Will looked at his phone. No, he won’t do it. He absolutely will not call Mackenzie. If he calls her, she wins, and she will not win. She’s got a few months because Charlie sent out that fucking press release, and God damn why the fuck did he do that? Will rolled his eyes as he answered the question with, “because he didn’t want Will to fucking fire her ass again”.
Charlie was right; they did the news tonight. They did the news the way they should do the news. They dug into a story, the got facts and sources and stayed away from the sensationalistic shit that has been part of his life since he started anchoring his own shows. Well, except when she was… nope, he’s not going to relive that. He won’t do it. He’s stuck with her for a few months. He’s going to make her life a living hell during that time. That’s what he’s going to do. He’s going to make sure that she hates him as much as he hates her. And it starts tonight. It’s 2 in the morning. He’s going to call her and wake her the fuck up. He’s going to not so subtly let her know that she may “own him from 8-9PM”, but the rest of the day, she’s his.
Wait, no, that’s not what he wants. At least not the way it sounds. She’s going to know that every other hour life with him… nope, they do not share a life, they do not share anything except a newsroom. And that’s only temporary. He’s going to fucking pick up the phone and let her know that he will define the parameters of this… arrangement. He will expect that she will answer his call whenever he decides to call her. It’s part of the job description. And he’s going to tell her. Right now.
Before he could pick up his phone to call Mackenzie, his phone started ringing. What the fuck was she doing calling him at 2AM? Doesn’t this woman ever fucking sleep? She never slept well, and when she didn’t sleep well, he didn’t, not that he ever complained… Fuck. That’s a question he really needs to stay away from.
“What the fuck are you calling for?”
“I wanted to make sure I had the right number, I expected it to go to voicemail.”
Will took a deep breath. “Well, you have the right fucking number. Since you’re on the phone, I wanted to get a few things straight before we go too much further. That little stunt this evening will not be repeated. You do not own me any hour of the day or night. I’m the boss, I fucking own your ass 24/7 for the next 6 months.”
“As long as we’re getting things clear, let me make my position clear. I run the newsroom and that newsroom will be a place where we will start to put journalistic integrity into everything we do. I’m going to start teaching our staff about how to do the news properly and because you can’t fire me for 6 months, you’re going to fucking agree with every word I say until that blessed day comes. If you have any fucking questions about my approach, then you will ask me in my office. Now, do you want to begin a strategy session or do you intend to get some sleep tonight?”
Will took a breath. He wasn’t going to get any sleep tonight whether they got off the phone or not.
“Do you still have staff coming?”
“There’s a few more coming out in the next week or so.”
Will clenched and unclenched his jaw a few times. “We’re going to have to fill in a few holes. You can handle the interview process, but I want to meet anyone we bring in.”
“Deal. I’ll wait until everyone is in place before we start reformatting the show.”
“We’re not reformatting the show, we’re just going to make sure that we’re doing things right.”
Mac rolled her eyes. She didn’t want to take this one on with him right now. “I’ll have Jim work closely with the show as it is right now for the next couple weeks and you’ll have Don and anyone you didn’t send on vacation. In the meantime I’ll work some contacts and fill in the rest of the pieces. Can I set up Skype meetings for them to meet you?”
“You know how to Skype?” Will felt his face quirk into a smile and got serious again.
“I’m sure I can find someone in Atlanta who knows.” Mac felt herself smile. It felt good to talk to him like this again. She decided to take a chance. “You put on a good show tonight Will.”
“You did too.”
Will swallowed hard and hung up. Damn he wished he found time to get a date for tonight. But then again, he’s not sure that he needs one.
A couple months ago, DestinyFreeReally put up a brilliant story called Insecurity, where Will and Mac had one of what I always assumed were regular phone conversations and at some point I thought that obviously the arc of how they went from annoying calls to discuss work to almost relying on the calls, to friendship and then always being on the cusp of something more. If DFR didn't do it, I thought I might want to, because it's a story that still needs to be told. I'm still not sure if I can. And if I can continue this, it won't be on a regular weekly schedule. But I am going to keep this open just in case I can do it.
Chapter 2: April 21, 2010 4:47AM
April 21, 2010 4:47AM
Will woke up with a start. He didn’t remember his dream, but he had an insatiable need to call Mac and tell her not to go to Atlanta. His sleep-deprived mind didn’t think about why he would have such a need nor did he think about why he should care, after all, if she was putting his staff together that meant she wouldn’t be around him. As he reached for his phone his brain started to wake up and wanted to form those questions, but his hand moved too fast.
“Mac, it’s me. You’re not going to Atlanta today.”
“Will? What the fuck?”
“You came here to be my fucking EP. I don’t have a staff anymore because of you, so I need you here.”
Mac rolled her eyes and let out a breath. “You can’t be serious right now. You don’t have a staff because you gave them a week’s vacation.”
“Because you were standing there and agreed to take over. If you’re not up for this, then I don’t need to wait until Friday to fire your ass.”
Mac shook her head, glad that Will couldn’t see her. She’d laugh if this wasn’t so fucking ridiculous. “You can’t fire me, Will, for one thing, it’s not Friday. For another, I haven’t had a chance to sign my fucking contract yet. It still starts in 2 weeks. Weren’t you the one with the 94% conviction rate? Counselor?”
“You’re not going to run away to Atlanta again. I need my EP here running my show. I don’t know the guy you brought with you. I don’t trust Don anymore. You’re my EP, I expect you to run my show.”
Mac wanted to ask him what the fuck was going on, but she had a feeling that poking that monkey was going to end in disaster. She took a second to weigh her options. She could push the issue and let him know that she wasn’t going to take orders from him. She could ask what the fuck was going on and take the chance of going into dangerous territory. Or she could let him have this one and try for a not so confrontational relationship. She was going to have to work with him. “How about this? Charlie arranged an office for me in Atlanta for this week. I can use that office to talk to my people and the people who are staying. Someone from IT can set up a way to do that. I’ll also call into rundown meetings and then use the studio to run your show remotely. I’ll just talk to my people there tomorrow and Thursday, Friday I’ll be back in your studio bright and early.”
Will zoned out during her speech. He was trying to figure out why this was so important to him. He had absolutely no idea what the fuck she just said. He tried to put together everything that he did pick up. “So you’ll be back here on Friday? Okay. I can live with that.”
“Good. But I should warn you that when I get back, we’re going to start reformatting the show immediately. I’m not going to give you a chance to chicken out of what you should have been doing all along.”
Will’s mind was at war. He knew that he needed to be doing the show that he could do with her, but it was a risk. He could lose his audience and for what? Her respect? That wasn’t the prize that it used to be. A voice in his head told him maybe he’d get some of his own respect back. “Understood.”
“Good. I’ll call you tomorrow after the show and after you’ve had some time to have a drink and unwind a little and we can figure out how to proceed.”
“Fine.” Will felt like he was biting down something. Finally through gritted teeth he said, “Goodnight, Mac.”
Mac smiled as she lay in bed. He doesn’t want her to go. She remembered the last time she went to Atlanta to put a crew together for Will, she and that crew went to the Middle East without him and she didn’t come back for two years. “I’m coming back this time, Will.”
Chapter 3: April 21, 2010 10:03PM
April 21, 2010 10:03PM
Mac was exhausted. She stayed up late last night deciding whether to call Will or not to tell him that she did hold up the pads at Northwestern, but something in his voice wouldn’t let her cop to that. Then he called her and even… 20 hours later, she doesn’t know if he meant he didn’t want her to leave him again by going to Atlanta or if he really did have the expectation that his EP run his show from his studio. After his call, she couldn’t sleep. Then she had to get on a plane and get into an office in enough time to meet her staff.
Mac dialed into the 10AM meeting to introduce her and Jim. From what she put together, Don had a meeting with the producers at 10AM to give story assignments and at 6:30PM he had another meeting with production to make sure everything was in and set. Will didn’t usually attend either meeting, leaving Don to run interference between Will and the staff. She preferred brainstorming with the staff, but gave Jim a list of stories to chase and had Jim make the assignments based on interest. She then ended the meeting by telling them to expect a one-on-one meeting invite with her today so she could get to know them.
She spent the rest of her day on the phone in meetings with staff in New York and face to face meetings with staff who would follow her until the 6:30 production meeting. During the one on ones, she explained what she wanted to do and found that many of her staff wanted to do that as well.
The show ran smoothly, though Will had very little to say to her during it. She used commercial breaks to build a rapport with her control room staff. Since she was remoting in, she couldn’t see his face during breaks, though she kind of wondered if that was a blessing. He had ignored her messages throughout the day. Jim told her that he spent a lot of his day out of his office. She’s only calling him now because she promised him that she would call tonight after the show to talk about their new direction.
Mac took a deep breath and hit send on her Blackberry. She listened to the phone ring a couple times before his voice finally answered. “What do you want?”
“Well I thought the show went rather well.”
Will was quiet for a second, allowing Mac to hear that he’s listening to music and he just took a drag off his cigarette. At least she hoped it was a cigarette, she remembered his fondness for marijuana.
“What do you want me to say, Mac? It was a show.”
“It was, and a very good show considering we’re working with a skeleton crew.” Mac tried to infuse her voice with enthusiasm she didn’t feel.
“And my fucking EP is out who knows where.”
Mac took a breath, trying to even out her voice. “I’m in Atlanta, putting the rest of your crew together.”
“And when do I get to meet this new crew?”
“Well, if you would have answered any of my calls, I would have given you contact information. Though I don’t know what the fuck you want to do with it since you don’t even know the names of your current producers.”
Will gave a humorless laugh. “What the fuck do you want me to do? Go to HR and get their pictures and resumes? I don’t have time to get to know them.”
“It would be a good start. I don’t know what the fuck you think, but I expect you at all our meetings. You’re going to be a fucking leader to this group if I have to grab you by the short hairs and force you.”
Mac didn’t realize what she said until Will’s end of the phone went silent. Before she could backpedal, Will growled, “You will not EVER be anywhere near any of my fucking hairs.”
She deserved that. But she needed to get them back on track before this got out of hand. “Learning their names is a good start. And as your EP, I expect you to begin participating in the planning of your show. You’re the fucking face of Newsnight, I want you invested.”
“Get their pictures and resumes and waste time at meetings. Copy that. Anything else?”
“I wanted to go over the principles of news that we will start to implement on Friday when I get back. There are 4 things to cover.”
“I remember, Mac. I read your God damned dissertation, I know what the fuck it says. I even know how to do good news.”
“Really, I wouldn’t have guessed that from watching your show.” Mac heard the edge to her voice and regretted it instantly. This was not going the way she intended. This time she said sorry, but at the same time that Will answered.
“You want to do the fucking news, we’re going to do the fucking news. Is that all you wanted?”
“I want your buy-in, Billy. I want to know that you want to do this.”
“Don’t call me that.” Will put his head back on his chair and took another drag. He imagined Mac sitting in a hotel room, one that looked like the one he visited her in when she lived half her life in DC, flinching at his words. This won’t work. “I’m sorry.”
“No, I get it. You’re not my Billy anymore, I’m not family.”
“Do you really think we can do this? I mean, you and me?”
Mac took a breath. “Yes, I do because no matter what else we were or are, we are professionals who believe in the work that we want to do. And we both know that no one can get out of you what I can. So I will put up with your moods and tones and overall bullshit, because good news is worth that to me.” Mac felt her teeth bore into her bottom lip as she waited for Will to answer. To her ear it sounded like he had taken another long drag.
“You’re going to put up with whatever shit I give you? And you’re going to keep whatever residual feelings you have for me out of our working relationship? You really think you can do that?”
Mac had a big smile on her face, “You know me, Will. I’ll give you back whatever shit you give me.”
Will smiled. “I would expect no less.” Will caught himself smiling and got serious again. “That wasn’t the only question.”
“I loved you and I regret what I did everyday. If the only way to work with you is to pretend I don’t have those feelings… I can do that.”
Will didn’t know the answer he wanted, but he’s pretty sure that wasn’t it. He felt hollowness in his stomach as he nodded his head, understanding this is how it had to be. She was right, he needed her to bring out the best in him. He needed her to do things the right way. He didn’t like it, and she probably didn’t either. But this is how it had to be. “Okay. Then what do we need to do?”
Mac ran through her plans for Newsnight, starting with the meetings they would have with the staff everyday and moving into the content changes. Will wondered more than once what this would do to his audience, but each time he seemed to get cold feet, she would convince him that they were doing a better thing and that there would be a short term dip in ratings, but his numbers would rebound. After an hour of going through the changes and a final pep talk from Mac, she asked, “Do you trust me?”
She didn’t mean to make herself that vulnerable, but it was out there.
“Mac…” His voice drew out her name.
“I mean as an EP. Do you trust my skills and my experience?”
It took him a little while to answer. “I do. I trust that you are the best EP in the business.”
“Then trust that, Will. I will make you the best you can be. It may not be the most popular or the most liked, but I will make you better.”
“I know you will.”
The two sat on the phone, in silence, neither wanting to hang up. It felt familiar. It felt good. Talking, pushing each other. It felt right, while at the same time, they both knew they couldn’t have this. At least not right now.
Mac heard Will clear his throat, like he was going to say something. Before he could, she asked, “I’ve been meaning to ask you, what are you listening to?”
“Leonard Cohen.” He wondered if she was thinking about their second date. Earlier that week he saw her in the studio, doing what she loved. He fell in love with her that night, so he took her to see something he loved. Cohen was in town, so they saw him and he got to play with the band. Then he sang to her, a promise that he would fight for her because she meant that much to him. For a moment he wondered if he would have just told her then… He shook off the thought. It was their second date; he would have scared her away. And he couldn’t. He couldn’t admit it to himself yet, let alone her.
“I remember how much you loved his music.” She didn’t want to break the moment by telling him how much she loved watching him play with the band. If she could have that night back… There are so many nights that she wishes she could do different. That night was the night of their first kiss. If she would have dragged him into her apartment… Maybe nothing would have been different. Maybe she still would have… “Would you mind putting the phone close to your speakers and letting me listen, for a little while?”
Will nodded his head to no one and swallowed, trying to keep all his feelings for this woman in check. “Yeah, I think I can do that.”
Mac lay down on her bed, listening as Will did as he said he would. The third song she heard she recognized as “Hey, That’s No Way to Say Goodbye” and heard Will sing along. She didn’t know if he realized she was still on the line and awake, when his voice began to crack. At the end of the song, he stopped his iPod and, Mac couldn’t be sure, but she thought he realized the phone was still there and disconnected.
Chapter 4: April 22, 2010 3:46AM
April 22, 2010 3:46AM
“Will? Do you know what time it is?”
“We have to keep YouTube Today and Pop Watch. They’re our most popular segments.”
Mac looked over at the clock on the nightstand next to her. 3:47AM. She wanted to hang up on him, but he sounded panicked. Whatever the fuck he was talking about was pretty important to him.
“Will, it’s 3:47AM. Is this something that we can talk about after I get a couple more hours of sleep?”
