"I don't know."
"You don't know what you think?"
"I don't know."
"Do you think it's safe?"
"I would like to think it's safe."
"I just don't know."
Dan and Casey stood together on the sidewalk outside the building, looking up at the windows of offices which just two days ago had been evacuated for a bomb scare.
"So," Casey stated. "You going in?"
"If you are."
"I asked you first."
"It's your call, dude."
"...I'm going in."
"I'll go if you'll go."
"I'm not going till you do."
"You're both going when I do," a voice said from behind them. They turned to meet Dana's cheerful gaze. "Inside, guys. It's five till twelve."
"Aah. We've got five minutes, then," Dan said.
"No, you've got exactly one minute to get your asses through that door, and another four to sit them down in the conference room," Dana informed them, and she skipped merrily past them into the building. Taking deep breaths, and casting nervous glances at the building, Dan and Casey followed.
In the conference room, Dana stopped short, staring at Natalie, who in turn gazed proudly at a crooked stack of magazines.
"Uh .. Natalie?" Dana began.
Natalie glanced up. "Dana! I've been doing some reading --"
"It would appear."
"--and I think I'm really learning a lot about Jeremy's problem."
"The trauma of the adult children of divorced couples."
"It says here that they -- wait, let me find it."
"Find what?" Jeremy asked as he entered the conference room.
"A recipe for blackberry pie. Here it is. One cup flour, one sugar, one berries, one milk. Bake at 350 for 45 minutes or until golden brown."
"Good to know," Dana said evenly. "Moving on. Jeremy. Would you go find Casey and Dan and tell them I said they've entered negative minutes and that I want their asses in these chairs within the next ten seconds?"
"No problem," Jeremy said as he stood and left the room again. Natalie dove for her magazines.
"Here it is. It says they often make bizarre and potentially destructive decisions concerning their own relationships."
"Would you mind putting those away? If you get Kim started we'll be here all day. To say nothing of Sally."
Natalie hefted the stack of magazines and carried them away, while Jeremy entered, Dan and Casey in tow, through the opposite door.
"What was that about?" Jeremy asked, nodding after Natalie.
"She's very interested in baking," Dana said off-hand. "Where's the staff?"
"I see you and Dan and Casey, and Natalie's on her way back. Where's our staff?"
"Elliot's chasing the guy downstairs for a Danish. I don't know about the others."
"Kim's on a call with -- nevermind, here she comes."
"What about Chris? Will? Dave? It's five past twelve. We've got to get started."
Jeremy exchanged a glance with Dan and Casey and then said, "Dana, we've never gotten started before 12:15. Not since the dawn of time. Why the rush?"
Dana looked up, annoyed. "I have things to do. I have many things to do. I have people to call. I have tape to review. I have deficits to overlay. We don't have time to chase Danishes and make telephone calls and shy at getting back on the horse."
"Nevermind." Dana huffed a sigh, and even that she hurried. "Sit," she commanded her people, as Chris, Will, and Dave at last entered from one side while Natalie charged back into the room from the other. "Let's get started. First of all, I know you're all concerned about the bomb scare. Let me assure you that there's no cause for concern."
"Unless you fear fiery deaths," Casey added. "Which, I do."
"Shut up," Dana said primly. "The bomb threat was a hoax. I hope we can all move on, and be professional, and -- Dan, please stop that." Dan was throwing pencils at the ceiling. "I hope we can forget all this bomb scare nonsense. Natalie. Item one."
Again, silence, as Natalie read the magazine she'd opted to keep with her.
Natalie glanced up. "Hmm?"
"Item one," Dana repeated.
"Um .. is that Phoenix or the Orioles?"
"It's the death of an associate producer who opted to bury her head in a magazine during the first rundown meeting of what is shaping up to be an unfathomably unbearable day!"
"It's the Orioles," Casey confirmed.
"Here comes Sally," Dan added.
"Goody," Dana muttered under her breath.
"Hello!" Sally announced as she strolled into the conference room. "Dana, I'm so sorry I'm late."
"It's all right," Dana said stiffly. "Please take a seat, and let's get through this."
"What have I missed?"
"Baking, murder, and magazine articles," Dan said. "We'll fill you in. What's after the Orioles?"
