"I can't not date every person you can't keep from arguing with."
Donna's voice carried faintly through the window Josh didn't realize he'd left open. On the steps outside, CJ raised her beer can in triumph. "Tell him, Donna," she suggested to her drink.
"You can't date somebody who's on Government Oversight," Josh's voice answered, and Sam raised his beer can. "She really can't."
"That's not the point," CJ said, absently scratching her leg. "Josh isn't mad because Donna went out with somebody on Oversight. He's mad because she went out with a Republican."
"You're not mad because I went out with someone on Oversight," Donna's voice reached them. "You're mad because I went out someone who is a member of the Republican party."
CJ raised her drink again.
"She really does spend too much time around you," Toby commented, leaning back on an elbow on the step above him.
CJ whipped around to glare at him. "Just what is wrong with spending some time around me?"
"She's becoming Nutsy Feminist Woman," Toby said, and earned a whap on the head from CJ. "You, on the other hand, are the image of ladylike charm," he added.
"Sam, tell him which four things are wrong with what he just said," CJ commanded.
"Sam, if you tell me which four things were wrong with what I just said, so help me --"
"Problem one," Sam announced. "What is ladylike? In today's society, women and men work and play in similar ways and on similar levels, and you really can't define ladylike by --"
"For the love of --"
"--outdated stereotypes. Problem two: No matter what ladylike is, who says CJ has to be it? Problem three, there's nothing wrong with being feminist; in fact, history has been written by those who are active, and vested in the outcome of their particular crusades, to say nothing of the fact that --"
"Sam, I swear to God." Toby put his head down.
"--women's rights advocates are quite often Democrats and therefore smarter than, you know, the average person. And problem four, you said all that to CJ, and didn't you know you were going to get smacked in the head?"
CJ slapped hands with Sam and took another drink of her beer.
Somebody down the block was having a party; music drifted from open windows into a night that was unusually warm for November. The song changed to something louder, faster; CJ, Sam, and Toby had to scoot closer to Josh's window to keep eavesdropping.
Josh's voice raised again, floating outside with the curtains. There was no screen in the window, and somehow Josh and Donna were failing to notice the curtains flapping in and out of the apartment as they argued.
"Donna --" Josh sounded frustrated, as though he wasn't quite sure how the conversation had gone in this direction. "Why did you come here?" he asked.
"To tell you that I can't not date --"
"Every person I can't not argue with, I know, but why -- When you were driving home, what did you think you would -- Why -- Let me ask you this: Why did you think -- Who -- What were you hoping to accomplish by actually having this conversation?"
Sam sat his beer down. "Uh oh."
"I was hoping," Donna growled, "that you would come away from this conversation with the realization that you have attempted, consciously or unconsciously, to sabotage every date I've had in the last two years, and I am sick of it, and that is why --"
"-- you went out with a Republican?"
CJ raised her alcohol high. "Got him," she stated.
"A-HA!" Donna shouted. "So that is what bothers you about Cliff!" CJ nodded vigorously.
"I didn't say that," Josh protested lamely.
"Could it just be that she went out with anyone at all?" Sam wondered.
"Sam's on the girls' side," Toby muttered to his beer.
"Sshhh!" CJ hissed, waving a hand frantically to shush Toby and Sam. Inside, the conversation continued to plunge downhill for Josh, and CJ wanted to enjoy every minute of Donna's triumph.
"-- Republican'," Donna was saying. "That's exactly what you said, so don't tell me you didn't --"
"DO-nnA!" Josh whined.
"Didjou -- come here at midnight just to yell at me?"
"Yes," Donna said curtly, and CJ basked in the triumph again.
"Sure she did," CJ said. "She got halfway home and realized how wrong Josh was."
"You don't even know what he said," Toby pointed out.
"No open window between Josh's office and the pressroom," Sam agreed.
"Thank God for that," CJ said. "And anyway Donna told us what he said. He said she couldn't date this guy Cliff because he's a Republican."
"Who's on Government Oversight. She really can't date him."
