The Momentby Glynnis
Disclaimer: Not mine, not mine, not mine. Just borrowing Aaron's creations for a little fun.
A little after 7:30 p.m.
"I'd like a Fresca and a grilled cheese sandwich with wheat bread and sharp cheddar cheese, cut diagonally. Also, alongside, very much, I would like a pickle spear and a cup of chicken-noodle soup as well. And... Ooh! ... Is that cobbler?" The blonde finally paused for breath and the waitress simply nodded at her wearily. Outside the rain grew heavier on the sidewalks. People scurried by the window of the diner, umbrellas blowing inside out. The waitress took the order without comment and walked it to the counter.
From the next table a redhead shook her head in amazement. She looked up and saw that the blonde had seen her look and shrugged. "I just don't know where you think you're gonna put it all," she finally offered by way of explanation. The blonde smiled slightly, as though she was accustomed to comments on her appetite. She returned her gaze to the papers she was reading. Occasionally she would highlight several lines of text.
Other than the waitress, the cook and two men at the counter the two ladies were the only customers. The ferocious weather was the kind that causes people to either head for home or stay at the office... unless they've already stopped in a diner or bar. Then the weather was just ferocious enough to keep them there for a bit longer than they might have stayed otherwise.
The redhead was grading papers. The blonde was reviewing legal briefs, searching for precedents. The two women were strangers who had no idea that they might have anything in common.
Reaching the end of the stack of papers the redhead looked up again to see the blonde enthusiastically wolfing down her sandwich and ordering additional food for takeout. The blonde stopped in mid-chew as she noticed the other woman's eyes on her. She finished chewing and asked, "Is there something that I may do for you?"
The redhead apologized, "Sorry. You look familiar. And... well, I am... amazed at your enthusiasm for food."
The blonde said, "The cafeteria where I work is not bad, but they only do grilled cheese with... American... cheese... and, it's just not the same."
The redhead said, "By not the same... you mean grilled cheddar and chicken noodle reminds you of home?"
The blonde smiled broadly, displaying stunning dimples. "My daddy made it like this... I guess with the rain and all... Well, I guess sometimes we all need a bit of 'comfort food.'" She looked out the window at the storm. "I do miss my dad."
The redhead looked down at her watch, a small grimace apparent as she said, "I guess none of us spends the time with our parents that we should." She wrote something on one of the papers.
The blonde swallowed a spoonful of soup and asked, "What is comfort food to you?"
The redhead stopped and thought, "Tomato soup and tuna salad and potato chips."
The blonde asked, "Did your dad make that for you when you were little?"
The redhead grimaced, "My dad ... didn't spend much time in the kitchen." Off the statement of the blonde the redhead held up a hand, palm out to halt whatever awkward words might come next. She said, "Every now and then he'll come over and let me make something for him ... when he's not too busy. More often we meet for a bite together at a place like this. I'm waiting for him now. He's always late getting away from work, but that's my dad."
The blonde bit down on the pickle, savoring it. "Mmmm. I once read that we decide on our ideal man from the first relationships we have, those with our fathers and brothers, and also those we hear about in fairy tales... and spend the rest of our lives looking for a man who matches that ideal. I find few notions more repellant."
The heavy rain continued to thrum the pavement. Both women looked out into the night.
The redhead smiled a slow grin. "Which part? The shortage of knights in shining armor or that you're expected to fall for a guy 'just like dad?'"
The blonde chuckled as she finished off the pickle. "Actually the notion that all my happiness is to hinge upon an ideal I set at the age of three."
The redhead snorted with laughter. "I've grown past the idea of a man being the answer to my problems." The blonde suddenly looked awkward. The redhead burst out laughing, "Not that I'm propositioning you!"
The blonde laughed in relief and embarrassment. "I'm sorry."
The redhead shrugged. "Don't be. You don't know anything about me... or my ex-husband... or the other knights in dull armor that I've known..."
The blonde asked, "Only dull armor?"
The redhead sat back and looked thoughtful. "Well, there's one shining exception... not that he's perfect. No man is perfect. No. He's not perfect by any means. But he's pretty tempting... just sometimes a bit TOO much like dad."
