The campaign bus was a much more comfortable place when nobody else was on board, at least so long as the weather was nice or the engine was running. Donna had discovered that weeks ago when she realized that the money from selling her car wasn't going to take her very far if she had to keep paying for hotel rooms. In bigger cities she could often cram in with other volunteers, four or five to a room, but there just weren't that many Bartlet supporters in the small towns yet. Putting on extra clothes and rolling up like a blanket burrito on one of the bus's long bench seats was at least as comfortable as finding a corner of floor or sleeping three to a bed.
The only problem with the arrangement at all was security, or rather the lack thereof. Somebody from the campaign, usually one of the drivers, would lock the bus door every night. It seemed nice and secure, but Donna had discovered by accident that there was a trick to it. If somebody pulled just right on the warped middle panel, the latch would give way and the door would open. It was very handy for itinerant volunteers in need of a quiet place, and Donna figured as long as she was aboard, she could keep thieves from taking anything. She hadn't considered, right up until it was too late, that when confronted with an intruder, she might not be feeling particularly brave.
She'd just settled in for the night, in her flannel pajamas and slipper socks, two layers of blankets and her sleeping bag, when the noise started at the door. Someone was tugging on it, as though surprised it was locked. Maybe somebody had forgotten something on the bus and was coming out to get it? At nearly eleven at night, for some reason? Maybe somebody was looking for easy things to steal on an old bus. Maybe somebody was looking for young blonde campaign volunteers to murder in ways that would eventually result in a documentary special on one of the true crime channels? She held her breath, hoping that the door would stay shut and whoever was visiting would just turn and go away.
But then the door actually slid open, giving its usual complaining whine. So much for that idea. Donna sank deeper into the blankets and turned her face against the cushions, hoping that in the darkness and with her dark green sleeping bag, she would be overlooked entirely. Even if the midnight intruder were just a staff member, Donna was fairly certain volunteers were not supposed to be sleeping on the bus. Whoever got on board first in the morning would be really surprised to discover her horribly mangled body on the bench seats, that was for sure.
The intruder was moving quickly, on light feet that barely jarred the bus and made little noise. They weren't looking for anything, instead moving towards the back of the bus with quick deliberation. Donna tried not to even breathe loudly when the steps came to a stop just a few feet from her. Whoever it was, they were right in front of her. Staring at her? Raising a knife high above their head, Psycho-style, ready to plunge it into her unprotected-
The door at the front of the bus slammed open and Donna very nearly wet her pants. Much louder footsteps now, and a loud voice. “ZOEY PATRICIA BARTLET, I swear to God, I am going to STUFF YOU IN AN OVERHEAD COMPARTMENT and leave you there until we get to OHIO!” Donna actually recognized that voice, that voice was very familiar. Joshua Lyman, her new boss of nearly five weeks now, was thundering down the center aisle with no compunctions about stealthiness or even not running into the seats in the dark. From a few feet away, Donna heard a soft giggle and suddenly guessed the identity of the first, quieter intruder.
She guessed she probably ought to make her presence known now, even if it meant getting in trouble for sleeping on the bus, but before Donna could do anything, Josh was yelling again. “You have till the count of five to get your butt out here and give me that book before I fold your skinny little body into an origami crane and mail you back to New Hampshire! Postage Due!” As he spoke, he finished making his way down the aisle, and in what he probably thought was a theatrical flourish, dropped into a seat. Right on top of Donna.
Donna screamed, she couldn't help herself. There was a lot of adrenaline from almost getting murdered still in her system. Zoey, who'd been hiding not two feet away, screamed as well at the noise, and then Josh screamed too, leaping to his feet and scrabbling away. His scream was nearly as high as the two girls' had been, and Donna might have found it funny if she hadn't been too busy having a minor coronary incident. Josh was already yelling again. “What the hell, what the hell, what- Donna?”
She sat up and pushed the blankets down off her head, then tried to smooth out her static-crazed hair. “Joshua?” she replied, trying desperately for nonchalance. It was difficult when Zoey was laughing so hard she'd had to lay down flat on the other bench.
“What the hell are you doing on the bus at this hour?” Josh shoved Zoey's legs unceremoniously off the bench and sat down opposite Donna.
“I was resting,” Donna replied primly, folding her hands in her lap as though she were sitting in a boardroom in a business suit instead of on a bus in the dark wearing flannel cat pajamas. “Certain people didn't finish working until half an hour ago, and we have a 6am go-time tomorrow, so it seemed prudent.”
“Resting?” Josh repeated incredulously. “Why are you resting on the bus instead of in the hotel?”
