"my life as an epheremon"
by tahlia

You walk into the bar, teeming with politicians and reporters and politicians sitting with reporters and people who just want to be seen; everyone in hush-hush back-and-forths and dozens of pairs of eyes darting up to the door everytime it opens. All eyes on you; you scan the crowd, looking for your friend of a friend who called last night and offered to talk over martinis, and instead you find her sitting at the end of the bar: one leg crossed over the other at the knee, gorgeous heels, skirt falling to show just enough leg; decked out in spring pastels, Donna is the paradigm of innocence, almost. She is nursing a Cosmopolitan and looking like she is waiting for life to walk up and ask if it might buy her a drink.

So you do.

You lean down close to her and ask if the seat next to her is taken, smile a little in all the right places and in just the right way, and she says that she is more than obliged to let you join her. Actually, all she manages is a curt, surprised 'no,' but her eyes do the rest. She is begging you for the company, even if you can tell that you are not what she was expecting. You tell the bartender to send her another Cosmopolitan, and she doesn't object.

"Waiting for someone?" You almost sound as if you're interested in small talk.

There's a beat, where maybe she's considering what you might think if she answers any differently, but you are rewarded with only a negative response and an insistent shake of her head. "Oh," you say, taping your nails on the wooden counter. That's when you see the napkin strategically placed near yours, the empty one with the remains of a wet circle dancing around the bar logo. You rationalize that it could have been here for hours, but you know better. You wonder when he left.

You look up at her again, and her gaze is somewhere off in the distance, scanning the booths along the far wall, but you can see it. She wears it around her neck with a little bit of pride, a 14k gold Albatross from Tiffany's, sparkling with finely cut diamonds and glimmering in the low lights hanging from the ceiling. It's tucked beneath her shirt, though, neatly hidden by her conservative wardrobe. But you can tell.

You ask if she comes here often, and maybe the alcohol has started to go to her head, because she leans into you when she answers. She laughs a little when she says it wasn't her first choice, and she tips her hand: her secret falls out from its hiding place for a brief moment, thudding against her chest in all its glory. There's a beat, when all you can do is raise your eyebrows and pretend you don't notice, before she realizes her little slip and tucks it back where she likes to keep it. Still, it has become a part of her being, and now you can't help but notice: the way her fingers dance in to an imaginary rhythm on her martini glass (his fingers on her pelvic bone, memorizing every curve), the way they graze her earlobe as she pushes long strands of blonde hair back into their places (his hands, everywhere), the small sounds her skirt makes when she shifts her legs in nervousness (freshly washed sheets, and her, tangled with him).

You decide not to share the anecdote of the time he met you here, insulted your boyfriend, and smiled fondly at the blonde waitress.

And there's more alcohol and more slips, except you stop noticing and she stops caring. By the time she peels herself off the bar stool and announces she's leaving, you would never guess that she was the woman your ex-boyfriend is now screwing. Halfway to the door, you say you have to pee, so you say goodbye and so does she, but fifty feet later there's the sound of heels on the wooden floor behind you and you realize she's followed you.

You're a little surprised when she kisses you first, a little shocked that this is the kind of thing she'd do; you suspected, maybe, but she's Josh's Donna, innocent and doe-like and full of inane trivia, straight out of Wisconsin and wide-eyed at the big city. This, you know, is a thirty-year old woman in expensive shoes sticking her tongue down your throat. The two images don't exactly match, but you're not exactly in the mood (or the position, as she slowly reduces the distance between you and the wall) to fight it.

She tastes like more alcohol than you saw her drink; again, you wonder when he left and why she was still sitting there. She makes a little moaning sound when your hand bumps against the vertebrae protruding from her neck; your fingers are groping for evidence, a sign, anything, that he's been here, maybe the clasp of her gold chain that keeps her secret from falling into the street. And you think you've found it on her waist, because your fingers barely graze her hips before she jerks away from you, the pressure of you on her skin is enough to remind her of the only other person who does that to her.

Then you see it: regret. She is mumbling apologies and moving away from you before you can stop her, and she disappears into the mass of people with a slight stumble in her step. She is running to him, (away from you, you figure) and leaving you completely alone in the darkness.

