I’m just realising I probably need to get used to the kids hanging out in my office when Josh comes striding in. He’s been doing Leo’s job for, what, 36 hours, and he somehow already looks wiser. He doesn’t miss a beat when the first daughter launches herself at his legs and greets him as “Tio Hosh.”
“Hey, pumpkin!” He scoops her up and ruffles her brother’s hair. “Can you guys give me and Tia Donna a minute?”
I’d pretty much forgotten Linda was there until she steps through the doorframe and ushers her tiny, precious charges out. Josh leans back out of the door and watches them tumble towards the staircase to the residence. When he turns back to me, he’s smiling in a whole new way I don’t think I’ve got a meaning mentally filed for yet, in the professional or personal categories.
“Annabeth told me I should come check out your office. It’s beautiful.” He hasn’t looked left or right. He was looking at the kids, now he’s looking at me.
He pulls the door shut behind him and walks over. We meet in front of my desk and he backs me into it. The kiss directly contravenes everything we talked about in Hawai’i. The hand on my ass enters territory we didn’t even cover.
He leans his forehead against mine and chuckles.
“The possibilities here are… distracting.”
He kisses me again. I’m supposed to be protesting – after all, right now, it’s my boss who is most likely to walk in on us – but this feels like a celebration. Of so much.
One more squeeze and he steps back.
“I wish I could make a habit of just coming by to do that, but we shouldn’t…”
I shake my head ruefully and he nods in agreement. His face grows serious.
“I do actually need to talk to you. Chief of Staff to Chief of Staff.”
I sit down and with a desk between us, suddenly this feels as natural and right as waking up next to him does. When he manages to sleep long enough for that to happen.
“Have you had a chance to look over the contingency memos?”
The ‘just in case’ plans. Every possible scenario we might need to get the First Family through. I’d skimmed my files for them when we were still at Blair House, setting them aside before I could cry in front of the new First Lady over the fresh copy on what to do in case one of her children was kidnapped, extensively rewritten after what happened to Zoey. Other than that one, most of the files had been old.
“Some. I was going to pull a few and make sure they were up to date.”
“I hate to say this, I really do, but after what happened during the transition…”
I finish for him.
“We need a plan in case she goes back to Texas.”
He considers me for a moment.
“As a last resort… as an absolute last resort, I need you to discreetly identify a couple of family lawyers. So we’re prepared. Just in case.”
I blanch. The possibility doesn’t bear contemplating. But we have to.
He reaches out and squeezes my hand.
“The Bartlets got through it, and they went to hell and back, like, four times. If we do right by these guys,” – I can’t believe he just called the First Family ‘these guys’ – “they’ll never go to sleep fighting.”
I smile and shake my head.
“Josh, I don’t think we’re going to get through this administration without you and I going to sleep fighting, let alone them.”
He looks so sad I wish I could take it back. I get up and join him on the other side of my desk, perched on the second chair, leaning my hands on his knees. Sometime soon we may need to redesign some more flexible rules for personal contact in the workplace.
“Josh, we went to hell and back with the Bartlets. And we’re still here.”
The smile returns and he hugs me.
“And look at us now.”
I breathe into his shoulder for a moment and then push back, leaving my hands on his chest.
“Just as long as no one else is looking at us. We need to be… appropriate.”
He leans in again and whispers.
“Maybe we need to be more inappropriate at home. Get it out of our system.”
I’m not sure exactly how much more inappropriate we could possibly be at home. It’s been hard to be embarrassed around the secret service since Josh had to call Ron Butterfield approximately three minutes after I agreed to move in with him.
He settles back into the chair, his eyes still twinkling at me, but I can tell he needs to talk shop some more. I straighten my back, but resist the urge to head back to the other side of the desk.
To my surprise, he takes my hand, twines his fingers through mine. He’s got that smile again, the one I can’t quite read yet.
“There’s another plan. One we don’t have yet. There hasn’t been anyone young enough for a while.”
I realise that I do think I know where this is going. Helen and I had a very, very oblique conversation about it on Christmas Eve.
“We need to be prepared for if they have another kid.”
I can’t help the goofy grin. If he’s bringing this up, it’s most likely because Matt – the President. The President. – has mentioned it, which means it’s a real possibility.
“Wouldn’t that be something. A White House baby.”
The Josh I met ten years ago would have passed out at the idea. The media frenzy, the gifts, the noise, the mess, the unpredictability. Now he looks as delighted by the idea as I feel. He’s still squeezing my hand.
“She’s going to need a doctor we can trust anyway. Abbey can help with that.”
“The kids will make it fairly easy for her to stay out of sight if she wants.”
“I can ask Margaret and Andy about hospitals and stuff.”
“And we’ll get him some time off.”
His voice has returned to a more businesslike tone. He’s going to relish that particular fight.
We nod at each other. I cast a glance at my desk, mentally adding to a to do list I know I’ll never put in writing, but he tugs my hand. I turn back to him and he leans in again. I smile against his lips.
“Josh, we really can’t keep doing this.”
“I know. But I really want to right now.”
“If that’s a deal breaker, we’re not going to do very well.”
“I’ll be good, I promise. But right now it’s important.”
“It’s important that you kiss me?”
“Yeah”, he breathes, and then he does. Without breaking contact, he stands and pulls me up with him and wraps me completely in his arms. I can’t believe no one’s walked in on us yet.
Actually, I’m not sure I’d have noticed if someone had.
His hands slide from my back, up my ribcage, and over my shoulders until he’s cupping my face in his hands.
“It’s important because…” and then he falters, but just for a split second, and the smile is even more brilliant now.
“Because I’m about to tell you we need to make a plan for if we have a baby. You and me.”
I nearly fall back into my chair but he’s got a hold of me. I file the new smile under ‘broody’ and kiss him back while I compose myself.
“Aren’t you getting a bit ahead of yourself, there, Mr Chief Of Staff?”
He laughs softly.
“I don’t think so. I’ve taken care of the plan for when we get married.”
“Don’t worry. I’m not proposing here. I want to do it properly.”
Proposing here would have been totally fine with me, but we both know today is not the day.
He leans back and appraises me.
“Donna. I know you want kids. I… I didn’t know if I wanted kids. But I want your kids. And I’m not getting any younger. We don’t have to do this. But I think… it’d be nice if we knew what our options were if we did.”
I’m speechless and a little tearful. And totally clueless as to how I’m going to get any more work done today. I squeeze him as tight as I can muster. He rubs my back.
“I’m sorry to throw this at you right now. Mostly it’s something we need to talk about at home. And not a decision we need to make right now, or even soon, or until after we’re done working here. But if we have a baby and we’re both working here, you’d need a bunch of time off, I’d want some time off at the same time you have time off, and it would be… unpredictable.”
I smile weakly and nod.
He exhales, and mouthes a silent ‘thank you’. I feel my grin widening.
“I’ll talk to Margaret.”
I’ll talk to Margaret very, very far away from this White House. She’d nearly tackled me to the ground right outside the Oval when she’d worked out that I’d been with Josh on his enforced vacation. I can’t even imagine the volume of her reaction to this.
“Speaking of Margaret. I want to make sure we do right by her. I’m not sure she wants her Mom living with them forever. She needs to spend enough time with the little dude.”
I nod again. Who is this man, and what has he done with my principled but totally clueless Josh?
“I think I’m going to get a junior assistant. Make sure she can get out of here early some days.”
One last kiss. The very last, I promise myself, except for the discreet greeting we’d agreed upon.
“Leo would be so, so proud of you.”
“Leo would kick my ass for this.”
And he pushes me back against the desk.