"Maybe I should get a cape."
Casey didn't look up or stop typing at this declaration, but only because he wasn't really listening.
"And some tights. Some shiny blue tights." Dan absently tossed a baseball near the ceiling and caught it, always conscious to properly finger a breaking-ball grip each time. "I've got the legs. I could totally work tights. I want blue, though. You look better in red."
"Did you script Dallas in the forties yet?" Casey asked from his zone of concentration.
"Dallas wears blue tights. They make it work. I think I've got a shot."
Casey finally paused and looked over. "What the hell are you talking about?"
"Tights are making a comeback. On my way in today, I passed an entire herd of women wearing tights."
"At Fifth and Madison."
"It's a dance academy, Danny."
"They lead by example. I respect that."
"Why are we talking about this?" Casey turned back to his monitor.
"Because tights are making a comeback!"
"Tights are not making a comeback."
"How would you know?" Dan asked, all too sincerely. "You don't exactly represent the epitome of hipster fashion around here."
"I need thirty seconds back from the forties for UNC."
"Have you scripted it yet?"
Dan paused. "I thought you were doing that."
"No, I took Pittsburgh. You took Dallas."
"I like Dallas better."
"I like their pants."
"I thought they were tights now?"
"No, they're just tight pants."
"I'm glad you're able to make that distinction."
Casey settled back into his analysis of the Tarheels' free-throw percentages as Dan propped his feet up on the desk. Five tosses later, his baseball knocked the foam ceiling square askew and disappeared. Casey looked up at the noise.
"That was a fastball," Dan said shamefully.
"Can you get it down?"
"Surprisingly, I don't care that much."
Twenty minutes later, Dan broke the silence again. "I think I'm gonna need a mask, too."
"Mask for what?"
"To match my cape."
"It's a little early to be planning Halloween."
"Who's talking about Halloween?"
"I thought you were."
Dan took another bite of his sandwich. "You know," he mumbled through slices of turkey, "it's too bad 'Dan the Man' is taken."
"It's a little cliche, don't you think?"
"Dan the Man?"
"The rhyme's a bit obnoxious."
"How about 'The Ryder,' then? I only have so much to work with here."
"Danny, I swear on all that is good and holy, I still have absolutely no idea what you're talking about."
"I know. But it's more fun for me to drive you crazy."
The office fell quiet between scattered sandwich wrapper crinkling and sporadic chewing.
Dan swiveled his chair around. "D'you talk to Dana about th--"
"Yeah. We're getting a live feed from the press conference at 6."
Jeremy stepped in to borrow some staple refills. As the door swung shut, Dan made a rectangle with his thumbs and index fingers and sized Casey up from various perspectives.
"D'you think you'll go with something like 'Captain Casey' or try more for subtlety?"
"I'm going to throw you headfirst out the window if you don't shut up and get some work done."
"Do these windows even open?"
"They will if I find your baseball."
"You'll need a big red C on your chest to match your tights."
"Why do you want me to wear tights?"
"I don't want you to wear tights."
"I just think that if I have to wear tights, which, granted, is the unfortunate yet inevitable curse of my position, it would be not only logical but courteous for you, having imposed this burden upon me, to bear it as well."
"I don't think you have ever been more irritating in your entire life than you are right now."
"I like to rise to the occasion."
"I'll be in the editing room."
"Ooh, that can be your special headquarters!"
Casey flung the door open and stormed out, holding a legal pad over each ear.
"I had a thought."
"A thought? It's an idea that forms in one's head, Casey."
"I am going to nail your head to the floor."
"I, Dan Rydell, doer of good things, came up with the solution to all our problems."
"I don't have any problems. You have problems."
"No, I don't."
"Don't you pay some woman two-hundred dollars an hour to listen to you?"
"That's a complicated dating scheme."
Casey paused for a moment. "But she is a therapist."
"Completely unrelated to our ever-growing relationship."
"You're missing the point here. The point, Casey, is that I," Dan pointed to himself with both thumbs, "have solved our problems."
"I just want you to know I've completely deluded myself of any notion that you'll ever get around to anything resembling a point."
"We should switch places."
Casey turned to Dan with a furrowed brow. "What do you mean?"
"At the desk. At the anchor desk, on the show. We should switch places."
"Because it'll solve our problems."
"Our problems, Casey. A myriad, might I add, but none so important as the fact that you," Dan paused, "see me as your sidekick."
"No, I don't," said Casey, turning back to his script with a disinterested expression.
"I think you do. And you know why?"
"There's never a baseball around when you need one," Casey said to himself.
"Because I'm on your right. I'm your right-hand man."
"That is the most ridiculous thing I've ever heard."
"No, it's not, Casey. I've put a lot of thought into this."
"I can tell."
"You see yourself as the leader, the big star of the show, and me, your right-hand man, as your sidekick. That attitude comes through the television and insults the entire audience who clearly -- clearly -- can see that I, Dan Rydell, am no sidekick."
"That's the problem!"
"That's why we're in third place."
"The source of all our issues with the network."
"Without a doubt."
"Maybe tomorrow I'll come in wearing tights under my slacks on the off chance you'll drop dead from sheer horror."
"Sheer horror. That's funny, Casey. You should script that."
"You can't wear blue."
"Yeah, so I heard."
"Elliot, tell graphics it's an over-the-shoulder, not over-the-face, and that next time they screw up like this, I'll come down there myself."
Dana's mood always deteriorated by the ten o'clock rundown. It was natural. So was Dan's complete lack of sensitivity to anyone's mood but his own.
"I had an idea today."
"Can it wait?" Dana asked.
"Is it about Oakland?"
"What is it?"
"I think Casey and I should switch places."
