Pilgrim's Chorusby CGB
Category: Ainsley fic (some Sam thrown in for good measure)
"I can be a complicated communicator" - Liz Phair
She's not sure how she got here.
Not here. Not the White House.
Here. Thirty two year old Ainsley Hayes, Republican working for the Democrat Administration, Deputy White House Counsel.
It's like she woke up today and she's here. Not so long ago she was attempting handstands on her neighbour's lawn and showing off her pink underwear (mother practically leapt the fence in an attempt to curb her eight year old daughter's exhibitionism) and then suddenly she's an adult debating the fate of the country whilst eyeing the last muffin. Her Republican friends think she's insane and the Democrats in power don't trust her at all. She went to bed yesterday and woke up in a rip, the point where currents meet and drag the poor swimmer out to sea.
Sometimes it's lonely.
Father calls often. He's loud and he's brash but he's her father and she loves to hear form him. Cynics and dissidents in the Republican Party whisper that Selwyn Hayes is mad. Madder than a blonde with ambition and a pretty smile trying to be taken seriously in Republican Party politics. Madder than a Republican in Bartlet's White House.
So she's her father's daughter? She hopes not. Whispers might be insidious but she worries, sometimes, they're right. After all, when she told him about her new job he laughed, a big booming laugh that shook its way through the telephone to the foundations of her apartment.
"Well now, honey" he said, "You give those Democrats a good seeing to from me."
He's proud of her. He says so when he calls and she thinks maybe Selwyn Hayes carried the seed that bore the monster that she is. Because she is a monster. She's blonde and she's pretty, she always hungry and she can't stop talking. She's a Republican who refused a six-figure offer to critique the current government on national television so she could work in the basement of the White House.
Oh yes, she's quite possibly crazy.
And never more so than when she's here on a Saturday, debating with Sam Seabourne. Debating because that's what they do.
"Do you really believe that?" he says, "I don't think you believe that. I think you're being incendiary."
He is standing. She is sitting. She has work to do. She always has work to do. No one can say she's a decorative addition to the Democrat's White House. Why else would she be here on a Saturday? Sam likes to argue and she knows it's flattering that he seeks her out to argue with but she has work to do, and the bottle of wine she had with dinner last night left a lingering effect on her senses.
"The point is, Sam" she cuts herself off. The point has escaped her entirely. It's unlike her to lose track. She hasn't been concentrating. " Sam I've forgotten what the point is exactly. Needless to say, your argument is flawed and ill considered and you reject as simplistic the needs and concerns of real people in real jobs with real values, not to mention belittling the ideals of 51% percent of voters who voted Republican in the last election. And what are you doing in my office anyway? For the good of this country I'm going to assume you didn't come here on a Saturday just to argue with me, and you have pressing matters of national importance to attend to."
She's amazed sometimes, at how she can open her mouth and the words just fall out. And she's surprised to find they make sense. Good sense. Sometimes.
"You know Ainsley, I can't help being impressed by your ability to argue a point you not only don't agree with, but don't remember in the first instance."
"It's an art," she says sardonically, "Sam?"
"I have work to do Sam."
"OK," he shrugs. Damn, if he didn't look so good when he shrugged she'd have security down here to drag him from her office bodily. She wonders whether she can do that.
* * * * *
Sam placed Gilbert and Sullivan posters around her office. It makes her smile because she joined the Operatic Society at Harvard and was dismayed to learn that Gilbert and Sullivan constituted the societies next three performances. She preferred Bizet or Puccini a secret, guilty pleasure because her mother always insisted that Puccini was vulgar'.
Her father preferred the romantic stirrings of Wagner. "The Ride of the Valkyries" still instills mild horror in her when she hears it. She remembers the music filling the household late at night when her father had come home drunk and as a small child she found the soaring crescendo's frighteningly ominous.
But the thought of Wagner's "Pilgrim's Chorus" from Tannhauser reminds her of his gentler moments and makes her office seem lonelier. She regrets turning Sam away. She hums the tune to herself and sneaks a look at the CD player Sam has left in her office since her welcome. She's grateful because at times the office is lively with music when it's lively with little else.