Will scrubbed his face with his hand. A part of him understood that she was right. He shouldn’t be calling her now. And probably not ever. At least in the middle of the night. But he woke up with his heart pounding and he realized that doing the show she wanted meant that he wasn’t going to keep the parts of the show his audience liked most. His fan mail talked about it. His minutes to minutes showed that they were watched. Focus group data proved their popularity. Okay, so he hated talking about Justin Barbarino or whatever the fuck his name was. But it worked. It kept people tuned in. He had to keep it, and if she got her way, if she did what she wanted to do, those would be gone. And then who would watch?
“This can’t wait. If you’re coming back at the end of this week and you take those segments away… Mackenzie, we need to keep viewers. I’m not saying we need to keep the segments indefinitely, but I think we need to ease into the changes you want to make. Those can go last.”
While Will spoke, Mac opened her laptop and started looking up what segments he was talking about. She watched the show before she came to the ACN studio, but after watching the first couple blocks, a lot of times she walked away frustrated with him and the show. She wasn’t entirely sure that she ever made it through an entire episode, having seen what she needed in the first 15 minutes.
Will could hear her typing on her computer. “What are you doing?”
“I’m looking up what you’re asking me to keep. I think I know the answer, but I want to make an informed decision. Which I’m sure means I put in more thought than you did when you allowed these to become a regular part of your broadcast.”
“You know what your problem is, Mac. And it’s been your problem for a long time, I just tried to looked past it because you were, you were…”
“You girlfriend?” Mac finished for him, hoping that he’d skip over whatever insult he had in his head.
Will considered what to say. He wanted to complete the thought with, “a good fuck,” but he recognized that might cross the line. And it wasn’t true. Maybe that’s the line it would cross. She was, and he’d have to forget that someday, but she was more than that. And that’s…. IT doesn’t matter. He was a good guy, he was a good guy and he would remain that even when she was hurting him. He took a steadying breath and said, “Yeah that. You’re always so sure you’re right and that you know all the people around you so much better than you do. You’re not as smart as you think you are, Mac.”
Mac didn’t say anything, forcing Will to listen to her breathe and wonder what she’s thinking. Maybe she’s playing some game with him. She’s trying to get him to speak first, say more than he should. Well, two can play at this game. He waited, wanting to ask what she was thinking, but determined not to because he can outlast her.
“First, the name of the segment is Today in YouTube.” Will wasn’t sure what surprised him, that she spoke first or what he knew she was about to say. “Second, I want to be absolutely clear about this, we are not going to continue to put fucking CAT VIDEOS on our broadcast. GOD! What the fuck happened to you, Will? You’re a fucking brilliant man and this is what you do with your God damned talent?”
“The audience –“
“I don’t give a fuck about the audience. You’ll have a god damned audience, but you’ll have a smarter one, one that wants to actually be informed about real issues, not whatever the fuck the least common denominator wants. God damn it Will, you’re so much better than this shit you allowed your show to be. I thought I was coming in for a course correction, but this shit is below fucking Page 6. What the hell happened? You know better than this!”
Will felt himself getting angry. At the beginning of the call he felt panicked, she was going to cost him his audience, his friends. But now she was attacking him and his integrity. “What the hell happened? You’re asking me what the fuck happened? You fucking happened Mackenzie. When I learned that my girlfriend had been fucking her ex-boyfriend, I realized the only people I can truly count on are the ones –“
“Who what? Who adore you? You tune in for an hour hypnotized by your face and your voice? That’s not love Will. That’s not worth a damned thing. That’s one-way communication and it ends now. I’m talking to Charlie tomorrow. You’re not going to have access to ratings or any other stats. You’re going to focus on your show and making it something worth watching. I didn’t realize it until now, Will, but I’m here to save your soul, not your show. You can put on a fucking cat video tomorrow, but when I’m back on Friday, no more. I’m not putting my name on anything that is less than what you can be. And neither are you.”
With that, Mac hung up.
April 22, 2010 3:57AM
Will heard the click and immediately called her back, but she didn’t answer.
April 22, 2010 3:58AM
Will got a glass of water and remembered that he heard someone say that people should count to ten when they’re upset, so he did. And he tried calling her back. She still didn’t answer.
April 22, 2010 4:05AM
Will was on his way back to his bedroom figuring he should probably try to get some more sleep. He didn’t know what he wanted to say to Mac anyway. Before he made it to his room, his phone rang. He knew who it was without looking. He wondered if maybe she called to say she was sorry. She crossed a line and she knew it.
“If we’re doing this, we’re doing this. You’re like an addict. The audience is your drug. You can hate me… more… if you need to, but I’m not going to be your enabler. We’re going to do the news and you’re going to start being a person you can stand to look at in the mirror again.”
“I have no issues looking at myself in the mirror.”
Mac had to wonder, was she wrong about him? This can’t possibly be the man that she loves, loved. Maybe she saw him through rose-colored glasses before. Maybe he just went along with her because he felt like he had to, because he loved her. Maybe he was never the Billy she remembered.
She considered it, and then she remembered walking him through the bullpen and seeing him invested in his show and what they were doing. It was before they were really dating, before he had his first show at CNN. She remembered watching him really engage. The fight he put up when the network brought in Brian’s friend to dumb down his show. No, the Billy she loved was in there somewhere, it wasn’t a figment of her imagination. “Can you really? Where are you, Will?”
“Are you in your living room or kitchen? Where are you?”
Will shut his eyes tight. He didn’t want to do this. He wanted her apology. He wanted her to admit that she was wrong and to say that he could keep his audience and then hang up. Anything else is unacceptable.
Mac could sense his struggle through the phone. She had to keep putting pressure on him. He was going to lash out, but he needed her to keep pushing. He still needed her. It wasn’t a lot to live on, but it would be enough. She had to give him a couple successes. He needed to see what it feels like to do the right thing again. He needs her to make sure that his show does what it’s supposed to do. If he can see and remember what a good show is like, what it means to put on a good show, she can save him from himself.
When Charlie approached her about coming to his show, she had fantasies about reconciling with him. But all of a sudden she realizes that the more important thing is to save him. That’s what she has to do, she has to save him. She has to push him and make sure that he is who he should be.
“You went back to bed didn’t you? You tried to yell at me twice and then gave up. I’ve known you a long time, Billy and I know you’re not a quitter.”
“I told you not to call me that.”
Mac steeled herself. She knew that voice, it was a growl. She heard that voice when he kicked her out of his apartment and when he told a whole newsroom that she would not have a job when she got back from the Middle East. He’s serious. She’s affecting him. She has to be careful. If she overplays her hand, he’s not going to listen. If she gives up, she may not get another chance. “Why are you fighting, Will? Are you actually proud of the show you’ve been doing?”
“Of course not. You know that. But I need the audience. If my ratings go down –“
“I don’t give a fuck about ratings, Billy. I care about you. I want to make sure that you do a show full of the integrity that I know you have. I want you to do a show worthy of you. If we can do that show, then informing the electorate is just icing.” Mac paused, giving her words a chance to sink into Will’s head. “I believe in you Will, I always have. But you have to make the decision to do the show that you can do.”
Will wasn’t comfortable with how long it took him to answer. Part of him wanted to tell her that he wanted to keep his format and that if she didn’t want to do that show, he would accept her resignation. But something kept stopping him. “I have a brand Mac. And it’s not just my show, Elliot is coming on after me. He deserves a chance and without a strong lead in.”
The defeat in Will’s voice broke Mac’s heart. If they were in the same room, she would put her arms around him and she’s sure that he’d put his head on her shoulder. She had to get that image out of her mind. She had to save him. It’s the only way that she can prove her feelings. “You’re going to deliver him and the network a better audience. You’re going to set the stage for everyone to up their games. Including Jane Barrow.”
“Who the fuck is Jane Barrow.”
“Someone from DC, she doesn’t matter. What matters is, you’re going to make things better for everyone. Just trust yourself. Engage. Be the anchor you always wanted to be. Be the leader our team deserves.”
“I don’t know if I can, Mac.”
“You can, because I’ll be with you every step of the way.”
Will felt his eyes misting up, but kept his voice under control. “You know that’s not the comfort it used to be.”
“I know. But when I deliver a few good shows, it will be. Until then, trust that I’m the best in the business.”
“Show me what you can do and we’ll go from there.”
Mac silently nodded her head. “I can do that.”
“Will, will you do me a favor?”
Mac smiled. “See a doctor and get some sleeping pills?”
Will felt himself laughing. “Goodnight, Mac.”
Mac hung up the phone smiling. Her Billy is in there somewhere. He’ll show up when she puts some good shows together. Friday’s show will be important.
Chapter 5: April 22, 2010 9:43AM
This thread has been on fire and between a new job and working on finishing my basement, I have had a hard time keeping up. But I haven't forgotten this one. It's a lot of fun to work on.
April 22, 2010 9:34AM
“You told HR to bring me files of the staff?”
“I did.” Mac put a little lilt in her voice at the end of the statement, hoping it would help diffuse vein that she imagined Will had throbbing in his neck. “We talked about it last night and you said you would try to at least learn their names.”
Will tried to remember what the fuck he agreed to in their total 3 hours of discussions after the show. Fuck, he didn’t think he talked to her this much when they were dating. They usually went home, got something to eat, and… He has to stop thinking about the… those days. They weren’t that good, he has to remember that. They weren’t that good. He heard a little voice in his head call her a liar and another reminded him to focus on what he said last night. But instead of doing any of that, he went into prosecutor mode, “If I said I would learn their names –“
“And go down to HR to get their files.”
Will took a breath to center himself and hopefully keep the edge out of his voice, “If I said I would go to HR to get their files and learn their names, then it was my responsibility to do it or not do it.”
“I thought I would help you. I know how busy you are.”
He hates when she does that, it’s almost a patronizing voice. God damn it, she knows he wasn’t going to go. Hell, she may ever know that he forgot about that part of their conversation. Wait, was she making that up? He wouldn’t have had that fucking idea. But she did go on about being a leader to their team and this would help that along. “I also said I would go to my doctor, did you set up that appointment too?”
“I don’t know who you’re seeing these days or I may have.” Mac took a breath. She had a meeting coming up in a couple minutes. “Will, I have to go. I’m talking to Jan Brewer about doing our show tomorrow. I want to start our new show on the right foot. Learn their names. Come into the rundown tomorrow ready to be their leader. I’ll call you tonight about the Brewer interview.”
“We’re covering SB 1070?”
“Good, you’re aware of it.”
“Of course… Yeah I’m… Brewer’s not talking to anyone. The rest of the ACN lineup has been trying to get her to talk all week. Anderson Cooper even called me to ask if I had any contacts in her office. You don’t have this.”
“I have an audience with the Governor herself.”
Mac smiled. He didn’t believe it, but he’s getting excited by the possibility of doing real news again. She can hear it in his voice. It’s the first time she actually believes that maybe this can work, that he wants this to work, he wants to do a good show. “A girl’s gotta have some secrets.” Mac’s smile grew as she imagined the impressed look on Will’s face. “I gotta go. I’ll call you after the show with more details about tomorrow.”
“Wait! Mac! Mac!” She’d disconnected, leaving Will to do the same. He sat back in his desk looking at the stack of files HR walked up to his office. He opened the top one and glanced at it before closing it and leaning back in his chair. Maybe one day he’d have to acknowledge that she’s right and this is how to do the news. He can change his show, not for her, but because of her. But he won’t change himself for her. She’s not going to make him be anything other than who he is.
Chapter 6: April 22, 2010 10:08 PM
April 22, 2010 10:08 PM
“So how did it go?” Will tried to keep his voice even. He didn’t want Mac to know that he was excited at the prospect of being the only anchor to interview Governor Brewer.
“We got her for 9 minutes tomorrow night.”
Will allowed a smile to cross his face and he ignored how proud he was of her. “Seriously? She agreed to come on the show? How did you get that to happen?” Screw it, he didn’t care if she knew he was excited. After all, it wasn’t necessarily pride, he’s got an exclusive, why wouldn’t he be excited?
“I gave her the vision of what we want our show to be. She wondered if you were really up for that type of show, but I told her that you are every bit the prosecutor that you were when you had the 94% conviction rate. So she made sure that I was going to sic you on the spokesperson from La Raza as well.”
“Who do we have from there?”
Mac smiled, feeling proud because she knew he was excited about this. Maybe this would be all it would take to turn this around. One good show, one good story. “We’ll find out tomorrow, but they know Brewer will be on for the other side, so they’ll send their A game, don’t worry.”
Will got quiet. He knew what he should say. He should tell her she did a good job or thank her for her work or say he was proud of her. But he couldn’t. He knew she deserved every accolade he could throw at her, and he knew that keeping that from her was petty, but he didn’t want her to think that they were patching anything up. He still hated her for what she did, he was still going to fire her the first chance he got and he didn’t want to give her reason to fight him in court over it. “You know, Brewer and I have a history, I wonder if that played into her decision at all.”
Mac laughed, he was just trying to get a rise out of her. “What history was that? Did you meet one day when you were a cub reporter and she flirted with you? Do you just assume that every woman in the world has a crush on you?”
Will kept his voice matter of fact. He didn’t have a plan, he wanted to see her reaction. “I assume that about the straight ones. But in this case, well, it was more than just a crush. When I was in the Bush White House –“
“I don’t think I need to hear about your dalliances with a married woman.”
“A gentleman doesn’t kiss and tell –“
“That’s enough, Will.”
“But let’s just say that I have some pull in the governor’s office. I didn’t want to use the favor I’m owed, so I hope that you got this on your own.”
“I assure you I did. And you won’t have to worry about the governor coming onto you, she will be half a continent away in Arizona.”
Will could hear the hurt in her voice and wasn’t sure what to feel. On one hand, he knew he should stop, this was a victory for Mac and the show and he’d reap the benefits from it. But, now he knows that she’s hurt at the idea of him with someone else. It seems like a good piece of information to know. She can’t possibly hurt as much as he did when she told him about… she can’t hurt that much, but it’s good to know that he can affect her. “That’s too bad actually.”
Mac stopped herself from hanging up the phone. She knew that he was screwing with her, trying to get a reaction out of her and she wasn’t going to give him one. She took a breath and silently counted to ten. “Have you started looking through the staff files yet? It would be nice if you knew a couple of their names tomorrow at the first rundown meeting.”
“I brought them home with me, they’re on my desk.”
Mac scoffed. “They’re on your desk where you can continue to ignore them.”
“I brought them home, Mac. Obviously I intend to –“
“To make excuses that you got too wrapped up in whatever fucking game is in season right now to look at them.”
“I brought them home. I was going to look through them. I had every intention of –“ God, even he could tell he was lying and usually he could at least half convince himself.
“You had every intention of what? Flipping through them once and then using your prosecutorial gifts for mind reading to learn that Kendra and Gary don’t get along because Kendra thinks Gary is cocky because he’ll speak out against Obama and Kendra’s double 800s on her ACT drives Gary nuts.”