The blonde pushed away her empty plate. "I guess I've seen my share of dull armor, shiny armor, beat up armor... I mean... I work now with some very intelligent and impassioned men, men of integrity. But even these men... well, some are so passionate about their ideals that they fall into darkness in themselves. Some are so insistent that they push themselves and everyone else until they make people crazy to give into them. Some are so busy holding their mission and the people around them together that they let their personal lives fall apart. Some push themselves to the bottle. Some completely lose themselves."
The redhead noted, "Sounds like you're in politics."
The blonde nodded and continued. "The shiny armor guys are few and far between. I actually am fortunate enough to work with three such men."
The redhead said, "Three? In D.C.? Unheard of!"
The blonde smiled and said, "I know. One... I don't really see very often. He's so busy and there's so much demand on him, but he really cares about people ... The second has been like another father to me. He's made sure I feel welcome and... he even forgave me some unkind things I wrote... I find I can say just anything to him. And... then there's... well there's one other. We're... friends... though sometimes I wonder..." She blushed just enough to make the redhead smile knowingly.
The redhead noted, "The exciting one... the one that makes you blush... does he know you're attracted to him?"
The blonde's eyes opened wide in astonishment. "What?! Oh. Oh, oh no! No. No. NO. He... in no way would he ever consider it possible that he might, in any way, elicit any response from me other than that of professional courtesy and that of friendship sometimes, perhaps. Most often we disagree. We were introduced to disagree. We disagree so completely that people would tune in to watch it happen! We disagree on... almost everything."
The redhead laughed out loud. "Sounds like you like disagreeing with this man..."
The blonde only blushed in reply and ducked her head.
The redhead smiled fondly in memory. "I like to argue with my knight, too. He's most fun when jousting. And he's very sexy. I swear the blue of his eyes deepens when he gets on a tangent."
The blonde nodded, lost in thought. Then she shook her head and asked, "This tempting knight... are you involved with him?"
The redhead shook her head. "No. Like I said, he can be a bit too much like my dad. And I saw how that turned out for my mom! Too complicated. I chose my career, teaching, to avoid the complications of the political scene. The man I'm dating is an athlete, very uncomplicated. How could I possibly date someone who is completely defined by work in politics?"
The blonde smiled slightly and mused, "Playing it safe?"
The redhead nodded. "Yeah. I'm probably a safe fool. It's not like I've given him any reason to wait around for me to stop dating uncomplicated guys. And it's not like he has any trouble attracting the ladies... Every now and then I have to stop myself from giving in and calling him. Every now and then the itch gets to me..."
The blonde raised an eyebrow and sat back a bit. "The itch?"
The redhead said, "The itch. Someone very wise once pointed out to me that I had an itch for this man... this infuriating, genius of a man." She looked out at the rain, gushing over the pavement.
The blonde took a sip of Fresca. "You know, sometimes being comfortable isn't all it's cracked up to be. I placed myself into the most uncomfortable environment I could imagine facing, despite the advice of my friends and family and all my own natural misgivings, and it's really turned out more wonderful than I could have ever dreamed. You admit you're staying away from this knight in shining armor because you crave him. Sounds like you've set yourself on the path to a regret."
The redhead met the blonde's gaze evenly, pensive. "You may be right. But if what I hear is true and if I know Sam he's halfway down a wrong path, too! I'm still mad at him, anyway. He didn't call after something happened which he... should have explained. So, when I saw him again I made sure he knew I had moved on. He was trying to avoid me that night, but I went right for him... like the proverbial moth to the flame. And he looked so good... I let him know where I stood. And he still looked so good... And now I hear that he's getting close with someone... You may be right. It may be the time to hop paths... time to seize the moment..."
The blonde's takeout order arrived at the table in a white paper bag. The rain slowed.
The blonde smiled, gathered her papers, tightened the belt of her trench coat and left a tip on the table. She said by way of leave-taking, "Well, good luck. Here's hoping you find a happy ending."
The redhead chuckled wryly and went back to her grading.
A little after 8:30 p.m.
