By Cindy firstname.lastname@example.org
Set five years after WW's first season.
Caitlin Bartlet juggled a briefcase and a bag of groceries as she scurried up the sidewalk to her condo. Halfway up the sidewalk she heard the phone ringing. By the time she reached the front door and fished out her keys the phone had rung at least ten times. The brown haired young
woman hoped that whoever it was could wait just a little longer.
"Hello?"Caitlin answered as she grabbed the cordless phone from the small side table in the hallway.
"Cait?"Donna Moss replied near tears
Caitlin instantly dropped the briefcase and plunked the bag of groceries down on the table. She hadn't heard from her ex-roommate in nearly six months. Both of their lives had gotten too hectic in the last year to even think straight let alone keep up on friendships. Now hearing the tears in her friend's voice Caitlin regretted that instantly.
"Donna?"Caitlin asked as she moved into the living room taking off her coat. "What's wrong?"
"I've lost him, Cait."Donna whispered.
Caitlin sat down onto the sofa. "Donna, talk to me....what do you mean you've lost him? Is Josh hurt?"
"He's filed for divorce."Moss replied between sniffles. "And for full custody of Rachel."
"What?!"Caitlin replied standing straight up. "When did this happen? You two seemed so happy when we all got together for Leo's birthday."
"That was six months ago,Cait."Donna replied sadly. "A lot can happen in six months."
"Are you still in Chicago?"Caitlin asked as she walked toward her bedroom.
"Yes, why?"Donna replied quietly.
"I'll be on the soonest flight I can get."Caitlin promised as she pulled a suitcase from the closet. "We'll fix this, Donna. Josh can't be that pigheaded."
"I don't think it can be fixed, Caitlin."Donna replied wearily. "He was so angry....."
"It'll work out,Donna, it has to."Caitlin stated firmly."If you and Josh can hit this kind of a rough patch what kind of chance do Sam and I have?"
When Donna didn't reply Caitlin became more worried. "I'll be there as soon as I can, okay?"
"Okay."Donna replied quietly as she hung up the phone.
With a sigh Caitlin tossed the cordless phone on the bed and turned back to the closet to pull out some clothes. Half way through that task she realized she had better call Sam and tell him what was going on. With an armload of dresses Caitlin reached over the suitcase and snagged the
"Hello?"Seaborn answered on the third ring.
"Sam, it's me. I'm going to have to go out of town for awhile."Caitlin replied as she placed the dresses carefully in the suitcase.
"What's going on?"Her husband asked with concern.
"Have you talked to Josh recently?"Caitlin asked as she headed over to her dresser.
Sam raised an eyebrow. "No, not since Leo's birthday party, why?"
"Just got a call from Donna."Bartlet replied quietly as she continued to pack.
"She okay?"Sam asked as he stood and looked out the window of his law office.
"No."Caitlin replied worriedly. "She said Josh filed for divorce and for full custody of Rachel?"
"What?"Sam exclaimed as he whirled away from the window."When did this happen?"
"Very recently from what I could pry out of her."Caitlin replied sadly. "Something's very wrong, Sam. I just can't see Josh filing for divorce let alone custody."
"I know."Seaborn replied as he glanced down at his planner. "I have a couple cases to wrap up and then I'll join up in a day or two. She still in Chicago?"
"Yeah, but I'm not sure if Josh is."Caitlin commented as she closed the suitcase. "I'll call you as soon as I get there."
"Have a safe trip."Sam replied quietly.
"I will."Caitlin promised as she walked into the living room and pulled out the phone book.
"Love you."Seaborn stated as he sat back down behind his desk.
"I love you too."Caitlin replied softly as she hung up the phone.
It was nearly eight o'clock before Caitlin finally arrived at Josh and Donna's home in Chicago.
Weather delays and computer malfunctions had delayed her one o'clock flight for nearly three hours.
"Some twenty first century."Caitlin muttered after she paid the cab driver and picked up her suitcase. "We can put a man on the moon but we can't get a human being from point a to point b."
Donna met her in the doorway with one and a half year old Rachel in her arms. "I couldn't get her to sleep."Moss replied to Caitlin's questioning glance. "Been trying for the past hour."
"Okay."Caitlin replied as she glanced at the dark haired little girl.
The two friends walked into the living room of the small home and Caitlin set her suitcase down by the sofa. "Why don't you let me take her for awhile. Then after she's asleep you can tell me what's going on."
It took Caitlin another twenty minutes and two stories but Rachel finally fell asleep snuggled against a stuffed tiger. Caitlin tousled the girl's hair briefly before turning around. She stopped seeing Donna standing in the doorway. Her friend was drawn and pale and looked like
she hadn't slept in a week.
Caitlin gently placed a hand on her friends shoulder as she ushered them into the hall. She reached back in and turned the light off and closed the door behind her.
"Come on."Caitlin began as she led the way to the living room. "I'll fix us some hot chocolate and then you can tell me what happened."
Donna stared at the closed door of her daughter's room for a long moment before turning and following her friend.
"Did I ever tell you about Dan Collins?"Donna asked quietly as the two women reached the kitchen.
Caitlin paused in her task of taking out the milk and hot cocco mix and turned to face Donna. "Wasn't he your high school sweetheart?"
Donna leaned against the oak kitchen counter as she nodded. "Yeah. We dated all four years of high school."
Caitlin nodded as she went back to preparing the hot chocolate not wanting to press the issue. She knew Donna would talk when she was ready.
"He stopped by out of the blue about six months ago."Moss continued softly.
Caitlin frowned at the six months part but didn't comment. She placed two mugs into the microwave and hit start. She put the milk back in the refrigerator and turned back to face Donna.
"Was it good to see him?"Caitlin asked trying to fill the lull.
Donna smiled briefly. "Yeah it was. We hadn't seen each other since graduation. Josh was out of town doing those lecture things that he loves....think he was in Hawaii. Anyway Dan invited me to dinner...he needed someone to talk to...he and his wife were going through a nasty
divorce. I got a babysitter for Rachel and we went downtown for dinner.
It was a nice evening.....really fun catching up with him and getting info on our mutual friends. We saw each other several times over the next few months....just as friends. Then one night about a month ago I came home....."
Caitlin ignored the beeping of the microwave as she caught the wave of pain that flashed across Donna's face. "What happened when you got home Donna?"
"Everything fell apart."Donna whispered as she turned away from the counter and walked to the fireplace. Donna stared at her wedding picture for a long moment before she took a family portrait down off the mantle.
It'd been taken when Rachel was just six months old. They looked so happy....how could everything go so wrong?
Former Deputy Chief of Staff Joshua Lyman stepped out onto the balcony of his hotel room and looked out at the city he had once called his home.
The Nation's Capitol sparkled in the clear night as Josh stared at the Capitol Building.
He hadn't been back to D.C. for nearly two years despite lucrative lecture offers. The wounds were still too fresh....the memories too painful....
With a sigh Josh glanced at his watch.....barely eight o'clock. Too early to go to sleep. Turning and walking back into his room Josh decided to catch a late dinner.
Caitlin hated to see her friend in so much pain. But there was nothing she could really do until Donna told her what was wrong. She approached her friend from the right and handed her a pink mug. Donna replaced the family picture before following Caitlin over to the sofa.
"How's Sam?"Donna asked as she set the hot choclate down on the oak coffee table untouched.
Caitlin smiled. "He's Sam....working too hard but loving every minute. His new office is doing well."
"That's good."Donna replied quietly her fingers absently tracing the handle of the mug that sat a few feet away on the table.
"Josh came home early."Moss continued softly as she stared out the bay window. "When he entered the house he found it dark and discovered a small amount of smoke coming from upstairs."
Caitlin whirled to face. "There was a fire? Why didn't you call me?"
Donna felt the tears start to form again but shoved them back. She was so tired of crying...of feeling miserable every minute."It wasn't really a fire."
"Somthing caused the smoke."Caitlin pointed out.
"There weren't even any flames....just a few sparks that caused the smoke."Donna replied wearily."Apparently Becky the girl I had got to babysit Rachel had a date later that night and had left the curling iron plugged in. The cord got too hot....."
Donna broke off as she flashed on Josh's face that night when she came home. His face pale, his clothes rumpled, his normally beautifal, compassionate eyes filled with fear. Rachel was squirming in his arms trying to get to her mother but Josh refused to let her go.
'Where the hell were you?'
'I went out to dinner.'
'You couldn't take Rachel with?'
'Josh she's a baby.....this wasn't the type of....'
'Our daughter's safety should be the most important thing! Not who you socialize with.'
Caitlin reached over and placed a gentle hand on her friend's shoulder as she noticed the far away look in Donna's eyes.
"Was anybody hurt?"Caitlin asked quietly.
Donna shook her head tears flowing freely. "No....Josh grabbed Rachel and got Becky out and went to the neighbors to call the fire department."
"But he blamed you."Caitlin replied remembering clearly how the death of Josh's sister had affected him. If he had thought Rachel was in the same sort of danger he would've flipped....
"Yes."Donna stated as she stood and walked over to the kitchen to get a paper towel to wipe her face.
