An Idea Is Conceived
The press, of course, got to the hospital first. They had been circling this story for the whole nine months, and coverage had reached a fever pitch in the past few weeks. Every network from CNN to a local Charleston station had a team on the scene.
To get angry at them would be getting angry at a shark for following blood in the water. This story had it all: sex, politics, celebrity, personal drama, and a prickly central figure who not only captured public attention, but thrived on it. The force that drew reporters to the area was more than instinct; it was was on a level with the power that draws paper clips to magnets, draws the tides in and out, draws soup to new ties.
The hospital, sensibly oblivious to this overwhelming primal need, wouldn't even let them in the door.
The crews milled about just beyond the ambulance lane for a while, each anchor talking rapidly into his or her camera, and all saying the same thing, which amounted to nothing at all. You didn't get to cover a story this big if you couldn't say a whole lot of nothing, and say it with gravitas.
Still, when a non-press car pulled in and its passenger climbed out, they descended on him like vultures to a kill, like a wave to a newly finished sand castle.
He knew they couldn't help it. He made his living pointing out that they couldn't help it.
This knowledge did not make them any less irritating.
"Mr. Stewart! Mr. Stewart!" the reporters clamored. "How do you feel? Are you nervous? Are you excited? Do you think this is moral? Do you think it's ethical? Do you think it will catch on? Do you—"
"No comment," replied Jon, shoving his way through the crowd. "Excuse me, please. No, no statement, no comment, no, you're not going to get anything whether you let me through or not, so please, just let me—"
He stepped on several toes, and nearly had his teeth knocked out by a microphone three or four times, but at last he made it to the first set of doors and burst through. Free of the gaggle, he broke into a run, until he reached the front desk and leaned heavily against it.
"I need to get into maternity," he gasped.
The orderly behind the desk was more than used to worried fathers. "Right away, dear," she said. "Now, we have to get you signed in - it'll just take a minute, and we'll take excellent care of your wife in the meantime, don't you worry. Now, what's the mother's name?"
Jon couldn't tell if she was following procedure for procedure's sake, or if she genuinely didn't know what was going on.
The former was irritating, but on some level reassuring. The latter was about the least reassuring thing he could imagine.
"Her name, hon?"
Jon swallowed. "Stephen Colbert."
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October 16, 2006
Nine Months Ago
"...which brings us to tonight's Wørd."
The interns clapped. Stephen couldn't rehearse properly without applause, so a flock of interns were parked in the seats to fill the need. The cameramen joined in too, when they weren't busy manning the cameras.
"Expecting!" intoned the host, and the bullet point beside him echoed the word.
No one knew exactly how the bullet point worked. It had been scripted and straightforward at first, but somewhere along the line it had taken on a mind of its own. Stephen occasionally claimed that the force of his opinions was so powerful that it spilled out onto the television screen around him. When confronted with bullet-point text that didn't seem to conform to his stated opinion, he quickly changed the subject. By the time "Secretly Knows He's Gay" had appeared on the screen, no one even tried to bring it up.
"My first reaction," continued Stephen, "was to be against what I call the 'dude uterus.'" (Or Dude-erus, the bullet noted.) "Because you just know the gays are gonna be all over it. And you know what that means..."
One of the interns was wondering if Stephen had even read the article that he was referring to. It had said very plainly that the option Stephen was espousing was simply not feasible.
This intern was, of course, new. Everyone else knew full well that Stephen hadn't read the article. They were all marveling that their boss could say the word "butt-babies" with a straight face.
The host was a bit more informed on the issue of stem cells. "This November, more candidates for stem cell research are ahead in their districts than candidates against it. That means hundreds of thousands of frozen embryos from fertility clinics — embryos that were going to be destroyed — are in danger of being used for scientific research!" The interns applauded some more.
Stephen's proposal was simple. The politicians who opposed using the embryos for research could have wombs implanted in their own bodies, and carry some of those embryos to term. The host pointed out President Bush as an example. "Just imagine how powerful a photo-op it'll be the next time he vetoes the bill, and he's six months pregnant!" He paused. "Jimmy, can we get a graphic of that?"
"We'll have one by tonight," said Bobby from the side of the stage. He made a quick note of it against his ever-present clipboard: Get President pregnant.
Bobby had considered writing a book about his experience on the Report, but after a few weeks he was rarely able to decipher his own notes.
At his desk, the host plunged on. "So, if you're a male who voted against stem cell research, you simply cannot pass up this opportunity. It is not a choice — it is a moral duty! Will it be easy? No. But take your uterus like a man. It's what the rest of the country's expecting...and that's the Wørd."
It went so well in rehearsal.
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The photomanipulation of the President with a bare and bulging torso turned a few stomachs in the audience; Stephen took the groans for croons of pleasure. "Isn't that beautiful?" he agreed. "There is just nothing more beautiful than a pregnant President."
A moment later, he was back on the script. "He would be putting his womb where his mouth is! Not literally; that's probably not a good idea." (Speaks Awkwardly Enough As It Is, snarked the bullet.)
And then he careened off the tracks altogether.
Stephen had an Idea. The aw-shucks half-smile, the casual shuffling of papers, the innocent raise of the eyebrow: all of these told the experienced viewer that he was about to suggest something that he would present as a modest endeavor, but heaven help the employee who didn't treat him like the most selflessly charitable person since Warren Buffett.
"You know what?" he said, preening just a little, making sure the camera got what he called 'my heroic side' and everyone else called 'Stephen's chin'.
"Maybe I could do it too."
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October 23, 2006
3 Days to Implantation
"Are you sure you wouldn't rather have a lawyer with you, Mr. Colbert?"
"Lawyers? Hah! They're a bunch of Ivy League elitists, with their fancy degrees and their pretentious phrases like 'habeus corpus' and 'ignorantia juris non excusat' and 'yes, that constitutes sufficient grounds for a sexual harassment claim.' So no, madam, I do not need a lawyer. I am perfectly capable of dealing with this myself."
"Your regular practitioner, then? He or she would be able to advise you..."
"I don't need any advice. My mind is made up. Besides, I'm between doctors right now. I fired the last one when he told me to stop drinking eight cups of coffee every day. Look, you can get my medical records without him, right? I know my bloodtype and everything."
Colbert opened his wallet and pulled out a Red Cross card, which he passed across the desk. On one side was a record of his blood pressure on the only date he had donated (09/15/2001); on the other, his name and blood type (B positive).
Phoebe Moreau, MD, PhD, DNSc, DrPH, DPT, and, yes, DFA, gave the card a cursory glance, then went back to studying her visitor. He wasn't ideal. Fit, certainly, if his leaping about on television was any indication; but about ten years older than she would have liked.
On the other hand, he was her first volunteer. Beggars could hardly be choosers. Furthermore, his viewers were exactly the kind of right-wing culture-war extremists that kept picketing her hospital whenever she announced a new research initiative. If anyone could get them to shut up, he could.
And think of the publicity! Colbert could do for her procedure what Julia Roberts had done for adopting foreign orphans.
If it worked.
"I'll be honest with you, Mr. Colbert," she lied, hoping to get a sense of his assets. "I'm concerned about your ability to provide a suitable environment for this child."
Colbert pulled out another card. This one was gold, embossed with silver logos and inscriptions that indicated it was linked to a credit line with a limit so high you'd need the Hubble Telescope to see the top. He passed this to Phoebe as well.
"You take care of the environment inside," he said, tapping his stomach, "and I'll take care of the rest."
Phoebe suppressed the catch in her throat at the sight of the unassuming little piece of plastic. "And how much are you prepared to pay for the procedure itself?"
"Oh, wasn't I clear? That card's for you. I've got my own."
Phoebe had gone into experimental medicine for three reasons: a desire for prestige, scientific curiosity, and the ambition to make lots and lots of money. If this particular experiment failed, she would likely be a laughingstock in the medical community.
Still, two out of three wasn't bad.
"Very well, Mr. Colbert," she said. "We have the papers drawn up; just sign on a few dotted lines and we'll be in business." She had a dozen copies of the legalese, drawn up in preparation for a study that had never materialized due to lack of volunteers; one of these was in the binder that she pulled from a filing cabinet and handed to her visitor.
Her team had prepared so much, gathering knowledge and making guesses and planning for every eventuality they could think of. But now that it was going to be put to the test, she could see that it was like preparing to jump off a cliff by throwing pillows over the edge — with no idea how high the cliff actually was, or what might be at the bottom.
Someday she ought to take a vacation and do some nice relaxing skydiving. Maybe in nine months she would have the time.
"What are these?" asked Colbert, flipping through the binder.
"They absolve myself and RYT Hospital-Dwayne Medical Center of responsibility in the event of..."
Colbert glowered. "I told you, I don't like legalese."
Phoebe sighed. "It means that we will do everything we can to make this work, and in return you can't sue us."
"Fair enough." Colbert began signing. This was a tedious process, as every signature was large and loopy and finished off with several unnecessary flourishes. Phoebe half expected him to tack 'To My Biggest Fan' in front of them.
She took the time to make plans. She would have to alert the team, call the IVF clinic, figure out how to spin this for the press...it would be out of her hands once it got out, and there were some groups that would throw a hissy fit no matter what she did, but she had to control it as best she could. And speaking of control....
Colbert reached the last page; Phoebe put he hand on his, holding it back. "Wait."
The pundit looked up. "What? Do you want me to sign something else? I have a few emergency 8x10 glossies in the car..."
"This is serious, Mr. Colbert, and I need you to really mean it when you sign this one."
"Was I not supposed to mean the others?" asked Colbert, cocking his head.
"You were, but just listen." Phoebe held his gaze, infusing her voice with - what did he always call it? She would have to start watching his show more — ah, yes: gravitas. "You're in this for the long haul. If you agree to this, you cannot fire me at any time. And when I give you medical instructions, you will follow them. To the letter. Whether you like it or not. Because it won't just be your health at stake here; it'll be the life of the baby. Do you understand me?"
Something in her tone had made the right impression; Colbert nodded solemnly. "I understand."
"Cut back on the coffee."
He balked. "But—!"
"It's not good for the baby. If you're going to do this, you cut back on the coffee. If you can't handle that, don't sign."
She remembered something else she'd seen on the show, and amended: "If you don't have the balls to do that, don't sign."
With that, she let go of his hand. It wavered for a moment, then wrote the signature, with an extra flourish for good measure.
Phoebe fought back a wild grin.
"Well, Mr. Colbert," she said brightly, "let's get you knocked up!"
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November 1, 2006
The cry of an eagle rang through the studio.
"Tonight!" cried Stephen. "Clips of my show are pulled off YouTube." Blank Screen Challenge, read the subtitle. "Looks like you'll have to watch them the old-fashioned way: on your video iPod."
He spun in his seat to face a second camera. "And I travel to Hollywood to profile California's 30th!" California Reaming. "Though it swears it's still only 29."
He turned to face a third camera, this one looking up at him from the floor, and the subtitle proclaimed The Nailing of Doctor Moreau. "And my guest tonight, Dr. Phoebe Moreau, will explain how I came to be the medical miracle of the century."
The host turned one last time; the fourth camera zoomed dramatically in. "It's the first day of November sweeps," he said, a mischievous smile playing on his lips, "and I'm pregnant! This is The Colbert Report!"
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The crash of a dropped plate sounded briefly over the opening credits of the Report's theme song. Moments later, a young girl's head appeared at the kitchen door. "Mommy? You okay?"
"I'm fine, honey. Don't come in. There's broken glass...No, don't worry. I'll clean it up."
The girl looked from her mother's face, to the glass at her feet, to the television screen set in a false cupboard, on which the word "Superstantial" had just appeared. "Did Papa do something stupid again?" she asked.
"You shouldn't say that about your father," replied Lorraine Colbert automatically. "Go back to bed, honey. I'll deal with the mess."
The receptionist was tan-skinned and heavyset, with short greying hair and thin glasses over which she peered suspiciously at her computer screen as though it might try to give her the runaround if she didn't keep an eye on it. She ignored the drumming of fingers on the counter; she was of an age where she knew how she was going to do her job, and everyone else would simply have to wait.
At last she looked up. "All right, honey, I have Mr. Colbert's list of approved friends and relatives here. What's your name?"
Don't you know who I am? thought Jon, but bit it back. He had never been that kind of celebrity, and he'd be damned if he was going to turn into it now. "Jon Stewart."
"Mmhmm. Sorry, dear, you're not on here."
Jon froze. His stomach curled in on itself. His mind reeled. His gut, however, made a suggestion; and his mouth, bereft of any more coherent guidance, went with it.
"What about J-O-H-N Stewart? Is that spelling on the list?"
He held his breath as she eyed the screen again; then she smiled. "Sure enough, here you are. Go on in."
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November 7, 2006
"...Jon Stewart, over at The Daily Show."
Jon tapped the paper that he had just been handed. "We have some more results here; very quickly..."
It had been a whirlwind week and a half. No sooner had Jon's break ended than he was whisked off to Ohio for the Midwest Midterm Midtacular. The satellite had failed on the second day, leaving him bereft of his regular contact with the Report for most of the week. And then, at the Q&A before the final broadcast, one of the Ohio State students had said bluntly, "What's the deal with Stephen? Is it a hoax, or a joke, or is he actually going through with this?"
Jon had given his usual diplomatic answer: "I almost never know what Stephen's up to. You'll have to ask him yourself." After the show, his work over, he had rushed back to the hotel and demanded that week's Reports to find out what on Earth his impulsive co-worker had done this time.
He was pretty sure it hadn't sunk in yet. One of these days it would really hit him, and he would have either a fit of giggling or a nervous breakdown. He was hoping it wouldn't be the breakdown.
But mostly he was hoping it wouldn't happen on-air.
Actually, it was easier to keep himself under control with the cameras on. The bits were all scripted; if he found himself losing it, he could block out everything but the words on the prompter.
"...it may be some time before we know exactly what happened," he concluded, "in America today."
"Really?" asked Stephen, raising an eyebrow as planned. "Why don't you just ask America now?"
"How would I do that?"
"By asking me." And Stephen launched into the speech they had planned, how he embodied the nation, how his mouth was this and his arm was that and his side was the other thing, and this half had gone blue but that half wasn't sure...
Jon kept one eye on the prompter and one on the nearest screen. The lines were familiar; Stephen had regaled Jon with many variations of the "I am America" speech before, and they'd even rehearsed this one. But now the speaker had one overwhelming difference.
The speech finished, and Jon paused, then made his decision and left the script.
"I hesitate to ask this, Stephen," he said, "but what is the, uh, I guess it would be the embryo, in this analogy?"
The pundit, well used to saying whatever came into his head, had an answer ready on the spot. "That would be Iraq, Jon. The little baby democracy that we are helping to nurture and grow. And all the car bombings, like Condi Rice said, are just birth pangs."
"Ah. Of course." A thought came into Jon's head. "And, like us with Iraq," he offered, "you don't have an exit strategy."
Stephen put on his most derogatory face, the face that had reduced many an intern (and, twice, Ed Helms) to a quivering mass of jelly. "No, Jon, of course we have an exit strategy. Dr. Moreau discussed this on the show last week. I'm going to be carefully monitored, and then, around the 38th week or when my body meets certain medical benchmarks, whichever comes first, they'll perform a C-section. Come on, Jon, use your head. Who would get into a situation this dangerous — and this important — with lives at stake — without a careful plan and an exit strategy?"
Given more time, Jon could have come up with a snappy, witty, and highly ironic response to that. As it was, he was being waved to cut to commercial. They'd talked right through the scripted joke about the Italian-American immigrant experience.
"I don't know," Stephen," he said instead. "But we've gotta go."
"All right. Jon Stewart, everybody! We'll be right back."
As soon as all the cameras were off, Jon made his excuses and bolted for the bathroom. They'd done their last bit of crossover for the night; his audience would want him to say goodbye at the end, but until then he was off the hook.
Alone in front of the sink, he loosened his tie and stared into the mirror.
"Stephen's pregnant," he tried.
His reflection looked expectantly at him, as if to say, Yes, and?
"Stephen," he said again. "Is pregnant."
And then, all at once, it sank in.
Fortunately, when a stagehand found him a few minutes before the show ended, he was in the middle of nothing more dangerous than a hysterical gigglefit.
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The audience probably hadn't noticed, but every member of the Report staff was bracing for meltdown.
The Senate was still too close to call, but the House had gone overwhelmingly blue (or, in Stephen's coloring system, cowardly yellow); more tellingly, not a single Democratic incumbent had lost a seat, for perhaps the first time in electoral history. So far, all Stephen had done was throw a few papers around, but his lip was trembling and his voice wavering in a way that set everyone around him in duck-and-cover mode.
"The people have spoken!" he cried. "And apparently they're tired of freedom. Don't get me wrong, I'm not angry; I'm just disappointed. I thought this country would last longer than two hundred and thirty years."
The pitch of his voice was steadily rising with each sentence.
"Here's your cake, terrorists!" he exclaimed, lifting the cake so that the camera could see the grinning man with a bomb frosted on top. Swiping his hand along the edge, he retrieved a fingerful of frosting and swallowed it. "Mmm!" he grimaced. "Tastes like surrender!"
He really did look nauseated by the outcome. Whatever the host's faults, and Bobby could think of many, he couldn't help but grudgingly admire the man's ability to get so emotionally invested in his politics: to have such a visceral reaction to a midterm election, in a country where half the people couldn't even name the vice president....
And then Bobby realized that something was very wrong, because when Stephen got a good head of steam built up he could rant through fire, flood, or flu epidemic, and yet he had stopped talking.
This was the only situation, short of the Second Coming, that Bobby was not prepared for.
Stephen swayed a bit, gripping the desk.
Bobby made the sign that Meg (the most senior of the interns, which meant she was either the sharpest or had the highest tolerance for pain) understood to mean Get a bottle of water. Though covered with a burka at the time, she moved quickly.
But instead of fainting, as Bobby had feared, Stephen leaned over and heaved the icing — along with whatever he'd had for dinner — onto the floor behind his desk.
While the audience gasped, their host found his feet again quickly. By the time Meg reached him with the water, he was composed enough to take a swallow, spit it angrily into the existing puddle, and declare loudly, if a little shakily: "You see what you've done, America? Your irresponsible and ludicrous election of a Democratic majority has made me physically ill!"
"I think, sir," ventured Meg, "it was the cake."
"Nonsense, Meg. I love cake. It's never made me sick before."
"But, sir, you weren't pregnant before. This could be morning sickness."
"No," replied Stephen in a long-suffering tone, "it can't be morning sickness, because it is eleven fifty-six at night."
"Morning sickness can actually strike at any time..."
"Nonsense. If that were true, why would they call it morning sickness?" Stephen waved the intern away. "No, Nation, this is mourning sickness — mourning for the state of our democracy! Tomorrow you're all going to wake up in a brave new world — a world where the Constitution gets trampled by an army of terrorist clones, made in a stem cell research lab run by homosexual doctors who sterilize their instruments over burning American flags, where tax-and-spend Democrats take all your hard-earned money and use it to buy electric cars for National Public Radio and teach evolution to illegal immigrants — and then, when you realize what you've done, you will all have morning sickness!" He staggered to his feet. "You know what? I've had it. You people don't deserve a Republican majority. I quit!"
With that, he stormed out. A cameraman quickly broke from the ranks and followed.
"He'll be back in a minute," said Bobby as the door slammed. "In the meantime, Meg, would you grab a mop?"
Chapter 3: Don't Panic
The waiting room was full of pamphlets aimed at the father-to-be. Jon had read and reread them all in the days and hours before Nate was born. With Maggie he had been a bit more relaxed; he had merely reread everything once, just to make sure nothing major had changed.
Now he tore through them restlessly, not because they were at all useful but because he had come in such a rush that he hadn't brought anything else to do.
Where were the doctors, anyway? Of course he wanted them all to be in with Stephen; but couldn't just one of them come out and tell him what was going on in there? Unless Stephen was in so much trouble that he needed all of them — but in that case he wanted even more badly to know what was going on.
There weren't even any other worried partners around to be anxious with. It was just him in the quiet, empty room.
When his cell phone rang, he nearly jumped out of his skin.
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November 14, 2006
The first panicked phone call came on a Tuesday morning, in the middle of a writers' meeting. They were batting around punny titles for John Oliver's segment on the President's suddenly softened rhetoric towards the Democratic majority, when the melodic tune of "It's Raining Men" cut them off.
"That's me," said Jon, quite unnecessarily. "Excuse me." He ducked outside, checked the number (212-BIG-GUNS), and flipped the phone open. "Stephen, can it wait?"
"Jon, you need to come over here right away."
He sounded genuinely frightened. Of course, that was how he had sounded the last five times he'd insisted on Jon's presence, and after each one Jon had told himself that he wouldn't fall for that trick again. But then, Stephen hadn't been pregnant the last time he'd called.
"What is it? Are you okay? Did you call your doctor?"
"I don't need the doctor. I need you. It's an emergency, Jon."
Sigh. "I'll be right over." He snapped the phone closed and stuck his head back into the room. "I'm going out for a minute. Ben, you're in charge."
Ben nodded. "Sure. What's going on?"
"Stephen." Jon held up the phone.
The others exchanged knowing looks that he did not like in the least.
"He's pregnant," he insisted, sounding more defensive than he wanted to. "It's not just about him."
"Yes," said Sam, "but pregnant or not, that man has you wrapped around his little finger."
Laugh it off. "Yeah, that too," he replied, looking appropriately sheepish. "Next I'll be running to the 7-11 at midnight to get him pickles and ice cream. See you guys later. Don't wait up."
He kept on the nonchalant grin until the door was closed. Halfway down the hall, he broke into a run.
♦ ⋅ ◊ ⋅ ♦ ⋅ ◊ ⋅ ♦
"I've got breasts, Jon!" wailed Stephen.
Under any other circumstances, being shut in an office with a shirtless Stephen would have set off all kind of alarm bells in Jon's head. Right now, though, the pundit was clearly far too distraught by his new shape to think of anything else.
"You don't look that different," said Jon reassuringly. It was true: at just under four weeks from conception, the most obvious change to Stephen's torso was the scar from the transplant. As he looked more closely, though, Jon realized that Stephen's stomach was a little softer than it had been the last time he'd bared it on-air.
And, as the man prodded his chest, Jon had to admit that it was swelling a bit.
"They were only supposed to put in a uterus!" cried Stephen. "A duderus! I didn't sign up for dude udders, or whatever it is that makes milk. What would you even call those? Dudders?"
"It's probably just the hormones," Jon reasoned. "Your body goes through all kinds of changes when you're pregnant — well, I mean, a woman's does, but you're being shot with the same sort of hormones, right? What does it say in your reading about side effects?"
"Give me a break, Jon. You know I don't read."
Oh. That explained a lot. "There's important information in there," he began carefully, "that you'll need to know to make this work out..."
"I know, I know," said Stephen quickly. "Lorraine's been reading them for me. At least, I had her read the first few. Then she stopped for some reason."
"Has she been...handling this well?"
"Fine! Perfectly fine!" replied Stephen, a little too airily. "I mean, we're in counseling—" (he said 'counseling' in the tone that he usually reserved for 'liberal media attacks on the President') "—but it's going very well. When we started, she was all 'How could you get pregnant without telling me?' but that's all behind us now. Besides, it's not like she warned me before she decided to get pregnant."
"I thought you two didn't use birth control...."
"That's beside the point, Jon!"
Jon rather thought it wasn't. But if the Colberts were paying someone to sort out their marital issues, he didn't want to cut in on the therapist's livelihood. Better to focus on the more immediate problem. "Do you have any of the information with you?"
"Here." Stephen reached into his desk and retrieved a large binder, full of paper separated by colored dividers. There was no index, so Jon flipped through the pages until he came to a promising-looking section.
After half an hour of such haphazard research, punctuated by many an "Oh, so that's why I'm feeling that!" from Stephen, the two had spread papers all across the desk and cobbled together a general impression of what Dr. Moreau's team expected to happen to Stephen over the next few weeks. (Breast development, it seemed, was a common effect of certain hormone treatments, and in most known cases reversed itself after the treatment stopped.) At last Jon checked his watch. "I should get back. They'll be wanting me back in the writing room."
"Oh yeah! Writing!" Stephen slapped his forehead. "I forgot all about that!"
Jon raised an eyebrow. "Do you really want to admit that in front of your producer?"
"No, no, it's cool." The pundit began cramming things back into the binder. "I'll take this down to the writers. I bet I can get a Wørd out of it."
"Right." Jon stood up. "You should probably put your shirt on first. I promise, nobody will notice your man-boobs."
Stephen fixed him with that intent look of his, the gaze so serious that it always made Jon feel a little uncomfortable. "Do you promise, Jon?"
It was so childlike, this need for reassurance, that Jon couldn't help replying as earnestly as he had when he was a kid and these words signified the most solemn of promises. "Cross my heart and hope to die."
"Don't do that," laughed Stephen, and the spell was broken. "If you died, who would be my Jewish friend? I don't know any other nice Jews. All the rest of them seem kind of scheming."
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"And, speaking of offspring," said Stephen, making the transition smoothly from a segment about adopted eagle son Stephen Junior, "the press and the blogosphere are all abuzz about my other son — the one I'm carrying myself. Not that I love my adopted son any less, or would admit it on air if I did.
"There's a lot to talk about, which is why I've already been on Letterman, Larry King, Good Morning America, The View, and Oprah, and why next week you can catch me on 60 Minutes, and you'll have to skip one of my reruns to see me on Anderson Cooper 360. But there's still plenty more to say, so it's also the subject of tonight's Wørd."
The graphics spun in to wild applause, and when the furor had calmed Stephen and the bullet chorused, "I'm Pregnant!"
"Last month," the host began, adjusting his glasses as he spoke, "a team of expert professionals cut me open and inserted the very first duderus." (Dude-erus © 2006 Stephen Colbert, the bullet noted.) "And in about eight more months they'll cut me open again and pull out a bouncing baby boy.
"Now, we know it's going to be a boy, because the embryo was tested for a whole bunch of things before implantation, and one of them was gender. The duderus is far too manly an environment to support a daughter." He paused. "Also, I'm told that the hormones necessary to develop a daughter would effectively castrate me."
Getting Head Start On Electra Complex, the bullet commented.
"Speaking of hormones — I'm taking some on a regular basis, as well as a bunch of other drugs. My doctor has me popping all kinds of pills."
Almost Makes Up For The OxyContin Withdrawl, snarked the bullet.
"The first pill is the hormones that a lady uterus, or the ovaries or the cervix or whichever bit of the plumbing handles that sort of thing, would produce on its own. There's also a round of antirejection drugs to keep my body from realizing that the duderus isn't supposed to be there. And even though I'm eating a balanced diet—" (One Burger In Each Hand Is Balanced, Right?) "—there's also a multivitamin specially tailored to our needs.
"In particular, it has all the nutrients that a developing baby needs but a male body produces less than a female. Things like beta-carotine—" (for Balls, Colbertine) "—and vitamin C for strong bones—" (And Strong Balls) "—and zinc for, well, I don't actually know what zinc does." (But It's Probably Good For The Balls.)
Throughout this recitation, Stephen had been pulling out bottles of pills and placing them on the desk; he nudged them into a straight line as he continued. "I go in once a week for a checkup, to make sure everything's going smoothly and see if we need to change the prescription at all. And my wife wants me to ask if they have something for mood swings."
His hand twitched. "I don't know what she's talking about, quite frankly. Mood swings? What's that supposed to mean? Okay, sure, I snapped at her last week when she got up early to make sauswiches with extra syrup, but she should have known the smell would make me sick. And maybe I yelled at my younger daughter the other day when she broke one of the frames of my portrait collection — but I did tell her up front that they were extremely precious self-portraits, and if she couldn't be careful she couldn't help clean them! The point is that all of these incidents were totally justifiable and not because I'm having mood swings!"
At this last, his hand jerked so violently that the row of bottles was sent crashing to the floor. The sound got his attention; he checked himself, and for a moment all was silent. Even the bullet point went blank.
"Shake it off, Col-bert," he murmured. To which the bullet added, Save Mood Swings For After Show.
"Anyway," he continued, voice regaining some of its strength, if not its former bluster, "they really ought to cut me some slack. You too, Nation. All of you. After all..." He pointed to the right half of the screen.
I'm Pregnant, supplied the bullet helpfully.
"And that's the Wørd. We'll be right back."
♦ ⋅ ◊ ⋅ ♦ ⋅ ◊ ⋅ ♦
November 30, 2006
It was far too late — or too early, depending on your perspective — for any normal visitor to show up at Tad's apartment. But it was also too early for him to think very hard about it. Besides, he was well conditioned to hop into action at the sight of the figure on the other side of the door.
"Morning, Tad!" said Stephen brightly, sweeping in with a heavy suitcase in tow. "The wife just kicked me out, so I'm going to crash here for a while."
If Tad usually felt like an awkward, gangly dork in the presence of his boss, it was even worse when he was wearing nothing but a ratty T-shirt, plaid boxers, and a pair of fuzzy bunny slippers. Stephen was in his usual pressed suit and designer tie. Tad wondered if the man even owned a T-shirt.
"I really believe," he said nervously, "that it would not be advisable for you to..."
"Tad," said Stephen evenly, "the third part of your Colbert County report is airing tomorrow. You tell me: did it end well?"
It hadn't. The vast Colbert Museum project had been run out of business by a vaster, flashier, and better staffed Joe Scarborough museum, leaving Tad with nothing but a pile of unused brochures and the stolen pump which now sat in the corner of his living room.
He didn't have to say this; they both knew it. "Therefore," continued Stephen, "you owe me one. Don't worry; it'll only be for a few days, until she takes me back. We can even drive in to work together. If you pay for gas, I'll let you make breakfast."
"This is not a very good time for me, Stephen," tried Tad again. It was true, too, or he would have rolled over the instant the man arrived. "You see, I have someone over...."
"Tad, you dog!" exclaimed the boss, clapping his manager on the back in an overly enthusiastic manner. "Congratulations! No need to worry on my account, though — I'll crash on your couch and be extra quiet. She won't even notice."
While Tad was still working out another way to explain that this still wouldn't work, Stephen left his shoes in the front closet, stripped down to boxers and an undershirt, and curled up under a flag-patterned blanket on Tad's old couch.
And really, if he could be honest with himself, Tad didn't have the heart to kick his boss out.
(Besides, lying on that couch with eyes closed and lips parted, his hair disheveled so that a few locks drifted onto his forehead, his skin slightly pale in the moonlight, the man looked almost harmless.)
So Tad waited until Stephen's breathing had been even for a few minutes, and then he slipped back into his own room and gave the lump in his bed a light shake.
"Mmph," came a voice from under the covers.
"I'm really, really, really, really sorry, but you need to go home."
Bobby sat bolt upright. "Stephen's what!?"
Chapter 4: The Hopes And Fears Of All The Years
How the hell the press had gotten ahold of his number, Jon had no idea; but he was getting call after call from people whose names he distinctly remembered intoning sarcastically into a camera.
He killed the latest of these with a growl of the frustration. Didn't they have anything better to cover? What about the Scooter Libby pardon, or Dick Cheney's secret classifications, or the attacks in the UK? At this point Jon would have welcomed another Paris Hilton DUI with open arms if it meant the networks would bother someone else for a while.
Not that he thought Stephen's story wasn't important. It was. It made sense that he was in all the papers, that the implications were debated back and forth on television, that Scientific American had done a cover story on him last March (though Stephen had insisted on referring to it as "Unscientific Unamerican" when he brought this up on the Report).
It was just that Jon didn't know anything, and it would do nobody any good to talk to a reporter if he didn't have anything to say. So he had no intention of answering them, not even if Ted Koppel himself tried to ring him up.
The first few chords of "It's Raining Men" rang out again, and Jon looked at the caller. If there's any irony in the world, he thought, it'll be Ted Koppel.
No such luck.
The name below the number was Lorraine McGee.
♦ ⋅ ◊ ⋅ ♦ ⋅ ◊ ⋅ ♦
December 20, 2006
If Stephen had any doubts that his eviction would be temporary, he didn't show them. By all accounts he was, if anything, more cheerful than usual over the first few weeks of December.
Jon himself only found out about the separation through an inadvertent comment during a toss, after which his friend assured him that Lorraine was still coming to their counseling sessions. "This isn't the first time she's done something drastic," he said breezily. "I think it's a female thing. She'll come around soon."
As the last shows of the year drew closer, all attention turned towards getting it over with. They were holding out until Wednesday for Stephen's big showdown with the Decemberists, and the only thing keeping some of the staff going was the thought of the party waiting after it.
A few of the Daily Show writers took off before the broadcast had even started. Others left at the end, heading for the planes, trains, buses, cars, and subways that would take them to wherever they were spending their Christmas vacations. But the rest headed straight for the old studio, arriving during the Report's last commercial break.
The stage had been temporarily converted to accommodate all the musical star power that Stephen had gathered for the occasion. On the right was legendary rocker Peter Frampton; on his left, Apples in Stereo guitarist Robert Schneider; and to the far left, Chris Funk, representing the Decemberists.
Front and center, sleeves torn off and grin so wide that it threatened to split his face, stood the host himself.
