The Rhythm Of In Between
by aj

Mandy was on a date with some boring politico, stirring her olives around her martini glass, debating welfare. He was a Democrat -- Mandy never could understand crossing party lines -- but for some reason he wasn't following her line of thinking. Mandy hated it when someone stopped following her line of thinking.

She was in the middle of a great point that had something to do with crack babies - even now Mandy isn't sure how the topic took such a turn that crack babies entered the picture. Regardless, there were crack babies, and then there was Josh. He was sitting on her other side and muttered something under his breath, just loud enough for Mandy to hear. She whirled, furious.

"Excuse me, don't you have your own people to bother? Or are you really so pathetic you eavesdrop on other people's conversations and then mutter random interjections?"

Her date let out a low whistle. She ignored him.

Josh, with that early receding hairline and wild hair, just sort of smirked at her. Which infuriated Mandy even more.

"Do you have something to say?" she seethed.

"Oh, I have plenty of things to say, because there are quite a few things you need to learn." She couldn't believe his attitude, and turned to face him.

And that was the beginning.


Mandy's first car was a red Mustang convertible. That was back when she had long hair, and it would whip around her face so only one hand was constantly on the wheel. It was two months before she rear-ended her first victim, and she charmed the guy out of calling the cops. After all, it was just a scratch, nothing you'd even notice, and she called him her hero as she drove away.

After a year the car was totaled. Her dad just sighed and came home two days later with a black Honda Civic. "Try not to crash this one, sweetheart." He handed her the keys and went upstairs.

Mandy watched him go. She thought about taking the car out and crashing it into the first tree she saw, but she gripped the keys and went to her bedroom. She had homework. Mandy was a reckless driver, not unusual for seventeen year-olds, but everything Mandy did had purpose.

Her grades were the best, because Mandy always had to be the best. Luckily for Mandy, it came easy, and she rarely had to study for the highest grade in the Massachusetts college prep classes. Her senior year she applied to three colleges: Harvard, Stanford, and Yale.

Her father wanted Harvard, for the name of course. So Mandy packed her car (this time a navy blue jaguar convertible with an engine that announced her presence a mile away) and drove cross-country to the school they called The Farm, the Ivy of the West.


The California sunshine made her homesick at Thanksgiving, and she called home to see about flying back to Massachusetts for the holiday. Her mother was at some meeting, Junior League or something, so it was her father that informed her they already had plans to celebrate Thanksgiving in Barbados.

And there was no ticket for Mandy.

"We thought you'd be busy with friends and studying, sweetheart."

Mandy tried to smile. "Love you, daddy."


Josh and Mandy went together like oil and balsamic vinegar. They didn't mix well at all, but if you could get both on the same piece of bread, it tasted delicious.

Mandy makes the analogy herself, trying to describe the relationship years later to a friend at a cocktail party in New York. Bartlet has just named CJ his chief of staff, and everyone is shocked, since all had thought that Josh would step in.

Katrina whirls around and grabs Mandy's arm. "Weren't you and Josh, like, a thing? Is that how you got the White House job?"

And Mandy hates Katrina, perfectly pressed silk dress with a matching clutch. But she smiles and talks about balsamic vinegar, as if it were the most normal thing in the world. Mandy learned that she better start smiling or she was going to find herself very much alone.


She kept the Jag all four years at Stanford, zooming from class to class. Everyone knew who she was, Madeleine Grey Hampton, art history major, champion trial attorney in the moot court. She had cut all her hair off, and sometimes tied scarves around her head and wore big sunglasses.

Mandy was a presence.

She chose art history because it was easy, and she liked art enough, and it threw her father into fits because what could someone do with an art history major? His Mandy was going to find the cure for cancer, but this Mandy never so much as stepped into a biology lab. She took creative writing and joined the riding team. She was the driving force behind the big band joke at the Big Game against Cal where the "Penzoil" sponsor signs were covered with new signs, spelling, "Penisoil". She dated a water polo player, her face plastered all over the Quad, the Stanford yearbook. She wrote anonymous treaties in the paper talking about the fate of the Presidency in a post-Watergate, post-Vietnam era. She campaigned for Carter and his Great Society.

Everyone loved Mandy. They loved her laugh. They loved that she could match the football team beer for beer at keg parties. And of course, Mandy got nothing but A's the entire time. In fact, she would later reflect that Stanford was almost a joke to her, just a time to work out some kinks. But she loved it there. The Farm was safe. Mandy was loved.

