The MSNBC Christmas Bash was in full swing, and Joe wasn’t drunk enough to endure this shit. He wanted to be home watching ESPN, not out schmoozing with colleagues, their flings of the hour and other distinguished guests.
The silver tinsel draped across every archway of the ballroom was sufficiently gauche. Joe had a glass of champagne in his hand, and he was doing his damndest to avoid Ed Schultz—that man was more than a little frightening (not that Joe was frightened of anyone on God’s green earth) and a seasoned killjoy—when someone slunk next to him.
He looked over, prepared to paste on a fake smile, but, fortunately, it was only Mika. She was resplendent and appropriately festive in an emerald green off-the-shoulder ball gown. What Joe said was, “You’re taking this holiday spirit thing to an extreme, you know that, right?”
Mika’s lips twisted. “Well, you do know there’s a war on Christmas. I have to do my part in the fight.”
Joe took a sip from his glass and tried to hide his smile against it. Mika’s twinkling eyes informed him that he had been in no way successful. “You know how I feel about women in combat.”
Mika rolled her eyes, stole Joe’s champagne and gulped down the rest of it. She was a barbarian. “You’re positively sexist.”
He smirked. “As opposed to negatively sexist?”
Ah, the party was suddenly bearable. Even the mangled pop renditions of his favorite Christmas classics blaring in the background couldn’t get him down. He was back in his element.
Then Willie approached, wearing a douchey bowtie. “What are you two fighting about now?” he asked, narrowing his eyes.
“Certainly nothing that concerns you,” Joe said, and Mika harrumphed.
A server came by, hoisting a platter of champagne, and Joe greedily snatched two.
“Here, Mika,” he said, holding out a glass, and she snatched it. “So you don’t feel the need to steal mine.”
“You can never do anything nice without making a big show of it, can you?” Willie asked, grinning.
“Mika is a special case.”
“I am special,” Mika said, drinking deeply.
They all jumped at a raucous sound nearby: the familiar and larger-than-life Chris Matthews laugh—if one could call it a laugh. Silently, as one, they moved en masse to a new, safer corner.
“That was close,” Joe said. “I do not want a repeat of 2006.”
“What happened in 2006?” Willie asked, curiosity clearly trumping his sense of preservation. To learn the sordid and eccentric tales of Chris Matthews’ exploits was to open oneself up to a world of horror—abject horror.
“I value you too much for that, Willie.” Mika slapped her hand over Joe’s mouth. He smiled underneath it. “We must keep your integrity intact.”
“He doesn’t have any integrity," Joe said.
“No,” said Willie, “I really don’t.” He was pulled away at that moment by Chuck Todd, who wasn’t so frightening as to warrant moving to a new corner.
Mika pulled something from her clutch and handed it to Joe. It was a small flat envelope, wrapped in vibrant red tissue paper. Joe took it cautiously with furrowed eyebrows.
“I thought we agreed not to exchange presents.”
“We did, but I didn’t listen.”
“Typical,” he said, as he took the envelope gingerly, despite his misgivings, and opened it as Let It Snow blasted from the speakers.
Within the envelope was a gift card for $25. A gift card to Starbucks.
“Really?” he asked, smiling. “Really?”
“I figured you didn’t get enough of it already,” Mika said, deadpan, “so I thought I would help you out.”
From behind them, Willie walked by, snatching the card away, and kept moving. Over his shoulder he called, “More for me!”
“Bastard!” Joe yelled and gulped down the rest of his bubbly.
“I should go talk to someone else.” Mika looked at him. “You know, other than you.”
“You should, but you won’t.” He smiled. “I’m the best company you’re going to find in this godforsaken place.”
“You’re probably right,” she agreed. He could count on one hand how often that occurred. “Let’s at least sit,” she said, snatched his wrist and led him to a table in the corner, where they were served lukewarm hors d’ouevres.
“In all seriousness, I did get you something.” Joe pulled an envelope from inside his tuxedo jacket and placed it face down on the table. “But don’t read it until you’re home. I don’t feel like seeing you get weepy.”
“Weepy?” Mika grimaced and ate a deviled egg. “You overestimate your ego.” But when she took the card and put it in her purse, she was smiling. She pushed her bangs out of her face. “Your present should be delivered to you by tomorrow. It got held up in the snow.”
“Can’t even get your presents shipped on time. You really need to get a personal assistant.”
“You are such a Republican.”
Joe grinned. “Thanks, but don’t tell anyone. They won’t believe you.”
“You’re a disgrace to conservative wackjobs everywhere.”
“Who’s to say I’m not a conservative wackjob?”
“Okay, then, maybe just a wackjob.” Mika reached into her purse, pulled out her iPhone and showed him the latest disparaging shit someone had written about him. Some Neanderthal Tea Party blogger. It was scathing, badly written and a total delight. By the end, Mika and Joe were laughing over their food and wine, and Joe could feel himself tearing up from the laughter. He excused it as manly release.
The best thing about being a moderate former Republican Congressman was that you got shit from all sides. He loved mocking assholes nearly as much as he did Crimson Tide football, politics and hosting his own show; and that was saying something.
“Careful, or I’ll kick you off the show.”
“You wouldn’t dare. I’m the humanity.”
“What am I?”
“The egotistical asshole that occasionally makes salient points.”
Joe grinned. “I can live with that.”
A shadow appeared behind Joe; he turned, and there was Ed Shultz with Chris Matthews in tow.