The audience started applauding even before their cue; Stephen paused for a moment to soak it in before speaking, smiling around the crowd, at the guests, at the stagehands, at the Daily Show staff waiting in the wings with Jon in the forefront. Then he spoke.
"Well, you know there's only one way to end a show like this, or a year like this — with an all-star guitar jam. Here to lead us in the Colbert Report theme is the man who wrote it, from Cheap Trick: Rick Nielsen. And there's going to be one more person helping us; we're going to play off of his beat."
The cheering quieted as the audience tried to catch the new sound: something low and steady and hard to place but undoubtedly familiar. A few people caught on, and let out whoops of delight. The rest were mystified.
"Can you guys work off of that?" asked Stephen, looking at the talent assembled around him. All nodded, puzzled but obliging, and the host turned back to the audience — somehow grinning even more broadly than before.
"That," he announced, "is my baby's heartbeat."
The cheer that resulted was so thunderous that it threatened to drown out the opening chords of the song. But even as Jon worried about this, he realized that the loudest voice he could hear was his own.
♦ ⋅ ◊ ⋅ ♦ ⋅ ◊ ⋅ ♦
Once the audience was gone, the crews of both shows and their illustrious guests piled haphazardly into the first cars they reached, making a sloppy convoy towards the local bar that they had reserved for the night. In the crush of people, Jon was swept one way and Stephen another.
Jon did see the black woman with the leather briefcase; he saw her approach Stephen; on some level he registered that she wasn't anyone he knew. But the crowd pulled him forward, and a moment later they were out of sight, and Jon forgot all about it until an hour later.
♦ ⋅ ◊ ⋅ ♦ ⋅ ◊ ⋅ ♦
December 21, 2006
The party ran very late.
Jon kept busy for a while having his back slapped and his hand shaken. He could have sworn someone felt him up at one point, but when he turned around there were half a dozen people within reach and none of them looked overly shifty, so he let it go.
He was on his way back to the bar for another pint when he realized that Stephen was sitting at the end, and looking less than triumphant. That couldn't be right. Stephen belonged in the center of one of the clusters of people, soaking up well-deserved praise for a night, if not a whole year, well handled.
Jon wished he were drunk enough not to care, then felt immediately guilty. No, it was a good thing he was sober, because Stephen looked positively morose.
When he got closer, he realized that sitting on a thick envelope on the bar in front of his friend was a half-empty glass.
"Stephen, you can't drink," said Jon as he took the stool next to his friend. "We've been over this."
"It's okay," replied Stephen without looking up. "It's a Bloody Mary. Those are the non-alcoholic ones, aren't they?"
"No!" Jon snatched the glass away. "How many have you had?"
"Just the one. And a couple of Shirley Temples before that. Are those alcoholic?"
Jon breathed a sigh of relief. "They're fine," he said, praying nobody had switched the cups or spiked the drinks or done anything stupid like that. Best to make sure. "How many fingers am I holding up?"
The pundit raised his head far enough to see the hand, if not to meet Jon's eyes. "Three," he said quietly.
"Right. You're okay."
"Do I look okay?" hissed Stephen suddenly, glaring at him.
All at once Jon realized that no, he really didn't. If anything, he looked like he could use a stiff drink.
"All right, you're not okay. Stephen, what's wrong?"
The pundit turned his glare on the bar without replying, but he shoved the envelope roughly towards Jon, who opened it and slid out the topmost piece of paper.
"That woman who was talking to you on the way out," he said at last. "Who was she?"
"Joanne Jefferson. Lorraine's lawyer."
"And she gave you these."
Jon put a hand on the other man's shoulder — very carefully, because anything too touchy-feely would set off his internal homometer, and then he would close up entirely. "I'm so sorry...."
"I can't get divorced, Jon!" murmured Stephen, his carefully restrained voice slipping up half an octave. "I'm Catholic. We're not allowed!"
♦ ⋅ ◊ ⋅ ♦ ⋅ ◊ ⋅ ♦
Bobby was thoroughly enjoying himself.
He was getting genuine praise from all corners, especially from his former supervisor, the Daily Show's stage manager. He was also absolutely plastered. And best of all, Tad was plastered too, with the delicious side effect that he had relaxed enough to stand next to Bobby, in the presence of people, close enough that their shoulders were almost touching.
This was the most contact they'd ever had in a public place, unless you counted the broom closet at the studio, which Bobby didn't.
But part of being a good stage manager at the Report was having a good sense of what Stephen needed. Sure, sometimes Bobby slipped up, like the time he'd missed that Stephen wanted a balloon drop involving helium balloons. But despite this sort of mistake, it was generally agreed that he had a finely tuned sense of Stephen's needs.
It was, he had explained to Tad one night, a little like Lassie. One of his nerves would start barking at him, and for some reason his brain understood it to mean "What's that, girl? You say Timmy fell down the old well?" (Or, more likely, "You say Stephen wants the mugs in the break room organized by handle width?")
Later, he would add this to the metaphor: Being hammered could muffle the sound for a bit, but it would eventually get through. He just wouldn't have the mental acuity to interpret the barking, leaving him with no information beyond a vague sense of "Stephen needs something."
At the moment, he was not nearly articulate enough to express all of this.
"I'm being barked at," he announced. "Excuse me."
And with that, he made for the bar.
(His companions at the time were baffled by this remark, but as they too were quite inebriated, they figured it was a joke, and didn't notice that it wasn't very funny.)
The boss was alone with Stewart at the end of the bar. After studying their body language, Bobby shrewdly decided to make his interruption a short one.
"'Scuse me," he said.
Stephen continued to stare into his drink (which looked sort of like iced tea) as if he hadn't heard; Stewart looked up. "Hey, Bobby. What is it?"
"I," explained Bobby, because it seemed important to establish this, "am very, very drunk."
Okay. He'd got that out of the way. What else had he come over for, again?
Oh yeah. "But," he continued, "if there is anything I can do for you, I am all over. It. All over it. The thing."
Stewart nodded. "All right. Do you know Tad's address?"
A different nerve of Bobby's started barking.
"Mmmmaybe," he said, though he could have rattled off the address in his sleep. "Why?"
"I'm going to check Stephen into a hotel," explained Stewart, "and then swing by Tad's place tomorrow and pick up his things. If you don't know, it's okay. I'll track him down later."
So there wasn't even a hint of suspicion. For some reason, this left Bobby faintly disappointed. "No, no, I got it," he said, and rattled off the address without slurring a single sibilant. Come on, he thought defiantly, ask me how I know that.
No such luck. Stewart just considered the address, said "Okay, I know where that is," and added a very final-sounding "Thank you for the help."
Bobby wandered off, and eventually found his way back to the group he had left.
"What was it?" asked a Daily Show stagehand.
Bobby tried to marshal his understanding of the previous conversation. "Stephen and Mr. Stewart are going to a hotel together," he said at last.
"'Bout time," said one of the writers.
"Anybody want another round?" suggested Rick Nielsen, and this was met with a general chorus of huzzahs, and none of them remembered a bit of it the next morning.
Chapter 5: Do You Hear What I Hear?
December 25, 2006
There was nothing on TV but stop-action Christmas specials. Oh, the suite was the best, on the top floor of a very ritzy hotel — maybe it was the Ritz; he hadn't paid that much attention — so it wasn't like he couldn't have browsed the Pay-Per-View offerings. He just didn't want to.
He had carefully explained to every person he knew that he had been invited to lots of parties by other people he knew. Had to keep up appearances, after all. Couldn't go letting people think that he, Stephen Colbert, pundit extraordinaire, would let such trivial things as an impending divorce, four kids who were scared of him, a fifth who was screwing with hormones he didn't know he had, or being alone on Christmas, get him down!
Which they would think if he burst into tears, which he had done twice already today, in the middle of a party. It was all hormones, of course, but that some people wouldn't understand that. Better to play it safe and stay in.
On the television, Rudolph's parents had just noticed their new son's nose. "Now how can you overlook that? His beak blinks like a blinkin' beacon!" cried his father.
Stephen gently prodded his bare stomach. "You aren't going to have a red nose, are you?"
He'd made an appointment with his personal tailor to have some new suits fitted; by the time the show came back, he was going to need them. In the meantime, he had resorted to his favorite flag boxers and a loose matching robe, which was the most comfortable thing he'd worn in weeks.
"This is an important life lesson," he announced, as Donner hid the glowing nose. "Conformity is good. Can you hear that?"
When would the baby be able to hear things? He didn't have the faintest idea.
Stephen glanced through the door into the next room, where his things were piled high. Lorraine had filled two more bags, which Jon had picked up because Stephen was temporarily (only temporarily!) banned from getting within a hundred feet of her. It would all be worked out, he was sure, so he hadn't bothered to unpack anything. But he knew the growing pile of pregnancy information (Dr. Moreau seemed to give him more at every checkup) was on top.
He hadn't looked at all of it, or even most of it. Reading, after all, was something liberals did. On the other hand, there was bound to be something in the pile about when babies developed ears.
Curiosity won out. He got up, retrieved the armful of folders and pamphlets, and dumped them out on the floor in front of the TV.
"Jingle, jingle, jingle; you will hear my sleigh bells ring!" sang Santa on the screen.
"But maybe he won't!" snapped Stephen irritably. "That's the whole question!"
♦ ⋅ ◊ ⋅ ♦ ⋅ ◊ ⋅ ♦
Half an hour and a lot of unintended learning later, Stephen had gathered that babies could definitely hear after six months, though he still wasn't sure when it started; Rudolph was sneaking away from his friends to keep his difference from putting them in danger; and someone was knocking on the door.
He got up, pulled his robe closed, checked the peephole, and then flung open the door. "Come in!" he exclaimed — a bit too enthusiastically. "You can't stay long," he added hastily. "I just got back from this great party, but I've got to be at the next one in a few minutes...."
Jon, bless him, fell for it without a moment of doubt.
"You could be fashionably late," he suggested as he shrugged off his coat. "Or blow it off completely. Tell them you're too cool for them after all."
And here he was giving Stephen a perfectly plausible excuse to keep him around without admitting to lying about the parties! It was almost as if he'd planned it. "Great idea! I'll do it. Come in, throw your coat somewhere, sit down. Hey, what did you bring?"
It was warm in the room, so Jon pulled off his dark grey V-neck shirt and hung it with the jacket, leaving him in his usual khakis and grey T-shirt. The only difference was the dark red Santa hat on his head, which matched the bag that had been slung over his shoulder.
"Not much," he said with a wink as he kicked off his boots and padded in socks over to the chairs by the TV. "I wasn't sure they'd have enough to drink for you at the parties, so I grabbed one of these." He pulled out a bottle of sparkling grape juice and two plastic glasses, and with a flash of sleight-of-hand had them filled. If he hadn't known that Jon had been a bartender, Stephen would have suspected the man of being a magician.
"A toast," proposed Jon, raising his glass. "To you, my friend."
Stephen could think of nothing better to drink to. "To me," he agreed, and they clicked the glasses together.
♦ ⋅ ◊ ⋅ ♦ ⋅ ◊ ⋅ ♦
When they'd emptied the bottle, Stephen went off to the phone and ordered a round of drinks from the hotel, and some food to go with it. He returned to find Santa's elves on the TV decorating a tree, and Jon producing decorations of his own: a package of tinsel, branches of fake greenery, a foot-tall tree decorated with ribbons and pea-sized silver stars and miniature eagles.
"Jon, this is awesome!" exclaimed Stephen, picking up the tree and spinning it around. "You have really good taste in Christmas decorations for a Jew."
"Er, thanks." (Geez, sometimes the man did not know how to take a compliment.)
"And it's good that they're cheap, too, because I'm not going to be here much longer. So we can just put them up and leave them when I go."
"They weren't that cheap," sulked Jon.
Stephen frowned. "But you're Jewish."
"Forget it," said Jon, and Stephen was happy to oblige.
Between Jon's height and Stephen's newfound reluctance (gleaned from his recent spurt of incidental learning) to stand on chairs, their decorating was skewed to the lower parts of the rooms. Still, Stephen declared himself quite pleased with the result by the time the food had arrived. Rudolph's story had long since finished, and that of the Grinch was wrapping up; they dragged an end table over to the television, to place the tray on it while they watched.
"Oh, one more thing!" said Jon suddenly. "I thought, if you were sick of seeing all the same specials, we could watch this." From the very bottom of the bag he pulled a DVD, home-burned if the cheap case and low-resolution cover were any indication.
Stephen read the cover, then stared at his friend, aghast. "You bought that?" he choked.
Jon looked worried, though he clearly did not appreciate the magnitude of his error. "I thought...I know you like Star Wars, and this had 'Star Wars' and 'holiday special' on it...."
"It is a travesty, Jon. We do not speak of it. George Lucas is a great guy, friend of the show, but if there is a special Hell reserved for him solely on the basis of that special, I will understand. Now put it away, before my son is exposed for too long."
"All right, all right," said Jon, obeying. "We'll just watch Frosty the Snowman, then, I guess."
He sat down, picked up a stuffed avocado from one of the plates, bit down, and nearly choked.
"Is this mustard?"
"Darn right it is!" Stephen took the next chair and picked up a strip of chicken. Yum.
"Did you get mustard on everything?"
"Have you ever had mustard on everything, Jon? It's great! I don't know why I never thought of it before!"
"Stephen," said Jon slowly, "when did you first notice this newfound love of mustard?"
Stephen thought about it. He remembered swiping some of the kids' Halloween candy to see how it tasted with mustard, so it had been some time in November; but early November, because he had still been close enough to his kids to swipe things from them. "Six or eight weeks ago, I guess."
"That explains it. It's a pregnancy craving."
"I thought those were for pickles and ice cream."
"That's the cliché, yeah, but every pregnancy is different. With Maggie, there was a while when Tracey couldn't get enough bananas. What was Lorraine like with your kids?"
Stephen realized he didn't remember, and this irritated him. "How should I know?" he demanded. "I wasn't the one who did the shopping."
Jon gave him an odd look. Stephen wasn't sure what it meant, but it made him feel very uncomfortable without understanding why. It wasn't as if he had done anything wrong.
"The movie's starting," he said by way of ending the discussion, even though it had been playing for a good five minutes. "Shh."
♦ ⋅ ◊ ⋅ ♦ ⋅ ◊ ⋅ ♦
As Jon paused in the doorway to put on his coat, Stephen came up behind his friend, spun him around, and kissed him soundly. He hadn't meant to go very far with it, but the other man's mouth tasted like mustard, so he ran his tongue thoroughly around before pulling away.
"Mistletoe," he explained, pointing to the bit of fake greenery taped above the frame.
"That's holly, Stephen."
"Is it? Are you sure?"
"I'm sure. It's the only thing I bought."
"Oh." Stephen shrugged. "Well, I thought it was mistletoe. So that wasn't a gay kiss or anything. It was a perfectly natural, wholesome, traditional mistletoe kiss."
"I understand," replied Jon, smiling in a way that showed he was okay with it. "Good night, Stephen. And Merry Christmas."
"Merry Christmas, Jon."
Once the door was closed between them, Stephen smirked. Dear gullible Jon.
It hadn't been a gay kiss; that much was true. Because Stephen Colbert was definitely, emphatically, completely, undoubtedly, no bones about it, not gay.
But he knew perfectly well what mistletoe looked like.
Chapter 6: The Sins Of The Papa
January 8, 2007
"In the interest of full disclosure, gay.com actually gave me an award this year, probably due to a clerical error — which is strange, because those people are usually so neat."
It was the first Monday of the year. The Colboard was back online, No Fact Zone was back in action, and Stephen was back at his desk, nine pounds heavier but with a suit so carefully tailored that nobody could (yet) tell the difference.
In the Colbert Nation, life was good.
"And, speaking of the gays," added that Nation's glorious leader, the camera and the audience following him eagerly as he turned, "they're in the news again — four of them, to be specific. Two men and two women. I don't need to tell you their names, because they've been mentioned on CNN, ABC, MSNBC, CNBC, Fox, in the New York Times, the New York Post, the USA Today, and, well, every other paper and station we could find. And believe me, I had my interns stay up all night googling them.
"But of course, Nation, you know that a story has not received full coverage until it has made it to the Report — which is why it's the subject of tonight's Wørd."
In the studio and across the country, a cheer rose from every throat that had felt the loss of the segment for two long weeks.
"What Goes Around Comes Around!" shouted Stephen over the cheers.
"You all remember, of course," he continued, "that I first came up with the idea of getting pregnant when I thought about my position on stem cell research. Like the President, I opposed the use of embryos created for in vitro fertilization, or IVF.
"Now, when the first IVF pregnancy was performed thirty years ago, a lot of people were concerned that it would lead to things like cloning and 'designer babies'."
Can I Get One In Plaid? asked the bullet.
"None of it actually came to pass, but that doesn't mean those concerns were wrong; it just means we jumped the gun a little, because those are the concerns we have about stem cell research today. In another thirty years we'll probably be worrying that a different procedure will lead to clones."
Maybe Actual Cloning, mused the bullet.
"IVF is typically used today for couples who are having trouble conceiving. All it means is that a doctor gets sperm and eggs from the parents, has the eggs fertilized in a lab, and injects them into the mother after they've developed a little. Which is, I gotta say, a lot less hot than I was hoping when I heard that there were three people involved."
Ice Cream Threeways Are Hotter.
"Anyway, they do this with a whole lot of eggs, to increase the chance of one of them taking. That's why couples who conceive with IVF have a higher rate of multiple births, and why there are often extra eggs left over.
"Now, I don't have a problem with this. If God didn't want these people having lots of kids, he could have made them unable to conceive at all."
Or Told Believers To Protest IVF, snarked the bullet.
"My problem is when the gays get into it. If gay people want children, they should do it the old-fashioned way: repress themselves into loveless marriages.
"But the two women in this story, a lesbian couple, married in Massachusetts after being together for eight years — that's another reason why the gays shouldn't get married: it takes them far too long to make a commitment! — they decided they wanted kids. So one of them went to an old friend of hers, a dude, also gay-married — he and his 'husband' are the two guys in the story — and they worked out a deal where he'd provide the sperm, she'd get pregnant, and they'd split the kids."
If Single Birth, Each Get Half.
"What makes me care about this story — besides the fact that this dude is clearly cutting into sales of my own processed sperm product, Formula 401 — is that, even though their records are supposed to be anonymous, some enterprising young reporter hacked into the clinic database and found that one of the leftover embryos prepared for this pregnancy is the one that I'm carrying right now."
Is There A Pulitzer For Stalking?
"Ever since the story broke, these two couples have had news vans camped out on their street, people taking photos of their kids, all kinds of publicity. They must love it, finally getting to be in the spotlight."
It's Totally Harmless, Charlene!
"Like I said, you can tune in to any other network to see that; they'll probably give it full coverage, at least until the next time Paris Hilton sneezes. Still, Nation, this is great news, and not just because it's kept the press from covering the fact that my divorce just went through.
"The embryos that grew into the kids these couples are raising are lost, cursed to the terrible fate of having four caring and responsible gay parental figures. But this one—" and here he pointed to his stomach— "is safely out of their deviant clutches."
Stephen Thinks A Lot About Their Deviant Clutches.
"Maybe my boy does have some kind of predisposition to being gay, but don't worry; I will watch him like an eagle, and if he shows the slightest symptoms I will put him back on the straight and narrow immediately.
"They start early, but I'll be prepared. Like, say, if he's six years old and I catch him playing a little too closely with some of his friends, I will sit him right down and I will tell him that it is unnatural and a sin to do things like that with other boys. And I will say that he had better chase the girls around on the playground like a proper boy, and then grow up and get a girlfriend the way God wants him to—" there was something wrong with Stephen's voice; it had started to go wobbly— "or else, he will be unnatural, and a disappointment to his family, and his papa will be very ashamed of him."
Stephen was no longer looking at the camera.
What Goes Around Comes Around.
"...that's the Wørd," he said, very quietly. "We'll be right back."
♦ ⋅ ◊ ⋅ ♦ ⋅ ◊ ⋅ ♦
January 19, 2007
The restaurant was a nice one: chandeliers, waiters in tuxes, a jazz band playing a little light music in the corner. It was small, but the food was good. And, most importantly, it was open until well after midnight, which made it available for a light meal after Colbert's show let out.
The young pundit was sitting across from Bill, studying the menu intently. Even now, Bill wasn't sure how to read him. When he'd made his debut, Bill had figured him a pale imitator due to fade out in a few months. Then the show had picked up steam, and he'd started watching it more closely and wondering if it were some kind of parody; but no, ludicrous as he could be, Colbert seemed in earnest. Next, Bill had started to take him for a rampant egomaniac — only to realize how much the man appeared to fawn over him.
The fawning had kept up throughout his appearance on the Report. Bill still couldn't shake the feeling that he was being mocked on some level. After all, if this were serious, it was almost embarrassing.
Either way, Colbert couldn't possibly keep it up forever.
"See anything you like?" asked Bill nonchalantly.
"I don't know, sir. Whatever you think is good. Well, there are some things I can't eat, because of the pregnancy. But other than that."
"I guess that means I can't get you drunk, then," quipped Bill.
"No, sorry. But if you want to have a little something yourself, it's okay. And I can act like I've been drinking, if you like."
Was this kid for real? "No, no, don't do that," said Bill, waving the suggestion away as casually as if people offered to act drunk for him every day. "The falafels here are pretty good. Why don't you try those?"
"All right. I will."
He hadn't batted an eye. So maybe he hadn't heard about the harassment suit; maybe the "Jon Stewart is a sexual predator" crack hadn't been a backhanded swing.
Not that Bill was ready to take it at face value, either. He had seen Colbert and Stewart together too often. It would have been easier to believe they were going at it like rabbits than to believe they didn't talk.
And that was an image Bill could have done without.
He was no fan of Stewart's, which Colbert knew full well. So was Colbert just badmouthing Stewart in order to please Bill? If he was that ready to turn on his friend, how strong could his professed devotion to his idol be?
They made small talk over bread while waiting for their entrées to arrive. Bill asked offhandedly about the other man's work, his marriage, his politics, his history; Colbert somehow managed to seem open and willing to satisfy any curiosity, without actually revealing anything.
Either he was devilishly clever, or there was nothing unusual going on and Bill was just being paranoid.
When Colbert was halfway through his falafels (which he pronounced scrumptious, even though, to Bill's utter bewilderment, he had slathered them in mustard), he was no less an enigma than he had been at the beginning of the evening.
Time to raise the stakes a little. Bill had gone back and forth over whether to play this card at all; now he was frustrated enough that he wished he had just done it on the Report. See how the little brat liked a taste of his own medicine.
"You know," he said, "I was pretty surprised when you pulled out that photoshopped picture of me..."
"Did you mind?" asked Colbert quickly. "We didn't have an actual picture of you in leather, of course, but we tried to get a model buff enough to pass for you."
"Oh, that's fine," said Bill, waving it aside. "I only bring it up because it's sort of ironic. You see, when we got this little joint visit arranged, I had my people do some research on you. You're a fascinating person, Mr. Colbert."
The man fairly beamed. If his on-air attitude was that of an attack dog, this one was a happy puppy.
"One of the things we turned up, and I don't think most people know about this, is that you used to work under another name. Caesar Honeybee. Does that sound familiar?"
At least Colbert had the sense to look nervous.
"That's right, sir. And may I say, I'm very impressed that you found out about it. I had a...second career, to supplement my income in my younger days. I used the pseudonym so that it wouldn't get back to my first employers."
"I thought so," replied Bill, nodding. "But that wasn't the only side job you had, was it? Caesar Honeybee had an alias of his own: Tyrone Hunnibi, another name for Stephen Tyrone Colbert."
Colbert had gone very pale, but he didn't back down. "You certainly did your research, sir. Well done. Again, I was young, I needed the money, and, well, I didn't want the gay porn to jeopardize the straight porn."
"Is that so? Well, in any case, we dug a little bit deeper, and then we turned up these."
He reached into his inside suit pocket and pulled out a couple of photos, which he slid face-down across the table. Colbert gingerly turned them over.
The one on top showed a figure clad only in a beaded thong, in a provocative pose: back to the camera, hand on hip, a profile with dark lashes and red lips framed by a cascade of dark hair.
"Ravin Apis," said Bill. "Apis being the scientific name for the honeybee genus." He lowered his voice. "You make a good woman, Colbert."
"Thank you, sir. Coming from you, that means a lot."
His voice was quiet but sounded pretty damned sincere.
This man, usually so allergic to anything that felt like humiliation, was taking it on a spoon and thanking Bill for it. Another canine metaphor came to mind: the dog too loyal to quit following you around, no matter how many rocks you throw at it.
There was only one rock left in his arsenal. Bill leaned forward.
"If all you're going to do tonight is pay me lip service," he hissed, "you might as well just take me back to your room and blow me."
Colbert's eyes went very wide.
"Sir," he whispered shakily, "it would be an honor."
...oh, hell, that had backfired.
Well, there was no way he was going to back down if Colbert wouldn't. Besides, this might not be so bad. The pundit had been a pretty hot woman, and the pregnancy was rounding out his shape in not unappealing ways.
If all else failed, Bill could always lie back and think of Raven.
Chapter 7: Calls of the Worried
The polite young voice at the other end of the line was most definitely not Lorraine. But it was anxious, and Jon's paternal instincts hit his own anxiety on the back of the head with a blunt object, dumped it in a secluded corner of his brain, and took control.
"That's me. Is this Mary or Sally, hon?"
"Mary. And John Paul's here, and Sally's watching the door. Mommy made us turn off the TV. Is Papa okay?"
Kid, I haven't the faintest idea. "Honestly, I don't know for sure. But listen, there are a lot of very smart doctors taking care of him, and they're working very hard to make sure he gets through this. He's in the best and safest place he could possibly be."
"But you don't know?" pressed a very small voice. That would be John Paul. Trust the littlest one to zoom in on the facts.
No wonder Stephen was so bad with children.
And yet they loved him and worried about him anyway. Well, Jon was in no position to fault them for that.
"That's right," he said. "But here's the thing: the reporters on the news don't know any more than I do. They're just going to be playing the same clips over and over, along with wild speculation and rumors and scare tactics. They're trying to make people afraid so that the people will keep watching. It's good that you're not watching the news, because it wouldn't tell you anything, and would try to scare you when there's nothing to be scared about."
He glanced at the clock on the wall. It was a quarter to midnight.
"Try to get some sleep, okay? In the morning you can go online and find out just as much as everybody else knows."
"But we can't!" protested Mary. "Mommy and Tina took us on a cruise, and we don't have a computer."
On top of everything else, this was ruining their vacation? When Jon thought about it, though, it made sense. Lorraine had probably hustled her partner and the kids onto a boat for the week in order to get them away from press attention. With the possible exception of her decision to marry Stephen in the first place, the woman had good judgment.
And she was obviously not sanctioning this call, if one of the kids was standing watch at the door. As a fellow parent, Jon knew he should side with her.
"Okay, tell you what," he said. "Stay on the line. If anything happens, I'll tell you right away. I'm right in the waiting room at the hospital, so I'll be the first to know. Sound like a plan?"
As a fellow person who cared about Stephen, Jon was siding with the kids.
There was some quick conferring on the other hand, and then John Paul's voice piped, "Thank you, Mr. Stewart!"
"No problem. Now, tell me, how's the cruise going?"
From the way both kids talked at once, it was clear that they'd been having a fun-filled trip in spite of everything. Jon started grinning in spite of himself. Not only was he relieved for their sakes, he was glad to have something else to think about as he watched the doors, hoping for a sign of one of the doctors.
♦ ⋅ ◊ ⋅ ♦ ⋅ ◊ ⋅ ♦
February 7, 2007
Jon met Dr. Moreau during the first genuine scare of the pregnancy.
He was feeling particularly good about Stephen at the time, too. A few weeks earlier, the pundit had opened his show with "Hey, America, I was thinking if you're not busy for the next half hour, maybe you'd like to, you know, watch the show? It's not a date or anything; we're just hanging out." Which wasn't quite "I've come to terms with the fact that I'm single now," but it was a start.
Of course, the intro from last night had been "Now's your chance to fall in love with Stephen Colbert all over again!" So maybe he wasn't ready to steer out of that old river in Egypt just yet.
They had gotten together for lunch: pizza with cheese for Jon, pizza with sausage and pepperoni and ham and bacon for Stephen. (He had gotten over the need to have mustard on everything; in its place was an apparently indiscriminate desire for meat.)
"The networks are out-punning us," complained Jon as Stephen washed down that day's pills with a glass of milk. Replacing his usual three double venti lattes with genuine latte at lunch had been one of his few concessions to the health demands of the pregnancy. "Every bit of dumb wordplay we think of, someone else beats us to it. Of course, 'Astro-Nut' was kind of obvious."
"What chaps my thighs is that they're all getting on her case for wearing a diaper," grumbled Stephen. He tore off a meat-laden chunk of cheesy, saucy dough with his teeth, and continued: "Issa puhfully p'fssianah fin' t' do, 'On."
"Careful — you're getting tomato sauce on your sweater. Say that again?"
The other man swallowed, and dabbed the sweater (it was white, naturally) with a napkin as he repeated: "It's a perfectly professional thing to do, Jon."
"'Professional'? My one-year-old wears diapers, and she's not even talking yet."
Stephen looked down at his stomach. It had reached the point where it was impossible to hide in a suit, but at the moment he was wearing two or three shirts under the bulky sweater, concealing the lump via the principle of "a forest is the best place to hide a tree." "Hang on, he's going to need diapers. And probably a bunch of other stuff too."
Jon raised his eyebrows. "You might want to look into that."
"Ah, I'll do it later. I've got plenty of time — aw, not again!" This time it was a sausage that had jumped ship, leaving a trail of grease down the front of the poor sweater.
Jon dampened a napkin in the condensation on the side of his glass and passed it to his friend. "You also might want to wear something darker with a meal like this."
"Can't. It's the only sweater I have left, and it's cold in here."
Jon frowned. It felt pleasantly cool in the room as far as he was concerned. Not that he was unused to Stephen griping about things he didn't mind, but this complaint seemed odd, in a way he couldn't place.
"I'll call the hotel laundry service tonight," Stephen continued. "But right now I'm stuck with this. Oh, I know! We could go eat on the set. The stage lights are nice and hot, and last week I had Bobby replaced with a 5,000-watt heat lamp."
On the other hand, when it came to oddness, Stephen kept setting the bar higher.
"Uh," said Jon hesitantly. "Why?"
"The old Bobby wasn't wasting enough energy. Gotta offset Al Gore as much as I can," replied the pundit briskly. "And besides, the set was cold too."
And then all of a sudden Jon remembered. Tracey had had moments, in both pregnancies, when she'd complained about the temperature — but she had always said things were too warm. Those last few months before Nate's birth, at nearly the height of summer, she had spent every free moment in front of a fan.
Now that Jon looked more closely, there were other differences too. Tracey, like Sam, like Lorraine, like every other female friend he'd ever seen pregnant, had gotten a kind of glow to her. A year ago he had even known the medical reason for it; now he just remembered how striking it had been.
Maybe it was just the contrast with the dark red sauce all over his mouth, but Stephen looked pale.
"Sure," said Jon, lifting the half-empty pizza box in one hand and his glass in the other. "Let's finish this on the set."
♦ ⋅ ◊ ⋅ ♦ ⋅ ◊ ⋅ ♦
They ended up in the interview chairs, but this didn't help. In fact, the pundit's pallor was even more pronounced against the dark reds and browns of the background. The makeup people must have been doing a tremendous job if Jon hadn't noticed this on the screen.
Or was he just unobservant? For that matter, had Stephen been a little slow in following him out, breathing a little too hard at the end of their walk? Were you supposed to be this tired in, what, the fourth month?
If it were serious, Jon told himself, Stephen would have complained about it already.
On the other hand, if all this had come on gradually, he wouldn't be surprised if — like the proverbial frog brought to a slow boil — Stephen simply hadn't noticed.
This was not going to let Jon go until he had gotten some reassurance. And just when I finally got him to stop calling me in a panic every time he sneezed. Well, maybe I can do this without him noticing. He stood up. "I'm going to use the, uh, the john. Back in a minute."
Stephen rose as well. "Sure. Want me to show you where it is?"
"Stephen, this used to be my studio."
"But we could have moved it around since you left. I mean, since it is my studio now, and I can do whatever I want with it."
"Did you move it?"
"As far as you know."
"Not this time."
Jon sighed. "Just hang tight, Stephen. I'll be right back."
♦ ⋅ ◊ ⋅ ♦ ⋅ ◊ ⋅ ♦
Once in the bathroom, Jon pulled his cell phone from his pocket and called Dr. Moreau.
Stephen had insisted that he memorize the doctor's personal number "in case I get mugged and slip into a coma and at the same time your phone gets smashed by a car or all the data gets erased by a giant electromagnet. It could happen, Jon!" As his phone was neither smashed nor erased, he simply found her number in his address book.
Apparently the line was more personal than he had realized: the voice greeted him with "What's up, Stephen?"
"Er. It's not Stephen, actually. It's Jon Stewart. Is this Dr. Moreau?"
"Yes. What's wrong?"
