Set after "The War At Home" ~~ previous / next
Characters property of NBC and Aaron Sorkin. No infringement intended.

I Don't Know If It's Going To Get Better






"Six a.m. That's what I meant by early."

Donna stopped moving and stared at Josh. "What time is it?" she asked him.

"Six --" Josh cleared his throat -- "fifteen."

"And what would we have accomplished had I arrived fifteen minutes earlier that we can't make up before two o'clock tomorrow morning?"

Josh shrugged. "We could have established our rapport."

"We didn't do that during the campaign?"

"I meant for the day."

Donna frowned. "A rapport is something you have to reestablish every day?"

"Well -- You know. A rhythm."

Donna rolled her eyes and held out a stapled list. "Here."

"What's this?"

"It's a list."

"Of what?"

"Of you."

"Of me?"


"It's a list of me?"


"How do you make a list of me?"

Donna rolled her eyes again. "It's a list of reasons."

Josh nodded slowly. "Reasons why I should ask out Joey Lucas."

"It's a list of valid reasons why you really ought to ask out Joey Lucas."

"Go away from me."

Donna nodded primly and turned away.

"Give me the list," Josh called after her, and Donna tossed the list over her shoulder.

"You've got senior staff at seven," she reminded him.

"That's forty-five minutes."

Her voice filtered back to him from out of sight. "Yes, Josh. I went to Kindergarten and I learned to count."

"I'm just saying. Don't you usually wait till I'm, like, five minutes late to the meeting before you bring it up?"

"You have to prepare a coherent position on the polling data and the gun thing."

"About that ..." Josh lost his nerve and fell silent. A moment later Donna appeared in the doorway, making notes on a sheet of paper as she walked.

"Condensed polling data," she said, dropping the paper in front of him. "About what?"

"The data?"

"No, you said 'About that.'"

"Oh." Josh's eyes fell to the polling data, then beside it. "Wait."

"Josh --"

"Reason number one is the monogrammed towel thing?"

"It's convenient."

"I ought to ask someone out because if we ever get married I won't have to change the --"

"I'm being logical."

Josh laughed. "You're being psychotic!"

"I like your towels."

"Of course you do. You picked them out."

Donna leaned past him and plucked a manila folder from beneath a towering stack of paperwork. "You don't like them?"

"Sure I do."

"Your old towels were awful, Josh."

"So I heard. Every day for two straight weeks, if I recall."

"They were literally threadbare. I thought that was just a saying people use, but no. Your towels were actually threadbare. They were bare of threads."

"Yes, I saw them."

"I couldn't keep showering there if you didn't have new towels. And it wasn't like you were going to run out and buy some yourself."

Josh shrugged. "Well, no. 'Cause I was recovering from a gunshot wound and you wouldn't let me within ten feet of the door."

"I like your new towels," Donna said absently, scribbling more notes across the folder she'd picked up.

"So do I."

"What were we talking about?"

"I couldn’t possibly care less. "

Donna dropped the folder and picked up the phone. She dialed quickly. "Margaret. Is he in?" A second later she handed the phone to Josh. "Leo," she said. "Talk to him about the gun thing."

Josh, looking somewhat startled, nevertheless began a conversation with Leo. Donna left him alone.

She had almost made it to her desk chair when she remembered the Jackson memo Josh needed by seven. Donna bypassed her desk and kept moving.

"If Wishing Made It So"

"I need to speak with Abbey."

"Sir?" Leo glanced up from the drug trafficking memo at the President.


"She still pissed?"

"She thinks I’m kicking off my re-election campaign."

"That’s ridiculous," Leo said carefully.

The President was silent for a moment. "No, it isn't, " he said at last.

"Abbey’s gone for two days?"


"Was she still mad when she left?"


Leo shrugged. "She'll get over it."

"I don't think she will."

"She will."

"I need to talk to her."

Leo turned his attention back to the memo. "Call her," he suggested absently.


Leo shrugged. "Why not?"

Jed was silent for a long moment. "We've got staff in ten," he said at last.

"Ten minutes is plenty of time to make a phone call."

Jed raised an eyebrow. "It's Abbey, and she's mad at me," he reminded Leo.

"Fair enough. Call her after the meeting."

Jed shrugged and leaned back in his chair. "Learning anything?" he asked presently.


Jed nodded at the paper in Leo's hand. "From the memo. Learning anything?"

"Nah," Leo said. "It's old news."

"Do we have someone looking at the Shearson document?"