Caitlin stood. "Didn't he realize that it was an accident? That there was no way that you could've known...."
Donna sniffled. "Oh Cait....with everything that happened when Joanie died this incident just took Josh right back there. He wasn't thinking he was just reacting. All he could think about was that his little girl was going to die the same way his sister did....there was nothing I
could say to convince him that I would rather die myself than let anything touch Rachel...."
Caitlin touched her shoulder.
Josh walked into a bustling Irish pub in Georgetown and nearly collided with a friend he hadn't seen in six months.
"You heading out?"
"Yeah but I can stay. You look like hell."
"Nice to see you too, buddy."
A black haired waitress showed Sam and Josh to a table by the window.
Once they were seated the women took their orders and then disappeared into the crowd with practiced ease.
The two friends stared at each other for a long moment before Seaborn spoke.
"What are you doing back in D.C.? I thought you said you'd never come back here."
"Lots of things change."Josh replied quietly as he absently twirled a fork in his hands. "How's Caitlin?"
"With Donna...she left this afternoon."Sam commented a little more curtly than he had intended.
Despite everything Josh's eyes widened with concern. "She and Rachel okay?"
Sam nodded. "Physically yes, but they miss you. What the hell are you thinking?"
Josh winced and looked out the window. "I take it you heard I filed for divorce."
"Which I still can't believe."Sam replied with a shake of his head. "Why, Josh? You two seemed fine at Leo's birthday party."
"That was before."Lyman stated quietly a slight tremor in his voice. The question jogged memories that Josh didn't want to think about....even now.
"Before what?"Sam asked sharply.
"Before...."Josh replied but stood abruptly and tossed a few bills onto the table.
"Josh...."Sam called as Lyman started to walk away from the table. "Before what....what happened?"
"Ask Caitlin."Lyman snapped."I'm sure Donna's already filled her in."
Sam let him go knowing he wouldn't get anything more out of Josh that night. As he turned forward Sam glanced down at his wedding band and smiled at the memory it brought.
Maybe it was naive to think this way but Sam knew that he and Caitlin would be together forever. Just like Josh and Donna.
That is if he and Caitlin could fix whatever it was that had gone so horribly wrong.
Caitlin gently touched her friend's shoulder. "When was the last time you slept?"
Donna sniffled and shook her head. "I-I can't remember....."
"Come on...."Caitlin replied gently pulling Donna out of the kitchen. "You get some rest. Tomorrow we'll track down Josh and get the two of you to talk."
Donna shot her a disbelieving look but was too exhausted to argue. She tredged up the stairs and stopped in front of Rachel's room. Donna gently opened the door a crack and peeked inside.
"It'll work out, Donna."Caitlin promised quietly. "It has to. You and Josh are meant for each other."
"I used to believe that."Donna replied sadly as she shut the door to her daughter's room and turned and walked down the hall to her own.
Caitlin stood in the hallway and sighed. Whatever else happened tomorrow she was going to talk to Josh. Somebody had to knock some sense into him.
Jed Bartlet padded sleepily into the kitchen just as his wife Abby hung up the phone.
"Telemarketer?"The former President asked as he sat down and poured a glass of orange juice.
Abby grinned as she sat down across from her husband. "No, your daughter."
"Which one?"Jed replied as he reached for a piece of toast.
"Caitlin."Abby commented as she poured a bowl of cearel for herself.
"She and Sam have a fight?"Bartlet asked as he took a bite of toast.
Abby shook her head. "No she's just wanted to let us know that she's staying in Chicago with Donna."
Jed paused halfway through his bite of eggs. "Everything okay with Donna and Josh?"
"No."Abby replied sadly. "From what Caitlin said Josh has filed for divorce and for full custody of Rachel."
Jed eyes widened in surprise and he swallowed the eggs to keep from choking. "Has he gone insane?"
"We don't know the whole story, Jed."Abby admonished quietly. "All marriages have their rough spots, even ours."
"Is Josh still living with them?"Bartlet asked as he reached for his cup of coffee.
Abby shook her head sadly. "No."
"Oh."Jed replied quietly as he returned his attention to his breakfast.
Sam Seaborn awoke to a shrill sound. It took him several moments to realize it was the phone. Eyes still closed Sam rolled over and fumbled for the phone on the night stand.
" 'lo?"Sam greeted as he snuggled deeper under the covers.
"I'm sorry, honey, didn't mean to wake you. Go back to sleep."Caitlin replied sheepishly. "I'll call back later."
Sam was instantly awake. "No, it's okay. How's Donna?"
Caitlin leaned against the Lyman's kitchen counter as she waited for a bagel to get done toasting. "Still asleep. Poor thing hasn't slept well in weeks."
"I ran into Josh last night."Seaborn replied as he sat up reaching for his glasses.
"What?!"Caitlin exclaimed then quickly lowered her voice so she wouldn't wake Rachel or Donna. "Where?"
"Here in D.C.. At the Irish Times."Sam replied.
"In D.C.?"Caitlin repeated in surprise just as the toaster dinged. "Josh swore he'd never go back."
"What's going on with them, Cait?"Sam asked with concern. "I've never seen him like he was last night. Not even after the shooting..."
"There was a fire."Caitlin replied quietly as she pulled the bagel out of the toaster and began applying cream cheese.
"What?!"Sam exclaimed sitting straight up. "Anybody hurt?"
"No, there wasn't even any flames. Just smoke. But Donna had gone out to dinner with a friend and left Rachel with a babysitter."Caitlin replied as she pulled a can of soda out of the refridgerator.
Sam took his glasses off and rubbed a hand over his face slowly. "And Josh came home and found the house filling with smoke and freaked."
"That's it in a nutshell."
"No wonder I couldn't get him to talk about it."Sam commented with a sad shake of his head. "Must've been his worst nightmare."
"I know."Caitlin replied quietly. "But there's got to be more going on with him, Sam. He hasn't been the same the last couple years and you know it."
"Did he leave a number with you?"Caitlin asked.
Seaborn shook his head. "No, he stormed out before I could find out anything. Want me to track him down?"
"We've got to get them talking."Caitlin replied just as she heard a soft cry from upstairs. "Rachel's awake. I want to get to her before she wakes Donna. I'll talk to you soon."
"Love you."Sam stated quietly as he swung his legs over the side of the bed.
"Love you too."Caitlin replied as she hung up.
Donna awoke and glanced at the alarm clock in disbelief. It couldn't possibly be eleven o'clock. She hadn't slept in that long since....well since probably her college days.
Donna sat up and tossed the covers off. The sun was streaming through the windows indicating it was a beautifal day outside. After getting dressed Donna stepped out into the hallway. She could hear Caitlin and Rachel down in the living room. It sounded like Caitlin was trying to
get Rachel to sing some Disney tunes. Well as much as a one and a half year old could sing.
As she paused at the top of the stairs Donna couldn't help but recall when Rachel had said her first word. She smiled at the memory of Josh racing for his video camera.
'Josh, slow down you'll break your neck. I'm not even sure it was a word.'
'It was! I clearly heard it.'
'And what was it?'
'I'm sure it had meaning to her that it might not to us.'
"Hey."Caitlin called as Donna stepped into the living room. "How'd you sleep?"
Donna smiled briefly. "Like a rock. I can't believe you let me sleep this late."
Caitlin grinned as she stood and pulled Rachel into her arms. "I figured you needed it."
Donna took Rachel and walked over to the refrigerator. "I don't have any set plans for today. Want to do some shopping?"
Caitlin's face lit up. "You know me I'm always ready to shop. But what about work? Don't you have to check in?"
Donna shook her head. "No. I've taken an indefinete leave from Congresswoman Shultz's office until after the custody hearing."
Caitlin swallowed hard as she approached the kitchen counter. "You already have a date?"
Donna nodded sadly as she unconsciencely pulled Rachel closer as she set the gallon of orange juice down on the counter. "The papers arrived yesterday. That's why I was so upset when I called you. The papers made it seem real."
As if sensing her mother's mood Rachel began to cry softly. Donna instantly stroked the infant's back as she whispered. "It'll be alright, sweetie. Everything will be okay."
"How'd you track me down?"Josh grumbled as Sam stepped into his hotel room at eleven thirty.
"D.C.'s a small town in many ways Josh, you know that."Seaborn replied quietly as he looked around the sparse room.
"I was just on my way out so talk fast."Josh stated curtly as he plucked his briefcase from the small table and turned to face his friend.
Sam sat down on the corner of the dresser. "What's going on with you?"
Josh glared at him. He knew Sam was only trying to help but he didn't want to talk about the mess with Donna. Not now perhaps not ever.
"Nothing. I'm the same happy go-lucky Josh that I always am."Lyman replied as he shifted the briefcase from one hand to the other.
"That's bull and you know it."Sam snapped as he stood. "You haven't been the same since the shooting."
"Forgive me having people gunned down in front of me doesn't go away."Josh replied angerily as he tossed the briefcase down on the bed.
"It was almost six years ago, Josh."Sam replied gently. "You can't let it affect the rest of your life."