Casey's head dropped to the table.
"What do you mean?" asked Dana.
"I think Casey and I should switch places."
"In here?" Natalie asked.
"At the anchor desk."
"You want to switch places at the anchor desk?" Dana questioned skeptically.
Dan's face fell as he looked around the room. "Why is that such a radical idea?"
"Because it's a stupid one?" Jeremy offered.
"Thank you," Casey mumbled against the glass.
Dana leaned back in her chair and gestured grandly. "Dare I ask why you want to switch places?"
"Casey thinks I'm his sidekick."
"No, I don't."
"Yes, he does," Dan said, "and I'll tell you why."
"Because you sit on the right," Dana stated.
Dan was stunned. "How did you know that?"
"How did I know you sit on the right? I watch the show from time to time, Dan."
"He sits on the left," said Natalie, somewhat confused.
"He sits on Casey's right," Dana corrected.
Dan leaned forward and reached out to Dana. "No, I mean how did you know that because I sit on the right, he thinks I'm his sidekick?"
"Because you wanted to switch places."
"Are you basing this assumption on a standing hero/sidekick precedent or simply arbitrarily assigning seat placement to your ineradicable notions of inferiority?" Jeremy asked.
"I'm basing this on the fact that Casey thinks I'm his sidekick and I sit on the right."
"Thanks for clearing that up," Jeremy replied.
"Can I go home now?" Casey whined, still flat-faced on the table.
"Evil afoot somewhere?" Dan asked, miffed. "Best get moving."
Natalie leaned over to Dana. "Why does Dan sit on the right?"
"Because he's the sidekick."
"I swear, you'd never know this isn't Letterman," Dan said to no one in particular.
"Dan, shut up," Dana snapped. "You sit on the right because you always have, and you're going to keep sitting there because I'm telling you to. Now. We need to shave twenty seconds off 54--"
"So, you really think I'm his sidekick?" Dan asked.
"No," Dana patronized, "but I'm happy to order you a special outfit if it'll help you feel the part."
"Get blue tights," mumbled Casey.
"I can't believe you people. All this time we've been working together, and I'm the schmo. The lackey. The VP."
"The right-hand man," Natalie added.
"I give up," Dan said to the ceiling.
"Thank you," Dana chimed. "Kim, get the feed from Tokyo set up in the news room for 12:10. I don't care what screen it's on so long as it's there. Casey, watch your pronounciation in the Pacers tease. Dan, I need you to fill for fifteen seconds after 32. Don't go overboard."
"If I do, I'm sure Captain Casey will rush in to save me."
"Good show, everyone." Dana closed her notes.
Isaac heard a tap on the open door, looking up briefly before returning to his paperwork.
"Good morning, Daniel."
Dan immediately charged the desk with his hands out. "You are not gonna believe the amazing idea I had last night."
"Does it in any way involve myself or immediate members of my family?"
"Does it involve members of my extended family or close personal friends?"
Dan sat as he spoke. "Well, I'd consider all of us here close personal friends or family."
"Does that mean I can disown you?"
"Casey and I should switch places."
"At the anchor desk. We should switch places."
Dan blinked. "Why not?"
"That's hardly a convincing argument."
"Since when do I need a convincing argument to support my undoubtedly brilliant epiphanies?"
"I'm not the one who needs convincing."
"No," Isaac said lightheartedly. "I honestly don't give a damn what side of the desk you and Casey sit on so long as you're facing the camera and fully clothed."
"But I have a hunch Dana wasn't so wild about it."
"What makes you say that?"
"Why else would you be in here talking to me?"
"I enjoy this office! I enjoy this space. These chairs have lovely craftmanship, Isaac. Not to mention the full mini-bar, the view of the sunset. You're not so bad to talk to most of the time."
"If Dana wants you to stay on the left, then you'll stay on the left."
"I sit on the right."
"Is there a problem with that seat?"
"Is there a logical reason why you should switch?"
"I think the bigger question is why shouldn't we switch."
"It would disrupt camera operations."
"Disrupt camera operations?"
"Yes. Either the editors would have to work completely counter-intuitively after years of associating you with camera two and Casey with camera one, or we'll have to rewire the feeds to swap the camera outputs and keep your camera numbers the same. We'd have to adjust the lighting, since you're shorter than Casey and the carefully tuned angles take that into consideration. There's also the fact that you've never sat on the left."
"How hard can it be!"
"It's Dana's decision."
"But you'll talk to her for me."
"Why would I do that?"
Dan sat back, hurt. "The words 'special bond' mean absolutely nothing to you."
"I'm not his sidekick, Isaac."
"Is he your sidekick?"
"Not that I know of."
"Not that I would mind."
Dan stared Isaac down for a moment before grinning slightly, nodding once, and rising to leave. He passed Dana on his way out, who bumped into his shoulder and spat, "Watch it, Tonto" as she casually approached Isaac's desk. Isaac merely resumed reading his newspaper. Instead of launching herself headfirst into a typical daily diatribe, Dana simply sat and buried her face in her hands. A minute or so of silence passed before she dropped her hands and slumped back in her seat.
"Do I look old to you?" she asked.
"Is this a trick question?" Isaac muttered from behind his New York Times.
"Seriously," Dana whined. After receiving no reply, she added, "the least you could do is come out from there so I'm reminded I'm not the oldest one in this office."
The paper didn't budge. "Don't you have a show to produce?"
"That's practically mid-day for we old folks."
"Do you know what I got in the mail today? I received possibly the most upsetting piece of mail I could ever receive today."
"An AARP membership card?" Isaac offered, turning the page.
Dana gasped in horror. "No! Isaac!"
"What?" he asked innocently.
"Why would you say that!"