"Sam's going over it, sir."

"Drug crime statistics?"

"Toby's on it."

"The Jackson thing?"

"Donna's digging it up for Josh."

"Can you get me Ainsley Hayes?"

Leo looked up again. "Sir?"

"Ainsley Hayes. Is she here yet?"

"I'll find out."

"I want her in on the meeting this morning. We need a smart Republican to argue the other side."

"On drugs?"

"Leo, you're not asking me if I want a smart Republican on drugs to be the one who --""

"You want Ainsley to argue about the drugs?" Leo clarified.

"Guns," Bartlet said. "I'm betting she disagrees with us on guns, and isn't Josh armed with polling data?"

"Are you sure 'armed' is the word you wanted to --"


"I'll call Ainsley." Leo left the office. Over his shoulder, he added, "I, unlike some, am able to make a phone call in ten minutes!"

"Then would you call my wife, while you're at it?" Jed asked. But Leo was already out of earshot.

Jed tried to concentrate and realized he was staring at the phone. He had 92 different things to think about this morning. He wished he had kissed Abbey good-bye.

He started to read the memo Leo had left behind. A couple of times he reached for the phone and stopped. At last he picked up the receiver.

"If You've Got To Shoot Somebody, It Probably Isn't Something That Can Wait"

"I have eight different pieces of paper here labeled 'gun thing.'"

Donna tossed the telephone receiver she was holding from hand to hand and looked at Josh. "What's the problem?"

"Couldn't you be more specific in the way you label these things?"

"I could put together bullet points if you want."

Josh shook his head. "Nah. I wouldn't have time to read them."

Donna rolled her eyes.

"Am I still on hold?" Josh asked.

"Do you hear me talking?"

Josh kept his gaze steady. "Yes."

"Into the phone?"

"Not directly, but in a sense --"

"Shut up." Donna was suddenly bored of his answer.

"I don't have time to be on hold this long," Josh said.

"You're not on hold, Joshua; you're sitting there working."

"Yeah, but -- Well, they don't know that."

"I, on the other hand, have plenty of things I could be doing."

"I'm the Deputy White House Chief of Staff," Josh said. "Don't they know when they get a call from the White House, it probably isn't something that can wait?"

"What are you looking for?" Donna asked.

"Which of these is the actual gun thing?"

"The specifics?"

"I need the details of the five-day waiting period."

"Which details, Josh? You wait five days. You buy a gun."

"And it's your attention to the little things that makes me grateful I brought you on as my assistant all those years ago."

"Your appreciation is appreciated."

Josh laughed. "There's a thesaurus on my desk, Donnatella --"

"Shut up."

Josh's eyes had strayed back to the list. "'Joey Lucas is someone with whom you could argue effectively?' That's honestly a reason to ask her out?"


"How is arguing a reason to ask her out?"

"People argue when they're in love."

Josh's eyes rested briefly on Donna, and dropped away from her just as her eyes came to rest on him.

"Anyway," Donna said. "It was two."

"What?" Josh asked absently.

"Years. It wasn't all those years ago. It was two."

"I know how long it was," Josh said.

Donna started to say more, looked at her watch instead, and said, "You've got two minutes."

"You'll stay on hold till I --"


"Keep him on the line until --"


Josh walked past her to the door.

"When, Abbey?"

"I can't talk right now, Jed."

"Neither can I. I've got senior staff."

"Then why --"

"Because I wanted to hear your voice."

He heard Abbey's soft sigh across the line. Then she said, "I really can't talk now, Jed."

"When should I call back?"

"Jed --"

He shook his head. "We need to have a talk, Abigail."

"Our talk yesterday wasn't enough for you?"

"Oh, there may be few things left to discuss."

"I offered to stay."


"No, Jed. Not on the phone. Not now."

"You don't want to talk on the phone?"

"No, I don't."


"Because we will discuss it further when I get home tomorrow night. Or when we wake up the morning after that. Or over lunch. Neither one of us has the time or the energy to do this now, and you know it, Jed."

Bartlet sighed. "I know," he conceded.

Abbey's voice softened. "Okay."

"I'm going to hang up now," Jed stated.



They both hung up, and Abbey sighed and stroked the back of the receiver. She was tired. So tired from the past two years, so tired from the prospect of the two that were beginning. Re-election. He was going to go for it, no matter what it might do to his health. It was what he did.

And it thoroughly annoyed her, but she knew the country would be better for it. That was the hard part in wishing he wouldn't run. A long time ago she became interested in politics. And then she went to college, and met this guy ....

