Josh practically tripped over his own feet in his haste to get his stuff together, eventually giving up and leaving his backpack upended in the middle of his desk under a layer of folders and their spilled contents. He ran a hand through his untameable hair, achieving the exact opposite of his vague grooming intentions, and after a moment’s hesitation abandoned his tie and jacket on the back of a chair, from which they promptly fell. He closed the door so fast it slammed loudly, and then tried and failed twice to lock it behind him. He was on the verge of giving up when Sam appeared and started laughing at him.
“Josh, are you having a nutty?”
He tried to glare at his friend but he was incapable of toning his grin down to anything past gleeful. Chuckling, Sam took the keys from him, deftly locked the recalcitrant door, and handed them back with a small nod.
“Did you seriously not think she’d say yes?”
“I wasn’t planning on it being tonight, but then she…” he trailed off, unwilling to describe what he’d seen, at least not in the words it had evoked in his brain. He took a steadying breath. “We’re going to have dinner now.”
Sam’s face lit up and he started rattling off restaurant recommendations, but Josh ignored him, striding off towards the exit. Grinning at his retreating back, Sam turned towards CJ’s office, digging his cell phone out of his pocket as he walked. Sur enough, it rang within seconds.
“Wait, what did you say? Where should I take her?”
Chuckling, Sam recited directions to a romantic spot in Adams Morgan with a secluded courtyard. Josh echoed the street name, clearly distracted, and Sam made a mental note to text him the information.
“Thanks. Listen, could you…”
“I’m on it.”
Josh made a weird noise and then hung up abruptly. Shaking his head with a fond smile, Sam stopped at Carol’s desk and asked her to call the restaurant and book a table, and then stepped in to CJ’s office to bring her up to date.
Out by the gate, Josh had been stopped in his tracks by the sight of Donna, standing where he’d left her, lost in thought. She was fiddling absently with her hair, her uplifted arms forming a graceful arc around her head, tugging her shirt upwards, but it was the look on her face that made his breath catch. She was smiling like she’d chanced upon a wonderful secret, her expression free of any tension or uncertainty. Her apparent lack of nervousness soothed his, and he slowed his pace and squared his shoulders as he approached her. He didn’t say a word as he drew level with her, just crooked his elbow and cocked his head in invitation. Laughing, she took his arm, and they stepped into the warm summer evening’s drifting crowds.
“So, where are we going?”
“I have no idea. Sam’s sending me the address.”
She rolled her eyes at him.
“What? This was… unexpected.”
“If you’d had more time to plan, where would we have been going?”
He scrunched up his face for a moment and then winked at her.
“I have no idea. I’d have asked Sam.”
Laughing, she elbowed him gently in the ribs and then stepped into his path, turning to face him, stopping him with a hand on his chest.
“We don’t have to do anything fancy, you know. It’s a gorgeous night, we can just grab takeout and sit on the memorial steps.”
He reached up and pinched her nose.
“That sounds like fun, we should do that some other time. But tonight’s special, I want to make it nice. And it is outdoors.”
She found his hand where it had come to rest on her should and squeezed.
“I’m sure it’ll be lovely. I just don’t want you to feel like you have to impress me.”
She bit her lip, and although she smiled back he detected some hesitation.
"Sam has impeccable taste." He laughed nervously. "Or so he assures me."
She nodded carefully.
"Josh, I've done the DC's-top-ten-first-date-spots thing. A lot."
He watched her for a moment, unsure of how to respond. When he finally murmured a very tentative "I know..." she looked a little stung.
"What I'm saying is, I'm sure this place is very nice, but..."
"We can go wherever you want," he interjected hastily. "Seriously, anywhere."
She smiled, still nervous.
"I was thinking... It'd be nice to go to your place. We could cook."
"Josh, we eat food from amazing chefs off beautiful china all the time. We're just..." she paused for breath. "We're always around other people. And dating in DC... It's such a scene, especially for someone like you. I mean how many times have people come over, or made comments, when we've just been grabbing lunch?"
He looked slightly panicked.
"I know. It's just, uh... My apartment?"
She flashed him an amused smile.
"So it's kind of a mess. Big deal." When he looked startled she giggled at him. "I was there yesterday, Josh! I'm there all the time, I don't care. Besides, I don't want to dent your ridiculous frat boy image, but you're not as much of a slob as you pretend to be."
