Natalie spun to face Jeremy again. "How was it not a ninth-inning rally?"
"We didn't rally."
"What was that?"
"We didn't rally. It was somebody else's rally."
"I'm saying it was good, it was right, but we sat around and waited until we were told our show had been saved."
"What does it matter who rallied?"
"Why does it matter?"
"Because we --" he shrugged -- "We sat in on somebody else's rally!"
Natalie sighed affectionately. "All right," she told him. "Is that all that's bothering you?"
"Yes. Well. That and -- my affairs are settled."
"My affairs. They're settled."
Natalie stopped walking again. "What?"
"Isaac's tape dispenser. Dana's gum. Elliot's copy of Turtle Moon. Casey's industrial strength leather ink pen rest. I've settled all my affairs."
"I am a man with no affairs."
Natalie met his eyes. "I can think of one."
Jeremy grinned. "That's not an affair."
"How isn't it?"
His grin grew a little more devilish, for Jeremy. "We're not married."
"Oh, you noticed that, too?"
"To other people."
"Or to pretty much anyone, Jeremy."
"Yes, but it's the other people thing I want to focus on right now."
"Because that's what means it isn't an affair."
"How did that become your point?"
"Do you want to get some coffee?"
"The coffee machine is three inches to our left."
"See, that loses something in a business setting."
Natalie took his hands in both of hers. "No, you're not."
"No. I'm not."
"Okay." She nodded once and grinned at him. He grinned back and poured her a cup of coffee.
In the edit bay, Dan sipped his own coffee and pointed out a competitor on the screen. "What's this guy's name?" he asked, and his voice still sounded as it had the night before; relieved. The burden of a terrible decision had rested on him until the end of the first C-break. It was gone and he was, by his own admission, happier than the devil reviewing Steve Sisco.
"Hmm?" Casey said absently.
"What's this guy's name?"
"Pat .... something. Day. Pat Day."
Dan glanced at him. "Something on your mind?"
"You know, it's too bad for the Laker girls."
Casey smiled a little. "Yeah," he said.
"What's on your mind?"
Casey sighed. "It's nothing."
"It's just --"
"There were about three minutes when I had the nerve, man."
"I had the nerve. I had the guts. I was pumped."
"I was ready to -- what was it Jeremy called it? Settle affairs. And then Calvin Whats-it came along and --"
"--saved all our asses--"
"Right, and blew my chance."
Dan nodded and turned back to the screen. "Okay, well, what's the horse's name?"
"Thanks for your concern."
Danny turned to sit backwards on the chair, as he did when he was facing Casey with something of importance. "Calvin blew your chance."
"Right, okay. Your chance to do what?"
Casey sighed his millionth sigh and almost gave up, but Dan was still looking at him and he felt obligated to answer. "My chance to settle affairs ... with her."
"You've known her for how long?"
"Going on seventeen years."
"You met her in September?"
"It's, what, May?"
"Going on September?"
Casey sighed. "No."
"Sixteen and a half, whatever."
"And you still can't remember her name?"
Casey looked more closely at his partner. "That was elaborate for a dig."
"No, Danny, I mean that was incredibly elaborate."
"Thank you. Now listen. What I think you should do --"
"What were you trying to say?"
Dan shook his head. "When?"
"With your elaborate dig. What point were you trying to make?"
"I wasn't trying to make a point."
"You were trying to make a point."
"I was trying to make the point that you should say her name."
Casey blinked. "When?"
"I should say her name."
"Yes, you should."
Dan ran a hand across his face and specified in an exhasperated tone, "To her."
"I should say her name to her."
"She's been Dana for -- how long now?"
"Oh, you're going to be completely hopeless about this, aren't you?"
"I'm just saying, she probably knows her name almost as well as I do."
Casey avoided his gaze. "What."
"The show's still here."
"We're all happy."
"She's ecstatic." He held up his hand. "I know we're all ecstatic. But she's been Dana for 34 years and that means ecstatic is entirely different where she is concerned."
"Tell me about it," Casey said appreciatively.
"You have to go in there."
"I -- don't know. In wherever she is."
"She's at lunch."
"A sandwhich, or did she go to Anthony's?"
"To Anthony's, I think."
"Then you have to go over there."
"I'll see her when she comes back."
"You'll lose your nerve when she comes back."
"I don't have any nerve."
"Then you've got nothing to lose. Go over there."