Ainsley walked into Sam's office and set the white paper bag on his desk. He and Leo looked up from the notes they were reviewing. Leo said, "Hi, Ainsley. What's in the bag?" Josh stood and stretched and walked over to open the bag and peer inside. Donna set down her notepad and yawned.
Ainsley replied, "Some dinner for you all from a diner down the street. I figured you'd still be at it and took a chance that you might need this. I had to have some food and thought you might like some, too." She set down her briefcase and unbelted her trench coat.
Leo's head jerked up. "Dinner? What time is it? Oh, no! I'm an hour late! I was supposed to meet Mallory!" He stood and left the room quickly.
Ainsley said, "Oh well, I'll eat Leo's... Who's Mallory?" She unwrapped and took a bite of Leo's sandwich.
Josh raised an eyebrow and smiled as he pulled a sandwich from the bag. He asked, "Sam?" Donna took the sandwich from Josh and lightly punched him in the arm.
Sam scowled slightly at Josh and said, "Mallory is Leo's daughter." He looked slightly at a loss for words and then changed the subject. "And thank you for dinner. That was very thoughtful."
Donna seconded Sam's thank you and grabbed a napkin.
Josh smirked and said, "And sometimes she's almost dated Sam... except when he was accidentally propositioning her mother. Or when he accidentally told her about his friend the prostitute... Or when..."
Ainsley interrupted, "You told Leo's wife about your prostitute friend? Was this before or after you propositioned her?" She looked at Sam expectantly and then said to Donna, "And you are welcome for the food. I just thought it was only fair since you shared your Chinese food with me last week." She smiled brightly and said, "And I am a very thoughtful person. Along with being charming and bright and delightful and having come up with precedents to support some of the arguments you've been trying to put together tonight." She took another bite of Leo's sandwich.
Sam said evenly, "No. I told Mallory about Laurie, thank you. And the other... I had NO idea she was Leo's wife..." He took out a sandwich and began to unwrap it with undue concentration. He glanced to the side and saw Ainsley looking at him fixedly. "And I didn't know who I was speaking to when I mentioned Laurie, either. I thought she was his daughter's teacher, not his daughter. When they said Leo's daughter's class I thought she was a student in the class, not the teacher." Ainsley continued looking at him. He asked, "Which of my arguments are you going to be helpful with and which are you going to turn into the debate from Hell?"
Ainsley sat in the chair Leo had vacated. "Leo's daughter is a teacher? And sometimes you date her?" Her tone was slightly tight. She pulled papers out of her briefcase and handed them to Sam, pointing to the highlighted areas of text. He began to read while absentmindedly eating a grilled cheddar cheese sandwich.
Josh took a bite of a sandwich. "Mmmm. Pastrami. Thank you, Ainsley."
Ainsley smiled at him and said, "And I brought Donna some fries. I know how you two like to steal each other's food, so I'm sure you'll want to start on them." He reached in the bag and took the fries. Donna snatched it away from him.
Sam swallowed and said, "I don't date Mallory. She dates a hockey player."
Josh said, "Well there was your almost-date... and not long ago you saw her at the Kennedy Center, and said she looked really good."
Donna ate several fries and looked back and forth from Sam to Ainsley.
Sam pointed at some text and asked Ainsley. "Do you think this covers all exceptions?" She nodded and then flipped the page and pointed to some other text. He nodded, "With that, too, I'll give you that one." He looked at Josh and cleared his throat, oddly ill at ease; "I don't date Mallory. We never really dated. I mean, one date, but other than that... We talked about dating, but nothing ever happened. We argued some. She accused me of being like Leo. I nailed the birthday greeting assignment and that was that." He had a slightly self-righteous look to him at this point.
Josh picked up another of the papers Ainsley had reviewed and began to read. "Oh, this is good. We can use this." He wolfed down a fry. "You forgot about the kiss? I don't think so, my friend. And you said she looked very good at the symphony thing."
Sam read another of Ainsley's highlights and said, "Oh. This is not good. No, way! I can't believe you're trying this!" She just looked at him, a strange half-smile on her face. He looked at her as though waiting for her to say something and then looked back to Josh. "She only kissed me because she was grateful for what I'd written about Leo. She's dating a hockey player, though what they could possibly find to talk about I can't begin to guess." He gulped a bite of sandwich and then nearly choked on it as he read something Ainsley had highlighted. "Ainsley! Do you really expect us to back something Ann Stark is pushing around the Hill?!"