“Who’s Kendra and Gary? And how young are they if they’re still talking about SAT scores? I didn’t even talk about mine in law school.”
Mac sighed. “Oh God! You graduated high school early, did you even have to take an SAT?”
Will’s head was racing. He had to take the ACT, but it was mostly for show. When he went into business taking entrance exams for other people, it was harder getting a reasonable score for them. “You want me to learn a couple of their names, I’ll learn all their fucking names.”
“Learn their names, don’t learn their names. I don’t give a fuck. You want to be part of what we’re trying to do, that’s great, you’re welcome to be as involved as you want. You want to go and fuck every female governor in the states, knock yourself out. But when you’re ready to be a serious journalist, don’t be surprised that the team won’t rally around your anymore. You have a fucking opportunity and you’re intent on pissing it away.”
Will listened to the silence for a couple seconds. “Oh! You haven’t hung up yet? I thought that’s what you do now. You give me a tongue lashing like I’m a little kid and then hang up, only to call back when it suits you.”
“Passive-aggressive is your playbook these days, Billy. I just call it like I see it.”
“I told you not to call me that.”
“I’m calling you an infantile name because you’re acting like a fucking child who got a toy taken away by a kid down the street.”
“You know you’re talking about yourself now? And the way I understand it, he didn’t take you as much as you whored yourself between us.”
Mac felt like she had been smacked. She didn’t want this conversation, not now. Not before she gives him a win. But if he was bruising for it, she’s not going to stop it. It’s only a 24-hour difference. “Do we need to do this now?”
“Do what?” He wondered how they go to this point. He wondered if she knew. Of course she did, and if he asked, she’d probably be able to point to a moment that he caused it. He didn’t remember, but he’s sure he did it. The conversation started with a triumph, how the fuck did they get here? Why were they fighting? Why was she so hurt? And why the fuck did he care so much that she was hurt and he probably caused it? “You fucking flit from one thought to another without rhyme or reason. How the fuck am I supposed to keep up or know what the fuck you’re thinking?”
Mac focused on keeping her voice even, though she was sure she was more clipped than she wanted to be. “Do we need to talk about us? Obviously you haven’t gotten over what we were. And you still want to punish me. Can I tell you my side? Will you finally listen to it?”
“What the fuck side could you possibly have? You slept with your ex-boyfriend for four months, a year after we started dating.”
“We weren’t serious yet.”
“What the fuck does that mean? I was there Mac. You were fucking him while I was telling you I loved you. How much more serious do you think we could have been? You’d get him off and then call me for one of our nightly chats.” He hated this. She was near tears and so was he. They were both raw. This can’t be good for either of them. God damn it, why was she here? Why was she putting herself and him through this? She could leave and it all stops. The pain stops. Why is she doing this?
“It started be--. You know what? It doesn’t matter. I didn’t know I loved you until after. And I’m sorry that you got hurt.”
“So that’s it? That’s all you have to say on the subject. And now… What? Are we supposed to just talk about the staff or the show like nothing happened?”
“You mean work together and pretend that you aren’t the love of my life? Yeah, until you can forgive me or move on, I guess we have to.” Mac took a breath, hoping to reset the conversation. She’ll figure out later how to best deal with this when it happens again. “Have you looked at the files at all today or did they just sit at the end of your desk forcing you to choose between being the man you want to be or the sorry excuse for a man that you currently are?”
“I can’t possibly be the fucking love of your life if you were able to go off with him for four months.”
She had an answer for him, but he wouldn’t be able to hear it right now. She has to focus on this win. If there is any chance of him listening to her, she has to give him this win. She just has to stay focused. “Jan Brewer and La Raza will go in the A block obviously. I want to send a strong message that we’re not going to keep pandering to non-news and put BP in the D block, nothing’s happening there.”
She was like a fucking whirlwind. Wasn’t she the one that brought up their past? He tried to run through the beats of their conversation because he really didn’t remember. He didn’t get very far before he realized that he needed to come up with a response to her last statement about the line up, wherever the fuck that came from. “We’re not going to cover Deepwater Horizon tomorrow?”
“Repeat after me, Will. It’s going in the fucking D block. There’s no new news.”
“Did that idea come from one of the damned teenagers?”
“They’re not teens, they all graduated from college. Except Neal, but he just works with social media. And he’s 25.”
“I don’t know about this Mac, they don’t have any experience. And please spare me one of your fortune cookie profundities. They don’t have experience. They don’t know what the fuck they’re doing. And if your staff isn’t able to keep you in check –”
“So we’ll train them and we’ll teach them how to do news the way we want it done. There may be some rough edges we’ll need to smooth out, but they’re eager and we can teach them.”
Will’s head was still spinning, but he had to smile. There it was, her passion for what she does. Will had never met anybody in any profession who loved what she did as much as Mackenzie McHale loved everything about live news. Her passion for the news and for influencing… people… was absolutely infectious. She literally made people better. That was one of the things he loved most about her. He swallowed hard at that realization. It was dangerous. It was dangerous to watch it again. When Mac believed in something, how could anyone not sell his soul in pursuit of it? He thought once that she had that passion for him, and when he was wrong he spun out of control and… this is where he’s at. “Mac, news is your one love. Lead them, grow them, do whatever the fuck you want with them. I won’t stand in your way. I’ll come to the meetings, I’ll back you as your boss and I’ll deliver what you need.”
“Is that what you really believe?” Mac waited for a reply that she didn’t get. “Will, I love the news and I intend to air the best damn show on the television. But we’re going to do that. And we’re going to do that because I can’t do it without you and the talent and integrity you bring to the show. You phoning it in isn’t enough. I got Jan Brewer because of you and for you. Not because she wanted to fuck you, but because she saw the potential you have to do the news well. And when that group that we’re leading sees it too, they’re going to be inspired by it and they’re going to rise up to it.”
Will swallowed as he thought through what she said. “You got her for me?”
“Will, I’m going to remind you what the two of us can do. I’m going to earn your trust back in this and show you who you can be. Just watch, Will. Trust me. This is going to be the best show you’ve ever done.”
Will didn’t know what to say. He believed her. How could anyone not believe her when she got like that? Or at least not want to believe her? But part of him wondered when it would happen, when would she run from him again, when would she betray him, how would it happen this time? But he also believed that she wanted this and that she wanted this with him. And he knew that he wanted it. He wanted to do the news the way she wanted to do it, because she inspires something in him that no one else ever has. But the idea of it, of her, hurt. It hurt.
“What are you thinking Will?”
“I don’t know. I don’t think it’s possible.”
“Tomorrow is probably the most important day of my professional life because I’m going to show you that it is. Just watch, Will, it is and you’re going to be part of it.”
“You really want this for me?”
Mac smiled, hoping that he could hear it in her voice. “I told you before that I’m here to save your soul as well as your show. I’ve done a lot to hurt you, so I want to give you this more than anything.”
“Okay, you got your episode. Show me what you can do.” He could swear he heard her smile into the phone. Will pressed end on his phone and double checked to be sure it disconnected, then put his phone in his pocket for good measure. He felt his eyes watering a little as he felt regret. He knew it was silly, but with no one around, he said, “And, Mac, good job getting Brewer. I don’t know anyone else who could have.”
Will sat down at his table and picked up the first staff file. She wants this win for him. She believes in him. Even if she runs away in a few months, maybe what she sees in him does exist. Maybe if he can tap into that, then when she leaves and he gets a new EP, he’ll end up with a better show. Maybe.
Will finally went to bed at 1AM and at 3 woke up to a dream of everyone at work laughing at him or feeling sorry for him. He reached for his phone, ready to call Mac to ask her not to tell anyone why they broke up. He couldn’t take the chance that he would have to face that humiliation, that anyone else would ever know that he was her second choice, that there was another man who for a time was important enough to her that she put what they had in jeopardy. He has to face that every time he sees her. More people knowing, and talking and asking well-meaning questions. He couldn’t deal with that idea. Her phone went straight to voicemail, so he hung up and tried to go back to sleep.
April 23, 2010 11:12PM
Will felt like shit. The whole ride home, he replayed the day in his mind. The conversation with Reese, the push and pull between what Mackenzie wanted to do and what Reese wanted. It felt like a tug of war between good and evil, God and Satan, if he believed in such shit. His mother did when he was growing up, that’s close enough. Damn it, he wants it to succeed. He wants the show that she says she can produce. And despite the fucking mess she put on, he knows that if anyone can do it, it’s Mackenzie McHale.
But it comes with a price. A high price. It’s not just the audience and the ratings. That’s part of it; of course that’s part of it. That’s why Reese is able to hold out that carrot to him, because he needs the fucking audience like Charlie needs bourbon. He needs them. His audience loves him and he can’t find that anywhere else. And he can’t let himself fall under her spell, because if there’s one thing he’s sure of, it’s that she doesn’t love him. But if he lets her in, if he lets her run his show, run the only part of his life that matters, he’s going to forget. He’s going to fall in love with her again and he can’t let that happen.
She ruined his life. For all her bravado about how she’s there to “save his soul as well as his show,” she ruined his life. She ruined his life and let the entire company know about it. Pilots – Charlie literally said Pilots – know that he wasn’t man enough for her; that she had to go to someone else. She embarrassed him in front of his colleagues, and then she embarrassed him on the air, in front of his audience. And it doesn’t matter that they were mistakes, she made people pity him. Charlie pitied him. The blonde girl… Maggie pitied him. What did she mean that someone cheated right on top of her?
Before Will could imagine what that meant, he greeted his doorman. When Manny mentioned the show, Will was going to say that’s not the show they were supposed to do, but it didn’t matter. It wasn’t the show they should have done. And she was right. They made a mistake. It must have been Maggie, the blonde one, that offered to go to 10:00 that did something that cost them the interview. It cost them the interview that Mac counted on as the centerpiece of the most important show she ever produced. That’s what she said. Mac wanted it to work. For him. Mac wanted to put together a good show for his benefit.
Before he could let that thought sink in and wonder if she felt like shit too, his elevator dinged and the door opened. He was home. Alone. She was right about that too. Last night during their fight she said that when he was ready to join them in the fight for journalistic integrity, no one would be there. They wouldn’t care, they wouldn’t rally around him. And tonight, after he suffered through her fucking indignation, he turned around, looking for backup. And they were gone. There was no one there. He was just as alone then as he is now.
“Be the leader, Will. Be the integrity. Be the moral center of this show. Be the integrity.” Fuck. She believed in him. And fuck if he didn’t like the feeling of that. Charlie believed in him too, that’s why he was loyal to Charlie. He used to be loyal to Mac… for as long as he thought she was loyal to him. He looked around his apartment. That’s it. That’s the list of everyone who believes in Will McAvoy. Charlie and Mac.
“Be the integrity. Be the leader, Will.” It ran like a mantra through his head. Charlie told him to get it the fuck together. Charlie brought her in because he knows that she will bring out the best in Will. He has to lead. He has to show Charlie that he deserves the faith that has been put in him.
Having made a decision, he found the office directory, delivered with the staff files. No doubt Mac thought he should put the staff’s numbers in his phone. Neal Amani Sampat was passionate about helping a man get to work. He can start there. He can be a leader starting there. Neal’s name and phone number went into his phone and he called.
“Neal, it’s Will. I hope you don’t mind me calling so late. I got your number from – you know, there’s a booklet.”
“The office directory.”
This is the easy part. Even if he believes that immigrants… no, he has to stay on track. This is the easy part. “That guy you found in Spokane. I want you to get in touch with him and tell him you’re gonna pay for a cab to take him to and from work. He should send you the receipts, then give them to me.”
Will took a breath as Neal gushed. He wanted to put this on the blog, whatever the fuck that is. Will made it clear that he doesn’t want credit. Less clear is Will’s desire to be the man that Charlie thinks he can be. The man that Mackenzie thinks he can be. He’s not doing this for her and he’s not doing this for Charlie. He wants to be that man. He wants to do something in this pitiful life that means something. He wants to be the leader. He wants to be the integrity. Just the way she said.
Now the hard part. He didn’t really have a plan, but he knew before calling that he would have to talk to her. He would have to say something to her. He wanted to do something first to show that he was going to be the integrity and the leader. He had to make that gesture before he could expect her to believe it. But he felt his heart pounding. It was the right thing to do and he knew it, but he didn’t want to do it.
“Is Mackenzie around there?”
“Can you put her on the phone?” To his own ear, he could tell that he was losing patience. The longer it took to get her on the phone, the more opportunity he had to hang up. He couldn’t do that. This was too important. She needed to know that he made a decision. She asked him, “Are you in or are you out?” He couldn’t bare the thought that she might not know that he made the decision. He as going to be the person she thought he could be. He was going to be the leader. He was going to be the integrity. He had to let her know that she doesn’t have to save his soul, he was choosing to save himself.
Mac felt like shit. Jim invited her over after the show and she went even though she wanted to be alone. So she sat at the back of the bar, away from the staff. She knew that Will felt the same way she did and she knew it was her fault. She was going to reclaim him for journalism. She was going to save his show and teach everyone else how to do the news. She was going to make him the man she always dreamed he was. And she couldn’t even pull it off once. She had to be the leader, to go out with the staff and make those connections. She had to show them that they were fighting the good fight. But she couldn’t put her heart into it. She was fighting for Will’s soul, but they weren’t. At some point they would have to ask themselves what they’re fighting for and they won’t have an answer. Hell, she wasn’t even sure if the Will she remembered was still there under all that hurt and anger he harbored for her.
He wants this. She knows that, even if he doesn’t know it yet, he does. He wants this as much as she does. And she’s the only person who can bring it out of him because she knows that it’s there. No one knows him the way she does. She fucked it all up. But Goddamn if she’s not going to figure out a way to fix it. He’s got a weekend. She’s not going to push. He’s got a weekend to make up his mind. He wants this; he just has to realize it. And he will. Eventually. But she shouldn’t have pushed. She shouldn’t have fought with him last night. She has to keep things professional.
She didn’t notice Neal coming towards her until he extended his arm with his phone in his hand. He told her it was Will, so before taking the phone, she made the decision to take it all back. They have so much potential, this show has so much potential. She needs him to see it. She needs time. She has to walk back her ultimatum.
“I’m sorry… about everything. I’m just so sorry. There’s no way I can even--” It felt so shallow compared to the list of sins she was thinking of. It wasn’t enough to make up for the broadcast, let alone the three ring circus that was today. Or her declarations to him about saving him. She couldn’t even save herself, how the fuck was she going to save him?
The tone of her voice broke his heart. He’d never seen her cry except when she told him about… He’d never seen her cry except the day that she left him. He kicked her out. She apologized that day too.
He had to focus. Now more than ever, she needed to know what he called to tell her. He will lead this group of people that she wants to develop. He will be the integrity. “I’m in.” There, he said it. And she has to know that he doesn’t say anything that he doesn’t mean.
“I’m in. I’ll see you on Monday.”
