Central Michel Richard
1001 Pennsylvania Avenue, Washington D.C.
Tuesday, June 2nd, 2009 1pm
"She's beautiful," Donna said as she swiped through photo after photo of Imogen. "How old is she now? Eight weeks?"
"It's crazy how time flies. CJ looks so happy," she added as she handed his phone back. "Motherhood looks good on her."
"It does," Danny said with a smile.
"Did you come here often when you lived in DC?" she asked as she turned the menu over in her hand.
"A few times a month. If you want something light, the Trout Almondine's pretty good."
"What are you having?"
"Tomato Tartare and Scallop Carpaccio."
"I like the sound of carpaccio."
"Perfect timing," Danny said as a server approached their table. When they had placed their order he took a sip of his beer before saying, "I see the First Lady's getting some harsh press."
"We need to craft a better message about her leadership platform," Donna said with a sigh.
"When First Ladies take positions of activism they are afforded a very small margin of error before they become subjects of criticism," he said with a knowing inclination of his head.
"And let's not mention the entrenched bureaucracy on a mission to stall every one of our initiatives, shall we?"
"Yeah well, having no mandate from citizens to pursue specific agendas means she'll be perpetually walking a tightrope of conflicting expectations and demands. I gotta tell ya, I thought she'd be more of a middle of the road First Lady."
"I thought so, too," Donna said with a small laugh. "But you didn't invite me to lunch to discuss Helen Santos, did you?"
"I did not. I'd like you to consult on a new project."
"A new writing project? Already done with your old one?"
"The Nancy McNally biography went to press last week."
"So what's next?"
"An intimate portrait of the West Wing during the Bartlet administration."
"You're sure Josh wouldn't make a better consultant?"
Danny smiled. "I'll need to interview Josh, but I'd like you to consult, Donna," he said as he wrote something on a napkin and slid it across the table.
"Unsung Heroes: The Women Of The West Wing," she read out loud.
"I'd like to showcase the Executive Assistants and Presidential Secretaries. Margaret, Carol, Ginger and Bonnie, Cathy. Nancy, Mrs. Landingham. Debbie Fiderer. Each one introduced by the man, or woman, she was supporting."
Donna's hand settled on her heart.
"Your path has been a little different from that of the others," he said after he'd shared his vision, "and I'd like to track your trajectory from the first campaign to the East Wing."
"It's an extraordinary journey, Donna. I'd like to chronicle it in a special section after the paths diverge."
"I don't know what to say."
"Maybe start by discussing it with Josh?"
A short while into their lunch, Danny put down his fork and said, "can I ask you something?"
"Do you ever get the feeling that things between CJ and Josh have remained a little tense, for want of a better word?"
"What do you mean?"
Danny heard the immediate defensiveness in her tone and hastened to explain.
"There was something I couldn't quite put my finger on when I floated the idea of the introductions by her, and it was gone almost as soon as I sensed it. Something which slipped through that I don't think she intended for me to see. She may not even realize it's there."
"Something about Josh? What did she say?"
"That's just it. She didn't say anything. It was in her body language. Have you noticed anything similar in Josh?"
"I can't say that I have."
Danny watched her for a moment, unable to determine whether she was being deliberately evasive. He had learned to read CJ pretty well over the years, and living with her for the past two had only sharpened his instincts where she was concerned. He had no reason to believe that Donna didn't possess the same skillset.
"Maybe I'm totally off base, but ..
"You have a gut feeling?"
He saw concern flicker across her face for a moment and then she gave him a small smile.
"I'll be looking out for it now."
Josh and Donna's Apartment 11pm
Donna pressed a kiss against Josh's mouth.
"Let me know when you're ready for another round," she purred as she settled back against her pillow.
"Do I need to threaten you with bromide again?"
"You're starting to show your age."
"Don't make me tickle you."
"Don't make me castrate you."
"That might put a damper on round two."
Donna rewarded him with a throaty chuckle.
"So how'd it go with Danny?" he asked as he snuck an arm around her waist and nuzzled her neck. "What, no Charlie or Curtis?" he inquired when she'd told him.
"I'm sure they'd be delighted to hear you lumped them in with the women of the West Wing, Josh."
He snickered against her skin but clarified, "I'm just sayin', they're just as unsung."
"We both know Charlie's going to have his own book someday."
"So, what do you think?"
Donna rolled her eyes.
"The idea as a whole? The introductions? The special section about me? All of the above?"
"It's about time someone wrote a book like this and made you the lynchpin," he said as he trailed a finger lazily down her chest.
She slapped him lightly on the arm.
"Can you be serious for five minutes?"
Josh rolled onto his back and folded his arms behind his head as he pondered the questions.
"I was being serious when I said it's about time someone wrote a book like this. And I can't think of anyone who deserves a special section more than you. Just don't expect a rose tinted trip down memory lane."
Donna propped herself up on an elbow and stared quizzically at him until he continued.
"Danny has an innate sense of values and objectivity. He's a firm believer that the public has a right to know what the institutions they revere are doing. He felt that obligation strongly when it came to holding the administration accountable."
"More strongly than his feelings for CJ?"
"Ha!" he said with a hint of derisiveness in his laugh. "She was the first person he held accountable - in and out of the briefing room. Whether she liked or not. He was never one to sit on the fence and keep his opinion to himself. He had the platform for it and he wasn't afraid to leverage it."
"So what you're saying is -"
"What I'm saying is that you'd better be ready for more than a glance in the rearview mirror. And if there are skeletons in anyone's closet, they'd better air that closet out before they give him viewing privileges. He has a unique ability to dig out the truth - and if the truth hurts, so be it."
"As CJ found out several times."
"Yeah. I'm still not completely sure how they made it out the other end together."
"Relentless persistence on his side?"
"More like emotional intelligence. Which he had in spades and she .. well, didn't. Not in those last eighteen months."
"Do you think she settled?"
Josh thought about it for a moment and then shook his head as he drew her close.
"No. There was always something there, and there's a lot to be said for knowing that the person you choose to share your life with will hold you accountable. She valued his opinion even when they were at odds. Did he say why he wanted to write the book?"
"Maybe it's an oblique love letter to CJ."
"She's writing the Foreword."
"She's not in it?"
"Unsung Heroes, Josh. Did you listen to anything I said? She was hardly unsung as the first female Chief of Staff in the history of the nation."
"Yeah." Josh muttered something she didn't quite catch and reached over to turn off the light, but she was almost sure it had been "let's hope she does right by her first Executive Assistant this time."
"Nothing," he said as he stifled a yawn. "We should get some sleep."
Donna stared into the darkness for a long time; taking their conversation apart and matching it up with what Danny had told her. When she was sure Josh was asleep she reached stealthily for her phone.
I'm in, she texted. And I think you're right. We should talk.