Sam knocked on her door and stuck his head in without waiting for her permission.
"Sam," she said, startled and annoyed.
"Ainsley," he replied briskly. And then he paused and tipped his head to look at her. "Has Lord Marbury been by?"
"No, he most assuredly has not. Been by. Why?"
"You have that rosy glow. He seems to inspire that."
"That's because Lord Marbury is a man of charm and refinement. He treats a woman like a lady, and I'm sure he always knocks before he enters a room."
"Far be it from me to trample your dreams, Mustang Sally, but Lord Marbury-- Is not why I came down to see you."
"Mustang Sally?" She was squinting at him, wondering just how much outrage would be required.
"It's. Well. During the industrial revolution, when the English nobles got cash poor, they'd take a wife who came from money. Often the daughter of a newly rich American who wanted to buy some class. These American wives were called... mustangs. Have you eaten?"
"Was that what you came to ask me?"
"No, actually, I came to ask you if you had the Hilgev memo, but then I remembered that I'm also holding a basket of fruits and cheeses and you haven't asked me if you could have a piece of Asiago, or, possibly, a plum."
"I have the Hilgev memo, and I would actually like-- Do you have a good suit?"
He blinked at her, and then set the basket on her desk and backed away slightly.
"Ainsley, are you, by any chance, hypoglycemic?"
"Okay then. I direct you then, to my suit, the one that I am wearing at this very moment. It's a pretty nice suit. It's by Hugo Boss. You may have heard of him?"
"Hannah Darden. We were at Smith together. She's getting married. I have to go, Sam, I'm part of the wedding party, and I just couldn't bear to be there, with all those people, all those pairs of people, without having someone there with me. It says on the invitation, 'and guest', and you could be that guest, Sam, especially if I might have that round of Gouda, there. And those soda crackers."
He handed her the items she'd requested and blinked at her again.
"Did you know, there's a short story collection called The Wedding Cake in the Middle of the Road? And in one of those stories, the author describes the White House, the very building we're now standing in, as looking like nothing so much as a wedding cake in the road."
"And what does that mean, exactly?"
"I'm not sure. You want me to go to a wedding? With you?"
"Yes, Sam," she said decisively. "I do, indeed. It's in San Francisco."
"Yes. Foggy, historic San Francisco. On July 17th."
"But… today's the 23rd," he said gently.
"I'm aware of that, Sam."
"You want me to go with you to a wedding…in a year?"
"Yes. She likes to create a sense of anticipation."
"I'd be glad to accompany you," Sam said abruptly.
"You'd... That's very kind of you. Thank you, Sam."
"Well. I'm going to go home now."
"I'm sorry, did you want something?"
"Ah, yes. The Hilgev memo?"
As she handed it to him, he said, "I'm going to. Walk you to your car."
And he held the door for her.
"I have a date. With Ainsley Hayes."
"You sly dog. Where are you taking her? Is it tonight?"
"It's on July 17th."
"But... it's July 26th now." Josh had cocked his head and was doing that thing with his eyebrows.
"That's, like, a year away."
"Are you sure your schedule's gonna be clear? Because that would be embarrassing, if you had two dates lined up on the same night, a year from now."
"You should go on the road with that. You'll pack 'em in in Anaheim."
"Touchy. So. A date with Ainsley, huh? I thought she bugged you."
"I find her annoyingly right about certain things. That's not the same as disliking her."
"Plus, she looks like a Gap dancer."
"A Gap dancer. You know, from those commercials, all those fresh faced kids in pastels sliding around to West Side Story?" Josh did a move that might have been interpretable as some brand of dance step, and Sam had to smile.
"Look at you, there. You've got rhythm and music. But honestly? I have no idea what you're talking about."
"You do own a television, right, Sam?"
"Yes. Yes, I do."
"Well you could, you know, turn it on sometime. Learn about the world. See what the kids are up to these days."
"I don't have that kind of time. I've only got a year until my date with Ainsley Hayes."