Jon laughed nervously. "Boy, you don't beat around the bush, do you? What if I'm just calling to chat?"
"It can't be very urgent if you have the time to crack jokes, but I told Stephen to give this number to only people he would trust with his life, and I would hate to think you're abusing that trust by using it for frivolous calls. Now, what's wrong?"
Okay, clearly small talk was a bad idea. "It might be nothing, but..."
When he finished outlining the symptoms he had seen, the doctor asked, "Do you know if he's eating enough meat?"
"It's funny you should ask that," replied Jon, though it wasn't funny at all, "because the way he's wolfing it down, there's no way he's not getting enough."
After a moment of concentration, the voice on the other end of the line said, "This may not require immediate action, but I don't want to take any chances. An ambulance will be over in a few minutes. Stick with him, and try to keep him calm. It won't help anything if he panics."
Chapter 8: Fortune Favors The Ballsy
February 7, 2007
There were two TVs in the general waiting room, one tuned to the hospital's internal channel (displaying helpful advice about eating fresh vegetables between ads for the NanoDocs program), the other to CNN. Jon watched both.
Trying to do something useful in the meantime, he thought of another punny headline for the astronaut story. It promptly appeared on CNN Newsroom.
The coverage was getting under his skin. The cheap jokes at the expense of an accomplished woman who had tragically gone round the bend, the hyping of what was essentially a local story....Maybe the Daily Show's over-the-shoulder title could be something like that. At least there was no chance someone else would snap it up.
Besides, he couldn't focus on being funny right now. His mind was stuck on a roller coaster, careening from "Moreau called an ambulance" to "Moreau said it's probably not urgent" and back, clanking slowly up to the height of "Moreau told Stephen to give that number only to someone he would trust with his life, and he gave it to me, which means—" and then taking the death-defying plunge into "Stephen's pregnant and in the emergency room!"
The latest pair of talking heads were rehashing the implications of the astronaut's diaper, and the man next to Jon had somehow gotten the idea that he ought to give a long-winded explanation of the rash on his arm, when a nurse came in. "Mr. ...Stewart?" he asked, reading the name from a small notepad.
Jon stood up.
"Oh, hey, you're Jon Stewart!" explained the nurse as Jon followed him out. "I love your show. My girlfriend got me one of those Stewart/Obama '08 shirts last Christmas."
"Why am I on the top of the ticket?" quipped Jon. "I'm about the only person who has less Washington experience than he does."
"Couldn't do much worse than the current guy," the nurse replied. "Of course, Mom's a fan of Colbert/Paul, and maybe they could. Anyway, here's your room."
Stephen was sitting up in the bed, dressed in a hospital gown but looking normal except for the IV hooked to his arm (and, of course, the blatantly pregnant stomach). He was talking to a tall woman a little older than himself, with a brown bob and earrings shaped like apples, but grinned and waved when Jon came in.
The doctor looked up, then rose to greet him. "Nice to finally meet you, Mr. Stewart. I'm Phoebe Moreau. Stephen talks about you all the time."
"Do not," protested Stephen from the bed.
"Call me Jon." He reached over the bed to shake Moreau's hand, then took a seat across from her. "So you're the one behind all of this. Is he okay? Is the baby okay? What happened?"
"They're both fine. But it's fortunate that you called sooner rather than later."
"You see, Jon," cut in Stephen, clearly not thrilled to be out of the center of attention, "a pregnant woman experiences a massive increase in blood volume — about fifty percent. However, despite the administration of hormones which were meant to have an equivalent effect, my body never received, or never correctly interpreted, the signal to increase blood production. That's why I was experiencing symptoms similar to anemia, as well as the abnormal cold: increasing blood demand from the fetus. I mean the baby."
Moreau was nodding in approval. Her expression hadn't changed, but a twinkle in her eyes made Jon suspect that she found Stephen's sudden expertise as amusing as he did. Which was good, because it was probably her words that Stephen was repeating verbatim.
"Anyway, it's sweet that you were worried, but all they had to do to fix it was give me a transfusion of packed red cells. You didn't have to panic."
"I panicked?" echoed Jon incredulously.
"He did," the pundit informed Moreau. "You should have seen it. He's so cute when he worries."
Jon, who could feel a bruise on his forearm developing where Stephen had held it in a vise-like grip for the whole trip, who had scratches from where Stephen's nails had dug into his skin every time the ambulance slowed for traffic, who had spent most of the ride reassuring Stephen that he was not on death's door, looked helplessly at Moreau.
He couldn't be sure, but he thought she winked at him.
"One transfusion won't solve everything, though," she continued, addressing her patient. "We'll have to get a lot more iron into your multivitamin, for one thing. I would rather not tinker with your hormone dosage at this point if possible, so we'll keep a much closer eye on the symptoms that tipped your friend off, and give you another transfusion if necessary."
Jon was relieved to note that, although Stephen went relatively pale at this announcement, his face was still more flushed than it had been in a long time.
"Another one?" he exclaimed. "How many times are you going to impale me, woman? I'm a human being, not a pincushion!"
"As many times as necessary," replied Moreau without batting an eye, "and as few as possible. To minimize them, make sure you get plenty to drink. The IV is keeping you especially hydrated right now, but you'll need to do that on your own when you leave."
Stephen looked at the bag of fluid suspended above him. "That's water?"
"A saline solution. Water-based."
"Not, say, Captain America-type super-soldier serum?"
"Any chance there was a mix-up in a back room somewhere?"
"Even if we allowed mix-ups, we don't stock super-soldier serum at Dwayne Medical Center."
Stephen cursed. "There goes another chance to be a superhero."
There wasn't much to say to that, so Moreau turned to Jon.
"Mr. Stewart," she said, "when are you going to invite me to be on your show?"
♦ ⋅ ◊ ⋅ ♦ ⋅ ◊ ⋅ ♦
February 13, 2007
When Jon had lunch with Stephen again the next week, the previously pallid pundit was positively perky. On the previous night's show he had gotten into a long and energetic rant (directed at Australian Prime Minister John Howard), and today he was bubbling with enthusiasm over the special episode they were going to air in the evening on the dangers of China.
He explained this to Jon between mouthfuls of moo goo gai pan.
"...and at the end, I'm going to encourage couples to have at least eight kids each, because how else are we going to catch up? I'm working on number five already. Leading by example."
"Is number five ever going to get a name?" inquired Jon.
Stephen frowned. "He'll need one of those eventually, won't he? Hmm. What do you think of Joseph Alois Ratzinger Colbert?"
"I think," said Jon with careful tact, "it's a little...unwieldy."
"On second thought," continued Stephen, "maybe that's a little unwieldy. Benedict Colbert would work better. I thought about naming him Bill, after Papa Bear, but I'm afraid people will think I'm naming him after Clinton."
"And we wouldn't want that."
Jon was still working on his rice when Stephen broke open his fortune cookie. "'You are always generous and kind. Lucky numbers 7, 4, 200, 7.' How do they get these things so accurate, Jon? It's like they know me!"
"That's not even a fortune," protested Jon. "It's just a generic compliment."
"It's still creepy," insisted Stephen. "Movin' on. Now that lunch is over, we can talk business." He produced a sheaf of papers, printouts from real estate websites by the look of them, held together by a long-suffering paper clip. "Next week the shows are on break, so we're going to go look at houses. Help me narrow these down."
Jon nearly choked on his rice. "What do you mean, 'we'?"
"Which part don't you understand? The W, or the E?"
"I mean — you and who else?"
"You, of course."
"Were you ever going to get my opinion?"
"Of course! I left the whole week open, so we can go any day you think best. Or two days, if you want."
"Did it ever occur to you," asked Jon, putting down his chopsticks on his unfinished rice, "that I might have plans?"
"Do you have plans?"
"Yes. I'll be out of town all week with my family."
"You'll have to cancel, then," replied Stephen matter-of-factly. "Now, this one on top is in a nice neighborhood, but I'm a little worried about..."
"I said, no."
Stephen looked up from the printout. "You don't like this one?"
"I mean, no, I'm not coming with you."
"Don't be silly. Of course you are. What are friends for?"
"Friends," said Jon through gritted teeth, "help each other out, but that doesn't mean throwing out their own lives at the drop of a hat whenever you want something."
"But that's one of the things I like best about you — that I can always call and you'll be there..."
"I can't keep doing this, Stephen!" cried Jon, rising to his feet. "I can't spend all my time pandering to you! You need to take responsibility for yourself once in a while. Go look for houses on your own!"
"But I can't!" returned Stephen, standing up himself and regaining his height advantage. "I don't know anything about houses! Not what to look for, not what to be careful of, nothing! Lorraine handled all that when we bought the Colbert Compound!"
"Did she have to do everything for you? Didn't you ever make any effort on your own? No wonder she left you!"
He regretted the words even as he said them.
The room went deathly still. Stephen looked as if he had been slapped. Then his expression went hard and cold.
"Stewart, if you stay in this office one minute longer you can forget about being Called Out, or even On Notice, because you will be Dead To Me. Get. Out."
Chapter 9: And This Time There Were No Moustaches Involved
February 14, 2007
"Jon? Dude, you there?"
It took him a moment to realize that a hand was being waved in front of his face; another to recognize that the hand belonged to Jason; and yet another to remember that he was in the writers' meeting.
"Sorry, what?" he asked, and sneezed.
"Gesundheit," said John Hodgman, handing him a tissue.
"You gonna be okay to do the show tonight?" asked David Javerbaum, who, after a few days of ordering interns to carry his slippers, had adjusted rather well to his new authority as executive producer. "You've been out of it all morning."
Jon tried to say "I'm fine." Instead, he sneezed again. At least it was into the tissue this time. No, it wasn't a tissue after all; it was a handkerchief, monogrammed with the Windows logo. Trust John to have his own special brand of weirdness.
"You should lie down," said John, in a calm and authoritative tone that would have been comforting if Jon hadn't heard him use the same tone to say "humans born with prehensile tails will no longer be immediately drafted into the secret army." "We will make you some tea."
"The show's in good shape," added Jason. "I've got an awesome field piece finished, and the Hodge-man here knows his stuff cold." He grinned. "Get it? 'Cold'?"
"I get it," agreed Jon. "Look, guys, it's fine. It's just a cold. Now, who's the guest again?"
He wasn't so bleary that he didn't recognize the worried looks exchanged by writers and correspondents. (The Resident Expert just looked blank, as always.) "What?" he demanded.
"Jon, it's Ishmael Beah," replied DJ. "You've been talking about it nonstop since you read his book."
Jon groaned. "It couldn't be some lightweight actress with a romantic comedy to promote? I had to get sick on the day we have a serious interview?"
"If you get some rest now, you'll be better able to bring your A-game in the evening," DJ pressed.
"This is true." A fog had settled in Jon's brain; he knew this was the first step in a logical argument, but he was having trouble making out the next one. "Okay. You're in charge. I'll go over everything in the evening before breakfast." He paused. "Broadcast. I mean broadcast. Geez, it's worse than I thought."
There were good-natured laughs from all around the table; Jon smiled in return as he stood up. It was so different from the sardonic or self-important laughter he usually heard from Stephen.
"Nobody start a mutiny while I'm gone," he added, mock-sternly, and left the room.
Though it made a really handy excuse, the sickness wasn't the only reason he couldn't focus. He hadn't seen Stephen since his colossal faux pas the day before; that night on the show he had deliberately talked so long that they had run out of time for the toss. He'd been too afraid of screwing things up further.
Of course, in the twelve hours since then he'd contracted the cold to end all colds, which was hardly conducive to eloquence.
(And on top of all that was the uncomfortable conviction in the back of his head that what he had said had been true. If Jon had put Tracey through half the stuff Stephen put Lorraine through, she would have kicked him out long ago, and rightly so. But for all his culpability, Stephen was genuinely hurt by the split, and Jon had no right to use that as a bludgeon against him...)
Head spinning, he collapsed onto the couch in his office and closed his eyes. Maybe when he woke up, he would find that it had all been a horrible dream.
♦ ⋅ ◊ ⋅ ♦ ⋅ ◊ ⋅ ♦
Jason knocked on his boss' door, then went in without waiting for an answer. In Jason's view, a knock was not so much a request for entry as a friendly warning.
"I brought your tea!" he announced as he swept in. "The H-man made it, but if he'd brought it in he would have given you a lecture on the Siberian Tea Parties held by Dr. Marco Pensworthy during the 1920s, and no one in your condition should have to suffer like that. Besides, if you knew what was in Siberian 'tea', you'd be afraid to drink this."
Jon, who had been prone on the couch, sat up and eyed the tea warily as Jason poured him a cup. They were using an old-fashioned tea set nicked from Oliver's office; if asked about it later, Jason planned to say that the sugar bowl was broken when he got there.
"You look like hell," he said cheerfully, handing over the little cup. "But better than you did earlier."
"Uh, thanks," said Jon, taking a cautious sip of the tea.
After balancing the tray artfully on top of Jon's inbox, Jason was about to leave, then had a thought. "Hey, anything else I can do for you while I'm here?"
His boss considered the question. That wasn't a good sign. Jason had been prepared for 'can you grab some nachos from the vending machine?' or 'can you pick up that piece of paper?', not something complicated enough that Jon had to consider it.
"Can I ask you something?" he began at last.
"Sure, man. Whatever you want." Jason settled himself on the arm of the couch and hoped it wasn't too out there.
"Have you ever done anything that made Sam mad? I mean, really furious? And how did you apologize?"
That wasn't so bad after all. "Oh, I get her chocolate. Lots of chocolate. And flowers — chicks dig flowers. And, okay, I do a bit of groveling. But hey, it works."
Jon didn't look optimistic.
"Don't worry!" insisted Jason, slapping him heartily on the back. "The make-up sex is fantastic."
Tea sprayed all over the floor.
"Careful, dude! Germs!"
"I'm not—" spluttered Jon, wiping his mouth. "I mean — it isn't like — it isn't my wife that's mad at me, it's Stephen!"
"Ohhhh. So, no make-up sex, then."
Which was really too bad, thought Jason. If people weren't so distracted by silly hang-ups like sexuality and monogamy, life would be a lot easier.
"You should probably skip the flowers, then," he said. "Especially today. They'll send the wrong message."
"Why? What's today...?" Jon paused. "It's Valentine's Day."
The host put his empty cup down on the cushion beside him and buried his head in his hands. "I need to get Tracey something...."
"Well, geez, if she's not mad at you now, she will be."
"No, no, it's not that big a deal. We decided early on that we didn't need ceremony and symbolic gestures and material things to prove that we love each other — that's why we don't wear rings. But I like to get her a valentine anyway."
Jason had always assumed the lack of ring on his boss' finger was so that Jon could flirt with female guests (and, occasionally, male ones). This reason was either very sweet, in a sappy Lifetime kind of way, or a fantastic alibi.
"But hang on," he said, as Jon retrieved the precariously balanced teapot and poured another cup. "You're sick and stressed to the point where you forgot about your wife on Valentine's Day, but the main thing you're worrying about is that Colbert wants another lame apology?"
"This isn't the Geraldo thing all over again, Jason. I'm not just humoring Stephen this time. I seriously need to apologize."
Jason could hardly imagine his mild-mannered boss doing anything that would offend someone as obnoxious as Colbert. "Geez, what the hell did you do?"
"I don't think that's any of your business."
"Sure, dude, no problem." Jason held up his hands in surrender. Maybe there were hidden depths here after all; and from the way Jon was glaring at him, he had no desire to plumb them further. "We cool?"
"Yeah, we're cool. Thanks."
That sounded pretty final, so Jason got to his feet. "Any time. Enjoy your tea, eh?"
"Will do. Tell John it's delicious."
Jon was turning on his televisions as Jason left. If any news broke during the afternoon, the host of The Daily Show would be ready to break it further at eleven.
♦ ⋅ ◊ ⋅ ♦ ⋅ ◊ ⋅ ♦
"Before we go," said Jon hoarsely, "as always," unless you run out of time, or the satellite breaks, or you just plain chicken out, "we check in with our good friend," I hope, "Stephen Colbert, over at The Colbert Report. Stephen?"
"Jon, I'd like to offer a heartfelt apology—"
"—to the Colbert Nation."
Jon's hopes, momentarily raised, dropped dead again.
"CN, you know how eager I am come 11:28 to offer you a preview of the exciting half hour to which you are about to 'stay tuned'. But sometimes a certain very mean man decides his show is so important that he can't even squeeze in 45 seconds—"
"Stephen, I'm sorry!"
His voice cracked (blame the cold) as it burst from his throat, raw (blame the cold) and distraught (can I blame that on the cold?). For a moment the only movement in either studio was the slow twirling of the pen in Stephen's hands.
Then he said, sternly, prompting, "Sorry for what, Jon?"
Jon took a deep breath, then another. "For what I did yesterday. It was rude, it was mean, it was uncalled for, and it was absolutely inexcusable. I feel horrible. If there's anything I can do to make it up to you..."
"You could help me look at houses..."
Jon had been afraid of that.
"...the weekend after we get back from the break. Unless, of course, you have plans."
It took a minute for this to sink in.
Had Stephen just compromised?
"No," he said weakly, still in shock. "No, I don't have plans then. I'll be happy to join you."
"Great!" exclaimed Stephen, and then he was smiling his most charming smile. "Next up — The Colbert Report!" His face went stern again. "Oh, and a fruit basket wouldn't hurt. Extra honeydew. Hold the cantaloupe."
The connection cut off, leaving Jon giddy with relief.
"That's our show!" he added on autopilot. "Tune in tomorrow for..."
♦ ⋅ ◊ ⋅ ♦ ⋅ ◊ ⋅ ♦
"...and that's why they don't wear rings," finished Jason, sitting with Sam in the break room as the credits rolled on the TV. "Isn't it sweet?"
"You're not taking off your ring, honey," replied his wife, unimpressed.
"Aw, why not?"
"Because you'd get weird looks if you wore the collar in public."
They both looked up as Jon fairly danced past the door.
"I guess he's feeling better," observed Jason shrewdly.
"Yep." Sam rolled her eyes. "Imagine, all that fuss over missing a toss."
Chapter 10: The Doctor Is In
"...an' Ty saw a whale, a real live whale, an' when we all got over to the side of the boat it was gone, but he got pictures an' he showed them to us an' Mary says it was just a ripple but I bet she's just jealous, there's definitely a tail..."
"Hang on a second, Sally." Jon covered the mouthpiece of his phone and turned hurriedly to the small freckled woman in a nurse's uniform who had appeared at the door and was signaling to him. "What is it? Is Stephen—"
"You need to turn that phone off."
"Cell phones interfere with our equipment. There's a pay phone in the lobby."
It took him a moment to realize that this had nothing to do with Stephen, another to process the order, and another to realize that she had answered the question he would have asked. "Oh! Sorry. I'll — just a second."
To the kids he said, "I've gotta hang up. It's okay — nothing's wrong — I'll call back in just a minute. Hang on, okay? Just a minute, I promise."
Over their protests, because the nurse was looking very stern and making "kill" gestures at him, he pressed End Call. "Now hold on!" he added, as she turned to leave. "You're the first person I've seen, besides the receptionist, in half an hour. You can't just leave without telling me what's going on!"
"You're here with Mr. Colbert?" asked the nurse placidly.
The frustration and worry that Jon had been able to ignore while the kids were talking flared up all at once. "How many other pregnant men are you treating?" he snapped.
"We have other programs here. You've probably heard of—"
"I don't CARE!"
The woman looked a little stunned; Jon checked himself. Deep breaths. "What," he said, very slowly, "the hell," okay, that wasn't polite, but it could have been worse, "is going on with Stephen?"
"I'm sorry." Now she sounded as if she had only just remembered that there were social niceties to be followed. She had all of Moreau's cool precision and none of the easy affability. "I don't know."
"Can I speak to someone who does? What about Dr. Moreau? Where's she?"
"Dr. Moreau is in the operating room with the patient, which is, I assure you, where you want her to be."
"Why? A C-section shouldn't take this long, should it? Is something wrong?"
"As I said, I—"
"—don't know, yeah, yeah, can you find out?"
"I can try."
"Thank you. God, that's the best thing I've heard all night. Hang on!" he added, as she started out the door. "Show me where the phone is first."
"Down the hall and to the left, right after the men's room."
Jon would probably have needed to know where that was before long too. "Thanks," he said again, but she was already gone.
He fished around in his pockets for spare change as he tried not to run down the hallway. The lobby had a row of pay phones, huge bulky black things with fat shiny keys and stickers of fine print detailing the costs. Jon fed the rightmost phone four quarters, found Lorraine's number in his contacts list, and punched it in.
The phone was picked up in the middle of the first ring.
"Sorry about that," he said quickly. "It wasn't anything wrong, they just didn't want me using my cell phone, so—"
"Who is this?" demanded a very familiar, very adult voice.
♦ ⋅ ◊ ⋅ ♦ ⋅ ◊ ⋅ ♦
March 3, 2007
Colbert was obviously bored with the questions. They were generally the same ones a pregnant woman would be asked at a monthly checkup, but Phoebe was bringing him in every week.
(Truth be told, she would have been comfortable decreasing the checkups to once every two weeks. Unlike her patient, though, she was enjoying them, so she never brought this up.)
"And you've been taking all your medication regularly? You haven't skipped any days?" she asked, doing her best to sound sympathetic to his boredom as she checked his hematocrit. A little low, but within safe boundaries. The increased iron intake was doing its job.
"Of course not. When I have a routine, I stick to it."
"You missed a day last week," Phoebe reminded him, pressing his feet gently. A little swelling. Not surprising for someone who spent so much time at a desk.
"Well, I was on vacation then. It's completely different. What are you writing there?"
"I'm going to have an assistant print some information for you. I'm just writing down what he should print."
"More reading?" grumbled Colbert.
"It'll help with the sore feet."
Four and a half months, and he still hadn't gotten used to her ability to address problems he hadn't mentioned. The man looked as awed as a kid watching a magician. It was very gratifying.
"Now I'm going to take your pulse and blood pressure..."
"Do you think they've changed?"
Rather than answer ("no"), Phoebe changed the subject. "What's coming up on the Report?"
Her patient took the bait with gusto.
"...and then I got a call from Prescott Pharmaceuticals," he was saying by the time she finished, "and guess what? They want a sponsorship deal! I told them I'd think about it, of course, because you've got to play hard to get, but they're offering a lot of money..."
Why did that name sound familiar? "What product do they want you to sponsor?"
"Oh, I don't know. Some pill, Voxysomethingorother..."
"That's the one!"
"Turn them down."
Colbert frowned. "I don't think you understand, Doctor. When I say 'they're offering a lot of money', I mean they're offering a lot of money."
"Doesn't matter. I've seen the studies on Vaxadrin. If half of them are true, the FDA will have it banned within a month."
"Is that bitterness?" teased Colbert, raising an eyebrow. "A touch of professional rivalry, perhaps? Two giants of experimental medicine, Prescott and Dwayne Medical, facing off..."
"Nonsense. RYT Hospital-Dwayne Medical Center develops innovative treatments and medical breakthroughs. Prescott Pharmaceuticals mixes up chemicals and hopes it can sell a lot of them before anyone catches on to the side effects."
"They can't be that bad."
"Vaxadrin," said Phoebe, "is guaranteed to promote the growth of strong, healthy teeth."
"What's wrong with that?"
"They don't always grow in the mouth."
Colbert controlled his shock quickly, but his shudder was so obvious that Phoebe felt no need to press the matter further.
"Now, here's something you'll be happy about: You won't need a full bladder for today's ultrasound."
"Oh, good! Because, I don't mind telling you, I was just about to pop by the time you finished the first one."
"I remember. You told me so at the time. In great detail." He had also gone through what seemed like a hundred panicky questions (What's that gooey stuff? Why are you rubbing it on me? What's that on the screen? Are you going to stick anything in me? Now what's that? Do you have to press so hard, because I don't know how much longer I can hold this in...), and Phoebe didn't relish facing that again.
"So let's get that urine sample now," she continued, retrieving a small jar from a shelf and waving him in the direction of the lavatory. "And then we'll take your weight."
When Colbert returned with a full jar and looked pained at the familiar sight of the scale (which had reported nothing but constant and healthy weight gain for weeks), Phoebe groped for a new subject. "How goes the house-hunting?"
From the way Colbert launched into this topic, she knew she'd picked a good one. He had apparently spent all of Friday visiting prospective sellers, dragging Jon Stewart in tow.
"Now the first house," he said, stepping onto the scale, "it was great — the couple that owned it said they're big fans of the Report! They even had Nutz brand soda in their fridge, and offered us BLTs! Kept telling me how much they admired me; the husband talked about how I must have balls of steel to get pregnant. There was a weird smell in the basement, so of course we won't be calling them back. But they were a lovely couple."
"I'm glad to hear it," said Phoebe, adjusting the sliders to mark off his weight. The approval of Colbert's viewers was just the kind of culture shift she had hoped for.
"I read some stuff on buying a house before we left, completely on my own initiative and not at all because Jon said he wouldn't come if I didn't prove to him that I knew at least a few basic things before we went." He spoke a little too quickly whenever Stewart's name came up. If there was still tension between her patient and the man who always seemed able to calm him down, she would have to keep a closer eye on his stress level.
"But," he continued, "I've already come up with a bunch of advice that you won't find in any book. I think I'll do a segment about it on the show some time. Like, what would you say are the most important words to keep in mind when buying a house?"
She was out of tests to do; it was time for the ultrasound. "Lie down here. You mean 'Location, location, location'?"
"Yeah, that's what all the books said! But my gut tells me that there are plenty of more important things. Like...bees!"
"Exactly! No matter where it's located, you should never buy a house if it's filled with bees!"
"I never thought of it that way," said Phoebe, with perfect honesty, activating the machine.
To her relief, Colbert had morphed from skeptic to expert. It was a pose she had seen him take many times since becoming a regular Report viewer, usually on subjects which he clearly knew nothing about. Now the pose worked in her favor: as the conducting gel was rubbed over his stomach, he acted as nonchalantly as if he sat through this every day.
He was still talking about houses, and she was moving the transducer around his stomach, when his face clouded over. "The house after that was the worst."
"What was wrong with it?"
"Well, the house was fine. Pretty little beach front property, nice kitchen, room that would be a perfect nursery, the works. But the people! Absolutely unbelievable!"
Colbert hesitated. "I should warn you, it's a little shocking."
"I'm a doctor, Stephen. I see all kinds of shocking things. Try me."
Still Colbert paused, clearly trying to gather the courage to approach whatever terrible thing had occurred.
"They were great on the phone when I arranged the visit. But when we showed up at the door, they were suddenly all closed off and reluctant, and one of them finally said..." He took a deep breath. "She said they weren't comfortable selling to 'people like us'. Now, I'm a rich Christian male and people tell me I'm white, so I couldn't figure out what she meant, but I asked, and it turned out — do you know what they thought?"
Phoebe had a guess. "What?"
"They thought Jon and I were gay!"
He let the word hang dramatically in the air.
When it got no reaction, he started to look indignant. "Why aren't you more offended?"
"Should I be?"
Now he looked as though she had asked whether it was such a bad idea to run with scissors. "Of course you should! Because we're not. I mean, we spend a lot of completely platonic time together, and he's always been there for me, and he's really handsome in a short and Jewy kind of way, and when he laughs it's like sunshine and I kissed him at Christmas and sometimes when I'm alone at night I imagine him doing dirty unspeakable things to me, but that doesn't make us gay!"
For the first time in her life, Phoebe Moreau had absolutely no idea what to say.
Colbert finally broke the silence. "That had better fall under doctor-patient confidentiality."
"And it certainly won't come up during, say, your appearance on Jon's show next week."
"You have my word as a physician."
After all, what good could it do to reveal the information? The Jerry Falwell types had more than enough reason to hate her already without getting homosexuality into the mix; Stewart was a nice guy who really didn't need to deal with the fallout it would bring; and she was getting so much money out of Colbert already that she had bought everything she could think of, up to and including a pony for her granddaughter.
Still Colbert looked wary, defensive; it was time to change the subject again.
"Look at the screen," she said, tracing a circle in the mass of grey static. "This is your son's head. He's facing towards you — do you see where the eyes are?"
He didn't, at first — and then he put it together, and all the suspicion and all the defensiveness melted away as if the whole conversation were forgotten. Which, for the moment, it probably was.
♦ ⋅ ◊ ⋅ ♦ ⋅ ◊ ⋅ ♦
March 6, 2007
"Tremendous show for you tonight, folks: Dr. Phoebe Moreau will be joining us! As you've all heard by now, she's the woman who got my friend knocked up, which is funny, because usually that works the other way around."
Jon put on his best awkward smile, and the audience rewarded him with an appreciative laugh.
Within an hour, No Fact Zone's Senior Pregnancy Correspondent (a nurse practitioner by day and active Colbert Nation hero by night, who had joined the blog a month into the pregnancy to help sift the news from the nonsense) had posted the following:
This Week In Pregnancy (3/7/07)
by Demosthenes — published on March 7, 2007
Good morning, Nation! We always recommend that you watch The Daily Show, on the off chance that Stephen will appear; but we know that it can be hard to stomach Jon Stewart's liberal agenda, so here's a heads-up: despite the guest (one Dr. Moreau), tonight's show is one you won't mind missing the rerun of. Stephen was hardly mentioned.
In case you want to know what happened anyway without having to sit through it, here's a transcript (hooray for TiVo!) which you can skim at your leisure:
Tonight's guest is a physician with more degrees than a reasonable person should have. She's here on behalf of RYT Hospital-Dwayne Medical Center, an establishment known for its innovative and often controversial medical procedures. You already know her as the doctor in charge of the team working on the world's first male pregnancy — starring our own good friend Stephen Colbert. Please welcome Dr. Phoebe Moreau!
[Enter the doctor, wearing pretty much the same thing she wore on the Report. She smiles at the audience again, too. For a brainiac on the nerd patrol, she seems awfully nice.]
Lovely audience you have, Mr. Stewart. [Audience, hearing itself referenced, cheers some more.] It's nice to finally meet you somewhere other than a hospital.
[Note: Stephen has been hospitalized twice in the past five months, once on February 7 for an anemia-related condition and once from February 17-18 for an infection that turned out to be a bad cold. In both cases, several reports independently confirmed that Jon accompanied Stephen, presumably for moral support, though your humble correspondent cannot imagine the good Doctor Colbert needing it. For more details, refer to NoFactZone's previous coverage of both events.]
I agree. For one thing, I now have these little cards that tell me what to say. Oh, and I'm not — what's the word? — freaked the (bleep) out.
Oh, you handle yourself just fine. Besides, you have kids, right? You've dealt with this before.
My kids — and let me tell you, I am very grateful for this — aren't making medical history.
Thirty years ago, my father would have said the same thing. Give it time.
Fair enough. So, listen, I'm sure our viewers all know the basic idea of what you and Stephen are up to, and the media has talked every aspect of it to death, including the fact — and I chalk this up to either a feat of impressive investigative journalism or the fact that someone at CNN took English Lit in college — that "Doctor Moreau" is the name of the crazy mad scientist from an H. G. Wells novel.
I take solace in the fact that Dwayne Medical Center's website has finally outstripped Wikipedia's article about the novel in a Google search.
[Classical literature and respect for Wikipedia? Doc, you seem nice enough and you've got our beloved Stephen's life in your hands, but you're killing us here.]
Being a famous literary character must give you a big advantage in Googlewhacking.
Oh, it's this thing where you Google your name and see if you get more hits than some other name. It's very silly. I mean, "Jon Stewart" beats "Doctor Moreau", but loses to "orange juice". Not that I check these things often, or anything.
[He looks very embarrassed by this. Incidentally, "Jon Stewart" loses a Googlewhack to "Stephen Colbert" by approximately twelve million results. No, I didn't use Google; I just looked it up in my gut.]
That sounds like an excellent waste of time.
It is. So, listen, here's the thing: Since everything that's out about this pregnancy has been talked to death, give us something new. Right now. Let's break some news. What's a development so new that even you don't know about it?
Honestly? There's nothing interesting going on right now. He's just under twenty weeks along...
Now, hang on a second. [He does some scribbling on one of those cards.] The implantation was on October 26, right? Wasn't that eighteen weeks ago?
Yes, but pregnancy isn't counted from conception. There's no good reason for it; it's just conventional that pregnancy is counted from the end of the mother's last menstrual period, about two weeks before. All of the pregnancy milestones — when you can hear the heartbeat, for example, or when you can feel the fetus kicking — are measured based on this calendar. So we're continuing to use it with Stephen to get a sense of how his fetus is developing in relation to the average, even though he doesn't menstruate.
[Jon has this adorably flustered look on his face. I can see why Stephen puts up with him: it must be so much fun to fluster him on the toss every night.]
DR. MOREAU (cont.)
Uh...no, not at all.
[She looks all amused now.] Typical male. You'll do jokes about sex or feces without batting an eye, but start talking about periods and you get tongue-tied.
Well, it is — if I may — icky girl stuff.
My point is that we're in the second trimester, and that's generally the easy one. In the first, Stephen's body was still adjusting to the pregnancy. In the third, if all goes well, it will be seriously preparing to give birth. Right now there's simply nothing new going on.