Mac didn’t know what the fuck was happening. But if he’s coming around, then she needed to see how much she could get. “Are you still gonna worry about the ratings?”
“Still going to worry about being popular?”
“About being loved by strangers?”
Will was getting irritated. He was in. He was going to be the leader. He was going to be the integrity. What the fuck else did she want from him? “Are you gonna keep asking me questions that all mean the same thing?”
Mac smiled. He was in. He said the words and he doesn’t say anything that he doesn’t mean. He’s in. “Til I get the right answer.”
“There it is.” She would have liked to get more, but it was a start. It would be enough.
All telephone dialog came directly from episode 1X02. Sorkin may have written the call, but it's now part of my purview.
Chapter 8: April 24, 2010 10:07AM
April 24, 2010 10:07 AM
Mac lay in her tub, relaxing. She usually doesn’t do this, but after the horrible week she had, she felt like she deserved it. She needed to get some new furniture, but this was important now. Maybe accepting Charlie’s offer to work with Will again was a bad idea. She always knew it was, she knew that he didn’t really want to work with her again, she assumed Charlie strong-armed him into it. Which he kinda did, he just didn’t face Will head on. She thought that she’d be able to help him recapture his love for the news and with enough time, he’d realize he still loved her and they would reunite. Her sister called her naïve. Mac couldn’t disagree anymore. Will has made it absolutely clear that he wants nothing to do with her and, well, she doesn’t know what to make of his “I’m in” call. She’s not going to believe him until he shows her, and what’s the chance that he will show her anything? No one knows when big news will come up. And if something did come up, she can’t guess anymore what Will will do.
She should call Charlie and tell him she’s done. It’s not worth this. She can still produce fucking Lunch. Shows like that don’t come around everyday, Mac eyerolled. Mac felt herself biting her bottom lip and laughing at the absurdity. She spent 3 years in a warzone, unable to get over this man and a half-week with him and she’s ready to walk away for the worst show idea she’s ever heard. And the worst part is, her therapist would probably say that’s the healthy choice.
Mac’s eyes went heavenward, “Come on God, just give me a sign.” Mac let her head fall back to rest on the water and let out a long breath. Just as she was starting to feel relaxed, she heard her phone ring. She let out a humorless laugh, “Maybe it’s God.” She reached over for the phone and saw Will’s name on the caller id. “No, it’s only a person who thinks he’s fucking God.” She put the phone down, not wanting to deal with whatever bullshit he had prepared for her.
Will listened to her phone ring getting more and more irritated. Why the fuck wasn’t she picking up? What could she possibly be doing on a Saturday that’s more important than this? He hadn’t slept at all the previous night. Every time he tried he heard her voice in his head demanding him to be the leader, be the integrity. Around 2AM he was on his 4th beer and decided on his plan of action. He just finished and now he had to tell her what he did.
When the phone went to voicemail, he hung up and texted, “Call me.”
Mac heard the text come in and looked at the message. Two words. She was going to finish her bath, he would have to wait for her convenience. She laid her head against the bath wall. Unless there’s a big news emergency and they need to go to work. No, it’s not going to be anything like that, she would have gotten a news alert. Mac took a deep breath to relax. After a couple seconds, she realized she could text Jim and see if anything is going on. No there’s no reason to do that, if there’s something important happening, she’ll start getting calls from a lot of people. She put her head back again and took another relaxing breath.
She could check the AP website, they would be the first to run a story. A quick peek and she would know if she needs to go to work or if sometime after this bath, that will relax her, she has to call Will. She looked at her phone, determined that Will will not take away her bath time. If there’s something happening, then her phone would be ringing off the hook. And it’s not. She doesn’t need to check on world events. She doesn’t need to call Will back like she’s some sort of dog responding to her master. And Will isn’t going to ruin her fucking bath time. She put her head back and took a cleansing breath. As she closed her eyes, the phone beeped to tell her another text came in.
She knew it was from Will. Her deep cleansing breaths started coming a little faster. And there was more of a heave in them. It occurred to her that maybe it wasn’t Will. It could be work. For all she knows, North Korea could have a bomb on it’s way to New York. The end of the earth may literally be coming and her end would be coaching Will through the newscast.
Or it could be a message telling her about student loan forgiveness even though she doesn’t have any loans, she’s been getting a lot of those recently. She tilted her head back, and even though she knew she was going through the motions, damn it, she was going to fucking relax. She wondered what time it was in London, maybe her parents were calling. They’re 6 hours ahead, so if it’s 10 here, then two hours to make it noon. Two minus six is 4. Add that to noon and…. Oh who gives a fuck!
She grabbed her phone. “Mac, where are you?”
It was fucking Will. She knew it. And now she knew her bath was ruined, so she called him back.
“What do you want?”
Will smiled at the phone. “I got the interview. Jan Brewer is going to do our show on Monday. I even took care of the pre-interview so there can’t be anymore fuck ups.”
Mac wasn’t sure what she was hearing. “You got the… what the… You didn’t go all the way to Arizona to rekindle whatever you had with her did you?”
Will laughed. “I didn’t go to Arizona. I called her up and told her that unless she came on the show, the only people who our audience would recognize as being in support of her law were the sub humans we had on yesterday. As it turns out, she didn’t want them as her spokespeople.”
“You got Jan Brewer.”
Will nodded his head. “Um-hmm.”
“I, I got to say Will that I’m surprised.”
He had planned for this moment. There were so many things that he could say. He knew that she was disappointed and he wanted to give her the shot she wanted. He wanted to be the man that she wanted him to be, because that is a better man than he’s ever been. She deserved this after the hell he put her through. But instead, he simply said, “I told you yesterday that I’m in. Now I’m showing you.” He took a breath and said, “I’ll see you Monday, Mac.”
Chapter 9: April 24, 2010 4:47 PM
April 24, 2010 4:47 PM
“I want to do an apology.”
“You want to apologize? To me?”
Will was prepared for a fight, but he didn’t know what Mac was talking about. “Of course not. Don’t be ridiculous. To the audience. If we’re doing this, then we need to be clear about our mission. Let the audience and the media at large hold us accountable for what we’re doing. Make a statement to the other networks that they aren’t living up to the news any better than we were. We start our new show with an apology, our mission statement.”
Mac tried to digest this. In the last 16 hours, 18 hours… she couldn’t be completely sure, he went from having the worst show of either of their careers, to completely buying into this new paradigm and now he wants to throw himself a coming out party. As his EP, she wanted him to slow down and really consider what he wanted. As the person who loves him more than anyone in the world, she wanted to let him ride this enthusiasm as long as she could because obviously it made him happy and she missed him having passion for something.
“When you say that you want to make this apology, do you mean –“
“I already wrote it. I started last night, but the words didn’t flow as well as I thought. But I jotted down some ideas and I think I have something.”
Mac waited for Will to say something. When he didn’t she prompted, “Well, let’s hear it.”
“It’s just a rough draft.” Will took his hand written copy, feeling a little unsure all of a sudden and he didn’t know why. “Good evening, I’m Will McAvoy and this is News Night on April 26, 2010. Adults should hold themselves responsible for their errors. So tonight, I am opening this show with an apology to your our viewers, my viewers, for my failure in my tenure as the managing editor of News Night to successfully inform and educate the American electorate.”
“Whoa, stop. Just a second. I think we need something there.”
“You mean frame it? I was thinking about that, but I thought that if we started with something it would set up a production when I want to say that we’re stripping back to the basics of journalism.”
Mac considered what he said. “No, no, I think it’s okay this time. A frame is going to give you a jumping off point instead of running in like a football player who has to get through the group… of other… football players.”
Will couldn’t help laughing a little. She really was the most brilliant person he ever met, but when it came to analogies, her brain always works faster than her mouth and she completely loses what she wants to say. “So what do you suggest?” He learned a long time ago that he could either redirect her or laugh at her and this time he wanted to focus.
“Something to set it up. In the modern era, do we have any examples of real people who have owned up to their mistakes?”
Both journalists stopped to think. Mac started. “Dan Rather. He gave an apology for the Burkett evidence.”
Will shook his head. “Different kind of apology. We didn’t give wrong facts, we covered wrong stories. What about sports? Mark McGwire apologized for steroid usage a few months ago, that would be in people’s minds.”
“Who?” Mac heard Will grunt on the other side end of the phone. “It’s got to be something more universal than that. Something that when they hear it everyone can understand who it is and the context without starting a fight.”
They both paused again and then Mac heard Will snap his fingers and with a real smile on his face, he said, “Richard Clark. Former Counter Terrorism Chief to George W Bush. It was around 2004 when he –“
“Addressed Congress and took personal responsibility for not keeping America safe on 9/11. Yes! That’s it! That’s the moment!”
“I always loved that moment. Honestly, I did. How can you not respect a man who will publicly acknowledge his errors?”
Mac went to her desk and started tapping on her computer. “Let’s see if it’s on YouTube. I want to hear it.” Mac pulled it up and played it, making sure that Will could hear it through the phone.
When they heard Richard Clark say with emphasis “I failed you,” they both yelled out. “End it there.”
Will immediately picked up with what he wanted to say. “Good evening. I’m Will McAvoy. This is News Night. That was a clip of Richard Clark give his credentials, who he was—“
“Blah, blah, blah. Right, keep going.”
Will thought for a second. “Americans like that moment. I like moment. Adults should hold themselves accountable for failure. So tonight, I’m beginning this newscast by apologizing for our failure.”
Mac stopped pacing and interrupted, “to our viewers for our failure.”
Will stopped pacing when he heard her voice. “To all Americans, for our failure. Should we be writing this down?”
Mac looked around her. “Yeah. I’ve got my computer right here.” She noticed the clock. “It’s coming up on 5, do you have plans this evening?”
Will looked at his watch and thought. “Nothing that’s more important than this. You?”
“Just a night with Netflix. Do you want to meet somewhere? Maybe get some dinner and pound through this? If we’re doing this Monday we should try to get a script out to the senior staff tonight. Let them have a shot as defining our mission statement too.”
Will didn’t hear anything past “get some dinner”. He felt his heart pound in his chest and he tried to mask his breath getting heavier. “I don’t think that’s a good idea. Why don’t I write up something and you can look it over, send it back and then we can go through your markups. Then we can send to Charlie, get his approval before we go to the senior staff.”
When Mac extended the invitation, she didn’t think of it as a date, but his reaction reminded her that they weren’t in the relationship that she wanted. He couldn’t even bring himself to share a meal with her. She tried to hide her disappointment as she said, “Yeah, that sounds like a good plan. You write it out and let me know when you send it here and then I’ll go through it and give you call.”
Will heard the hurt in her voice and immediately felt it. He did it again. The last time was just two days ago when she called about her coup of getting Gov. Brewer and they ended up screaming at each other. Now he’s heard her go from excited to disappointed in the span of a single sentence. He can’t imagine Mackenzie without that fire, that passion she always has. And somehow he’s managed to snuff it out twice in 3 days. And he can’t apologize. Even a business dinner… he can’t do it. He can’t do that to himself. It’s only been a week and… being near her stirs something in him and he can’t go down that road. Not again.
“Okay. Go get something to eat and I’ll have a draft of this in your email within an hour.”
Mac wanted to call him out on telling her to eat, he knows better. But she didn’t have the fight in her. “I’ll wait for your email.” Mac took the phone from her ear and hung up before Will could say anything else. She thought he might hear her disappointment if she had to stay on the phone with him much longer and not only didn’t she want him to hear that, she knew he didn’t deserve to know that he hurt her. This time he didn’t intend it. She didn’t want to put a damper on his excitement. He needed to feel this, she needed something else that would continue to be just beyond her reach.
Will searched for something to say until he heard the call disconnect. “Fuck!” She’s the woman that cheated on him and broke his heart. But he loved her, a long time ago he loved her and it still hurts when he knows that he’s hurt her. It’s not what he wants. He looked at his phone that had a reminder about a date he had arranged for tonight. He then looked at the paper with his scratched out script on the table. He picked up his phone and dialed. “Hey, Tina? It’s Will. I’m sorry for the short notice, but I’m going to have to cancel tonight. A work thing came up.”
Chapter 10: April 24, 2010 6:11PM
April 24, 2010 6:11PM
“I thought you were going to call me.”
Mac walked into the News Night studio 4 days ago and since then she’s learned that when Will’s name appears on her phone she should brace herself to be yelled at but be ready for anything. Despite knowing all that, she didn’t know how to react to a pouting Will.
Mac had to admit that she told him that she would call after editing his apology statement and then they could send it to Charlie and ultimately the senior staff. However, after he made it clear that he didn’t want to spend time with her, she decided to skip a step and send directly to Charlie. She knew she chose the cowardly approach, but decided she didn’t want the fight. Instead she opted for a quiet night. Or so she thought.
“I liked what you wrote and wanted to get it out to everyone for their thoughts before Monday. I think the team will have a lot of good insights.”
Will couldn’t help feeling rejected. He was looking forward to working with her on the statement. From a purely professional perspective, Mackenzie brought out the best in Will. And he has to nail this. His last statement about the country went viral, this will too and he has to make sure it says exactly what he wants. If the audience judges him, he wants this to define him. He needs to be at his best and… she’ll make sure he is. That last thought made him pause, but he eventually decided that she has proven herself professionally to him. As long as they can keep the professional and personal separate, he should appreciate what she brings to the show.
“I wanted to go through it one more time with my… executive producer. I set the direction of the show and you make sure it happens. I want to make sure we’re on the same page.”
“We are Will. Look at what I sent, I didn’t have many changes, and mostly I just worded around your accent.”
“I don’t have an accent. That’s one reason I got this job.”
“You are very distinctly Midwestern. I had to write around that so you sound a little more sophisticated.”
Will couldn’t believe what she said. No one had ever talked to him about his “accent”. “I was a fucking prosecutor in New York City and no one ever thought I was less than sophisticated. I even worked in Bush 41’s White House. I don’t have to be more sophisticated.”
Mac had to bite her lip to not laugh. This genuinely bothers Will. She wondered for a second if she should feel bad for saying it, but the idea that this bothered him this much was completely ridiculous. “I’m not saying you’re a simpleton, I just wanted to get you away from a couple vowels. If you referred to soft drinks I would have made sure you called them sodas and not pops.”
Will heard what she said, but took a second to process it. “Why the fuck would I talk about soft drinks? When was the last time either of us had one? I have a God damned basket of good wine from Bernie and Betsy Shapiro here.”
“What the fuck are you talking about?” Mac couldn’t help laughing now while she imagined Will in what she assumed was his baron, dark apartment pacing around completely excited and having no idea why.
“How the fuck should I know. Apparently I have some Midwestern speech impediment that no one ever told me about and that I never noticed myself. And… I don’t even know what the fuck you mean by talking about soft drinks, which I always called soda. And why the fuck are you laughing at me?”
“I’m not laughing at you Will. It’s just this whole thing is ridiculous.” Mac noticed that Will wasn’t laughing, he seemed… something. Not the confident, assured man she was used to. “This really bothers you , doesn’t it?”
