Donna doesn’t really listen when people speak to her, she doesn’t have to. It’s always the same thing.
We need more paper. Can you photocopy this? Type this up? If someone like, I don’t know, a cop or something, asks if I was here this morning can you say yes?
Normal, everyday stuff like that. It’s the sort of thing she could do in her sleep, and most days she’s in a very coma like state. It’s her job to open the department; every now and then when Leslie isn’t on a tear, she actually does. She walks around and makes sure the printer has enough paper, that there are enough supplies to last the week and she orders more if there isn’t.
It all got boring a long time ago.
However, let’s get one thing straight. Donna still has dreams, okay.
Aspirations, standards, ideals.
She still likes to have fun and she’s willing to greet a distraction in whatever form it takes but she still has plans to get out of here one day. She has to be careful; the last thing she needs is to get stuck with one of Pawnee’s perennial underachievers. So when she looks up from her computer early one Tuesday morning and sees Perd Hapley: reporter extraordinaire (and one of Donna’s current objects of sexy affection), she doesn’t hesitate to stand, strut toward him and turn it the hell on.
Donna only asks for two things in her jump offs: low self-esteem and a good job. Perd doesn’t seem aware enough to second-guess his every move but one out of two isn’t bad. She leans across the front desk, making sure to reveal just the right amount of décolletage. “Tell me exactly what you need.”
It turns out he’s incredibly early for a meeting with Leslie about a possible segment on his show. She wants some publicity for her next festival and something or whatever and blah blah blah, Donna doesn’t really care. She just leans over further and takes down his info. The fact that she talks Leslie into letting her be the point man on this is just a coincidence.
He’s pretty slow on the up take and she would ask him out herself but Donna’s feeling a little traditional this time around. She has to call him five times with vague reasons like: Are we still on for the interview? And are you sure we’re still on? And Leslie just wanted me to make sure you hadn’t died in your sleep before something clicks and when he starts to call her back, she’s not surprised. Of course he would.
A week later when they’re together working out the details of Leslie’s appearance and he finally asks her out for dinner, Donna smiles as if she’s just walked in on something she wasn’t supposed to see and says, “Yes.”
It took him long enough.
Leslie flies out of her office the next day, hands swinging everywhere, gums flapping a thousand miles a minute; Donna just files her nails and listens for code words: Fire! Gun! Money! Ultimately, the one that ends up catching her attention is…
“Um, yes,” Leslie replies after looking at the slip of paper in her hand. “That’ll be one of the games we have available. “
“Why are we doing this again? Your campaign—”
“No, working on that during office hours would be unethical! But you just reminded me of some things so maybe over the lunch—“
The collective groan of everyone present almost drowns her out but Leslie keeps speaking.
“—break we’ll discuss it further. Anyway, this is about team building, Donna! Now that Tom’s back, we have to re-establish our little family, and the best way to do that is throw a party and eat finger foods.” She looks down at the bullet pointed list she’s printed out again. “Me and the guy who owns the place go way back. Plus, he owes me. So that’s out of the way. All we’ve got left to decide on are possible refreshments and transportation. I’ve separated you all into groups of two and here are the things I’ll need…”
That’s when Donna tunes out. She doesn’t start paying attention again until Tom walks over to her desk.
“Even though this is my party, I have to go get stuff too.”
“The Eagleton Wal-Mart this Saturday?” They could go to the one in Pawnee, but Eagleton just had theirs re- built and the ambiance is beyond reproach. Besides, there’s been a bird living in the rafters at the Pawnee location for weeks now. She’s seen it swoop down and pluck grapes from the fruit tables. The last time she went in, Donna’s pretty sure at least two of its brethren had joined it. They’re multiplying. She’s too afraid to go back.
“I can be there at one. Don’t tell Leslie though; she’ll probably throw it out if she knew where it came from.”
Donna agrees and checks her cell, then opens Bejeweled on Facebook and tries to beat April’s high score. It’s been a very productive day.
She almost calls Tom to cancel when she wakes up to see flakes of snow already slicking the streets. She almost calls again when her boo Perd texts her that it’s looking like a storm will hit them sometime later that night. She almost calls again when she sees Burlesque is coming on at 12:30, but with Leslie’s campaign and the upcoming festival looming, she really wants to go play Laser tag before she gets too busy— and they can’t do that without food.