"You have a date with Ainsley Hayes?" And CJ sounded both amused and gratified.
"You could call it that," Sam hedged.
"You could call it that, in a year," Josh supplied.
"Ainsley Hayes. It was only a matter of time."
"What? We have a... stimulating, intellectual... thing."
"And she looks like a Gap dancer," CJ said sagely.
"What is that? Why does everyone say that?"
"Because it's true," Toby said from the door. "You're dating Ainsley Hayes now? That's such an improvement from your current plan of not dating Mallory."
"Mallory, I'll have you know, is dating a hockey player."
"We know," CJ said. "In fact, she brought him to that thing? That thing you missed? And he's really nice."
"Thank you for that show of support."
"You're dating Ainsley Hayes," CJ pointed out.
"In a year!"
"Dude, you could ask her out again, for another date. Maybe in six months. A pre-date."
"Well, strictly speaking, she asked me out. To a wedding. In San Francisco."
"That's a lot of pressure for a first date," Josh said.
"And also, travel will be involved," and it sounded menacing when Toby said it.
"You think I should back out?"
"It's amazing to me that we have been able to perpetuate the species. Sam, you can ask her out. She's made the first move, but that doesn't mean you can't make the next one. Have her to dinner. Fix her a nice tuna steak, a green salad. It's not brain surgery."
"I don't know. Does cooking have to be involved?"
Toby shook his head slightly.
"Again, I remind you of the not dating Mallory."
"Plus, as it stands now," Josh said with demonic cheer, "She's got you whipped. You're her bitch."
"You think so?" He frowned.
"I would have to say yes," Toby said.
"She owns you, Sam." CJ chimed.
"Tuna steak it is," Sam said decisively.
"I'll give you my recipe," the President said.
"For my chili. Nothing fans the flames of love like a hearty chili, spiced just right."
"If you say so, sir. CJ recommended tuna steak."
"Hmm. She might be on the money, there. Upon reflection, chili may not be the way to go. You know, if you like, Emeril Lagassi owes me favor, and I could have him whip you up a little something. You could pass it off as your own, impress the girl."
"So you think I should begin with culinary sleight of hand?"
The President eyed him shrewdly.
"Can you cook, Sam?"
"Yes and no, Mr. President. I can... boil certain foods."
Shaking his head, President Bartlet wrangled into his suit jacket and tugged on the sleeves.
"Can you make a pomegranate reduction? A lemon grass soufflé? Braise anything?"
"No, Mr. President."
"Well, then, maybe you ought to leave the cooking to the professionals. Take her out. Get her seats at Gideon or La Barque."
"A fine Idea, Mr. President."
"Glad I could be of help. She's a formidable woman, Ainsley Hayes. Are you sure you're up to the challenge?"
"Sir, I don't know what they've been telling you--"
"Josh says she's got you whipped. I expect you to make a good showing, Sam. Do us proud." He made his way to the door.
"I'll do my best, sir."
"See that you do. Leo!"
Leo ducked his head in the Oval Office.
"Get the man a table at Gideon." He brushed past the Chief of Staff and rushed down the hallway, slapping at his pockets for pens.
"Heard you got a date with Ainsley."
"You know, I'm pretty sure we're fairly responsible for, you know, running the country. Maybe we should worry less about my date and more about the trade deficit."
"The trade deficit will take care of itself," said Leo dismissively.
"I'm sure the voters will be glad to hear that."
"What you gotta do is take her to Deerpointe for dessert. They got this thing there, it's Quince Glassine, it's a parfait under spun sugar, she'll love it."
"This is Ainsley Hayes we're talking about. I could take her to the Holiday House Buffet. As long as they have Fresca, everything should be fine."
Leo looked dubious, and intoned again, "Quince Glassine, Sam."
"Quince Glassine." Sam confirmed. "And Fresca."
Leo shrugged a bit and walked out after the President.
Sam checked his watch. Sighing, he ran a hand over his hair and said softly to himself, "In a year."