"It hasn't."Lyman stated firmly as he sat down on the corner of the bed.
The conversation bringing back memories of that dark night that he thought he had forgotten.
'Who's been hit? Who's been hit?!'
'Who's got Bookbag? Gina's hit!'
'This is Dan Newman reporting live from the scene of President Bartlet's townhall meeting in Arlington. Just minutes ago the park behind me was chaos as two snipers rained bullets down on the crowd. There is no word
yet on the conditon of the President, his daughter or members of his senior staff.....'
Josh shook himself away from the painful memories and abruptly stood and picked up the briefcase. "Thanks for the trek down memory lane, Sam. If you don't have anything more pressing to talk about I really have to be going."
"I know about the fire, Josh."Sam stated catching Lyman in the doorway.
Josh sighed as he walked back into the room and shut the door.
"You really want to drag all this up now? Fine."Josh replied wearily as he retook his seat on the corner of the bed, the briefcase hit the floor.
"If it'll fix what's going on with you and Donna, yes."Sam confirmed as he pulled a chair away from the table and positioned it so he was opposite Lyman.
Josh rubbed a hand over his face. "It's over, Sam. Do you think I would've filed the divorce papers if I had thought that there was even a chance?"
Sam leaned forward. "How can you say with such finality that there isn't a chance? When was the last time you talked with her? I mean really talked?"
Josh stared at his friend for a long moment. Sam had a point....Josh couldn't remember the last time he and Donna had really talked. The only time he'd actually been home for more than a week had been right after the fire and they weren't exactly on speaking terms then.
Then the anger resurfaced as Josh thought of how close they had come to losing their daughter.
"It wouldn't do any good."Josh replied as he stood and walked over to the window. "If Donna wants to talk we can talk at the custody hearing."
Sam blinked in surprise. He thought he'd made a dent but......"Hearing? I didn't realize things had gone that far."
Josh nodded as he leaned against the wall. "It's set for next week."His voice dropped to a whisper. "I don't want to take Rachel from her mother, Sam, but things can't go on the way they have been."
Sam stood and came to stand next to his friend. "I'm going to meet up with Caitlin tomorrow. Why don't you come back with me?"
Josh met his friend's gaze for a moment before turning and looking back out the window. "Can't....have a few things here to do."
Sam placed a hand on his shoulder. "It'll do you some good to see Rachel."
Josh's heart melted at the thought of his daughter. He'd missed so much of her young life already with all his traveling. Where did the time go?"I can't believe she's almost two....."
Sam grinned and walked to the room's small closet and picked up Josh's single suitcase. He turned and plopped it on the bed. "Come on, start packing."
Josh looked from the suitcase to Sam and back again knowing he wasn't going to win this battle. "Alright....I have to make a few calls first."
Donna laughed at Caitlin's choice of items as they stood in line at a coffee bar in Woodfield Mall. "Cait, I'm going to be peeling you off the ceiling."
Cailin smiled as she handed the necessary money to the clerk and stepped out of line. "What?"
Donna pointed to the large cup. "Double rich mocha supreme?"
"I seem to remember you having a cappuccino every morning at the White House."Caitlin countered as she took a sip of the cold drink.
Donna laughed as she pushed Rachel ahead of them in a stroller. "Point taken. What store do we hit next?"
Caitlin reached down and ruffled Rachel's hair. "How about the toy store?"
Donna stopped and looked at her friend in mock disbelief. "Toy store? Cait, did you even look into Rachel's room? It is a toy store in itself. Josh brings something back for her every time he travels."
"One more won't hurt."Caitlin replied with a grin as the two friends started walking.
"I'm going to go get some french fries."Donna commented as she stood. "Want anything?"
Caitlin glanced up from their small table in the center of the bustling food court. "No thanks."
Donna nodded as she reached over and began to remove Rachel from the highchair. "Come on, sweetie. Let's give Aunt Caitlin a few minutes of peace."
Caitlin grinned. "Its okay, Donna you can leave her."
Donna paused as she glanced at her friend. "You sure, Cait? She can be a handful."
Caitlin laughed. "I watched Zoey when she was little....we'll be fine. Besides Rachel and I have become great friends, right Rach?"
The little girl laughed and squirmed in her mother's arms.
"Okay."Donna replied with a wide smile as she replaced her daughter in the highchair and secured it. "Behave for Auntie Caitlin, sweetie, Mommy will be right back."
After Donna disappeared into the crowd Caitlin turned to meet the little girl's gaze. "So how are we going to get your parents back together?"
Just then Caitlin's cellular phone rang. It took Caitlin a few minutes to find her purse among the small pile of shopping bags at her feet. By the time she removed the phone from the purse it was on its sixth ring.
"Hello?"Caitlin answered raising her voice slightly to be heard over the din of conversation.
"Caitlin?"Sam replied. "Where are you? I can barely hear you?"
"At the mall with Donna."Caitlin stated with a smile as she glanced over at Rachel. "Where are you?"
"Would you believe on a plane with Josh?"Seaborn replied with a grin as he glanced over at his friend's sleeping form in the seat next to him.
"How did you manage that?"Caitlin asked her eyes widening with surprise. "Can you talk?"
"Yeah, he's asleep."Sam replied as he settled back into his seat. "As for how....we got talking about the past and he realized he wanted to see Rachel so I convinced him to come with."
"Good."Caitlin stated with a relieved smile. "This is exactly what they both need. What time are you guys getting in?"
"Probably around five."Seaborn replied as he glanced at his watch. "How's Donna?"
"A little better since I got her out of the house."Caitlin commented sadly.
Sam caught the sadness in her voice. "This will work out, Caitie."
"I know."Caitlin replied as she absently handed Rachel the toy she had tossed on the floor. "I just can't help but think that if we had been better friends to them the last few months this wouldn't have happened."
"I've been thinking the same thing."Sam commented as he glanced over at Josh.
Caitlin looked out at the crowd. "Donna's on her way back. I'll see you in a few hours.....love you."
"Love you too."Sam replied quietly as he hung up the phone.
Donna returned just as Caitlin was putting her cellular phone away. "Sam?"She asked with a knowing smile.
"Yeah."Caitlin replied as she reached over and swiped one of Donna's fries. "He's on his way."
Donna caught something in her friend's voice. "Sam's not alone is he?"
Caitlin shook her head. "No he ran into Josh and they decided to come back to Chicago together."
Donna blinked in surprise. "Josh was in D.C.?"
Caitlin stared at her. "You didn't know where he was?"She asked not believing that things between Josh and Donna had gotten that bad.
"The only time Josh calls these days is to find out how Rachel is."Donna replied with a sad shake of her head."Which I assume is the reason he's coming home now."
Caitlin glanced at her watch nearly two. "It's almost two their plane comes in at five."
Donna stood and began to gather her belongings. "We should get going then."
Caitlin sighed inwardly as she picked up her shopping bags. She hoped that once Josh and Donna saw each other that all the unpleasantness would vanish and things would return to normal.
As Sam paid the cab driver Josh stood on the sidewalk glancing up at his home. Memories began to overwhelm him. Josh smiled remembering the first time he had shown it to Donna.
'Joshua I can't see. I'm going to trip over the curb or a twig or something and break my neck.'
Josh grinned as he helped his wife out the car and onto the sidewalk still keeping a hand over her eyes. 'Have I ever let you down in anything before?'
Donna grinned. 'Does cooking count?'
'No, Joshua you haven't. Now can I see what was so urgent that I had to leave Congresswoman Shultz in the middle of a crisis?'
Josh laughed. 'I wouldn't call a gaggle of stampeding geese a crisis.'
'It was a highly publicized ribbon cutting of a new park.'Donna replied indignantly. 'The Congresswoman trampled by geese could've been a PR nightmare.'
Josh finally removed his hand and Donna gasped at the sight before her. Nestled between a small group of oak trees was a two-story brick house. It had wood shutters and matching door.
'Josh! It's perfect!'
'I thought so too.'Josh replied with a grin. 'The real estate agent said it's ours if we want it.'
Donna turned to face him. 'Do you like it?'
Josh nodded as he placed an arm around her waist drawing her close as they looked back at the house.'I can't picture us living anywhere else.'
"You okay?"Sam asked as he came to stand next to his friend.
Lyman shook himself away from the memories and started walking. "Yeah."
Donna had watched the cab as soon as it pulled onto their street. She had watched from the window as Sam and Josh got out of the cab and started toward the door. Donna held Rachel tightly in her arms as she wondered what she would say to Josh. It seemed like it'd been a lifetime since they had last spoken when in reality it'd only been a month.
'Josh, please.....we need to talk. Can't you postpone the trip?'
'There's nothing left to say, Donnatella.'Lyman replied sadly as he zipped up the small blue duffel bag and started to leave their bedroom.
'How can you be so sure, Josh? We owe it to Rachel to try to....'
Josh whirled around his brown eyes blazing with anger. 'Don't bring her into this. I will not have my daughter used as a pawn!'
'That's not what I'm doing and you know it! This isn't about what happened with the 'fire'. Something's been wrong between us for months, Josh and I just don't know what it is or how to fix it.'