"No. It really doesn't."
Mac could always tell when he was lying. She watched him lie to other people and they didn't know, but she always did. This was a ridiculous thing to even discuss, but she knew how much of his self esteem was wrapped up in his audience. She sobered up at the noise and said, “Okay Will. Listen to me. Your apology is exactly what we need. It was good when you sent it, I just made a few minor tweeks to make it flow better on the air. You do have a Midwestern accent, but Midwestern is the easiest accent to listen to throughout the country. And I don’t see any reason to talk about soft drinks unless a Coca Cola plant blows up or something.”
Will had to take a second to digest everything she said. He’s read the focus group data enough to almost have it memorized. No one has ever called him out for being too Midwestern. In fact as much as he loathes his past, people seem to connect with him because of it. And after their last conversation, he felt good about the apology he wrote. And she didn’t give him a lot of notes and she would have no matter how she felt when she was going through it. News was always her first love. Everything else took a second place. Part of him felt stung over that, but a more rational thought reminded him that he can take advantage of that. He wanted to dwell on those thoughts, but then his mind also agreed that there’s no reason to settle the soda/pop wars.
When Will didn’t continue, Mac asked, “Why did the Shapiros send you wine?”
“What? Oh. New upstairs neighbors. They’re doing some remodeling and a piece of my ceiling came down yesterday morning. Little did I know that it would set the tone for the entire day.” Will finally settled at his table and looked at the wine bottles.
“Good came out of it. We’re talking and have an outstanding way to begin our new show.”
“Yeah.” Will rolled his eyes and looked at the bottle in his hand. “It’s good wine.” He had to cut himself off. The next words out of his mouth should be that it’s a fine wine that you want to share, but that conversational left turn can’t lead anywhere good. Unless good included her coming over and them getting drunk and… no, it can’t lead anywhere good.
Mac wanted to believe that he stopped because he was thinking about what she hoped, but she had another thought. “You should bring it to the studio on Monday. We can celebrate 2.0 as a team.”
“You mean with the staff? Are they old enough to drink?”
Mac rolled her eyes. “Yes, and you can save them from that poison they get down the street after the broadcasts. They apparently send an intern down to order watered down drinks and something called tuna jerky and listen to bad music.”
“What the fuck is tuna jerky?”
“I don’t know, the name was revolting enough that I didn’t even look at it.”
Will flinched at that last statement. “You go out with them?”
Mac laughed a little again. “I did last night. How did you think Neal got me on the phone?”
Will thought for a second. “I don’t know. I guess I assumed he was still at the studio.”
“Your powers of perception are slipping counselor. You had to hear the karaoke in the background and he left before you got off the air.”
There was a time that he would have picked up on all of that. He really was out of touch. “Okay. So if I bring the good boos to share with the team, are you bringing anything to the party?”
“I can get a platter of appetizers. Good ones or else I might as well just get them greasy pizza.”
Will chuckled at the idea. “Which they would probably prefer. Maybe we need to have food for the adults and food for the kids.”
“I wouldn’t turn my nose up at greasy pizza. It just wouldn’t go well with the wine.”
“Mackenzie McHale eating greasy pizza. That’s something I would pay to see. Your aristocratic sensibilities would make you get sick at the idea.”
Now it was time for Mac to feel ill at ease while Will innocently teased. “A lot’s happened in the last few years, Will. Greasy pizza was a treat for all of us.”
Something shot through Will as he heard these words. He remembered Charlie’s report on Mac, he seemed to say that she wasn’t doing well. Her change in tone seemed to confirm that. Will thought he should ask her something, but didn’t know how. Things seemed to be going well, he didn’t want to ruin that. “So you’ve sent the apology to Charlie who is probably going to be passed out here any minute. Are you sure that we need to send it to the rest of the staff?”
Mac nodded her head, “We really should. I want them to feel like they’re part of deciding the direction of the show. They have energy and ideas, we need to explore that. And it’ll bring us all together.”
“Just what I want, to be together with a bunch of teenagers.”
“Says the old man.”
“You’re no spring chicken there either compared to them.”
“I may not be jailbait, but I’m still 12 years younger than you.” Mac heard what she said and shut her eyes tight waiting for Will to react.
Will heard it and bit back his initial thought, instead saying, “part of the year it’s only 11.”
When Mac heard Will laugh, she laughed too. She wasn’t sure when they drew up a truce, but apparently they did. At least temporarily.
Will realized that for the first time since she’s been back he feels comfortable. And then he realized that at any moment one of them could say something wrong and it end in disaster. Again. He has to work with her. He needs her to help him be the best he can be professionally. “So I was thinking, if you really want the kids to have a say in this, why don’t you send it out to them tonight and then call them into a meeting tomorrow with us? I want this pretty much set before Monday’s rundown.”
“I think that’s a great idea. I’ll get this right out to them.” Mac smiled for a moment and then added, “And maybe we can order greasy pizza for the meeting and you can see me throw it down.”
Will smiled into the phone, “Will not believe it until I see it. Will we also be treated to a burp?”
“Only if there’s beer involved.”
“I’ll spring for a 12 pack. Go ahead and send it out to them. I’m free all day tomorrow.”
Will got off the phone and looked at the bottles of wine his neighbors sent him. They were too fine to drink alone. He could keep them for a special occasion in his bar, but this seemed better. He wouldn’t want to waste them on a cheap date, so sharing it with Mac… and the rest of the staff seemed like a good alternative.
A few minutes his phone beeped with a new email from Mac. Tomorrow. They’d show a united front to the kids she hired and reinvent their show. The idea scared the hell out of him, but at the same time seemed the most natural thing in the world.
Chapter 11: April 25, 2010 9:24PM
April 25, 2010 9:24PM
Mac sat at her desk, grease from the pizza the team just consumed churning in her stomach. She enjoyed watching Will interact with the team, even if some of that interaction included seeking out the greasiest pizza he could find to challenge her. Seriously, he looked impressed with their ideas. And not that she wants to read too much into it, but he didn’t flinch when she was forced to sit next him. Will insisted that the only way to take notes is with paper and pens so when she went to get them, she came back and the only seat left was next to Will. He simply looked around to make sure everyone was ready and then started reading his script.
Jim of course was the studious one. He read the script a few times before the meeting and had some ideas lined up. That made it easier for the rest of the group to make suggestions. Mac took the majority of the notes. Will has a damn near eidetic memory, so he only writes things down for show and the rest of the group were to excited to contribute to write anything. After they made it through the script and Will read through her marked up script including a list of ideas they generated, they had some pizzas delivered and Will made a big deal about Mac eating her first greasy pizza and beer, insisting she usually gets the expensive kind. Jim had seen her eat in the Middle East, and there you ate whatever they had, but Mac signaled him not to say anything. She wanted this moment. She wanted to see Will excited and teasing her, he’s spent too much time hating her and miserable. She doubts there was ever a time he wasn’t miserable, hating her is only new in the last three years. The difference between the pizza that she will be regretting long into the night and what she ate with the soldiers in Afghanistan was that this was fun and she didn’t want that ruined by something like the truth.
Seeing Will excited, seeing young, enthusiastic minds working so hard. It was worth any stomachache and everything Will has dished out to her. They’re making progress. They’re becoming friends. She wondered if they had ever actually been friends before. They met in the newsroom. She needed someone to do a real interview with FEMA during Hurricane Katrina because her anchor was a dud, so she dragged Will from his office with the other morning people to her conference room and declared to her EP and news manager that Will would do their interview. Will didn’t know what the fuck was happening, but for a week she produced his coverage of Hurricane Katrina in primetime and it was magic. Then they started dating. She became an EP, he became an anchor and they were inseparable. Even when she spent half her week in DC, they were inseparable.
He used to say he fell in love with her passion for the news. She fell in love with this side of him, the side that gets excited at ideas that ultimately make him better. That must be why he didn’t kick her out that first day, she pushed to be better. He’s always yearned for that. Maybe it comes from no one ever caring enough to push him. His intellect intimidated his parents and it wasn’t until law school that he was first challenged by a professor. This team, they will push him and they showed him that today. It was a good day for both of them. All of them.
She had to get her notes into her computer so that when Will reads her his version of the script, she’ll have a version as well to help refine his. It’s how they used to collaborate. They would each take a stab at the script and then over dinner or breakfast or at a park or… anywhere really he would read his and she would suggest an alternate phrasing. Some couples read Robert and Emily Barrett Browning to each other; they read news scripts. It worked for them.
Collaborating with him probably won’t go like she remembers, but she doesn’t know how else to do it. It didn’t work for them because they were in love, they were in love because it worked for them.
And that’s why she can’t pick up the phone right now. She doesn’t want the spell of the day they had to end now anymore than she wanted it to end when Jim wanted to correct Will. She wants to enjoy these memories just a little longer before Will realizes an old pattern and moves away from it.
But she’s stuck. She has to put in this definition of news that Jim suggested and it doesn’t flow right. And she knows that Will has probably finished his version and she wants to see how he transitioned into it because he was always better at the transitions. She was better at the grammar. That was the division of labor. He could outline the main points and make the argument and she could polish it. She couldn’t figure out how to make the argument. To write this apology, she needed him.
His phone only rang once before she heard his voice. “How’s your stomach?”
She could hear the smile in his voice and it made her smile. It’s been too long since they’ve been able to laugh with each other. “I told you, it doesn’t affect me at all.”
“Liar. I saw you wincing right before you left.”
“You’re right, I don’t eat like a 12 year old boy.”
“People are their healthiest when they’re young.”
It did her heart good to hear him like this. He was enjoying himself. She wondered how long it had been since that was true. She’d never be able to ask him that, but she wondered. “That’s because eating all that shit when you’re young kills you when you’re old, like you.”
“Seriously? You’re going back to the old age tree?”
“It’s not like you’re getting any younger.”
Will chuckled. “No, I guess I’m not. I assume you’re working on the script?”
“You are too I assume. Where are you caught?”
“You called me, I think you should have to admit it first.”
“I’m trying to figure out how to get Jim’s idea to define news into it. I know where he’s going, but I just can’t make it fit.”
“I haven’t gotten that far, I’m not comfortable extending the olive branch and saying not all journalist own an apology. I want to call out Fox, MSNBC, Breitbart, Huffpo and the rest that make real journalists look bad and make the rest have to disprove their stupidity. I honestly cannot think of a single journalist still broadcasting that shouldn’t say something similar to this.”
Mac thought for a second. “No one? I like Diane Sawyer.”
“You two. I’ve never understood what the fuck is between you two. You met at one gala event and now she’s like you’re fourth sister.”
“We hit it off. If you’d just give her a chance…”
“Why should I? She’s daytime, I’m nighttime. I’m sure she’s a lovely woman, but your friendship with her always perplexed me.”
They met Diane at that gala event in 2006 and since then it was always the same fight. More teasing than anything. Maybe he wasn’t as bothered by falling into old habits as she thought. “Will, we have to keep our eye on the ball. If we use this apology to take a swipe at our competition, we won’t be any better than a loud-mouthed reality star. We have to stay above the fray, that’s why we have to add that statement. Let every journalist think they’re the exception to your ire.”
“So you want me to lie.”
“No, I want you to position yourself well. And please don’t compare me to a politician. My father was a diplomat and he told me there’s a difference and I believed him.”
“Your father was a politician too.”
“He didn’t run for anything.”
“He spent a lifetime in politics! Where I come from that makes him a politician.”
“You came from Nebraska, what do they know about politics?” Mac clinched up a little, feeling some fear of getting too personal with him, “Besides, I thought you liked my dad.”
“I have a lot of respect for the ambassador, but that doesn’t mean he wasn’t a politician.”
“Bottom line, Will, we need to have that in or else the only thing people will talk about is your superiority complex when we want you to come across as contrite”
Will’s voice all of a sudden got serious. “You know you can laugh.”
“I don’t know. You called me to talk about the definition of news. I assume you need a transition into that?”
“If you have one.”
Will took a second and went through the conversation in his mind. “So we have the list of broadcasting hall of fame. What about, ‘they understood that news and news anchors has one aim, to educate the electorate.’ You can polish that up however you want, but I think that’s how you get into it.”
“I guess my question is, do we need it at all? Aren’t we already kind of saying what news should be by saying what we’re not going to do anymore?”
Will took a second to think about it. “We’re not really developing that thought are we?”
“In that spot, it just gets in the way between the hall of fame and where we’re at now. And with Neal’s line about Jersey Shore, that’s a stop point. We need to build to that and then let the audience feel it like a punch. Then go again.”
“And when we go again, we pick up where we left off, which means something like “We did good business.”
“I have ‘that business was good to us, but News Night is getting out of that business.’”
Will was a little surprised. “I thought we all like the idea of the going out of business sign. You didn’t like that?”
“I loved the idea, but I think making the audience all of a sudden envision something in their head is going to make them lose focus. You’re putting a lot of information into this three minutes, we have to make sure we use every word well.”
“OK. You always were the wordsmith.” Will felt himself swallow. He has to be careful. He doesn’t want it to feel like it did before. But he doesn’t know how to do this without falling into old habits. It’s a phone call. They’re not in the robes Mac insisted they wear if they were working because she thought they got distracted too easily otherwise. They’re not picking food off each other’s plates. It’s different. This is a professional call. “Can your kid handle not having his idea in?”
“Would it stop you if I said no?” She expected him to chuckle, but he didn’t. “Or would it spur you on?”
Will considered his next words. A few days ago he took an opportunity like this and hurt her and he hated what he heard on the other end of the phone. He didn’t want to do that again. “He’s a sharp kid. They all are. You put a good staff together, Mac.”
Will McAvoy can still surprise her. She still believes she knows him better than anyone, but every once in a while something sneaks out of his mouth that surprises… probably both of them, and those are the moments that she knows he’s being the most honest. “Thank you, Will. And, uh, yeah, he’s gotten ideas cut before, he’ll be okay.”
“Good, good. So, I’ll see you tomorrow and we can go through our drafts with the team again before the rundown?”
With the group. They’re going to read the script together, but with an audience. It felt wrong, even if that’s the most sensible way to do this. Hell, it’s the idea she should have suggested. She just never thought something that has always been so intimate would have an audience. “Yeah, that sounds good.”
“Ok. Good night, Mac.”
Mac struggled with finding the right way to end this call. “You know, it’s nice, to, uh it’s nice to hear you laugh again Will.”
“Yeah. It’s been awhile.”
Will hung up the phone before Mac could say anything else. God damn it he had to be careful. He can’t let himself start feeling anything for her. He can’t trust her, and until he can trust her, he can’t forgive her. He didn’t see it coming last time. She took what should have been the best day of his life and made it the worst. He can’t let that happen again. He just can’t.
Chapter 12: April 26, 2010 11:22PM
April 26, 2010 11:22PM
When the phone rang, Mac mindlessly swatted in the general direction of the phone sitting next to her laptop on her desk, while never looking away from her computer. Once she found her target, muscle memory took over and she used her thumb to take the call and put the phone to her ear.