She reluctantly gets out of bed, gets dressed and sets out for Eagleton. She passes two wrecks and it takes her 15 minutes longer than usual, but she makes it there without a scratch. Donna gets out of the car and shivers as she hustles toward the door. She’s almost made it inside when she hears what sounds like someone calling her name. Donna turns, hopping from foot to foot in the international dance of someone who is cold as hell, to look around for Tom, when she hears it again. Her eyes narrow. Someone is calling her name all right— just not the person she was expecting.
Donna glares as Jean-Ralphio pedals toward her, jumps off the seat of his bike and comes to a running stop. The maneuver would have been slightly impressive if anyone else had done it, but it’s just annoying now since it’s him.
“What up, shawty?”
She just stares at him blank faced for a moment. “Why are you here?”
“Tom got caught up,” he makes a hole with the thumb and pointer finger of one hand and begins poking the pointer finger of his other hand through it, “with Lucy. He didn’t want to leave you hanging.”
“I would’ve been fine on my own.”
“Well now that I’m here,” he spreads is arms wide, “you’ll never have to be alone again.” He tries to move in for a hug and Donna takes a step back.
“I don’t think so.”
“I respect your bodily autonomy. How about we move this rendezvous indoors?”
She could roll her eyes. Tell him to get lost, hope back in the Benz and be stripped down to her long johns on the couch with some Cheeto Puffs and a glass of Moscato in less than 30 minutes. But something is holding her back. He reaches down to lock his bike up and she crosses her arms over her chest. Even though it’s snowing, he’s got on a ridiculous v-neck beneath a blazer and as she watches, a flurry of snow lights on a curly q of chest hair, melts and disappears into his skin.
It takes almost that long for Donna to realize she’s staring.
She tears her eyes away, sort of frozen for a second. If he says one goddamn thing, if he even looks at her funny, she’s out of here. When she meets his gaze, ready to hear whatever stupid thing comes out of his mouth, he looks surprisingly nonchalant because he saw her. He had to.
“Where’s your car?” she asks, trying to change the subject.
“The man the myth, the Legend is in the shop.”
“Let’s do this then,” Donna finally agrees and walks inside without waiting.
They split the list down the middle but when she calls him after getting everything on her half, he’s more concerned with asking her what aisle she thinks lace doilies might be on. She’s pretty sure he hasn’t done anything he was supposed to. When she finally catches up with him and all he has in his basket is a four pack of Hanes boxer briefs and a bag of Smarties, she doesn’t know if she wants to walk out or start yelling. Laser tag. You’ll get to go play laser tag she tells herself. She takes his half of the list and starts shopping.
He catches up not 10 minutes later with one of the items on his half. “I got the Guacamole!”
It’s the cheap stuff, the kind that looks more brown than green. She turns the basket to go get a better brand. When he asks why, she tells him.
“But it has a little farm house in an exotic locale on the label!”
“They do that because they want you to think of green fields and cows when you pick it up instead of the sphincter like contraption that actually squirts this crap out.”
“Sphincter!” He laughs loudly after a moment, stops, and then starts again. Keeps going until he can’t push the cart, until people are side eyeing them as they quicken their way past and Donna starts to casually wonder what she’ll do if he begins to choke. She pats his back. “You all right?”
He just nods his head and takes a couple breaths as he calms down. “Sphincter,” Jean-Ralphio whispers mostly to himself before turning to her. “What’s that mean?”
She tells him.
He says, “That’s gross, Donna,” but his face looks ecstatic and she can’t stop herself from smiling. It’s only dumb luck that he’d already turned away and missed it. They wander up and down the aisles for the next hour, taking their time.
She’d forgotten this, the simple comfort of being in the grocery store with someone. Arguing over brands and prices and feeling their arm brush against her own. She closes her eyes and tries to imagine Perd here with her instead: his weatherman voice, the people coming up to ask him for his autograph or if it’ll still be sunny this weekend, the second hand celebrity she would achieve through him, his arm threaded through hers.
She comes back to the present when she realizes they’re stopped and Jean-Ralphio’s speaking. “Huh?”