It was something she would learn to miss.


She was never sure if Josh really liked her. They dated for three years, an eternity by Washington standards, but everything about them was an argument. Where to go to dinner, who to have drinks with, what to do on holidays. He grew petulant every Christmas because it wasn't his holiday, and though she got him a present every year and decorated the tree with blue and white ornaments, he pouted the entire time. One year she'd tried to do the whole menorah Hanukah thing, but Josh had just laughed at her efforts and told her not to bother lighting any candles.

Of course, Mandy wasn't one to complain, seeing as how she had the temper of a short Italian man. Josh claimed that she loved the attention, which perhaps she did. Mandy knew how to make a scene. She once threw a glass of wine in Josh's face, her lips painted a perfect red, loudly stated, "You bastard," and walked calmly out of the restaurant.

Josh didn't come back to the apartment that night. Mandy wasn't surprised.

In the end, Mandy always expected to end up alone.


Mandy went back to school for communications at Cornell. She drove a beat-up yellow VW Bug, because she knew her father hated it. In all honesty, she hated it too, but Mandy had a tendency to cut off her own nose to spite her face.

She got her masters in three years, taking summer courses in other subjects. At Cornell she met Chris, who planned to be president. She laughed at him. He told her he was serious, and so Mandy was serious back. She outlined a strategy plan. He planned to run for student government, but she convinced him he needed to start higher and so he was running for mayor as soon as he graduated.

Mandy ran his campaign and he ended up as mayor of Ithaca. She was proud of her work because, when she really thought about it, he wasn't a very good candidate at all. In between her work on her thesis, she wrote speeches and went down to campaign headquarters, where she was revered with a sort of awe. Chris was easily elected to the New York State Assembly, and Mandy had a master's degree.

She didn't learn very much about the media that she didn't already know. But Mandy learned she was very good at getting people elected. And Mandy decided to move to Washington.


She was working on the DC mayoral campaign when she met Josh. She thought that was pretty impressive, but when she asked, "And what do you do for a living, mister? Run the free world?" She had to admit she didn't expect his comeback of, "Nah, I'm just working to elect the next guy to do the job. Let him press the big red button."

Mandy was immediately jealous. He would come home and talk about how they were arguing about what line to take on social security, and Mandy wouldn't be able to restrain herself and insisted on adding her two cents.

"You should argue for a safety reserve. X amount of the surplus goes into the fund, preserving it for more than one generation. I mean, social security is barely doing anything as it is."

"A surplus? You're thinking big, Mandy. And what about programs like the NEA and Head Start?"

"Oh, the NEA is really going to get voters out to the polls."

Mandy had campaign experience that Josh didn't, and she knew that made him uncomfortable.

"Everyone thinks about social security because everyone pays for it. You have to come down on one side or another. You need to take a stand on this. This is something real people can connect to."

"Thank you for reminding me how the federal tax system works, Mandy."

"Josh, put your pathetic male ego aside for a minute and listen to me. You know I'm right."

"Yeah, right as rain."

Two days later, Hoynes came out with a statement in favor of supporting social security. Mandy tried to gloat quietly, but she couldn't help herself.

"I was right, wasn't I?"

"Shut up, Mandy, there are a lot of people working for Hoynes. You're not the only one with a brain."

"You took it to him, didn't you? And he took a stand." Mandy pumped her fist into the air. "Score one for the woman in the corner."

"Don't you have your own campaign to run?"

"Piece of cake. I have them eating out of my hand." She plopped down on the couch. "We're polling at 63%. Beat that, Mr. My Candidate Is Bigger Than Yours." Mandy flashed Josh a huge grin.

They acted like a married couple from the first week. Eating off each other's plates, finishing each other's sentences. Mandy and Josh were two sides of the same coin and both wanted to come out on top.

It was doomed to failure. She knew that, even in the beginning. But when Josh came back from Nashua, he came home to her. And he realized that he could use her.


The day before she was fired from the campaign, she bought a white BMW convertible. It reminded her of her first car, only a little more grown-up. They were in New Jersey, in the middle of June. It was hotter than hell and Mandy had the air-conditioning on full blast. As she drove the car back to the hotel from the lot, she contemplated her next move.