* * * * *
Her mother doesn't call at all. She took the news silently at first. Separated by the phone line, Ainsley could only imagine the pursed lips and slightly raised, pencil thin eyebrows that would signal her mother's disapproval.
"Ainsley, dear, is this really the right decision? Have you thought about what it could do to your career?"
"Mother, I'm the White House Counsel. As a career move most people would consider it optimal positioning.
Her mother should have been proud. She knew her mother should be proud of her. She was bright and accomplished and the recipient of many desirable job offers which she had turned down to serve her country. So why did she never say so? I love you honey and I support whatever decision you make - was that too much to ask? Did anyone's parents say that?
"Your career in the Republican Party Ainsley."
That argument was probably justified. Any fraternizations she made, any concessions or compromises would be seen as being sympathetic to the Democratic position. An election could change everything around. Everything.
"Mother, by the time this President is voted out in the next election, which we both know he will be, I'll be an experienced Executive Office Counsel. Who better qualified to serve the new Republican government?"
"I just hope you know what you're doing."
So did she.
Somewhere in North Carolina, Ainsley's mother places the phone back on the hook with a sigh and a shake of her head.
"Selwyn," she says, "Ainsley's working for a Democrat."
"How about that!" He thunders, and then they speak of it no more. Ainsley's mother and father have had separate rooms for as long as she can remember. They criticize the Bartlet administration for their lack of family values but Ainsley knows from tell around the West Wing that the President and the First Lady leap at the chance to spend time intimately relating' with each other.
* * * * *
Carol, CJ Cregg's assistant, appears at her door.
"Ainsley," she smiles "please call me Ainsley."
The Governor of North Carolina once told her she had a pretty smile. She tries to smile often. Especially in the White House. They don't trust her, they might even dislike her but she's damned if she'll let them see that it gets to her.
"CJ wants you to go over these when you have a moment."
Carol hands Ainsley a small pile of folders. Ainsley opens the top one and scans the contents.
"What am I looking at?"
"I honestly don't know. CJ wrote some notes" Carol points to CJ's scribbles in the margins.
Ainsley sighs inwardly. CJ should have come herself. She should have set up an appointment. CJ is avoiding her or avoiding her office, she's not sure which. CJ is another tall intelligent woman like her mother, a woman she looks up to and admires and who doesn't really know what to make of her.
* * * * *
From the moment she first opened her mouth she's been talking. Mother never told her that of course, but Aunt Louise loved to tell her how she jabbered at them all wide eyed in the crib. She mimicked their tones. They sang at her and she sang back. Aunt Louise said it was the cutest thing she ever saw but Ainsley knows it was just another sad attempt to be heard falling on deaf ears.
In school the teacher picked on her first when she heard talking behind her back and she was usually justified. Quiet classrooms made her restless. Sometimes she felt she was going to explode if she didn't start a conversation soon. She'd be in trouble of course, but she couldn't stop.
Talking was always going to get her into trouble and she couldn't stop talking so she became better at it.
* * * * *
She reaches for her jacket. It's not quite lunchtime yet but she needs to go out.
Later she is sitting in memorial park with a paper bag in her hand that doesn't contain her lunch. She watches birds, watches the sky for a while, counts aeroplanes and thinks about going back to work.
She wonders whether anyone missed her.
"Ainsley, where have you been?" Sam Seabourne apparently has. She smiles in spite of herself. She falls into a convenient habit of pretending they hate her to justify her low opinion of all that they stand for, but all evidence points to the contrary. But they are nice. At times they are really nice.
"Shopping," she says jutting her chin out in defiance.
"Ah shopping," Sam says. She keeps moving but casts a glance in his direction as she heads for her office. He follows her. "I see your workload is not so full that you can't afford some time to go out and buy a new pair of pumps."
"Bad example, Sam."
"I'm showing an interest. I thought most women liked to show off their purchases after shopping."
She reaches into the paper bag stuffed into her handbag and extracts a CD. She passes it to Sam without pausing in her walk.
"Music?" He studies the cover. " Tannhauser. Wagner. Great choice. You know Wagner once went by the name of Richard Geer."