Could you maybe make something up?
Sure. He's developing an acute case of quispiam averus.
Wow, that sounds bad. What does it mean?
It's Latin for "something made up."
Okay, how about this: Tell us a bit about yourself. Do you have kids of your own?
One. A daughter, back in the sixties.
Were you a flower child?
I guess you could have called me that — very briefly. It's hard to study medicine when you're testing hallucinogens on yourself, and I wanted to do the first, so I quit the second pretty quickly. [To the audience.] Don't do drugs, kids. You make a lot more money without 'em.
[Not like that'll make much difference to Jon's stoned slackers — but she could try!]
And did your daughter ever look into mad science?
Oh, no. I think my granddaughter's got the bug, though. Every time I see her, she tells me about her latest class science project.
And how old is she?
She's eight. How about your kids?
Well, the oldest is twenty-six...
[Audience laughter. I think they were getting a little bored. Well, so was I! Less talk about your kids, more about Stephen!]
Listen, we gotta go. Anything you want to plug, really quick? A book, maybe? What To Expect When He's Expecting?
Nope. The What To Expect franchise actually gave me a call, but right now we still have no idea what to expect. Besides, it's hard to keep doctor-patient confidentiality when there's only one patient you could be writing about.
Good point. Well, it was a pleasure to talk to you, and I hope you can come back after the birth and tell us how it went. Dr. Phoebe Moreau, everybody!
♦ ⋅ ◊ ⋅ ♦ ⋅ ◊ ⋅ ♦
As usual, NoFactZone posted a recap of the day's Report, including a video of the toss. It can still be seen there, and runs as follows:
(The camera zooms in from a limited angle; we can only see the half of the desk where JON is sitting.)
That's our show! Before we go, as always, we check in with our good friend StephenColbertatTheColbertReportStephen!
Thanks, Jon. Tonight...
(DR. MOREAU leans over JON's shoulder into the frame.)
Oh...hi, Doc! What is it?
I saw your show last night. You said you couldn't eat ice cream because you'd given up sweets for Lent?
You can't do that.
But I promised.
You'll have to take a rain check. Right now the developing fetus needs sugars and fats as well as nutrients. You can't cut them out of your diet.
You can't. Doctor's orders.
(Before she has finished speaking, STEPHEN reaches behind his desk, retrieves a spoon and a pint of Americone Dream, tears the pint open, and begins shoveling the ice cream into his mouth.)
STEPHEN (mouth full)
Comin' up nehst: zuh Colbeah Rupoah!
Save room for your vegetables!
(The shot cuts back to JON's frame only. DR. MOREAU stands up and backs away.)
That's our show! Join us tomorrow, hereitisyourMomentofZen!
(A clip is played from the 1958 teen pregnancy/family planning short "How Much Affection?" — "Well, it's tiring, but it's not too bad when Fred gives me a hand. 'Course, he's not used to babies, but he's a real whiz at changing diapers — you should see him!")
Chapter 11: Staff, Shorted
Four Years Earlier
This was a bad idea.
But it was far too late to do anything about it. Steve had called in sick at the last minute, and Stephen had worked so hard on his argument, and now Ed Helms was sitting at the desk next to him and stammering, "Stephen, you're just attacking me personally...."
"Oh, am I?" demanded Stephen in his most pompous voice.
"Yes! And I don't understand why — I thought we were friends — I — I drove you to work the other day..."
And then, to Jon's great surprise, Stephen leaned forward and said gently, "Look — it's just — friends doesn't matter, okay? It isn't personal. The point is, Steve attacks me, I attack him back, then we build to some sort of dramatic conclusion, one of us wins—" He snapped his fingers. "—cut to commercial. Doesn't matter what the subject is; it's about personality, it's about conflict, it's about drama. It's a game, all right? — that's why we call it the news. It's just a game."
Ed brightened. "Cool. It's a game."
Maybe this will work out after all.
"That's the spirit. Okay. So. You, Ed, are a moron." Stephen sat back and waited.
"Right." Ed sat up a little straighter. "Well, Stephen...at least my wife didn't take my kids and run off with another woman."
Or maybe not.
He grinned from ear to ear as the audience cheered for a point well made. Stephen had gone very rigid. Jon caught Ed's eye and gave a brief, warning shake of the head; Ed's grin began to fade.
"What are you doing?" murmured Stephen at last.
Ed shrugged. "Playin' the game!"
"You're not supposed to use anything real."
"I'm sorry—" Ed laughed nervously— "you told me to attack you...."
"You're not s'posed to use anything real," choked Stephen. "You're a horrible person, you know that?"
They cut to commercial before Stephen broke down entirely; he slapped away Ed's awkward attempts to comfort him, and ended up sobbing into Jon's shoulder until they went back on-air.
The next day, Jon got a tape of the segment and sent it to the forwarding address Lorraine had left, with a simple note: He misses you.
Her reply of a week later said, in part, I honestly didn't think he cared at all, much less enough to break down like that on live television. Thanks for letting me know.
A few days after that, she returned, and Stephen was back to his old pompous, cheerful, arrogant, exuberant self — which perhaps showed how badly he had missed the point.
♦ ⋅ ◊ ⋅ ♦ ⋅ ◊ ⋅ ♦
The first thing Jon said was, "You're not Lorraine."
"Lorraine is, thankfully, asleep, and does not know that strange men are calling her children," said the woman on the other end of the phone, "at — what time is it? — midnight."
♦ ⋅ ◊ ⋅ ♦ ⋅ ◊ ⋅ ♦
Sure enough, it was midnight. He could hear the chime of a clock from somewhere far off, maybe the next floor.
And then Jon put it together. What Mary had said earlier about "Mom and Tina." The voice he recognized. Evelyn's brief affair, several years ago now, with...
"'Tina'? Elizabeth Stamatina Fey, is that you?"
"Who is this?"
"Jon! Jon Stewart! You know me!"
"Jon!" repeated Tina Fey. "I thought you sounded familiar. Did Stephen put you up to this?"
"He didn't — listen, the kids called me, I was just calling them back — Stephen's in the operating room, hopefully giving birth, I don't even know — and they're worried, and can you blame them?"
♦ ⋅ ◊ ⋅ ♦ ⋅ ◊ ⋅ ♦
March 6, 2007
"Nation, as you know, ever since I purchased a house, I have been asking for your ideas about how to decorate the nursery. Oh, and saying the brand names of a lot of baby merchandise on-air, in the hopes that they'll send me free stuff. Speaking of which: Gerber Gerber Gerber!" He shrugged. "Kid's gotta eat.
"Anyway, you heroes have been swamping the Colbert Nation website with your suggestions, and some of them, while obviously well-intentioned, are just not going to work. For example, the name of Spongebob Squarepants has come up several times. No dice, folks. If I wanted to decorate the room with a big-nosed do-gooder who has a really annoying laugh, I'd just go with Anderson Cooper."
The audience laughed and applauded until the host continued: "But!" he shouted. "Some of these suggestions are not only bad ideas, they're downright dangerous ... This is the ThreatDown!"
When the sirens had faded, he added, "Stuff Being Merchandised To My Unborn Child Edition!
"Threat number five: Dora the Explorer. This precocious preschooler has educational adventures in which she speaks in two different languages. This gives kids the idea that being bilingual is not a threat to our American way of life, and that it is actually 'cool'. Well, folks, it is not cool, and I won't stand for it. The only Spanish-speaker in my son's room will be the woman I hire to clean it.
"Threat number four: Harry Potter. A quick Google search for "Harry Potter" plus "witchcraft" will expose the seductive occult subtext of this series, as presented on many websites, some of which — and this is true — are not run by crazy people. On top of that, other sites suggest that the series is luring our innocent young minds into reading. This is worse because of Potter's pervasiveness: The pre-order version of book seven became Amazon.com's top seller in about two and a half minutes, even though the actual book is still not due out for four months. Which reminds me: Bobby, have you put in our pre-order yet?"
The monitors around the studio cut to a shot of the stage manager, who looked suddenly nervous. "Um, no..."
"Well, get to it!" He turned back to the audience. "Don't worry, I won't let the kid read it," he explained with a shrug.
"Threat number three: the Powerpuff Girls. By flying around in their pretty colored dresses, beating up bad guys right and left, and generally being tough and girly, they give their audiences the idea that female superkids can do everything the boys can. When these viewers grow up, you just know they'll want ladies to be allowed on the front lines of the military. We need more characters like those sweet Disney Princesses, who — no matter how much butt they kick in the movies — always show up on their merchandise in frilly dresses with sweet passive smiles. Now those are good role models.
"Some of you may be saying," and here he affected a voice of innocent confusion, "'but Stephen, how can you insist that fictional characters follow gender norms when you yourself are doing something that your gender has never done?' Here's how: I have a TV show. When you get your own spot on television every night, then you may question me. Until then, shut up. Movin' on.
"Threat number two: Popeye the Sailor Man. Many of you thought he would make an excellent mascot for my son's room, citing him as an icon of toughness and masculinity. Clearly, you have forgotten my groundbreaking report back on The Daily Show, in which I blew the sippy-cup lid off of Popeye's sinister collaboration with Minute Maid to forward the gay agenda.
"Now, it turns out we don't have the rights to show this footage on the Report, so we're going to just act out a bit of it for you. Meg, that's your cue."
Meg dubiously approached the desk, transcript in hand. At least this was better than her boss' original plan (in which she was supposed to break into the Daily Show's vault under cover of night and steal the original tape), as well as his Plan B (in which she was to drink some orange juice on-camera and then make out with one of the other female interns; she suspected her girlfriend would not have approved).
"Now, I'm playing me," he explained to the audience, "and Meg is playing Bob Knight, the spokesman for the Culture and Family Institute. Go ahead, Meg."
"Um, you have the first line."
"Of course I do. I was about to say it when you talked over me. Hold your horses." He composed himself, raised an eyebrow, and said, in his best old-fashioned newsman's voice, "It seems Minute Maid is airing what appears to be just another orange juice commercial. But Bob Knight has made an alarming discovery."
Meg looked down at her script and put on her best male voice. "'The interaction between Bluto and Popeye....'"
"No, no, his voice wasn't that deep. Just use your regular voice. That'll be about right."
"Um, okay. 'The interaction between Bluto and Popeye is clearly romantic.'"
"Now we're watching the commercial," he added to the audience, before resuming his pose. "Okay. Go on."
"'Well, there's the hug — when he gives him a swing. And a squeeze — it's just a little too precious to be just two guys. And there's Popeye blushing, when he's getting the tattoo. Looking like a schoolgirl, actually, instead of a tough sailor.'"
"And what is this — 'Buddies for Life'?"
"'And there's Olive Oyl, looking downright seductive; and then, a knowing look."
"The look clinches it," agreed Stephen, still in his previous-self character.
"'Yeah, it does.'"
"People like us, who are offended by this sort of thing — we don't hate homosexuals."
"'No, we don't hate homosexuals.'"
"We're just angry at the ones who turn us on."
He dropped back to normal. "That was good! Very natural! Okay, we're skipping a bit ahead in the piece now. You're going to play a spokeswoman for the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation."
"Um, okay," said Meg hesitantly, though there had been nothing like this in her script.
Her boss leaned towards her, a look of unsettling intensity in his wide eyes.
"If you're a lesbian, why are you turning me on?"
"I'm calling my lawyer!" yelped Meg, and fairly flew off the stage.
"And the number one threat being merchandised to my unborn child," Stephen continued behind her, undeterred — while a graphic of Winnie the Pooh, Paddington, and Yogi appeared on one of the monitors as she ran past — "bears!"
♦ ⋅ ◊ ⋅ ♦ ⋅ ◊ ⋅ ♦
March 15, 2007
Bobby had only just returned to the studio when he found himself yanked into a broom closet and the door shut behind him.
"It's so good to have you back!" whispered Tad's voice through the dark. "The stagehands have been drawing straws to see who has to wake Stephen up for rehearsal, the interns keep getting his drinks wrong, and I think Jimmy's going to have a nervous breakdown if he gets asked for one more graphic we don't have. We need you here."
"'We'?" The close quarters meant that Bobby was in refreshingly intimate proximity with Tad, but similarly intimate proximity with a mop. He edged away from the mop, which had the nice effect of pressing him closer to his sometimes-boyfriend.
Hands rested on his shoulders, holding him steady. "Bobby...why did you leave? Did Stephen say anything to indicate...?"
"Typical Stephen reasons. He wanted to replace me with the heat lamp, and even after he got rid of it he didn't realize until recently that he would have to tell me to come back. He thought I was just taking a break because I felt like it. So I'm out of vacation days for the year, and half of my sick days too."
Tad breathed a sigh of relief. "So it wasn't anything to do with us."
"Nope. He doesn't suspect a thing."
"You sound almost disappointed."
"No! Of course not!" Well, that was the truthiness. He didn't want to be disappointed. "It's just...well, it would be easier if he found out on his own, so neither of us had to tell him."
"Neither of us 'has' to tell him anyway. We had an agreement, remember?"
"Yeah, but...." Bobby shifted uneasily; something clattered to the floor. "That was back when this was just an on-and-off thing. But we've been getting more serious, and...look, I think this is worth standing up to Stephen over. I think you're worth standing up to Stephen over!"
His eyes had adjusted a bit to the dimness, but he still couldn't read Tad's expression.
"That's not your decision to make," the building manager said at last. "You'd be putting your job on the line — and mine, too. You can't just decide to do that, especially after we agreed not to."
"I didn't actually let anything slip. I swear."
"But you thought about it?"
"Yes," Bobby admitted.
And then Tad pushed him away (so that what felt like the corner of one of Stephen's self-portraits dug painfully into his back) and said, "Then from now on there won't be anything to let slip."
"It's scary enough working for someone like Stephen and being gay. I have no intention of being in a relationship that scares me more. I'll bring your toothbrush and stuff in tomorrow."
And with that, he opened the door and stumbled out of the closet, which was an irony that Bobby was really not in a mood to appreciate.
♦ ⋅ ◊ ⋅ ♦ ⋅ ◊ ⋅ ♦
He was alone in the break room that afternoon when Stephen came in, balancing a pile of bright green things on his stomach.
"What," asked Bobby warily, "is that?"
"Your outfit for tonight. Saturday is the last St. Patrick's Day ever, and I can't even drink, so we have to do something special."
Bobby unfolded the green waistcoat in disbelief. "Are we all going to be wearing these?"
"No, just you. You're going to be a leprechaun!"
It was a measure of how far gone Bobby was at the time that he didn't even object.
"Fine. I'll do it."
"Of course you will." Stephen breezed out, then called over his shoulder, "Don't forget to practice your Irish brogue!"
Chapter 12: You've Got To Kick A Little
Tina sighed. Come on, thought Jon, don't brush me off.
"Look, Jon, I see where you're coming from. I really do," she said at last. "But Lorraine said they weren't supposed to go calling people, and I am not about to override this woman, especially when it comes to her kids — three of whom have their ears pressed to the door right now, I can tell!"
That last was said in warning, and Jon could hear the scuffle as Mary, Sally, and John Paul scrambled to a safer location.
"Where's the fourth?" he asked. "Stephen Junior — the human one, I mean."
"He goes by Tyrone now," corrected Tina. "Keeps pestering his mom to get it legally changed, and I think she's warming to the idea. They're both mad at the father, and it's rough on them to have his name following them around."
The irony was stifling.
Jon stuffed his own issues back in their little box. This was absolutely not the time to let them come out and play. "They'll want to know," he said, hoping he sounded more sure than he felt. "Even if they don't say it, they'll want to know if Stephen's okay. Besides, the other kids called — and they have a right to know what's going on. You know they do. You can't cut them off."
Tina sighed again.
"You can't call this number. Lor might be the next one to pick it up."
"I know, but—"
"Do you have a pen?"
"A pen, Jon. Long thin thing with ink in it. You have one?"
"Uh...." Jon patted his pockets. "Yeah. Here we go."
"Sure." It was a leaflet on dealing with your wife's postpartum depression, but it was better than nothing.
"Okay, pay attention. I'm giving you my number. Something happens, you call me, I'll tell Lor, and she'll decide what to tell the kids. Deal?"
She rattled off a number. He jotted it down, then repeated it back.
"Your paid time has run out. Please deposit more change to continue this call," said a pleasant and generic voice from the receiver.
♦ ⋅ ◊ ⋅ ♦ ⋅ ◊ ⋅ ♦
March 29, 2007
Jon put his newspaper down quickly as Stephen came into his office. The host looked a little worried, but that was only natural given the depressing liberal rags he chose to read. If only everyone followed the Report's example and focused on happy news, life would be a lot, well, happier.
"Stephen, what are you doing here? We were supposed to have lunch at your place...."
"I wanted to surprise you." Stephen sat down heavily on the couch and leaned into it; the trip had left him out of breath. "And your couch is more comfortable than mine."
"You came all the way over here just to sit on my couch?" repeated Jon, raising an eyebrow. (Or at least, doing what passed for raising when it came to his brows. Next to Stephen's, there was really no comparison.)
"Is that okay?" asked Stephen quickly. It hadn't been long since he had learned that Jon liked to be asked for things, and he still wasn't always sure which things. "I mean, I can go if you like. It's just that this really helps my back, which is sore a lot recently, thanks to all this lopsided extra weight I'm carrying, due to being pregnant, miracle of life and all that. But if it bothers you...."
Jon was smiling, which meant it couldn't bother him too much; but something about this irritated Stephen, who felt there was a joke and he wasn't getting it. "What?" he demanded.
"It's just — you sound like my mother."
Now he was giggling. Stephen huffed and closed his eyes, leaning back into the cushions. If Jon was going to be immature, let him. Stephen would just ignore it.
"Okay, forget it. What do you want for lunch?"
"Dunno," replied Stephen, eyes still closed. "Something light."
"Sure. Are you feeling okay?"
"Yeah, fine, just a little...." He groped for a fitting word. It wasn't fair; Jon was the wordinista, not him. "Twitchy."
He felt the cushion bow as Jon sat down next to him. "'Twitchy'? Like you're going to be sick? Or is it a cramp?"
Stephen opened an eye to favor his friend with half of a long-suffering look. "No, Jon, if it were a cramp I'd say it was a cramp. I haven't thrown up yet either. I just don't want to eat too much, because these past couple days my stomach keeps getting, y'know, twitchy. Fluttery. Squirmy."
"That's what I said. Squirmy."
"Are you sure it's your stomach?"
"That's what I said too," replied Stephen, but more snippily, because now that Jon had asked, he wasn't sure. He closed his eye again.
"Let me know if it happens while you're here," said Jon, getting up. "I'll have an intern bring us some sandwiches."
While he made the call, Stephen let himself drift off a little. It was a nice couch, firm enough while still soft and yielding, maybe a little old and faded — certainly Stephen would never put up with furniture this old in his office — but comfortable. Plus, ever since getting pregnant he had been able to smell traces of Jon's aftershave on the cushions — which, now that he'd stopped getting sick at every strange smell, was rather nice.
He was half asleep, thoughts wandering freely and flirting with the idea of being dreams, and he was idly pondering what the new leather couch in his office would say to this one if they met, assuming of course that couches could talk, when something woke him up. "Peaches!"
"What's that?" Jon looked up from his writing, or maybe he had been looking up already, which was easy to believe. Stephen knew himself to be very watchable.
"I said I would bring you peaches...." It had made perfect sense when he was daydreaming, but now that he said it out loud it sounded weird and disjointed. "Forget it," he snapped, and then gasped. "There it is again!"
"What is it?" Now Jon was standing up, coming over.
"The twitchy feeling. It's what woke me up. Not that I was really asleep."
"Of course not." The host sat down beside him again. "Does it usually happen after you've been still for a while?"
"I haven't paid that much attention," grumbled Stephen, although now that he thought about it.... "Shut up a second, okay?"
"There it is again. It's not in my stomach at all. It's...."
Then he frowned, because Jon had one of his dopey grins on his face, and Stephen had no idea why. "What are you smiling for? Don't keep it to yourself!"
"You did tell me to shut up," his friend pointed out.
"Well, un-shut up. If this is good, I want to know."
♦ ⋅ ◊ ⋅ ♦ ⋅ ◊ ⋅ ♦
When Jon opened the door for the intern with the sandwiches — a good kid, with short dreadlocks and a very stiff collar — he noticed the boy's eyes flick a few times to Stephen's lifted shirt, and had the uncomfortable realization that the last thing he had said was, "Can I touch it?"
"Thanks," he said as he took the tray; then he added, self-consciously jerking a thumb in Stephen's direction, "The baby's, ah, kicking."
"Cool!" said the intern. "Can I feel?"
"There's nothing to feel from the outside," replied Jon quickly. "Not yet. Go see if anyone else needs lunch."
He closed the door and went back to the couch, where he pulled off the plastic wrap from a pile of vegetables and two sandwiches. The bacon, lettuce, and tomato was obviously for Stephen; the corned beef on rye was his own. Say what you will about my people, but we make a good sandwich.
"You can put your shirt down," he added as he held out the BLT. Stephen didn't seem to notice; all his attention was focused on his stomach. "Stephen? Are you okay?"
"There's someone in there," said his friend at last.
"Well, yeah." Jon sat down. "Has been for a couple of months now."
"Yes, Jon, I know that. But he couldn't hear, and he couldn't see, and he couldn't do much of anything except have a heartbeat and unbalance my endocrine system, and I couldn't see any of it except during the ultrasound. I mean, I knew what was going on, but now...." He trailed off, still looking down.
"Now you feel it in your gut?" suggested Jon.
"Exactly. And you know how much I trust my gut."
"You thought it was telling you not to eat too much."
"Sometimes — very rarely — I misinterpret what my gut is telling me. Cut me some slack, Jon; I've never done this before."
"I wasn't trying to challenge your whole gut-trusting philosophy, Stephen," said Jon with some amusement. "I just meant...."
Stephen glanced up. "Hey, is that a BLT?"
For a minute or two thereafter he just ate, ravenously. He finished the BLT and was halfway through the vegetables — which meant he must have been very hungry indeed — when Jon decided to pull the powder-blue shirt back down himself. The bare round stomach was far too tempting to touch; he allowed himself only to brush off a few crumbs before removing the temptation.
He thought about trying to get some more work done while his friend was preoccupied; but it wouldn't be polite and he hadn't had much success before anyway, not with Stephen dozing on his couch and practically glowing.
Jon shook himself. Stop that. With you going all moony over him like that, it's no wonder....
"The kitchen's all installed," said the pundit presently, "and I hired a gardener yesterday, so the yard should look great by summer. I'm thinking hedge sculptures — a Statue of Liberty, a couple of eagles — and maybe a fountain. I was thinking of pitching a fountain-designing contest to the Nation. There must be a couple of sculptors in the Nation."
"Not a bad idea."
"Of course not, Jon. It was my idea, wasn't it?"
Although Jon was not nearly so convinced of the quality of Stephen's ideas, he had to give credit where credit was due: the man knew how to milk his fan base.
"I want to redo a couple of the bathrooms, too, but that can wait, because Dr. Moreau said I shouldn't move in while there's construction going on, because of the dust and noise, and I want in now." He paused to lick bacon grease and tomato juice from his fingers. "Trouble is, I need something in the bedroom first. That's where you come in."
Jon nearly choked on his corned beef.
"We're going to deal with that this weekend. I mean," he added quickly, "if that's okay. If you have time. Is that okay?"
"Sorry," said Jon, who was quite sure he was missing something, "what do you need in the bedroom?"
"A bed, Jon. And sheets. Pillows. Blankets. Whatever else people put on beds."
"Yeah, a mattress! That's why you have to come along. I wouldn't have thought of that. —Please?"
Jon sighed. "I'm not sure this is a good idea."
"Why not? Is the timing bad? I know I always say changing your stance on anything is a sign of cowardice, but I can be flexible for you, Jon."
Given the mindset Jon was in by now, this declaration put all kinds of unsettling images in his head. Ignoring them, he explained, "It's not the timing. It's the whole idea. I helped you with everything in the kitchen, from picking a contractor to buying a coffee maker, and if I keep going with you all the time..."
You're using me as a replacement for your wife, he thought, at least, when it comes to helping you with things. And I've got to ease you off of that. But he had no intention of bringing up Lorraine again, at least not yet. Instead he reached for the paper he'd been reading earlier and handed it to Stephen.
It was a supermarket tabloid; the main story was yet another variation on the perennial "Shocking Truth About Princess Diana's Death" theme, and next to it was a photo of some starlet with a caption gleefully pointing out what her thighs looked like without airbrushing. But Jon trusted Stephen to find any news about himself right away, and sure enough, his eyes went straight to the upper left.
There, under the caption LATE-NIGHT LOVEBIRDS?, was a photo of two men leaning close as they inspected a refrigerator. Stephen was facing the fridge, but his silhouette was fairly unmistakable by this point; Jon was looking at Stephen, and though the photo was blurry it wasn't hard to believe he was wearing that dratted moony expression.
The Stephen on Jon's couch glared at the cover, then flipped angrily to the page of the article. It was short, speculative, and punctuated by a few more photos of the "taken by an amateur hiding behind a display of pots" variety.
"Typical liberal smear job," he spat at last. "Can I borrow this? It'll make a perfect Who's Attacking Me Now bit for the show tonight."
"It's not exactly the mainstream media; it's just a tabloid...."
"It's not 'just' anything, Jon, or you wouldn't be worried about it."
Jon opened his mouth, then closed it again. That was surprisingly perceptive for Stephen. But he was taking this much better than Jon had thought. "To be honest, I was kind of expecting you to go through the roof."
"I'll save that for the show. It gets good ratings. But the media has been trying to turn me gay for years; it's nothing I'm not used to by now."
Jon almost let this slide, out of habit; but he was making his own effort after their fight, trying to call Stephen out more often rather than let things build up, and so he said, "You weren't this calm when the couple at the Tudor house thought we were a couple."
"That was completely different. Those were people, not the media."
"But the media might give people ideas."
"Not people who matter, Jon — not the people who watch my show. The heroes know all about the homosexual agenda, and they know I'm wise to it."
Jon was less convinced about the intelligence of Stephen's viewers, but this was not something he was prepared to point out just yet.
To his surprise, Stephen picked up on his skepticism. When had he gotten so observant? "You don't believe me. You think the gay-agenda-forwarding Ivy-league latte-sipping mainstream media attack dogs have me on the run. Well, they don't, and I'll prove it."
He folded the paper and stood up.
"Now, don't do anything hasty, Stephen..."
"Not to worry, Jonny boy. We'll see you tonight at 11:28." Pausing only to smooth his tie over his stomach, he strode out.
Chapter 13: The Cruelest Month
March 29, 2007
Tad usually didn't watch the Report, but Stephen had refused to rehearse the toss, which meant he was going to ad-lib it again, which meant Bobby wanted as many staff on hand as possible in case he started another fire. The trouble with this, from Tad's point of view, was that a stage manager has plenty to keep him busy while the cameras are on, but a building manager has nothing to distract him from the fact that only a bank of rowdy audience members separated the two of them.
After what seemed like several long and awkward years, the satellite feed kicked in, and they all heard Stewart's familiar "Welcome back — before we go, we're gonna check in with our good friend Stephen Colbert at The Colbert Report. Stephen?"
The pundit grinned at the camera.
"Thanks, Jon. Tonight: a drink. Can I buy you one? Your answer...may surprise you."
Okay, that was distracting. That was very distracting.
"Plus: anyone can say you have a beautiful body, but I'll go deep undercover to find out whether you'll hold it against me."
Who are you and what have you done with Stephen?
"Then, a Colbert Report exclusive, your father: a thief? Or did someone else take the stars from the skies and put them in your eyes? Finally, my place: a growing number of Americans are going there. Could you be one of them? All that tonight on The Colbert Report."
Stewart looked as if he weren't sure how horrified he ought to be.
"If that was gay, then I don't want to be straight — and I do want to be straight, therefore that wasn't gay. That's just logic. Jon?"
"Th-thank you, Stephen," stammered the host, and then the feed cut off, leaving the Report's set in stunned silence.
"Well, don't just stand there," ordered Stephen after a moment. "And close your mouths; you look like a bunch of trout. Come on, people — we've got a show to do!"
♦ ⋅ ◊ ⋅ ♦ ⋅ ◊ ⋅ ♦
March 29, 2007
"I don't think this is such a good idea," said Meg from the side of the stage. "You're not exactly in your best shape right now...."
"Obviously, these aren't going to be actual romance novel covers — just samples, to give Harlequin the general idea," replied her boss. "They'll hire me based on my handsome face and rugged masculinity, and then they can wait until August or so to send me actual orders."
He smoothed his tie over his stomach as he said "masculinity", and Meg wondered if the man had absolutely no sense of irony.
"Now, come on—" he began, then went still. He looked as though he were listening for some sound that no one else could hear.
He put a hand to his stomach again, and grinned.
"He's kicking — and you can feel it! Come on up, quickly!"
Meg hung back, dubious.
"Oh, you're no fun, Meg," her boss snapped, and then, much to her relief, lost interest as he turned to his audience. "You guys. Come over here. Yes, you — stand up. Come on! You can do it!"
One bold fangirl in the front row stood up. "That's it!" cried Stephen encouragingly. "Yes — and your friends, too — hurry, he might stop!"
Meg had just time to glimpse Bobby's expression, which was openly queasy as he took inventory of several very important cables running around the floor, before a steady stream of fans began pouring down from the seats and blocking everyone's view. The host disappeared in the center of the throng, but gasps and squeals could be heard from the fans around him.
"Isn't that great? — Feel that? I should name him Chuck Norris Colbert — or maybe Walker Texas Ranger Colbert. — Hey! Restrain yourselves, ladies! Stomach only!"
Meg wondered if any of the overeager female fans worked in television, and if any of them would like to trade jobs.
♦ ⋅ ◊ ⋅ ♦ ⋅ ◊ ⋅ ♦
April 12, 2007
"Oh, I didn't even notice this on the screen! Your desk is a lowercase 'j'! That's so cute!"
It was their first lunch together since the latest break, during which the Daily Show's set had been completely rebuilt, and Jon was giving Stephen the tour. The pundit's mood of the moment seemed to be "gushing over everything," which, though a little unnerving, was at least easy to deal with.
"Now we have a matching pair — that's so sweet!"
"See, the difference between you and me," said Jon, standing at the foot of the desk while Stephen circled the dot on the "j", "is that your desk shape was deliberate. We just got this one because it was seven hundred bucks."
"It's the only Daily Show desk that's never had me sitting at it," remarked Stephen, lowering himself into Jon's chair. "There! Now it's christened. No offense," he added quickly.
Jon smiled. "None taken."
"Think about it, Jon: I am now the prettiest person ever to sit at this desk."
"I don't know about that. Halle Berry was here last night."
"As a guest, right?" asked Stephen quickly.
"Well, yeah. What else?"
"Nothing! Nothing at all." Still, his mood seemed a bit deflated. "You really think she's prettier than me?"
"Stephen, come on — I mean, she's Halle Berry." He laughed, a little nervously; it didn't stop his friend from pouting. Time to change the subject. "So, you finally got to do that segment on house-hunting advice the other night, right?"
"Yeah, I did! With my totally awesome big red button. Did you see it?"
"No, but I heard good things. I caught the show last night, though." And that reminded him of something he'd meant to ask about. "I saw the Wørd."
"Did you like it? Most people like the Wørds the best. They're very resonant, I think. Straight from the gut. That speaks to people."
"Right, right...Who does the bullet points?"
"The text that appears next to you. Who types it?"
"Nobody. It just appears."
"Oh, it's great! Even when I jump from the prompter, it just rolls with me, responding like it knows what I'm going to say before I say it."
"Like it's tapped into your subconscious?"
"I don't have a subconscious, Jon. I am perfectly aware of everything I do."
It had been many, many years since Jon had tried to hold an argument about psychology with Stephen. He had majored in the subject; it was downright painful to find out how much of it his friend got wrong. Besides, right now it would distract him from his point.
"Listen, Stephen, the thing is — during the Wørd last night, you said something like 'How do you think I got this show?', and the text by the bullet was, Has 'Candid' Pics of Jon Stewart."
His friend went shifty-eyed. "Really, Jon? I don't remember that."
"You didn't get your own show because you blackmailed me."
"Of course not. I got it because I'm immensely talented." He spun back and forth in the chair, not meeting Jon's eyes.
"But whoever's behind the bullet — they obviously think you did."
"I told you, Jon, there's no one 'behind' it. It just is."
Which was ridiculous, of course. It made no sense. On the other hand, if the bullet did have some kind of direct link to Stephen's subconscious — if that was possible — then that implied....
"Stephen...do you, by any chance, have candid pictures of me that you haven't told me about?"
Stephen stopped spinning, looking at a far corner of the set, and didn't answer.
"Stephen," said Jon warningly.
"Oh, all right! You were asleep, for the first time in like a week and you were out of makeup so you looked awful, and you crashed on the set in khakis and a T-shirt and ended up drooling on the couch, so we, by which I mean I, dared Walsh to take pictures, and I ended up with the prints."
"Matt Walsh? How long ago was this?"
