There couldn't have been a worse time for Avigale Lyman to die.
Donna hated herself for thinking that. It was true, however. She was three months pregnant, they had just moved to Madison, and her campaign for Congress was heating up. She had loved Josh's mother - in fact, Donna thought she had a better relationship with his mother than her own. Josh's mom had been so easy. She knew in part because she was gratified that anyone would settle down with her wayward child and in part because she could mother Donna in place of her missing daughter.
Maybe they should have talked about it. Josh's mom had been anything but practical - like mother like son - but she could have discussed it with her. Maybe not discussing it had been her way of denying it would happen.
She had expected crying, and sleepless nights, and therapy. Irritability and stupid, cruel jokes. Toothless apologies once he caught himself. Or for Josh to throw himself into work and not surface for air for months. What she hadn't expected was this listless, creeping quiet. It had started after they got back from Connecticut.
It didn't seem to bother him, but then he didn't go outside much and Isaac was barely verbal himself. It couldn't be good for a developing brain.
The oddest part was how she hadn't noticed - Josh often didn't know what to say when he was hurting, and sometimes in the White House he couldn't have told her. She had to pay attention to the non-verbal clues. The way he dipped his head towards her when he wanted a soothing hair ruffle, or leaned into her just to touch her. It was disturbing that someone who had spent so many years bragging about his vocabulary in English, Hebrew ("best Bar Mitzvah of 1973!") and once he had claimed he knew Klingon could go completely silent. But the ever flowing stream of nonsense that Josh constantly babbled went to a trickle, and then at some point when she hadn't noticed - some afternoon between running to a campaign appearance, her ob-gyn appointment and the office - had stopped completely.
And it didn't matter. She held whole conversations with him without words. "Are you going to come with me to meet the Young Democrats tomorrow? Coffee and donuts!" Her hip thumped his leg under his long coat.
Josh shrugged a shoulder and tilted his head. I wasn't. You want me to go?
"It would be nice if you made an appearance, yes." Donna said, "You've been good, you can have one of those chocolate crullers you like."
He tipped his head back and rocked on his heels, Okay, okay, okay. I'll go. And then Isaac grunted and Josh hefted him further up his chest and smelled him. He pushed the baby into her arms, which were already full of folders and grinned. Enjoy!
"You're a bastard," Donna called after him and he almost laughed. But didn't.
"Want to hear a joke?"
"So the kid comes home to his mother and says, mommy mommy, I got a part in the school play. And his mother says, 'oh really, what part?' And the little boy says - "
Josh rolled his eyes.
"Oh no, Isaac," she bounced the baby on her knee. "Your dad's heard this one already."
Donna woke up later that night, her breasts swollen and achy. Getting pregnant almost immediately after she'd had one child hadn't been the wisest idea, but she was also keenly aware of running out of time. At least Avigale had held her grandson.
Josh was awake, the only noise in the room his quiet breathing and the tick tick of the buttons on his Blackberry.
Donna rolled over and slapped his arm, suddenly hot and frustrated. "You'll type at someone but you won't talk to me? Who the hell are you texting at three in the morning. Some hot nubile intern no doubt. My mother warned me about your type."
Josh startled and a dry squeak came out of his mouth. He shook his head so hard the overgrown bush he called hair actually moved. She almost laughed at her little victory.
He looked at her, then the Blackberry. Then he started to furiously type and twisted his hand so she could read the screen. What type? Jewish husbands?
"You know what? I like this new not-talking thing you've discovered. For the first time in fifteen years I can hear my own thoughts." Donna said, aware she was being ridiculous. How could he type at her but not just say it?
Nothing. She bit her lip and looked at the ceiling, and there was still nothing. Josh shifted in the bed, curling up to her side. His wide hand wormed its way under her arms to rest on her chest. Then he moved his hand down and rested it on her belly and gently exhaled. It was almost a sigh.
She lifted an arm to ruffle his hair. "I know."
He pushed his forehead into her shoulder. He was so quiet and still she thought he might have fallen asleep, if she knew Josh to fall asleep that easily. And then the room lit up in electric glow again as he started to type on his Blackberry. He set it down on her chest, right over the faded scar from Gaza.
She picked it up. I don't have anything to say.
Donna had to swallow. "I think. I think you have lots of things to say, Josh. Just... so many of them you don't know where to start."
The way he closed his eyes, closed off his entire body, she knew was Maybe.
The coffee and donuts were from a chain. The Young Democrats were... young. Donna wondered what she would have been like, had she been inclined to join groups when she attended school here. Naive, she assumed. Josh seemed amused by sightseeing, five majors and two minors in two years said his eyebrow, but hung back and pretended to be working his phone when the group arrived.
She shot him a glare. Tetris, really?
It was a reoccurring problem that people came to her events to see Josh rather than her. Even before Josh's mother had passed, he had seemed blissfully oblivious to the attention. And if she hadn't been so tired, and so envious of the caffeinated beverages, she would have realized the problem with the political equation she had drawn. She was giving a thoughtful answer on redistricting on the state level, when she caught Josh out of the corner of her eye.
He was cornered by a student demanding complicated answers about the crash and burn of the Santos education plan. "Josh. How come you can't answer the question? What happened."
Josh clung to Isaac and thank goodness for their son. She cleared her throat and said, "Excuse me," and then made a rescue mission. She tapped the kid's shoulder and said, "Hey. Stop. You're here to talk to me, not him."
The kid whirled and opened his mouth, and that's when Josh opened his mouth: "The question is fucking retarded anyway." His voice squeaked, super high and he coughed. "That sounded weird. Weird." He tilted his head.
Blink. The kid turned back around. Donna picked her jaw off the floor. "What?"
"I mean, the entire premise of your argument is ridiculous. There wasn't anything President Santos could have done to pass the bill. It died in reconciliation when the House wouldn't sign their name to the monstrosity. Blame the Republican senate, not the President." Josh bounced Isaac against his chest and the baby laughed, totally oblivious. He lifted his eyes to look at Donna. I've got this.
'Retard?' Donna mouthed and shook her head.
Josh shrugged. The tension drained down her back like a drop of water rolling down her spine. She sighed.
"But he fired you for failing. Epically." The kid said, confused.
Josh shrugged, but his eyes never left hers. "You need to learn to read between the lines." Right?
Right. She smiled and turned back to the other students.
Later, "You're going to so much therapy."
Josh cleared his throat and sniffed, and said: "Yeah, whatever." And it was miraculous to her ears.
Not really. But it was a start. Donna held his hand, thumb tracing his scar. "I'm serious, SO much therapy. But tell me some more about how you don't need it."