"A Hundred Donnas"

"You're kidding," Josh said from the doorway.

Donna, who by now was sitting on the corner of his desk, her chin in her hands and the phone wedged against her shoulder, shrugged and sighed.

"I'm still on hold?" Josh asked.

"Again, technically --" Donna began.

"Yeah, yeah," Josh said. "Can you believe they've kept the Deputy White House Chief of Staff on hold this long?"

"It's a crime," Donna deadpanned.

"It is."

"It's a sin."

"It really is."

"We ought to hang up in protest."

"Don't you dare." Josh dropped into his desk chair and stared at the phone.

"Donna," he said after a moment.

"What, Josh?"

"There are 100 items on this list."


"You thought of 100 reasons why I should ask out Joey Lucas."


"Donna --"

"Shut up."

Josh was grinning. "Didn't you sleep at all?"

"Oh, I want this phone call to be over so bad."

"'She can teach you American Sign Language, a useful and beautiful means of expressing yourself'?"

"She can," Donna confirmed.

"Can't I just, you know, buy a book?"

"You could, but that money would be better spent on a raise for me."

"Why do you need a raise?"

"I need therapy for the emotional damage caused by listening to the crap they play on this hold line."

Josh scanned the list again. "Donna, seriously," he said after a moment. "'Her quick wit bounces off your deadpan humor'? Are you giving me suggestions or writing a brochure?"

"Both. My plan for this morning was to illustrate the list."

"Absolutely. I'm especially interested in seeing a diagram of the towel monogramming, just to make sure I've got this."

"Don't you have issues of national and global importance to attend to?"

"Probably," Josh said, leaning back in his chair and scanning the list again.

"Everybody's Dead"

Abbey surveyed the hotel room, and her gaze came to rest on her luggage, still partially packed. Too many clothes. Eight pairs of socks, for two days. Six blouses, and none of them matched the four pairs of slacks she had brought. Damn him for breaking their deal. Damn him for not even realizing he was doing it.

She reached for the phone. Then stopped, and sat back. No. This was silly.

But his staff meeting would be over by now, so why not --

Wait. Just wait.

Abbey had turned on the television only once since she left Washington. Now she did again, and flipped channels till she found coverage of the maneuver that had lost the country nine soldiers.

The bodies had arrived in Dover late last night.

Abbey snatched up the phone. "Mrs. Landingham," she said. "It's Abbey Bartlet. Would you mind, uh --"

"I'll put him on," Mrs. Landingham said, and a moment later Jed's voice came on the line.

"Miss me already?"

"Were you in Dover?" she asked.

"I was."

"Oh, Jed."

"It's all right," her husband said.

Abbey sighed quietly. "You might have mentioned it," she told him.

"I didn't have the energy or time."

Abbey winced at the sound of her own words echoed back to her. "Jed," she said.

"It's all right," he repeated.

They were silent for longer than either one of them had time to be. Then the President said, "I have to hang up now, Abbey."

"Okay," she said softly.

"I've got a strategy session to crash. They're trying to put together a gun control package."

"Did the polling data come in?"

"Josh thinks disappointing numbers mean we ought to work harder to get through to people."

"Josh is smart," Abbey said.

"Yeah." Bartlet nodded. "Yeah."



"Those nine soldiers --"


"The five agents were released, weren't they?"

"Yeah, late last night."

"Okay." Abbey paused. "I do miss you, Jed."

"I miss you, too."

"All right." Abbey cleared her throat. "Let's hang up now."

"Okay," Jed agreed, and they did.

"Some Hellish Hold World of Holding"

Donna leaned back until she was lying across Josh's desk. "Somebody pick up," she said into the phone. "Pick up, pick up, pick up, pick up, pick up. Today. Any time would be nice. Right now would be ideal. Pick up."

Josh appeared in the doorway. "You're kidding," he said when he saw her.

"I'm hanging up," Donna informed him.

"It's been half an hour."

"Indeed it has."

"You can't hang up yet."

"Joshua! It's been half an hour!"

Josh dropped into his desk chair and noticed with interest that Donna's hair was flung out across the paperwork he needed to finish. And the list.

He was on page three of the list. He lifted Donna's hair and picked up the paper.

"Don't start," she said without opening her eyes.

"You gave me a list of 100 reasons why I should ask out Joey Lucas," Josh said.


"And now you don't want me to read it."