“What were you thinking?”
“You got all frowny faced.”
That makes her frown even more. “None of your business,” she finally says, suddenly annoyed. “Let’s just get this over with.”
They finish up quickly after that and even though a part of her wants to just drive off, she gives him a lift home because she’s not a complete monster. She doesn’t talk to him though.
Perd invites her out on a lunch date two days later and they’ve only just been seated when Tom walks up with a strange look.
“What are you doing here?”
“I’m on a date. What are you doing here?”
He glances at Perd. “Getting my eat on.”
“Oh, have a nice lunch.” When he doesn’t look to like he’s going to start moving on, she leans a little closer and lowers her voice. “I’m trying to lay some groundwork here, is there something else you needed?”
“Um, no,” he pats the table and shows them a smile. “You two have a great time!”
The date was nice, but uneventful. She hasn’t been back at the office for five minutes when Jean-Ralphio bursts into the door, walks around the patrician and straight up to her desk with a determined look. “Heard you got a new boyfriend.”
Donna looks up slowly, the lingering sleepy time effects of one and half glasses of white wine impairing her response time. Goddamn, Tom! “Excuse me?”
“Perd Hapley, Donna,” he gets a mean look that seems out of place on his face. “Perd the nerd.”
“You’re dating the weatherman?” a female voice calls from across the room. Donna doesn’t have time to stop and try and to identify her. They’re locked in a stare down and Jean-Ralphio’s arms are crossed, his foot tapping impatiently as he waits for her to respond to something she doesn’t owe him an answer to.
Donna feels her own heckles finally begin to rise. Who is he to demand anything of her? She begins to stand, her palms pushing down on the surface of her desk. “That’s my business.”
“What’s go—“ someone behind them begins only to be immediately shushed.
Donna’s surprised when he mimics her position and leans in. He’s never gone toe to toe with her before. Never stood up for himself and the newly discovered steel in his spine takes what she started to feel at the grocery store and amplifies it, sending a fission of something she doesn’t like feeling in his presence racing through her. That pisses her off even more.
“Because we are friends and there are things about him…” he lets himself drift off.
“First, we’re not friends. Second, things like what?”
“He—” Jean-Ralphio shakes his head and doesn’t finish the sentence.
“Tell me!” They’re sort screaming in each other’s faces now. Everyone in the office looks like they’re watching a tennis match as the two of them go back and forth. Donna would say something, but she’s too focused on getting whatever Jean-Ralphio knows out of him to pay much attention. “Just spit it out!”
“Perd doesn’t just rhyme with nerd, Donna. It also rhymes with turd,” he shakes his head, seeming to be genuinely saddened to have just made her aware of that fact. “I didn’t want you to find out like this!”
They don’t but she can hear the stop arguing but she becomes more aware of the rest of the office beginning to speak behind them. “I think this may be the most passionate argument I’ve ever witnessed,” Chris says to the room. He’s got his arms crossed, a huge smile on his face. “What’re they fighting about?”
April replies in a sing songy lilt. “Somebody had sex.”
“Who?” Andy asks, completely oblivious.
“All right, you two,” Leslie says loudly, using her Deputy Director voice and effectively bringing all conversation to a halt. “Donna, come with me. It’s Girl Time.”
“Zip it,” Leslie says, moving toward her office door. “You can’t say no to Girl Time! No way, uh uh.”
Donna turns back to Jean-Ralphio letting him know she’s not quite through with him yet before following Leslie into her office. The other women are already there when she enters. Leslie begins barking out orders immediately.
“You,” she points at Ann. “Close the door.”
“You,” her finger pivots toward April. “Stop kneeling on that chair, you could fall.”
“Ugh,” she groans but does as told.
"You," Leslie turns to Donna before lowering her hand to her hip and tilting her head to the side. "Jean-Ralphio, huh?"
“But you sort of want to,” Ann says, her face curious and yet repulsed in a way Donna thinks it would be if she saw a tumor growing teeth and hair. "I mean, believe me, I get the allure of skeezy men—"
“But nothing's going on! There has been no clandestine sexin’!”
“Not yet anyway…” Ann mutters.
