Never Surprise A Man Carrying Hot Beverages...by Allison
Disclaimers: None of these characters belong to me, except for the real people (you know who you are, 4th Floor West Wing Watchers) who belong to themselves, mostly.
"Sam? The all-night pastry chef - you were just kidding about that, right?"
Sam looked - certainly not repentant, but not particularly like he was enjoying a joke at her expense either. "Yeah," he said neutrally.
Ainsley thrust the tray of coffee cups into his hands and turned away without another word.
"So that's what you're going to tell them?" he asked, watching her dig under a cabinet for sugar packets.
"What I'm going to tell who? Smith?"
"The roomful of twenty-year-old braless gov majors who pray to Gloria Steinem at night, yeah."
Ainsley stood and rounded on him rather sharply. He had learned to expect that by now - plus he was deliberately baiting her - so he managed not to flinch. "They're not all like that, you know."
"Or they weren't in 1992."
Her eyebrows shot up. "You didn't know I went to Smith, but you knew my graduation year?"
"I know your age." Ignoring her look he continued, "Don't you think it's possible things have changed a little?"
"They have a Republican Club."
"How many members?"
Ainsley declined to answer that one. "Sam," she said instead, "I fully expect them to hate me. They hated me when I went there at eighteen and told them affirmative action was demeaning and feminism was overdone. But they're also smart people, and some of them are willing to listen to opposing viewpoints." She poked him in the chest as she walked past. "Like you."
"Like me?" he repeated.
She nodded brightly. "If you weren't, would we be having this conversation right now?"
"I'm arguing with you."
"But you're arguing with my points, not telling me I'm stupid and evil and I should just shut up and stop creating noise pollution."
"To be fair, I think saying that to you would have to involve some kind of a suicide wish."
"Well, that's true." She gestured toward the stairwell. "Let's go."
"So why Smith?"
She turned a little as they walked. "Hmm?"
"If you knew they were going to hate you, why did you go to Smith?"
"Well, I didn't know they were going to hate me, first of all. My mother was an old-school hostess who thought going to a Seven Sisters college meant pearls and white gloves."
"I can't see you in pearls and white gloves."
"Me either." She grinned a little. "But they didn't hate me all the time. You don't talk about politics twenty-four hours a day, you know. I have great friends from Smith."
"So you liked it?" he asked, seeing her nostalgic smile.
"I really did," she replied. "I loved my house - the women I lived with. And my first-year roommate was wonderful."
"Was she a lesbian?" Sam asked.
Ainsley almost turned and shot him a look of death, but she changed her mind. "Well, of course you know everyone at Smith is a lesbian at some time or another."
"What makes you say that?"
Sam's foot caught on the stair and he fell forward, spilling coffee across the floor and just barely catching the tray before it crashed down around him. He looked up at a beaming Ainsley who was making no attempt to help. "You were just kidding about that, weren't you?"
"Yeah," she replied unapologetically.
"So what you're saying is I shouldn't have assumed that everyone at Smith was a lesbian feminist."
"Uh-huh," she said, nodding cheerfully.
"Because it's a fine educational institution turning out hordes of successful, brilliant women like yourself."
"And also I shouldn't have teased you about the pastry chef."
"See?" she said, still grinning at him. "I guess Princeton grads are pretty smart too." She grabbed his arm and pulled him up. "Come on, let's refill."
They reentered the mess and Sam started pouring into the cups on the tray.
"What are you doing?" Ainsley asked.
He gestured with the coffee pot. "I'm refilling the coffee, 'cause we came down to refill the coffee."
"You're going to go back upstairs to a room where people are writing a speech and give them cups with coffee dripping down the sides?"
"You want me to wash the cups?" he asked in disbelief.
"I think rinsing them a little might be in order."
Never breaking eye contact with her, he took all six cups in his hands at once over to the sink and started running water over them. "You know," he commented, glancing down to make sure he wasn't soaking his shirt, "if we don't get back up there people are going to think I seduced you in the mess."
"That's not what you were planning?" Ainsley asked innocently, taking a step closer.
He dropped a cup with a clatter into the sink. Fortunately, it didn't fall far enough to break. "That's just not nice," he told her, glaring.
"I'm wracked with guilt," she replied, leaning against the counter. "You should probably wipe the tray off, too."
"See, your mother was right. Smith did teach you how to be a good hostess."
"Just because I'm a forgiving person, I'm going to ignore that and do the tray for you. In the interest of time." She slid past him, whacking him on the rear with a towel as she did so.
"Hey!" he yelped. "What happened to you being a forgiving person?"
"That wasn't for the hostess comment," she replied, wiping the spilled coffee from the tray. "That was for doing it to me on the way out of my office, with a rolled-up copy of the speech."
"I did not."
