By the end of the day, he’s come to the inescapable conclusion that he should never have told Donna. He can’t see how he could have kept it from her - she is the First Lady’s Chief of Staff and sees the same minute-by-minutes that he does, not mention they share a bed, an apartment, and a life. But he knows somehow that telling her led to this whole runaway train of a day.
It starts with a quick text message on his Blackberry at 7 AM. The message is just two words from Charlie – “free Wi-Fi”. He stares down at the screen, his forehead furrowed in puzzlement. Free Wi-Fi? He starts to tap out a reply but isn’t entirely clear how to respond or even what he’s replying to. Maybe Charlie meant to send it to someone else. He shakes his head and refocuses on the morning briefing covering the volatility of grain futures across international markets, which is only slightly less confusing.
By the time he reaches his desk at 9, he’s entirely certain Charlie just misdialed.
After reminding Lou that, no, it’s not a good idea for her to play piñata with the White House Press Corps, yes even if the guy from Reuters was asking for it, he inhales a breakfast bar and checks email. He sorts by name and not time received – he finds it easier to triage the daily deluge if he isn’t so focused on a ticking clock – and CJ’s name stands out in big, bold, unread letters.
It’s early on the West Coast, but who's got time for sleep? He clicks to open the email and begins to read.
Good morning, Sunshine. Heard you were reinstituting Big Block of Cheese Day. I always knew you were a sentimental fool, Joshua Lyman, but this exceeds even my expectations. Anyway, sending a group of teachers your way. They are very interested in eliminating textbook use in the classroom. Hope all is well. Danny says hi – CJ
He smiles, shaking his head. This explains Charlie’s weird text – some lucky staffer will have the pleasure of spending time with a group dedicated to freeing the internet from the shackles of corporate greed or whatever. He is very, very glad he’s the Chief of Staff who’s handing out these assignments and no longer the staff member receiving them.
His phone begins to vibrate across his desktop, the accompanying shrill ring sending sympathetic vibrations through his nervous system. Donna says he’s a connection of wires and circuits now, an extension of his devices. She’s closer to correct than he is ever going to admit. He scoops up the dancing Blackberry, cradling it between his ear and shoulder.
“Yeah?” he barks, still staring at the message from CJ.
“Josh,” comes the familiar nasal reply. “Listen, Zoe said you’re doing Big Block of Cheese Day sometime soon and I…”
“Wait,” he says, interrupting Toby. “Zoe knows? How the…Charlie.” He finishes the thought. “Why are you chatting with Zoe?”
“We keep in touch,” Toby replies with what sounds to Josh like a touch of hauteur. “I keep in touch with people, Josh. I’m touchable.”
“Never say that again,” Josh demands. ”Never.”
“Yeah,” Toby agrees. “Anyways, I’m sending a group over. They’re looking for a sympathetic hearing on increasing funding to increase youth participation in the rural political process.”
“Is there currently any funding for that?” Josh asks.
“Not so much,” Toby answers drily. “You’ll put them on the schedule?”
“Sure thing,” Josh answers firmly, beginning to mentally divide up who gets stuck with what group. “Talk to you later.”
He’s thinking it’ll be Lou for the Internet people, Otto can have the rural politics, and maybe Sam for the textbooks. Or should Otto talk to the Internet people? Josh shakes his head.
It almost doesn’t matter who sees whom. The goal is to give these low-wattage groups their 15 minutes, not to ensure long and happy partnerships. Speaking of long and happy partnerships, he opens a new email to Donna, typing directly in to the subject line.
What is going on with this?
His phone rings a few minutes later.
“Nothing yet, “ Donna says sternly. “But that can change at any moment. Are you serious about these joint appearances? Mrs. Santos is already committed to…”
“DONNA,” he interrupts her, a bit more emphatically than he meant and as soon as it happens he winces because she doesn’t handle yelling very well these days. “I’m sorry, I just got off the phone with Toby and Charlie’s texting me about Wi-Fi and I know I said I thought Big Block of Cheese Day was a good idea, but I’m starting to think…Donna?”
He’s been talking to dead air. Actually, he’s been rambling like an idiot to dead air. She really doesn’t handle yelling very well these days. He’ll have to make it up to her.
He presses the call button on his phone. “Hey,” he tells his new assistant whose name he still hasn’t managed to learn. “Can you make sure we deliver…”
“…an apology bouquet to Mrs. Santos’ Chief of Staff?” the other man says drily. “Yeah, we’ve got those folks on speed dial. Probably better to send a fruit basket this time - I heard that yell all the way out here. Also, Mr. Seaborn and Congressman Bailey want to know if you have five minutes.”
Will. Will and Sam. Oh god. “Yeah,” he affirms. “Send’em in.”
“Look.” He holds up a hand to forestall any recommendations for Big Block of Cheese Day. “I don’t care what I said before. I’ll find some other way to honor Leo and his spirit of whatever. I can’t handle another recommendation for Big Block of Cheese Day.”
“You’re doing Big Block of Cheese Day?” Will says, raising an eyebrow. “There’s a group who's trying to get federal funding for Farmers Markets – can’t get a foot in the door with all the Agri lobbyists crowding them out. Mind if I...?”
“Sure. Wait. You weren’t here for that?” Josh replies in bewilderment.
“No,” Sam says. “I hadn’t had a chance to tell him. He’s here because that new guy from South Dakota’s gotten a seat on Ways and Means and he’s looking to means test Social Security.”
“The bill came out of nowhere,” Will elaborates. “Well, that’s not totally true, given that he pulled it out of his…”
“You were telling people about Big Block of Cheese Day?” Josh interrupts, glaring at Sam.
“Well, yeah.” Sam nods. “I figured I’d spread the word, see who we could get in. I hope it’s not a problem?”
Josh shakes his head, tapping the intercom button. “About that apology gift to Ms. Moss - What's the next level up after fruit basket?”