1. Neighborhood Local
"Why is that, do you think?" Natalie attempts again to twirl her pen around her finger.
"Hm?" Kim looks up from her computer monitor, apparently just now tuning in to the fact that they're having a conversation.
"Why is it that nobody ever asks me." Natalie's pen clatters to the tabletop.
She's been thinking about her life, what's working, what's not. Being a producer on Sports Night, working for Dana Whitaker, is something that is obviously working. But by the same token there are also things about her life which are clearly not working, and right now this one is top of the list.
"Ever asks you what?" Somehow Kim manages to sound interrogative and bored at the same time; it's a gift.
"Out for a drink after the show." Okay, Kim has really not been listening, which somewhat decreases Natalie's enthusiasm about filling her in.
"Out for a drink, drink? Or just, you know, a drink?" Kim clarifies.
"Either way! Honestly, either one would be fine with me. I'm not picky."
"You should be," Kim says. "You're a catch."
"I know I'm a catch! That's not the point."
"Then what is the point?" Kim sounds genuinely confused.
"The point is--"
"Natalie." Dana breezes back into the control room.
"Just a second, we're talking about --"
"Natalie," Dana repeats.
"-- it's just that nobody's asked me --"
Natalie stops talking. "Dana," she says, looking up. Dana's wearing boots; they make her really tall.
"You're coming with me."
"What," Natalie says. "Am I in trouble? If I am, for the record, I'm not panicking."
"You're not in trouble. We're going for a drink."
"A drink, drink? Or just, you know, a drink?" Kim asks again, giving Natalie a wicked glance that makes her roll her eyes.
"The kind where they pour alcohol into a glass," Dana says firmly.
"I do like alcohol," Natalie agrees.
"Especially when they put it in a glass," Kim chimes in.
"It was a good show, I feel like having a drink with somebody, Casey and Dan are both driving me up a tree, and that leads me to -- you," Dana says, tapping Natalie on the forehead with one manicured finger.
"Am I driving you up a tree?" Kim asks.
"What? ...no," Dana says, sounding as though she's surprised to hear herself say it.
"Then can I come with you?"
"Sure!" Dana's voice is magnanimous. "Ladies' night at the Corner Bar!"
"I'll get my coat," Natalie says, and makes a run for it, before anyone can change their mind.
Because this is exactly what the kind of thing her life has been lacking. She's never had a neighborhood local. Maybe this could become one. Her place. The place she goes to. The place she goes to with her work friends.
Her life in New York City, Natalie decides, is definitely looking up.
2. Wardrobe choices
"I still can't believe you put them in his desk drawer." Natalie takes a long gulp of pinot grigio. Around them the late-night bar conversations are loud and verging on drunken; no one is going to hear them. She still feels a little frisson when she imagines it. Dana sneaking into Casey's office to leave her black silk panties behind.
"I don't know! I --" Dana is blushing. That's the thing about being blonde; blushes really show. "It's because I'm not supposed to do it."
"Not supposed to," Natalie repeats.
"It's exactly the kind of thing a good girl doesn't do! I think I'm getting tired of being the good girl."
"About time," Natalie pronounces, and finishes her glass. Dana pours her another.
"Don't tell Jeremy."
"You tell Jeremy everything."
"I do not!"
"It's okay," Dana says, placating. "If I were dating a guy like Jeremy, I'd do the same thing."
"You would?" Suddenly the answer to this question feels really important. She really needs to know that Dana thinks Jeremy's as wonderful as Natalie knows he is.
"I would," Dana confirms. "But don't tell Jeremy."
"Don't tell him," Dana pleads. "You tell him, he'll tell Dan, Dan will tell Casey--"
"Which would be bad why, exactly?"
"I don't know, it just would." Dana's eyes are wide over the rim of her wine glass. "Please, Natalie."
Something in Natalie melts, in a way she's never been comfortable naming. Dana's her boss, her role model, her big sister. She doesn't get crushes anymore. She has the best boyfriend in the world.
Okay, maybe she still gets crushes. But Jeremy's an open-minded guy. He probably wouldn't even mind that she has a little tiny crush on their boss.