He flushed slightly, content not to air his actual concerns about spending the evening at home alone with her, and gently nudged her to start walking again.
"You know I can't cook, right?"
She flashed him a grin.
"Yes, but you're surprisingly good at following instructions when you actually listen."
He quirked an eyebrow at her but bit back the several suggestive retorts that came to mind, content instead to watch her smile in the bright evening light.
He drifted after her around the high-end grocery store two blocks from his building, which he usually avoided like the plague after accidentally ending up with goat's milk in his coffee after a bleary-eyed early morning emergency shopping excursion. He eventually gave up trying to contribute anything to decisions about fresh basil, handed over his credit card, and went off to buy wine and frantically straighten up his apartment. He hastily parted with an eye-watering amount of cash for a bottle each of red, white and rosé, unsure of what would be suitable, and - working off some vague notion of the momentousness of the occasion that his brain was still trying to come to grips with - two bottles of champagne. He nearly gave it all back when he realized how much alcohol he'd just acquired and what that could be seen to suggest, but opted instead to dash home and put it all away before she could see the huge liquor store bag.
By the time Donna arrived, happily weighed down with an array of ingredients he couldn't begin to fathom what she was planning to do with, he'd tossed out everything suspicious-looking from the refrigerator, opened all the windows, shoved everything work-related under a layer of newspapers on his desk and somehow managed to change the sheets in less time than it had ever taken him, refusing to examine his motivations too closely. Slightly winded, he'd forgotten what he was doing when she'd toed off her shoes, walked straight up to him and kissed him on the cheek.
He must have looked extra baffled because she didn't laugh.
"For this. For asking, for trying to make it special, and for agreeing to come here." She looked around her. "And for tidying. Although you might want to retrieve the phone from under there at some point." She indicated the drifts of paper on the desk with her chin.
"Not tonight. No phone tonight."
"That would be nice, but you know that's not how it works."
He sighed, and offered up a silent plea to the Qumaris, the Republicans and the Washington Post to just let them have this one evening.
Donna, inevitably, went straight to the refrigerator, and immediately noticed the stack of bottles chilling on the top shelf.
“Josh, are you trying to get me drunk?”
He could tell by her tone that she was kidding but he flushed nonetheless, and stammered something he was more or less sure was trying to be an apology. She poured them each a glass of white without further comment, adding ice cubes to make up for it being barely chilled. He nearly jumped out of his skin when she touched a cool finger to his lips as she handed him his wine, but recovered in time to clink glasses with her, smiling back when she flashed him a brilliant grin.
She sauntered though the living room, grabbing a throw cushion off the couch and setting it on the window ledge, swinging her legs up to sit sideways against the child safety guard. After a moment’s hesitation he joined her, lifting her feet and then setting them in his lap, and then pausing to stare at his own hand on her ankle when he nearly managed to touch fingers around the slender joint, turning his gaze back to her face when she gently nudged him with her foot.
Still and quiet for the first time since Josh's outburst at the White House gate, they just stared at each other in disbelief. Josh felt the heat rising in his cheeks but it was Donna who looked away first, lifting a hand to her face to hide an incredulous giggle. Josh squeezed one of her feet in his lap and lifted them again, sliding sideways so he was sitting under the arch of her bent legs - and much closer. He took another long look at her, searching her face for any sign of nervousness or hesitation, but she returned his gaze levelly, a look of curiosity in her eyes, and he took a deep breath and jettisoned the script he’d been frantically drafting in his head. Assuming she was wondering what he was going to do next, he slid an arm around her shoulders and declared his intentions.
"I'm going to kiss you now, OK?"
She laughed as she nodded and when his mouth met hers she was smiling. He kept it light, staying close but content to just press his lips to hers, high from the emotional rush. She followed his lead for a few long, unforgettable minutes, and then gently pushed back, slid off the window ledge and straightened up, gracefully sidestepping their forgotten wine on the floor and pulling him up to stand in front of her. Then with a look charged with such heat he nearly had to sit down again, she stepped forward, took his face in her hands, and kissed him soundly. His arms went around her instinctively, and he turned them, intending to press her up against the wall -- and kicked over their glasses, shattering them. She burst out laughing but he remembered her bare feet and scooped her up in his arms. She squealed and gripped his neck, protesting, but after moving a few feet away he took advantage of his hold on her and kissed her again. When he lifted his head from hers he had a quizzical look on his face. He walked over to the kitchen counter and set her down, ignoring her confused expression, resting his hands lightly on either side of her waist.