"Well, have you really given me much to work with?"
"I received," she said slowly, "in the mail today... an invitation to my 15-year high school reunion."
"Yeah," Isaac prompted, waiting for her to get to the bad part.
Dana slammed her hand down on the top of the newspaper. "Fifteen years, Isaac!"
"You're thirty-four, aren't you?"
Her head jerked back in open-mouthed surprise as Isaac was wrong yet again. "I'm thirty-three. Do I look thirty-four?"
"Then that sounds about right to me," he continued.
"Well, it doesn't sound right to me. I'm not ready to be one of those people."
"The people! The ones who go to these reunion things and wear their little name tags with the list of clubs and what they were voted 'most likely to do' and drink champagne and talk about all the ridiculously amazing things they've done with their ridiculously amazing lives." She took a quick breath before punctuating, "I hate those people" with an emphatic gesture.
"Did you go to any of your other reunions?"
She gasped again. "With them? Are you even listening to me?"
"Dana, you're the executive producer of a major television show. I highly doubt you're lacking for credibility in a room full of your peers."
"It's not just about careers," she ranted, flabbergasted, as she rose to pace around the room. "And by the by, who came up with the word 'peer', anyway?. It's so clinical. I feel like I need latex gloves and a Hazmat suit just to use it in a sentence."
"Are you afraid these people are going to judge you?" asked Isaac with his famous tone of surprise.
"Of course I am! It's what they do! They live for these things. These stupid excuses to drink cocktails and listen to music that went out with our virginity and remind us all over again how much we hated ourselves back then."
"It's nice to see you're not bitter after all these years."
"Yeah, well I'd like to see you get through high school in the Great Spandex Era unscathed."
Isaac looked down and began straightening the pages Dana had crumpled. "What did you come in here to ask me?"
"How much of last night's video feed we could piece into tonight's show."
"As much as you'd like," he said with a cheesy grin, announcing his withdrawal from the conversation.
Dana pursed her lips into a smile and nodded once in gratitude. "Okay." After another moment's pause, she left Isaac to what remained of the AFC box scores in the morning sun.
"You know, I've been putting some thought into this switching-places idea of yours," said Casey.
Dan looked up from his last-minute review of the script. He'd been particularly quiet since Isaac's rejection that morning, secretly making little notes for his next session with Abby so he could perfect his rant beforehand. He took comfort in the fact that he knew someone who would most likely agree with him (but not just because he pays her, he noted. Probably.) Dana and Natalie had gotten a jab or two in over the course of the afternoon, but Casey had dropped the topic completely until now, less than two minutes from going on the air.
"Oh yeah?" said Dan hopefully.
"Yeah," Casey said with a touch of sincere enthusiasm. "And I think if we're going with this whole superhero thing, we really gotta go all out."
Dan's face fell. "It's not a superhero thing, Casey. You've completely missed the p--"
"Natalie!" Casey called.
"Great," Dan muttered.
"Yeah?" Natalie replied over her headset.
"What superhero do you wanna be?"
Natalie clicked off her set and turned to Dana. "What superhero do I want to be?"
"I don't know," said Dana. "Why are you asking me?"
"Catwoman," Natalie said back to Casey. "And I want the outfit."
"You could totally do Catwoman," said Jeremy, completely forgetting they had ever broken up.
"Hell yes, I could," she snapped back.
"I call Batman," said Will, turning to face the back row.
"Superman's better," said Chris.
"Ten seconds live," said Kim.
"Thank you," said Dana.
Dan opened the tease, shooting it to Casey with his most sincere grin. Kim clicked her stopwatch with "two minutes back" and immediately claimed dibs on Wonder Woman.
"Really?" asked Elliot, curiously surprised.
"I like the bracelets," she replied.
"I'm thinking something more in the X-Men oeuvre, myself," said Elliot.
"Excellent selection, sir," said Jeremy, embarking on a heated discussion of geekery in the highest degree.
Over the painfully annoying conversation, Dana leaned forward to her microphone. "Casey, I officially hate you."
"Don't be jealous. You can be a superhero, too."
"You sound like a PSA," said Dan, trying desperately to pretend the topic was over and done with already. Or at least to appear as uninterested as he wished he was.
"I don't want to be a superhero, Casey," said Dana, irritated. "I'm quite happy in my current line of employment."
"Thirty seconds back," said Kim.
"Everyone wants to be a superhero," said Casey. "There's plenty left to choose from. Nobody's even taken any villains yet."
"Leave her alone, man," said Dan weakly.
"Hey, you're the one who started all this," said Casey, who was always mildly annoyed whenever Dan sided with Dana. "I'm just trying to liven things up a little. Besides, whoever she wants to be is irrelevant. I've already got her pegged."
"Dare I even ask?"
Casey let his dramatic pause sit for a moment. "The Riddler."
"Why's that?" asked Dan without looking up, clearly unimpressed.
Casey paused again, stunned. "Isn't it a little obvious?"
"I'm not disagreeing with you, just requesting a little exposition."
"Aside from the penchant for tight clothes and the color green, it's my particular opinion that only someone worthy of Jim Carrey's onscreen representation could've come up with something as deviously retarded as that dating plan."
"Welcome back!" started Dan, glad at least one of them had been paying attention to the clock. At the next commercial break, no sooner had he turned to face Casey then an angry voice boomed over their earpieces.
Casey froze in place, staring blankly at the monitors. He had never quite grasped the concept that the privacy of his conversations with Dan didn't extend beyond the office doors.
"Did he say that on the air?" asked Elliot.
"I don't think so," replied Kim.
"Deviously WHAT now? " Dana repeated louder. The others in the control room kept their distance, as she was clearly angry enough to hurl an innocent bystander through the soundproof glass.
