “Found it.” She makes to leave, then turns. “Isn’t it Sunday?”
“According to the Christian calendar, sure,” Josh responds, not looking up from his computer screen. “But you know how I feel about antiquated time-keeping measures.”
She laughs, but she also says, “I thought Sunday was Donna’s day.”
Josh wants to cry foul, because it is completely wrong and unprofessional and wrong for his girlfriend to be talking to her boss, who just happens to be married to his boss, who just happens to be the President of the United States, about their personal lives. What he says instead is, “I got ditched. Probably some hot biker guy. You know how those Wisconsin girls are.”
“Yeah, that’s Donna. Oh, tonight must have been the class she had to reschedule.”
That gets Josh’s attention. He looks up. “Class?”
There’s a moment of oh shit. Helen Santos is a smooth woman, and she’s gotten used to fielding questions she’d prefer not to, but Josh has been at this longer than she has, and he sees the way her gaze flickers uncertainly for a nanosecond. She says, “Yeah, just-- Y’know, some basic college stuff. She might not have said anything, because she can be a little, well. You know Donna.”
Josh does know Donna, is the thing. And for all the times when he has been stupid or careless in this knowledge, nowadays, Donna is someone who can just tell him that. It’s why they work. Yes, Donna can be somewhat sensitive about the issue of never having finished college, but if she wanted to go back, she knows full well that Josh would support her in that. Josh says, “Mrs.-- Helen.”
Helen Santos looks at him in a way that CJ used to, a way that makes Josh feel stupid, but not so bad for feeling that way. She says, “You should talk to her about it.”
“Yeah,” Josh says. Then, “Night,” as she turns off the light in the Oval. He tries paying attention to whatever he was doing, but the train of thought has left him. He shuts everything down and heads home.
Donna’s there when he makes it home. She looks up from CNN and asks, “Hot date?”
“With Mrs. Santos,” he tells her.
She smiles, turning back to the television. “As long as it makes your job harder than mine.”
“What class were you at tonight?”
She stiffens slightly, and hits power on the remote. “Class?”
“Something the First Lady said.”
Donna sighs and rubs at the back of her neck. “Dammit.”
Josh spreads his hands at his sides. “Dammit? You decide to go back to college without telling me and when I find out that’s what you have to say?”
Donna gives him The Look, the one that says, “You weren’t crazy when I left you, what did you do?”
Josh waits a moment, but then gives. “What?”
Josh blinks. “She said that you—“ He stops and thinks for a second. “She said I should talk to you.”
Donna makes a sound, it could be amusement, but she looks shaken, moreso than Josh is used to seeing from her these days. He steps toward her. “Donna?”
“Not college, Josh.” She shakes her head. “Conversion classes. For eight months now.”
“Eight—“ Josh takes another step. “Why would you, I mean, you never-- Eight months?”
“I wanted to be sure. I wanted to see if I liked Judaism for me.”
“But why would you-- You know I don’t care about that. I’m a lousy Jew. Ask Toby. Hell, ask anyone.”
“Your mom cares.” The words are soft.
Josh feels them in his chest, the pit of his stomach. “My mom.”
“She sends me things. Things I think she wishes she could send to Janie.” She has the grace to wince, but she continues, all the same. “Recipes for kneidlach. A challah cover.”
Josh rubs a hand over his face. “Donna, I can talk to her—“
“Don’t you dare.” Donna’s eyes are huge in her face, and wet, and Josh doesn’t remember when they got to the part where Donna might cry, but he thinks it was probably his fault. Donna says, “Not a word. She’s not pushy, she just needs a-- She’s fine. I love your mom.”
A daughter, Josh thinks. That’s what his mom needs. Most days Josh doesn’t worry about waking up from nightmares of fire and screams, but he knows he will tonight. He doesn’t know if it makes it worse or better that Donna will be there, will roll over and say, “Hey, hey,” her breath and her skin warm against his. “Okay. But you still don’t have to do this. A year of classes to become part of a religion that’s managing its own extermination through a combination of apathy and talent for making other people’s hate burgeon? Nobody expects anyone to convert to Judaism, nobody with half an ounce of common sense.”
Donna’s smile is sad. “At first, I just went to see, just to try it out. But then, well, every week, the rabbi comes to class, and he looks so thrilled that those of us who are there returned. And he speaks with more passion than anyone I’ve ever met, including Sam Seaborn. He challenges me in ways I can’t get in the workplace, no matter how much I love my job.”
Josh considers all of that for a moment, lets himself recognize the way that Donna has grown every time she’s been given something new, something bigger to conquer. In the end, what he asks is, “Do you believe?”
“I don’t know,” she says slowly. “Maybe?” Then, looking at him curiously, “Do you think I have to?”
Josh tells her, “I think I’m the last person to have any idea.”
She nods. “I’m not asking anything of you. It’s not like that. This is for me.”
Josh feels a little bit like that sentiment covers more of their relationship than he would like to think it does. He’s not sure entirely what makes him say it, only that he means it when he says, “I really want you to marry me, Donatella Moss.”
“I just said—“
“I know.” He smiles at her, the small, private smile that he keeps for the important people, the special ones. “I know. But maybe this is just for me.”
When he wakes from the nightmare later that night, she goes and gets him a glass of water. He watches the long, milk-white lines of her legs in the moonlight. She hands him the glass and says, “At our wedding, you’re breaking one of those. A real glass. None of this pansy lightbulb crap.”
Josh laughs, causing him to choke on the water. Donna pounds his back. When he recovers, he says, “Sure, but you’re walking around me seven times.”
“Well then, you’d better learn to count.”