"I have a question."
That earned him a raised eyebrow and a smirk.
"Just the one?"
He have her his best thoughtful face, stalling for so long she jabbed him in the leg with her foot.
"White wine doesn't stain, right?"
She snapped straight into practical mode, leaning past him to try and get down.
"No, but we should--"
He leaned into her to keep her still.
“That question doesn’t count, I don’t care if it stains.”
She blinked at him.
“I know you don’t.” She took a deep breath. “Josh, I think I know where you’re going with this.” She smiled but shook her head no, doing incomprehensible things to the whirlwind of emotions he was grappling with. She slid her arms around his neck. “You can sweep me off my feet again later, OK? We should eat dinner and talk.”
For a moment he just breathed, lost in the sensation of her gentle embrace, in the promise contained in that single word, later, in his surprise at himself, that he’d managed to make this happen at all. He pressed his lips to her forehead.
“Later sounds good.” He remembered his manners, then, and how much he truly did love her, he was sure now. “But that can be tonight or some other time, OK?”
She wriggled off the counter and pointedly looked him up and down.
“Oh, I should think tonight.”
He laughed in spite of himself, delighted by her brazen, breezy manner, but glad now she’d had enough sense for the both of them. He reached around her and picked up two more wine glasses and then steered her towards the fridge, grabbing her by the waist and then shoving her into the cold air as he opened the door. She squealed and giggled and his spirit soared higher still. Pouring her a fresh glass of wine, he kept a gentle hold on her, handing her the drink and then wrapping both arms around her middle. She raised a hand to the side of his head, arching backwards so she could rest her cheek against his.
“How about I start dinner?”
She felt him nod against her. “I’ll go clean up the glass.”
She shifted so she could kiss him and then pulled away and started pulling out pans and utensils. He watched for a moment as she darted around his kitchen, as comfortable and surefooted as though she were in her own home, images of the future rising unbidden in his mind. Before tending to the mess by the window he made for his sound system, pulling out a CD without a moment’s hesitation and sliding it into the player. As he turned away to fetch a broom – he was pretty sure he owned one and he thought it must be in the hall closet, surely – Billie Holiday’s rich tones filled the room. He looked over and found Donna smiling at him with such affection he just had to take a detour, and he pinned her against the counter and practically devoured her. When they came up for air she cast a critical eye over his clothes.
“You should go change. We’re making rather a mess of this shirt.”
“I’ll clean then change. Are you all set in here?”
“I can do things in this kitchen that you’ve never even dreamed of.”
He burst out laughing and then affected a ridiculous leer.
“I’ll hold you to that.”
One last kiss and he hurried off to clean up, meticulously checking almost the entire living room for shards of glass and then going over it again for good measure. It seemed important that she not have to put her shoes back on – he loved that she felt so comfortable in his home that she’d slipped them off without a second thought, not to mention that he found the sight of her pink-tipped toes utterly intoxicating.
When he was sure there was no further risk to her delicate feet, he disposed of the debris and went to change. As he pulled a fresh shirt out of his closet he mused that Sam would probably have very specific thoughts about his choice of outfit at this point in time. Looking down at the well-worn light blue oxford in his hand, he suddenly pictured Donna wearing it. She’d look good in it. As he buttoned it up, he hoped she’d still be there in the morning to test that theory.
He was pretty sure she’d still be there in the morning.
His hands suddenly felt clammy.
He tried to think of something to say to announce himself – barefoot too, now, his footsteps were inaudible over the music and the clatter of utensils – but ended up making her jump when she turned and found him watching her, enthralled by the way she balanced on one leg when she leaned over to grab something almost out of reach. She laughed at herself, set down her spoon and sauntered over to him, theatrically swinging her hips. He swallowed. She smoothed down the frayed ages of his collar and then ran the tips of her fingers down his arms, making him shiver. She stepped closer as her hands went around his waist.
“I love this shirt. It’s a shame it’s too worn for the office but it looks good like this, all soft…”
She leaned in and he felt her breath on his cheek but instead of kissing him, she whispered in his ear.
“I’m going to steal it tomorrow.”