Donna opens her mouth but nothing comes out and April watches her with wide eyes. “Whhhhhyyyy?” she questions, and Donna can feel herself getting defensive. “Why him?”
“I don’t have to explain myself to any of you.”
April and Ann’s voices go up into a chorus of delighted, Oooooohhhhhhh’s before Leslie shushes them and steps forward. “She’s right; it’s not any of our business who Donna chooses to see—“
“—and this was an illegal Girl’s Time call and for that, I apologize. We should get back out there.”
“How dare you try to shut Janet Snakehole up!” April pronounces to Leslie loudly. “I will not be ignored!”
“Oh, Janet Snakehole’s here,” Leslie cheers halfheartedly, moving the other two women out of the room at the same time. Ann turns and something passes between them before she follows on April’s heels.
“Before you go,” Leslie says lowly, catching her arm as she tries to make her escape and closing the door. “I just wanted to say that, even though nothing’s happening between you two, that fight…” she raises her eyebrows. “The only time I’ve ever seen you get that worked up is when it concerns your Mercedes.”
“I know, you’ve got Perd now, thumbs up on that by the way, and we’re all very happy. But if you were interested in Jean-Ralphio—“
“But if you were, you know we’d all support you, right?” Donna crosses her arms over her chest and Leslie goes on. “I mean, of course we’d laugh at first since he’s weird and sort of sleazy and all gangly like a daddy long legs. But he’s kind of sweet, too. And we love you.”
Donna rolls her eyes but the gesture is only halfhearted; she’s actually kind of touched by all this. Even though it’s annoying, the other girls’ interest and teasing when she is, more often than not, excluded from that side of the office is nice. Leslie must see her softening because she reaches out but Donna puts her hand up; palm out, to stop her in her tracks. There’s nice and then there’s too nice. Donna doesn’t want her getting too many ideas. “I don’t think so.”
“All right then,” the blonde replies with a happy smile and opens the door back. “I’ll see you!”
Donna makes a noise that could mean anything, walks out and as she sits at her desk, she can’t help but notice that Jean-Ralphio’s already gone.
Not many people know this, but Donna Meagle loves laser tag.
She’s assistant president of the Association of Adult Laser Taggers, she plays twice a month over in Eagleton and she’s got the third highest score in the northeast.
She makes sure she’s the first one to arrive and greases the palm of the kid watching the door to do a run through of the course before the game. She’ll probably avoid the two sniper nests at either corner because, even though it’s dangerous, she likes to be on the ground too much to opt for safety.
People trickle in slowly and after they get the mandatory chitchat out of the way, Donna slips her vest on and her ear buds in. She can hear the first strands of Phil Collins’ In the Air Tonight begin filtering through her headphones. She checks to make sure it’s on repeat—there’s nothing worse than going in for the kill and realizing all you can hear is Firework–then switches her gun on. She’s ready for war.
She turns a corner, easily dispatches two blue teamers guarding the area and is about to run down a long corridor to her left when someone jumps in front of her. She raises her gun. Ready to blow them away when she realizes who it is and rolls her eyes. “Are you trying to eat lead?”
“No,” Jean-Ralphio assures, “but we should be partners though.”
“I work alone.”
“But we’re already on the same team,” he replies, his voice taking on that slightly needy whine she hates as he motions between them at their identical, light up, red vests. “And I have tons of experience. I play all the time.”
Her ears perk up. “You’re on a team?”
“Because I’m in the league and I’ve never seen you on the circuit.”
“Well maybe that’s because I’m underground. Maybe I run with some dudes who don’t want their names out there. Maybe I had to work here for a few weeks after Entertainment 720 tanked because my parents wouldn’t give me any money and I got really good at it. The reason doesn’t matter!”
The fact that she’s still standing here listening after the stunt he pulled must show him that she’s weakening. He pounces.
“Come on! This city’s soaked in gasoline, Donna,” Jean-Ralphio declares starting to bounce on the balls of his feet, a strange smile gracing his face. “Let’s light a few matches.”
It would make sense, having someone watch your back. She swallows. This is hard for her to say, but on the second try, the word finally passes her lips. “Fine.”
“Yep, you convinced me. Don’t make me regr—”
He raises his gun and tags someone sneaking up behind her before the man can dart away. When she turns back, Jean-Ralphio gives her a quick wink and disappears behind a wall.