Donna snapped back to the present as the doorbell rang.
"Want me to let them in?"Caitlin offered quietly as she walked toward the front door.
Donna shook her head. "No, I'll do it."She replied as she walked over to the door and opened it.
As soon as Donna opened the door Josh was instantly struck by the deep sadness in her blue eyes. Had he put that there?
"Josh."Donna replied quietly as she stepped away from the door so they could enter.
"Hi, Donna."Sam stated as he entered the house his gaze instantly meeting his wife's across the room.
"Hi Sam."Donna replied flashing him a small smile. "How was the flight?"
"Good."Seaborn commented as he moved to stand next to Caitlin. "Hi."
"Hi yourself."Caitlin replied quietly as she wrapped her arms around Sam's neck and kissed him quickly. "Missed you."
"Missed you too."Sam stated with a grin as he tenderly brushed away a stray brown hair from her face.
Meanwhile Josh had instantly scooped up his daughter from Donna's arms and carried her over to the sofa."Shorty, you've gotten so big......"
"Of course she has.....she's almost two, Josh. I can't remember the last time you spent time with her."The words were out of Donna's mouth before she realized it and it was too late to take them back.
Josh glared at her but purposely kept his voice even as to not upset his daughter. "I didn't come here to fight but if that's they way its going to be tonight I can arrange to come back another time."
Caitlin instantly moved into the center of the room. "Did you guys eat on the plane?"
Sam nodded. "Technically yes....if you like to qualify that as food."
"So you're still hungry then?"Caitlin replied with a grin.
"Starved."Josh interjected as he stood watching with amusement, as Rachel seemed fascinated with his tie.
"Donna, why don't we take them out for dinner somewhere?"Caitlin suggested shooting her friend a meaningful look.
"Great idea."Donna replied as she moved toward the closet to get her coat. "There's a new family style Italian restaurant a few blocks from here that I've been meaning to try."
The ride to the restaurant was tense. The only sound coming from Sam and Caitlin's quiet conversation in the backseat.
Josh glanced over at Donna as he pulled the car into the parking lot. She had responded to Sam and Caitlin's questions but hadn't said a word to him. Josh sighed inwardly as he pulled the car into a spot and killed the engine. Not that he had expected anything else. The mess that was their marriage wasn't his fault or Donna's. It was just where the pieces had fallen over the last year.
Josh got out of the car and opened the rear door to take Rachel out of her car seat. Part of Josh had hoped that coming back here they could try to put the pieces back together. But the tension that radiated between them made it clear to Josh that there wasn't any hope left.
A dark haired male waiter greeted the foursome warmly and lead them to a table near the back of the restaurant. Once seated and orders taken the group fell silent except for the occasional small talk and gurgles from Rachel.
Sam glanced around the table sadly. The four of them at one time could've been kicked out of a place like this for their loud but friendly debates about various issues. Now the tension was like a thick fog.
"You said you two were at the mall?"Sam asked Caitlin in a weak attempt to break the silence. "How much dent did you but in our credit cards?"
Caitlin grinned. "A small one. They had some good sales."
Donna absently rolled the fork around her place mat as she stole a glance at Josh and Rachel. Seeing the two of them she couldn't help but remember the day she had told Josh they were expecting.
Donna stared at the pregnancy test in shock. Happy shock but shock none the less. She and Josh had barely been married three months and now to have a baby on the way......
'Hey sweetie.'Josh called from the bedroom. 'You're going to use up all the hot water.'
Donna glanced over at the shower, which she had left running by mistake. 'I'll be out in a minute.'
Lyman poked his head in the bathroom door having caught the anxious tone in her voice. 'You okay?'
Swallowing hard Donna turned to face her husband not sure how he was going to react to this change in their lives.
'I think I'm pregnant.'Donna replied quietly her hand still tightly closed around the pregnancy test.
'Really?'Josh asked his face lighting up like a kid locked in a toy store.
Donna held up the small plastic stick. 'It was positive.'She whispered still amazed at the turn of events.
'That's incredible news, my love.'Josh replied huskily as he pulled her into his arms lifting her off her feet.
Donna was jerked back to the present as the waiter returned with their meals.
As the friends ate the tension dissipated a little. They even began to reminisce.....Sam and Caitlin's wedding....the campaign.....their time in the White House.
There was so many things Donna wanted to ask her husband. So many things they needed to talk about. But for some reason she couldn't meet Josh's gaze long enough to avoid the painful memories.
Josh reached for the parmesan cheese in the center of the table. His hand brushed Donna's as she reached for it as well. Their gazes locked briefly as a familiar spark passed between them.
Donna was the first to break contact and return her attention to her meal. Josh's gaze lingered a moment on Donna before he reached for his water glass and took a sip.
Just then Sam's startled cry brought everyone's gaze to the former deputy communications director.
Caitlin's hand instantly flew to her mouth to prevent the giggles that were threatening to escape.
Josh wasn't so successful as he gave into a fit of hysterical laughter.
Donna bit her lip to keep her own laughter in line as she dipped the corner of her napkin into her water glass and handed it to Sam.
Seaborn took off his marina soaked glasses and began to peel the noodles out of his hair. He glanced down at the offending meatball sitting in the center of the table that had bounced off his forehead. Sam sighed inwardly as he took the napkin from Donna.
"I'm sorry Sam."Donna began as she looked sternly at her daughter then back at Seaborn. "She's almost two...."
"No problem."Sam replied with a grin as he continued to wipe sauce off his forehead. "Josh, you might want to enlist her in t-ball as soon as possible. She's got one heck of an arm."
Josh laughed as he reached over and took Rachel out of her highchair so she could sit in his lap. "I'll keep that in mind."He looked at Donna. "What do you think, love, first female pitcher of the national baseball league?"
"Cubs need all the help they can get."Caitlin interjected as she reached over and gently peeled a wayward piece of spaghetti off of Sam's collar.
"Rachel can do whatever she likes as long as she's happy."Donna replied quietly as she stood and headed toward the ladies room.
"I'll go check on her."Caitlin stated as she stood. Before she left she handed her clean napkin to Sam who took it gratefully.
Josh looked at Seaborn blankly. "What did I say?"
Sam shook his head sadly. "You don't realize you said it do you?"
"What?"Josh asked as he shifted Rachel to a more comfortable position.
"You called her 'love'."Sam replied quietly. "You've got to make up your mind Josh. Do you want her in your life or don't you?"
Josh winced and pulled Rachel tighter to him. "You don't know all of it, Sam."He replied hoarsely.
"So tell me."Sam urged as he leaned forward on the table gingerly avoiding putting his elbow in the spaghetti mess on the table.
"I know he didn't realize he was saying it."Donna stated between sniffles as Caitlin handed her a Kleenex. "But for a minute there I forgot everything.....it seemed like we were a family again."
"I think Josh has a lot of searching to do about this."Caitlin replied softly as she leaned against the sink. "That slip showed volumes how much he still cares about you...."
Donna shook her head as she wiped the tears away. "It's just history between us now, Cait. History and Rachel nothing more...."
"I wouldn't bet on that just yet."The former first daughter replied reassuringly as she placed a hand on her friend's shoulder. "Let's go back and finish dinner."
Donna nodded and followed her friend out of the room.
"Josh there's just no way....."Sam stated firmly not believing what he was hearing.
Lyman shook his head. "You weren't there to see how cozy they were, Sam."
"They were high school sweethearts, Josh. That doesn't mean that anything will happen now or did."Seaborn replied as he took a bite of his fettuccini.
"Seemed like every time I came home he was there. What else was I supposed to think?"Josh asked bitterly as he reached down and picked up a fork that Rachel had thrown onto the floor.
"You should've given her the benefit of the doubt, Josh."Sam replied quietly as he met his friend's gaze. "This is Donna Moss we're talking about here. She's been at your side through the shooting and everything that followed in the last five years. Do you really think she'd throw it all away for a one night stand with an old flame?"
Donna and Caitlin returned to the table and the rest of the meal was spent in awkward small talk.
It was nearly seven when Caitlin gently kicked Sam in his right shin to get his attention. With a slight shake of her head Caitlin gestured toward Josh and Donna and then motioned to her watch with her free hand.
Sam nodded as he looked over at Josh. "Thanks for dinner, buddy, been a long time since we've done this. But it's been a long day and I should get to the hotel and check in before they throw out my reservation."
Donna glanced up. "You're more than welcome to stay with me, Sam. There's plenty of room."
Sam smiled at her as he reached over and gently placed a hand on her shoulder. "Thanks for the offer, Donna, but I think Caitlin and I should get out of your hair and give you and Rachel some peace and quiet."
Donna nodded as she glanced at Caitlin. "Are you going to stop by and pick up your stuff?"
Caitlin shook her head. "I can get that tomorrow if that's okay."
Donna nodded understanding completely that they wanted to be alone. She remembered all too well what that point in a relationship was like. She stole a glance at Josh and was surprised to see him watching her.
/Maybe Caitlin's right....maybe there's still some spark left./
"That's fine."Donna replied as she met Josh's gaze. "I should be getting Rachel home anyway....almost her bedtime."