"You were going to."
He turned off the tap and paused. "Fair enough."
He turned and she held the clean tray out to him. "Load 'em up."
She held the tray steady while he poured the coffee, then handed it back to him and led the way out of the kitchen. "You know," she began as they started up the stairs, "you are right about one thing."
"I am?" he asked in genuine shock.
Looking carefully down at the floor, she stepped gingerly up the stairs. "Yeah - the thing about -"
A shriek from behind interrupted her and was followed by a clatter and some cursing. Without turning she said evenly, "Oh, yeah - watch out for the wet coffee on that step, there."
"I really hate you," he grumbled, righting the overturned cups and getting cautiously to his feet. He shifted the tray to one hand long enough to smack her lightly with the back of the other. "You're coming back down with me."
"Okay," she replied a little too cheerfully.
"So what was I right about?"
"You said I was right about something. Then you stopped."
"Yeah, because you slipped and fell in some coffee up there."
"Ainsley . . ." he said warningly.
"You were right about women having to lose earnings because of child care."
"I thought you said women chose to have kids."
"They may choose to have kids, but we can make it easier for them by having more programs to help them take care of the kids - also longer paid maternity leave."
He stared at her over the lifted coffee pot in his hand. "Who are you, and what have you done with Ainsley?"
"Sam," she asked, in a tone that indicated she was thinking about something she found very interesting, "why did you sound so upset before?"
"When?" he asked, pouring carefully.
"When you asked if I was 'one of those people,' why were you so upset? You knew I was a Republican."
"Lots of Republican women are for the ERA."
"Now see, right there," she said, crossing her arms over her chest. "Why should you assume women would support a bill that men of the same political beliefs would not, just because they're women?" He started to answer, and she cut him off. "But that wasn't my question. Why would it matter to you that I not be 'one of those people?'"
"Those people bother me."
"I bother you."
"Yes, you do," he replied, turning to face her and setting down the coffee pot. "But you bother me in, you know, your way. They just bother me."
"I bother you in my way?"
"I have a way?" Ainsley was giving him her irresistible look - which, unfortunately for him, really was - and beginning to smile.
To his great chagrin, instead of shooting her down he found himself smiling back almost shyly. "You have a way. Which I find not as annoying as it might otherwise be."
"Sam, you care," she said, placing a hand over her heart and grinning knowingly.
"I do not," he said firmly.
"Okay," she replied in a tone that indicated she wasn't buying it for a second.
"You know what I think?"
"I bet I'm going to."
She ignored that and walked toward his turned back. "I think you didn't want me to take the opposite opinion on an issue that really annoys you, because you didn't want to admit that you like someone who takes that view."
He turned and found her a foot from his nose. "I don't like you."
"That was very convincing," she said, smiling.
"At this particular moment you probably don't," she conceded. "But when I'm not showing you up you like me."
"You don't show me up."
"Small business fraud?"
"I thought you liked it when I listened to you."
She positively glowed. "I do, Sam. That's my point."
"You have a point?" he asked, the corners of his mouth twitching upward despite all his efforts to the reverse.
"Look at you," she teased, sounding delighted. "You just won't admit it."
"Admit . . ."
"That you like me."
He leaned in close to her face, a broad smile breaking out. "I don't like a single bone in your straight southern Republican body."
She smiled sweetly. "I love you too, Sam." With a hand on his chest she pushed him back up so that she could walk past. "Grab the coffee; let's go."
As they walked through the hall for the third time she said, "Hey, Sam?"
"Yeah?" he asked cautiously.
"Why did you want me to meet the President?"
"I thought you should meet the man who you called 'a threat to freedom everywhere.'"
"I wasn't talking exclusively about him, it was hyperbole, and that's not the reason anyway."
"No, really I just wanted to see you scared."
"You going to tell me what the right answer is?"
"Yeah." She turned and gave him, for once, a very sweet, sincere smile. "You were being nice."
"Why was I being nice?" he asked as if honestly not knowing the answer.
"Because you've got a protective streak a mile long, and somehow I got right in the middle of it."
Sam decided he couldn't really argue with that. "Okay," he said, laughing.
Ainsley stopped dead again and held out her hands. "Give me the tray."
"Why?" he asked nervously.
"Just give me the tray." He passed it over to her and once it was safely in her hands she said, "Sam?"
"Yes?" He looked as if he expected her to pour coffee over his head at any moment.
"You're a bleeding-heart arrogant self-satisfied Democrat -"
"I should be surprised that you -"
She cut him off firmly. "But you're very sweet." That same shy little smile spread over her face again. "I didn't want to say that while you were walking with the coffee." She put the tray back into his hands, then leaned over it from her vantage point on a higher step and kissed a stunned Sam on the cheek. "Let's go."