"That was his initiation, so, I don't know, five, six years?"
"So you just held on to them for however many years, and never bothered to tell me?"
"Well, yes. They're not a big deal. It's not like I had photos of you in the shower, or something."
"That's true," Jon admitted. "And you didn't actually try to threaten me with them."
"Of course not. I've seen Death to Smoochy. Nothing I could do to you would be more embarrassing than that."
Jon sighed. His short-lived acting career was going to haunt him forever.
"So are we cool? Can you show me the rest of the set? I want to—GAH!" He had started spinning again, and ended up facing the back wall.
"Oh," said Jon. "Forgot to mention that."
"He's perfectly harmless. Go on, say hello."
"H...hello?" stammered the pundit.
"Hi there, Stephen," said the Giant Head of Brian Williams.
♦ ⋅ ◊ ⋅ ♦ ⋅ ◊ ⋅ ♦
The door of the Report burst open. There in the entrance stood Tad: bruised, battered, bloodied, black-eyed, clutching a box of film in one hand and a blanket-draped birdcage in the other. "Mission accomplished!" he cried.
To his dismay, nobody was around to notice.
He limped over to the desk, ignoring the occasional indignant squawk from the cage, and leaned against it for support. In a minute or two an intern — the foreign exchange kid, Punit or something — appeared, probably sent to investigate the noise.
"By the bow of Ram!" he exclaimed when he saw Tad's state. "I will get Bobby. Do not move!"
Tad wanted to protest, but even at the best of times he wouldn't have been sure how to explain it, especially not in terms that Punit could follow, and right now he was more than a little distracted by what can only be described as massive physical pain.
At last Bobby appeared, a first-aid kit in his hand and two interns in tow. "Oh my — What happened to you?!"
"Got the mate for Stephen Junior," said Tad weakly, pointing to the cage which now sat on the desk. "Got video of it, too."
"Great. Meg, take that down to editing, quickly. Punit, get the bird to a green room and call animal control — ask what kind of permits we'll need, and, while you're at it, what it eats. Tad, come with me."
And Tad, blissfully relieved of his responsibilities, followed Bobby into the men's room.
He winced when he caught sight of his reflection; it looked as bad as he felt. The stage manager soaked a washcloth under the faucet; Tad flinched when it was pressed to his cuts. "Ow!"
"Hold still. It's got Bactine; it's gonna sting a bit."
"Or a lot — ow—!" But he tried to hold still, and mostly succeeded.
"Why do we still work here?" asked Bobby as he wrung out the cloth for the third time.
It had the sound of a rhetorical question, but Tad offered an answer: "Because if we quit, Stephen would write us horrible references?"
"That's true. Although Stewart might intervene if we asked him to."
"No, I don't think so. He hardly ever overrides Stephen on Report matters. Also, I suspect they could be sleeping together."
"Oh, no. They were the same way back on The Daily Show — you weren't there, of course, but I was a stagehand there for a long time — trust me, they look like they're together, but then you realize Stewart loves his wife and Stephen, um, Stephen's in denial."
"Denial or not, Stephen can be very forceful when he puts his mind to it."
"Is this about the time he invited you to his cabin?" inquired Bobby with careful lightness, unrolling some gauze.
"In a way. He never said anything directly, so I could act as though I didn't know what he was hinting at. But it was tough, holding him off all weekend. I don't know if Mr. Stewart has that kind of stamina."
The gauze was pressed to the worst of his cuts, and a strip of medical tape stretched over it. "I don't think you're giving him enough credit."
"Remember the situation with the apology to Geraldo? All Stephen had to do was glare at him for a few days, and then do that thing he does with the soulful eyes, and Mr. Stewart rolled right over."
"But that wasn't really important to Stewart in the first place. He wouldn't go so far as to have sex with Stephen for the sake of his hurt-puppy impression."
"It would not surprise me," declared Tad.
Bobby sighed and began smoothing his hair — a largely futile effort, given Tad's wild tangle of curls. "And yet, you were worried about us."
"Bobby, don't." Tad stepped away. "Stephen wouldn't have seen us the same way at all, and you know it."
One of the toilets flushed.
Both men froze. The first stall, which had been labeled "Stephen's Use Only" since a few months ago, stood open and empty; but the second was closed, and as they watched it clicked open.
Thankfully, it was only Jimmy who walked out. He nodded to the two of them as he went to a sink, where he switched on the water and asked, nonchalantly, "Is anyone on this staff straight?"
Tad and Bobby exchanged a surprised glance.
"Aren't you married?" ventured Bobby.
"Oh, yes. But I swing both ways. I just met Ms. Right before Mr. Right."
"What about Punit?" suggested Tad.
"No," said Bobby, "when he finally asked what the gay agenda was, and Meg explained homosexuality and why Stephen always ranted about it, his response was basically 'You mean I'm not crazy?'"
He paused. "Has anyone asked Killer?"
"Ran into him at a pride rally last month," replied Jimmy. "Almost didn't recognize him."
"Why? Was he in one of those masked leather getups?"
"No, a ball gown. Blue satin. Rather fetching, really."
♦ ⋅ ◊ ⋅ ♦ ⋅ ◊ ⋅ ♦
April 19, 2007
When Jane heard that she had been booked on The Colbert Report at the end of her promotional tour for Georgia Rule, she insisted on calling the host to thank him personally.
"I'm so looking forward to seeing you again, Stephen," she purred into the phone as she leaned back on her sofa. "You haven't been having lots of ice cream threeways in the meantime, have you?"
"Actually, I have my own flavor of ice cream now, so you might say that anyone who eats it is having an ice cream foursome with us." He paused. "That's a metaphor, by the way. The big Metaphor-Off with Sean Penn is tonight, and I have to be razor-sharp. That's another metaphor."
"That sounds absolutely wonderful. And how have you been? I saw the ultrasounds in Time last month. They look darling."
"Oh, he's great. A real gem. —That's a metaphor too. Except when he starts kicking in the middle of the night. Then he's a nightmare. —That's not a metaphor. I have actual nightmares, is what I'm saying."
"I hope he'll kick a little when I'm in the studio, so I can feel it. But it is a shame," cooed Jane. "Ever since I last did you, I've been looking forward to coming back and sitting on your lap. And now you haven't got one."
Stephen didn't have a response to that. It was most gratifying.
"I suppose that's a metaphor too?" she teased.
"Uh...yes! Yes, it is!"
"Well, if you can't figure that out," snapped Stephen, and left it hanging.
"You seem to be quite...potent...at producing metaphors," said Jane soothingly.
"Of course! I've been practicing. I even read some poetry, just to get an idea of what the big names do. Do you know," he added, "that this one guy, T. S. Eliot, said 'April is the cruelest month'? But April's more than half over, and it hasn't been cruel at all."
"I suppose it's different for each person," mused Jane. "Although it does seem rather cruel that we don't get to see each other until May."
"I don't think that's what the poet guy meant."
"Hmm, perhaps not."
As months go, it was May that turned out to be really notable for cruelty. To Jane's mild dismay, she was never to learn why.
May 8, 2007
The first meeting of the day was always a little chaotic.
Rob had adapted pretty quickly; he was usually able to muscle in his stories. Not like, say, Aasif, who was matter-of-fact and rarely raised his voice and sometimes had trouble getting on the air at all.
And then there was John.
Rob's officemate broke all the rules. He was nice and self-effacing and modest, and after more than a year in the country still came across as the awestruck foreigner, but somehow he managed to have a piece on the air practically every other night.
Maybe the wide-eyed innocence actually worked in his favor. Certainly it discouraged Rob from trying to beat him down for the sake of air time. But then, Rob had a huge crush on the man, so he had an excuse.
(Certainly Jon wouldn't think like that — "sweet and modest" wasn't exactly the host's type. On the other hand, maybe Jon saw something of himself in the cute Brit.)
They were all passing around newspapers and magazines and the reports from their researchers, occasionally debating a story's importance or taking notes or flagging an intern to see if they had a clip on file, when Rob noticed that John and Aasif were whispering over something in Time magazine.
He leaned over John's shoulder and snickered appreciatively.
"Something good?" asked Jon from across the table, looking over the top of the New York Times.
"Uh, well," said John, flustered. "Sort of."
"Oh? Give it here."
"It's not very interesting."
"I'll be the judge of that." Jon's tone was mild, with no trace of suspicion, as he held out his hand. "Come on."
Before Rob could stop him, John had tossed the magazine over.
It landed with a flop, leaves creased, and the host found the item instantly: a half-page article among the short gossipy pieces towards the back, dominated by a large glossy photo.
Jon took one look at the article and sighed. "Oh, for crying out loud. Does everyone think I'm sleeping with Stephen?"
Rob wasn't sure how to respond to that. Judging by the silence that fell over the room, neither was anyone else.
For a moment Jon didn't seem to notice. He read the article more thoroughly (Rob hadn't memorized it, but the phrases "long-unexplained closeness" and "has recently set tongues wagging" stuck in his head), studied the photo (a very sweet shot, really, in which he and Colbert were looking over a row of strollers), and flipped the page to see if there was more (there wasn't). Then he looked up.
Rob carefully avoided his gaze.
"No," he heard Jon say, quiet, disbelieving. "You don't."
"But aren't you—" began John.
He stopped there, as Rob had kicked him under the table, but the damage was done. When Rob allowed himself to look, he found that their boss had had turned a laserlike focus on John. And he was glaring. Rob had never realized the man could glare.
Poor John looked like he wanted to shrink into the floor.
There was a moment of tense silence, then Jon said, with an eerie lightness, "The Queen's visiting Washington. You're going to do a piece about it."
"I...I suppose I could...I haven't been following it terribly closely...."
"We'll write something for you. The Tenet interview will spill over into the middle segment, so we can put everyone on filling the first. Oh, and — Kelly!"
The nearest intern stood at attention.
"Run down to editing and tell them to TiVo everything with Richard Quest in it. I'll be down in the afternoon to make clips."
"Richard...?" It took John a moment to recognize the name. "Richard Quest? Isn't he the man who...Jon, you wouldn't."
"You all have your assignments," replied the host brightly, standing up and snagging the section of the Times with the crossword. "Meeting adjourned. See you this afternoon."
With that he swept out, leaving a stunned room behind him.
"He wouldn't really," implored John, looking helplessly from face to face.
"I think he would," said DJ soberly. "That was serious."
"Well, you bloody well could have stuck up for me, couldn't you?" cried John.
"Dude," said Rob, "we all know not to start talking when someone asks a question like that!"
"But I didn't think he would...you know!...I wasn't expecting that!"
Aasif, still looking at the door, shook his head. "It's always the quiet ones."
♦ ⋅ ◊ ⋅ ♦ ⋅ ◊ ⋅ ♦
May 10, 2007
Though he was the correspondent most recently hired, Aasif had been freelancing for The Daily Show long enough to know when a report went well. His own before the commercial break had gone just fine.
Or so he thought. Sam wasn't convinced, and as the show's Senior Woman Correspondent and Senior Correspondent In General, Sam was generally defaulted to on such matters.
"It wasn't your fault," she declared in a whisper. "He's tense. Under the circumstances, you didn't do too badly."
When they were in-studio, the correspondents usually watched the show from the break room; when Aasif was there, they also usually stole his lunch. Today Aasif and Sam, along with Rob, were standing in the wings with John to provide moral support. Tuesday's segment on the Queen had been humiliating enough; if he was going to get through today's report on Tony Blair's resignation, he would need all the support he could get.
"Maybe Aasif should just do my bit too," moaned the Brit. "Then I can just hide under a rock until this all blows over."
"Uh-uh, John. You know the drill. I do reports on brown people, Sam does reports on women, Rob does reports on the military, and you do reports on England."
"Hey," said Rob suddenly, in what could with a lot of imagination have been an attempt at an English accent, "chin up, old boy, eh? Stiff upper lip, what?"
John stared. "You," he pronounced, "sound incredibly stupid."
"Can't let you be the only one," replied Rob, then leaned over John's shoulder to read from the notepad in his hands: "Pip pip cor blimey, and all that rot."
"Jolly good show, Rob," chimed in Sam. "Easier to be a bloomin' idiot when your mates join in, innit?"
They both turned expectantly to Aasif.
"Um," he said. "Tea and crumpets?"
It was not the most convincing attempt, but John looked surprisingly gratified. "Thank you," he said, tucking away his notepad. "All of you. I really mean it."
Then: "Right. There's my cue. Cheerio, eh?"
He took his place on the stage, and a moment later, when the camera cut to him, said brightly: "Hello! It's an absolutely frumptious night! That cheeky boy Tony Blair has finally called it a kipper and cried 'tallyho!' to 10 Downing Street!"
He even danced a bit.
"John," said the host, "what are you doing?"
"Reporting the news, what what! Jolly good show, innit?"
He saluted and grinned; Jon looked sober. "Why are you talking like that Richard Quest guy on CNN?"
John's grin began to waver.
"I-isn't that what you wanted?" he stammered. "...guv'nor?" he added belatedly, the last attempt at the forced caricature of himself. "Jon, you remember...the other — two days ago, you showed me...Chuck, do we have that footage?"
One of the Quest clips played; when it was over, John looked helplessly at the host.
Jon's 'what are you doing?' expression didn't move. "That guy sounds like an idiot!"
It was like watching a high-speed film of lettuce wilting, or a carefully sculpted ice cream sundae collapsing into a puddle. Aasif's stomach was churning.
"John, this is a momentous event! For a world power, the first new Prime Minister in over a decade! I'm surprised you're not prepared with some sober analysis!"
Aasif caught Sam's eye — she looked shellshocked — and then they looked up at Rob, and both grabbed his arms, because Rob looked like he was about to charge onstage and cut the segment short by brute force.
When it finally came to a close on its own, John stumbled off the stage and nearly collapsed against Rob, whose murderous look was sideswiped by his confusion over how to respond. Aasif helped Sam marshal the pair away from the set and into the hall.
"What do we do now?" he asked at last.
Sam shook herself out of her lingering daze. "Go home, John. You too, Rob," she added to the man who was now gingerly patting John's hair. "Don't worry about post-show anything. Just go and enjoy your weekends."
Her jaw was set, her shoulders squared. "Who's 'we'?" inquired Aasif nervously once the other two were out of earshot.
"Don't worry, not us personally," replied Sam, flipping open a cell phone and furiously punching in numbers. "I'm calling in the heavy artillery."
♦ ⋅ ◊ ⋅ ♦ ⋅ ◊ ⋅ ♦
May 11, 2007
John woke to a very unusual smell. It wasn't tea or coffee, eggs or toast, sausage or bacon; it was very sweet, but too unusual to place.
He opened his eyes and reached for his glasses, only to find that the bed was much wider than he remembered, so that instead of hitting the nightstand his hand found only more sheets. Rolling over, he discovered that a wall had appeared right up against the beside, so no nightstand there either.
And then, trying to figure out where he had left them, he reconstructed the events of the previous night and sorted out that it wasn't his room at all.
He eventually found the glasses hanging precariously on the headboard, and put them on just in time to see Rob enter with a large plate.
"I tried to make you a full English breakfast," he said as he sat down on the other side of the bed, "but I dropped the eggs, burned the toast, and charred the bacon, and the tomatoes were still hard and I didn't think you'd want just mushrooms. So I made you pancakes instead."
He passed John the plate; it was piled high with fluffy golden pancakes dripping with syrup, topped off with butter and a dusting of powdered sugar. No wonder it had smelled sweet.
"Well, I didn't come here to eat the American version of British food," pointed out John, picking up one of the two forks and poking at the stack. "Now, what are these things in them, these little dark things...?"
"Chocolate chips! You like 'em?"
"Chocolate...? You mean, instead of having meat and eggs and vegetables for breakfast, you have sugar and butter and syrup and chocolate?"
"Uh, yeah. Is that too much?"
"No, no, it's perfect." He gouged out a forkful calculated to contain all four, bit down, and spoke around the sweet fluffy mass: "Go' b'ess A'e'ica!"
♦ ⋅ ◊ ⋅ ♦ ⋅ ◊ ⋅ ♦
May 14, 2007
When Jon opened the door of the meeting room on Monday, it was empty save for one person.
"Where's everybody else?" he asked as he sat down and tapped the papers he'd brought into a neat stack.
"Morning meeting. They've moved it."
"Oh." Jon stood again. "Where is it?"
"Right, right, very funny. Seriously, though, where did they go?"
"I'm serious too. It's undisclosed. They know, and I know, but you don't get to know."
"Well, why aren't you with them?" Jon paused. "Hang on. You don't have a segment this week."
"Ah, I can see the gears turning from here. Yes! I do not have a segment! That's why I'm not at the meeting."
"All right, I give up. Why are you here?"
"Sit down, Jon," ordered Lewis. "This is an intervention."
Chapter 15: Backstory in Black
Jon dug through his pockets with no success: he had come straight from the set, without bothering to run back to the dressing room and grab his wallet.
All that hurry, when I could have finished the show and showered and changed and still been here in plenty of time....
Come to think of it, I'm still in makeup, aren't I?
He ducked briefly into the men's room, one small room with blue tile and stainless steel furnishings, and checked it out. Sure enough, his face was streaked with sweat and faintly orange. He washed it off as best he could without daring to take too long, in case the nurse returned and missed him.
Who am I kidding? he wondered as he walked briskly back to the waiting room. There's no way I could have finished the show in this state. Would've been the worst interview I've ever done.
Sitting down proved to be almost unbearable, so he started pacing the length of the waiting room; eventually he shrugged off his jacket as the exercise overcame the slight chill of the building, and then paced some more.
And then he turned on his heel and found that the freckled nurse had appeared at the door.
"I found Dr. Moreau," she said. "She said to tell you she's sorry."
♦ ⋅ ◊ ⋅ ♦ ⋅ ◊ ⋅ ♦
May 14, 2007
"Sorry?" blinked Jon stupidly.
"An intervention. Traditionally, when a group of your friends gets together to talk to you about your destructive behavior. Except that last week you pretty much scared off all of your friends, so instead you get me." He spread his hands dramatically. "Aren't you lucky."
"But — what for? I don't have a drinking problem, I'm not on drugs...."
"Didn't think so. Which means you don't get to blame anything but yourself for your behavior towards Oliver."
"Is that all this is about? Listen, Lewis, it was just a bit of harmless teasing. Who told you it was a big deal?"
"Pretty much everybody."
"I'm not telling you who made the call, but by the time the phone got passed to everyone who wanted a turn, about twenty people had told me you'd gone round the bend, and would Uncle Lewis please charge in to save the day. And don't you tell me it was harmless! I've seen the tapes. You were tormenting that kid."
Jon stood speechless.
"Sit!" barked Lewis, and he quickly dropped into a chair.
"Now, Jon, you're a nice guy. What the hell did Oliver do to you?"
"He insinuated," said Jon slowly, "and he wasn't joking, that I was having an affair."
"Does there need to be?"
"No, but I was really, really hoping you weren't that dumb."
"For what? For taking my marriage seriously? For..."
"Of course not," snapped Lewis. "For thinking Oliver's the only one."
Now Jon was just confused. "I wouldn't be, well, picking on him, if someone else had also said..."
"Most of them aren't obtuse enough to say anything! Doesn't matter! The fact remains, and it's a miracle you've never caught on, is that every single person who has ever worked here — every correspondent, every contributor, every producer, every researcher, every technician, hell, even the interns — has gone through a phase where they wonder if you're screwing Colbert!"
♦ ⋅ ◊ ⋅ ♦ ⋅ ◊ ⋅ ♦
Lewis was not a morning person. Mornings made him cranky.
Of course, by the afternoon he had usually heard something in the news that made him cranky, and by evening if he was doing a show he had practiced the delivery of many other things that made him cranky, and he didn't believe in a higher power but sometimes the fact that he got paid to yell at things made him wonder.
But right now it was way too early to be confronting something frustrating, and he wasn't even getting paid for it.
He was hoping Jon would wise up soon, but if not, he was in the perfect mood to rant for a while.
"What?" said Jon again. Then, "Why?"
Yeah, 'not' was looking pretty likely right about now.
"A couple of reasons, which I'll take in order from least subtle to most subtle — and I use the word 'subtle' loosely here, because all of this is really damn obvious to everyone except you. First reason, and God help us all if you've missed this one: Colbert is a flaming queer."
"You did know that."
"I wouldn't have put it in exactly those terms..."
"All right, how would you put it?"
"Uh...listen, it's a pretty sensitive subject for Stephen..."
"Good thing he's not in the room, then! Spit it out, Jon. Who are you gonna offend? Me? Not likely!"
He gesticulated so vehemently at this last that his glasses nearly fell off; he shoved them back on, the better to glare impatiently at Jon.
After a ridiculously long pause, the man said, "Stephen's sexually attracted to men. Very strongly."
"Good!" Lewis grinned: possibly his most intimidating expression of all. "Now we're getting somewhere. Second point: You have a blind spot for Colbert that most people reserve for their kids, their pets, and the people they're sleeping with. Hell, you gave him a whole show."
"He's doing well with it. He's talented."
"Look around you, Jon. There are plenty of talented people here."
"Is this about jealousy?" asked Jon suddenly.
Lewis had been expecting this one. "No. That's part of the reason I'm the one talking to you: The Root of All Evil has a contract already. Besides, the show isn't the only issue. Every time he got in an argument with someone here — every time! — you gave it the Fox News version of fair and balanced, even when a monkey could see that Colbert was wrong."
At this Jon started to protest, but Lewis cut him off. "Don't start! Ninety-nine percent of the time you're a fantastic boss, and of course you aren't trying to play favorites! That's why they call it a blind spot. You don't see that you're doing it.
"The third point — and this is the one people miss if they don't get to know you, because anyone with half a brain can see at first glance that you have a sharp mind and you use it — is that for such a bright guy you can be really naïve. That, or your gaydar is busted. Things about you two that scream queer to the rest of us — and really, shopping for strollers? How domestic is that? — don't even register with you. Hell," he added, laughing gruffly, "Colbert could probably jam his tongue down your throat and you wouldn't think anything of it...."
Jon was blushing.
♦ ⋅ ◊ ⋅ ♦ ⋅ ◊ ⋅ ♦
He had been prepared to cut Lewis some slack, to put up with more yelling and swearing and general invective than he would tolerate from any other employee, because, hey, it was Lewis. But his patience was wearing thin under the onslaught, which didn't seem to be connected to his behavior as he understood it. And then, unexpectedly, it hit home.
Jon could feel the heat rising in his cheeks. He hoped against hope that the other man wouldn't notice.
"Oh, Christ," said Lewis. "And here I thought I was exaggerating."
"It wasn't random," protested Jon feebly. "I was standing under the mistletoe...." Which was actually holly, but this sounds weak enough as it is....
"You don't play tonsil hockey with someone just because there's mistletoe! What was this, an office party?"
"No, it was...." He trailed off.
If any god has ever been offended by me, now would be a great time to send the lightning.
"Speak up!" barked Lewis.
"It was his hotel room!" yelled Jon. "And yes, okay, I can see how that sounds pretty gay! But no one else was there, and it's not like we've made out on the set! What have we done in public that makes people think we're in love?"
"Who said anything about love?"
"Having sex, then! Excuse me if I happen to associate the two!"
"That's what I mean by naïve! It just doesn't occur to you that people might think Colbert's blowing you because you're the boss!"
"Stephen wouldn't do that."
"He did it to Kilborn!"
"Why do you think he hired a correspondent who was even more of a rampant egomaniac than he was?"
Reeling from the information, Jon tried to bounce back. "Is that an assumption, the way people assume Stephen and I—"
"A. Whitney Brown walked in on them once. Scarred the poor man for life. Apparently Colbert was—"
"Stop!" Jon meant to sound commanding; it came out as a plea.
The verbal train screeched to a halt.
"I don't need details," he added, feeling his chest constrict; and then for a moment or two he was absorbed in the struggle to catch his breath.
When Lewis continued, it was gruff but more calm: "Not to impinge on your talent, but the producers probably had that in mind when they hired you. They figured you'd be less corruptible."
"Stephen has never," said Jon slowly, "made any inappropriate advances..."
"That was last year — he already had a show and a contract—"
"But if you didn't notice that, you probably missed any hints he dropped for the first six years."
And now that Jon thought back, he remembered times, the details now long faded, when he had brushed things off....
"Okay," he said at last, feeling deflated. "Clearly, I've missed a lot."
"If you could just — help me out, here — tell me some of the things that give people the wrong idea, and I'll try to see them the way you have."
"I will shut up and let you talk."
"Good. It didn't start the first day you showed up — well, in a way, it did, because he spent the whole time sucking up to you with this pained look on his face, and if any of us had been his boss we would have smacked him down right there, but it wasn't after at least a few weeks of this that someone wondered why you never said anything...."
Lewis had a long memory. For the next quarter of an hour he went through Jon's entire career at The Daily Show, sometimes with exact dates but more often with a vague gesture and an emphatic "And after that..." There were some incidents Jon remembered well, many that came back to him as they were described, and a few that he didn't remember at all. Still, there were more than enough of those he remembered to make the point.
"And then he talked on the show about blowing O'Reilly, and I didn't see your reaction but I'm sorry I missed it, because the next time I came in people were still talking about how you were halfway to leading a mob down to Fox with torches and pitchforks. Every time he gets sick, you're with him at the hospital. And all this time you're doing this increasingly personal shopping, starting with furniture — no, starting with the house, and two people don't usually buy and decorate a house together unless they're both gonna live in it — and ending up with strollers! What's next, baby clothes?"
It was a moment before Jon realized that Lewis had stopped talking; it didn't help that the other man hadn't stopped moving, his face twitching and his hands jerking like a marionette's.
"Oh, God, you didn't space out on me, did you? How much of that do I have to repeat?"
"No, no, I got it. Sorry, I thought that was a rhetorical question."
"Well, it was. But I was done."
Jon nodded. "Okay," he said slowly. "It's...kind of a lot to digest."
"Go ahead. I need a drink anyway." Lewis got up and went over to the water cooler, leaving Jon to look blankly in the direction where he had been.
Some part of his brain tried to offer up rationalizations for a few of the incidents on the long list, but as they made no difference it soon shut up.
This isn't just trashy tabloid speculation or an unusual incident catching someone's eye. This is our normal behavior.
The blatant professional favoritism needs to stop — God, I can't believe nobody ever called me on that.
And the rest of it — all the personal stuff that just happens to look really gay — I could stop that too. Stop having lunch with Stephen every other day. Tell him he needs to start shopping on his own. Quit fussing over him, hopping to answer his calls, getting excited when the toss comes around...
But I can't cut ties with him, not now — for the baby's sake if nothing else—
Another part of his brain chimed in, with a voice that sounded suspiciously like Lewis': Who are you trying to fool, Stewart?
He tried again. I can't cut ties with him now, because I don't want to. Stephen's my friend, and in spite of all his flaws I happen to like him.
Maybe even love him, in, y'know, a friendly type of way.
And if our normal behavior suggests something else to people, well...
A thought struck him, and he smiled in spite of himself.
"Somethin' funny?" asked Lewis, setting a paper cup down in front of him.
"Nah. Ironic." Jon took the water without looking up. "I've been all neurotic about this, and taking that out on other people, and now, with everything laid out, I can see — it is what it is, and I should relax about it, and why do I care what other people think, anyway?"
He shook his head.
"Now, how the hell did Stephen figure that out before I did?"
♦ ⋅ ◊ ⋅ ♦ ⋅ ◊ ⋅ ♦
In an extra meeting room at the end of a long hallway that no one ever followed all the way to the end, sitting on chairs that had been banished there for squeaky wheels or missing legs or failure to match any other remaining seats around the studio, encamped between piles of out-of-date and broken equipment that was too big to be easily shuttled off, the staff of The Daily Show sat and talked.
They had, under DJ's direction, sorted out the agenda for the day. Already they had been keenly aware of the reason for their boss' absence, but it was worse when it became clear that there was no more business to be done, and yet no one could leave. Some of the writers sat back and attempted to lay out their assignments, or ended up in little huddled clumps with researchers to go over figures. Others tried in vain to make small talk. On the floor in one corner, a group of interns played Egyptian Rat Screw.
All the shuffling of paper and clearing of throats and mumbling of facts or figures or polite nothings was rubbish at filling the Stewart-shaped hole in the discourse, and John felt as though he were standing on the edge of that hole, so that any false step would send him tumbling downwards.
Rob was paying special attention to him where small talk was concerned. John appreciated it, but he couldn't really pay attention. Now that he was back in the studio, all he could think of was how handy Rob could be as a thing behind which to hide.
And then the door opened, and there, alone, stood Stewart. A hush fell across the room. Under the table, Rob squeezed John's hand.
"It has come to my attention," said Stewart into the stillness, "that I have been kind of a dick."
The staff let out a collective sigh of relief.
All except for Rob. "Yeah," he said, unmollified. "Yeah, you have."
He glared defiantly at Stewart. The room cringed; but the boss met his gaze without flinching or glaring back. "I deserved that," he admitted. "Just don't say it on-air, because that would be crossing a line."
A couple of people laughed in spite of themselves; others got the joke a moment later and snickered; and by the time Stewart began making proper apologies, most effusively to John, the tension had begun to ease.
Chapter 16: In Jon We Trust
Jon's heart stopped.
"'Sorry'? What's wrong? Is — is—"
"Let me finish," said the nurse. "The patient is in surgery. His condition is not critical. Most of Dr. Moreau's team is currently working with him. He is unconscious under a general anesthetic and not in pain."
Every sentence felt like it was lifting a brick off of Jon's chest.
"The doctor sends her apologies that you were not informed sooner. When the patient's condition is sufficiently stable, she will come and meet with you herself."
"What do you mean, 'sufficiently stable'? Is he unstable now?"
"He is as stable as can be expected for someone undergoing organ removal. No need to get alarmed."
"But I've been practicing all night," quipped Jon. The nurse looked puzzled. "Never mind. Bad joke, forget it. What about the baby?"
"The infant was delivered eight minutes ago."
"Can I see him?"
"No. Not yet."
"Where is he?"
"You have to understand, Mr. Stewart, that this is our standard procedure for infants born by Cesarean, and is not indicative of any more pressing problem...."
"I got it, I got it, where is he?"
"The intensive care unit."
♦ ⋅ ◊ ⋅ ♦ ⋅ ◊ ⋅ ♦
May 17, 2007
When her husband called in the middle of the day and asked if she wanted to help with a bit on the show, Tracey said she would love to, as long as she could get someone to watch the dog for the evening. The kids were easy to deal with; any of their regular sitters could take care of them. The dog, though, was one that she had brought home from work, and needed eyedrops and careful monitoring of its food and the occasional tranquilizer.
Luckily, one of the other vet techs had the evening free; so Tracey left him the dog, called the girl from the next building over to watch the kids, and arrived at the studio shortly before rehearsal.
She met Jon in makeup, a drape over his shoulders while the artist brushed up his complexion into something the camera would love, even if it looked a bit orange in person.
He waited for the artist to switch brushes before turning to greet her. "Hey, hon! Oh good, you're wearing black! Forgot to mention that, and wardrobe would have had my head otherwise."
"I figured it would bleed least on the screen," said Tracey, and smiled when Jon looked surprised. "I do listen to your TV technobabble once in a while, you know."
"Hey, I listen to your explanations about why the cat has half a uterus. Doesn't mean I understand them." To the artist, he added, "Mandy, when you're done, can you make up Tracey? She hasn't been on before, but take your best shot, and you can touch it up after you see what she looks like during rehearsal."
"Certainly, Mr. Stewart," said the makeup artist. "Sit down, ma'am. I'll be with you in a moment."
Tracey took a seat in the chair next to Jon and met his eyes in the mirror. They were amused.
She gave him a helpless look. I'm a "ma'am" now?
The corners of his mouth quirked in a silent laugh. Sounds like it.
Fully made up, they walked arm-in-arm onto the new set, which Tracey had only seen a few times and never really explored. The rehearsal was delayed for ten minutes when the Giant Head of Ted Koppel announced that it was hungry, and a small army of interns had to go fetch a giant hoagie; in the meantime, Jon gave her the full tour.
"One of your cameramen keeps staring at me," she murmured when they were on the other side of the stage. "The guy at camera three."
Her husband glanced in that direction, then shrugged. "Can you blame him? I could stare at you all night."
"Oh, you." She slapped him playfully on the arm. "That's not what I mean, anyway. He's looking at me like I'm the Loch Ness Monster. You do have women on your crew, right?"
"Oh, sure! Just last night, we had on our senior...by which I mean only...female correspondent."
They laughed, and moved on to the green screen that was used in place of on-location reports to save costs, and rehearsal went well and the show even more so. Still, Tracey kept feeling eyes on her.
♦ ⋅ ◊ ⋅ ♦ ⋅ ◊ ⋅ ♦
When they returned to Jon's office afterwards, she had to ask. "Is there an unofficial rule against PDAs here? Every time I get too close to you, I catch someone looking surprised."
Jon looked suddenly uncomfortable, and got up to lock the door.
"I'm going to ask you a question," he said as he returned to the couch, "and I want you to answer without thinking too hard about the implications, okay?"
"Have you ever suspected me of having an affair?"