Josh glanced down at his daughter for a long moment. But then stood and silently handed her to Donna.
Donna took Rachel and glanced over at Caitlin. "I'll walk you out."
Sam signaled the waiter for their check and the man brought it promptly.
"Okay."Caitlin replied as she stood. She paused and glanced back at Sam. "I'll call a cab from my cell phone."
"I'll be out in a few minutes."Sam commented as he handed his credit card to the waiter.
Outside the restaurant Josh stood away from Caitlin, Sam and Donna as they waited for their respective cabs.
Caitlin let Rachel play with her pinky finger as she glanced from Donna to Josh and back again.
"Donna."Caitlin suggested quietly. "Why don't you invite him back to the house for coffee or something? You two have so much to talk about."
"I know."Donna agreed softly as she glanced down at her daughter and then over at her estranged husband. "But its obvious from where he's standing that he doesn't want anything more to do with me or with Rachel."
"That's not true, Donna."Sam interjected. "You saw how he was with Rachel during dinner."
Donna nodded as she gently handed Rachel to Sam. "I guess one of us has to at least try. For Rachel's
sake if nothing else. We used to be good friends.....maybe we can at least get that back."
Caitlin smiled lovingly at her husband as he shifted Rachel to a more comfortable position.
"What?"Sam asked with a grin.
Caitlin shook her head. "Nothing......you two just look so cute together."
Sam laughed. "Is that a hint that you think I'm father material?"
Caitlin grinned as she reached over to kiss Sam quickly. "I always thought you were."
A half hour later Josh and Donna were back in their home and in their daughter's bedroom. Donna watched from the doorway as Josh placed Rachel in the crib and gently pulled the yellow blanket under her chin.
"Thank you for letting me come back here, Donna."Lyman stated huskily as he leaned on the crib's rail. "This is the thing I miss the most, tucking her in."
"You were always the one who could get her to sleep."Donna replied in a whisper as she moved away from the doorway. "It always takes me a story or two."
Donna moved to stand at the foot of the crib her gaze never leaving her daughter's sleeping form. "What happened with us Josh?"
Josh sighed as he stood. He leaned in and tousled his daughter's hair once more before turning to face his estranged wife.
"Let's go downstairs."Lyman replied quietly. "I guess we do have a lot to talk about, don't we?"
"Do you want coffee or something stronger?"Donna asked quietly as she stepped into the kitchen.
Josh sat down on the sofa. "Coffee's fine."He replied as he had to shift position. Feeling around in the cushions behind him Josh pulled out one of Rachel's toys.....a ballerina doll with brown hair.
One of her favorite toys....or at least it had been the last time he was home.
Josh shook his head sadly as he set the doll gently onto the coffee table in front of him. His brief visit with Rachel had been the only pleasant thing about the last time he'd been home. After the 'fire' things had calmed down and they had made an attempt to reconcile, which Josh thought had been going smoothly. Then he had, had to go give a lecture at Harvard and when he returned they had one of their biggest fights ever.
Josh wearily plunked his key into the lock of his home and pushed the door inward. The house was dark except for a light coming from the living room. Josh smiled slightly as he dropped the suitcase in the hallway....no matter how many times he told her she didn't have to Donna always waited up for him. As he poked his head into the living room he expected to find her asleep, curled up on the sofa. Instead Josh found her talking quietly with a man who Donna claimed was a friend.
'What the hell is he doing here, Donna?! It's nearly one in the morning.'
Donna turned on the sofa so she could face her husband. Dan Collins stood moving awkwardly to the far end of the sofa.
'You may want to reset your watch for Central Time, Josh, before you start throwing accusations.'
Josh glared at her as he stepped into the room. 'I was in Boston not Japan....there's not that much of a time difference. What if Rachel woke up? Would you have even noticed?'
Donna slapped him hard across the face as tears started to flow. 'That's an unfair thing to say and you know it, Joshua!'
'I should be going.'Dan stated as he reached for his leather coat that was laying on one of the chairs near the fireplace. He turned to face Donna. 'Thanks for all your support, Donna......it means a lot.'
'I bet it does.'Josh replied sarcastically.
Collins glanced warily at Lyman. 'Call me if you need anything. I'll be in town for a few more days.'
'Don't come here again.'Josh ordered angrily.
'That's Donna's choice.'Dan replied quietly as he opened the front door and exited the home.
When Josh returned to the living room he found his wife leaning against the end of the couch arms crossed over her chest.
'That little display of trust just showed that there is nothing left to salvage between us, Josh.'Donna stated sadly. 'I don't know how you could possibly think I would ever betray you.'
Josh winced at the memory as he glanced over at Donna as she poured coffee into two purple mugs. Lyman stood and met her half way taking one of the mugs from her. As their hands brushed Josh felt the familiar spark that was always between them. Taking a deep breath Josh closed his hand gently over her free one and led her over to the sofa.
Donna blinked in surprise at the gesture but didn't comment. She silently placed her mug down next to his on the small table. As they sat down both of their gazes locked on the doll lying between the two mugs.
The familiar closeness between them had Josh thinking for a brief moment that they were okay again. That their family was intact and happy......that the last six months had only been a nightmare.
"After everything, Josh......how could you not trust me?"Donna whispered breaking the silence.
Josh sighed his gaze not moving from his daughter's doll. "I honestly don't know, Donna. Maybe it was the jealousy not letting me think straight. It seemed like every time I came home the two of you were together."
Donna let go of his hand and turned to look out the window. 'You know that nothing ever happened between Dan and I. He's a close friend of mine who's marriage was in trouble and he needed someone to talk to....that's all."
"That's not what it looked like."Josh replied more curtly than he had intended to.
Donna glared at him. "You only saw what you wanted to see, Josh. It seemed almost like you were looking for an excuse to break up our marriage.....our family......"Donna's voice broke but she swallowed hard and continued. "Why? What did I ever do to make you so angry.....you loved me once Josh....trust and love are supposed to go together."
"Trust has been kinda hard to come by lately."Josh stated as he met her gaze. He was doing his best to control his temper. "I know I've been traveling a lot lately but tonight was the most time we've spent alone in months. Every time I came home you were always working or with him."
"You could've said something, Josh."Donna replied angrily. "Any kind of a hint that you wanted to work things out and I would've dropped everything."
Josh whirled to face her. "Would you have? Would you have left Collins standing by the curb if I had scheduled something for us at the same time?"
Donna's eyes narrowed sharply as she stood. "I could've raised the trust issue a long time ago, Josh, but I didn't. It never even crossed my mind that you might have a different women in every city that you visited."
Josh blanched slightly. "I would never cheat on you, Donnatella."
Donna shook her head sadly. "So why is it so easy for you to think I could?"
Josh's mind scrambled for the right words. "Because there were signs....."
Donna blinked in surprise. "Signs of what, Josh? Hell, you didn't even know I had feelings for you until Bartlet had been in office for three years and Joey left you high and dry for Senator Watson."
"I did have feelings for you then, Donna."Josh replied quietly. "I just wasn't sure what exactly they were."
"You knew."Donna snapped. "You just didn't want to rock the political boat."
Josh stared at her. "You think the reason why I waited so long was because I didn't want to cause political conflict?"
"Either that or you were just more dense than anyone thought, Josh."Donna replied struggling to keep her voice low for her daughter's sake. But she remembered all too clearly the confused and hurt feelings she had during that time in the White House. Never sure if Josh was just her boss, her friend or a prospective romantic relationship.
"I'm not like that, Donna."Josh replied angrily. "I would never risk hurting anybody to further my career."
"Maybe that's why we're failing now, Joshua."Donna stated sadly as she turned and headed toward the stairs."Maybe we waited too long.....known each other too long and we're just tired of each other."
"Donna...."Josh began not quite sure how to respond.
Pausing briefly Donna turned back to face Josh. "I believe you know the way out."She stated in a voice filled with quiet anger before she ran up the stairs.
Around nine the next morning Sam and Caitlin sat at an outside table in a small restaurant on Navy Pier. The weather was warm and sunny for early September, Labor Day weekend had come and gone but people weren't quite ready to let go of summer yet.
As they waited for their meals Sam and Caitlin each read a section of the morning paper.
"So what enlightenment does Toby have for us this morning?"Caitlin asked as she glanced over at her husband.
Since leaving his White House job as communications director Toby Ziegler had become a professor at Columbia University as well as a writer for a highly popular widely syndicated political newspaper column.
"Usual."Seaborn replied with a grin not looking up from the column. "He's trashing Bowen's clean air bill citing that it does as much help for the environment as the political campaign reform bill did for campaign corruptness."
Caitlin laughed as she recalled Toby's previous columns attacking the current republican president. "Sounds like Toby's in rare form."
The waitress returned with their meals and then left the check on the table so the young couple could leave at their leisure.
"So what are your plans for today?"Caitlin asked as she took a bite of French toast.
Sam set the paper down and reached over to take his wife's free hand. "I was hoping we could squeeze in some sight seeing while we're here. I didn't see much of Chicago when we were here during the primaries."