Rolling her eyes, she answered, “Hello, Will.”
“I think it went really well, don’t you?”
Who would have thought a week ago that she would get annoyed at a phone call from Superficially Chatty Will? She’d started thinking about Will like a schizophrenic with multiple personalities. Superficially Chatty Will was the personality that was happy and outgoing when something insignificant gave him a sense of being liked. This one scared her more than Asshole Will and his louder cousin Angry Will combined. Superficially Chatty Will wasn’t natural. Will, the real Will could be happy, she’s seen him truly happy and missed seeing Truly Happy Will, but Chatty Will typically thought he was happy for the wrong reasons. It’s the personality that put popularity above actual achievement and made him the ring master of a carnival instead of a god damned journalist. And Superficially Chatty Will was almost always followed by Asshole Will.
Mac thought about closing her laptop, knowing it’ll be at least a half hour before she talks him down from whatever he’s excited about and back to focusing on the important things and then getting back to her own work. She got up to start boiling some water for tea.
“Since we both left the party 45 minutes ago and we both said on more than one occasion that we thought it went well, I guess I think it went well. And I assume you do too.”
Will looked at his computer as well, getting more excited as he read. “It felt good, but then Neal Sampat said that I was tredding on my Tweet account.”
Mac finished filling her kettle with water and started the stove. “Do you know what any of those words mean?”
“No. Not at all. But he seemed excited and he showed me where the apology is posted on YouTube. Mac, you have to see these comments. For the most part, people seem interested in how we’re going to bring nobility back to the newsroom. That’s what one title is, ‘Will McAvoy Brings Nobility to the Newsroom’.”
“A member of the faceless masses stroking your ego. You must be so proud.”
“If these comments can be believed –“
“They can’t, Will.”
“Then tomorrow the ratings are going through the roof! We’re going to save journalism and be the most popular show on cable!”
Mac lifted her eyes skyward, hoping for divine intervention. “Will, close your laptop.”
“You got that fucking crazy sound in your voice, which means you probably got an even crazier look in your eye than Michelle Bachman. Close the damn laptop. You’re not in this for the ratings. Nobility is its own reward.”
“Have you ever thought about writing fortune cookies?” Will sobered up immediately, ready to fight for, whatever the fuck she was fighting against. Why couldn’t she just let him have this? He doesn’t get to feel like this very often. “We need to savor the wins when we get them. If we’re doing this, we won’t get many.”
“And if all we’re focused on is how popular you are we won’t get any moral victories.”
Will could hear Mac’s passion rising and felt himself tensing up. Who the fuck was she to tell him about his audience? She was the one that didn’t want him, they do, and now she can’t stand it. “And if no one is watching, then we go off the air and none of this matters.”
Mac braced herself. She could reach Asshole Will by using logic, she just has to take the bluster. “We won’t. The audience will change, it will become people who faun over you less and pay attention to issues more. That’s why we do the news, not to inflate your already overgrown ego. That’s what your fucking apology was about, doing the fucking news.”
“God damn it, Mac, I want my fucking audience. I’ve been a fucking laughing stock for weeks.”
“Damage you did to yourself. I didn’t make you say anything at Northwestern. That was all you; that was what you thought. And frankly Will, it was good to see it. It was the first sign of a serious journalist that anyone has seen from you in years. Tonight you got to say what you thought again and it got people’s attention in a good way. I’m not taking away a win, I’m saying put it to some God damned good use.”
Will thought back to that day and his hallucination of her there. Knowing that she would want him to give that answer, to show that passion. For a second he wondered if it was her. “You saw it?” For a second he felt something he didn’t recognize, but then he realized what she meant. “You mean on YouTube. You watched it on YouTube.”
She was caught and had to proceed cautiously. “You sound disappointed.” She has to get him focused. She was producing that day, she has to use that skill again.
“I’m not disappointed, it’s just…. Look, we did a good show and I want you to know that you were a part of that and…” Will tried to figure out how to end the sentence. “How do you propose we put it to some God damned good use?”
And he’s back, Flustered but Honest Will, currently the best incarnation of him that she can see. Mac stopped from laughing. “I’d say I was more than a part of it. If you’re looking for an assignment, I’d start with the Tea Party.”
“The Tea Party? They’re just a ragtag bunch of right winged nutjobs to counterbalance the left wing nut jobs in the democratic caucus.”
“Our job is to inform the electorate if they’re about to elect any nutjobs, and these nutjobs are a little more than ragtag. Close your Youtube or Tweets or whatever and start digging into the Tea Party members that have won primaries.”
Will sat at his computer and opened a new browser window. Before he typed anything, he said, “Mac, I know you don’t care, but the republicans are my bread and butter, I lose them and I seriously don’t have an audience.”
“Think of it this way. If you lose your entire audience, then you don’t have to put yourself through firing me, Charlie will have to fire both of us.” Mac allowed her lips to quirk into a smile while Will tried to figure out what to say.
“That’s your silver lining?”
“Come on, Will, we both know you won’t be able to fire me in 6 months.” It was a risk, and probably one that she didn’t have to take, but she wanted to cut some of the tension, if he was relaxed, they were back on even ground, and she was pretty sure that he started to relax.
“I have the first Friday I can fire you circled on my calendar.”
“Well, when that day comes, you can go back to cat videos and pandering to your right winged morons.” She heard him chuckle and silently breathed a sigh of relief. Sounding more sure of herself than she felt, she added, “But you’re not going to fire me, Will. I’m the best damn thing you have going on in your life and somewhere in that brilliant, stubborn, confusing brain of yours you know that. By the time midterms come, you won’t want anyone else in your ear.”
“You seem pretty certain there, McHale. You want to make a wager?”
“Are you seriously asking me what I want from Will McAvoy if I can have anything?”
Will heard her voice get flirty and for a second he couldn’t move. He remembered what she liked, in the bedroom, out of it, everywhere really. And he remembered how much he enjoyed giving it to her. They were so fucking compatible. He had to get it out of his head. “Mac.” He held out her name as a warning.
She winced. She pushed too far, she can back step a little. “A drink Will. If I’m still with you for the midterms, I want you to take the entire crew out to Hang Chews and buy us all drinks.”
Once his thoughts completely sobered up and he processed what she said, he laughed. “Seriously. That’s what you want?”
“After you get me good and drunk, we can decide what else to do with the night.”
He could hear the teasing in her voice and he smiled. He liked this, the back and forth. The comfort that he got hearing her voice. The comfort that she was starting to have with him. It could never go any further than this, this… friendship? Partnership? That’s it. That’s what they were, partners. It couldn’t ever go beyond that, but he liked having this much with her. “And if I win, what do you give me?”
“Trust me, Will. I’ll be there.”
She will. He had no doubt about that fact. And if she isn’t, she would be far enough away that she couldn’t give him anything he wants anyway. “Well, drinks are expensive. You better be worth it.”
“They drink $3 beer. And Maggie doesn’t finish her first.”
“And you insist you can drink everyone under the table, but need help walking before most of us are buzzed.”
It was an old argument. She always defended herself by saying she simply wanted him to take her home. She knew better than to say that, even if the words wanted to tumble off her tongue as easily as they did 3 years ago.
Will felt a knot in his stomach as the silence grew and he remember the fight he was baiting her back to. He didn’t know if he hated himself more because he knew she wouldn’t say it to protect him, or because he wanted her to say it and to feel like he did all those years ago.
“The Tea Party, Will. We have to be sure to follow up tonight’s win with some hard news.”
“I know. And I have every confidence that we will.” When he knew she was about to say something, he added, “and I’ll see if I can find anything to talk about with the Tea Party.”
Mac heard her kettle whistle. “Okay. Don’t stay up too late, I need you bright eyed and with a fluffy tail.”
“Bright eyed and bushy tailed, Mac.” Will gave her a chuckle. When he stopped he took a breath and quietly asked, “Are you making tea?”
“Valerian, right? The superstar of sedatives in tea form. I remember.”
Mac bit her bottom lip between her teeth. “You always ruined yours by putting milk in it.”
“It was just a splash to cool it.”
“That’s how you ruin a perfectly good cup of tea.”
“Says every person who has ever stepped foot in England. I swear you would have gotten kicked out of Thanksgiving if someone saw you put milk in your tea.”
Will remembered that Thanksgiving. All the McHale children got together and Mac’s brother Simon proposed to Nora. Will assumed Nora did the one thing he wanted to do more than anything, marry into Mac’s family. He talked to Simon about proposing to Mac on that trip and Simon told him to go for it. Will closed his eyes as he reminded himself that it was probably better that he didn’t. Still, he wanted to be a big brother to that group and he wondered about them every once in a while. “You, uh, you were looking forward to Simon’s wedding. How, uh, how’d that go?”
Simon and Nora got married in October, two months after Mac left for the Middle East. CNN would have let her attend, but she didn’t want to spend a weekend explaining why she was alone, so she told them that she couldn’t make it. She won her first Peabody for a story she did the weekend of the wedding. Some suggested she took a greater risk than necessary to get that story, but she always had the Peabody to use as a defense.
“It was beautiful, just like you’d expect.” It wasn’t a lie, she’d seen pictures.
Will expected Mac to gush and got concerned when she didn’t. “Mac, are you okay?”
Mac squeezed her eyes shut to calm herself. “Yeah, it’s just been a long day. I should let you go. To bed. I mean, I need to go to bed.”
“You’re sure everything’s okay?”
“Everything’s fine Will. The tea’s kicking in and I need to catch up on some sleep. I’ll see you tomorrow.”
Will remembered Charlie telling him that Mac hadn’t slept well in years. She never did as long as he’d known her, but there was a warning in Charlie’s words. He said she was exhausted in a way someone her age shouldn’t be. He wanted to ask her about that again, but knew better than to push. “I’ll see you in the morning.” Will started to take his phone away from his ear, but put it back. “Uh, Mac.”
Mac couldn’t keep the irritation from her voice. She just wanted off the phone. “Yes?”
“Good show tonight, Mac. Seriously. Good show.”
Mac could barely stop herself from crying as she said, “you too.”
Chapter 13: Week of April 28, 2010
April 28, 2010 1:22AM
Will sat at his kitchen table staring at information about another Tea Party candidate. Jim asked earlier in the day how this group of backwater conservatives organized to the point where they could convince regular people to run for national offices. Mac immediately shot that down as a story, saying that they needed to follow the money. She said she would start looking at that angle, but Will kept thinking about the recruitment question. What would make a small town dentist decide to be a congressman? They must be targeting the trusted people in the community. That works for Representatives, but what about Senate? Being a well liked Marketing Consultant in a small town isn’t going to get you elected in a state wide election. Even after hours of research he couldn’t figure out how the Republican Party was getting outvoted by this party. Once they won the Republican primary, the party was stuck with them. But how were they getting that far?
He reached down for his glass and found it empty. When he walked to the bar for a refill, he saw the clock and stopped. He realized that at close to 1:30 AM and he’s sitting at his table working. In fact, over the last week he’s spent a lot of time at home, alone, working, or thinking about work. He tried to remember the last time he worked this much before Mackenzie rematerialized in his life, and couldn’t come up with an answer.
He filled his glass and sat back down. He agreed to this life again because it invigorates him. He enjoys doing this work, figuring out politics. The fact that it also makes him the man that he should… he has to be careful. She said that, she said that he needed to do the news the right way to fulfill his potential, or words to that effect. He always fucking hated the word “potential”. It felt like a back handed compliment, like anyone knows what he can accomplish. This potential means they hold him to a higher standard than others, and he doesn’t fucking want to have anything to do with it. He wants to be who he is, not who she says he should be.
Especially if she hasn’t called. She’s forcing all these changes on him. She says she cares about him, or… words to that effect. He can’t deal with the word she actually uses. If she did, she wouldn’t have fucked her ex-boyfriend and she wouldn’t fucking expect him to do all the work. She would want to talk to him and find a reason to call. Not that he had created reasons to call her over the last week, every call was important. At least in the beginning. Fuck! He allowed them to cross the line from professional partners to, well, something more friendly than he should have.
And now he’s here. At his apartment. Sitting in front of the computer. Reading about fucking Tea Party candidates. Alone. She fucking forced him to cancel a date so they could work on Saturday. And now she doesn’t even take the time to notice that he hasn’t called her. Shouldn’t she have to do some of the work in this… professional partnership?
Will made a decision. He picked up his phone and started scrolling through, looking for someone he could take out tomorrow night after the show. He doesn’t need Mac. He doesn’t need her permission to have fun. He’s going to meet some blonde with great legs. He’s going to meet her at a restaurant and bring her back here. That’ll show Mac. He’s over her, and this, bringing someone home tomorrow night will prove it.
That’s what he’ll do. First thing in the morning, he’ll call someone blonde and leggy and prove that he doesn’t need Mackenzie McHale.
April 29, 2010 2:05 AM
Mac could barely keep her eyes open. Follow the money. She volunteered for that assignment thinking between she and Will they had all the connections they needed. There was a weird moment yesterday when she said that they shouldn’t chase the recruitment angle and Will seemed disappointed. She half expected that he would follow that strand anyway, but hoped that he would work on the money piece. She expected he would hit a roadblock last night and call her to regroup. But he didn’t. She stayed up late researching and lost track of time so she never called him.
Mostly. She mostly didn’t call because she lost track of time while researching. She thought about calling, but didn’t because she didn’t know if they had the kind of relationship where she could call him in the middle of the night for help on her assignment. They’d become friendly since the weekend, but today he seemed different somehow. Distant. She saw the difference, but didn’t ask because he didn’t seem to want to talk. Not just to her, he didn’t want to talk to anyone.
She noticed the clock on her computer. 2:05AM. She wondered if he was asleep. She hit a dead end and she could use someone to brainstorm ideas with. She laughed. Since coming back into his life this two nights of not hearing from Will is the longest they’ve gone without a phone call. She wondered why he hasn’t called. They seemed to get along, all things considered. But he didn’t call last night, he didn’t want to have anything to do with anyone today, he hasn’t called tonight. She wondered if she did something. She couldn’t think of anything, but who knew what would set off his fragile ego. He used to have a thicker skin, before fame got the better of him. Maybe she should call, clear the air.
She looked back at the clock. He’s called her later than this, but he does have to sleep sometime and she’s probably just overreacting. For God sake, he didn’t call for two nights, two nights that haven’t seen much news. This is her new normal. It’s not nightly phone calls with Will like they used to have. They now have a purely professional relationship. She’ll have to get used to that.
April 30, 2010 3:02 AM
She just went home -- whatever her name was -- and Will lay in bed completely relaxed. He needed that. He couldn’t remember why he cancelled his date with her on Saturday to work with Mac, a work night that ended early enough that he could have gone out with… what’s her name. She wasn’t available last night, so tonight, he met her at the restaurant, showed her a good time and brought her back here. He became accustomed to that over the last few years after he became more famous. He laid back, tapped out a cigarette and relaxed. Yep, he’s completely over Mackenzie and that woman absolutely proves it. It doesn’t matter that Mac hasn’t called him, reciprocated his attempts at friendliness. If she doesn’t want anything more than business partnership, he doesn’t either.