They’re a well-oiled machine after that. Picking off blue teamers quickly and quietly, neither of them have been tagged yet when she turns to talk to him. “Our session’s almost over. All we have to do—“
“Donna, look out!” he grabs her around her middle before she can try and duck and pulls them behind a barricade. They’re both breathing hard, searching for whoever shot at them but they’re already gone. “I don’t see him,” she whispers before looking back to see that Jean-Ralphio’s jacket has gone dark. Donna looks at it with wide eyes. “They got you…”
“It’s okay, it was worth it.” The bell sounds for the end of their session and Jean-Ralphio smiles. “I love you.”
Obviously, a small part of her wants to snap. When you peddled your ass all the way to Eagleton in a goddamn snowstorm, I got an inkling.
But a bigger part of her is shocked and turns away. “No you don’t. You don’t even know me. How could you… feel that when you don’t know anything about me?”
“I’ve known you for 2 years.”
Even Donna has to admit, if only to herself, that that is a very conservative amount of time to decide whether or not you’re interested in a friend. Are they even friends, though? She’d never call him that out loud—to his face or behind his back—but she can think it in the privacy of her own mind if she feels like it.
They’ve never done the things friends do. He’s never been to her house, or danced with her in a club, or accompanied her and Tom when they smoke up in the park on the border between Pawnee and Eagleton every now and then. She only has his number because he put it in her phone when she wasn’t paying attention. She’s never even called it.
They’re not friends, they’re not even associates. “You don’t love me.”
“Yes I do, and I have proof.”
“Yeah,” he starts ticking off fingers. “I think about you all the time, even in places other than the shower—“
“You make me feel like Bobby Brown in the early 90’s—”
“Like a sweaty, crack head superstar?”
“Yes,” he replies with a gentle smile, “exactly like that, and all Donna can do is shrug in understanding ‘cause, yeah, that must feel pretty good.
“I’ve had I Need Love on repeat in the whip since the day I met you. Girl, we’ve gone grocery shopping together and that’s domestic as hell! You came to my party and—“
“None of that means anything.”
She starts to say something like no, it doesn’t or don’t be stupid or the game’s over, it’s time to go when he grabs her arm, pulls her in close and kisses her. She’s stunned into compliance at first. She’s thrown by the fact that he would have the balls to try this with her and that he’s angling his head to the side and biting her bottom lip. Stunned that he actually seems to have some sort of technique and—most shocking of all—that she’s letting him, and maybe starting to reciprocate.
You’ve done it now, a voice whispers from the back of her mind. You’re stuck.
Donna pulls away from him instinctively and, before she can think better of it, pulls her fist back and lets it fly.
Her knuckles connect with a fleshy thump and she’s sure she looks as stunned as he does afterward. Neither of them moves for a beat, and then blood so thick it looks black begins to fall: first as a trickle then as a downpour. Jean-Ralphio’s whole lower face is covered in gore within seconds, then his neck and the collar of his white shirt. She thinks of Andy’s broken nose but he hadn’t bled this much or this fast.
She watches gape mouthed as he reaches up to his nose and begins to speak. “Shit, Donna. I’m bleeding.” There’s no emotion in his voice, he might as well be commenting on the weather. Then his face changes and something inside her twists into a sick knot, his voice goes up about ten octaves. “I’m bleeding!”
“I’m—, “ sorry, she stops just short of saying because—really, when you think about it. When you really think about it—this is all his fault anyway. She narrows her eyes. “You can’t walk up on me like that! What were you thinking?”
“I wanted your attention! I told Tom I was trying to, you know, get it in—,” Donna’s mouth turns down at that phrase. “—after the grocery store, he said I needed a Lloyd Dobler moment and surprise kisses always work in the movies!”
He sounds stuffed up, like he’s got a head full of cold and it makes Donna grimace. “Yeah well movies are fantasies and I just taught you a life lesson, didn’t I?”
“Yes you did!”
“What’s happening here?”
Both of them freeze as Ron stares them down and the other members of the Parks Department start making their way over. They glance at one another but before they can answer, Ann appears from somewhere behind them with a hand full of paper towels. She mops the blood from his chin. Donna’s never seen her so calm and self-assured before. This is Ann is in her element.