Casey winced at the volume. "Yes," he said as defiantly as he could through his embarrassment.
"Jim Carrey?" asked Dan nonchalantly. "You think so?"
"What the hell kind of thing is that to say?" Dana asked Casey, equally as offended and hurt as she was angry.
"Well, it was a pretty stupid dating plan," retorted Casey, trying not to lose ground, flustered as he was. "And it was sneaky. With the whole...dating other women thing," he finished lamely.
"So it was sneaky and stupid," clarified Jeremy.
"And you realize that in no way does the phrase 'deviously retarded' even begin to cover that."
Casey winced sheepishly, at a loss for words. "It made sense at the time."
"That was severely misspoken, man," said Dan.
"Oh, been to the cheese park lately, have you?" Casey snapped back.
"At least I knew not to say it was 'deviously retarded' cheese. What the hell is wrong with you?"
"Okay, that's enough," Dana cut in. "No more R-word. Casey, you're an idiot and I hate you. Chris, Will, show me Boston and graphics for 25."
"Did you get any interesting mail recently?"
Dana popped her head into the boys' office on her way to lunch a few days later. Dan had managed to find the ever-stylish glasses from Casey's pupil dilation months before and was wearing them as he slept on the couch. Casey was hunched over at his desk, desperately searching his drawers for something. Dana hesitated for a moment in the doorway, frantically trying to remember if she'd ever left him more than the one pair of underwear.
"Interesting how?" Casey asked.
"You know, interesting. Of interest."
"The Victoria's Secret catalogs stopped coming in over a year ago."
"I still get mine," said Dan, woken by Casey's rummaging.
"Anything from, say, high school?" she asked, ignoring Dan.
He shrugged, keeping most of his attention on the contents of his bottom drawer. "Just the usual alumni stuff, why?"
Dana sat on the edge of his desk. "Did you ever go to any of your reunions?"
"The first one."
"How was it?"
"As lame as I thought it would be, times about fifty."
"See, that's just what I was thinking," said Dana excitedly. "It sounds like a complete waste of time."
"Pret-ty much." Casey lifted two handfuls of unsorted office supplies from the drawer and dumped them in the wastebasket.
"Why should I go? I have absolutely no desire to. None whatsoever."
"Okay then," said Casey, pulling out old cassette tapes stuck together with chewing gum.
"I think you should go," Dan offered.
"Really," she said, annoyed.
"A person's 25-year high school reunion is a golden, special time to--"
She threw Casey's tape dispenser at Dan's stomach before he could finish. He sat up grimacing in response, barely missing the glued tapes Casey chucked at his head.
"I'm thinking about going to mine." Casey finally looked at Dana as he added, "but only because Lisa already said she wasn't going."
"You said you didn't get an invitation!"
"I never said that," he said, resuming his search. "Mine came about a month ago and wasn't very interesting."
"I didn't get one," said Dan sadly.
"Last I checked, they didn't send out invitations for your 12-year reunion," Casey retorted.
"Like it would be so far out of their way to invite me to yours?"
"When is it?" Casey asked Dana.
"You can bring a guest, you know," mumbled Dan irritably.
"Mine's on the 17th," said Casey. "I think they gave us so much notice to make us feel even shittier for not showing up."
"As well you should," said Dan gravely.
"So you're not going?" asked Dana.
"Maybe. If I feel like taking the night off."
"Go, both of you," said Dan ominously, still wearing the ridiculous glasses. "Revel in the forgotten ways of your generation. Bask in the calm of retirement, of the peace and quiet it brings. Dance in the light of--"
"Aha!" Casey exclaimed, pulling a single AAA battery from the dark depths of the bottomless drawer. He popped open a back panel in his calculator and inserted it dramatically. A few clicks later, he proudly announced, "14 is 23.7 percent of 59."
"That's great, Case," said Dan blankly.
"What happened to the ceiling?" she asked Casey, seeing the square knocked askew.
"You eaten yet?"
"Nothing I'd admit to," Casey replied, following her out as Dan turned over and drifted back to sleep behind them.
Dana came bursting through his office door with the rage usually attributed to a losing coverage of a major event or Natalie not telling her about a shoe sale at Nordstrom's.
"Dana!" he replied pleasantly. "So nice to see you. Won't you come--"
"Why am I scheduled off on the 10th?"
"Yes, I am. And that's a Saturday night, and there's no reason I should have a Saturday night off."
"I can think of plenty of people who'd like a Saturday night off," said Isaac.
"Well, not me!"
"Because I have a job to do! A very important job. A job you hired me for, if I'm not mistaken."
"I seem to vaguely remember that, yes."
"So why do I have the 10th off," she asked again.
"It's your night in the rotation."
"No, it's not; it's Casey's night."
"Casey needed the next Saturday off. He requested it several weeks ago."
Dana gasped. "I'm going to kill him."
"I don't see why that's necessary."
She continued talking to the air around her. "And he said I was devious! That bastard."
"Dana, is there something you want to tell me or can I go back to pretending none of you exist?"
"He said he wasn't going," she said in disbelief, turning to face him. "He told me he wasn't going."
"Wasn't going to what?"
Dana faced him again, arms out in exasperation. "The reunion! He said he wasn't going to his reunion."
"Casey has one, too?"
"Yes, we both went to high school, Isaac," she spat, growing more agitated every second.
"At the moment, I feel I'm back in it, myself," he said with another ironic smile, picking up his pen to resume reviewing contracts. "Remind me again what the problem is? I lost track somewhere between my long moments of not caring."
"Casey requested the 17th off, but he can't have the 17th off because he's supposed to have the 10th off. And I can't have the 10th off because that's the night of my reunion."