"Great idea."Caitlin replied with a smile as she squeezed his hand. "I just have to stop over at Donna's and get my stuff....and I want to check on her."
"How do you think last night went?"Sam asked as he took a sip of orange juice.
Caitlin shook her head. "I'm hoping it went well and everything's fine now but after what we saw between them last night I just have this bad feeling that it's going to get a hell of a lot worse before it gets any better."
"You know they have a hearing date, right?"Sam asked as he scooped up a forkful of scrambled eggs.
Caitlin nodded sadly. 'Yeah, Donna told me it was set for Friday. Which means we have just over three days to make them come to their senses."
The rest of the meal was spent talking about mutual friends from the White House days and possible sight seeing sites. As Sam paid the check his cellular phone rang.
Seaborn stepped away a few feet as he answered the phone. "Seaborn?"
"Hi Pete, what's up?"
"Whoa...slow down....who erased what disk?"
Caitlin glanced over at her husband with concern....selfishly hoping that he didn't have to leave.
"Take deep breaths, Peter, remember your asthma. I think I still have a copy of that file on my lap top. I'll head back to the hotel now and check."
"Yes I'll fax it to you as soon as possible. I'll call you in a few."
"Something wrong?"Caitlin asked as they stepped out of the restaurant.
Sam chuckled. "You know how Peter gets in full crisis mode."
Caitlin laughed as she pictured Sam's good friend and law partner Peter Dorsey. "He just worries too much about little things. So what was the crisis this week?"
"Sarah accidentally erased a file from Pete's computer when she thought she was copying it."Sam replied with a shake of his head. "And of course he needs that file for a ten o'clock deposition. If you want to stay here and shop I'll fax Pete the file and meet you back here."
Caitlin shook her head. "No I'll come with. I want to check on Josh since we haven't heard from him yet this morning."
Sam placed an arm around his wife as they started walking toward the entrance of the pier. "Not hearing from him could be a good sign."
Caitlin nodded. "I know, Sam, but I love Josh like the brother I never had. And I can't help but think of how he was after we lost reelection."
"We were all upset about that, Caitie."Sam replied quietly as he signaled for a cab.
"But Josh seemed to be affected by it the most."Caitlin stated sadly.
Caitlin stood in the doorway to the famous Oval Office as the final poll results came in. She was as numb as everyone else on her father's senior staff.
Up until six months ago the reelection of President Josiah Bartlet had been a sure thing.
Now it was a sure thing that there would be a Republican in the White House in January.
"I just don't believe it!"Josh shouted as he picked up a sofa cushion and threw it across the room narrowly missing Toby in the process. 'How did it come down to this?'
'Fate.'Sam interjected quietly from his position near the glass doors.
'That's too simple an answer for this, Sam.'CJ said softly as she paced a small area from the door to the sofa and back again. 'We have to think back and find out what we did that caused Hoynes to jump ship and run on the Democratic ticket against us.'
'John and I never had an easy friendship from the beginning, CJ.'Josiah Bartlet said from his chair behind the desk speaking for the first time all evening. 'I should've done more to smooth things over.'
'Should've's and could've's aren't going to fix this.'Leo replied angrily as he paused near the sofa. 'All we've worked for in the past four years will be forgotten in this election. All the voters will see and have thought of is the fact that this administration has fallen apart and they want change. That folks is why Bowen is going to be sitting in this office next year and not us.'
Caitlin Seaborn knocked on the door of Josh's hotel room thinking belatedly that she should've called first. He could be down in the restaurant getting something to eat or going for a swim......
A couple minutes later a disheveled looking Josh Lyman opened the door. His light brown suit was rumpled and his tie askew giving every indication that if Josh had slept at all he'd slept in his clothes.
"Josh...."Caitlin began as she reached out to touch his shoulder.
Josh backed away opening the door further so Caitlin could step into the room. "Please Cait, no lectures."
Caitlin shook her head as she followed her friend into the room. "I wasn't going to give one."
"Good."Josh replied as he sank heavily down onto the corner of the bed.
"Did you sleep at all?"Caitlin asked quietly as she sat down next to him placing a gentle hand on his shoulder.
Josh shrugged. "Not sure....don't think so."
"How did last night go?"Caitlin asked softly.
Josh sighed as he stood and walked over to the window where the drapes were half drawn. "I tried Cait I really did. But we ended up having a fight."
"About what?"Caitlin asked as she stood.
Josh shook his head as he turned to face her. "We dredged up a lot of stuff from the past that we probably didn't need to. I threw her friendship with Collins in her face and she brought up how rocky the beginning of our relationship was....and it snowballed from there."
"Josh, you two love each other more than any two people I know."Caitlin replied wincing inwardly as she realized she sounded like a cheesy soap opera.
"I don't think love's enough any more, Cait."
Caitlin sat down next to her friend her mind scrambling to come up with a viable arguement."But you do still love her, don't you?"
Josh nodded miserably."Which is what makes this so damn hard. My family means the world to me, Cait."
"If that's true, Josh how can you tear it apart so easily?"Caitlin asked quietly.
Josh glared at her. "She's the one who destroyed it."
Caitlin blinked in surprise. "Josh, listen to yourself. Donna would never cheat on you. She had no reason to. She loves you and treasures the life you two have built."
Josh stood. "There's no marriage without trust."
Caitlin stood and crossed over to Josh touching his left arm lightly. "Josh, you have a law degree....you worked for four years in the White House. What facts do you have that Donna betrayed you?"
Josh rubbed his temple tiredly. "I know what I saw, Caitlin."
"Which was?"Caitlin asked.
Josh's eyes narrowed sharply. "They were always together, Cait. She doesn't have to spell it out for me."
"Maybe she does."Caitlin snapped the situation finally getting the better of her temper. "They dated each other once a long time ago. That doesn't mean anything happened "
"Why else would they spend so much time together?"Josh countered stalking over to the window.
"We spend time together, Josh."Caitlin replied as she followed him to the window.
"That's different."Josh retorted
"Why?"Caitlin asked hoping she was making some progress."What's the difference between Donna and Dan and you and me?"
"You and I never slept together."Josh stated quietly.
"Is that what all this is really about?"Caitlin asked not believing how stubborn her friend could be. "You've convinced yourself that they had a one night stand?"
"I didn't need any convincing, Caitlin."Josh snapped as he moved past her and yanked a clean suit from the closet. "I know what I saw. Now if you'll excuse me I have to get ready for a meeting with my attorney."
"Josh....."Caitlin began as she stepped forward but Josh moved into the bathroom and slammed the door shut.
"How'd it go?"Sam asked quietly as his wife returned to their room but from the expression on Caitlin's face Sam already knew the answer.
Sam quickly set the stack of computer printout he was holding down on the bed and crossed over to Caitlin drawing her into an embrace.
"I think I made it worse."Caitlin whispered as she buried her face in Sam's chest.
"You could never make anything worse."Sam replied softly as he gently stroked her back.
Caitlin laughed bitterly as she pulled back slightly so she could meet her husband's gaze. "I love you for saying that but you weren't standing in that room."
Sam stepped back and gently took Caitlin's hand and led her over to the bed where they sat down. "So tell me what happened."
Caitlin sighed as she leaned over and rested her head on Sam's shoulder. "I thought I was finally making some headway with him, Sam."
"Did you get him to open up?"Seaborn asked knowing of the special bond between Caitlin and Josh.
Caitlin nodded. "I've never seen him like this, Sam. He's so convinced that Donna slept with Dan that I couldn't say anything to make him believe other wise."
"So we're back to square one."Sam surmised sadly as he pulled Caitlin closer.
"Why is he throwing this all away, Sam?"Caitlin asked in a voice barely above a whisper.
Sam sighed. "I wish I knew, Caitie. I wish I knew."
A few minutes later Caitlin left to go visit with Donna and Sam sat staring at his laptop computer. He'd already faxed the file to Peter that he needed but Sam had decided to try and get some work done. Not that any work was getting accomplished all Sam could think of was Donna and Josh and the pain that his closest friends were putting themselves through.
With determination Sam closed the file he was working on and opened his address book. He found the number he was looking for and reached over for the phone on the nightstand.
It was time to call in some reinforcements.
When Caitlin arrived at Josh and Donna's home Donna quietly let her friend in. Caitlin could tell Donna hadn't slept at all the night before.
"I'm sorry, Donna."Caitlin whispered as Donna picked Rachel up out of her playpen and carried her over to the sofa.
"It's not your fault, Cait."Donna replied as she sat down. "You were only trying to help."
Caitlin handed Rachel a small stuffed duck she had found on the floor beside the coffee table before sitting down. "Maybe I shouldn't have suggested that you two talk alone."
Donna shook her head as she gently stroked her daughter's hair. "No, it was a good idea. We needed to talk we just didn't get anywhere."
Caitlin glanced down at her hands slightly uncomfortable. "I talked with Josh earlier."
"How is he?"Donna asked quietly not looking away from Rachel.
"As upset as you are."Caitlin replied as she turned to face her friend. "And I think I finally got to the bottom of what's really bothering him."
Donna looked up sharply. "What?"