Having Sam around made things a little different. Mandy liked him well enough. He was nice to her, nicer than anyone else certainly, but he was just so pretty and Josh was so, well, nice and warm and funny around him. He was all edges and arguments and strategy around Mandy. They'd started to fight for the covers, Josh claiming he was freezing since Mandy insisted on keeping the air-conditioning on.

For the last three nights, Mandy had the bed to herself. She thought he was in Sam's room, though she masochistically entertained the idea of Josh screwing CJ next door. But she comforted herself with the fact that she caught CJ coming out of Toby's door one morning in Iowa. That balding sour man Mandy would not miss. Toby hated her, hated everything about her. CJ hated her too, but Mandy suspected it was for different reasons. CJ hated herself at the moment, which Mandy thought ridiculous. Mandy was more insightful than anyone gave her credit for. Everyone was fucking up.

Of course, Mandy would be the one whose blood would spill.

She was the easiest to pick off. No natural ally. And really, who would miss her? There would certainly be less noise in the morning. Josh would probably finally get his act together instead of relying on her to clean up his mistakes.

The thing was, Mandy knew a winner when she saw one, and she was about to get kicked off the World Series team because she couldn't keep her mouth shut about welfare. Or social security. Or health care. Or, hell, crack babies.

She was back at the hotel and thought about telling Leo that she was quitting, beat them to the punch. But no, Mandy wanted to watch them squirm, cut down one of their own, even if they didn't particularly like her. Mandy wanted the chance to make an exit, because the best exits lead to even better entrances.


In New York, her father was finally proud of her. Lennox/Chase, now that was a name and a salary that went with it. Ralph Harvey Hampton could be proud of having a daughter at that company. Yes, a daughter, earning top salary. After all, top of her class at Stanford. Top of her class at Cornell.

The first year she was there, her mother invited her home for Thanksgiving. Mandy was shocked, and delighted, though she would never let her mother know. She said she could probably clear her schedule and drive up Tuesday night. (Yes, Mandy Hampton kept a car in Manhattan. The same white BMW she bought on the day her life changed.)

Wonderful, her mother replied. Wonderful. And Mandy began counting down the days in her head. Nine, eight, seven, and then her doorman was helping her throw her suitcases in the back of her car. She tipped him well, wished him a happy holiday, and headed for the George Washington bridge.

Despite the chill in the air, Mandy had the top down, a scarf over her hair, and the heater on high. She sped north, singing along with the radio. Traffic was light, but impatient as always, Mandy slipped between cars, changing lanes and speeding past anyone driving slower than seventy.

So sooner rather than later, Mandy found herself in front of her childhood home. The lawn was still green, and there was a lone leaf resting on top of the grass. She wondered if they still employed the same gardener. Frank used to rake the leaves into a giant pile and Mandy would be watching from her second-story bedroom window. At the opportune moment, she would run downstairs in a flurry, race across the grass, and launch herself onto the pile of leaves.

Frank hated her.


Mandy hadn't been home since her first Easter at Cornell. Over the years Mandy had convinced herself that she must have been blowing things out of proportion. She only went home at Christmas while she was at Stanford, but they celebrated the holiday at her grandmother's house in Wellesley, so she found herself forgetting what her room looked like. She decided to go home for Easter, because her mother always had the cook make an excellent dinner, and Mandy had fond memories of dressing up in her new Easter dress with matching gloves and hat. She found an appropriate dress in Ithaca, but had to stop in Boston to find a hat.

The VW Bug wasn't the quietest car in the world, and it seemed to echo down her entire street as she drove up to her house. Then there she was, knocking at the front door, suitcase in one hand, hat in the other. The maid opened the door. Mandy didn't know what she was expecting, but it seemed she had forgotten the formality of her home life.

"I'll let your mother know you are here," the maid said. Mandy didn't even know her name. She stood awkwardly in the foyer, examining her smile in the mirror.

"Madeleine, darling! You're here!" Her mother swept into the entrance, arms at her side.

"Hello, Mother." Mandy smiled awkwardly.

Her mother looked at her critically. "You've put on a little weight since I've seen you last. And you still insist on that short hair? Really, darling, don't you think you would be taken a little more seriously if you looked a little more serious?"

Mandy cringed. "I like it short. It's easy to take care of." She took a deep breath, holding her lavender hat with both hands. " But how are you? The house looks lovely, as always."