"And you don't want to go," Isaac stated.
She fell into the chair as the last of her energy drained away. "I cannot comprehend how I could possibly make that clearer to you."
"Did it occur to you that it's possible to take the night off without going to your reunion?" he asked.
"You clearly lack appreciation of an air-tight alibi."
"I have three children, Dana. I invented the necessity of air-tight alibis."
"Were you this exhausting before the stroke?"
"Were you this exhausting before my stroke?" he countered.
Dana smiled before she could stop herself. Isaac returned it warmly, rising to pour himself a drink.
"Go to your reunion, Dana. Enjoy yourself."
"There really isn't any reason for me to go," she stated.
"Sure there is! You have an invitation and the night off, what more do you need?"
Dana hesitated, feeling the truth of her emotions finally catch up to her. "I can't face them, Isaac."
"Who," he asked gently.
She bit her lip and fought back the first stinging tears with a deep breath. "Things were just supposed to be different by now, you know? That picture in your head of how things are going to be when you grow up. Everyone I knew back then is married and has kids and the life I wanted for myself."
"What makes you think you can't still have that?"
"I think it would've happened by now."
"Don't be so sure about that. You're a hell of a woman, Dana. You're just in a rut, that's all."
"I'm not in a rut," she said, trying halfheartedly to convince herself of it.
"You're in a rut! It happens. You just need to change things up a bit. Try new things. Push yourself in a different direction."
"I'm not going to the stupid reunion," she said.
"Well, you're not working here."
"Any good movies out right now?"
"Let me know when you find out," Isaac said with a smile.
There was a knock on the door. Natalie stepped in and said, "Dana, rundown."
Dana glanced at the clock to see it was almost ten minutes after six, immediately jumping up to wipe her face and straighten her hair as she cursed.
"You okay?" Natalie asked warmly.
"Absolutely," she replied. "Come on."
Later that evening, Natalie crossed the news room and turned right on her way to the restroom only to be suddenly yanked arm-first into a storage closet.
"Christ, Dan!" she yelled.
"Shh!" he hissed, trying to reach around her to close the door.
"What do you think you're doing?" she shouted no quieter, rubbing her left wrist. She quickly shook off the memory of the last man who'd grabbed her arm like that. "That actually hurt."
"I'm sorry," he rushed, "I just need to talk to you."
"And you couldn't do that out there."
"And you couldn't just say 'hey Natalie, I need to talk to you.'"
"And you couldn't think of any less-violent means of getting my attention? Extortion, maybe? Bribery?"
"I'm very receptive to gifts, Danny. Ever since Jeremy and I broke up--"
"Natalie!" he shouted, resisting the urge to grab her shoulders.
"I don't exactly have time for this," he said with both hands out.
"Well, maybe you should've taken my possible reactions into account when you considered your choice of approach."
Dan stared impatiently.
"I'm just sayin'," she replied.
"Point taken. Now. This Saturday is Dana's night off."
"She's not going to the reunion," Natalie said firmly, as if Dan were about to argue.
"I honestly don't care if she's in prison on Saturday, I just know she won't be here."
"Well, I highly doubt she'll be in prison."
"Unless things get ridiculously out of hand at the movie theater. Not that I think Dana'd--"
"Natalie!" He grabbed her shoulders now and spoke very slowly. "Are you running the show on Saturday?"
"Isaac's not bringing in Sally?"
"Not if he wants to live to see his second stroke."
Dan let go and brought his hands together flat to beg, taking a deep breath as if it were his last. "Can I switch places with Casey."
"Just for one night," he pleaded.
"Dana already said you couldn't," she stated, as if Dana's word were gospel.
"Dana's a fascist."
"What about Isaac?"
"I see him as more of a monarch. Or possibly an elected official," said Dan.
"I already talked to him, and he's perfectly fine with it. Very supportive. Thought it was fantastic idea. 'Danny,' he said, 'that is a fantastic idea.'"
"You are so unbelievably full of shit," said Natalie.
"Eh," Dan brushed off with a shrug, "I paraphrased. No one loves a plagiarizer, Natalie. They teach you that in writing school."
"You'll have to talk to the cameramen. And Dave, and the lighting crew."
"I will. I promise," he said solemnly through his growing excitement.
"And you'll owe me in ways you haven't even begun to comprehend."
"Absolutely. No comprehension," he agreed.
"And not a word to Dana."
"Not a word," he shook his head.
"She's got enough on her mind with the whole near-mid-life crisis thing."
"What's that about, anyway? I told her personally I'm thrilled about my 30th high school reunion."
"That's not funny, Dan."
"No, it's not," he gravely agreed, remembering who he was speaking to.
"And don't talk to Casey about it."
"I mean it."
"Believe me, this is the last thing I want to talk to Casey about right now," said Dan.
Natalie hesitated for a moment, watching Dan's bright eyes await her final confirmation. "You screw this up, you'll be washing my car in a Robin costume every Sunday 'til your teeth fall out."
Dan lunged forward and threw his arms around her. "Thank you, thank you, thank you. You're not gonna regret this."
She smiled and hugged him back, breaking away just as the door opened behind them. She turned to see a dumbfounded Jeremy looking back at her. His eyes moved from hers to Dan and back again before he spoke.
"Paper towels," he said blankly.
Dan looked around the closet, avoiding Jeremy's eyes as long as he could and said, "we're out."
Jeremy walked away without closing the door.
Natalie chased after him all the way to the editing room before he acknowledged her presence.
"Please stop following me," he said as he sat down with his back to her.
"I'm not following you. You were walking away from me."
"I'm glad you picked up on that. Though, granted, it's much harder to do when you're following me." He turned his head ninety degrees for emphasis, catching her face in his periphery.