Caitlin sighed. "Donna, he's convinced himself that you and Dan slept together. I tried to tell him it wasn't true but no matter what I said he didn't believe me."
Donna leaned back against the sofa and closed her eyes. "There's a reason why he didn't believe you."
"Donna....."Caitlin began a little more sharply than she had intended to.
"It's not what you think, Cait."Donna replied quietly as she opened her eyes. "We didn't sleep together but I can see how Josh might think that we had."
The phone rang four times in the small Virginia home before it was answered.
"Hello?"Leo McGarry asked as he carried the cordless phone into the living room.
"Leo? It's Sam Seaborn."Sam said quietly as he got up from the bed and walked over to the living room.
"Sam, great to hear from you."Leo replied warmly as he sat down on the sofa. "How's Caitlin?"
"She's fine."Seaborn commented as he leaned against the window frame. "Just a guess you haven't heard from Josh in six months."
Leo frowned. "Yeah, why? What's he done now?"
"I'm in Chicago with Caitlin."Sam replied softly."Josh has filed for divorce and for full custody of Rachel."
McGarry stood. "What the hell brought that on?"
Sam shook his head. "Not sure, Leo. Caitlin and I have both tried to talk to him until we're blue in the face but he's convinced that Donna cheated on him and he's determined to go through with this custody hearing. I think he'll listen to you."
Leo shook his head in amazement. "I'll make him listen to me How could he possibly think that Donna would cheat on him?"
"That's what we're trying to figure out."Sam replied as he walked back toward the small desk. "I really appreciate this Leo."
Leo reached for a pad and pen that was sitting on the coffee table. "Don't worry about it, Sam. You know you four are like family to me. Where's the knucklehead staying?"
Sam grinned slightly. "Josh is staying at the same hotel we are. I'll give you the number."
Donna glanced down at Rachel. "Your parents have made a mess of things, sweetie."She said softly.
"What happened that made Josh file for divorce, Donna?"Caitlin asked as she picked up the stuffed tiger from the floor that Rachel had dropped.
"A few weeks after the 'fire' things had calmed down a bit and Josh and I were trying to reconcile."Donna began quietly. "Then Josh had to go to Boston to give one of his lectures. When he came home late one night he found Dan and I in the living room. We were just talking but with the late hour Josh jumped to the wrong conclusion and we had one of our biggest fights ever.
The next morning I went to Dan's hotel room to apologize for dragging him into the middle of this mess. I decided to take the El downtown but unfortunately Mother Nature was against me. It started to pour as soon as I stepped off the train and of course I didn't have an umbrella. By the time I got to Dan's hotel room I was soaked to the skin. He invited me in and offered the use of his shower.....little did I realize that Josh had decided to stop by Dan's......he arrived a few minutes after I had gotten into the shower....."
"Oh man."Caitlin replied picturing what Josh had walked in on.
"Exactly."Donna commented sadly. "And Josh being Josh jumped to the wrong conclusion before I could say a word."
/I'm Mr. Popularity this morning./Dan Collins thought wryly as their was a knock on his door for the second time in thirty minutes. /And it's not even ten o'clock yet./
Collins barely had the door halfway open before Josh Lyman pushed his way into the room.
'What the hell do you want?'Collins demanded as Josh came to a stop in the center of the room.
'I think I made that clear last night.'Josh replied darkly his hands balling into fists. He didn't know why he was here....he had never considered himself to be a jealous person. But he had to know if he was losing Donna and she wasn't giving him any answers.
'Yes you did.'Collins stated firmly risking a glance at the closed bathroom door. 'So why are you here? Didn't have the nerve to bash my face in last night so you're going to do it now?'
"Does your wife know that you're flirting with mine?'Josh asked as he took a step forward. 'Maybe I should call her.'
Dan's eyes narrowed sharply. 'Donna and I are just friends.....'
'Spare me the 'just friends' speech.'Josh snapped. 'I've heard it enough times I can recite it.'
'So why are you here?'Dan asked growing weary of the conversation and wanting to get Lyman out as fast as possible before Donna got out of the shower.
'To find out the real reason you've been so buddy buddy with my wife.'Josh replied coldly.
Donna shut the water off as raised voices drifted into the bathroom. She froze as she recognized Josh's voice....what the hell was he doing here?
She quickly stepped out of the shower and grabbed the robe that was hanging on the back of the bathroom door. Donna tied the sash praying that she could stop Josh before he and Dan came to blows.
She stepped out of the bathroom forgetting her appearance for the moment.
A huge mistake Donna realized as Josh's eyes settled on her. The hurt that she saw in his eyes nearly took her breath away.
'Josh.....'Donna began as she moved toward her husband.
Josh glared from Donna to Collins and back again. It took all of his will power not to deck the bastard.
'Well I see you two made up for my interruption last night.'Josh replied bitterly as he stalked past Donna and left the room.
He slammed the door behind him with such force that it knocked a picture off the wall.
"I'll never forget his face, Cait."Donna whispered as she pulled Rachel closer.
"Were you able to say anything to him at all?"Caitlin asked quietly as she turned to face her friend.
Donna shook her head. "I tried after I caught up with him in the hallway but that just turned into a bigger fight. I've never seen him that hurt and angry, Cait."
Josh stared down at the triplicate forms on the oak table in front of him and paused. The fancy ball point pen hovering just above the place at the bottom where he was supposed to sign.
"Is there a problem with the forms, Josh?"Attorney Steven Burnel asked from the other side of the table.
Startled from his thoughts Josh glanced up at the red haired man in his early fifties. "No....no problem."
"Kind of daunting isn't it?"Burnel asked as he sat down and folded his hands in front of him. "Being the client."
Josh's gaze traveled back to the final custody petition decree in front of him. "Yeah....yeah it is."
"I know this is a difficult time for you, Josh."Burnel began quietly. "But if we're to go ahead with the custody hearing on Friday the judge needs to have these documents."
"I know."Josh replied not being able to force away the memory of Rachel's birth and the first time Donna handed their daughter to him.
'Josh....you're not going to break her.'
'She's so tiny.....'
'Babies usually are, Joshua.'
"Josh, if you need a few more minutes I have a couple calls to make. I can do that and come back."Burnel offered as he stood.
Josh swallowed hard and shook his head forcing the pen downwards. "No, Steven.....no more time. I want this over as quick as possible."
"Alright then."Burnel replied as he picked up another legal form. "Sign that one and this one will speed up the divorce a little."
Josh signed the custody petition and shoved it aside before he could change his mind. He glanced at the paper Steven was holding and recognized it as a Marital Dissolution agreement....the last step before the final divorce decree.
Caitlin reached over and gently took Rachel. "I have an idea....Sam wanted to go site seeing today. Why don't you come with us?"
Donna shook her head as she reached for a box of kleenex on the coffee table "I wouldn't be very good company."
Caitlin grabbed Donna's right hand and gently pulled her friend to her feet. "No arguments, Donna. You and Rachel are coming with us. It'll do you both good."
"Okay."Donna replied quietly as she went to grab her coat and gather a few things for Rachel.
"You might want to look over this one again and make sure my math skills are correct."Burnel stated as he handed Josh the Marital Dissolution agreement.
Josh stared at the document for a long moment still not quite believing what was happening. When he and Donna had first fallen in love Josh had thought it was forever. Now here he was in an attorney's office filling out forms to take their daughter away from her mother and end the marriage.
With a sharp shake of his head Josh slammed the pen down and scrawled his name in the correct places. "I'm sure it's fine, Steven."He replied as he stood abruptly and handed the documents back to Burnel."I'll see you on Friday."
Burnel nodded as he gathered the documents and placed them in a folder. "I'll fax these to Donna's attorney. You look like hell, Josh. Try to get some sleep."
"Yeah."Josh replied as he picked up his coat and left the office.
Sam took Rachel from Donna as the two women entered the hotel room. He smiled at the little girl as she started to play with his tie.
"Hi Donna."Sam greeted as the trio moved to the center of the room.
"Hi Sam."Donna replied. "Cait invited me to go with you guys sight seeing....hope I'm not crashing in on anything."
Sam glanced at his wife before meeting Donna's gaze. "You're always welcome, Donna."
Donna flashed her friend a grateful smile. She appreciated what they were trying to do she really did.
Donna crossed over to the window and looked out at the city skyline. "So do you guys have anything particular in mind?"She asked a little too brightly as she turned away from the window. "When Josh and I first moved here we tried to go some place different every weekend. It was our little adventure every week. So I can probably play tour guide to anywhere you want to go in the city."
Caitlin glanced at her watch. "Well it's almost one now.....why don't we head down to Michigan Avenue and do some window shopping then we can grab some dinner."
Sam looked down at Rachel with a grin. "No Italian."
Donna laughed for the first time in days as she reached over and took Rachel. "Okay....no Italian...no ammo for Rachel."
An hour later found the three friends ducking in and out of shops along the busy Chicago shopping district. Donna's spirit had lightened considerably as the day progressed. She couldn't remember the last time she had laughed so much in the course of a day.