Jean-Ralphio takes the paper towels and squeezes them in his hand while she feels along the bridge of his nose and ignores his plaintive mewls of pain. “I don’t think it’s broken. But you should definitely go have an x-ray.”
“Before we go, I think I can fix that up better than any doctor.”
“Ron, I don’t really—“ Ann begins, only to be cut off.
“I’ll bring him. But first, there’s some gauze, medical grade tape, antiseptic, a full face mask and—if necessary—a tab of cyanide in the first aid kits I have buried at strategic points around town. One of them is just down the block. Hold your head back, son,” Ron orders ,taking charge and leading Jean-Ralphio out of the room by the elbow.
The rest of their group follows quietly, as Donna slips to the back and goes to look at the scores instead. There she is, right at the top, leading the red team by a small percentage. Jean-Ralphio is right on her heels and when she thinks of him taking that bullet for her and knocking himself out of a tied first place finish, Donna finds that this victory isn’t so sweet.
Leslie comes to stand next to her. “Is getting your nose broken the new falling into the pit? It seems like everybody’s doing it these days.” Donna just looks at her and Leslie stops trying to lighten her mood. “I saw what happened.”
She doesn’t try to deny it. Her chest is heavy with an unfamiliar weight. “I feel… I don’t know.” She brings her hand up. “Maybe I’m having a heart attack or something.”
“Do you feel like a brick’s on your chest? Like you’re having trouble breathing? Like your whole existence just tilted in the opposite direction and you don’t even know who you are anymore?”
“Maybe like the slightly less dramatic version of that, yes.”
“I know what that is and it’s not an attack of the heart. I’m pretty sure it’s a sickness of the heart.”
“A what?” Donna asks, she doesn’t even know the meaning of that word. You do something or you don’t and there’s no reason to harp over spilt milk or yearn for something you shouldn’t want in the first place. The constriction in her chest only gets tighter.
Leslie doesn’t back down in the face of Donna’s bravado, just looks at her sadly before reaching out to wrap her arms around her middle.
This time, Donna lets her.
But only for a moment.
“I’m gonna be late if I don’t get out of here.”
“Late for what?”
“Perd, he’s taking me to dinner tonight.”
“What?” The word is curt and Leslie doesn’t reply. Just looks disappointed as Donna leaves.
The restaurant he takes her to is nice without being too nice. There’s kitschy art on the wall but the table clothes aren’t plastic and the flowers are real. It’s a good place to have a first real date.
She sees him as soon as she comes in and walks toward the table to sit down.
“You were late so I started without you.”
“It’s only been five minutes.”
He shrugs and wipes the spaghetti sauce from the corner of his mouth. “Your hand.”
Donna glances down and it’s not looking good. The skin is discolored and it’s swelled up like a balloon. She probably should’ve gone to the doctor with everyone else but she doesn’t think any bones are broken and all they could’ve done was give her some medicine and an icepack anyway. She tries to flex it and grimaces. “Yeah, I punched someone in the face an hour ago.”
“Oh,” he smiles big and goes back to eating his food like she just said she brought a puppy on her lunch break or something. She can feel the corners of her mouth turn down as he chews his food. This is the man she’s wanted since the first time she saw him on her TV screen? Donna’s pretty sure that, if she hooked him up to a heart monitor, it’d beep before falling into a completely flat line.
He’s boring. Even though she’s only been seeing him for about two weeks, sitting here with him now, she can feel herself becoming boring too.
Donna needs someone with more energy. Someone that makes her feel something. She’s not even really aware she’s thinking of anyone in particular until Jean-Ralphio’s face comes to mind. The look he had right before he kissed her. Then she remembers more things about him. The way he jumped off that bike and the way he makes her so angry and the way he smiles at her.
The server comes over with a little pad of paper. “What can I get you Ms?”
Out of here
“I can’t do this.”
“Are you speaking to me or to yourself? The volume of your voice indicates you’re speaking to yourself but I have a feeling—”
Donna takes the napkin from her lap and puts it on the table as she stands. The server has a frightened look in his eyes and she shoos him away before continuing. “I like you, Perd, and we have a marginal amount of fun together—“
“Does a ‘but’ come next?”