Dana was flipping frantically through a small stack of papers at Dan's question. "I don't know ..." she said finally. "I had it here somewhere." Dan and Casey exchanged a glance.
"I don't think anyone's awake yet," Dan said kindly. "Dana? We could finish this at one if you'd like .."
"I've got to meet with JJ at one. We can finish this now. Just let me ..." She went back to digging through her papers.
"In the meantime," Sally said, "I wanted to talk to you all about the piece on Arizona last night. I thought it was great, but I was wondering, if you were to stretch the coverage to include parts of --"
"Found it," Dana interrupted, none too interested in Sally's direction. "Tampa Bay. Soccer. Casey, you ought to work this one. I know it's not exactly Dan's cup of tea. Natalie, what's next?"
"I .. kind of thought you knew."
"That .. makes two of us, Dana."
Dana twirled her pen and bit her lip. "One-thirty," she said at last. "Please be prompt. In the meantime, Danny, I want you on with Jacobson out of Indiana. And keep an eye on the wire."
"Thank you." Dana left her chair so fast it rolled a few feet behind her. Natalie followed her, still reading, and Jeremy left through the opposite door and ran smack into Rebecca.
"Oh, hey, Jeremy!" she said cheerfully. "Have you seen Dan?"
"Hey, Rebecca. He's in the -- he's right here." Dan had followed him out.
"Hey!" Dan said when he spotted Rebecca.
"Hey, Dan! Surprised to see me?"
"Yes, you are."
"I'm really not."
"Because you know I have no qualms about seeing you."
"Because you're the one with the qualms."
"No, it's okay. I understand," she said.
"Oh, hey, Rebecca," Natalie said, passing by with the magazine still in hand.
"Hi, Natalie," Rebecca said without taking her eyes from Dan.
"You don't understand," Dan said softly.
"You don't want to stand in the way of another man's marriage."
"But you will stand in the way of another girl's dating."
"...What do you mean?"
"I want to date."
"I want to date you."
"I can't do that."
"Because you think it will be standing in the way of --"
Rebecca thought for a moment and then turned to Jeremy. "Jeremy. Would you go out with me tonight?"
Jeremy stared at her in panic. This was Dan's girlfriend and Steve Cisco's wife. Not to mention he was dating Natalie. On the other hand, he knew the offer wasn't serious, and if he were to take her up on it they would have coffee and chat and their respective points would be proven.
To his own amazement and the amazement of everyone else, Jeremy nodded. "I'd love to." And his eyes found Natalie, who stared at him with the same shock Dan's face wore.
"Great!" Rebecca's gaze didn't waver. She had caught the glance that had passed between Jeremy and Natalie. She knew Jeremy had something to prove by doing this, as well, so it was safe.
"I'll meet you here after the show," she said, and walked away from them, leaving Natalie and Dan staring at Jeremy while he pretended they did not exist. He had forgotten one important fact: He worked with both of these people all day.
"So," Jeremy stated.
"Yes," Dan said.
"Yes," Natalie echoed.
Jeremy stood there for a moment more and then ducked away, hoping to escape without comment. When he wasn't that lucky, and he heard Natalie say his name, he let the door of the control room close behind him. If he was smart, he would go straight to the elevators, stop by the 37th floor to let Rebecca know he wouldn't be meeting her tonight, and then catch a cab to the airport and fly to Jamaica. But because he was dedicated to his producing job and because he knew Dana was going to fly off the handle any second and his leaving the country would probably contribute to her nervous breakdown, he didn't go. So he was sitting there, wondering what he would say, when Natalie caught up to him.
But she surprised him. "Jeremy, do we have film on the Pacers?" she asked in an ultra-calm voice.
"It's in the edit bay," he told her in an apologetic tone.
"Cool. And what did we decide we're leading with?" Her voice was not just ultra-calm. It was gentle and a little bit strange, as though she were speaking to a crazed grizzly bear or a very troubled child.
"The Orioles," he said. "And you might want to help Dana get the rest of her stuff in order. She seems to be pretty bogged down."
"Yeah. I'll do that." She answered without seeming to have heard him. "So. I'll see you later."