Suddenly Donna spotted something in a store window a few doors down. She shifted Rachel to a more secure position in her left arm and grabbed Sam's hand with the other.
"Donna...."Sam protested as he glanced helplessly back at Caitlin who was struggling to keep up in the large crowd.
"Relax, Sam."Donna replied as they stopped in front of the small store. "I've found the perfect clothing item for you."
Sam did a double take at the window display just as Caitlin caught up with them.
"What's going on, Donna?"Caitlin asked slightly out of breath.
Donna grinned as she gestured toward the store window. "I just found the perfect clothing item for your husband, Cait."
Caitlin looked in the window and laughed out loud. "Oh Sam, it's so you."
Sam shook his head firmly as he stared in disbelief at the bright orange leather pants. "No way in hell."
Caitlin grinned as she grabbed Sam by the shoulder and ushered him into the store. "Oh live a little, Seaborn. They'll look great on you."
"Caitie, where am I going to wear those?"Sam protested weakly as the two women pulled him over to a store clerk. "I didn't even know they could make leather that color."
As Josh walked down the hotel hallway he heard a phone ringing. As he neared his door Josh realized it was his phone. He quickly shoved the card key into the lock and pushed open the door. Josh sat down on the bed and picked up the phone on the nightstand.
"Lyman?"Josh greeted wearily.
"What the hell are you trying to do?"A familiar voice replied back through the static.
Josh blinked in surprise. "Leo?"
"You file for divorce and single handedly destroy your family and you don't talk to any one?"McGarry continued as he sat in his den.
Josh sighed as leaned back against the pillows. "Should've known Sam would call you."
"How else was I going to find out about this?"Leo replied gruffly. "You obviously weren't going to call."
"What do you want, Leo?"Josh asked quietly not having any energy at the moment to fight with anyone.
"To make you come to your senses and go back to Donna."Leo stated firmly. "She's a good women Josh and for the life of me I can't figure why you'd do this."
"She betrayed me, Leo."Josh replied bluntly.
"How?"Leo asked surprise clearly in his voice.
"I found her in a hotel room with an old flame."Josh replied bitterly.
McGarry frowned.....now he understood the urgency of Sam's earlier call. "We are talking about the same Donna Moss here aren't we? The one who's been by your side for the past seven years."
"I know what I saw Leo."Josh replied indignantly.
"So tell me what happened?"McGarry asked.
"It's all such a mess, Leo."Josh whispered.
"Start at the beginning and tell me what started this."
"I still can't believe I let you buy these."Sam stated as the three friends sat in a small diner type restaurant. "Did you even see the price tag, Caitie?"
His wife grinned as she glanced at the large shopping bag in the empty chair next to Sam. "You only live once,Sam."
"I'll need to have two lives to get out of the credit card debt this put me in."Seaborn replied gruffly but a smile was starting to appear. The humiliation of trying the orange leather pants on at the store had been worth it to see Donna smile.
Caitlin reached over and took Sam's hand in hers. "You liked the way they felt and you know it."
"But you have to admit getting the entire store's opinion of how they looked was a bit over the top."Sam replied as he glanced over at Donna who was feeding Rachel.
Donna laughed. "Everybody did have very nice things to say, Sam."
"That's beside the point."Sam muttered as he took a bite of his cheeseburger.
"We had almost got things back on track, Leo."Josh stated sadly as he sat up. "Then I came back from a trip and found Collins there late."
"Josh, you know Donna wears her heart on her sleeve always has."Leo replied. "If an old friend of hers was in trouble she'd drop everything to help no matter who it was."
"Well she did drop everything."Josh said bitterly as he rubbed a weary hand over her face. "About two weeks later I found her in Collins hotel room wearing nothing but a bath robe."
"There had to be an explanation, Josh."Leo commented quietly. "Why would she wait till now to cheat on you?"
"She tried to explain when she caught me in the hallway."Josh replied as the memory came back full force. "But I didn't give her a chance.....all I knew was that my family was slipping away and I couldn't do a damn thing about it."
'Josh!'Donna called frantically as she stepped out of Dan's hotel room. 'Please wait.'
Josh was almost to the elevator at the end of the hall. He whirled around, eyes narrowing dangerously.'Why the hell should I, Donna? You've obviously made your choice.'
Donna blinked in surprise as she caught up with him. 'Choice? What choice are you talking about? Dan and I are just....'
'Friends.'Josh finished bitterly.'I'm not blind, Donna.'
'No, but you are stupid sometimes, Josh.'Donna replied angrily. 'How could you think after everything that we've been through together that I would betray you in this way?!'
'Stupid?'Josh shouted as he approached his wife. '*I'm* stupid? I'm not the one who threw away our family for one night in the sack with an old flame!'
'I don't know you any more.'Donna replied quietly.
Tears began to flow down Donna's cheeks and she made no effort to stop them.
'Believe whatever you want, Josh!'Donna snapped. 'I'm tired of being the only one trying to hold our family together.'
Before Josh could reply Donna whirled around and stalked back to Dan's hotel room.
"Josh,"Leo began softly. "Did you ever stop and think for a second that you might have misread the entire situation?"
"Why?"Josh asked. "She practically admitted that she slept with him."
Leo sighed. "Josh.....was it raining that day?"
"What the hell does the weather have to do with anything?"Josh snapped as he stood.
"I'm just trying to see Donna's side of things."Leo replied. "If she went there for other reasons than you think she might have got caught in a rainstorm, or spilled something on her clothes."
"And what?"Josh asked angrily. "Collins gallantly offered her the use of the shower? Chilvary's dead, Leo."
After lunch the rest of the day pasted quickly for Donna, Sam and Caitlin as they went from one famous Chicago landmark to another.
It was just after dusk by the time they arrived back at Josh and Donna's home.
Donna glanced down at Rachel's sleeping form. "I'll put Rachel to bed and be right back."She paused at the foot of the stairs. "Unless you guys have to be going?"
Caitlin and Sam exchanged a glance before Caitlin replied. "No, Donna, we can stay. We don't have any plans for the night."
Sam nodded as he walked toward the stairs and gently took the sleeping toddler from Donna. "Why don't you let me put Rachel down?"
Donna hesitated. "If you're sure....."
Sam grinned as he passed her on the stairs. "She's already asleep, Donna. How hard can it be?"
"Thanks."Donna replied as she stepped down into the living room.
"Today was fun."Caitlin replied as the two friends moved from the living room into the kitchen.
"Yeah it was."Donna acknowledged. "Thanks for letting me come."
"I'm glad you did."Caitlin replied as she leaned on the kitchen counter. "It was good to see you laugh again."
Donna started to reply as she glanced past Caitlin into the living room. It was only then that she noticed the answer machine message light was blinking.
"Let me check my messages, Cait."Donna said as she moved past the counter. "I'll be right back to start the coffee."
"I'll do that."Caitlin replied as she walked into the kitchen.
"Okay."Donna acknowledged as she reached the answering machine and hit play.
'Donna, this is Marilyn Nagy. I just got off the phone with the court clerk. Our hearing's been moved to Thursday at ten. Apparently the Judge who was assigned our case had to go out of town this weekend on a family emergency so he moved it up. I tried to get it changed to next week but there's nothing open. I know this seems rushed, Donna, but everything will be fine, I promise you that. Call me if you have any questions.'
Rachel hadn't even stirred when Sam placed her gently into the crib and pulled the blanket over her shoulders.
For a moment Sam just stood there watching the tiny girl sleep. She was so innocent....oblivious to all the pain and hurt feelings that surrounded her every day. When Rachel had been born he'd never seen Josh and Donna happier.
'Sam, buddy, amigo, have a cigar.'Josh offered as he opened a small box and handed one to Sam as they stood outside the hospital nursery.
Sam grinned at his friend's jubilant mood. 'I don't smoke, Josh, you know that.'
'They're chocolate, Samuel.'Josh replied with a wide grin as he turned and looked into the nursery. There in the first row, third bassinet from the left was his beautiful baby daughter.
'She's gorgeous, Josh.'Sam stated softly as he followed his friend's gaze to the sleeping newborn.
'Yeah.'Lyman replied in an awed whisper.
'You're lucky that she took after Donna.'
Seaborn sighed as he leaned against the crib....there just had to be some way he and Caitlin could put the Lyman family back together.
Sam stood and walked toward the door and shut the light off. He turned back to look at Rachel one last time before closing the door behind him.
Donna stared numbly at the answering machine.....Thursday.....everything was going to come to a head on Thursday.
In less than forty-eight hours a judge could take her daughter away.
Tears started to flow as Donna gripped the edge of the small table that held the answering machine.
"Donna?"Caitlin asked with concern as she saw her friend's shoulders start to shake. She quickly walked into the living room and stood next to her friend.
Donna didn't seem to see her as she crumpled into a sitting position on the floor pulling her knees to her chest.
"Donna.....talk to me."Caitlin pleaded just as Sam came down the stairs.
"What happened?"Sam asked with concern as he took in Donna's devastated state.
"There was a message from her lawyer."Caitlin replied quietly her gaze never leaving her friend's face. "They moved the custody hearing up to Thursday."
go on to the next part