"I'll try," Natalie promises.
"More wine!" Dana proclaims, topping off her own glass and raising it high. Then she leans in and whispers, conspiratorially, "because you know what?"
"You're not wearing any panties," Natalie whispers back.
"Correct!" Dana's wine sloshes when she gestures, but she catches it in time.
3. Epistolary, interrupted
Jeremy types, then pauses. The bartender is standing right in front of him.
"Vodka tonic," he says, and the bartender nods and goes to fill a glass. When the guy slides it down the bar to him, Jeremy's still staring at his screen.
The weirdest thing is happening,
he types, after fortifying himself with a long swig.
I think all of the people I work with -- I've described them to you at some length; you should have some sense for what they're like, by now, I think -- are becoming almost a surrogate family.
he types hastily,
that I fail to appreciate my family of origin. Of which, it must be said, you are the very best part.
He stops, sips his drink again, contemplates what exactly he's trying to say.
It's just that after a grueling day, at the end of a string of grueling days, I find that if I'm not going home with Natalie, I come to this bar. Not because I'm particularly eager to be in the company of strangers, or to pay too much for cocktails I can make better and also more cheaply at home, but on the general hope that one of the people with whom I've spent one of these extraordinarily long days will show up at the bar, too, and we can spend even more time together.
Yes, I, your antisocial brother. Strange, right? Who saw this one coming.
And that's when Dan's hand claps him on the shoulder, as though he had scripted it. Jeremy saves the file for later and closes up his laptop.
"Natalie and Dana are getting a table," Dan offers. "You wanna--
"Sure," Jeremy says, and picks up his highball glass, and leaves a tip on the bar, and goes to join them. He can see Dana's head from across the room; they're at a corner booth, L-shaped.
"Jeremy!" Natalie yells, when she sees him picking his way through the crowd. "I saved you a seat."
"You didn't, actually," Dana says. "You told me he'd probably already gone home."
"But I was hoping he hadn't," Natalie says, flashing him a smile. "And -- here; scooch," she orders Dana, and she scoots over obligingly.
"Casey's coming too," Dan announces.
Dana gives a mock-groan. "This booth was not actually designed to hold five adults."
"He can sit on your lap," Natalie informs Dan.
Dan makes a rude gesture, and Dana snorts.
"Okay, fine, you can sit on his lap," Natalie amends.
"You could sit on my lap," Jeremy hears himself say to Natalie -- the kind of thing he often thinks but never actually says; what has gotten into him? The look Natalie gives him is nothing short of wicked; he hopes the bar is dim enough that no one notices his blush.
"Siddown, sailor," Natalie says, waggling an eyebrow.
So he does, sliding his laptop bag under the table. Louise can wait.
4. A toast
"Outstanding Studio Show." Casey sounds like he's on the verge of hyperventilating.
"Yep," Dan agrees, and takes a swig of his beer.
"Outstanding. Studio. Show!" Casey bangs his hand on the table as he says each word.
"A nomination isn't the same thing as a win," Natalie points out.
"Thanks for raining on my parade," Casey tosses back, though he doesn't sound especially glum about it.
"That hardly constitutes raining," Jeremy objects.
"Excuse me?" Casey swings his head around to look at Jeremy, the picture of comic startlement.
"I'm just saying," Jeremy begins, but Natalie cuts him off.
"Sweetie," she says, and waits until they make eye contact. "Let it go."
"It's gone." Jeremy holds both palms up as though to prove his point.
"We're going to win." Dana proclaims it like a herald announcing royalty.
"I like to think so," Casey agrees.
"No, I don't just think so," Dana argues, "I know so. We're going to win!"
"We ought to win." Dan's voice is quiet but everyone else pipes down to listen. "We kick 'Inside the NBA's ass."
"Damn right we do." Casey and Dan clink glasses.
"And College Gameday?" Natalie scoffs. "Whatever."
"I've actually been known to watch College Gameday," Dan admits.
"Look, you went to a college, we're not going to hold that against you," Dana says magnanimously.