“… Yes, but, there’s someone else on my mind. I have to go.” She grabs her purse and is halfway to the hostess before she turns and goes back to the table. “Well, that and the way that you speak is seriously annoying. It’s been driving me crazy. Goodbye.”
She doesn’t look back again.
“You really ought to get that hand looked at.”
It’s Ann that says it and every other pair of eyes in the emergency waiting room shifts toward her. “I will, and you all can leave. I’ll make sure he gets home.”
They stand slowly and leave the waiting room, giving her sympathetic looks on their way out. Everyone knows; whether Leslie told them or they figured it out on their own is unimportant. There’s no hiding anymore. They won’t let her.
Tom walks up with a sheepish smile. “Try and be nice to him, okay?” Donna doesn’t say anything in reply because he’s the one who set all of this in motion, and she’s not a hundred percent sure she likes him for doing that right now.
He just squeezes her shoulder and leaves as she walks up to the nurses’ station and asks to see a doctor. She was right about it not being broken and she was right about them not being able to do much. They give her some medicine and an icepack and not 45 minutes later, she’s back in the waiting room. One of the nurses tells her Jean-Ralphio’s still hidden in one of the rooms back there so Donna takes a seat and thinks.
I love you.
Donna doesn’t really put much stock in those three words. He’s the type who would need her to say them. All day, every day, for the entire duration of their involvement. She feels a flutter of panic bloom in the back of her mind. Run! It screams. Don’t look back! Donna sits very still until the moment passes.
She closes her eyes and thinks about what she’s given up to be here. Perd Hapley, the closest thing to a star Pawnee has. They would’ve looked good together. They would’ve fit. She thinks of Jean-Ralphio’s unemployed ass. Of that curly mop on top of his head, his dumb come-ons and try hard dance moves. He—
“What’re you thinking?”
Donna’s eyes slide open after an indeterminate amount of time and Jean-Ralphio’s standing in front of her. There are twin crescent moons of purple and black smudged beneath each eye. His voice is higher than usual, slightly reedy due to the packing inside of it, but he looks a lot more serene than he did earlier in the night. Between whatever Ron gave him and the prescription from the hospital, he must have a nice buzz going .
“You were smiling. What were you thinking about?”
“Getting the Benz detailed.” His face falls at her admission and it’s schmaltzy and not her at all, but he looks like hell and since she can’t bring herself to tell him what he wants to hear, Donna figures telling him the truth is the least she can do. “And you. I was thinking about you too.”
He gets this stupid grin on his face and she can’t deal with that either so she turns away. “I got rid of Perd. I don’t even know why. He’s everything I always wanted.”
He sits next to her. “You know why,” Jean-Ralphio states and when she looks at him, he’s more serious than she’s ever seen him. He seems real in that moment, like an actual person instead of a walking, talking punch line. She’s about say so when he leans back into the chair. The old and familiar Jean-Ralphio making his return. “‘Cause you know I move that D.”
And just like that, this doesn’t feel like The moment anymore, only a moment. One of many to come, and she can feel a smile wanting to spread across her face because Donna sort of likes this side of him too. “Oh please, I don’t know anything about that.”
His smile turns sly. “Well you can find out, like, whenever.”
“You have to ruin every moment don’t you? I’m already regretting this.”
She takes his face in her hands, angles her mouth so she won’t accidently bump his nose and kisses him until she has to pull back to breathe. He’s gasping too, face flushed and she realizes she wants to do more than kiss him. The thought of it doesn’t scare her as much anymore. “Let’s get a few things straight.”
“I’m not your girlfriend and I’m not making you any promises. I just… I’m just willing to see where this goes and that’s it, okay?”
“That’s fine. I’ll take it.”
“It’s winter, you look stupid in just a v neck. Start layering.”
“If you say so.”
“Was your nose actually broken?”
“No, Ann was right. They did say they’d never seen anybody set one as well as Ron did mine though.”
“Wanna go get in my backseat?”
“Oh God, yes.”
“If you get blood on my upholstery I’ll kill you."
"I would never do that," and his wide-eyed denial is so sincere she almost wants to cry.
She kisses him again instead.