She looked at him, stood and pulled a container out of the bag. "Cobbler," she said in answer to their unspoken question. She searched the bag until she found a spoon and a napkin and then picked up her coat and briefcase. She moved to the door and said, "I'm going to go downstairs and pull some more files I think might be pertinent and will bring more arguments to you as I find them." She started to leave and then turned back and said, "And maybe Mallory is just uncomfortable with the idea of getting involved with someone who is completely defined by work in politics."
Sam sat down, dumbfounded. He said, "Well, where did that come from? She barely says a word except to tell me I'm completely defined by work in politics?" He tried to return his attention to their work, but was mostly unsuccessful.
Outside the rain started back up again.
After a while he stood, then turned to Josh and said, "Did it seem like Ainsley hardly said anything at all?"
Josh replied, "Huh? I don't really know her as well as you do. You spend lots of time with her."
Sam looked at Josh and said, "Well, not really LOTS of time. I mean,I consult her for... legal assistance... sometimes."
Josh looked at him and absently muttered, "Legal assistance? Aren't you a lawyer, Sam?" The briefs he was reading absorbed his attention.
Sam nodded, "Yes. And a good one." He paced over to the window and looked out.
Donna interjected, "I thought she said hardly anything at all." The other two looked at her.
At that moment Leo walked in. Mallory was with him.
A little after 10 p.m.
Donna walked down the last steps and across the hallway to Ainsley's office, a.k.a. the 'steam pipe trunk distribution room.' She took a seat across the desk from where Ainsley sat, immersed in legal books and files. When Donna sat without saying anything for a few minutes, Ainsley finally met her gaze and said, "Hi."
"Hi," replied Donna. She looked distressed.
Ainsley smiled and said, "Leo came back, didn't he?"
Ainsley's smile grew fragile. "Mallory came with him?"
Donna nodded in surprise and asked, "And when did you install surveillance cameras in Sam's office?"
Ainsley smiled more and said, "That's not necessary. You see... I'd say she's here because she got some good advice from a stranger she met at the diner. Someone who she told about a knight in shining armor whose main fault was being a bit too much like her dad. Someone who works in politics. Someone who she thinks is very sexy when he disagrees with her." Ainsley leaned forward and spoke more quietly. "I'd say she's here because the stranger noted that if she was CRAVING the man she spoke of then PLAYING IT SAFE by NOT getting involved with him was a sure step on a PATH TO REGRET. The stranger even urged her to SEIZE THE MOMENT." Her smile had crossed to the brink of tears. She sat back and shook her head quickly back and forth.
Donna breathed out, "Oh, boy."
A little after 10 p.m.
Mallory stood in the doorway to Sam's office while Leo went to get some things from his own office. Josh mumbled, "I need to go check on something," and quickly left, saying "Hey, Mal" as he exited. Mallory smiled at him and walked into the room.
Sam said, "Mallory! Uh... have a seat? I'm... really surprised to see you here."
She cocked her head at him. "Samuel Seaborn. Something's changed..."
His eyes grew wide. "What?"
She looked at him more closely. "I liked your hair better shorter. Odd how with it longer you look somehow more conservative. Going to the right these days?"
Sam fidgeted and replied, "Aren't the conservatives usually the ones urging shorter haircuts?"
Mallory smiled and said, "I really wouldn't know, Sam. I don't know that many conservatives. And I doubt we'll find many around here to poll on the subject..." She grinned.
Sam looked nervously at the doorway and said, "Oh. You never know who'll wander in..." He looked slightly pale as he considered the possibility of finding himself alone with Mallory and Ainsley.
Mallory noticed. "You look pale, Skipper. You okay?"
He nodded. "I'm fine. Just trying to prepare arguments for a couple of pieces of legislation coming up for vote." He glanced again at the doorway.
Mallory followed his gaze and said, "Sam, you look like you're scared your girlfriend is going to walk in on us." She looked at him evenly and directly, as though his reaction mattered to her.