Yep, he can live the life that he wants without ever thinking about Mackenzie McHale.
April 30, 2010 11:09PM
Mac lay in bed after having drinks with the staff. $3 beers are definitely not worth it. Will once again left right after the show without saying anything to anyone. Mac asked Sloane where she thought he might be and Sloane gave her a look as if asking if Mac was stupid. She finally explained that if Will’s sexual frustration wasn’t being used on Mac herself, then he probably put that pent up energy in someone else. Mac reflexively said no. She knew him and he wouldn’t do that. But she still looked at the phone, willing herself to find a reason to call him. He wouldn’t answer if he was busy and if he wasn’t she could finally ask what the fuck happened this week.
Or maybe he would call. She decided a long time ago that she would follow his lead. Now she had to wait for him.
May 1, 2010, 6:33PM
“I’m listening to the scanner right now. You have any ideas yet how to cover?”
Mac flipped to another channel to see if she could find any new information. “They called it in 5 minutes ago. Give a girl a chance to think. It’s just smoke so it could be nothing.”
“A car smoking in the middle of Times Square is nothing?”
“It wouldn’t be the first car to have issues I’m sure. What makes this one special?”
Will listened to his scanner a little closer. “It was called in as a potential car bomb. You at the office?”
“Yeah, I wanted to get a few things done when it was quiet.”
Will laughed, “you work in news, it’s never quiet.”
Mac felt herself smile, but still wasn’t sure if she was allowed to laugh. “When did you get a scanner?”
“Couple years ago. Salesman convinced me that every anchor had one.”
“And you wanted to show that you could buy anything.” When Will got his first primetime show on CNN, he went through a period where he bought anything put in front of him. She learned later that he grew up with nothing and she thought he overcompensated when he felt secure in his finances.
“It wasn’t like that. I was looking for an edge against my competition. I had just moved to ACN and they had one, so I thought it made sense to get one of my own in case I wanted to work from the apartment.” The apartment, not home. For the first time ever he noticed his word choice and it bothered him. He didn’t want to think about this, not with her on the phone. “Do you want me to come in, do a newsbreak or extended coverage?”
Mac changed the TV channel to ACN and saw they had a weekend anchor on. “No, we don’t have anyone here to run the studio and it looks like Washington is on it. I can call Charlie, but I don’t think you need to change any plans you have for tonight.”
Will nodded his head and then realized what she just said. “Mac, are you fishing to find out if I have plans?”
“I assume that you do, there’s no reason for a warm blooded American man with more money than God to stay at home on a Saturday night.”
“Is that your way of giving me your blessing?”
What the fuck did she get herself into? Almost a whole week of not talking to him and now that he is talking she sticks her foot in her mouth and gets his ire. “You have the right to date or sleep with anyone you want. I just don’t want to know about it.”
“You know Mac, you’re fucking unbelievable.”
“What the fuck are you talking about? You know how I feel about you, so you must know that I don’t want to know about your social life.”
“Oh, so is that why you didn’t talk to me this week? You thought I was out every night fucking some woman?” Will knew his voice had gotten whiney and petulant, but he didn’t care. He was winning this fight.
“What the fuck are you talking about? You stopped calling me! I assumed it was because we didn’t have anything to talk about.”
“And I suppose you have the web of where Tea Party money comes from figured out.”
Mac finally allowed herself to give an exasperated laugh. “Yes. The Koch Brothers. I put the pieces together last night and have been confirming sources all day.”
“Who the fuck are the Koch brothers?”
Mac exhaled audibly and put her hands over her face. “Oh God. Do you want to do this now or wait until Monday when I explain it to the team?”
What the fuck was he thinking? He was going to a baseball game tonight, box seats with a set of twins. He really doesn’t care about the Koch brothers or, really anything that Mac has to say. He’s over her, he doesn’t need to try and impress her. Even if he could impress her. That’s why he’s going out with the twins. He can throw around a few Franklins and that’s all he needs for them. Mac wants him to change. Well, he’s not doing it.
“Talk to me before you talk to the team. I want to check out your sources before we get them excited.”
“For fuck’s sake, Will. I thought we were past the point where you question my journalistic integrity.”
“Yeah, well I thought… Nevermind.”
“What, you thought what?” Will didn’t say anything so she got angry. “I don’t know what the fuck you want from me. We were becoming friends or… something… and then all of sudden you stop calling me. I decided to be the bigger person and understand your urges to fuck anything that walks and now you’re pissed off at me?”
“I didn’t.” He stopped himself from whatever he was about to say. “You don’t need to be the bigger fucking person. You always have been. I thought. Nevermind. I have plans tonight. I’ll talk to you Monday and we’ll figure out how to cover this car bomb and talk about the Tea Party finances.”
Will hung up the phone and slammed it down. He had a date to get ready for.
Mac heard the phone disconnect and stood gaping at it. What the fuck just happened?
Chapter 14: May 2, 9:14 AM
May 2, 2010 3:01 AM
“What is it Will?”
“Itried tosleepwith them. ButIcouldn’t.”
Mac didn’t know what the fuck was going on and she was tired of trying to figure it out. “You’re fucking drunk, Will. Sleep it off and if you want to talk to me later, you know how to reach me.” Unless I fucking throw my Blackberry off the Manhattan Bridge, which might not be a bad idea. She stopped herself from saying it, but just barely.
“Mac! Mac! List’n. Thisisimportant.” If his words weren’t so slurred, the absolute desperation in his voice would have made her laugh. Instead, she thought about how much he would hate himself in the morning when he remembered this call. And then she’d have to remember it when he called to take it back. “I wantedto. I, I, I broughtthemback here. Andthen, itneverhappenedbefore. Ithoughtofyou and…”
ACN’s eloquent news anchor seemed at a loss for words. Or maybe he had just fallen asleep. If his precious fucking audience could hear him now. Well, some of them would certainly find it sexy as hell. She hated herself for even partly being in that camp. Anyone else hearing this could attempt to bring him down, drunk dialing has never done anyone any favors. No one would ever assume that he’s human and simply having a bad night.
“Will? Are you still with me?”
“M’kenzie?” Will sounded startled. “M’kenzie.” He sounded almost euphoric. “I couldn’t do it because I thought of you. And I felt guilty. So I couldn’t do it.”
“I know Will, I know. Now, go to your medicine cabinet and get some aspirin to put near your bed. You’ll need it when you wake up tomorrow.”
“Why do I need aspirin? I’m not drunk.”
Mac didn’t know if it was the sincerity in his voice or the actual words he said, but it was so endearing. She bit her lower lip to stop from laughing. “Trust me, Will, you will want it when you wake up.”
“Ok. I trust you. You’re My Kenzie.”
“I sure am.” Mac didn’t try to hide from laughing. “Good night Will.”
“Goodnight. My Kenzie!”
May 2, 2010 9:14AM
He not only heard the phone ring, but felt it reverberating through his head, like the clapper hitting two bells in a firehouse. He knew immediately that he didn’t want to hear that sound either. He reached for his nightstand and put his hand in a glass of water, which he knocked over along with the bottle of aspirin sitting next to it. What the hell happened last night? He went to the Yankees game with the twins. He never did learn which was which. They said one of them has a birthmark on her thigh they would show him so he can tell them apart. He tried to remember what it looked like, and then all of sudden...
“FFFFFFFFFFFuck!” There was no way in hell Mackenzie was ever going to let him live this down.
And then the phone rang again and he yelled out in pain, thankful for the thick walls in his apartment. Whoever this fuck this is, should know better than to call him this early on a Sunday. They’d have to wait, he’d have to do damage control with Mac. Fuck! She already ruined his night, now he was going to have to face her so she could ruin his day.
On the third ring, after his head stopped vibrating, he picked up his now drenched Blackberry and looked at it until his eyes adjusted enough to see the caller ID. He needs to get something to darken the windows when the fucking sun is this bright. Shit! It’s her. Of course she would call at the ass crack of dawn to laugh at him for his… letdown. Last night, thinking of her stopped him from what should have been a great end to the day and today, the thought of her was having the opposite effect. God damn it.
On the fourth ring he considered just letting it go to voicemail. He’d need some time to figure out what the fuck to say to her. How to convince her that he didn’t mean it and demand that she never bring it up again in such a way that she would follow the instruction.
He had the power in this relationship. He didn’t fear her. He took a deep breath and answered the phone. “Why the fuck are you calling me this early?”
“Will I didn’t want to call, but –“
“I know I called you last night, but I was lying. Everything was fine.”
Mac fought to keep a straight face. “So, little Billy did rise to the occasion? That’s quite the relief. I hoped that I don’t cause spontaneous impotence in men. I too hope to get laid again.”
“It’s not a proposition, just a fact. Believe it or not there are other men in the world than you.”
“Well, there may be others, but you and I both know that they aren’t me.”
“Yeah,” she said matter of factly. “They can get it up. Now if your done thinking about your sexual prowess, or lack thereof I guess, the reason I called was because rumors are going around that Katie Couric will do tomorrow’s news from Times Square and focus an unnecessary amount of time on the would be bomber. I just wanted you to know that we won’t be doing that.”
This perplexed Will. “You called about Katie Couric?”
“She may be going by Katherine now that she’s anchoring the evening news. But yes. I didn’t think we needed to rehash your drunk dial. Unless of course you’re still insistent that you weren’t drunk, in which case your admission is even more disconcerting.”
“Mac. I didn’t mean… I shouldn’t have… called. I shouldn’t have called. It was a drunken mistake.”
Pointedly she said, “Yeah, I got that.”
“And it wasn’t… you know. Objectively speaking, you are a good looking woman.” Will knew immediately that was the wrong thing to say, he was digging a deeper hole and he thought he’d already hit fucking China with the drunk dial in the first place. “I just want you to know that wasn’t the issue.” He had to stop talking. If he kept talking he’d have to tell her what thinking about her right now was doing to him and that is not where this conversation should go. He’d have to take care of that himself later.
Mac tried to will herself to take the high road. Go back to talking about work. That was her objective and veering from it would not end well. “I seem to remember a time when you thought I was the most beautiful woman you’d seen in real life. Do you remember saying that to me?” He deserves it.
He always told her she was beautiful. For a year he said it instead of saying he loved her. But the first time he told her she was the most beautiful woman he’d ever seen in real life, he meant it more genuinely than he’d ever meant anything before it. It was the first moment of naked honesty from him. She doubted herself before they got together because of what Brian did to her. Someone at work accused her of sleeping with him to get ahead. No part of that was true so he said, louder than he intended and unfortunately in the middle of the newsroom, that he has not and had no intention of sleeping with Mackenzie McHale. After she justifiably slapped him, their news director warned Will not to talk to her. But he went to a bar he knew she’d be at to apologize and told her that she was the most beautiful woman he’d ever met in real life and that if he didn’t respect her he would take her home with him without a second thought. He should have known then that he would never be far from Mackenkie.
“Come to think of it, you also told me that day I was sexy as hell. I would bet, that your current silence is because you are thinking about what it was like. How it felt to go home with me at the end of newscast. The arguments we had about politics that ended up with us wrestling naked –“
“OK Mac. I get it. I was out of line last night and I made things worse today.”
“And you’re too proud to say you’re sorry.”
Will exhaled loudly. “I just said that. I admitted I was wrong. Do you need to hear the fucking word?”
“Yeah, it would be nice to hear the great Will McAvoy actually make a sincere apology for being an ass.”
“I’m an ass, I’m sorry. Now, you said something about how NBC is going to do the news tomorrow?”
“CBS. They’re planning to go outside and do the news from where the car bomb was. It’s a non-story that we will have in the D block but not before because the system worked, things happened the way they should have.”
She was right about getting home still arguing politics. Usually they didn’t talk about coverage, but every once in awhile they did. And it felt like this. He had exactly one goal right now. Ending this fucking call and getting into the shower. “Someone tried to blow up Americans and for some reason you don’t think that we need to put it first thing in our newscast? Did we stop covering news at some point? Forget the optics of being outside where it happened and letting the alphabet network get the best show of caring about American safety. We cover the fucking news.”
“CBS and this isn’t news. Someone tried and then the NYPD did their jobs. You can give the boys in blue all the atta boys you want, but you’re doing it in the fucking D block. I didn’t call you for permission, I called to let you know what we were doing and why.”
She was worked up. He could hear it in her voice. Damn he remembered that voice. If she were here… God! He had to get up. Stand up. If he can. He picked up the now empty glass from his floor and the bottle of aspirin and got to his bathroom. “Oh yeah. I forgot, you’re the only authority in the world on the definition of news.”
He was baiting her and he didn’t care. He didn’t care about her voice clanging in his ears, this is what was missing last night.
She heard him turn on a faucet. “You didn’t put the aspirin by your bed like I told you, did you? And now you have to face the day with a headache. You’re so damned stubborn.”
“My head started pounding when you called and my phone rang.” He paused a second and then admitted. “I knocked my water over when I reached for the phone.” A thought occurred to Will. “You told me to put the medicine next to me?”
Mac’s voice softened. “I knew you would regret that phone call and the alcohol in the morning. I wanted to… you know.”
“Take care of me.”
Will swallowed his pills as he let this settle in. “You’ve always tried to take care of me, haven’t you?”
“I’m your EP. That’s what I’m paid to do.”
“That’s not what I’m talking about and you know it.”
Mac bit her lip. This was getting a little too honest. “It’s what I’m talking about and all I will talk about.” She knew that Will would have an internal debate about whether to accept that because he knew it was the right choice or fight her because he knew they were getting somewhere. He might fight her just to fight, but that wasn’t likely. She needed to get the last word or she’d say too much. “Go ahead and nurse your hangover. Call me later if you want to discuss the placement of the bomber, but don’t expect that I’m going to budge.”
“I wouldn’t want it any other way.”
Will heard her smile before she disconnected, saving him from another conversation he didn’t want to have with her. She always knew how far to push and when she had to pull back. When they were together he wondered if she instinctively knew how to do that with other anchors or if it came from the connection they had. Now there was no question in his mind that it came from their connection. He got in the shower and let his mind wander to her. Again. What he said that day was, “And, Mac, for the record, I think you’re sexy as hell, the most attractive woman I’ve ever seen in real life. And if I met you before you pulled me into your rundown meeting, I would have taken you to dinner and back to my place without a second thought. But you deserve better than that.” As he remembered, he knew that it was as true then as it is now. As he allowed his mind to wander, to remember, he wondered if she was doing the same thing he was. Was she worked up in the same way or was she just pissed off at him? He couldn’t blame her if she was. At the end of his shower, he felt gutted that they wouldn’t be able to ever have that again.