Before he could recover she slipped her hands into the back pockets of his shorts and he nearly lost his footing, steadied only by her lithe form pressed against him. This time she did kiss him and he lost himself in the sensation of her lips, unsure whether even if he pinched himself he’d believe he wasn’t dreaming. She was so calm, so confidently seductive, but he knew instinctively this was no routine – he’d seen her before and after many a disastrous date, and she had no moves, so to speak. He realised he must have been far more transparent than he’d hoped, all this time, because she clearly felt wholly secure in his attraction to her. And with good reason – this new side of her was a thrill, but the sexiest thing about her was that she was just the same as she’d ever been, his friend, his confidante, the audience for his most carefully thought-out jokes and the figure that caught his eye in jeans and evening gowns and everything in between. Those very same hips were now pressed against his and he snapped out of his reverie and ran his hands down her legs as far as he could reach and then back again, pulling her skirt up and then working his fingers under the bunched fabric. She giggled as he explored, letting him get as far as the edge of her underwear before stilling his hands. She looked him in the eye, holding his wrists in place, the pads of his thumbs brushing against what felt like lace, and he nearly forgot his own name.
He blinked a couple of times and then nodded and belatedly remembered to close his mouth.
She twirled away from him, gathering up various cooking implements as she went, and cast a critical eye over the bubbling pans on the stove, ignoring the befuddled look on his face. He still hadn’t managed to come up with anything to say when she handed him a lettuce and gently shoved him towards the counter. Grateful for something to focus on, he dutifully followed her instructions and managed to produce a fairly respectable looking salad. After getting the oil and vinegar bottles confused he surrendered the making of the dressing to her, and went to lay the table.
Which he suddenly realised was buried under about a foot of briefing memos, copies of the Post, and miscellaneous debris he didn’t care to think too closely about.
She sounded far away, and as he turned back into the kitchen he discovered her practically climbing into one of the kitchen cabinets, likely looking for some culinary tool he’d never even heard of. When she straightened up, her hair had begun escaping from the messy bun she’d assembled earlier, and he badly wanted to run his fingers through the silky strands.
“The table… it’s, uh… well, I’m pretty sure it’s under there somewhere…”
She just smiled.
“I know. We’ll use the coffee table, it’s fine.”
He liked the idea of cuddling up to her on the couch but worried he was letting her down, somehow. He’d wanted to do everything by the book and felt rather like he was navigating his way through his own home without a map. Determined to do his best, he cleared away the assortment of old magazines and largely unread books, and set two places as neatly and carefully as he’d been taught to before his parents’ dinner parties. When he went back to the kitchen to forage for candles, he discovered that that was what Donna had been digging out earlier, and he nodded to himself, glad to find they were on the same page. He had just found the decent cloth napkins when she called out that dinner was ready.
It took them a couple of trips to bring out everything she’d prepared, and when they finally sank into the couch Josh’s eyes widened at the veritable feast laid out before them.
“I didn’t know you could cook like this.”
“I don’t do it very often. Thank you for letting me lay waste to your kitchen.”
He shifted in his seat, turning towards her.
“You can lay waste to my kitchen anytime you like, Donnatella.”
She grinned, and, ignoring the meal in front of them, shifted around so she was facing him and leaned forward, twining her arms around his neck.
“This is exactly what I was hoping for, Josh. Thank you.”
He knew better than to ask whether she meant just the meal, the whole evening or this giant, potentially life-changing step they were taking together. He pulled her close and laid his cheek against her forehead, closing his eyes and enjoying the moment. After a moment he felt her fingers in his hair, and then her lips against his jaw. He took a deep, contented breath. They sat like that, savouring their closeness and the quiet, until he tilted her head to kiss her and then leaned back, smiling again at the sight of the huge spread she’d prepared.
Rather than turning back to eat off the table she crossed her legs indian-style and balanced her bowl of pasta on her calves. When she lifted it a few moments later, he saw that the warm china had left red marks on her skin, and he hastily passed her a cushion to rest the dish on.
“I don’t want to get sauce on it!”
“I’d much rather you get sauce on the cushions than you burn your legs.” He smiled at her. “I’m rather attached to those legs.” He leaned closer. “I’ve got plans for those legs.” He held her gaze for a beat before laughing at himself. “God, that was awful, I’m sorry.”
“You’re out of practice.”
He nodded his agreement, suddenly glad that that was the case.
“I’m out of practice.”
“Well…” she batted her eyelashes at him, hamming it up and putting on a ridiculously breathy voice, “…practice makes perfect.”