He jumped slightly and said, "Girlfriend? No! I'm not seeing anyone." He blushed as he realized that he'd stumbled right into an area of discussion he wasn't certain he wanted discussed... if for no other reason than that he didn't come out terribly well in it at the moment. He pushed other possible reasons from his thoughts.
Mallory was amused. She looked at Sam. He turned away and fussed with some papers to avoid her gaze. She had pity and looked around the office instead of at him. Her eyes stopped on the white bag and she looked suddenly stunned. She asked, "Did you guys do carry out? I smell French fries..."
Sam nodded and answered, "Yeah. A friend, Ainsley, brought that in for us..." He smiled slightly.
Mallory chewed on her lip for a second. "Blonde and perky? Eats like there's no tomorrow? Southern accent?" Sam nodded and watched Mallory closely. She slowly said, "Wait... Ainsley... Hayes... Didn't she wipe the floor with you on Capital Beat?"
Sam protested, "She did not wipe the floor with me. It was a simple mistake. I know my geography. I just misspoke..."
Mallory continued, "And she wrote a couple of op-ed pieces about my dad... 'The second forgave unkind things I wrote'... 'People would tune in to watch us disagree!' Oh... my... goodness..."
Sam looked confused and apprehensive. "Mallory?"
Mallory looked up at him and smiled. Then she began to laugh.
This did nothing to make Sam feel more at ease.
Mallory stood up and walked over to Sam. She put her arms around his neck and said, "Do you look for women to disagree with or does it just happen to you, Sam?" She continued to chuckle.
Sam neither pulled her closer nor pushed her away. "I guess it just happens, Mallory. Why do you ask?"
She looked him straight in the eye and continued to chuckle... until she leaned in and began to kiss him. She started out softly, but gave in to the itch and deepened the kiss considerably.
"Oh, for God's sake!" Leo said as he walked in and saw them. He walked back out.
Sam jumped. Mallory pulled away slowly and said, "I'd heard you were getting friendly with someone and actually worried a little bit about it, Sam. But if I know anything about you it's that you couldn't possibly set aside your politics just because someone is blonde and perky. So, think about who and what you want. Let me know what you decide." She giggled again. "If you call and ask me out, I just might say yes."
Sam said, "Aren't you dating someone?" He looked surprised and confused. "And why are you laughing?"
Mallory nodded, "I was just playing it safe... It's nothing serious. He's a little too agreeable." She smiled broadly and stepped away from him. She backed out of the office and left with her dad.
Sam leaned back against the desk and exhaled loudly. He stared out the door after her. He began to puzzle through all she'd said.
"You didn't mention that you met Mallory at the diner tonight."
Ainsley looked up slowly, heart thudding loudly inside her head, and replied, "No. We didn't exchange names. I wasn't sure..." She looked wary.
Sam indicated a request for permission to enter and Ainsley signaled him to do so. He sat across the desk from her. "She saw the bag you brought us and put things together. It's probably for the best that she didn't realize who you were when the two of you were face to face. She mentioned something about a couple of op-eds you did about Leo..."
Sam continued, "I'd forgotten."
Ainsley spoke low, "I haven't. They are, I regret, prime examples of misuse of the media in the interest of partisan politics. Leo won't even let me bring them up long enough to apologize. He seems to have forgiven me, though I have as yet to forgive myself. In part I find it hard to forgive myself for stupidly abusing such a good man and in part I find it hard to forgive myself for allowing my words to be so naively manipulated in the interest of others."
Sam shifted in his seat. "I'm not trying to attack you. Sounds like you learned from the experience..."
"Sam! Don't you kill me with kindness, too! That's not like you!" She said as she leaned toward him.
Sam smiled slightly. "I guess it's only like me to disagree with you."
Ainsley blushed more deeply at this than he'd ever seen anyone blush in his life. He leaned forward and put a comforting hand over her hand on the desk. She put her other hand to her mouth and choked out, "Just what did she tell you?"
Sam's smile broadened. "Nothing at all." He looked very pleased with himself.
Ainsley sat back and looked at him. Her eyes narrowed. "She came to your office after not speaking to you for months and said nothing?"
