All Things Being Equalby Trish
ABOUT 2:00 a.m.
Toby sat, still in stunned silence never having added much to the drafting process, except to occasionally state, "no" or "that's not funny," in his usual dry tone. He rhythmically tossed a pink rubber ball in the air and caught it in his opposite hand. The two male writers had departed hours earlier but the senior staff stayed to polish the Press Corps speech. Donna was asleep with her head down on the table, pillowed on her crossed arms. Josh was absently rubbing her back, as he reviewed the last and final draft of the President's speech. Sam and Ainsley sat across the conference room table from him, slumped in their respective chairs, silently awaiting his verdict. Finally, Josh looked up, "We found the funny."
"We found the funny!" Sam echoed, beaming.
"Thank God," Donna mumbled without raising her head. Josh increased the pressure of his hand, massaging her back through the cashmere twin set. Looking up, she managed sleepily, "Can we go home now?"
"Yes, you can go home, now," Josh answered, as Donna rose from her chair, "but you better be on time tomorrow."
Turning to glare at her boss, Donna rejoined, "Tomorrow's Saturday."
"So? There's still work to be done. The world doesn't stop and neither do we. This is the White House, Donna." Josh's tone was far too chipper and energetic for the late hour.
Before Donna could say anything, Toby interjected, "Shut up Josh."
Sam and Ainsley had been gathering their things and throwing away the empty Chinese food containers. "C'mon," Sam offered, "I'll walk you to your car."
"What? Ya'll," it was late and her Southern drawl was more prominent, "You . . . think because there's no Constitutional Amendment guaranteeing my equality, that I'm incapable of walking to my own car . . . by. my. self.?" asked Ainsley emphasizing the last three syllables.
Looking at her skeptically, as if to ask, you don't really believe that, do you?, Sam explained, "No. But this is D.C., not the safest place in the world," pausing briefly to glance at his watch, "especially at this time of night."
Appreciating the logic of the last argument -- safety -- Ainsley agreed to allow Sam to walk her to her car. "If you insist." The soft smile that graced her face let Sam know that his offer was genuinely welcome.
* * * * *
CUT TO EXTERIOR PARKING LOT
It's dark, save for a few scattered, dim, street lights. Ainsley's is one of only a few vehicles in the deserted lot.
Approaching her car, Ainsley turned to look at her companion. "Well you've seen me safely to my car. Without any guns. Without any prayer. Without . . ."
Ainsley stared at Sam but didn't ask the flippant question in her eyes. Instead, she inquired, "Why'd you come looking for me tonight?"
"Because I knew you'd be a good," Sam lied.
Exasperated, Ainsley challenged his assumption, "You knew nothing about my speech writing abilities."
"Sure I did. I've seen you on television."
"Sam, I've been on television twice. The first time I kicked your ass and the second time was after the State of the Union when you about strangled me when I said I didn't think one of the President's policies was constitutional."
"Well, they were both memorable experiences," he countered, smiling as he thought about her dancing around in a bathrobe. "And you didn't 'kick my ass'."
Rolling her eyes, Ainsley joked, "Whatever you say. I mean without the ERA Amendment, I, a woman, couldn't possibly have bested a man, especially the great Sam Seaborn."
"That's not fair."
"I'm sorry;" she said as sarcastically as one can with a Southern drawl, "I didn't know we were supposed to play fair."
"Ainsley. . ."
"I thought we established that was my name when you were shouting it earlier."
"And you ignored me."
"And I ignored you." Seeing the small flash of pain streak across Sam's face, Ainsley relented, "But only because you were shouting."
"I'm not shouting now."
"No, you're not." Ainsley's voice dropped and took on a husky tone, that surprised even her.
They stared at each for a few unnaturally long seconds.
"Sam, tell me you didn't walk me out her because you didn't think I was capable of doing it by myself."