He felt a surge of affection for her more powerful even than the rush of desire that came with every flash of skin.
“I’ll bear that in mind.”
They ate quietly for a few minutes.
“Do you want to put the news on?”
He gave her a surprised look.
“It’s OK, I don’t need to watch the news.”
“Josh, we both like watching the news. It’s alright.”
She grabbed the remote before he could protest, switched to CNN and turned the sound down. Then in one smooth movement she turned, folded her legs around away from him, and then lifted his arm and tucked herself under it. He squeezed her tight, shaking his head with a rueful smile to himself. He might have been the one to ask her out, those few hours ago that seemed like a lifetime at this point, but she’d already been several steps ahead of him even if he hadn’t known it. He bent his head to kiss her cheek and she made a contented little noise that made his heart go a bit faster.
When a commercial flashed up he reached for the remote and muted the sound entirely.
“You said we should talk.”
He felt her nodding against his temple.
“You were going to tell me what Leo said.”
Realising this was probably just a preamble, he kept it short. She blushed when he described the effect she’d had on him, and laughed delightedly when he told her what Leo had said about her.
“He’s right, you know. You’re a much nicer person than Mandy.”
“I know that. So are you, you know.”
“I don’t know about that.”
“You are. I know you think she’s like you but she just likes to win. You like to win for the right reasons.”
“The list of people who’d disagree with that—“
She sat up straighter next to him.
“—aren’t here right now, and I don’t care what they think. I know you, Josh. You’re a good, kind man.”
She looked into his eyes, as though willing him to accept her pronouncement, before breaking into a smile.
“But don’t worry, I won’t tell anyone.”
He laughed appreciatively.
“That’s pretty much your entire job description.”
She froze, and he cursed himself, barely daring to breathe until she relaxed slightly and he felt her fingers in his hair again.
“Am I still going to be able to do that, do you think?”
He tried to follow her rhetorical leap, but she explained before he could get there.
“If we’re together, Josh, am I still going to be able to intimidate people on your behalf?”
He thought for a moment, trying to set aside the depth of feeling prompted by the first part of her question and concentrate on the practicalities.
“I would imagine it might make you rather more intimidating… although I suppose if I’m known to have been tamed into domesticity it might me rather less so.”
“Tamed into domesticity?”
“Or whatever it is you women do.”
She mock-glared at him, but then her expression softened.
“I’m sorry if this wasn’t what you had planned for tonight.”
“I didn’t have anything planned for tonight. I was going to ask you to have dinner with me in a few days, but…”
She shifted closer.
“You… you dazzled me.” He hesitated for a moment and then took another leap. “Did you do that on purpose?”
Her smile suggested she knew what he meant, but she prevaricated.
“The… thing. With your hair, and your feet, and your…” he gestured frantically in midair, “…skirt,” he finished weakly.
“Not at first,” she admitted, “I was just trying to cool off. But you looked…”
“…like a starving man being offered a meal?”
She smiled wider.
“I was going to say intrigued.”
“I think you’re giving me a little too much credit. I was staring.”
“You’ve always stared.”
He opened his mouth to apologise but she laid her hand over his lips and left it there as she continued to speak.
“And I like it. I’ve never felt objectified, you’ve always shown me that you like me for me and that you respect me.” She flushed a little and ducked her head. “It makes me feel sexy.”
“That’s because you are.”
She looked back up at him and leaned in. When she spoke again, her lips were inches away from his, and her whisper was rich with promise.
Finding he had no talent for the huskily seductive, he opted instead to look her in the eye and tell her the truth.
“You are distractingly sexy, at times. You have quite possibly the most incredible figure I’ve ever seen in person, but what gets to me is that you seem to have no idea, most of the time, of the effect you have.”
She flashed him a delighted smile.
“Which pretty much means I’m screwed. You realise you’ll be able to get pretty much whatever you want from me from now on?”
“I hate to break this to you, but I pretty much already do.”
He grinned affectionately and ruffled her hair.
“You’re welcome to up the stakes anytime. I was looking forward to spoiling you rotten and instead you ended up cooking for me.”
“Speaking of which…”
She gestured towards their almost untouched meal. He kept his gaze focused on her.
“It’s delicious. I’m looking forward to leftovers. But right now… I’m not that hungry.” He hesitated for a moment, not wanting to offend her. “Are you?”
She shook her head and he scooped her up again, and this time he didn’t stop on his way out of the living room.