Her mother sighed. "You have no idea how hard it's getting to be to keep this place in good shape. Nothing is made to last these days. I seem to spend all my time at antique auctions just for the quality --" She suddenly seemed to realize where they were. "What are we, standing in the foyer like strangers. This is ridiculous. Come, put your things in your room and then we'll have drinks. I'll get your father from the study."

And then she was gone.

Mandy went up to her room, which hadn't changed from her childhood. Pink ruffles everywhere, expensive wallpaper, and the window she used to climb out of. She dumped her suitcase on the bed and set her hat carefully on top.

After that, things went considerably downhill. Her father didn't understand what she was doing with her life, what she was hoping to achieve. Her mother bemoaned the lack of a fiancé. "I was married by your age. And I know what women are saying these days, promoting independence and looking down on anyone with a diamond, burning their bras, but really Madeleine, haven't you given thought to getting yourself a family? You're attractive enough now, but that won't last. Better find someone while you are at your prime."

The theme of the weekend was: Stop messing around Mandy, it isn't cute anymore. We put up with enough from you, going to California and being reckless, but there's only so much you can expect us to take.

Mandy cried all the way back to Ithaca and hated herself for it, for caring so much what they thought. She beat herself up for expecting anything different. Her parents wouldn't change. She left for a reason. Mandy decided she had no place for nostalgia, for the past.

Yet here she was, in front of the old house, to subjecting herself to her family once again. What was she thinking, saying she could come up Tuesday night? Why not wait until Wednesday afternoon? Was she expecting some sort of moving reunion? But her mother called and invited her. Mandy's mother never called. She had help to send out invitations.

She sat in her car and stared at the house. She could see her window, and noticed that they finally trimmed the tree that Mandy used to shimmy down in her many escapes from the house. Mandy took a deep breath, opened the car door, and headed up the brick walkway.


Mandy was thirteen years old, sitting on her Welsh/Thoroughbred pony, Remember Me, more commonly known as Mimi.

Her parents were in the stands. Mandy's spine was straight and her elbows were bent. Mimi was standing in a perfect halt, lined up and neat. Mimi was an expensive pony -- nothing was too good for Madeleine Hampton. She was in the Maclay pony finals, and when the results were announced, the blue ribbon was fastened to Mimi's bridle.

Mandy looked up to wave at her parents, but they were in an argument about something. She sat up tall in her saddle, smiled, and trotted out of the ring.


Josh tried to mock Mandy's upbringing, but he wasn't in a place to mock. In fact, with the exception of Toby, and possibly CJ, she wasn't sure, the campaign staff of Bartlet for America was decidedly upper class. And if they didn't have the money to be called elitist, they certainly had the degrees.

Josh still made cracks about Mandy's pretty pony, but she retorted that he was simply jealous. Not only did she have a pony, she had an excellent pony, and she beat the pants off of anyone who competed against her.

Yes, Josh and Mandy shared a passion for winning. Which was all well and good, until they were on opposite sides. Even when they shared a side, they managed to find things to argue about. His and hers.

Mandy's whole life seemed to be an argument. An argument for short, ambitious, successful women, an argument with her parents, an argument with the Washington establishment. So she learned to feed off of them, and sometimes in staff meetings, Mandy found herself wet with anticipation as she argued some inconsequential point with Josh in front of everyone. Their arguments were intimate and intense, like their sex, and Mandy was never ashamed.


After she leaves the party having accidentally spills her pinot noir all over Katrina's silk dress (pity, it was a good pinot), she goes home to her apartment on the Upper East Side. Mandy rummages around her room for her address book. There are clothes strewn around the room, the whole apartment in fact. Leftover Chinese boxes in the kitchen sink, make-up spread across the bathroom. Jack had just been over two nights ago, but you would never guess from the state of the apartment.

Mandy was ashamed of little. The maid came once a week and she dropped her laundry off downstairs every Thursday. It just happened to be Tuesday, and that meant a mess.

She finds the book and pushes books and notepads and clothes aside so she can sit comfortably on her bed. Mandy picks up the phone and called Josh.

"So CJ got your job, eh?"

Josh sighs. Mandy can imagine him running his hand through his thinning hair.

"It was never my job."

"Oh, don't give me that shit. It has to be eating you alive. You've been following in Leo's footsteps for years and now suddenly they want high heels? This has to rank up there as one of your favorite days, along with the day you had to call me and eat crow and ask me back."