"Uh .. yeah." He watched her smile at him and then leave, and sat down, overwhelmed by her unusual behavior. Natalie ... calm? When he was going out tonight with somebody else? This was too weird even for her ... but he would take it without question. It was better than having her tumble off the deep end, as was custom.
Natalie waited for the control room door to close behind her before she broke into a dead run. "Dana!" she yelled as she neared Dana's office.
"I've got that note," Dana was saying into the phone as she motioned for Natalie to wait. "Isaac showed it to me after he -- yes. Before that, yeah." She listened for a moment. "No, Alan, I don't think so. I would much prefer to -- Yes. I'm meeting him at one. .... Thank you." She hung up the phone, then picked it up and slammed it about eight times before crumpling up a sheet of paper and throwing it as hard as she could at the wall. Sinking back into her chair, she glanced up at Natalie. "Hey, Natalie. Need something?"
"Jeremy's going out with Rebecca tonight," Natalie blurted.
"She asked him out to prove to Dan that she could date even though she isn't legally divorced."
"And he said yes."
"Because he wants to prove to me that he can date other women because we've broken up. So he said yes. He and Rebecca are going out tonight."
"Oh," Dana repeated, and Natalie shook her head.
"I know it's not serious," she muttered.
"Of course not," Dana agreed in a deadpan voice.
"I know it's just because Jeremy and Rebecca each have a point to prove. But I can't help wondering if this is part of the bizarre and potentially destructive behavior I read about. I mean, what if he really does want to break up?" She waited, and when Dana didn't answer she plunged on, "But I know he doesn't. And he can't. Because I won't let him. I refuse to let him!" This last was a declaration, as she dropped a hand on Dana's desk. Dana didn't blink.
"Oh," she answered, and Natalie shook her head and left the office.
Natalie charged back through the newsroom, and passed Dan and Casey's office, where Dan was pacing back and forth and rambling nonstop.
"She asked him out."
"She asked him out."
"Yeah, I heard." Casey sounded slightly amused, but he never took his eyes from the computer's screen.
"And he said yes," Dan continued, ignoring Casey's amusement.
"Just to prove his point to Natalie," Casey pointed out. "It's not serious, Danny. Now would you get over here and --"
"She asked him out."
Casey sighed. "Dan. We've got to get this stuff together before 1:30. Do you know what's going to happen if we walk into that meeting and it isn't ready?"
"Dana's head is going to explode?"
"That's right. And then Sally will run the show, which will, at the very least, be acutely uncomfortable for me. So let's get to work."
"Sure," Dan said, but he made no move to do so. Casey sighed and stood. "I'll be right back," he said.
He found Dana in Isaac's office, furiously writing something while listening to somebody on the phone. She didn't speak, simply listened and wrote, and then muttered a quick "thank you" before hanging up. She didn't seem to notice Casey there.
"Need anything?" Casey asked. Dana jumped a mile. "Sorry," he added with an apologetic smile.
"You've checked ... um ..."
"Tampa Bay," he reminded her. "Yeah. I'm on it."
"Is Danny working .."
"The guy out of Indiana. Yeah. He's on it, too," Casey lied.
"Good," Dana said absently, and then smiled at Casey. "You know, things will be easier pretty soon."
"Isaac will be back."
"I'm not sure how soon that's going to happen."
"What do you mean?" she asked without looking at him.
"I mean, a stroke takes some getting over, Dana. It's not like he had the flu. It might be a little while before he comes back."
Now Dana met Casey's eyes. "I know," she said at last. "But part of keeping it together is not admitting things like that."
Casey nodded slowly. "Fair enough," he said. "And there's nothing I can do for you?"
"Just be at the meeting on time. And make sure everybody else is, too."
"Yeah," he said. And he left her alone with the telephone and the papers on Isaac's desk.
Dana settled down to work, stopping every few moments to catch her breath, because, quite frankly, in the middle of all this chaos she oftentimes forgot to breathe. She felt like she hadn't stopped moving in absolute hours. But this was what women did. This was keeping it together, and she certainly wasn't going to stop today.
Natalie was thinking the same thing as she perched on the edge of the edit bay sofa, marking notes on a shot sheet while she waited for Jeremy to arrive. They had agreed to work together on this particular segment, and she was worried he wasn't going to show at all. But no -- here he was, and she smiled bravely at him. The trick, she thought, was to keep him from realizing that she knew just what he was going through.