"...and we kick their ass too," Dan finishes.
"Nobody else is as diverse as we are," Natalie says proudly. "That curling montage last night? The feature on strongman competitors in Iceland? No one else even came close."
"Nobody else is as funny as we are," Dana counters. Dan and Casey high-five and she smiles at them indulgently.
"Nobody else is Sports Night," Jeremy says, and that seems to be the last word; they all raise their glasses, clink clink clink.
"I must admit, I never thought --" Isaac pauses, as though overcome with emotion. Dana is by his side immediately.
"Never thought what? That you would make it to retirement? That we would keep the flame of Sports Night alive for so long?"
"--that you people would rent this whole goddamned bar," Isaac says, quirking his crooked smile.
"Come on," Natalie calls as she walks past carrying enormous posterboard photographs: young Isaac bent over an anchor's desk, middle-aged Isaac surrounded by the whole team, white-haired Isaac showing his granddaughter around the set. "Where else were we going to go?"
"I didn't ask you for a party," Isaac points out. "This was not my idea."
"Afraid we're going to roast you?" Natalie smirks.
"As though that were in question." Isaac rolls his eyes and finds a table to park himself at, levering himself slowly into the chair. "Go hang some pictures."
"You're not going to help?" Natalie teases, but she's already walking away.
"I like watching you people work!" Isaac calls, because he knows she'll laugh, and she does.
"Listen," Dana says. She's standing over him, twisting her hands together, and she knows that looks ridiculous but she can't help herself.
"Sit," Isaac commands, and she does.
There's a pause.
"You're going to do a spectacular job," he says finally.
"I'm good at what I do," Dana says. "And I love it." He has to know that. Doesn't he?
"Of course you do."
"But I'm not--" Dana looks at the floor, struggling for words.
"Spit it out," Isaac says gently.
"I'm not you."
"Of course you're not. And you won't run things the way I did."
"I want to bring on a female anchor," she says suddenly, defensively.
"You're entitled," Isaac agrees.
"And I'm thinking about offering Dhani Jones a regular spot."
"Used to play for the Bengals?" Isaac confirms. "The guy who had that world sports show for a while? Sounds smart to me."
"It's going to turn into a different show." Is Dana asking permission, or flaunting the fact that she doesn't need to ask permission anymore? She isn't sure.
"I know it is." Isaac's voice is quiet but strong. "And I look forward to watching it."
"Really?" Dana feels an unreasonable flood of worry.
"I doubt I'll be staying up until midnight," Isaac admits, "but my wife tells me that's why we have a DVR."
"I'll help you program it," offers Dan, who's snuck up on them somehow without Dana noticing.
"I don't need your help!" Isaac thunders. "Don't you know I have a grandkid for that?"
"Duly noted," Dan says, laughing. "Hey -- party's not going to start for a while, but the bartender's here; you want a drink?"
"Damn right I do," Isaac tells him. "Scotch on the rocks, please." Dan salutes and turns on his heel.
"Hey!" Dana calls. "Aren't you going to ask what I want?"
"Lillet on the rocks, twist of orange," Dan says, with a grin.
"Oh," Dana says, because she doesn't know what else to say; he's right. He does know her pretty well. They all do, actually. They know her, in the way you know someone when you've been up with them at all hours, in stressful situations, day in and day out, for years. "Thanks."
"Don't mention it," Dan says, and gives a little bow, and heads bar-wards.
They know her, and they're all still here.
If family meant people you sometimes choose to be with and sometimes don't get to choose not to be with, who see you at your best and also at your worst, who can recite your three favorite cocktails without pausing to think, who'll be there if you need them (and even if you don't) --
Dana's not sure she knows any families which actually operate like that, but Sports Night does. These people are her family. The realization makes her feel strangely warm and fuzzy inside.
"Isaac?" she says, her voice dropping, and he looks at her, expectant. "Thanks."
He seems to hear everything she isn't able to say. "Anytime," he says, and Dana grins, and leans back, and waits for Dan to return with her drink; waits for the evening to begin; waits for whatever's coming next.