She throws him a pointed look.
"Yes. And it's Geher. He was also a German nationalist who wrote an anti-Semitic paper called "Judaism in Music" and he composed a piece for the US Centennial entitled "American Centennial March" commissioned by the City of Philadelphia. He also married Liszt's daughter, and lived in a house called Asyl' which is German for Asylum. Sam?"
"Are you walking me to my office?"
Sam looks around. They have already arrived at the basement and are wandering the corridors leading to her office.
"It would appear so," Sam says, and he smiles his best I-may-be-boring-but-aren't-I-adorable smile. She rolls her eyes. Unfortunately he is. There are some things she doesn't tell her father. Like the fact that the senior staff took her drinking and got her drunk on three Brandy Alexanders, like the fact that she glows when they praise her and shrinks when they admonish her, and the fact that she looks at Sam Seabourne and thinks about whether he has a snail trail between his naval and his crotch and how much she'd like to run her hand along his abdomen just to find out.
She gives herself a small shake to loosen the image from her mind.
Sam checks the song list on the back of the CD and opens the cover. She wonders whether he is really that interested or whether he is feigning his attention so that he has an excuse to accompany her.
"So who gets the shepherd's staff?" He says finally.
"Tannhauser is in exile because he defied the orthodoxy of the Court and the church by challenging their notions of love and sex and by enjoying the sensual delights of the Kingdom of Free love. The Pope decrees that only when the shepherd's staff sprouts leaves again will Tannhauser be pardoned," Sam has an enthusiasm for the tale that is endearing. She can't help listening to him when he's so damned sincere. "The pilgrims bring a sprouted staff home to the German Court to show that Tannhauser is forgiven. Your office is in the basement of the White House, as a Republican in a Democrat White House you sit between two worlds. Are you telling me you didn't buy this because of the parallels to your situation?"
She looks at him like he has grown another head. They have reached the stairs that lead down to her office. She stands at the top trying to fathom the conundrum that is Sam Seabourne.
"Sam, your grade school teachers hated you didn't they?"
"No," he says looking injured, "well, not all of them."
She grins. "I can just picture it, poor Mrs Wimplebottom or whatever her name is, calls for show and tell and there's Sam Seabourne with his hand in the air and she's hoping like hell some other kid puts her hand up because they're all in for another forty five minutes of how television works otherwise."
Sam looks thoughtful.
"Ok, I admit that as a child I was a little over zealous when it came to show and tell, but Mrs Wimplebottom loved me. I was her favourite student." He grins sheepishly. Another endearing quality of Sam's is his ability to laugh at himself.
Ainsley takes off her jacket and places it on a hook behind the door. She holds out her hand and Sam looks at it momentarily before the understanding sinks in and he hands her the CD. She places it in the CD player and the overture for Tannhauser fills the room.
They listen in silence. She leans on the desk with her arms folded and he stands in the middle of the room deep in thought.
"God forgave Tannhauser Sam," she says eventually. "The pilgrims carried the shepherd's staff that was touched by God. There are times when I think neither the Republicans nor the Democrats have a sense of the righteousness of what we do, or the wrong, and maybe it's all just about their own agenda."
She sighs deeply.
"I don't care whether anyone forgives me for challenging them, for saying something contrary to what they believe in. Not the Republican Party, not you or the White House, not my father or my mother who I know has already forgiven me in her heart, I just want to do what's right. I don't always know what that is and maybe that's where I let everyone down. What good am I to serve if I don't have the strength of my convictions? You see, I need to forgive me Sam. I need to be able to say that I did the right thing, that I was good and just, and then maybe I can bring the sprouted staff home."
Sam comes and leans against the desk next to her. He smells like soap and aftershave that is slightly citrusy. Her father favours musky odours as many of the men his age do. She always liked the smell of men's aftershave.
"So you do see yourself as Tannhauser?" he grins conspiratorially.
She grins back
"No, just one more pilgrim trying to be heard."
"Then keep talking," he says.
She smiles. The orchestral overture ends and the soprano solo begins.
"I can do that."