Now Donna opened her eyes, and looked at Josh upside down. "I don't want you to read it aloud," she clarified.

"Okay," Josh sighed.

They were silent for a moment, and then Josh read, "'Your heights will compliment one another'?"

"I'm hanging up now," Donna repeated.

"Don't hang up," Josh said.

"Who are you calling, anyway?"

"I don't know."

Donna opened her eyes again. "You don't know?"

Josh shrugged carelessly. "It's been like a half an hour since I dialed."

"You're Just Going Away For Two Days, Right? ... Right?"

This time it was Jed who dialed.

And dialed, and dialed, and dialed. But Abbey's cell phone was turned off, and he had no idea what hotel she was staying in.

Jed paced. It was 7:35. He wanted to talk to her again. Hear her voice, although they had only hung up ten minutes ago. It seemed like a decade had passed. He wanted to argue with her, anything. He wished they hadn't hung up so soon last time.

"Mr. President?" Charlie was standing in the doorway.

Of course, she would be home tomorrow night. But tomorrow night was a century away. And she was angry with him. And her trips were almost never as short as they were meant to be.

"Good morning, Charlie."

"I'm sorry I'm late, Mr. President. I drove my sister in to school."

"How's she doing?"

"She's got the highest grade in her class in algebra," Charlie boasted.

Bartlet grinned a little at the note of pride in Charlie's voice. "That's wonderful," he said.

"Anyway," said Charlie. "I just wanted to let you know that I'm here now."

"All right."

"Thank you, sir." Charlie started to leave.

"Oh, Charlie?"

"Yes, Mr. President?"

"No," Bartlet said. "Nevermind."

"Yes, sir."

"Wait. Charlie."

"Yes, sir?"

"Will you keep trying to reach Mrs. Bartlet on her cell phone?"

"Is something wrong, sir?"

"No. Just keep trying to reach her, and let me know when she's on the line, if you will."

"Yes, Mr. President." Charlie left the office.

Jed stared at the surface of his desk, and then forced his mind back to this moment. He had eight places to be within the next three minutes. It was time to get in action.

Just her voice. Just one more time today. He wished he had kissed her good-bye.

"You're fired." "Impervious."

"I quit!" Donna bellowed.

"No, you don't," Josh answered from somewhere out of sight. Granted, everything was out of sight. Donna was lying on the floor in front of Josh's desk. The telephone receiver lay beside her, emitting tinny classical music. A sea of papers was spread out before her as she put together a list of bullet points regarding the gun thing.

"I do, too," Donna groaned, dropping her face onto the papers.

"Nah. You'd miss me too much."

"I hate you, Josh." Her voice was muffled by the floor.

"You say that now. But then I go home and remember how you bought me towels ..."

"You're reading way too much into that."

"How are those bullet points coming?"

"You mean the bullet points on the gun thing?"


"Doesn't it seem a little weird to you that I'm putting together bullet points on a gun thing?"

"Not ... that weird, no."

Donna sighed. "It's coming fine."

"Good. Because I'm almost done reading your list, and I'm going to need something to keep me busy."

"You could help run the country," Donna said.

"Ah, maybe later."

Donna lifted her head a tiny bit and looked at her watch. "It's been forty-three minutes," she announced.

"What's your point?"

"It's that I quit," she said.

"You quit three times already. I'm impervious," Josh said. Donna winced at the sound of her own words echoed back to her.

"Re-election mode."

"Mr. President?"

Jed Bartlet looked up from his desk. "What is it, Charlie?"

"The First Lady." He pointed to the phone.

The President nodded quickly. "Thank you Charlie."

"Thank you, Mr. President."

When Charlie was gone, Bartlet picked up the phone.


"We talk less than this when I'm at home," Abbey said.

"I know."

"What do you want, Jed?"

"I want ..."

Abbey huffed. "To talk about it?"

"Yes, I do want to talk about it," her husband admitted.

"What for? So you can plan your campaign?"

"Hey, weren't you in a better mood half an hour ago?"

"Yes, I was."

"What happened?"

"I turned on the television!"

Jed sighed. "Abbey."

"Why didn't you tell me you were backing down on drugs?"

"I am not backing down."

"That's what it looks like."

Jed shrugged. "Well, to the naked eye, it may."

"My eyes are anything but naked, Jed. I've been watching you for a long time!"

"Well, maybe if we could discuss --"

"You're damn right we're going to discuss it," Abbey said, and, while she said it, there was a crisp knock on the door.