"Of course not! You're one of the most capable women . . . capable people . . . I know." Sam paused, then added. "Besides, you think you kicked *my* ass on national television. With an ego like that, I'm sure you can take care of yourself."
"There, you see. You can admit that women are self sufficient. Now, why do you think we need to amend the Constitution, The Constitution, Sam, to achieve something we already have -- equality?"
"Would it make you feel better if I said you were superior?" Sam asked with a smirk.
"Well, it would at least show me that you have some intelligence and you learned something during all your time in New Jersey."
"Hey, don't knock Princeton." Sam tried to glower but failed to pull it off because he knew she was baiting him. "I didn't walk you out here because I didn't think you couldn't do it . . .weren't capable of taking care of yourself." With his eyes, he begged her to understand and not to press him for further verbalization. He wasn't ready to make a full confession.
She didn't get the message. "So you do understand that a woman can be capable and competent without necessarily being a feminist?"
"What do you have against feminism?"
"I am not against it; I just don't, by virtue of my gender, wanted to be forced into it."
"Nobody's forcing you into anything," Sam retorted.
"No, you just compared me to Phyllis Schaffly."
"She wants to set women back hundreds of years."
"I don't!" Ainsley asserted, "and neither does she; She just wants women to feel empowered -- like they have a choice -- like it's OK to embrace traditional American values -- like it's OK to be a mother."
"Whatnow you have something against working women? That's pretty contradictoryconsidering what you do"
"I just don't want to be labeled a feminist or forced to keep working simply because I am a woman and a lawyer."
"Trust me. I have never forgotten that you're either," Sam inadvertently confessed, a brief vision of Ainsley and their children flashing through his mind. .
"OK then." she offered lamely, not knowing exactly how to respond. Opening her driver's side rear door Ainsley tossed her briefcase onto the back seat before opening the front door of her car. Stepping into that triangle between the open door and the body of the car, Ainsley looked over at Sam, "Goodnight."
"OK." The octave and the tension level of the discussion suddenly took a nose dive. Without thinking, acting automatically, Sam leaned down and planted a quick, chaste kiss on Ainsley's startled lips. "Goodnight. Have a safe trip. Call me when you get there, so I know you're alright." Sam started to turn, when the sound of her voice calling his name pulled him back to reality. "Sam?" He realized, too late, what he'd done -- what boundary he'd crossed.
Turning around to face her, he began, "Ainsley, I'm . . . "
Placing her hand on his arm, Ainsley begged, "Please don't say your sorry. I'm not." She looked up at him with big, pleading eyes that melted his heart. At her confession and the vulnerability readily apparent on her face, Sam took a step toward the pretty blonde Republican lawyer, but didn't trust his voice to speak.
Smiling at his discomfort, Ainsley dispelled his fears. "I think you're adorable too," she volunteered echoing his words from earlier in her office. To emphasize the point, she reached up and returned his quick, chaste kiss. This time, before she could pull fully away, Sam reached out and placed a hand on her shoulder. As she tilted her head back, their eyes met and this time as they moved toward one another, they were both expecting the third time their lips met. This kiss was still soft, but it was a step beyond a simple gesture of friendship; it was more loving. Although filled with feeling, it maintained a sweet, innocent hesitancy. They knew they were crossing a boundary but they both wanted to cross it, slowly.
A few seconds later, they broke the kiss and simply looked into each other's eyes allowing their hearts a few moments to resume normal sinus rhythm and stop pounding in their respective ears.
Ainsley recovered first. "I'll call you . . . when I get in . . . so . . . so you'll know I'm safe."
"Safe. Yeah." Sam nodded while willing his brain to resume functioning. Stepping back, he bid Ainsley farewell, "G'night."
"Goodnight," Ainsley whispered sliding into her car and shutting the door, the feel and taste of his soft, warm lips still tingling on hers. She turned the key and started the engine. Sam watched her pull out of the parking lot. He was whistling and there was a jaunty spring to his step as he headed back toward the White House.