"And you managed to fuck that one up, didn't you, Mandy?"

Mandy is silent for a moment. "It should have been you."

"There are no shoulds in Washington. You know that." He takes a deep breath. "And CJ will be fabulous at the job, she is more than capable, and no, I do not have a problem reporting to a woman."

"You're fucking her, aren't you?"

"What? Mandy, you're getting crazier every time I talk to you. The air in New York finally killing off your last rational brain cells?"

"I was always more insightful than you gave me credit for." She pauses. "Two sides of the same coin, Josh. Only yours is a silver dollar, and I got stuck with the penny. But hell, I always liked Washington."

She fiddles with the phone cord. "Don't get angry. It doesn't get you anywhere. Trust me."

And Mandy hangs up the phone. She feels sorry for Josh, but she isn't going to stew over it. It isn't her place, anymore.


After a particularly bad staff meeting where CJ got called ‘the incompetent, idiotic Amazon" and Josh the "small one with a mouth," She followed CJ back to her room. Mandy was reveling in the fact that Bartlet remembered her name; it was a pity though, as Mandy was just a consultant, never meant to last. Still, he remembered her name, if only to tell her she was fucking up. It was a step above everyone else, and Mandy loved to relish in all forms of praise.

She followed CJ into her room. Mandy closed the door. She felt like she should do something, something along the lines of sister solidarity, for she was sure that's what CJ expected, but Mandy was never a rah-rah type of girl unless it involved mocking someone else's stupidity. Which, Mandy reflected, could certainly be the situation. CJ was being stupid.

"You're being stupid."

"Thanks, Mandy, I didn't get that. Thanks for the clarification."

Mandy could tell this was going to turn into a pity party, perhaps with some Jack and Stoli as party guests; she had seen this situation before, and she was pretty sure CJ had too. So she decided to do something about it. Something she would later reflect was rather impulsive on her part, but it gave her some element of leverage all the same.

Mandy kissed her. Hard. Pulled at her clothes and covered CJ's open mouth with her own. CJ tried to push her away, half-heartedly, but Mandy had learned when no meant no, and this was nothing of the sort. This was just something that CJ did so she could tell herself, when she was alone, that she tried to say no.

Mandy slipped out of her navy dress and pulled CJ's camisole over her head. She pushed her back on the bed, and straddled her, fingers tickling CJ's flat belly. CJ's eyes were closed.

"Look at me," Mandy said forcefully. CJ's eyes remained closed. "I said," Mandy pinched CJ's nipples, "look at me." CJ's eyes opened wide and Mandy smirked. She loved the feeling of control. With Josh it was always a fight for control, but CJ was easy prey. CJ was green and politically young, and Mandy was smart and experienced.

"Don't move." And Mandy's hands were all over CJ, kneading her breasts, tracing her earlobes, trickling down her thighs. CJ groaned and Mandy ignored it. She slowly moved her focus downward, her breath traveling the length of CJ's torso, and CJ's hips shifted upward. "I said, don't move."

Two fingers deep inside CJ, and CJ was making guttural noises, deep in her throat. "Tell me you hate me," Mandy said, because despite everything, Mandy hated dishonesty.

"Harder, please." CJ's voice was pathetically pleading. Mandy almost turned away in disgust. She grabbed CJ's hair with her free hand, yanking her head back, resting all her weight on her hair. "I said, tell me you hate me."

CJ was almost crying at this point. "I hate you, Mandy, I hate you. I hate Madeleine Hampton, I hate her." She choked out each syllable, struggling for some sort of control.

Mandy whispered in CJ's ear. "Thank you. I like an honest woman." She used her thumb and started to massage CJ's clit, pinched her nipples, and bit her hard on her shoulder, hard enough to leave a mark. Mandy wanted CJ to remember this.

CJ came quickly and Mandy rolled off of her. CJ's breaths were deep and unsteady as Mandy zipped up her dress. Mandy walked over to the mini-bar and pulled out a bottle of Jack, unscrewed the top and swallowed the liquid in one motion. She threw the empty bottle in the plastic can underneath the desk covered with papers full of CJ's cramped handwriting. "Thanks for the drink. I'll see you in the morning."

And Mandy went next door, to her room, Josh's socks outside the bathroom door. She went over to her bed, buried her head in the pillow, and breathed.