CJ sat her beer down and scooted sideways on the step so she could squint at Sam. "I know she can't date somebody on Oversight; She knows that, too, and that's not the point. She knows there's an unavoidable conflict of interests and that it really can't be risked right now, and it's a risk she's not about to take. And do you really think she would come all the way over here to argue with Josh about something she herself already knows to be true?"
Toby and Sam took a moment to work through what CJ had said. Sam got it first.
"Good point," he conceded, and turned to Toby.
"So you think Josh must've said something else that warranted a -- a talking-to?" Toby laughed a little.
"I think that it is certainly not out of Josh's realm of available stupid comments to tell Donna she couldn't date the guy because he's a Republican."
"Because the guy's a Republican," Sam clarifed, "not Josh."
Josh's voice interrupted them as it rose. "-- on Ways and Means! You knew I was battling him on the estate tax, and you knew it was just about the worst time to be working in the White House, but you --"
"Damn right she knew," CJ said, as Donna fumed, "Bet your ass I knew; You know why? Because I work in the White House, Josh! I'm there, every day, just like the rest of you, so don't play this like I don't understand the weight of the atmosphere lately!"
"Why do you think she --" CJ started, but Donna had already lit off on the same track.
"Why do you think I wanted to get out for a while? Why do you think I said yes when Ainsley asked me? Because I had been all night in that room, filling cartons, going blind reading a list that I eventually found after opening every damn box in D.C, and you're telling me -- you're telling me that it's a tough time -- Josh --" Donna stopped suddenly for breath.
The next thing Josh said was very quiet and deliberate; CJ practically had to crawl through the window to hear it.
"I know -- you've been there," he said. "I know you're always there. That's why it's so hard for me to understand how you would even want to spend time with somebody so completely -- I don't know." CJ was guessing at the last part; his voice was getting softer.
"Josh, you can't expect me to structure my social life around the people who agree and disagree with my boss's politics."
"They're her politics, too," Sam said.
"They're your politics, too," Josh said, and then, very quietly, "Aren't they?"
The three at the window sat back in case Donna threw Josh out of it, but she stayed calm. "You know they are, Josh."
"Then why --"
"Because there is more to life than government. And it was late. And sometimes I like it when somebody takes my coat."
CJ dared a peak through the window, very nearly falling off the steps in so doing. Donna was still wearing her coat. CJ shook her head sadly and sat back.
The music careened into a disco mix. Somebody's laughter rolled out in gales from that distant, blue-lit window.
"I finished my beer," Toby observed after a moment.
"Get another one," CJ suggested.
"I'm not going in there."
"Do you think we should leave?" Sam asked. "They've gone too quiet, and I don't think they rembember we were here."
"Josh remembers," CJ said. "He needs us on the Hoynes thing."
"Right," Sam said. "Okay."
Cars kept going by. Some of them stopped at the party, and a few had trouble getting past the sloppy parallel parking there. Somebody honked. Somebody in the blue-lit window shouted back. It was too late for a child to be up, but one was laughing anyway from the window of an apartment in Josh's building. There was, charactaristically, a siren somewhere.
And then the door opened behind them, making them jump, and CJ scooted frantically and too late away from the window, but Josh didn't notice.
"Guys," Josh said. "Let's do the Hoynes thing tomorrow, okay?"
"Sure," the three on the front steps agreed too quickly, but Josh still didn't notice the looks on their faces.
"Good night," CJ continued, standing and shrugging more securely into her coat.
"G'night," Josh said. His voice was still quiet.
"'night," Sam and Toby echoed, and they followed CJ onto the street.
Behind them Josh shook his head slightly, turned, and went back into the building. A minute later he found himself even trying to close his apartment door softly. He was tired of shouting. He was too tired for this. He tripped over Donna's coat, picked it up from the floor where it had landed when she threw it, and draped it over the back of the sofa. She was standing at the window, which she had opened for some reason.
The music down the street drifted into a slow song, and Josh realized he didn't know what to say.