"I want to explain what you saw."
"It's none of my business," he said.
"You're damn right, it's not."
"And yet you followed me to tell me."
"You followed me first," she retorted.
Jeremy spun the chair to face her. "I don't want an explanation, nor do I actually need an explanation. I'm a surprisingly deductive man."
"Nothing happened! We were just talking."
"I happen to know what talking looks like. It usually involves more sound and less groping. But hey, what do I know? We only dated for a year. Maybe if we'd 'talked' more, we'd still be together."
"I'm letting them switch places." Natalie spoke more calmly than she wanted to, so exhausted from battling Jeremy's constant bitterness that she only had enough energy for one conversation: the fight or the explanation. The former had long since lost its appeal. Well, mostly.
Jeremy stopped to consider this unexpected turn. "Dan and Casey?"
"What do you mean you're letting them?"
"For Saturday's show."
"When Dana's at her reunion," he clarified.
"She's not going to the reunion."
"Okay. That still doesn't mean it's a good idea."
"Why not?" she asked, feeling the fight come back to her after all. "I think it's a great idea."
"And again I say--"
"We spend so much time fighting with the network to prove we can do our show, or proving to the other networks we're better than number three. But how often do we get a chance to prove to ourselves we can do something new? Even something as simple as a seat switch. Because frankly, I don't know what you and Casey and Dana are so damn afraid of. If we're as good at our jobs as we think we are, then it shouldn't be a problem, and I'm not so afraid of screwing this up that I won't try it at all."
Jeremy watched her quietly. "You told that to Dana?"
"Dana's a fascist," Natalie said dismissively.
"I'll go warn my family."
"This is something I have to do for myself."
"What, jeopardize the show so you can accompany Dan on his all-expenses paid ego trip?"
"This has nothing to do with Dan," she replied angrily.
"It sure seemed to during your little fondling session in the closet. But I guess everyone's reliving their high school years this week," Jeremy said nastily.
"So you're not having sex, then, I take it."
"Ooh, hey, finally something you set the curve on. Your parents must be so proud."
"Saturday's my show, and we're doing it my way. And if you can't get behind that out of respect for me, then do it because it's your job and you have just as much to prove as the rest of us."
A thick silence hung between them as she waited for the retort that never came. She was three steps to the door before Jeremy asked softly, "what do you need me to do?"
She turned around without expression. "Coordinate with Kim and Elliot. Dan's talking to Dave and the tech guys. Don't tell Casey and Dana."
"You really think that's the best--"
"Okay," he conceded, hands up.
Without another word, she closed the door behind her and headed for Isaac's office.
By two o'clock on Friday, Dana was convinced that something substantial was going on without her knowledge. Jeremy kept shooting looks toward Elliot and Kim, and Dan was spending more time in the control room with Chris and Will than she'd ever seen. She didn't want to ask, but she could've sworn she overheard Natalie whisper something about leather to Dave. It was a day that redefined strange.
"Can I ask you something?" she said to Casey when she saw him in the hallway.
"No, I will not switch with you tomorrow night. And honestly, I'm pretty tired of you nagging me about it."
Dana frowned, a little hurt. "Well, if you'd just said yes, I wouldn't have had to keep asking you, would I?"
"I am so done with you right now," he said, pushing his way past her to the conference room.
She caught him by the collar and pulled him back. "And that's not what I was going to ask you, Captain Presumptuous."
"Please don't let Dan hear you say that."
"Besides, I decided to go to the reunion."
"Since when?" he asked, both pleasantly surprised and impressed.
"I'm just making an appearance," she affirmed, keeping his enthusiasm in check, "to prove to Isaac I'm not in a rut."
"But you are in a rut," Casey said, confused.
"I am not! I just don't like reunions."
"And what on God's green earth do you think going to your reunion will accomplish?"
"I'm not going going, Casey, just making an appearance. In and out in twenty minutes, tops. Maybe fifteen if there's not a line at the bar. It was Isaac's idea, anyway."
"Hovering around the bar?"
"Going to the reunion."
"Nice to see you're facing your fears head-on," he said sarcastically.
"I was never afraid of the reunion, I just don't like them."
"And yet you're going."
"I didn't have anything better to do," she shrugged ambivalently.
"Well, I'm proud of you."
"Thank you," she beamed.
"It'll get you out of your rut."
"I am not in a rut!"
"You told me the highlight of your week was finding a bag of M&Ms in your desk."
"Better than batteries and chewed-up bubble gum," she mocked.
"Either of which you are welcome to borrow anytime."
"They were the good M&Ms, too; you know, the new peanut butter ones in the red bag? And they weren't even melted after two months, can you believe that?"
"What did you need to ask me?" he prompted with a smile.
Dana looked around carefully to make sure they were out of earshot. "Do you think something strange is going on?"
"Strange like how?" he asked with raised eyebrows, glancing around skeptically.
"Everyone seems to be working a lot."
"And you think that's strange?"
"Yeah, but I didn't expect you to complain about it," Casey said.
"Or maybe they're just getting better at looking like they're working."
"Should I go investigate?" he offered.
"No!" She pulled him behind the conference room glass and looked around the corner to the news room. "Don't provoke them."
Casey rolled his eyes. "Who are you, Jane Goodall? This is ridiculous."
"No, it's not! There is something very real happening in that room, Casey, and I don't appreciate being kept in the dark."
"Well, I certainly agree that spying on our friends from behind a transparent wall is exactly the way to get to the bottom of it."
She hit him playfully in the chest without taking her eyes off a huddle by Kim's desk. "It just doesn't make any sense. We don't have any special coverage scheduled for the next three weeks, no interviews for two, and no major staff absences next week except mine tomorrow, but it should be a ridiculously easy show and Natalie is more than capable."