Casey considered it. He had been considering it for ten days. Until yesterday, it would have been justified. He and Dan had talked things out concerning L.A., but he and Dana had been unable. She knew he would never leave Charlie. And he knew he couldn't let her go without telling her how revered she was.
But, the show was saved. What a blessing, until it occurred to him that the three minutes, the courage, the justification had passed by. He was being a jerk, as he oftentimes managed to be. His career and his friendships and his life had been saved, and here he was too scared to even stop complaining.
"Later," he finally say. "Pat Day, and I don't know the horse's name. "We've got work to do, Danny."
Dan's measuring gaze lingered for a moment before he said, "Yeah. Let's get back to it."
Jeremy stepped in just then, borrowed a pencil, and walked out into the newsroom. "I just stole this pencil," he announced. "It was in the edit bay, and I took it." No one answered. "I just waltzed right in and took it. Didn't wear a mask, didn't cover my trail, didn't wipe fingerprints or bribe the witnesses. I just took the pencil." Still there was only silence. "....Yep, I just picked it up and feigned express ownership to an object very clearly not my own."
"Sweetie," Natalie said, leaving her desk for a moment. "The fact that you amaze me by being the only person on Earth who can say 'yep' and 'feigned express ownership' in the same sentence notwithstanding, that pencil actually is very clearly your own."
"How do you know?"
She took the pencil from him and held it up sideways. "It says, 'Jeremy Goodwin.'"
"I have no affairs."
"And I have the inferior tape dispenser."
"You could trade back."
"There are affairs, Natalie, and then there are affairs."
"I'm going to go steal some peppermints." He walked purposefully away.
Natalie walked back to her desk and sat down. She really did have work to do. But Jeremy's assault on the place was enough to get her thinking. Affairs. And she didn't count stolen doughnuts or the Bic pen in her desk's top drawer.
After a moment, she snatched up the extension. "Isaac," she said.
"Remember when I broke up with Jeremy?"
"I think I recall. Although from the state of affairs in my office yesterday, I'm wondering if that condition has been reversed."
Natalie blushed. "Okay. But, when we broke up, I was kind of upset, and I, well --"
"I broke down crying like a little kid who forgot her teddy bear at school for the summer because she brought it to show-and-tell on the last day."
He paused a beat. "Yes."
"That actually happened to me."
"Anyway. The crying thing." She paused. "Thanks for that."
"Okay." Natalie hung up the phone and felt better.
Casey charged past her and didn't slow down until he was inside an elevator. Forty-nine floors was phenomenal when there was something on his mind. Phenomenal anyway. Forty-nine layers of humanity into the sky he worked. All those people. All those bricks and carpet rolls.
Forty-eight, then, and forty-seven, and twenty-nine, and seventeen. Eleven. Seven. One. The evening sun would have been dim in the country, but here in the city, in the city, it flashed brilliant bright off chrome and window glass.
It would have bounced off her hair, if he ended up waiting for her out here. But he was brave enough to walk inside instead of waiting. She was sitting alone, reading something; she giggled occasionally, a soft, private sound that made him smile. Her smiles had filled the offices today; they never left her; she was happier than he had seen her in a long time.
It occurred to him with the unlikeliness of silence in New York that he might be about to mess that up. Things were finally back to normal except for the constant ache inside him that he had almost learned to ignore. Things were finally back to normal, where he could smile at her and not see a moment when her eyes slid away from his gaze. They were friends again. They were friends, because they had learned not to be more.
He was inches away when she moved, closing the book and picking up her drink. Half on her feet, she saw him, and stopped moving, allowing him to close the gap between them.
"Dana," he said, hesitant.
"Hey, Casey," she answered.
"H-hey. Um. Jeremy's been talking -- well, he's not now. I mean, he is now, but not the same way. But he's been talking about the importance of settling affairs in the face of something big."
"Like the loss of jobs," she said.
"Yeah. Or the gain of them." He stood before her, fidgeting, taking notice of her pale turtleneck and the tan jacket she had forgotten to remove. There was a piece of hair that, for sixteen and a half years, had looped out on her left ear, causing her constant annoyance while it thankfully gave him something to brush back. He did that now, and studied her collarbones and the movement of her hands. One of those touched his own, and his gaze lifted to include her hopeful eyes.
"Go on," she urged, and her voice was barely more than a breathe that puffed against him.