You can still taste her on your lips.


Just a fling, you decide, as you watched them dance from your perch in CJ's doorway. She moves in time with him, the way she always has: two steps forward, here's the budget summary; one step, a slide to the left, and those files are in the bottom drawer, Josh. There is no bounce to her step, no extra smile for effect when she pushes the file into his hands and shoes him back into his office with a swat on the arm. No evidence that this is anything more than a coming-together of mutual wanting.

He seems distracted, though; preoccupied, as he shuts himself up in his office; they all do. Two weeks the Wellingtons have been playing a very strange game of hard-to-get with you, and with enough money to raise a major stink, you'd think CJ would give it more than a shallow, "Okay, well, then, I guess you should deal with that." You're hovering in her doorway, hoping that maybe she'll understand, but she's moving past you without a second thought.

Down the hall, you watch her glance at her watch and knock softly on his door. When CJ breezes back into her office, you can't take it anymore. "What's going on?"

(Too quickly.) "Nothing."


She looks at you like you're a reporter in her press room, schooling her features and trying to find the best possible lie, and your shoulders fall only a little with the realization that you're not on the inside, not really, not with them.

"I have a meeting with the Vice-President," she says, and then she is gone. Down the hall, Josh is emerging from his office (followed by that guy, the new guy, Joe What's-His-Name, from the Counsel's Office) with something less than enthusiasm, and you tell yourself, if it's anything, they'll call you.



It's seven-thirty in the morning, and it's not Josh or CJ or even the new guy that gives you the head's up. It's a fucking reporter. You turn on CNN and just sit there, on your couch, your new insider.

"Ms. Gardner, sorry to disturb you, I just wanted to know what, if any, input the First Lady had on a decision to accept the Vice-President's resignation?"


You're beginning to wonder if, maybe, she was so drunk that night, she doesn't remember what you did. What she did. Maybe she doesn't want to remember. The car hits a pot hole and she comes careening, ever-so-slightly, into you, one leg brushes another; you spend the whole ride to Georgetown wondering which scenario seems worse.

(Although, you have to admit to yourself, you're enjoying the look on his face as he watches both of you emerge from your car. And you want to walk up behind him, softly and quickly, so he doesn't notice, lean close to his ear and whisper, "You haven't taught her well enough, Joshua." Because he hasn't and she's playing right into your hands.)

You are a woman with a problem: that look on his face yesterday, so vulnerable, like you just ran over his favorite cat. (You can't remember where you've seen it before, but you have. And it's bothering you.)

She is a woman with a solution: when you retreat from his office with vague offering of apologies, you see her sitting at her desk, typing a memo and probably anticipating the bellowing of her name you hear when you're halfway to see CJ. You look at her and think, she knew before you. She knew; she stood there with her golden Albatross and her plain skirt and she knew about the fucking letter before you.

It's as simple as that. Problem, solution. No room for emotion and feeling.

(This thing they have, that they all have together, it's a tightly-woven circle of trust; if they won't open their arms to you and weave you in, then you'll just have to bend it to suit you.)

You casually drop it into conversation; she doesn't take the bait. You complain about the Wellingtons with a laugh, you compliment her wardrobe, and she lets you in, but she doesn't drop her guard. You know Donna enough to know there's nothing she likes more than feeling useful, so you tell her you need her and suddenly she's holding two Coronas and asking, "So, where do we start?"

The alcohol makes her slip; this much, you know. That pendant of hers in swinging in the breeze, and this time she doesn't even notice.

And then.

And then she outsmarts you. Or, maybe it's not outsmarting, just dumb luck of something like that, because you doubt she's that aware of the things coming out of her mouth.

You say something, and there's a huff and a puff, annoyance, from her end of the table, and she cuts you off, snapping, "You have to get Josh." Translation: I do; you don't.



Oh, she backpedals, how much she tries, but it's been branded on her forehead. She's left you speechless. You can't help but wonder, did you miscalculate this much, or was it intentional? Are they that good?

So you ask.


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