"Have you asked her about it?" Casey peered his head over Dana's to get a better look at the huddle.
"And let her know I'm onto her? That's not going to get me anywhere."
"What in the hell are you doing?" boomed Isaac's voice from behind them. Dana screamed and hit Casey's chin as her head jerked up.
Casey screamed even louder, putting his hand to his mouth. "at wuh my ungue!"
"Ooh, I'm sorry!" she appeased, trying to move his hand to check for blood.
"Ith fine," he shooed her away, irritated, as he headed for the bathroom.
"Do you mind telling me what exactly is going on here?" Isaac asked Dana before she could chase after Casey.
"Aside from frightening your staff to the point of injury?"
"He'll be okay. Though I wonder if it would've happened at all had you not been in such a peculiar situation."
"It wasn't what it looks like," said Dana.
"It looked like you were spying on them."
Dana tried to act shocked. "That is a horrible accusation."
"Is it now?"
"Of course it is."
Natalie entered the hallway from behind her. "Is Casey okay?"
"He just bit his tongue," Isaac replied. "He'll be fine."
"Okay," she said, turning to head back to the news room.
"Natalie," Isaac called her back, "can you tell me what Dana and Casey were doing in the hallway?"
"They were spying on us," she replied matter-of-factly.
"Thank you," he grinned.
Dana scoffed, flabbergasted. "I wasn't spying!"
"It's okay," said Natalie, "whatever it takes to help you out of your rut."
She walked back into the news room as Isaac laughed behind her, wishing she could see the dumbstruck expression on Dana's face and wondering how much bigger it would be when Dana returned Sunday morning.
"I can't actually believe you thought I'd wear that."
"It's pure craftsmanship! I paid good money for that, Casey." Dan shifted uncomfortably in Casey's chair at the anchor desk, reaching the sour conclusion that all chairs are not, in fact, created equal. "And honestly, I'm a little offended you wouldn't at least try it on."
"It's a drug store t-shirt with a big paper C sewn on."
"And I commissioned good, honest, hard-working Americans to assemble it! I made an appointment and everything."
"You paid Abby to do it."
"She did offer the most competitive rates, yes."
"I'm sure constructing a superhero costume is doing wonders for your psychological profile."
"The dollar signs gleaming in her eyes were worth the opportunity to see you reach your dream."
"Nice tights," Casey said, catching a glimpse of Dan's blue legs as he squirmed in the chair. The fact that he was wearing shorts over them didn't make the sight any less disturbing.
"And you have a pair of your very own in our office, my friend. Red, of course."
"The better to strangle you with," Casey said nonchalantly, reviewing his script.
"And by the way, your chair sucks."
"Yours feels fine."
"It's a good chair! I think this one somehow formed around your irregularly contoured ass."
"Please never say that to me again."
"Give me my chair back."
"You can't have it both ways. You wanted to sit on the left, you're sitting on the left."
"Sixty seconds live," rang Kim's voice over the speaker.
"Natalie, can someone please get my chair from my office?" Dan asked. "Casey's ass broke this one."
"Aww, poor little Danny doesn't like sitting on the right, does he?" Natalie cooed.
"This is the left!" Dan shouted into the camera.
"The words 'lost' and 'cause' come to mind," Casey said without looking up.
"Is there a heater vent over here? I'm burning up." Dan fanned his face with his script as he looked under the desk.
"You know why women don't need pants in the winter, Danny? Because they wear tights."
"Kim and Elliot are totally staring at me through that little window in the door."
"They are not," Casey said, annoyed.
"They are, too! They're watching me! That's really distracting."
"As opposed to the two million people who'll be watching you twenty seconds from now."
"Conspicuousness is not a virtue."
"You know, for someone so desperate to sit on my side of the desk, you sure are full of complaints about it."
Dan's reply was haltered by the familiar "in five, four, three..."
"Good evening!" Dan beamed. "I'm Dan Rydell alongside--" He started to put up his left hand and quickly switched to his right. "--Casey McCall. Those stories plus we'll take you downtown in Denver, uptown in Oakland, and show you just who puts the 'steel' in Steelers." He started to swivel left and quickly shifted right to face the center camera, never breaking his smile.
"All that coming up after this," chimed Casey. "You're watching Sports Night on CSC, so stick around."
"Two minutes back," said Kim.
"Danny," called Natalie.
"Yes, I know."
"What do you know?"
"Casey's on my right."
"Well, that, too."
Dan was confused. "That wasn't it?"
"I was just gonna say you look stupid in tights."
"You wish you looked as good as me in tights."
The top half passed with relatively few incidents beyond Dan's continued inability to grasp where camera three was. Sound and editing flowed seamlessly, and even Jeremy was starting to think this whole switching places thing wasn't such a bad idea after all. But in the middle of Casey's two-minute Chicago feature, a distant echo made its way down the hall to the sound stage, creeping closer and closer by the second. Just before Dan closed out for commercial, the studio doors flew open as a Dana-shaped disaster toppled onto the desk singing "my my my my my boo-gie shooooooooes" at the top of her lungs.
The usual "we're out" was simply silence.
Kim marked the time with, "Holy shit."
"Oh my god!" Natalie shouted, jumping out of her seat.
"What the hell are you doing?" Casey asked Dana, equally afraid as he was concerned. Dan pursed his lips and tried not to laugh.
"Dance with me, Case," Dana slurred, tugging at Casey's arm with her free hand. The other clung to a mostly empty bottle of champagne.
"Come on," he said, herding her toward the Green Room, "let's go."
"Wai-wait," she stopped, eying Dan suspiciously, "why zee over there?"