"Hi, Jeremy," she said cheerfully. "What's up?"
"Uh, not much," he said, and then he realized, all at once, what she was doing. "I'm just, um, you know -- planning my date with Rebecca."
"I see," she said, no trace of jealously or anger, only forced cheer in her tone.
"Yeah," Jeremy plunged on. "I can't decide where to take her. Should we go to Anthony's? Or maybe across town somewhere. What do you think?"
"Anthony's is nice," Natalie said, and now there was a trace of stiffness in her voice.
"Of course, there's always the option of eating in," he said. "Setting up a little picnic somewhere .. that might be nice."
Now he knew her voice was stiff when she said, "Yes, that's nice."
"Natalie," he stated.
"Hmm?" She was still attempting to remain unconcerned, and she was failing miserably.
"What are you doing?"
"What do you mean?"
"I mean, what are you doing?"
Natalie turned abruptly to face him. "What am I doing, Jeremy?"
"I'm only teasing you, you know. I'm only egging you on because you're acting so strange."
"You didn't appear to be teasing when you told Rebecca you'd go out with her."
"That's for her," he said. "To show Dan it's perfectly safe for him to date her."
"Well, aren't you the good samaritan, then, Jeremy."
"Yes, I am."
She glared at him, until he cracked a smile and it was all she could do to fight her own. "You're going out with Rebecca tonight."
"Because we've broken up."
"Well -- yes."
Natalie did smile now, because Jeremy's hesitation was all too obvious.
"No we haven't," she said smugly, and for once he didn't argue.
Dan knocked on the window. "Jeremy," he called as he opened the door. "Can I talk to you?"
"I'm going to go get some Fritos," Natalie said, and winked at Jeremy. She left Dan and Jeremy alone.
"What's up, Dan?" Jeremy asked, a bit warily.
"I need a favor," Dan said urgently. "Don't back out of your date tonight."
Jeremy looked up in surprise. "What makes you think I was going to?" he asked, although that wasn't what had surprised him.
"I saw you and Natalie talking, and I just thought -- well, anyway, don't. Please."
"Because I need your help to find out what she's really thinking."
"Like a spy?" Jeremy asked, raising an eyebrow.
Dan, missing the sarcasm, nodded urgently. "Yes. Just like a spy."
"Um, sure, Dan. What is it you want to know about Rebecca?"
"I want to know why she asked you out," Dan said.
"Because she wants to go out with you," Jeremy said without hesitation.
"Ask her anyway."
Dan glanced furtively around, and Jeremy hid his amusement. "So you'll do it?" Dan asked, and Jeremy nodded.
"I wouldn't miss this for the world," Jeremy said. Dan, missing another bout of sarcasm, gave Jeremy a thumbs-up and left the edit bay.
It was almost 1:30, Jeremy noticed, and he gathered up his papers. The segment would have to wait till after Dana's meeting. She hadn't stopped moving all morning, dashing from office to office and from phone call to phone call. At one she'd engaged in a battle with JJ, and won Natalie the chance to do the work that Sally'd agreed to do. She really was keeping it together, but he got the feeling she would fly apart if any one of them showed up late to this meeting.
Jeremy headed for the conference room, passing Dan, who winked at him, and Natalie, who gave him what she figured was a knowing smile. He saw Elliot with a Danish in hand, and Kim hanging up the phone. No one would be late this time, he figured, so it was a surprise when he noticed Dana's empty chair at the table.
For a moment they sat, talking of anything and whatever, and then Casey rose from his chair. "I'll be right back," he said, and no one asked where he was going.
Dana's office was empty, and his next guess was Isaac's. Sure enough, he found her there, sound asleep at Isaac's desk.
"This is good," Dan said from behind him.
"Couldn't be better," Casey agreed. He pulled the papers from under Dana's head and straightened them beside her. "This is my idea of keeping it together."
Dan nodded, and they left quietly so as not to wake her as they headed back to the conference room. With or without Sleeping Beauty, it was time to get this meeting underway. After all, there was a lot right now for everyone to do. Casey and Dan had copy to write, Natalie had calls to make. And Jeremy had a date to plan for that evening.
19 July 2000