"She said she didn't like my hair cut," he offered. He smiled playfully.
Confusion flitted over her face. To gather her wits she looked up at his hair. Softly she said, "I think it looks nice."
"She said it looked conservative, like I was leaning to the right." He watched her reaction closely.
She looked down, unable to meet his gaze. "This woman doesn't really know you all that well, does she?" she asked with a slight smile.
He looked down and frowned slightly. "She does and she doesn't. You were right about her worrying about my commitment to politics. Then tonight she urged me to decide who I want... and if I like, to date her... The thing? I didn't know there was a choice to be made..."
Ainsley looked up in alarm as Sam stood and came around her desk. She asked, "What are you doing?"
He hesitated slightly and said, "What else have you got on the tax proposal?" He leaned against the edge of her desk.
Ainsley looked down and then handed him a law book and some sheets of polling data. He looked it over and groaned. Ainsley watched his statement change. Then, abruptly, he set the book and the papers down. He looked Ainsley in the eye. "People would tune in to watch us disagree?"
She chuckled self-consciously and smiled, "Many people would tune in to watch me kick your ass... and have..."
Sam closed his eyes and shook his head; "You did not kick my ass. You merely displayed your lack of need for breath between phrases and got lucky on a rare slip from me."
"Rare slip, Kyrgyzstany missile boy?" she giggled.
His eyes widened and he replied, "See, now that's so wrong of you to say when I was about to say something nice to you."
"You were about to say something nice to me?" She looked at him with feigned innocence and surprise.
"But the moment is gone." He shook his head, statement sad.
"Sam, if the moment wasn't strong enough to withstand the pressure of being reminded you told a New York Times reporter that there are nuclear weapons amidst the many sheep and shepherds of a nomadic culture, then I'm really not sure the moment was all that impressive to begin with..." Ainsley smiled at him sweetly.
"Actually, it was impressive. And it was nice. But I think it's gone, nonetheless..." Again, he shook his head mournfully, obviously teasing.
"Sam! I'm losing interest in the moment." Ainsley looked at him with mock anger.
He smiled slightly, looked her in the eye and intoned, "We spend so much time demonizing the other side, treating our opponents as if they were strangers with which we share nothing in common that we've lost sight perhaps of the greater truths. There's a lot more that unites Americans than divides them." His smile became warmer and sweeter as he looked at her.
Ainsley tilted her head and asked, "Isn't that from the speech the President gave at the Bipartisan Breakfast?"
"It is." His dimples became more apparent.
She looked puzzled and said; "Well... that is... very nice. You wrote it?"
Sam reached for her hand and pulled it to his lips, lightly kissed it and kept it in his grasp. "And you inspired it."
Softly Ainsley breathed, "What?"
Sam stood and walked back around to the other side of the desk. "Tonight when Mallory was talking to me she said she'd heard I was becoming close with someone I work with here. And she said that worried her. But then she somehow realized the person she'd heard about was you and she thought it was impossible. In fact, she laughed... a lot. She said she knew I could never set aside my political beliefs... regardless of how blonde and perky you are."
Ainsley said, "Oh?" She fought to keep her statement neutral.
Sam said, "The thing is... she was wrong to find it funny." He looked sweet and serious now as he met Ainsley's gaze. "See... I realized that she just saw you as a... well, a Republican sex kitten!"
He continued quickly, "And it doesn't take the genius of a President to see that that is not the case. Ainsley, I guess what I wanted to say is that I do like you, a lot. Your political beliefs make me want to scream. I can't begin to fathom your capacity for food. You drive me crazy with your opposition to almost everything I represent... But you make me better. You challenge me to understand my beliefs on a deeper level than I have ever reached before. You drive me to seek the greater truths and to embrace them with a passion I've lacked until now. Despite all that divides us, even more... well, unites us."
He looked at her seriously. "And that is the moment..."
Ainsley whispered, "Impressive moment.... And nice..."
He replied, "I'm gonna go now so the moment can just kind of hang there in its impressive niceness, ok?"
She nodded and smiled. "Good night, Sam."
He backed out slowly, "Good night, Ainsley."