"The first of many very bad ideas today," said Casey, wrapping his arm around her waist to lead her away.
Dan heard a giggly "his legs are blue!" as they slipped out of sight past camera one, then a bloodcurdling scream.
"WHA IZZAT?" Dana yelled, pointing through the window to the colorful display of characters in the control room.
Staring back at her with wide eyes were Batman, Spiderman, Wonder Woman, Catwoman, Shaft, and whatever the hell Jeremy and Elliot were supposed to be.
Dana fumbled for the doorknob as Casey tried dragging her away, both arms around her waist. "No! I wanna, need to...Natalie!" Dana swung her left arm up and accidentally hit Casey in the head with the bottle.
As he yanked it out of her hand to set it aside, Dana seized the opportunity to break free and stumble into the control room.
"Dana, I can explain," started Natalie, her tail catching in the chair as she stood.
Dana looked around from person to person, more confused with every new costume she took in. Kim's big hair and bracelets, Natalie's leather bodice, Chris's padded muscles, Dave's sideburns, and whom she assumed to be Will under a plastic Batman mask. "Izzit Halloween again?"
"We didn't think you'd be coming in," Natalie said.
"I wuzzat my reunion."
"Course I did! I told Casey I was." She threw a loose punch at Casey's shoulder for emphasis.
The entire room looked at Casey with daggers. "Hey, I didn't know she was gonna show up here! She said she was gonna make an appearance at the reunion and go home."
"Nooo, I never said go home," corrected Dana. She threw her arms out and grinned. "I love Sports Night!"
"Well, you're going home now," said Casey, ushering her back out to the hall.
"Ooh, was Dirk there?" Natalie asked.
Dana's face lit up as she turned, struggling against Casey's arm to stay in the conversation. "He's FAT!"
Natalie's jaw dropped. "He's fat?"
"Who's Dirk?" Elliot asked.
"What about Joanna?" Natalie asked Dana.
"We observe," Jeremy said to Elliot, "we don't interact."
"Divorced TWO times!" Dana held out two drunken fingers for emphasis.
Dana held her left hand by her mouth to tell Natalie a secret from across the room. "I spilled a drink on her!" she whispered.
"Oh my god!"
"On purpose?" Dave asked.
"Bitch had it comin'," Dana replied smugly.
"How come Dave gets to ask questions?" whined Elliot.
Dave turned to face him. "You really wanna fuck with Shaft?"
"And," Dana continued with a finger pointed at Natalie, "thissis the best part. Guess who was named Most Succ-Successkful Since High School?"
"Get out!" Natalie shouted, impressed.
"I was up on the stage and everything. They gave me this champagne." Dana held out her left hand before she realized it was empty. "Wait, where-dit go?" she turned around, looking.
"Okay," Casey said, "you're done." He tightened his hold around Dana with both arms and pulled her out of the control room.
"Hey, I wanna costume, too!" she said, looking back as the door closed in her face.
Suddenly, Isaac opened the door behind Kim and entered, sporting his best James Bond tuxedo. "What the hell was that?" he shouted. The whole room jumped.
"Dana," said Dave.
"Don't you talk to me. I told you Tuesday I had dibs on Shaft."
"She just had a little too much to drink at the reunion," said Natalie apologetically.
"You think I can't see that? You think two million people worldwide didn't just see that?"
"Isaac!" came Dana's muffled voice from the other side of the glass. "I'm outta my rut!"
"One of you heroes better get that girl out of my sight, or we'll find out if she's too drunk to outrun a stroke victim."
"Thirty seconds back," said Kim.
"Casey's got her," said Natalie.
"He'll need more than thirty seconds," said Isaac.
"Dan," Natalie started into her mic.
"I got it," he cut in, stacking his script and settling comfortably into his chair, which had mysteriously made its way back to the right side of the desk. "Hockey highlights, throw it to Tina in Alberta, then the Tokyo feed. I got it."
"Okay, let's roll," said Dave.
"Okay," agreed Jeremy, catching Natalie's eye with a pursed smile.
"Ten seconds," said Kim.
Isaac looked around at his team of misfits and said, "get it back."
Dan and Casey ate lunch in the office the next morning. Casey had offered to roast hot dogs over the pyre of his unworn costume, but Dan eventually negotiated down to buying them both gyros in exchange for Casey holding the shirt up in front of himself. As luck would have it, that was when Dana stopped by.
"I don't even wanna know," she brushed aside, quite hungover and in no mood for any more of Casey's ridiculous crap. She was half convinced the Green Room couch she woke up on had somehow fallen on her head in the night. "I need last night's tape."
Casey eyed Dan nervously. "Why?"
"Because I'm the executive producer, Casey, and I need to watch my goddamn show. Do you have it or not?"
"Yeah, it's right here," he said, leaning over to eject from the VCR.
"Thank you," she said, annoyed, grabbing the tape out of the player before Casey could hand it to her.
"Rewind it first," he said as casually as he could.
"Natalie do okay?"
"Natalie was great," he assured her.
"Rundown in an hour."
Pushing the door open with her back, Dana slipped out the door and out of sight.
"She seriously has no memory of last night," Dan asked. He absently scratched his leg, determined not to let Casey see the full extent of the irritation. He had no idea how those dancers did it.
"I'm thinking that's a good thing."
"Put in the other copy. That entrance is never getting old." As Casey pulled an unmarked videotape from his desk drawer, Dan added, "Oh, and for the record, your side blows."
"I could've told you that."
"You can't have my side."
"Okay," said Casey, trying not to smile as he fast-forwarded to the familiar cue mark.
Thirty-seven minutes later, a familiar scream rang throughout the office. Dan and Casey didn't look up.