That was easy. "No. I trust you."
He looked, if not quite relieved, less worried.
"Besides," she added lightly, "you would have told me."
He smiled a little at that, in spite of himself. "Yeah, I probably would."
And he laid out, briefly, the facts of the thing: the inadvertent favoritism in his friendship with Stephen, the way people had perceived it, the way it had come to a head the week before.
"I've confronted the rumor the best I can since then," he finished, "but I think some of my staff — especially the newer ones — are still a little surprised to see, well, you with me."
Tracey, who had paid careful attention to the whole thing, nodded thoughtfully.
Then she said, "I finally get why you have a shower in your office. Those stage lights get hot."
"Oh! Sorry!" exclaimed Jon. "Go ahead in — I'll wait...."
"Oh, no, I couldn't do that. And let you sit out here being hot and sweaty on your own? No, that wouldn't be fun."
"Well, I certainly can't do that to you. You're a guest here; you can't go in second."
"Exactly." Tracey gave him a significant look.
A second later, it clicked. "Oh. Ooh."
Still, his approval was tempered by whatever instinct made him search for things to worry about. "It's, uh, awfully small," he said apologetically.
"So much the better."
"And the walls are pretty thin...."
"Well, if people are going to talk about you anyway," said Tracey, raising her eyebrows.
"Trace, no. I'm not going to have sex with you in the shower just to prove to my staff that I do."
"Oh. No problem, then." Of course Jon was too honorable to pull a stunt like that. She just hoped she didn't sound too disappointed.
And then he leaned over, slipped a hand under her shirt, and whispered, "So we'll just have to be very quiet."
♦ ⋅ ◊ ⋅ ♦ ⋅ ◊ ⋅ ♦
May 24, 2007
Jon hadn't caught Wednesday's Report, so when DJ approached him after the Thursday morning meeting with a tape, he didn't know what to expect. His first guess was that Stephen had reacted badly at not being allowed to use "Back In Black" for a celebratory bit. (Jon had been about to greenlight that when the new little voice in his head, the one that sounded oddly like Lewis, had cried favoritism.)
But the tape started to play at the beginning of the second act, when Stephen was trying unsuccessfully to prompt the crowd into a chant.
"You remember Anthony Pellicano?" asked DJ as the host began talking about the ThreatDown.
"Vaguely. Hollywood racketeer, indicted last year, case files just got sent to the Times...what does that have to do with us? We're alternative news, not exactly big-name entertainment...."
"Threat number three," said the Stephen on the screen, "Anthony Pellicano!"
Fifteen minutes later he was striding into the old studio. There was a big loud flag waving around outside, presumably in preparation for Memorial Day; Jon glared at him, and he scurried out of the way.
What ever happened to "he would trust me with his life"?
The Report staff were in the middle of their own initial planning meeting, and when Jon finally decided to interrupt he found that Stephen wasn't with them; Bobby directed Jon to Stephen's office. "Sometimes he forgets to come to these," he explained. "It doesn't matter if we choose a topic he doesn't like, because he'll just ad-lib something else."
"Thanks," said Jon shortly, and headed for the stairs.
The delays gave him time to cool down, and, more importantly, to remember how well his last couple of angry outbursts had gone. And if Stephen had been in one of his tired-and-helpless-mother-to-be moods, the sort where he ended up lying on the couch and looking pitiful, Jon might have been defused altogether.
But no, Stephen was up and in motion, apparently having decided that the portraits on his wall were in desperate need of rearranging. He looked up when he heard the door shut behind his visitor.
"Oh! Hi, Jon! Didn't see you there. Aren't you early?"
"I'm not here for lunch. I just saw last night's show."
"Is this about the song? Because we got by without it, and I think we did just fine, but if you want to reconsider, I'll accept."
"No, it's about the ThreatDown."
"Ah." Stephen was suddenly very absorbed in adjusting one of the portraits. "It was '99, and I was young, and things were different then...."
"That isn't what I'm worried about." Jon crossed half of the room, stopping at a cool distance from Stephen. "It's what you have today — what you showed your audience last night."
"It's not a big deal, Jon."
"Why should I believe you?"
Now Stephen turned to face him. "You don't trust me."
"No," said Jon quietly. "No, I guess I don't."
"You've never trusted me, have you?"
For someone who never been a fan of facts, his tone was surprisingly matter-of-fact.
"You gave me all your best people because you didn't trust me to handle a show on my own. You got mad at the Christmas party last year because you didn't trust me not to get drunk while pregnant. You're probably only helping me with the baby shopping because you don't trust me to know what to do."
The question that had popped up in Jon's mind several times over recent weeks surfaced again, and he asked it: "Since when did you get so perceptive?"
"Since you got mad at me for not noticing things."
Jon was very nearly floored. He had been prepared for many a reaction, but not this quiet, calm sensibility. It was completely uncharacteristic. It was also, despite his lack of preparation, completely welcome.
And there was no telling how long it would last, so he took a chance.
"I'm very impressed that you've started noticing how other people feel," he said carefully. "But you can't pick and choose. You can't only see the things that are advantageous to you. There's more going on than what you've noticed, and it's not flattering to you, but it's true. Do you think you're ready to hear it?"
He was gratified to see that Stephen appeared to be thinking, really thinking, about his answer.
And then — looking somehow more vulnerable than he ever had, even during his most violent tearful outbursts — he said, "Tell me."
"I made sure the Report had a talented staff," he began, speaking slowly to make sure his thoughts would come out organized, "because it did not have a nine-year track record on which to lean if things went wrong in the short term. I knew you could carry the show as far as opinion and personality were concerned, but that alone is not enough to make it work. No matter what you may think, your presence alone does not guarantee an audience, a profit, or any kind of success.
"I was suspicious at the party, and, yes, I jumped to conclusions, partly because I worry all the time anyway and partly because you have always showed poor judgment about alcohol. This drunk call you made to Pellicano eight years ago is a perfect demonstration.
"And I have helped you with your shopping for several reasons. First," and here he took a step closer, "because you asked me to. Second," and he took another step, "because six months ago you didn't know how to identify water damage to a basement, wouldn't have thought about checking the dimensions of a bed to make sure you got the right size mattress, and had no idea how quickly babies go through diapers. You could never have gotten this far without a lot of fast research or somebody's help or both. Third," and with this step he was directly in front of Stephen, "I enjoy your company. The shopping allows me to spend time with you. And fourth," and here he rested his hands on Stephen's stomach, "I care about this one, and would like to help make his life easier. Even if it's by doing something that you could have done too."
There was a bump under his left hand: an elbow, a knee? Or, if the baby wasn't that big yet, maybe his head. A doctor would know; Jon couldn't tell the difference.
"And yesterday," he finished, eyes locked on Stephen's, "you denied that you had blackmailed me, and then said, 'But in the event of my untimely death, open this envelope.' That sounds to an observer like you have a contingency plan in case I secretly have you killed. It sounds to me like you have a contingency plan in case I secretly have you killed. And even if I don't trust you to get everything right, I certainly trust you not to resort to murder — so the question is, Stephen, why don't you trust me?"
Typically, when Stephen cried, there were two stages. In the first he fought to hold it back, lip wobbling and voice shaking as he clung to his slipping control; in the second he lost the fight and succumbed to violent sobbing, though he usually managed to flee public spaces before reaching that point. Right now he was in neither stage.
His eyes were simply filling with water, unchecked, unfought.
Somehow this was more gut-wrenching than any of his outbursts, and Jon held back the urge to be comforting. Not until I get an answer.
Then, very nearly reverting to his familiar pattern, the pundit gulped it all back and said, in a close approximation of his normal voice, "Of course I trust you, Jon! Don't be stupid! Here, I'll show you."
He pulled away, made his way over to a filing cabinet encrusted with yellow ribbon magnets, and retrieved from the top drawer an orange folder marked PRIVATE DO NOT OPEN. "No one's seen most of this," he said, holding it out to Jon. "Go on. Open it."
The page on top was a piece of Report letterhead, with Stephen's blocky print beginning under the logo:
I'm not a fan of reading, but I guess in this case it can't be helped.
If you're opening this, it means I'm dead. Don't worry about me; I was Catholic, so I'm in Heaven chilling with the saints. If you aren't Catholic, it's not too late to convert!
If my death was suspicious — and really, at my age, how could it be natural? — I want you to find whoever did it and punish them to the fullest extent of the law. Use torture to get the facts if necessary. Then go for lethal injection.
If you haven't found him yet, let me make your job easier. First, somebody's probably put Jon on the suspects list, because he has opportunity (he's alone with me a lot), method (he's clever, he could think of something), and motive (my show has been overshadowing his, and on top of that I've probably done something in the past week to make him mad). Well, you can take him off. Jon wouldn't do that even if I did deserve it. I would stake my life on it — although I guess that doesn't have the same weight that it used to.
I do have some people you can add to the list, though. Have you checked out Manilow's alibi?
Jon stopped reading there and flipped through the rest. There were provisions for setting up five trust funds; photos and descriptions of items to be given to various family members; a sealed envelope addressed to Charlene; another with no address but a series of names, all crossed off, ending with simply My son; and more. All of it looked surprisingly official: typed, signed, dated, and filled with legalese.
At last he said, "You did all this yourself?"
"Well, me and the lawyer I talked to. A couple of weeks ago I had this sudden urge to be prepared...Dr. Moreau had a word for it, something to do with eagles...."
This puzzled Jon until he thought about Stephen's obsessive arrangement of the portraits. A need to put everything in its proper place, to be ready.... "Nesting instinct?"
"Yeah, that's the one! And then when these transcripts got sent to the Times, I thought, what if someone digs up something else that I did, something that didn't involve you but someone who isn't sweet and patient, so I'd better make sure people know about this folder...."
Now his voice was quavering in typical first-stage fashion. "It wasn't about you, Jon, it was never about you, because I do trust you, I do, and I keep meaning to ask you to be godfather, because I thought I could trust Papa Bear but he went and told everyone about what I did with him and so now you're at the top of the list because I know you wouldn't do that and I — and I—"
Jon dropped the folder and hugged him. Stephen hiccuped into his shoulder; the baby, perhaps picking up on the distress, began to kick into his stomach.
If there had been a full-fledged outburst building, though, Stephen regained control before the storm broke. "I'm okay, I'm okay," he said at last, gently pushing Jon away. "You can stop hugging me now, Jon, 'cause that's really kinda gay."
"If that's gay," said Jon lightly, "then I don't want to be straight."
Stephen gave him a sharp look.
"Like you said during that one toss," he added quickly. "Remember?"
"Oh! No, of course." Stephen became suddenly busy adjusting his tie.
There was a moment of silence, then Jon asked hesitantly, "That bit about me being godfather. Did you mean it?"
"Technically, no. You're not Catholic, so it won't count. But in an unofficial secular sort of way...if that's okay. Is that okay?"
Only a well-tuned ear would have caught the faint slips in control: the way his voice sped up a fraction on the question, the way his tone went just slightly too high.
"Yes, Stephen. It's okay."
Jon suppressed the urge to hug his friend again, and settled for a reassuring smile.
His worries and anxieties and concerns and fears had lost distinction, had congealed into a general background buzz that filled his whole mind. And underneath it he could hear the rumbles of deeper terrors, ideas that he could not or dared not fully contemplate.
The nurse had promised that he would be notified immediately if something went wrong; but, given how well he had been kept informed so far, this didn't comfort him. Besides, at any point something could be going wrong, and the nurse could be just starting to walk down the hall.
For the first time that night, when the door opened, he was expecting it.
♦ ⋅ ◊ ⋅ ♦ ⋅ ◊ ⋅ ♦
May 29, 2007
Despite being one of the top members of Phoebe's team, Rick had never spent time alone with the patient. Phoebe was leader and media liaison and Colbert's primary contact all at once; Rick, like the other primary team members, had come to a few checkups, but since the initial implantation his role had been behind the scenes. He specialized in hormones, and aside from the scare over the iron levels this element of the pregnancy had gone very smoothly.
But Colbert was spending two days of the Memorial Week break in the hospital for some round-the-clock observation, and even Phoebe had to sleep once in a while.
Rick was not a people person, so he volunteered for the red-eye shift on the first night. He expected that Colbert would sleep through much of it, and there wouldn't be any bother with building a rapport.
He was wrong on both counts.
When he arrived, Phoebe gave him a brief outline of the day's events. The intermittent discomfort of which he had complained was now positively identified as Braxton-Hicks contractions; aside from that, he had eaten, taken his pills, strolled the gardens, had a visit from Stewart, and relaxed in front of the television with no unexpected difficulties.
In the meantime there was a camera in his room, a little gadget watching his pulse, and a "summon the doctor!" button on his wrist, just in case.
Rick had only exchanged brief greetings with Colbert. The patient had spread a stack of baby catalogs out on the bed and proceeded to get very involved with the latest box set of The Sopranos, so he was prepared to keep himself busy until he fell asleep. This was fine with Rick, who had work of his own to do, and still hadn't cracked the plastic wrap on the movie his sister had sent for his birthday four months ago.
The office next to the observation room had one monitor showing the feed from the camera, and another showing his heartbeat; at about one AM, Rick put his movie on the third. The camera had a night-vision view of the patient sleeping, and the second had been calm and even ever since he'd fallen asleep, so Rick allowed himself to pay attention to the movie.
Kevin Spacey's character was yelling at Amy Sedaris' when the heart rate began to rise.
Rick glanced at the first monitor. The patient shifted a little, but his breathing was even. Just a dream, then.
He paused the movie when Colbert began to talk in his sleep. It was just a garble of unintelligible phonemes, but Rick, like Phoebe, had taken to watching the patient's show every night to get a sense of his progress, so he recognized the intonation of "This is The Colbert Report!" near the beginning.
After eight minutes of intermittent mumbling, Rick wondered if the man were dreaming his way through an entire show.
Rather than start the movie again, he pulled out one of his papers and began to write an abstract, keeping his ears on the monitor. Might as well wait until Colbert drops out of REM sleep, he thought. It can't take long.
Seconds later, the heartbeat began to increase more rapidly; and, though the patient was too large to really toss and turn, he began to shift in agitation. Nightmare.
Rick put his paper down, gave up on the movie for the moment, went next door, and turned on the light.
♦ ⋅ ◊ ⋅ ♦ ⋅ ◊ ⋅ ♦
Colbert drained the glass of water in one go, then handed it back to the doctor and felt his stomach, as if by reflex.
"Bad dream?" asked Rick, who could think of nothing better to say.
"Bears," said Colbert darkly, as if that explained everything. "You got any more water?"
"Just a moment." Rick went over to the little lavatory attached to the observation room and filled the glass; as an afterthought, he dampened a washcloth and brought that too.
Colbert wiped the sweat from his face. With disheveled hair and his glasses off, he looked entirely different from his television persona — until he was composed enough to arrange his expression. All at once he was the man from the television, eyebrow arched so fiercely that it was hard to notice the damp strands of hair in his face. No wonder there were viewers willing to follow him over a cliff when fully groomed.
"As long as I'm here, can I get you anything else?" offered Rick, fully intending to make it quick and let the patient get back to his much-needed rest.
To his surprise, Colbert said, "Yes. You see that chair? Bring it over here. Yes, right there — now sit down. I'm going to Better Know you."
Rick could hear the capital letters in that. It had the sound of Authority. "Only for a little while, Mr. Colbert," he cautioned. "You need to get enough sleep."
"Right, right, of course. I just can't go back now; the bears are still there. So. Tell me about Dr. Rick Watson ... the fightin' Watson!"
Despite the late hour, the sparsely furnished room, the rumpled sheets, and the hospital-issue pajamas, Colbert was in his element. In ten minutes he had coaxed out of Rick a brief personal history, a defense of his Ivy League education, an explanation of why he enjoyed fly-fishing, and, somehow, an endorsement of George W. Bush as a "great" President.
"Say, you're a pretty nice guy," the host said eventually. "Do you have any interest in being my new black friend?"
This question threw Rick so badly that all he could think of to say was, "I'm not black. I'm biracial."
"Biracial? What's that?"
Okay, Rick had met some clueless white people over the years, but never one who was quite so blatant about it. "Ah. In my case, it means my mother was black and my father was white."
"Yeah, but which are you? Black or white? Pick a side. We're at war."
This was such a non sequitur that Rick could think of nothing to do but try another tack. "Your son's going to be biracial, you know."
Was that meant to be ironic? "You remember when the media was all over his biological parents, don't you? Surely you saw photos of them?"
"Yeah, but I'm colorblind. I don't see race. I'm not a racist."
By this point Rick just wanted out of the conversation, so he gave a clipped, direct answer. "His biological mother is Hispanic, and his biological father is Korean."
"Really? One of my arch-nemeses is Korean!"
At least Rick had context for this one: He had been watching the show during Colbert's overblown feud with Rain. "I can sing in Korean, you know," the host continued. "And I refuse to speak Spanish, but I bet you Esteban would speak it with him..."
"His race doesn't mean he'll born knowing either of those languages," said Rick, perhaps a little testily.
"Well, I know that," replied Colbert. "And obviously I'm going to raise him to speak English, because he's American and that should be our national language. But I thought it might be nice to, I don't know, expose him to some of his, I guess you'd call it, heritage or something. Is that right? I don't know anything about biracial people...."
Rick amended his opinion slightly. Clueless, but not hopeless.
Out loud he said, "That's a good thought. Unfortunately, this isn't my area of expertise; all I can refer to is my own case. You may want to read some of the literature on the matter for broader studies."
Colbert snorted dismissively. "Pfft! Reading."
Still, he looked as if he were considering the idea.
Then he met Rick's eyes and said, in a decidedly final tone, "Dr. Watson, thank you for taking the time to talk to me tonight."
"It was my pleasure," replied Rick, shaking Colbert's hand. As he left, he realized that it was even sort of true.
♦ ⋅ ◊ ⋅ ♦ ⋅ ◊ ⋅ ♦
June 5, 2007
Long before Stephen reached Jon's office, he was wishing he hadn't come. Should have just sent Bobby or Tad. No one as tired, sore, or bloated as he felt that morning ought to be on the move.
But Bobby and Tad had both failed retrieval jobs before — Bobby in letting his eagle son run to Canada, Tad in more ways than he could count (really, a chicken?) — and this was far too important a mission to risk. No, Stephen had to fetch her in person.
As soon as he saw that she was safe, he collapsed onto Jon's couch.
"The iPhone fans don't know what they're talking about," he said admiringly, if a little breathlessly. "That is a God Machine."
He still knew every inch of her, every curve, every hue. How could have have left her here to be smacked around by other correspondents? They didn't appreciate her the way he did. They didn't understand her....
Another contraction gripped his insides, and he cringed.
"Are you okay?" asked Jon from the desk, muting his televisions one by one.
"Fine," Stephen replied tightly.
Jon looked dubious. But then, now that Stephen was paying attention, Jon looked kind of out of it too. There was stubble on his chin and a set of heavy bags under his eyes.
"Are you okay?" he asked, when the tension let up.
It took a moment for Jon to respond. Was he surprised that Stephen had asked? But he didn't look surprised; he just looked tired.
"Yeah, I'm fine. Didn't sleep well last night, that's all. Or the night before. And the coffee's wearing off."
"Oh." Stephen could sympathize with that. "You know how I feel, then. This one decided to start doing gymnastics around two AM, and didn't let up all night. I can't wait until he's out and I can get some rest."
For a moment Jon just stared. Then he began to laugh, not his usual adorable girly giggle but the uncontrollable and slightly hysterical laughter of the sleep-deprived. Stephen watched him in alarm for several seconds, and then shuddered as the next contraction hit.
"Sorry," managed Jon as he finally got ahold of himself. "It's just — if you think you're going to get any sleep with a newborn in the house—" He stopped. "Stephen, tell me what's wrong."
"I'm fine, Jon," hissed Stephen as evenly as he could. "It's just Braxton-Hicks — perfectly normal this late in pregnancy."
"But they're not supposed to hurt," his friend protested.
"Not usually," Stephen corrected. The pressure was winding down; he relaxed, began to talk at a normal speed. "My uterus is hooked up to things that aren't designed to be hooked up to, and next to things that aren't designed to have contractions happening next to them, so it's pulling and pushing on things that aren't used to being pulled and pushed. Also, he's small, so there's more space to contract. Also," he finished wryly, "I just got lucky."
"Small?" repeated Jon. "How small?"
"Not small like there's a problem. Small like he's going to be small. You know how it is."
"Are you sure there's nothing wrong—"
"I was in for observation last week, remember? The doctors did all their fancy medical test things, and that's what they told me. In more technical terms, I mean. If there were something wrong, you'd be the first to know."
Jon seemed satisfied with this, so Stephen turned his attention back to the God Machine. She was sitting on her little wheeled stand stand next to Jon's desk; he raised a hand and drew it towards him, and the machine rolled in the same direction.
"I always meant to ask how you do that," remarked Jon.
Stephen frowned. "I didn't do anything. It's all her."
"But she — it — isn't mechanized or anything. Seriously, how do you make it move? Magnets?"
"She missed me," said Stephen, ignoring him. "That's why she stopped working for Sam, and you had to switch to a graphic." He stroked the top of the machine affectionately. "Don't worry, sweetheart. Stephen's here now."
"Is this one of those things where I'm not going to get a straight answer out of you? Like with the wørd bullet?"
"I gave you an answer, Jon. It's not my fault if you don't get it."
He was still soothing the God Machine when the next contraction came, and all his focus went to holding on. Breathe in, slowly, breathe out, ow, ow, ow, breathe in, don't gasp, breathe out, don't moan, don't be weak, don't let Jon think you're weak....
"Stephen, you've got a death grip on that thing! Did you tell Dr. Moreau they were this strong?"
He opened his eyes to see that both hands were on the machine, and gripping her so tightly that his knuckles had gone white.
"They're not," he insisted, ignoring all evidence to the contrary. Evidence was for factinistas. "I told you — I'm fine — if the ladies can do this, so can I—"
Jon fumbled in his desk for a moment, then got up and came over to sit on the couch with something in his hand. As this contraction wound down, Stephen eyed the little white object warily.
"When 'the ladies' get tired of putting up with them," said Jon, "there's always plan B."
"I don't believe in plan B. That would mean admitting that plan A didn't work."
"Plan B-H, then. That's what Bush said about the Baker-Hamilton plan; we used it in a Moment of Zen the other week. You know he wouldn't admit that plan A didn't work."
The logic was compelling, but Stephen remained suspicious. "Jon, are you offering me a hit?"
Again with the giggle. "It's an inhaler, Stephen. Asthma, remember? It's just Venturil. Perfectly legal. But a puff of this will stop Braxton-Hicks."
Stephen eyed the inhaler with new interest. "Really? Is it safe?"
"Yeah. Tracey stole this a couple of times with Nate, but I checked it out before I let her. I've heard a glass of port works on contractions too, but I'm not so sure about its side effects."
And of course Jon wouldn't have suggested it if it weren't safe. The only question left was... "Um, how?"
So Jon talked him through it. As he was holding his breath to make sure his lungs absorbed the drug, it occurred to him that Jon's lips had probably been wrapped around this thing hundreds of times.
And if his wife used it too, it's an inhaler three-way.
It wasn't as tasty as an ice cream three-way; but now that he was thinking about Jon and lips and wrapping and sucking, it was surprisingly hard to focus.
At last he put it down, wiping off the mouthpiece with his sleeve. "How long until it starts working?"
"Uh, at least five minutes. No more than twenty, I don't think."
He'd just gotten used to the idea of not having any more of these, and instead he might have twenty minutes' worth still to go? Stephen groaned.
"How soon do you have to get back?" asked Jon.
"It's my show. I can get back whenever I want."
"That," said Jon, "is not actually true, but lucky for you I'm too tired to argue." He retrieved an ugly green pillow from behind the couch and handed it to Stephen. "Lie down."
A little thrill went down Stephen's spine. "What are you going to do?"
"I," replied Jon, putting a second pillow on his own lap, "am going to sit right here and prop up your feet, and pretend I don't have any work to do either. Go on, lie down."
Soon enough Stephen was stretched out with his head on a pillow on the arm of the couch, his torso awkwardly twisted so that the weight of the baby wouldn't squash his other organs, and his legs on another pillow resting on Jon's thighs. And it was all perfectly innocent, never mind that half of the fantasies that he refused to acknowledge in daylight hours began with this same man saying, in a voice that was gentle but too firm to disobey, "Lie down."
"How are your feet?" asked the real Jon.
"Sore," replied Stephen.
"Let me get these shoes off."
And that, again, was almost how the fantasy went — Lie down; now take off your shoes, now your tie, now your shirt; and in some versions Stephen tried to resist, no, please, don't make me do this, but Jon would smile a knowing smile and say Don't lie to me, Stephen, I know you want this; and he'd be right, because even though it was shameful and dirty and profane and wrong, Stephen ached for it, and at the first touch....
The pain brought him back to reality like a bucket of ice water. That wasn't in any of his fantasies. Of course, he usually wasn't pregnant in them either. Certainly not this pregnant.
"Sorry!" said Jon quickly. "I'll be more careful."
"Just don't — they hurt when you touch them — leave the socks on, they're fine...."
He broke off as the squeezing began again.
Dr. Moreau had timed a handful of these, and the average one was what she called "only thirty seconds, even if it seems like much longer." Stephen, who worked in television, knew there was no 'only' about it. Thirty seconds of material was a respectable toss. Thirty seconds of dead air was suicide, with an extra twenty-five seconds to put nails in the coffin. Thirty seconds of iron bands tightening around his uterus was about as long as he could stand.
He realized belatedly that Jon was talking: "I know this came up at the Lamaze class one time, but all I remember is that one woman said what helped her was movies with lots of explosions. And hot water bottles, but I don't have any of those here either. And having their husbands do the cooking and cleaning, but you pay people to do that..."
Stephen was only half listening, wondering if there were a point to this. If it didn't help him....
"What worked for Lorraine?"
"When your wife was having Braxton-Hicks, what made her feel better?"
A moment later he realized that the talking had stopped, and he twisted his head to look up at Jon, expecting to get a reproachful or exasperated look the way he usually did.
No such luck.
On top of being tired and having a touch of that soulful sad-dog look which came so naturally to him, Jon looked disappointed, in a sort of way that suggested it didn't matter that Stephen was a Top Entertainer of 2006 and Time.com's Second Most Influential Person in the World and a bestselling flavor of ice cream all at the same time, he was still a failure if he couldn't think of anything.
"Massage," he remembered suddenly. "With...one of the kids," how ever did Jon keep his wife's pregnancies straight?, "I hired a masseuse, because she was complaining about...she wanted something strange, not a foot massage — oh! I bet her feet hurt too! So she got calf massages."
"Sounds right. Would you like one?"
"A calf massage."
"Are you trained?"
"No, but it's not exactly rocket science, is it? I gave Trace a couple, but mostly she just wanted me to leave her alone and go make dinner."
Whipped, thought Stephen, but he had an idea that Jon might not like to hear this. Instead he said, "Well, give it a try. If I want you to leave me alone, I'll tell you."
"I'm sure you will," said Jon with a touch of amusement; and then he was kneading the tired muscles of Stephen's legs, gently but firmly, and Stephen was resolutely picturing Helen Thomas.
They remained like this in silence for a few minutes. The next contraction came and went; Jon's touch didn't make it any easier but was at least distracting. And then the contraction after that didn't come at all, and the baby, who had gotten wriggly while he was being squeezed, went blessedly calm.
Stephen didn't move; he hoped that as long as he held still, Jon wouldn't stop.
"I should have..." he began, and stopped, because he knew what he was going to say but had a sinking feeling that it led somewhere he didn't want to go.
"Should have what?" said Jon gently.
"I should have done this for Lor," he said, all in a rush. "I should have done a lot of things for her. I should have paid more attention. I should have done better. I should...I should have been better."
There was a lump in his throat; he swallowed hard.
"Jon, am I a failure?"
"Oh, Stephen. Of course not," murmured Jon. "You're a best-selling flavor of ice cream, remember?"
♦ ⋅ ◊ ⋅ ♦ ⋅ ◊ ⋅ ♦
His even breathing showed that Stephen had fallen asleep, but Jon didn't stop moving his hands for a minute or two, just in case.
He didn't know what had prompted this sudden onslaught of awareness, but it was both heartening and heartbreaking. My Stephen. You'll get better at this, I know you will. And I hope you'll find another woman who'll put up with you, now that you have some idea of how to treat one.
Or a man, for that matter — that's what you want, right? I hope you can admit that to yourself, and find one who'll love you, and if he ever hurts you I'll kick his — well, he'll probably be stronger than I am, and in better shape, and without the asthma, and taller, let's not forget taller....
And why am I already making plans to get beaten up by Stephen's hypothetical future boyfriend? Geez, Jon, glutton for punishment much?
Having suitably chastised himself for being silly, he went back to looking at Stephen. As if to make up for the tension and energy and spring-loaded temper that he carried while awake, the other man was sleeping so peacefully that it made Jon feel drowsy just to look at him.
Don't nap now, or you'll never get to sleep tonight....
But he couldn't exactly move, what with the way Stephen's legs were draped across him; and all of his nerves were crying out for a rest; and someone would wake him up in an hour anyway if he didn't put in an order for lunch.
Jon closed his eyes.
♦ ⋅ ◊ ⋅ ♦ ⋅ ◊ ⋅ ♦
A digital photo began to circulate in internal emails that afternoon. A copy was eventually printed out and pinned up on The Daily Show's break room fridge; some care was taken to hide it from the boss, but then he saw it and laughed and said it was quite a good joke, so it stayed.
The same photo ended up on The Colbert Report's fridge, but this one was tucked under a memo about annual quarterly financial reports, which ensured that the boss here would never see it.
Each photo had a handwritten caption, the same as the subject line of the email:
"CAUGHT ON CAMERA: Stewart and Colbert sleeping together!"
Chapter 18: Leader of the Nation
The effect was more than a little startling. Moreau had changed out of surgical scrubs, but her hair was still tucked under the little green cap. Underneath it her face was flushed, her eyes were bright, and she wore a slightly manic grin.
"Hi, Jon!" she said perkily.
He had never expected to use the word "perkily" to describe anything Moreau did. "Hello?" he replied, hesitant, cautious.
"You'd better come back here," she announced. "There's someone you'll want to see."
♦ ⋅ ◊ ⋅ ♦ ⋅ ◊ ⋅ ♦
June 7, 2007
Stephen hung up the phone, sputtering, breathless. No way. No way.
He was halfway to dialing Jon when it occurred to him that, because it was lunchtime and Stephen wasn't there, Jon might be eating with someone else, and not want to be disturbed. But no, this was more important. It had to be.
He finished dialing, giddy, grinning, and when Jon answered it was with "Hey, Stephen, what's up?" rather than "Stephen, can it wait?" So he plunged ahead.
"Jon, you will never in a million years guess who just called me!"
"All right, who?"
"The assistant to the undersecretary for the deputy head of the subcommittee of planning for the President of the United States of America!"
"Seriously? What did they say?"
Stephen would have been bouncing in his seat if he hadn't been too pregnant to properly bounce. "There's a stem cell research bill in Congress and it's going to come to a vote and if it passes the President's going to veto it and he wants me to be there!"
"Really? He's going to use his third veto? Because if this is the bill I'm thinking of, it's in line with what most of the country and a lot of Republicans want...."
Stephen took a deep breath. Jon's not being unpatriotic, he reminded himself, he's just disagreeing with the President. It's not treasonous to be wrong. "Yes, really! Stop being such a factinista and be happy for me!"
"Sorry — I am, I really am. I can tell this is very exciting for you."
"It's the coolest thing ever, Jon! The President! The President! The President! George W. Bush! I haven't seen him since the Correspondents' Dinner, and I thought he'd forgotten about me, which is totally understandable, he's a busy man, lots of lost lambs to corral, two-thirds of them in fact — but he remembered!"
"All right, all right!" laughed Jon. "It's great. It's amazing. Congratulations."
"It is amazing — please, Jon, you have to let me go. I have to do this, Jon, please."
"Why are you asking...Stephen, when is this veto going to be, exactly?"
"It's due to come to a vote the week after next, so probably the 20th or 21st."
"You know our break doesn't start until the week after that."
"We could move it, couldn't we? Have a break that week, and do those shows on the week of the 4th instead. We haven't booked the guests yet, right?"
"No, but it's not that easy. I'm sorry, Stephen, but you're going to have to..."
"I can't cancel, Jon!" cried Stephen, a little more loudly than he meant to. "He's a busy man, he's like the father of the country, he's got ten other kids to look after, I have to take what I can get!"
"'Ten other kids'?" repeated Jon.
"I didn't say ten," corrected Stephen quickly. "I said three hundred million."
"It sounded like ten to me."
"Well, you heard wrong."
"'Ten' and 'three hundred million' don't sound anything alike."
"But I didn't say ten. Why would I say ten?"
Jon was quiet, and for a moment Stephen was afraid he was going to answer; but when he next spoke, he had dropped the subject.
"Listen, Stephen, if it were just about you and me, I would say fine, go, have a great time. But it's not just me. There are dozens of people who work on both of our shows, and they all have their vacations planned and their trips booked and friends and family they want to see, and anyway the final decision rests in the hands of the executives who calculate these things and write our schedules. It's just not feasible."