"I don't know if I can work in the same room with you tonight or ever again," he said "if we don't settle our affairs right now."
"Say it," she demanded in a very low voice.
"I would have stayed in New York without you."
"Say it better than that."
"I would have thought about you every day and called you every night. I would have stayed up until your show came down, I would have watched your show with the passion of any ten zit-faced teenaged equipment managers."
Her breath caught. "Bring it home."
"I would have loved you forever -- and I will."
"There," she whispered.
"Yeah?" he asked, but the timidity had vanished from his voice. There was a look on her face that you had to be around Dana long enough to recognize.
"Settled," she smiled, and offered Casey her arm. He took it gratefully, because his knees were weak all of a sudden.
Eventually they found their way 49 stories into the air again. In the newsroom, there was a rather out-of-place sense of calm, which Jeremy shattered by careening into the area near Natalie's desk and proclaiming, "I've got it!"
Only silence and the clacking of keys and the scratching of pens met his voice.
"Natalie," he cried. "I've got it!"
"Is it a score on Michigan State?"
"Then I don't want it."
She turned to him. "What have you got?"
Half the office turned to look at them as Natalie raised an eyebrow, but Jeremy never knew. He was too excited with his discovery. With the pride of an 8-year-old magician finding the ace, Jeremy whipped out a small plastic object. "It's a staple remover," he said maniacally.
"Yes, it is," she agreed.
"It's in my possession. I am claiming this staple remover."
"Yes, you are."
"Don't you want to know where it came from?"
"It came from your left pocket."
"Where did it come from before that?"
Jeremy grinned devilishly. "It came from Sam Donovan."
"This is Sam Donovan's staple remover!"
Natalie nodded. "Okay."
Jeremy stared at her. "Natalie!"
"Can't you be a little more happy for me?"
"I'm happy for you!"
"You don't look happy for me."
"You're upset that I don't look happy for you because you accidentally stole our ratings specialists' staple remover?"
"I see your point."
"I'm trying, sweetie."
"I appreciate that."
"You want to help me with this?"
"This computer is getting things wrong."
Jeremy forgot the staple remover. "You bet," he said slowly, smiling as he leaned over the machine.
"What does 'no match' mean?" Natalie asked, pointing to the screen.
"It means there's no match."
Natalie shivered. "Tell me more."
"Your path wasn't specific. What you ought to do is take the most important part of what you're looking for and use that."
Now she couldn't take her eyes off him. "Show me."
He grinned at her. "Okay." He sat down at the computer and made some changes, not caring what he was doing as long as Natalie kept looking at him that way. Several yards beyond them, Kim was arguing with Elliot over whose turn it was to talk to their least favorite source. In his office, Dan was dialing a number that was written on a taped-together piece of paper on his desk. He got no answer, and glanced at his partner, who didn't notice. Casey was at the computer trying to write the show, but Dana was on his sofa still reading her book and most of what he did was look at her.
Down the hall, in his office, Isaac was reading a magazine article about the future and the science of the oceans. Every so often he would stop, and look up with something close to a grin of excitement on his face. In the sound room, Chris and Will were finishing up the first segment, while Dave finally asked for a date with the girl who sat beside him. In a room somewhere on the 49th floor, Maureen asked Monica to find a tie to go with a sandstone shirt, and then thanked her assistant warmly both for the tie and for scolding Casey last year.
Forty-nine floors below, in a building across the street, Jack wiped down the bar and poured another drink for Abby Jacobs. She was chatting cheerfully with a woman who she eventually figured out was Casey's ex-wife. This was going to be fun. Between the buildings, Rebecca stood on the sidewalk gathering her nerve. She hardly noticed when a man brushed past her with a wistful sigh.
Gordon hoped his new wife didn't notice the glance he cast at the CSC building; he doubted she'd forgotten their disasterous first date. They walked away, past a woman whom he recognized, but he wasn't quite sure from where. Jenny, too, cast a glance at the building, but she didn't let it get her down. She was not with someone now, but she was willing to bet that he was. That was okay. She took her mind off it as she handed some bills to a homeless man on the corner.
The man noticed her gaze and looked up at the building himself with something close to a smile on his face.
"Thanks," he said hoarsely, although to the building or to herself she actually wondered for a moment.
"Yeah," she said, and walked away into a city that had almost lost a group of people and would have been something less without them.