“Why are you chasing the governor's daughter through the parking lot at midnight, screaming threats at her?” Donna countered.
Zoey giggled. “Yeah! When my dad's the president, I'll have guys who'd beat you up for doing that.”
“That's only if you live so long, squirt,” Josh told her. “She stole my polling data!” he explained to Donna, obviously deeply aggrieved. “The whole binder!”
Donna gave him a narrow-eyed look. “What were you doing with the polling binder anyway? Leo ordered you to go to bed.”
Josh sputtered. “I hardly think that's relevant. She stole valuable proprietary Bartlet For America campaign information and took it into an unsecured location. This is serious!”
“Well, you might have a point, except that she actually is a Bartlet, which I'm pretty sure gives her some cover on the theft charge,” Donna pointed out. “And we keep binders on the bus all the time. She was just relocating it to make sure you'd get some sleep and operate at peak efficiency tomorrow.”
“Yeah, exactly!” Zoey chimed in, immediately climbing off her bench to go sit with Donna. “He doesn't take good care of himself,” she told the blonde volunteer earnestly. “Somebody should do something.”
“Oh, don't I know it!” Donna replied. “That was a good thought, taking the book.” She and Zoey high-fived, while Josh made a strangled noise of frustration from opposite them. “Now it's time to deal,” she advised the girl.
“Donna, you are so fired,” Josh muttered.
“You can't fire me,” Donna pointed out pleasantly. “I'm a volunteer. Also, you didn't hire me in the first place. I'm basically impervious.”
“I'm going to hire you and put you on salary just for the pleasure of firing you,” he grumbled.
“Okay,” Zoey cut in. “My first demand is that you can't fire Donna.” Donna beamed, while Josh heaved a very put-upon sigh. “My second demand is that you have to go to bed right away and actually sleep, so that you aren't so grouchy tomorrow. No taking the book to bed with you!”
“That's a good one,” Donna agreed.
“My third demand,” Zoey went on, obviously getting into the spirit of it now, “is that tomorrow morning you must buy everyone doughnuts and orange juice, and make sure you get some of the kind with cream filling. And also-”
“Have I mentioned,” Josh interjected loudly, “how simple and indeed, how satisfying it would be to throw you over my shoulder right now and toss you in the swimming pool? I think I saw ice chunks floating in it.”
Zoey glowered at him. “Fine, the first two, then.”
“All right, deal.” He held out his hand and she shook it. “Now give me the book.”
“When we get back inside,” Zoey countered. “You'll probably just make Donna start working again otherwise.” Donna couldn't resist giving Josh a smug look.
“Donna lives to work,” Josh said blithely. “But that does remind me, what the hell are you doing sleeping on the bus?”
Donna grimaced. She'd been hoping to avoid coming back to that question. “Well, the hotel is really full tonight,” she hedged. “And I like how quiet the bus is. It's very restful.”
“It can't be more than forty degrees in here,” Indeed, Josh was already rubbing his hands up and down his arms, and Zoey was looking shivery.
“Hardy Wisconsin stock,” she reminded him.
“You can't stay out here,” he insisted.
“It's too late to get a room now,” she countered. “I can't exactly stay with you and Mandy.”
Josh grimaced. Zoey whispered loudly “That's why he wanted the book to keep him busy.” In a more normal voice she added, “You should stay with me, Donna! Ellie bailed with Grandma and Grandpa this morning, so she's not even going to be back until Wednesday. I've got an extra bed.”
“I don't think your parents would be okay with a volunteer staying in your room,” Donna demurred, but Zoey wouldn't hear of it.
“Oh come on, it'll be fine. It's not like you're an axe murderer or something,” Zoey was starting to look downright cheerful about the prospect of company now. “Or, like, a guy. My dad would probably have something to say about that. But I hate hotel rooms by myself, it's basically impossible to sleep. Plus if you freeze to death, there's nobody to help me keep an eye on Josh.”
“Well, when you put it that way,” Donna laughed, sneaking a glance across the aisle. Josh looked like he wasn't sure whether to be smug about getting his way or annoyed because they were talking about him. He also looked like a man who really needed some sleep. She stood up and quickly rolled her blankets, tucking them away in the overhead compartment, and threw on her coat. “Let's go put Josh to bed with his book, and then we'll get some sleep.”
Zoey chortled and practically pulled Donna down the aisle and off the bus, with Josh following behind them, still grumbling about swimming pools and how no jury in the land would convict him. Donna ignored him, suspecting that he would have an all new rant as soon as he remembered that the bus hadn't even been locked. But that was a problem for later. For tonight, she'd have a shower and sleep in a bed, and that was surely worth a few moments of mortal terror.