"All right, Jon, I understand."
"I'm really sorry, Stephen." A pause. "Wait. When you say 'I understand', do you mean—"
"Talk to you later!" said Stephen brightly, and hung up.
♦ ⋅ ◊ ⋅ ♦ ⋅ ◊ ⋅ ♦
June 11, 2007
"Before we get started," said DJ at Monday's meeting, "did everyone get the scheduling memo?"
There were nods and murmurs of assent from around the table. It was a more crowded table than usual, because the entire Daily Show staff was sitting or standing or leaning around it.
"You look troubled, Jon," observed John Hodgman. "Is anything the matter? Are you perhaps distressed over the plight of the Malaysian basking seal?"
Jon blinked. "The what?"
"The Malaysian basking seal. Long prized by hunters for its luxurious naturally puce coat, it has recently—"
"No, that's not it," said Jon quickly, before he was tempted to ask questions like when puce became luxurious. "It's the change — it's kind of my fault."
The others exchanged puzzled looks. Then John said, "I was under the impression that Mr. Colbert had made the request."
"Well, yeah, he did," replied Jon. It was hardly surprising that John knew this; no piece of knowledge was too eccentric for John. "But I accidentally gave him the idea, and then he went over my head."
"Dude, he didn't," chimed in Jason. "Not unless I got promoted and didn't know about it — which, by the way, I would totally not say no to..."
"Wait, back up. What do you mean?"
"Well, Colbert called me over the weekend and asked if I would be okay with the change in plans."
"I as well," said John, and then there was a general chorus of agreement. Even the interns were nodding their heads.
"And you all agreed to it?" asked Jon, dumbfounded. At that, everyone started talking at once.
"Well, not at first..."
"No, but then he said..."
"...he offered to give us a refund for the cruise..."
"...pay back the difference in the plane tickets..."
"...replace them and upgrade them to first class, I've never flown above coach..."
"...seats were available a week earlier, and he'd get VIP ones..."
"...said I was counting on the week's paycheck, and he said he'd write me a personal one..."
"...don't get paid but he'd write me a check anyway..."
"...and I thought about saying no just to spite him, but then..."
"...then he said he was sorry about..."
"...apologized for saying we should invade Canada..."
"...admitted he was the one who dared Ed to put the fish in my desk, and said he was really sorry for it..."
"...expressed his regret for setting fire to a copy of my book, and informed me that he had purchased another..."
"...we'd never met, but on behalf of all the interns he'd ever teased, he..."
"...and then asked if I could put Sam on, and I don't even know what he said to her, because she wouldn't give me details, but..."
"...then he apologized for the thing with the pie..."
"...what he said about my..."
"...sorry for the crack he made..."
"...the six-pack and the garden hose..."
"...pinning the thing with the motor oil on me..."
"...said he really didn't mean..."
It was too much detail to absorb all at once, and it was complicated by the fact that half a dozen smaller "he did that to you too?" conversations had sprung up around the room in the middle of the general torrent of stories, but Jon got the idea.
"Didn't he ask you?" inquired Chuck as the flood died down. "If there's anyone here that he wouldn't forget about..."
"Or should apologize to," murmured someone in the back.
"He asked me first," said Jon, "and I said it wouldn't be possible because everyone else had made plans. I must have said it was fine by me — I didn't think he'd actually make it happen!"
I didn't realize how much Stephen wanted this.
He looked around the room, still not quite believing it. "You're really all okay with this?"
"Are you kidding?" asked one of the camera guys. "VIP tickets!"
"I've never seen Sam that happy," added Jason. "Or felt her that happy, if-you-know-what-I-mean."
"It got Stephen Colbert to apologize for something," put in DJ. "We should send him to DC more often."
♦ ⋅ ◊ ⋅ ♦ ⋅ ◊ ⋅ ♦
When the meeting was over, Jon called the one person he was still worried about. Presumably the staff members had all checked with their spouses and families before giving Stephen the okay, but he hadn't expected Stephen to take it seriously.
"Hi, Trace, sorry to bother you at work, but did we have any plans for the first week of the summer break?"
"Nope. The schedule change happened too late to really plan anything, so we're going to spend it relaxing at home."
It took him a moment to sort that out. "Wait. You know about the schedule change?"
"Oh, Stephen called to make sure it was okay with me. Didn't I tell you?"
Jon was glad Tracey couldn't see him; he knew he was gaping like a fish.
"We didn't have anything major planned for the break anyway," she continued. "His surgery's at the end of it, and I figured you'd want to be there."
♦ ⋅ ◊ ⋅ ♦ ⋅ ◊ ⋅ ♦
June 13, 2007
All the changes in Stephen were too good to be true.
Jon knew this, somewhere in the back of his mind. But he wanted to take them at face value; he wanted to believe that things would only get better. And so he acted as though they would.
That was truthiness for you.
"Before we go, let's check in with our good friend Stephen Colbert at The Colbert Report. Stephen, my friend, what've you got for us?"
"Jon, my guest tonight: Republican presidential candidate Ron Paul!"
"Ah!" exclaimed Jon. "Terrific interview. We had him on last week, tremen—"
"Oh, well then!" snapped Stephen. "I guess there's nothing more to ask him then, is there?"
"No — Stephen, that's not what I'm saying—"
"No, no, I'll just cancel! Why bother? His Holiness, Pope Jon-O the Second, has exhausted all the questions!" growled the pundit.
Something in Jon snapped.
"You know what, Stephen? Enough of this! I don't understand this!" he returned, matching Stephen shout for shout. "You — I — we — I produce your show! We work together! We have lunch almost every other day! Yet every time we do the toss, all I get is the attitude! I'm tired of it!"
The audience — his audience, the one that skewed liberal, the one that didn't necessarily agree with Stephen on anything — went wild.
"I'm sick of it! A little respect!" yelled Jon over the cheers. "I want a little respect!"
He ran out of words, flailed for a moment (if this is how Lewis feels all the time, no wonder he can't hold still), and settled for tearing the night's script in half and slamming it down on the desk beside him. On the far screen, Stephen was panting as though he'd just run a marathon.
"You have it, Jon!" he shouted at last, voice reverberating through the speakers.
This wasn't the response Jon had been expecting — or would have been expecting, if he had been in a state where he was thinking at all.
"You have lots of respect! Everyone thinks you're so great, smart, funny, insightful, substantial news coverage, practically built The Daily Show from the ground up, the mainstream media loves you, the blogosphere worships you, it's easy for you, you don't have to do anything to make people like you, and you're not eight and a half months pregnant and you're not having f—"
(—thank goodness for that five-second broadcast delay—)
"—ing mood swings!"
His breathing was erratic now, shuddering—
"Succession crisis protocol. Jimmy, kill the feed!" he ordered, and there was a half-second of blackness in his box before Chuck cut back to a full screen of camera three.
"That's our show," said Jon automatically. "Join us tomorrow night at eleven; Angelina Jolie will be in the studio, to discuss..."
There was a general outcry for the audience.
"...to discuss how much it sucks to be you guys right now," he finished. "Here it is, your Moment of Zen."
The instant the camera turned off, he was sprinting for the door.
♦ ⋅ ◊ ⋅ ♦ ⋅ ◊ ⋅ ♦
The Report staff had had drills for any conceivable emergency, from a shortage of Nutz in the break room fridge to a full-scale red-alert evacuation. They were well-trained. No matter the situation, there was a plan and they knew how to follow it.
They had never had a succession crisis before, but by golly they were ready for it. Like everyone else, Tad sprang into action. The first step on his part of the plan was to call the successor.
He was a little surprised to hear someone at the door so soon after he had made the call, but it was only Stewart. "Don't worry, Mr. Stewart, we've got everything under control."
"Tad, I am your executive producer. I need to know exactly what you're doing."
"Of course, sir. We skipped the intro and went straight to the credits. For the first act Jimmy has an old Difference Makers segment playing, and then we'll go to commercial. By that time the acting host will have arrived — he's on his way now — and we'll fill the extended second act with the introductory material and the regularly scheduled ThreatDown."
"You are organized," said Stewart, and Tad felt a flush of pride. "Who's the acting host?"
"The second in the line of succession to the Presidency, of course."
Stewart blinked. "I'm guessing you're not talking about Dick Cheney."
"No, sir. The Presidency of the Colbert Nation."
"Wait, who's the Vice President of the Colbert Nation?"
There was a knock at the door. "That's probably him now," said Tad, jumping to answer.
Sure enough, it was the broad smiling face and improbably voluminous hair of the VP. "Good evening!" he said. "Chad, wasn't it?"
"Of course. Tad. Hello there, Jon."
"Hello, Joe. You realize this isn't official, and there's no possible way to pay you for it."
"Oh, of course not. I consider this a public service."
"I hope you do. Tad, before you go, where's Stephen?"
"In his office," replied Tad, deciding not to mention the possibility that his boss had barricaded the door. "Right this way, Mr. Scarborough."
♦ ⋅ ◊ ⋅ ♦ ⋅ ◊ ⋅ ♦
A grudging "Come in" prompted Jon to open the door; Stephen was on his leather flag-pillowed couch with an open pint of Americone Dream, two empty cartons already at his feet. His eyes were red but dry; any outburst had been and gone.
"You all right?" asked Jon carefully.
"No," grumbled Stephen. "You want some ice cream? There are a couple more pints in the fridge."
"Maybe later. You look pretty good. You look like you could handle the show."
"It's not like your show, Jon. I have to have a certain level of rage to do it right. And it isn't easy to do, either, especially when hormones are putting my mood all over the place anyway, and I had just gotten comfortable in pre-show enthusiasm when you put me over the top into blind fury."
"I'm sorry about that...."
"I peaked too soon," continued Stephen, as if he hadn't heard, "and I knew if I tried to do the show from that point, I'd slide into morose by the second act. As you can see. So I invoked the succession protocol. Is Scarborough here yet?"
"Yeah, he's here. He didn't seem particularly angry, though."
"He'll get there. He called Papa Bear a suck-up once, you know. Which was wrong, but at least it means he has the requisite balls."
He had spent the whole conversation staring into his ice cream; as he swallowed another spoonful without meeting Jon's eyes, Jon wasn't sure if he'd be welcome to sit down. He settled for leaning against the wall by the arm of the couch.
"I really am sorry," he said quietly.
"I know," replied Stephen, and gouged out another chunk of Americone Dream.
For a while there didn't seem to be anything more to say; and then Jon thought of something.
"I respect you."
Stephen swallowed a little too quickly. He coughed a few times, then replied, "You never said."
"I didn't think I needed to."
"Well, neither did I."
There was silence again, except for the noise of Stephen eating.
"Are you going to be okay?" asked Jon after a time.
"Mmhmm," mumbled Stephen around his spoon.
Something about his tone was unconvincing. This was only a gut feeling, but Jon gave it some thought and decided it was one of those worth following.
"Is anything else bothering you?" he asked.
Stephen's lip began to wobble.
"She doesn't want me to go, Jon!" he cried at last.
"Slow down, Stephen. Who doesn't want you to go? Where?"
"Dr. Moreau. The veto. The photo-op."
"Is it because of the pregnancy? She doesn't want you traveling this late?"
"No, no, nothing like that — I can't fly, but I could still have someone drive me, and they have an associate hospital down there so it would be fine in an emergency if one of the doctors came — we worked all that out before I told her what the trip was." He was stabbing at what was left of the pint, the edge of his spoon chopping it into little bits. "She just doesn't want me associated with the veto!"
"She likes the bill, I take it?"
"She loves the bill! Jon, I don't understand it — how can people approve of it? It's ridiculous. It's a horrible bill!"
"I approve of it."
And finally Stephen turned to face him. "Well, why?" he demanded, half helpless confusion and half his customary anger.
"It could lead to treatments for some very serious diseases. Ease the suffering of a lot of people. Even save lives."
"But it kills embryos! You wouldn't say it's okay to kill a three-year-old, even if it did cure cancer!"
"Embryos aren't three-year-olds! The ones they're talking about are going to be destroyed anyway. They're leftovers from fertility clinics, parents who wanted to have kids and got their pregnancies and moved on. They'll never be carried to term."
"This one will!" snapped Stephen, hands flying protectively to his stomach.
"Of course he will, I don't doubt it, but you aren't going to carry them all."
"I'm not going to adopt every orphan in the world, either! That doesn't mean you should be allowed to chop them up for science!"
"We're not talking about orphans! We're talking about microscopic frozen clumps of identical cells. They can't think. They can't feel."
"They're not people, is what you're saying."
That was loaded language, and Jon knew it. He shrugged uncomfortably. "I guess it is."
"So when does an embryo get to count as a person, Jon?" demanded Stephen. "When you can feel him kick? When the doctors can pick up his brain function? When he starts to look like a baby on the ultrasound? When his heart starts to beat? When?"
"Stephen, if there were an easy answer to that question...."
"I have an easy answer," hissed Stephen. He had dropped the carton and spoon and was clutching his stomach with both hands. "This is a person. Maybe he's still too small to survive outside of me, but he's my son. Has been ever since I got the implantation. And the only reason he isn't your godson yet because you haven't signed the right papers. Unless you have a problem with that? Are you only going to consider yourself his godfather after the birth? What about me? When do you think I start having the right to call him my child?"
Jon took a deep breath to answer. Then another.
(He didn't talk about this. Not even with those close friends he trusted to have some sensitivity. But Stephen, living his own beliefs as thoroughly as he had, throwing himself body and soul into the issue...Stephen had at least earned the right to hear it.)
"The first time I got to see the ultrasound," he said quietly, "with Tracey, I mean...it was magical. You know intellectually what's going on in there, but having it on the screen like that...my whole world, it just rocked on its axis."
"So it starts being a person after you see it?" pressed Stephen. He wasn't spitting fire any more, though. As if he'd recognized that something in Jon had changed, and he might want to pay attention to this one.
"Not even that." Jon shook his head. "That was a huge moment, but it wasn't where those feelings started. Even before we conceived, as soon as we decided for sure that it was the right time to have kids, I had all these things in mind about my children-to-be. Plans. Hopes and dreams. Fears, too — what if we screw them up? What if one day we turn our backs for a second and they get hit by a bus? And...god, Stephen, I already loved my son back then. Even doing little things like picking out Mets onesies, I would think about who we were doing this for, and know I had to get it absolutely right."
Stephen was nodding along by now. "I know!" he said in a hushed voice. "I know how that feels!"
"I know you do," agreed Jon, with a wan smile. "So you have some chance of imagining what it's like to feel that way for months and months, and still not have anyone to feel it for."
"Because you didn't think the baby counted as a person yet...?"
"Because Tracey still hadn't gotten pregnant."
"But she got over that eventually, right?" asked Stephen, brow furrowing. "I mean, you have kids now, so she must have."
"We were hoping that would happen. But after half a year, we had to start considering that maybe it wouldn't. That maybe there was something wrong with her...maybe something wrong with me. We went to doctors, talked about hormones, talked about surrogacy...and we talked seriously about adoption. It was...hard." He swallowed. "Not that we couldn't have fallen in love with kids that weren't biologically ours, but it would mean — for me, at least — it would have meant letting go of all those feelings I'd built up so far. I had this whole place in my heart set aside for this baby, and an adopted kid would have gotten a different place. The first one would just have stayed...empty."
"Jon," said Stephen softly, "do you want to sit down?"
"I do, yeah."
Stephen scooted over to vacate one of the cushions. Jon kicked a couple of ice cream cartons aside and sank down onto it. He'd been starting to feel weak on his feet, but hadn't realized how bad it had gotten until he felt how much easier it was not to stand.
"It wasn't — I mean, obviously it wasn't like going through a miscarriage," he added. "But it wasn't like nothing, either."
"So what happened?" breathed Stephen, eyes shining. He was cradling his stomach again, protective instincts running strong.
"You haven't guessed?" asked Jon lightly. "We used IVF, Stephen."
From the way Stephen started, no, he hadn't guessed at all.
"Twice," added Jon, just to be clear. "Once for Nate, once for Maggie. And because it was only twice, there's a set of our leftover embryos frozen in a vat somewhere."
"Oh," said Stephen. He searched briefly for a follow-up, and settled on, "...oh."
"Everyone's situation is different. Everyone's going to have their own feelings, and they deserve to," said Jon. "You've loved your son from the moment this started. Those feelings are real, and they matter, and the biological side of it has no bearing on whether he's allowed to count as a person. I loved my kids long before they were people, even by the most hard-line standards. That was real too. And, Stephen, now that they've been born...those extra embryos in the freezer, they're not my children. Nate and Maggie are my children. Everything else is might-have-beens, things that could have happened but didn't, and are never going to."
Stephen blinked several times. He seemed to be out of things to say.
"Do you still respect me?" asked Jon. If he had just thrown a grenade of irreconcilable differences into the middle of their relationship, he might as well find out now.
"I...feel like I'm not supposed to," admitted Stephen.
Stephen bowed his head. At this angle, his glasses perched precariously on the bridge of his nose. "Maybe I shouldn't have yelled at the doctor."
Jon raised his eyebrows. "Should I ask?"
"I may have used the words 'sanctity of life' and 'no respect for'. Also 'innocent children' and 'willful murder of'. Possibly with a few disparaging comments on the value of medical science in general." It was his turn to take a deep breath. "I'm s-sorry."
"Sounds like she's the one you should apologize to," said Jon. "And who knows? Maybe she'll be more willing to let you go if you show her that you can respect her job in the process."
"I don't have to go," blurted Stephen. "If it would make you feel like I didn't respect you, or — or was judging you for the way you got your kids — then I don't even have to try."
Maybe he really was changing, after all. "If it's important to you, go for it," Jon assured him. "Say your piece. Have your opinions. As long as you can do it without questioning the moral fiber of anyone who takes a different view, we'll be cool."
And Stephen leaned in toward him, their faces so close that Jon could count the shades of brown in the other man's eyes. "Do you promise, Jon?"
"Cross my heart," Jon replied.
Chapter 19: What Goes Around...
On the far side of a panel of glass stood Moreau, with Watson beside her, and one of the other doctors keeping an eye on the proceedings while pretending to be busy elsewhere in the room. In Moreau's arms, wrapped in a pastel yellow blanket, was what to Jon's admittedly untrained eye looked like a healthy, normal, and absolutely adorable baby boy, with light brown skin, tiny round features, and the faintest dusting of black hair.
He was almost too small, yes, and his face was wrinkled and his eyes tightly shut; but then the little mouth opened in a yawn, and the world shifted on its axis.
Jon could gladly have stayed there for hours, but after what seemed far too short a time Moreau was putting the little form back down.
"Five pounds, eight ounces," she told Jon as they walked back down the hall, still grinning broadly, "eighteen and a half inches long. He's small, but it's impossible to tell if that's a result of his mother's sex or just a fluke, and besides he's not too small. And we'll get more data, very soon, we have a waiting list a mile long, and now that this one's a success it'll get longer. It's a success. It's incredible. The first male pregnancy — I've actually done it!"
"I think Stephen had something to do with it," said Jon wryly.
"Oh, of course — I don't mean — I'm just very excited, Jon, you can understand that."
"Where is Stephen? Can I see him?"
Moreau made an obvious effort to sober up on his behalf. "Not yet."
♦ ⋅ ◊ ⋅ ♦ ⋅ ◊ ⋅ ♦
June 21, 2007
Jon had had a thoroughly exhausting day. Yes, he was on vacation, which meant he didn't have to be a newsman or a commentator or a voice of reason or a comedian; but it also meant that he was home when the kids got back from daycare, which in turn meant that, at the behest of a certain delighted almost-three-year-old who insisted on being chased, he had spent much of the afternoon being a ferocious tiger.
He made sure to pick a new animal every time he did this sort of thing. It wouldn't do to have his kids develop particularly strong associations of fear and pursuit with, oh, let's say, bears.
At half past four he declared himself duly defeated, managed to redirect Nate's interests towards a set of Duplos strategically placed in the den, and moved Maggie's playpen nearby, so that both children plus the television could be seen from the sofa.
Fifteen minutes later Tracey, who had been lounging on the deck with one of the Harry Potter books, poked her head in. "Oh, you're all ready!" she exclaimed. "I was about to remind you. It hasn't started yet, has it?"
"Nope. We've still got ten minutes."
"Good. I'll make popcorn."
She joined him on the couch a few minutes after that with two steaming bags of microwave popcorn, the kind coated with more butter than a person on a healthy diet would consume in a week. "I bet this is the most excited anyone's ever gotten about something on C-SPAN."
"I dunno. The debates over farm appropriations bills draw quite a crowd."
When she laughed, he added, "Seriously, though, Demetri said he found some group online that's organizing Colbert Nation meetups to watch whenever Stephen's at some event."
"That's crazy," sighed Tracey. "He's not that watchable."
"Don't tell me that," protested Jon. "I'm his executive producer."
"I know, and I would watch his show, but it makes my brain want to claw its way out my ears. And you're not a C-SPAN executive."
"True." Jon took a handful of popcorn, bit down, burned his tongue. "Ow!"
"Should've let it cool. Hang on, I'll get some water."
"Thanks, hon." Eyes still glued to the screen, he called after her, "It's the same reason I watched Moreau's speech earlier. I'm interested."
The eventual agreement had been this: Moreau and Watson ("It's a very literary hospital, isn't it?" Tracey had asked when Jon explained it; to which he replied, "Get this: They've also got a Dr. Livingston and a Dr. House") agreed to accompany Stephen on a four-day trip to the capitol. Neither would appear at the actual veto; furthermore, both would testify before Congress in the bill's favor. The entire medical team had tried to avoid making political statements — Stephen's pregnancy made them targets already — but they could hardly refuse an official Congressional summons from the bill's sponsors.
As for how that summons came to be issued...well, Jon didn't like to bring it up, but when you cover Washington for long enough, you make more than just enemies.
Sure enough, the doctors' testimony on C-SPAN 2 had been eloquent, well-argued, and supported with meticulously cited studies. Watson was very matter-of-fact, but Moreau wove personal anecdotes in with the statistics, and even cracked a few jokes before coming to a serious and moving conclusion. She would have made a formidable lawyer. Or a great politician, for that matter.
"I know you're interested, but Moreau — well — she makes sense," said Tracey guiltily as she returned. "I don't mean to belittle your friend, but his logic is painfully circular."
"C'mon, Trace, you know he's more complicated than he looks."
"I know. You talk about him enough. But you've told me so many horror stories, I still don't get what you see in him."
Jon didn't have time to think very far through this, because the gentle voice of C-SPAN was saying "On now: S.5, a bill to amend the Public Health Service Act to provide for human embryonic stem cell research, is presented to the President," and he quickly turned it up.
He didn't really know what he was expecting. Another part of the agreement had been a fairly strict gag order: Stephen was to talk to no press and say nothing political at all. Best-case scenario, he wouldn't say anything at all, just stand behind the desk in the Oval Office and look photogenic.
"My fellow Americans," began the President.
Jon didn't listen to the speech; he already knew what it would say. Instead he looked around at the carefully arranged adorable children, mostly in their parents' arms (no doubt "snowflake children," also adopted from leftover in vitro embryos), before settling on Stephen.
Beautiful, beaming Stephen, standing at the President's right shoulder, looking as though he might burst from sheer happiness. Jon stopped noticing his sore tongue, stopped noticing anything at all except that smile.
"...especially like to thank Stephen Colbert for being here today. Mr. Colbert is so committed to this cause that he has adopted one of these children and elected to carry it himself, via a dramatic new medical procedure. Mr. Colbert, thank you."
"Thank you, sir," replied Stephen, accepting the offered handshake. "It's such an honor to be here. Please call me Stephen. And may I say, sir, that when the press release comes out announcing your pregnancy, I will be the first to send flowers."
"My pregnancy? Stephen, I'm afraid you know something I don't."
"No need to be modest, sir. When you veto this bill, it will leave hundreds of embryos to be simply thrown out unless someone adopts them, and I know you wouldn't shirk your part of that responsibility."
"While I appreciate your confidence, Stephen, Laura and I already have two beautiful daughters..."
"Oh, so do I! And two sons. I'll show you pictures some time."
The man looked just a bit thrown by this, but he backtracked quickly. "You gotta remember, Stephen, I'm quite a bit older than you are. And older pregnancies, they're a lot riskier. It would be unresponsible to subject a baby to that kind of risk."
"Oh, I see," replied Stephen, not missing a beat. "Perfectly understandable. Very noble of you. I'm sure some of the male senators who voted against the bill are still young enough to do it. I'll have an intern watch the wires for announcements."
"That's a good idea," said the President, trying (and failing) to disengage his hand gracefully from Stephen's grip.
"I'm still naming this one after you, though," continued Stephen.
"I really appreciate that." He didn't look very appreciative. In fact, he looked a bit like a rat in a maze who has just realized that it has no idea how to get out and has forgotten which way it came in.
"Because you're vetoing this bill."
"Well, Stephen, you've gotta let me go here first."
"Oh! Sorry!" Stephen quickly released his hand. "Entirely my fault, sir. Didn't realize. It's just the excitement of being here. Terribly sorry."
The President nodded, smiled in a way that was probably meant to be reassuring but didn't quite manage it, and took his seat; the camera zoomed in slightly, cutting most of Stephen as well as the children out of the frame.
Coming to himself again, Jon realized he was shaking with silent laughter. He glanced at Tracey; her mouth was hanging open, a handful of popcorn frozen halfway to it.
"You hear that?" he exclaimed. "That is classic Stephen! Acting on a completely wrong assumption, but charming, straightforward, amazingly ballsy even without knowing it, genuinely convinced that it's a moral duty to do this and, unlike some Senators I could name, actually doing it — and that is why I love him!"
His wife raised her eyebrows.
"Better not tell him that," said Tracey lightly. "He's the most homophobic man I've ever seen; he'll take it all wrong and freak out on you."
"Yeah," said Jon, turning back to the screen. "Yeah, he probably would."
♦ ⋅ ◊ ⋅ ♦ ⋅ ◊ ⋅ ♦
July 3, 2007
Henry parked the car right outside of The Daily Show's studio. He knew he wouldn't be there long.
The host was in the middle of a segment with one of his correspondents, so he couldn't say hello; but the correspondent, the guy who did the Apple commercials, was the center of attention, so the camera didn't catch Stewart's look of confusion, followed by concern.
Henry was immediately recognizable by his uniform: blue jacket, red bow tie, red-and-white striped pants, stovepipe hat with white stars on a blue band. Stephen, who had picked it out, insisted on calling him Sam.
"John Hodgman, everybody. We'll be right back," said Stewart to the camera, then leaned in, made his excuses to Hodgman, and came over to the side of the audience bank where Henry was standing. The studio was much larger than Stephen's, and the seats packed. All those eyes either followed Stewart or went straight to Henry, which was more than a little unnerving.
Fortunately, Stewart was unfailingly friendly. "Hey, Sam. How are you doing?"
"I'm all right, Mr. Stewart."
"What brings you here this evening?"
"It's step two of the medical emergency plan. Step One: Save Stephen, defined as calling the hospital and making sure he's comfortable until the ambulance comes. Step Two: Get Jon, defined as, well, me coming here."
A series of emotions flashed in quick succession on Stewart's face. "Wait right there," he ordered, and jogged over to what Henry guessed was the stage manager. She had a sort of Bobbyish quality to her. "Where's Sam?"
"She has off today, Jon."
"What about Jason?"
"He called in sick, the way he always does when Sam has the day off."
"Filming a piece on location."
"Who's the correspondent with the most seniority in the building right now?"
"That would be John Oliver."
"Right." Stewart took off for backstage.
A minute later he was striding out with a younger correspondent in tow. "And the guest is Robin Williams, he's got a movie out today, here are the notes but you won't even need them, he basically does a little stand-up routine and all you need to do is sit still and laugh."
"I'm not so sure I can do that," replied the correspondent, eyes wide behind his thick glasses.
"Nonsense. You'll be fine."
"Could you do something — ceremonial?"
"I don't know. Anything. Just so that it feels, well, official."
"Fine. Here." Stewart pulled the microphone off of his suit and, with all the gravity of one pinning a medal onto a general's chest, affixed it to the tie of the other man. "I, Jon Stewart, do solemnly bestow upon you, Senior Correspondent John Oliver, the rights, duties, and privileges of the host of The Daily Show, to be carried out faithfully in my stead until such time as I am able to return and take them up again. How was that?"
Oliver brightened. "Brilliant! That's just splendid, thank you."
"Atta boy." Stewart clapped him on the shoulder, then jogged over to Henry and murmured, below the sound of the audience's applause, "Tell me about it on the way."
♦ ⋅ ◊ ⋅ ♦ ⋅ ◊ ⋅ ♦
The ride lapsed into silence. Jon had pressed for as many details as possible, but Sam had not been present until the ambulance was called, so all he knew was secondhand and sketchy.
In short, contractions had started, and the prescribed medication hadn't stopped them, and then they'd started to get distressingly regular.
The C-section wasn't scheduled for another week. I guess little George decided he was tired of waiting.
("George William Colbert," Stephen had declared one afternoon. "So he's a George W., but he's also named after Papa Bear."
"That's fine," Jon had replied, because though he knew it wasn't healthy, he was not going to tell Stephen how to handle his kid unless it was a matter of life and death. "I'll just pretend you named him after Clooney and Clinton."
"Jon, you wouldn't dare!" had been Stephen's scandalized reply; and he had looked so shocked, as if someone had suggested that he name the child for Marx and Lenin, that Jon had burst out laughing, and soon Stephen was visibly fighting to keep himself from smiling....)
He wouldn't come out without the Cesarean. He couldn't. True, there was a path, of sorts: this was an area of information that Jon hadn't asked about and Stephen had never detailed, but he knew that there were certain discharges involved in pregnancy, so they had to have some kind of outlet. But there was no way a baby would fit through...whichever outlet it was.
Still, if he's going into labor, they'll have to do the C-section, right? Is that what they do with women who can't deliver normally, if they go into labor too early? I don't even know. I think so.
He toyed absently with the end of his tie. Outside the window, the lights of New York City flew past.
♦ ⋅ ◊ ⋅ ♦ ⋅ ◊ ⋅ ♦
The press, of course, were at the hospital already. They had been circling this story for the whole nine months, and coverage had reached a fever pitch in the past few weeks. When the car had squeezed through the crowd of news vans and Jon climbed out, reporters descended on him like vultures to a kill.
"No comment," he said over and over, stepping on toes and nearly getting smacked in the face with microphones as he pushed his way through the gaggle.
They were running on instinct; they couldn't help it. He knew they couldn't help it. He made his living pointing out that they couldn't help it.
This knowledge did not mean he would forgive them if they kept him from getting to Stephen.
♦ ⋅ ◊ ⋅ ♦ ⋅ ◊ ⋅ ♦
July 4, 2007
Moreau had said Stephen would be unconscious for at least another hour. She offered a few ideas for how Jon could fill the time, and he took them.
In the enclosed garden where patients exercised during the day, where they had eaten lunch when Stephen was in for observation, he walked the perimeter a few times; when he began to feel out of breath, he sat down on a wrought-iron bench under an orange tree and pulled out his cell phone.
He called Tracey, explained the situation, and apologized for being out so late. She laughed and said that was just like him, and then, although he hadn't known he needed it, spent a while talking about nothing at all, so he could stare up into the dark cloudy night and not have to think too much for a while.
Eventually he ended this call and phoned Tina, bringing her up to speed as well. She returned the favor: Stephen's kids had all fallen asleep, even Sally, who had tossed and turned and fretted but finally dropped off, and been sleeping soundly for half an hour by the time Jon called.
Then, because Stephen had at some point given him every number conceivable in case of the worst, he found a house in Charleston in his contacts and briefly left the details on their answering machine.
Precisely fifty-seven minutes later, the nurse with the freckles came down the path.
♦ ⋅ ◊ ⋅ ♦ ⋅ ◊ ⋅ ♦
This time it was Dr. Livingston who held the baby. Moreau opened the door of the ward.
Livingston was a tiny woman, half a head smaller even than Jon; but Moreau was taller, and from back behind the pair Jon couldn't see past them. And then he looked down, and two little eyes were looking up at him with a gaze that had only just started taking things in but hadn't yet worked out what it was to be curious about them.
George William Colbert didn't smile back, or blink, or indeed have any reaction at all. He probably didn't realize there was anything to react to.
Jon kept smiling anyway. It seemed like the best thing to do.
Chapter 20: Boy, "George"
July 4, 2007
He still felt tired and groggy, so he had closed his eyes when the doctors left; he opened them again when he heard someone at the door. His glasses were off somewhere, but his eyes weren't so bad that he couldn't recognize Dr. Moreau, and behind her Dr. Livingston, and behind her Jon, his face a worried-looking blur.
And then Stephen recognized the bundle that Livingston was carrying.
Jon crouched by the side of the bed; Stephen hardly noticed, as the bundle was placed in his arms. He carefully opened the fluffy pastel blanket and counted.
Ten fingers. Ten toes.