Jed looked up. "Come in," he said, and the door opened, and there stood Abbey.

Jed jumped a little, and looked at the phone in his hand and then back at his wife. "How'd you do that?"

Abbey put away her cell phone. "I've told you for years I have special powers, Jed."

"Seriously, Abbey."

Abbey walked into the room and closed the door behind her. "I drove right past the airport," she said. "I got as far as Arlington last night, and I couldn't go any further."

Jed stared at her for a long moment. He wanted to go to her, but didn't. She wanted to move from the door, but didn't.

"And now," she said, "you're right. We need to talk about it."

"Dial Up The Rhetoric."

Thud! Thud! Thud!

It took Josh a few minutes to consciously notice the pounding going on in the floor.

"Donna?" he asked. "You all right down there?"

"Yes," she said.

"Is that the phone hitting the floor, or is it your head?"

"It's my shoe."

"Aah." Josh nodded as if she could see him and went back to the list. "I like number 97," he said.

"Shut up," she answered, and the pounding continued.

"Are you trying to kick a hole in something?"

"Yes," Donna said. "Because if I kick a hole in the floor, I can dump this phone and get on with my life."

"'You're both members of the Democratic party,'" Josh read.

"Well," Donna reasoned. "You are."

"So are you," Josh said before he realized it, and the pounding stopped.

A moment later it started again. "This music is driving me bananas."

Josh laughed. "'Bananas'?"

"I talk how I talk, Josh."


A piece of folded paper sailed out of nowhere and landed on Josh's desk. "Bullet points," Donna said. "Will you hold this godforsaken phone for a while?"

"No way," Josh said. "I don't want to listen to that crappy music."

"Joshua!" Donna growled.

"You are not hanging up now," Josh reiterated.

Donna groaned. Josh read the last few items on the list.

"Hey, Donna," he said after a moment.


Josh crushed the list into a ball and sent it sailing over the desk.

"Ow," Donna deadpanned. Josh listened to the sound of the paper as she smoothed it.

"It was a good list," she said.

"It had the wrong name on it," he answered.

While Donna tried to figure out whether he meant Joey's name or his own, Josh took out a sheet of paper. He started to write, stopped, wrote something, scribbled it out, wrote something else, crumpled the whole thing into a ball, and threw it away.

"You're really not going to ask Joey Lucas out?" Donna asked quietly.


"Can you list 100 reasons why you're not?"

"No," Josh repeated. "But I can list one really good reason."

Donna was quiet for a moment, and then her voice, barely loud enough to make it over the desk to Josh, said, "Okay, then. Out with it."

"Donna, I --"

"Dammit. Hang on." Donna sat up, her tousled hair coming suddenly into view as she pressed the receiver to her ear. "Josh Lyman's office," she said. And Josh sat back, defeated, watching the moment pass, at least for this morning.

"I Don't Know If It's Going To Get Worse"

"We need to consider it, Jed."

"We are considering it, Abbey."

"We need to seriously consider the consequences."

Jed Bartlet sighed. "Abbey."

"I mean it. It could be disastrous. The whole idea could be a terrible mistake, and I don't --" She stopped suddenly.

"You don't what?"

She met his gaze. "You need rest, Jed. You haven't gotten any since you were sworn in."

"I know," Jed said quietly.

"You need to slow down," she said, "and you need to do it now, and the soonest you can work it into your schedule is two years from now."

"I know," Jed said again.

Abbey stared at him, her eyes brimming with tears. Jed stood up, and walked across the room, and kissed his wife hello.

"Let's talk about something else," he said.

"All right," she agreed. "But I'm staying here with you today."

"I know you are." Jed nodded and walked back to his desk. Abbey sat down on one of the sofas.

"There Go My People"

The day was long and full for everyone in the West Wing. They talked about guns, and drugs, and education, and several aspects of foreign policy, and it was almost two in the morning when they were finished enough to go home.

They were going to have to compromise. Make allowances. Back off a bit. But they were also going to win a few, and they knew it. Maybe that's why no one was all that sleepy when work was over. Maybe that's why Sam and Toby and CJ went out for a drink, and Leo headed with Mallory for a super-late dinner.

Jed Bartlet wandered the halls for a while with 92 things on his mind. But that was nothing next to Josh, who paced the building with 100 things on his. And the long day ended.

15 February 2001

Back to Wednesday Night Rants / Back to The Western World

Back to The Dark Side of Tuffy's Mind

Set after "The War At Home" ~~ previous / next