Chapter 15: May 2, 2010 11:57 PM
May 2, 2010 11:57 PM
“You’re not out with some girl? Or did you have another problem you thought I should know about?”
Will did not want to hear it from Mac. It took him this long to to call her at all, and hearing her attack… “I thought you didn’t want to know about my personal life.”
“So should I feel special that you decided to spend this precious time with me?”
“Well, I feel special that you’re not sleeping with your ex-boyfriend.” It came off his tongue without thinking and he regretted it. “I’m sorry. That was out of line. I wanted to talk about what you sent. The Tea Party.”
She barely heard the second half of his statement as the comment about Brian hit her like a smack in the face.
“I haven’t seen him in years.”
She’s not even listening to him. “You know, I don’t want to talk to you either, but at least I’m trying. I listen to you.”
“What the fuck are you even talking about? You ambush me. Almost every fucking night you call me up to complain about whatever the fuck is on your mind. And if you give me a break from that, you complain that I’m not, what? Fucking attentive enough?”
“Well if you don’t think you can handle the job.”
“Oh, don’t you fucking go there. I can handle you a hell of a lot better than any of your girlfriends.”
Will closed his eyes in frustration. He should just tell her that he’s only been out one other time. And then he can tell her that everything worked. She probably doesn’t need to know that last part, but it’ll make him feel better if she does. “And I suppose I should assume that you’ve been at a one-woman show since you’ve been back?”
“If you’re asking about my virtue, then, I’m virtuous. Spending every minute keeping you in line is exhausting work.”
“Well working with you is –“
“A delight?” At least it shut him up. “Okay Will, let’s start over. I doubt you called to find out about my sex life or because you wanted to revisit your disaster last night. Can we agree to stay out of each other’s personal lives and just keep things between us business? At least when you’re not drunk dialing me.”
Will’s first instinct was to say no. How the fuck did she think they would be able to stay out of each other’s personal lives. He deserved to know if she… he realized that wasn’t true. Not anymore. He doesn’t have rights on her and she doesn’t have any on him either. And he hated something about that. “Yeah. And if I drunk dial you again, you can hang up. In fact, I would probably appreciate it if you did.”
“Yeah, you don’t want your ex-girlfriend to know when little Billy can’t lift off.” Will rolled his eyes, but chose not to say anything. Finally Mac broke the silence, “So, you called.”
“I went through the Tea Party research you sent. Very thorough.” Mac waited for him to say something else. Will tried to form his words around what he called to say. “Look, you do good work; that has never been in question.”
“Until you made it one last night.”
“I know. I don’t know why I said it.”
Mac quickly said, “Because you’re an ass and you want to control everything around you.”
“I do not.” He stopped a second and clarified, “I don’t. It’s my show Mac. My name. I sit in that fucking chair. I need to be sure. That’s not a control issue.”
“Are you sure?”
“Yes, Mac, I am.”
“You spent a week pissed off at me because I didn’t call you.”
Will rubbed his hand over his face. “I was wrong, okay? I’m sorry. I called to thank you for sending me your notes and to say that we can follow this story. But before we run it, I want to do a little more research myself. Not because I don’t trust your work, but because I have questions about the movement itself.”
“They’re not questions of fact, but understanding. I just. I want to get my head around it a little more. I don’t know how to talk about them yet.”
“Fine. Take the time that you need.” Mac let her irritation out before taking a breath and saying more clipped than she wanted. “Do we need to talk about the bomber? I have a full show tomorrow that I think is solid.”
Will considered his answer. “Someone tried to blow up people. Can we at least put it at the top of the show and give it a 10 minute slot?”
Mac considered his idea. “It is pretty important, let’s put it top of the show, but for now we’ll give it three minutes and I’ll put a couple staff on this first thing. If there’s anything else to report, I’ll give it more time.”
Will couldn’t help baiting her.
“You want to hand this over to your teenagers.”
“They’re not my teenagers. They’re not even teenagers.”
“What the fuck else would you call them?”
Mac rolled her eyes. How did she let him get to this point where he can tease her like this? “Our 20 and 30 something highly qualified staff.”
“By highly qualified, you mean Ellen?”
Mac knew he knew Maggie’s name. “You know I’m still mad at you.”
“It’ll pass.” At least it always has.
“Just don’t fuck up again, McAvoy.”
Will smirked. “You know I will. It’s part of my charm.”
“Not always, Will.” Before he could say anything else, she said, “I’ll see you tomorrow.”
Chapter 16: May 7, 2010 12:07AM
For you purists, I think they got a date wrong. They put the first day Will prosecuted Tea Partiers on May 9 which was a Saturday. So I adjusted to put the day Will talks to Charlie about the Tea Party on a Thursday since no one watches any TV on Friday and the impact just wouldn't be there.
May 7, 2010 12:07AM
“You went over my head!”
“What the fuck are you talking about this time, Will?”
“Instead of talking to me, you decided that I didn’t want to alienate my right wing viewers by poking too deep into the Tea Party, so you talked to my boss. You and your liberal predilections are looking for the news that you want to do.”
Mac wondered how long it would take Charlie to talk to Will and how long it would take Will to come back at her. She had her 1:1 with Charlie today and then he had meetings until the show started, so she didn’t expect this until tomorrow. Mac assumed that Charlie took Will out for drinks after the show. “Is that an official charge or are you still gathering evidence, Mr. Prosecutor?”
“What the fuck is that supposed to mean?”
“It means if you want to go to 10:00 where the mandate is to bring in viewers, you can work with Don. My mandate is to get you doing the fucking news. And since you won’t talk to me about this story --”
“I told you I’m still getting my answers. I read your research, I worked on this every night last week. I said I --.”
“You did?” It was the first thing that Will said today that surprised Mac.
“I told you, Mac. I said to you that night, I said I was in. That’s what I meant. I’m in. I’m doing the fucking news. What did you think I was doing?”
Last week she hoped he worked on the Tea Party. He said he wanted to figure out where they came from and how they recruited, even though she said she wanted everyone to follow the money. Then Sloane convinced her that he’d been out every night. And then Saturday and the drunk dial… well, that would actually be evidence that he probably didn’t go out actually. She couldn’t help smiling at that realization.
“Not… that. Our responsibility as journalists is to inform the electorate before they do something stupid in the voting booth.”
“Yes, I know what you think of as news.”
“Do you now? Do you also know why, besides my liberal predilections, I would find these people scary?”
“So, Tea Partiers have made the same list as jellyfish?”
“Are you making fun of me?”
Will smiled. “A little.”
“It’s a real phobia. And I learned that peeing on someone doesn’t actually stop you from being poisoned.”
“I’m not even going to ask.”
Mac smiled, then sobered up. He’s teased her a few times during these calls, but she missed it. She missed this part of their relationship. She missed laughing with him and she hated knowing that they had to get serious again. “Are you going to let me cover them?”
“I don’t think they’re dangerous Mac. There’s no way the establishment republicans will give them any power. It’s a grassroots movement, it’ll get shut down.”
“And if I can get you evidence to the contrary?”
“There isn’t any.”
“Humor me. If you’re given evidence, will you pursue it?”
Will didn’t like the way the call turned, though he can’t say he’s not getting use to these conversations. They move so quickly from anger to teasing to light bickering to… His phone calls with other EPs didn’t go like this. They didn’t happen very often in fact, just when he had a brainstorm in the middle of the night.
“Why do you keep taking my calls?”
For the second time in this call Mac found herself completely dumbfounded. “Excuse me?”
“My other executive producers. They took my calls, but they didn’t go… like this.”
“Your other executive producers were too afraid of you to call you a dumbass to your face.”
Will knew she gave a kneejerk response, not the carefully considered answers that she typically gave. That’s how he knew that he got her completely exasperated. He used to enjoy pushing her to the point of exasperation, where she would scream ridiculous things. Getting her there still makes him smile. “You haven’t called me that.”
“It’s been between the lines. But if you feel like I’m holding back, you’re a dumbass.”
Will gave her a belly laugh in response, a sound that made her happy. It felt good to hear him enjoying something. “I would never accuse you of holding back. It’s just not in your nature.”
“I didn’t think so.”
The two got quiet again, neither sure where to go next, neither wanting to interrupt this moment. When the moment went longer than Will felt comfortable with, he said, “You don’t laugh anymore.”
“I haven’t seen you laugh at work, or even here, on the phone. You used to laugh all the time.” Will closed his eyes as he waited for her answer. He felt vulnerable and scared of how she might respond, though he didn’t know what answer he wanted.
Mac heard something in his voice that let her know that for whatever reason he really wanted a real answer to his not-quite-there question. Thoughts went through her head of her time in Afghanistan, her visits with the CNN required therapists, her morning drink binges and dreams of becoming a pro bowler. “A lot happened since we last worked together, Will.”
Will didn’t know what to say. Part of him wanted to ask and know. He sensed that her experience changed her and he wanted to know how, he wanted to know her again. In a moment, he imagined hearing her tell war stories like he’s heard in history classes and books about war. People he interviewed who had a haunted look in their eyes from what they’d seen. When he tried to place her there, he had to close his eyes and he realized the only way he wanted to hear this would be in person when he could hold and comfort her. Or maybe she would have to comfort him, remind him that she made it back. She’d have to physically, not necessarily sexually, but physically remind him of her presence. The idea made his heart pound in his chest. He tried to remind himself that whatever happened to her happened because she chose to go there. To stay there. He wanted to go do something real and then she told him about Brian and he didn’t go, but she decided to stay. She stayed there. That wasn’t on him. He didn’t make her do anything. She chose to stay.
He had to end this part of the call, and damn her, she gave him the out. If she would have said something snarky he would have had to say something equally snarky until he got a truth out of her. If she said something about the war he’d have to ask about it, he’d have to say something that would show he cared, and God damn it, he didn’t want to care. He didn’t. And he didn’t know why he even got them to this point where she fucking made him make a choice. Does he ask the question? Does he say something like, “what happened, Mac? I want to know.” Or does he fucking show that he’s the asshole everyone thinks he is. That maybe he really is. God damn it, why couldn’t she make that choice for him?
“I’m sure it did.” Damn he’s such an asshole. “You know, Mac. If you need to talk… you know.”
Mac felt a tear well up in her eye. She knew what he offered and why he couldn’t completely make the offer. For her, he offered enough. Wanting to make the offer, wanting to support her, even if he couldn’t, she couldn’t ask for more. “Thanks, Will.” Will answered with a defeated grunt, a noise she recognized. She could only imagine what went through his mind, likely other times that he couldn’t protect the people he loved, the times he got blamed for his family getting punished. “Will –“ She wanted to give him comfort. She remembered waking up with him when he had nightmares. He feared losing someone else he loved so he convinced himself that he didn’t love her. He punished himself, he punished them because he feared hurting her. She didn’t want him to go through that again. She didn’t want him to blame himself for her choices.
But she didn’t want him to hate her for overstepping and she didn’t want to tell him about it. She just didn’t see an upside. He would blame himself, even though she didn’t blame him, and she would have to relive it. She worked so hard to forget it all, going there with him…
She wondered if telling him later would give him hope or if it’s something he actually wanted. If he did want it, want to talk to her about it, she would. Eventually.
“We need to cover the Tea Party. Give your information another look and we can talk tomorrow.”
“Talk?” For a second he felt excited and scared at the same time. Then he realized what she meant. “You mean about the Tea Party. Yeah, yeah, we can talk about that.”
“Good night Will.”
“Good night, Mac.”
Will hung up his phone and poured a drink, hearing his father’s voice in his head. “You aren’t making anything better for them, you know. You’re weak, you’ve always been weak. If you were a real man, you could knock me the fuck out and protect them, but you can’t. You can’t protect anyone... You want to run away to college? Go ahead. Leave them. Leave your family. Show us all the asshole that you really are. Prove that you never cared about them.”
Will took his drink and drank it in one gulp, then poured another. He is that asshole. He’s always been that asshole or else he would have been able to say he loved her when he knew it was true. And then maybe. Maybe. NO, she hurt him. It wasn’t his fault. “You like to think you’re helping them, but you’re making it worse. You never cared about anyone but yourself.” He did care. He did care about her. He wanted to protect her, but he didn’t. A real man wouldn’t let his woman step out on him like that. He had to cut himself off from her. He had to. He didn’t know that she would end up there. He didn’t think she would get hurt. “You want to run away. You’re going to be the big fucking college man. You think you’re going to be better than us? Get your ass out of this house. No one wants you anyway. Run away like the mother fucker you are.” It’s true. It’s always been easier to run. To just walk away from his problems. He thought it was noble. Hiding his brother and sisters should have kept them safe, but it didn’t. Going to college would give all of them a way out, but they didn’t want it. They didn’t want him to come charging in like some sort of hero. Cutting Mac out of his life… and now she’s back and he can’t. He can’t ask her anything of significance, all he can do is be the weak asshole he’s always been.
He looked at his phone. He could call her back. He could tell her he’s serious and he wants to hear and understand. It wouldn’t be hard, just pick up the fucking phone and hit send. He could let her know that she doesn’t have to face it alone, that he’ll… But he can’t. Because he’s weak and maybe he didn’t love her the way he thought, because if he did, he’d be able to do something so simple. So he slammed the new drink down his throat and poured another. He is an asshole, just like his father said. He’s left every person he’s ever cared about. He doesn’t know anything but running away. Never calling. Just ending those relationships, pretending they didn’t exist. He called his mother twice a year when she was alive. He talks to his sisters about as often. He wrote off Mackenzie without a thought. Because he never cared. He doesn’t know what love is. Why the fuck would she even want him?
He put his phone down and found his laptop. She wants to cover the Tea Party. He can’t give her what she needs most. He can’t listen, he can’t hear her stories, can’t handle what he did to her. But he can give her this. He can be the perfect news man, a journalist that will make her proud. He has to play to his strengths. He may not be able to give her what she needs, but he can do this. He will do this. And maybe it will be enough. Maybe if he works hard enough he can… something. Earn something. He doesn’t know how to fill in that blank, but he needs to. He needs her to know that… that… that… he’s not the asshole he’s always been. Maybe that’s the best he can ever be.
May 6, 2010 2:47 AM
Will heard his fax machine come to life. He finally looked at the clock for the first time since getting off the phone with Mac. He walked over to the machine and found a breakdown of Nevada’s polling data.
“What the fuck?”
Will first thought this was the evidence that Mac said she could get, but then he remembered that she didn’t have or know how to use a fax machine. He couldn’t think of anyone else that may have sent the information to him, but he started going through it hoping that it might turn into something. It might just be the thing that gets him there, gets him the story that she wants.
May 6, 2010 2:49 AM
Mac picked up her ringing phone. Obviously Will couldn’t sleep any better than she could. “What is it, Will?”
“Sorry to call so late, Mac.”
Mac took her phone from her ear and squinted at it. “Charlie?”
“Can you come to my office tomorrow around 11:15? Just come in the door, don’t knock. I’ll tell Millie to let you though.”
“Um, uh, sure. See you tomorrow.”