"He's perfect, Jon," whispered Stephen. "He's perfect — oh!" His finger had brushed the little hand, which was now gripping it tightly. He tugged, very gently, and the baby gripped harder. "Look at that! You've got me, George. You're perfect and you're darling and you've got me."
He hadn't held any of his other four children this soon after birth, hadn't even been in the state for at least one of them, and he had never realized that they got this small. So for a few minutes he was kept busy just touching, tracing the little ears and the tiny pouting lips and the button nose and cooing all the while; and George's dark eyes were locked on him as if he were the most fascinating thing in the world, which was a look he got all the time from audiences but somehow this was better.
Then he found that when he brushed George's cheek the little head turned, and he remembered reading somewhere about what this meant, and he was suddenly very glad he had been reading. "That's one of the reflexes, helps him nurse — Jon, is he hungry? How am I going to feed him?"
"He won't be hungry for a little while still," said Jon's voice by his side. "And then the doctors have formula for him, and they'll give you a bottle or something. They're prepared."
He was too relieved even to pretend that he'd known that already. "Good. Good. Oh good."
And then it was back to the tracing and the touching and he felt that he could never get tired of feeling that little hand wrap around his finger....
"Stephen," said Jon at last, putting a hand on his shoulder. "Are you okay?"
What a stupid question. How could he not be? "I'm perfect, Jon. Never better."
"Then what happened?"
"You were brought in here two hours ago. C-sections don't take ten minutes. Why the delay? Were there complications?"
"Oh, no, nothing like that."
"Come on, Jon, think about it. What's the date?"
"No, I went into labor on the third. But it was so close to midnight that I told the doctors to hold off."
There was silence for a minute, and for the first time Stephen took his eyes off of George to look at Jon. His face was unreadable.
"You," he said at last, "put yourself through an extra hour of labor...."
"Well, I didn't know it," replied Stephen quickly. "I was on as much medication as is legally possible. Didn't feel a thing."
"So you put me through an hour of absolute panic, with no idea whether you or the baby were even still alive, while you lay there drugged to the gills, just so you could give birth on the Fourth of July?"
A little trickle of unfamiliar insight began to make its way through Stephen's still-fogged mind. "Um," he said hesitantly. "Yes. That is what I did."
And Jon leaned over and murmured, too low for the doctors to hear, "I could slap you right now."
♦ ⋅ ◊ ⋅ ♦ ⋅ ◊ ⋅ ♦
He could have, it was true, but he didn't need to; just saying the words had the desired effect. As he sat back up, Stephen had gone still, his expression frozen.
Then he turned back to his son, looking at him sadly but still with helpless adoration; swallowed; and turned again to face the doctors, who had retreated to a respectful distance by the side of the room.
"Doc," he said, "have you run all the tests you need, have you done everything you need to do to make sure he's okay? Healthy and normal and all that?"
"We have," replied Livingston. "You have absolutely no cause for concern, Mr. Colbert."
"Well, could you just..." He held George forward, a very little distance, as though afraid of losing his grip. "Could you double-check? Just do them all again, very quickly, just to make sure?"
"I assure you..." began Livingston, but Moreau stopped her.
"Of course we can," she said, and, coming forward, gently scooped up the bundle of baby and blanket. "We'll be very thorough."
"But don't take too long," added Stephen hurriedly.
"You'll have George back very soon," Moreau assured him. "Come on, Puja."
Livingston looked puzzled, but followed Moreau out of the room; Stephen watched them go, then, as the door shut and left the two alone, turned back to Jon. There was a look of determination in his eyes; Jon prepared to roll over, because he didn't want a full-fledged fight, not now, especially not with Stephen still recovering....
And then Stephen said, "All right."
Jon blinked. "All right, what?"
"All right," repeated Stephen, taking a deep breath, "slap me."
Jon kissed him.
♦ ⋅ ◊ ⋅ ♦ ⋅ ◊ ⋅ ♦
The press was starting to get a bit bored.
The last new bit of information had been when someone inside the hospital leaked that the baby had been delivered at 12:04 AM, and it was at least a quarter past one. The correspondents on the scene were no longer the exclusive topics of their respective news programs; now the anchors on American networks were only cutting to them every few minutes, and the foreign correspondents were having tea together at the BBC International news van.
There were a few people who tried to get in, from enterprising young reporters to curious passersby. All were turned away. Someone had had the foresight to hire extra security for Dwayne Medical that night, and one or two overly ambitious in-getters were thrown out by force.
Standing outside and chanting slogans stood a handful of protesters. A larger group had been planning a demonstration on the scheduled date of the C-section, but they hadn't all arrived in town a week early, and those who were there hadn't finished their angry signs. They hadn't been planning on being out this late, either, and their yells were punctuated by yawns.
Two men showed up with bouquets of flowers and tried, like the few before them, to get in. By the time the press figured out that these two were legitimate, they were already inside.
♦ ⋅ ◊ ⋅ ♦ ⋅ ◊ ⋅ ♦
He felt Stephen's eyelashes flutter against his cheek; his own eyes were closed, and Stephen's fell closed as well...
...and then Stephen's lips parted under his, and he dove in...
...he leaned forward, palms pressed against the pillows for support, pushing Stephen against them...
...Stephen moaned into his mouth—
—one hand went to his shoulder, clutching, urgent—
—Jon had half climbed onto the bed, and now Stephen's other hand was on his hip—
—and then both hands were pushing him back—
"Jon, Jon, stop—"
♦ ⋅ ◊ ⋅ ♦ ⋅ ◊ ⋅ ♦
Five doctors stood in a circle in the nursery, all eyes on the infant in Phoebe Moreau's arms.
Between them, they represented two genders and the races of five continents, an incredible cross-section of mingled ethnicities, and a concentration of brilliance, innovation, and medical expertise rarely achieved in one place at one time on this Earth.
One had a Nobel Prize for Medicine; within a few years, all of them would. Given almost any subject, from the arts to the sciences to the humanities, at least one of them could have carried on an intelligent conversation about it. And when it came to medicine, their discussions were on such a high level that they changed the world.
Or at least, sometimes they were.
"Who's the cutest baby in the whole wide world?" cooed Mei Lin Dolittle, MD, PhD, DPT, and winner of both variations of the Albert Lasker Award.
"You are!" chorused Rick Watson, who had two PhDs, and Casey House, who had won that Nobel prize.
Babies can have that effect on anyone.
♦ ⋅ ◊ ⋅ ♦ ⋅ ◊ ⋅ ♦
He was only pushed weakly, not hard enough to force him back, but Jon immediately pulled away, heart lurching.
They faced each other for a moment, breathing heavily, and then Stephen gasped, "Stitches, Jon!"
"I've just — surgery — cut open — things pulled out — I'm full of stitches, and you were pulling—"
"Oh, God, Stephen, did I hurt—"
"—doesn't hurt — still numb, but you didn't pull anything out, I'd feel that—"
"I'm sorry, I'm an idiot, I'm so sorry—"
"—ravish me later — they'll be gone in three weeks—"
"—I never should have — what?"
"—and then you can do whatever you want to me, but not yet—"
"Stephen, hang on!" Jon put a finger to his friend's (soft) lips, and when Stephen stopped talking Jon moved his hand to cup the man's cheek. His mind was full of Stephen's history, of men that he knew about and men that he didn't, of the things Stephen kept secret and buried apart from their gender; and he said, "Listen to me. I will never try to hurt you or humiliate you. I will never force you into anything. If you tell me to stop, I will stop. And what you say and do here will have no effect on your career; your job is safe, I swear it. I'm not going to do anything to you that you don't want; so the important thing here is, Stephen, what do you want done to you?"
Stephen covered Jon's hand with his own, their fingers lacing together.
"If it's you, Jon," he whispered, eyes bright, "if it's you — everything."
Jon leaned in, then decided to ask this time. "Can I...?"
So Jon kissed him again, gently, using his arms to prop his body up so that there wasn't an ounce of pressure on Stephen; and Stephen's hands wrapped around the back of his neck, fingers tangling in his hair, holding him close.
The door clicked open.
"Sorry," said Bobby, "are we interrupting?"
♦ ⋅ ◊ ⋅ ♦ ⋅ ◊ ⋅ ♦
The trickiest part was finding someone at this hour who was awake, in town, able to deal with the dogs, willing to come over on short notice, and still sober.
The kids were easy; they were already asleep, Nate curled up with his favorite birthday present, and while she had never found dump trucks particularly cuddly herself, it seemed to make him happy.
The traffic was easy; going around the city at this time of night, the roads were almost empty. The greatest concentration of vehicles came when she hit the news vans themselves.
Once she had parked in the hospital lot, even the press were easy; she wasn't widely recognized, and those few reporters who honed in on her for whatever reason couldn't force her to talk.
"No comment. No comment. No comment," she chanted, drawing strength from the phrase like a mantra.
♦ ⋅ ◊ ⋅ ♦ ⋅ ◊ ⋅ ♦
Jon pulled quickly away. Stephen's stage manager was standing at the door, and the building manager appeared behind him, both holding lavish bouquets.
"When the audience heard why the broadcast had been canceled," said Tad, "they formed this very organized mob and went out to get flowers, so we thought we'd bring some over...." He trailed off, looking from Jon's face to Stephen's, and then turned to his companion. "Were they...?"
Bobby nodded. "Yyyyep."
"Ha!" Tad grinned. "I told you!"
"Hey, hey, hey!" protested Jon. "I know there are rumors, but it's not like — I mean, that was only our first kiss."
"It's our second today," protested Stephen.
"Second, then. No, third," Jon amended, thinking of Christmas.
"Fourth," Stephen finished.
Jon turned to look at him, puzzled.
"You were asleep for one of them."
"Uh, well, fourth then." Jon turned back to the men at the door. "The point is...."
"It's okay, Jon." Stephen cut him off, voice deceptively steady as one hand clutched at Jon's sleeve for support. "They've got the right idea. Tad, Bobby, it's true: the plotting of the gay agenda has finally paid off. I tried to resist, I really did, but he's too perfect, he's sweet and he's brilliant and he's handsome and he still likes me after I make him mad and he has the most adorable laugh, I couldn't hold out against that forever. So I gave in. It's all right if you're disgusted. I'll understand."
"It isn't disgusting," said Tad quickly. "In fact, that's pretty much how I felt when I met Bobby."
The stage manager dropped his bouquet.
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"I'm sorry, ma'am," repeated the receptionist, "you're not on the list, so I can't let you in. No exceptions. There's simply nothing I can do."
"But my husband's back there, you've got his name, if I could just talk to him for a minute..."
"Are you Mrs. Colbert?"
Tracey turned to see a stern-looking woman in a pinstriped suit standing behind her. "No, I'm Mrs. Stewart — there's no Mrs. Colbert right now — my husband's in there somewhere, he might be with Stephen by now or he might not, but I really should find him, and this woman doesn't have the authority to let me in...."
"I'll take care of it," announced the strange woman. "Wait right here."
"Now hang on just a minute!" exclaimed the receptionist. "Are you on the list?"
"Of course I am." The stranger leaned over the desk and held open a passport. The receptionist squinted at it, then looked at her computer.
"So you are," she acknowledged at last. "Right here at the top, even. Okay, hon, go on in."
"I'll be right back," declared the stranger, and strode in.
♦ ⋅ ◊ ⋅ ♦ ⋅ ◊ ⋅ ♦
"I got it, I got it," said Bobby quickly, bending to gather up the plastic-wrapped bundle of stems and tuck a few dislodged flowers back into place.
Jon blinked. "Does that mean you two are...?"
"Uh, we were," corrected Tad. "I kinda broke up with him because I was afraid Stephen would find out."
Jon glanced at Stephen, whose brow was furrowed. "But you just told me."
"Yeah. Yeah, I guess I did."
When Bobby stood up again, he was gripping the bouquet so tightly that the plastic crackled under his fingers, and by the look on his face he was just as surprised about all of this as Jon was.
"Then you two are in on it!" exclaimed Stephen. "All the while I've been fighting the gay agenda, and I've had two moles on my own staff...."
"I'm bi, actually," offered Bobby unhelpfully.
"Oh, come off it, Stephen!" snapped Tad. "There's no agenda, there's no conspiracy, there's no secret plot, most gay people couldn't care less about you. You're just in love with Mr. Stewart. Deal with it."
And no one looked more shocked at that than the building manager himself.
♦ ⋅ ◊ ⋅ ♦ ⋅ ◊ ⋅ ♦
Phoebe and Rick were heading back to the room, Phoebe holding the infant this time, when a stern-looking woman with short curly dark hair appeared in their path. There was something familiar about her, but Rick couldn't place it.
"Can I help you?" asked Phoebe.
"Are you Dr. Moreau?"
"Mrs. Stewart is at the desk. You're going to let her in."
She had the voice of Authority, with a capital A, and then Rick understood why it was familiar. And, because the order was a reasonable one, Phoebe wasn't about to object to the tone.
"Here," she said, handing George carefully over to Rick. "Take him. I'll sort this one out."
As Phoebe followed the familiar stranger back down the hall from which she had appeared, Rick continued on towards Colbert's ward, rocking the baby a little as he went.
♦ ⋅ ◊ ⋅ ♦ ⋅ ◊ ⋅ ♦
"Excuse me, gentlemen," said a voice at the door, breaking the silence that had settled.
"Let him in!" ordered Stephen quickly; Tad and Bobby stepped aside, and Watson strode through to place the baby in the pundit's already outstretched arms.
"Is that...?" asked Bobby hesitantly.
"This," announced Stephen, cradling the baby gently, "is my son, George William Colbert. And he's perfect too. Come over and see!"
♦ ⋅ ◊ ⋅ ♦ ⋅ ◊ ⋅ ♦
"Stephen's awake, and your husband's with him," said Dr. Moreau. "Come right in."
"Thank you, Doctor," said Tracey fervently, and took a few steps towards her, then looked back to see that the stranger hadn't moved. "Aren't you coming?"
"I...." The stern expression twitched a little. "I'm not nervous. He just might not want to see me, that's all."
"You were at the top of his list. Of course he wants to see you."
"Well, maybe I don't want to see him."
"You came all the way here," pointed out Tracey. "From somewhere pretty far, if you still have your passport on you."
"Why do you care?" asked the stranger.
Tracey shrugged. "You just helped me out. Why did you care enough to do that?"
The stranger shrugged back. "You needed help, that's all."
And now you're the one who needs it, thought Tracey, and held out her hand. "Come on. Just come in for a minute. What's the worst that can happen?"
The woman raised an eyebrow in a disconcertingly familiar fashion. "How well do you know Stephen?"
"Okay, okay, stupid question. But if things start going downhill, you can just leave. It's not like he's in any condition to follow you right now."
She must have struck the right note, because after a brief internal struggle the familiar stranger took her hand. Tracey gave her a reassuring smile and turned back to Dr. Moreau, who had paused herself a few steps on and was watching them patiently. "All right, which way do we go?"
♦ ⋅ ◊ ⋅ ♦ ⋅ ◊ ⋅ ♦
The doctor had gone to find vases for the flowers, while Bobby and Tad crouched across from Stewart at the bedside and looked at the baby in Stephen's arms.
He really was cute, Bobby mused — the baby, not Stephen, although, come to think of it, their boss did look rather sweet at the moment. He looked...not angry, which, as far as Bobby knew, was a first.
And when little George hiccuped, he and Stephen both had identical startled expressions on their faces, and Stewart started to giggle (it really was a cute giggle), and Stephen smiled in the manner of someone who is helplessly delighted, and it was all so adorable that Bobby could almost forget the awkwardness of being shoulder to shoulder with Tad, after months of barely saying hello to each other.
"Makes me want to have kids," he said, half to himself.
The other men all looked at him, and he added quickly, "I don't mean that I would have them, not like this — I mean, you know, I'd raise them, but the kids would come in the usual way."
"Did you have a mother in mind?" asked Tad, his tone carefully neutral.
"Um. Well. Right now, it's you or nobody."
"I'm not carrying—!"
"I didn't mean that either! We could adopt! I'm just saying, if there's anyone I'd like to settle down and raise kids with, it would be you!"
"Are you two planning a gay marriage right in front of me?" interrupted Stephen.
"I — well — I don't have a ring, or anything symbolic, I wasn't exactly prepared for this, caught me off guard — and I know this isn't the fanciest setup, if I had a little time I could take us somewhere nice—"
"Bobby," said Tad, "will you marry me?"
"You know how I feel about gay marriage," interrupted their boss again.
"Shut up, Stephen," replied Tad and Bobby in chorus, and kissed. And Bobby knew Stephen wouldn't do anything about it, because over the trumpets he could hear Stewart cracking up.
♦ ⋅ ◊ ⋅ ♦ ⋅ ◊ ⋅ ♦
When Phoebe opened the door, Mrs. Stewart gave the stranger another reassuring smile before making a beeline for her husband. Two other visitors had showed up in the meantime, and all were clustered around Stephen and George, though the new arrivals were talking excitedly to each other and not paying them any attention.
Mrs. Stewart whispered something to Jon, glancing back at the stranger a few times with a slightly wistful expression in her eyes; he murmured some reply, then looked back at Stephen and fell silent. A moment later the other two men noticed the quiet and looked at Stephen as well, then everyone was staring between him and the woman in the doorway.
It was a disconcerting, to say the least. Stephen had gone rigid, holding George close; but then he arranged his features into that expression that managed to make him seem stern and authoritative even while lying in a bed with disheveled hair and a rumpled hospital gown. It was something about the eyebrows, Phoebe decided.
That wasn't the odd part. She had seen all that before. Even the little flickers and twitches which showed the cracks in his mask were not new; he had gotten them whenever he tried to talk about Jon while sounding detached. What was so eerie was that the strange woman was doing exactly the same thing. Eyebrows and all.
In fact, with the advantage of her perfectly pressed pinstriped suit, at the moment she was better at it. Phoebe would not have said such a thing was possible.
"Hello," said Stephen quietly.
"Hello," replied the stranger.
"What are you..." He swallowed. "What are you doing here?"
"I came to see you."
"I've been abroad," she began. "France, actually. I knew you wouldn't go there. But I heard about the pregnancy, it's big news all over the world, and I started following it. And the more I watched, the more I thought...you're changing. Especially these last couple of months. You've, well..." She coughed. "You've grown up. And I appreciate it. And I thought, well, maybe I could give you another chance."
She stopped. The suggestion hung in the air.
At last Stephen replied, "I've got baggage."
"I could help you with the baby. I've always wanted kids. And they like me."
"Not him," said Stephen quickly. "He's not baggage. He'll never be baggage. What I mean is...well, to make a long story short, it would be a loveless sham relationship designed to conceal from the public, and occasionally myself, the fact that I'm gay."
"Really?" The stranger looked — glad? "Me too!"
"Oh!" exclaimed Stephen, and their faces broke into identical relieved grins. "That'll work perfectly, then!"
It was Jon who finally asked the question on everyone's mind: "Stephen — who is she?"
"Oh, right, sorry. Tracey, Jon, George, Tad, Bobby, Dr. Moreau — I'd like you to meet Charlene."
♦ ⋅ ◊ ⋅ ♦ ⋅ ◊ ⋅ ♦
Over at the CNN van, the first few bars of a Scissor Sisters tone began to play. They weren't on-air at the moment, so the reporter who owned the phone flipped it open, glanced at the name, and answered with, "Make it quick."
"Can do," said the voice on the other end. "Want to catch a movie Saturday?"
"You know I don't like movies."
"All right, let's do something else then."
"...Keith, are you asking me out?"
"I'm sure trying to."
"At half past one? Why?"
"I'm trying to ask you on a date and you're focusing on my timing? I have no idea why. It just felt right."
"Okay, you're trying to blow me off, or okay, you'll go?"
"Okay, I'll go."
"Great! Are you sure you couldn't stand a movie? There's one playing right nearby, one of those romantic comedies where all the couples get together at the end. Which, yeah, I know how that sounds, but everyone says it's much better than they were expecting."
Chapter 21: Epilogue: Whom Anchors Guard And Pundits Sing
Clips referenced: Stephen and Steve's arrangement.
December 25, 2007
Six Months (And Counting)
Every wall on the ground floor was adorned with pictures: portraits, photographs, and paintings, of all shapes and sizes, in all types of frames.
At one time each of them would have been a variation on the same subject. And, it must be admitted, most of them still did; Stephen had enough images of himself to wallpaper the place. But the bulk of these were packed away, and in between the ones still hanging, new things were starting to appear.
After his father, George was the most common subject. He was in everything from professional portraits to glossy photos to hundreds of everyday photographs arranged in massive collages.
Other pictures included high-quality stills from the 2007 Emmys, the largest showing Stephen holding aloft the Report's first; a photo from Stockholm, featuring Dr. Moreau and colleagues accepting their Nobel Medicine Prize; that year's school pictures for Stephen's older children; and a portrait of Jon standing in front of a portrait of himself, in which each version of him was giving the other a dubious look, as if to say, "Why did I agree to this, again?"
Pictures were not limited to the walls. A desk in the den was crowded with little frames and Christmas cards. Foremost of these was the one with the family picture from the Fey-McGee household, and right behind it one with a photo of Tad and Bobby on a beach wearing Santa hats and colorful leis. It was a wonder there was any space for the Christmas decorations at all.
But somehow there were streamers, and baubles, and tinsel, and ribbons, and lights, and mistletoe (real mistletoe, not plastic, not holly), and the biggest fir tree Jon had ever seen. Until this morning, there had been space to walk around, but not much.
Now you couldn't take three steps without running into some of the debris that will inevitably be left by the opening of enough presents for four adults and three children, plus packages from thousands of eager fans across the country, plus all the extra gifts that Stephen had pressed upon Jon in his self-appointed quest to make up for every Christmas that Jon, as a Jew, had "skipped".
Rather than try to navigate the mess, Jon was leaning contentedly back in one of the plush chairs in the living room. Lights in the tree sparkled. Charlene, two chairs down, was in the midst of a story about the time she got lost in Aix-en-Provence.
She had moved in with Stephen, to the delight of the Colbert Nation. Even if her stories were as exaggerated as Stephen's usually were, she had had enough adventures that Jon could believe she was content to take care of a house for a while.
And the joint Christmas celebration had been Stephen's idea, because the Colberts and the Stewarts were exchanging so many gifts that it made sense to pile them under one tree.
"You all right, hon?" asked Tracey from the chair beside him.
"Hm? Yeah, fine. Sorry, did I space out?"
"A little." She was giggling a bit; Charlene must have ended the story on a joke. Jon had missed it completely.
And the story was over, because Charlene had stopped talking. She and Tracey exchanged a look as a slightly awkward silence descended.
"Hey," said Jon, "don't let me keep you two."
That had been Stephen's idea too.
("Steve and I used to do it," he had explained, when he realized that the other three were giving him slightly scandalized looks. "Except then Lorraine and Nancy decided they liked each other better, and that left me with Steve, and we had angry sex a few times but it didn't really work out, so we called the whole thing off."
This kind of arrangement had never occurred to Jon, but when he thought about the first thing his wife had said to him after meeting Charlene — "I think I understand what you see in Stephen now!" — it made a weird kind of sense. Still, everyone but Stephen was surprised when, after the two women had gone out a few times, it fell smoothly into line.
The four of them ran on basically the same model that Stephen and Steve had used, except that with this group there was no pot involved, and when they were all in their own homes Stephen and Charlene did not actually sleep together. Most of the world assumed that they did, and that was fine with Jon. It drew attention away from the fact that, when they all spent the night at one house or the other, Charlene was Tracey's, and Stephen was his.)
"We can't just take off," protested his wife. "You'd be left by yourself."
"He's right in the next room. It's no big deal. And besides, if it doesn't go well, he might not want a crowd around."
"That's true," agreed Charlene.
"If you're sure," said Tracey. "We're on Nate duty tonight, right?"
"I think so. Yeah."
All three children were in their respective bedrooms, which for Jon's kids meant guest rooms permanently reserved for them. The adults could have been guaranteed full nights of sleep on occasion if one couple had been responsible for all of the kids at once, but Stephen refused to to let anyone else be responsible for George, so the women were generally in charge of Maggie and they switched off on Nate.
This, too, had been working remarkably well.
"Got it." She climbed out of her chair and waded through drifts of wrapping paper to his, where she leaned over and gave him a light kiss. "Merry Christmas."
"Merry Christmas, Trace."
He watched the two shuffle through the mess towards the hall. As they were turning the corner he saw Tracey's arm curl around Charlene's waist and squeeze; then he closed his eyes entirely and listened to the muffled voice of Stephen from the next room.
♦ ⋅ ◊ ⋅ ♦ ⋅ ◊ ⋅ ♦
It wasn't long before Stephen came out, grinning in that helpless way he had when he was happy about something completely innocent.
"How'd it go?" asked Jon, grinning back.
The news poured out of Stephen as he waded over to sit down on the arm of Jon's chair. Sally had been in the Christmas pageant, and Mary had gotten an A on her last test, and John Paul was speaking in complete sentences now, "and they all loved their presents, Jon, they never used to do that, but I sent the things Lorraine suggested and they loved them!"
Jon let his arm rest around the other man's waist. So rarely seen in public without a tie and a pressed collar, tonight under his robe Stephen was wearing only his favorite flag boxers and an Alpha Squad 7 T-shirt. Jon himself was in khakis and a blue patterned shirt, which was one of those presents from Stephen, "because you can't wear solid grey all the time, you need to branch out a little."
"That's great," he said every time Stephen paused for breath, which wasn't often. "Wonderful. Fantastic."
"And I got to talk to them, Jon, all of them, even..."
He trailed off at last, smile fading a little.
"Even Ty?" prompted Jon.
Stephen looked at the floor. "I can't call him that, Jon! He hates it when I call him Stephen, or Steve, or Junior, but he's not a Tyrone!"
Jon didn't push the matter. He understood all too well why the name set Stephen off, more so even than Caesar salads and the collected works of Edgar Allen Poe.
On their first few nights together Jon had found it hard to remember his own name, let alone pay close attention to Stephen's emotional state — for while Jon admittedly hadn't had much to compare it with, he could tell the man was talented — but eventually he had started to notice that, during what you might call key moments, Stephen was simply not there.
They talked about it, because if Jon had learned anything in the past year it was that he and Stephen had to talk about things. At last it had come out that Stephen had dealt with those behaviors that he was ashamed of by cutting them off from himself. He didn't just use the name "Tyrone Hunnibi"; he became Tyrone Hunnibi.
It was, as defense systems go, brilliant. After he moved into mainstream industry, every so often he would turn into Tyrone again and log on to a certain type of web site or hook up with someone in the restroom of an Outback Steakhouse, and it didn't matter what happened next because when it was over he would turn back into Stephen T. Colbert and it wouldn't have been him.
And so he surrounded himself with that name, the respectable name. He carved it into the studio set, he wrote it into his segments, he shouted it to his audience every night. It was his way of building a wall, a shield, to fortify his role as a man beloved by the people and respected by himself, to block out all those undesirable things that belonged not to him but to Tyrone Hunnibi, or even to little Stevie Colbert-with-a-hard-T, the boy who couldn't even get his parents' attention, much less their approval.
It had all fallen apart in those first few months with Jon. He was only just starting to come back together.
"Why couldn't he be called something else?" moaned Stephen.
It was a discussion they'd had several times. There wasn't much Jon could do except repeat, "He doesn't know, Stephen. He has no idea."
"But I know!"
"Doesn't matter. None of it has touched him. Listen to me, Stephen. None of that has touched your kids."
He squeezed gently. It was the wrong thing to do; Stephen froze.
(He would do this in bed, too, when Jon inadvertently touched him the way someone else had touched him, during some past encounter that was ultimately unpleasant. Stripped of his armor, he would freeze up, falling back into that memory, until Jon could bring him out of it.
And there was only one way to do that...)
"Stephen," said Jon. "Stephen. Stephen. My Stephen."
Nothing happened at first; and then Stephen drew a shuddery breath and said, "Don't stop."
♦ ⋅ ◊ ⋅ ♦ ⋅ ◊ ⋅ ♦
"Stephen," gasped Jon as they crashed into their bedroom, "Stephen, Stephen, you're Stephen, the one and only Stephen, the Emmy-winning Stephen, Time's influential Stephen, my Stephen, Stephen, he's a handsome man his name is Stephen, Stephen..."
The Emmy winner and handsome man in question was writhing in his arms, breathing hard, covering his face and neck with kisses, and every time his lips came near one of Jon's ears he would whisper Don't stop, and Jon would focus anew on the chant.
They tumbled onto the sheets, Stephen pulling back for long enough to shrug off his robe. Jon took the opportunity to slip his glasses off of his face and toss them onto the nightstand before reaching for the T-shirt; Stephen beat him to it, and Jon found his hands stroking bare skin, which was, except for the scar, nearly good as new. As fingertips brushed up his sides Stephen gasped — but it wasn't out of fear of a memory, it was a gasp of pleasure at the here and now — and then he pounced on Jon and fell to it again.
"Stephen, Stephen," it was too much, too good, "you are still Stephen, aren't you?"
"Jon, it's me, I'm here, don't let me go, don't stop!"
He obliged instantly. "Stephen, Stephen, my — ah — Stephen, wonderful Stephen, dear Stephen, Stephen, lovable — oh — Stephen!—"
Stephen had left Jon's shirt on and was going straight for the khakis, which was just as well, they couldn't have stood to get much tighter anyway—
"Stephen, God, Stephen—"
And then a wail, crackly with static, split the air.
Stephen sat up. Jon shut up.
There was another squall from the baby monitor, and an instant later Stephen had snatched his robe from where it had fallen and was pulling it on as he ran out the door.
Jon flopped back against the pillows and suppressed a groan.
Stephen had an almost supernatural ability to shut everything else down when the six-month-old needed something. Jon was not so lucky. Heart still pounding, he forced himself to take slow breaths, and thought very hard about Ann Coulter.
♦ ⋅ ◊ ⋅ ♦ ⋅ ◊ ⋅ ♦
The problem, it turned out, was the diaper.
Fixing it was a dirty job, but someone had to do it, and Stephen felt as though he could swim through a swamp in a new designer suit if George needed it. Of course, swimming was easy, while diaper-changing had lots of steps and all these complicated little tabs to hook up in the right order. But Stephen, to his own surprise, had been determined to learn; and by now he'd even gotten the hang of it.
Unfortunately, being clean and dry did not by itself make the baby go back to sleep again, so Stephen cradled the fussing George against his shoulder and rocked gently around the nursery, which had eventually been decorated around the very simple theme of "ducks". Eagles were rather scary and fierce for an infant to deal with; Stephen had reasoned that George ought to start with something easier and work his way up.
He'd tried singing in Korean, but he only knew one song in the language and it was all addressed to "girl", so he switched to an old standard.
"Hush, little baby, don't say a word
Daddy's gonna buy you a mockingbird
And if that mockingbird don't sing
Daddy's gonna buy you a diamond ring
And if that diamond ring turns brass
Daddy's gonna buy you a looking glass
And if that looking glass should break
Daddy's gonna buy you a chocolate cake
And if that cake should be too dry
Daddy and some feminists will bake a pie
And when that pie is eaten up
Daddy's gonna buy you a...
Jon, what comes after the pie?"
He didn't have to look to know that Jon had appeared in the doorway.
"I don't know. I think you got away from the usual lyrics at some point."
"I guess so."
George had stopped crying, but he was still fussy, and without knowing what (if anything) came after the pie there was nothing for Stephen to do but pick another song.
"What child is this who laid to rest
In Stephen's arms is sleeping?
Whom Nations greet with cheering sweet
While eagles watch are keeping?"
♦ ⋅ ◊ ⋅ ♦ ⋅ ◊ ⋅ ♦
They really had to pitch a Christmas album to someone, Jon thought, as he thought every time he heard Stephen sing a carol. Stephen's voice was rich and clear, and as he hit each note it resonated with love and belief.
"This, this, is George the king,
Whom anchors guard and pundits sing;
Haste, haste, to bring him laud,
The babe, the son of Stephen!"
At last George drifted off; switching out the lights, his father placed him gently back in his crib and drew the fluffy duck-patterned blanket over his slumbering form. Only then did Jon approach, wrapping his arms around Stephen and standing on tiptoe to rest his head on the taller man's shoulder.
"Did you make that up yourself?" he asked gently.
"No, Jon, it's a traditional Christmas song, probably hundreds of years old..."
"I know, I know. I mean the new lyrics."
"Oh. No, they're from someone on the Colbert Nation forum. Some of the heroes write these things for fun, and Avery sends me the best ones." He paused. "Except the bit about 'anchors guarding'. They don't know about you, so that was mine."
"'Anchors', plural? How many do you have?"
"Just you. But it wouldn't fit the song otherwise."
Jon kissed him, just below the ear, and he began to tense.
"It's okay, Jon, it's okay. I know who I am in here."
So for a while he just held Stephen, silent in the moonlight, and together they watched George sleep. At last he said softly, "Would you like to stay here all night?"
"No. Oh no. Definitely not. The things I'd like to do...." Stephen laughed a short, knowing laugh, and covered Jon's hands with his own. "I can't do them in here, that's for sure. But a little bit longer, Jon. Let's just stay here for a little bit longer."