Thanksgiving dinner was served promptly at 4:30. The table was filled with luscious foods and a turkey that looked like it was plucked off the pages of Gourmet. Quiet conversations filled the room, and Mandy stood in the corner sipping her Manhattan.

"Madeleine, darling, come here! I want to introduce you to these degenerates." Her father was laughing. Mandy couldn't remember the last time she saw him laugh. "This is Dan Heller, his wife Fran, and Peter Johnson. Dan here is the news editor of the Globe and Fran throws the best parties in Boston, while Peter left his career in finance to go to med school. He's at Harvard now." Mandy sighed inwardly. Only the best of the best for her parents.

"Dan, Fran, Peter, this is my daughter, Madeleine. She works at Lennox/Chase."

"Oh really!" Fran seemed thrilled. "How do you like the city? Dan and I love to go down there for the theater. We try to go once a month. Last time we went to the best restaurant, what was the name, honey?"

Dan wasn't even trying to look interested. "I don't remember, dear."

"Oh well, it will come to me. Lennox/Chase! Your parents must be so proud."

"Oh, we are." Her father was beaming.

"So," Mandy started, trying to get Dan interested in the conversation, " what do you think about the President's stance on welfare? Do you think it will hurt him in the election?" As soon as the words were out of her mouth, she was cursing herself, bringing politics to such an easy conversation. And welfare of all things.

"Hurt him?" Dan was suddenly present. "Why, I think it only strengthens his position. People should be working for their living not getting hand-outs for being drug-addicts and thieves."

"Excuse me?"

It spiraled from there. Mandy and Dan ended up in a shouting matching in front of the candied yams. Her mother ran upstairs crying.

Mandy was never invited home for the holidays again.


"I screwed CJ," Mandy told Josh, watching his reaction carefully.

"Yeah, and Bartlet remembered all our names." He laughed sarcastically. Mandy was disappointed at his lack of interest. Normally the thought of CJ and Mandy together would get at least some sort of favorable reply.

Josh sat on the edge of Mandy's bed. "We aren't getting anywhere. We're stuck on the same things and our candidate is as likable as Nixon post-Watergate."

"Josh." Mandy started to massage his shoulders. He sagged into her hands. "You're going to win. Don't you see that?"

"When did you become such a dreamer, Mandy? I always knew I could count on you for fucking honesty."

"You can." Mandy grabbed his hands and looked him in the eye. "He remembered my name, that's a step."

"Oh, he remembered your name. Well then, of course we're going to win." Josh looked away.

"Stop being petty and selfish. Stop fucking around already. If you want to win this thing, win it. You have the best campaign staff out there because they believe, Josh, and you know you can't buy that. Exploit it. They believe, Josh, that's why they're here. And he's an asshole, a fucking asshole, but Abbey will get him in line. You can see it in her eyes. She doesn't believe yet. She's the link. I'll work on Abbey, but you have to do your job. Take your candidate and win. You didn't leave Hoynes for a nobody."

Mandy sighed and went to the mini-bar. "I can't believe I just gave you a pep-talk."

"I can't either." Josh watched her mix Stoli and cran-apple in a glass. "You really think we can do this?"

Mandy left her drink behind. She kissed him, and for the first time that she could remember, he kissed her back, easily, softly, and sex was a subtle agreement, a secret act of faith.


When Mandy found out someone had a copy of her memo, she knew it was over.

Even though she knew from the beginning it wouldn't last, couldn't last, Mandy loved being part of the team. Playing poker, answering inane trivia questions, learning about Roosevelt's passion for national parks. Mandy found herself caring about panda bears and little children. For once, it wasn't all about Mandy. She had found some sense of duty, some sense of purpose. Some sense that she belonged, even if it was only peripherally.

She didn't feel loved; she didn't kid herself, but she felt needed. She felt important. She felt like she was contributing.

And then there was the memo. She was just doing her job at the time -- any one of them would have done the same. She still doesn't know how a copy of it got out, but out it got, and out went Mandy.

She hand-wrote her resignation on a plain white piece of paper stolen from the copy room, and left it folded in the Oval Office. As she left the room, she bit her lip and didn't cry. She didn't say goodbye to anyone, just packed her things in a box and left. Tried to remember how they often forgot she had feelings. Tried to remember all the times they screwed her over.

