Donna fidgeted nervously in her seat, crossing and uncrossing her legs. This felt remarkably like the time in third grade when she’d been sent to the principal’s office for hitting Tony Abner over the head with her notebook because he wouldn’t leave her alone. This was exactly like that, except Donna had asked for this meeting and it was in the White House. She’d come in this morning with an extra cup of coffee, something between a nice gesture for friend and a bribe for the Chief of Staff’s secretary.
“What does Leo’s schedule look like today? Is there any way I can get half an hour? Twenty minutes? It’s important.”
“He might have an opening this afternoon,” Margaret flipped open his calendar. “This is for Josh?”
“No, it’s for me.”
“Oh.” Her pen hovered just above the page. Donna could see the curiosity burning just beneath the surface, but Margaret was too professional to ask.“How about 3:20?”
“Perfect, I’ll be there. Thank you, Margaret.”
Donna had been here since 3:15. She was sure Leo wouldn’t call her in until at least 3:30, but she wanted to be early just in case. She’d asked Ginger to tell Toby he had to move a meeting up so Josh would be busy from 3:00 until almost 4 and unlikely to notice her absence. She glanced at the clock over Margaret’s desk. 3:19. The second hand rounded the 12, carrying the minute hand to the 4, and Donna looked away from the clock. The fact that her anxiety about this meeting had almost nothing to do with being a secretary who had requested a meeting with the second most powerful person in the building only made it worse.
She startled a little at the sound of her name. The door was old and heavy and she hadn’t heard it swing open. Leo McGarry was standing in the doorway. He was inviting her in, personally and on time. The sick feeling in Donna’s stomach grew worse.
“Leo,” she said, trying to feign an enthusiastic greeting.
“Come on in,” he said. She wondered if her smile looked as fake as his did.
“I have to admit, when Margaret told me my meeting this afternoon was with you, I was a little surprised.” Leo leaned back in his chair. Donna envied his ability to look relaxed, even though she suspected he wasn’t. She couldn’t get comfortable in the chair across from his desk; her whole body was tense.
“And I ask to see you so often,” Leo was kind enough to flash a smile for Donna’s attempt at humor, but she knew it had fallen flat.
“So,” he said, suddenly somber. “What’s on your mind?”
“It’s about Josh.”
Leo’s face was unreadable.
“If you need to make a complaint…”
“No! Nothing like that!”
“I know how much you care about him and it’s important that you don’t think you need to protect him.”
Donna knew the words were a pretense. Leo knew she would protect Josh with her life, and she knew the same about him. But it didn’t matter.
“I’m not here to make a complaint.”
“It’s just…” Donna’s eyes darted to the closed door behind her, then back to Leo. “I’m worried about him.”
Leo let out a long breath.
Donna looked at her shoes.
“I thought maybe it was just me.”
Donna didn’t respond.
“Hey, kid, look at me.” She forced herself to lift her head, to make eye contact. “It’s not just you.”
Donna swallowed hard.
“Josh doesn’t know that I’m here right now, so—”
“Everything you tell me is strictly confidential, okay?”
“Okay,” she said hesitantly. “Okay.” Leo nodded decisively.
“Okay. So. Tell me why you’re worried.” Donna took a deep breath.
“He’s just, um, he’s not really himself. He’s snapping. I mean, of course Josh can have a temper—when he’s busy—but normally he apologizes later or at least—”
“He’s snapping at you?” Leo interrupted.
“Not just at me. At everyone. It’s like he doesn’t even know he’s doing it.”
“He forgets things. He’ll ask me for something and I’ll give it to him and ten minutes later he wants to know where it is.
“He doesn’t remember… sometimes I’m in a room with him and it feels like he’s not even there. He’s just… not focused. That thing with the pilot, that’s the last time I saw him really dig into something.”
Leo’s face tightened.
“The air force pilot?”
“Yeah. Robert something. Robert Cano? He was really invested in that. But mostly he’s… distracted. Like his mind is on something else.
“He’s so sensitive, Leo, any kind of noise… meetings in the next office, Bonnie and Ginger talking, those musicians Toby hired… everything bothers him.”
Donna tried to gauge Leo’s reaction. He looked thoughtful.
“This has been going on for a while?”
“A couple of weeks? Maybe longer. I think it’s getting worse.”
“Which is why you came to me.”
Leo looked like he was gathering his thoughts.
“Leo, I’ve been doing some research, you know, on the internet, Josh always tells me not to…” she exhaled in a small, sad laugh, “I did some research, and the statistics on shooting victims developing post-traumatic stress—”
“I know,” Leo cut her off gently. “I’ve seen them.”
“So you’re thinking…”
“I didn’t know what I was thinking. But now that I know what you’re thinking I have some ideas.”
Donna shook her head.
“I haven’t talked to Josh about any of this, but…”
Leo reached across the desk to lay a gentle hand on her arm.
“You did the right thing by coming to me. In situations like this, you don’t know how someone will react. It’s better if he hears it from me.”
“So you’re going to…”
“I’m going to take care of it.”
Donna stood up. She’d never been in a meeting like this before, but she was pretty sure it was over.
“Thank you, Leo.”
Leo stood as well.
“Thank you, Donna, seriously. He’s lucky to have you.”
Donna smiled, but her heart wasn’t in it.
“I’ll be in touch,” Leo said, opening the door.
Donna tried not to meet Margaret’s concerned, curious gaze on her way out. Instead, she glanced at the clock above Margaret’s desk. 3:45. Josh would be back soon. She had to get back to work.
“Margaret,” she heard Leo say as she walked back to her desk, “tell Toby, CJ, and Sam to stay a little late tonight. I want to talk to them.”