This time Mandy would leave nothing behind. She thought of Josh, and cursed. She dropped her box in the hallway, not caring if it got in anyone's way. Mandy made her way to Josh's office and quickly scribbled, "I'm sorry." She paused, the words unfamiliar and clunky in her mind. "Call me if you ever need anyone to yell at, or if crack babies come up on the national radar."

Mandy drove her white BMW through the White House gates for the last time. She went immediately to a dealership and traded her car in for a brand new red Mustang convertible.

Everything comes full circle, she thought. Mandy's passenger seat was filled with her belongings, and she thought it was about time for her to leave Washington. She was on borrowed time, and it finally ran out.

She thought about California, she thought about New York as she drove around the city she had come to think of as home. She was alone again. A girl could get used to this.


The Manhattan skyline stretches before her. She is at a fundraiser for someone, she doesn't exactly remember the details. Some guy is running for governor, but who isn't running for governor these days? But her firm is paying her to go, so she wears a crimson silk dress with strappy sandals.

Mandy holds her purse in one hand, a glass of champagne in the other, and laughs at someone's stupid remark about Republicans. The candidate is telling a joke she's heard a thousand times before, but everyone roars at the punch line regardless.

She used to love events like these, flitting from person to person, waving her champagne flute around animatedly. Mandy learned to mute herself, to blend, to smile. Mandy learned to be more like the person her mother wished she were. And Mandy hated herself for it.

Her phone starts to ring. "You'll have to excuse me," she says to the man next to her, thankful for an excuse to escape his boring babble about something financial she'd tuned out long ago. She goes to an empty corner, and puts her glass on the carpet, crouching to open her bag and fish out her phone.

"Madeleine Hampton."

"Going by your full name now, huh?" His voice is familiar and somehow comforting.

"I figured at some point a girl's got to grow up." She stares out at the beautiful view and waits.

"I hate her. And I hate him for choosing her. And Leo, for not fighting for me. I would have taken a bullet for -- I have taken a bullet, not that I should be using that as some excuse, but -- it should have been me, Mandy. I know how it works. I'm the one that filled in when Leo was out. I ran the staff meetings. I dealt with State and Justice and Defense. I already know their names. I already know the job."


"It's stupid to say it's not fair, isn't it?"

"It isn't fair."

And there is the pause, the Josh running his hands through his hair pause, the pause she knows so well.

Josh's voice is full of incomprehension and disillusionment. I know the feeling, she thinks. "It's just, I always assumed. And she's good, she'll be good at it, look how good she got at her job, but Mandy, this was my job. Reporting to Leo was different. Reporting to CJ -- and how does this look for me? Like the President can't trust me."

"You've still got a job, Josh. And responsibilities to go with it. They want you on the Hill more. You know you can't do that if you're Leo. And CJ is in no way qualified to go to the Hill. You know that."

"She isn't qualified to be chief of staff either!"

"Josh. You told me earlier that she was. And you're right, she's a quick learner. She'll do fine." Mandy pauses. "The question is, will you?"

He sighs. "I don't know. I have half a mind to resign, another half to just go and yell at the President, at Leo, and another half to just shut up."

"Your math skills suck, Lyman." Mandy forces a laugh. "So what, you figured I was the one to go to if you hated someone? Mandy Hampton, queen of hate."

"It's not like that Mandy, you know that --"

"Just shut up, Josh. You have the job. You're doing what you were always meant to do. And you're not tied to the administration the way CJ is now. He's a lame duck. The vice-president is already rolling the wagons through Iowa. The Republicans aren't far behind, and I heard rumors of another Democrat that wants to enter the field."

Mandy bends down for her glass and takes an unceremonious swig of champagne. "You're still in the game, Josh."

"Yeah." That was all he could really say, because Mandy isn't in the game anymore. Mandy is on the outskirts, Mandy is in New York, dressed in drop-dead red, and no one even notices.

"I really should get back. I'm at this fundraiser for some guy running for governor. He's not going to win, but the appetizers are to die for."

"We could use a little of your fire, Mandy."

"Oh, you guys did a pretty good job of putting that fire out. You'll be fine, Josh. You always land heads up."

Mandy hangs up the phone before he can say anything resembling a goodbye. She puts her phone away and turns from the window, back to the party. She throws her shoulders back and smiles, and goes to make small talk with some big-time donor who one day might do her a favor.


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