All characters belong to Aaron Sorkin, John Wells Productions, Warner Bros., & NBC. Standard disclaimers apply. Please send feedback. In This Sign Violet
He walks into her room as the other man is walking out. She smiles at him, hopefully, helplessly, but behind her eyes he sees desperation and does not know why. She smiles because she's terrified she's going to have to see him cry.
For the longest time, neither of them can make a sound.
She disembarks in Dulles for the second time in a week. Her walk is slower and heavier this time; her expression is grim. She tosses her copy of Newsweek into a garbage can and reaches into her bag for a pack of gum. She pops a stick into her mouth and chews, trying to get rid of the uncomfortable pressure in her head. But she is pretty sure it will take more than Extra sugar-free cinnamon to soothe her.
Dale nudges her. She turns, expecting Josh, and sees Donna instead. Her surprise must show, because Donna instantly looks apologetic.
"Josh was going to meet you," she says. "He sent me. I mean he didn't exactly send me. He meant to come himself. He would have -- he's stuck in this meeting."
Joey smiles reassuringly. "It's okay," she says aloud.
Donna gestures with her thumbs. "There's a car."
They walk through the terminal, quiet in the middle of the swells of noise. Donna speaks hesitantly as they get into the back of the black car. "Is it -- I mean, I know why you're here."
She interrupts with a meaningful look and a quick stream of sign. Her sign for Dale's name is a D snapping into a B, smart and neat as he himself. She fingerspells Donna, and thinks fleetingly that she should invent something else. "You haven't met. Dale Brackett, Donna Moss."
"Nice to meet you." Donna's eyes widen as she understands. "What happened to Kenny?"
Joey signs; Dale speaks. "He and his wife are expecting a baby any day now. He's on paternity leave."
Joey chuckles. "I'm going to be a godmother."
"That's really sweet." The car breaks free of arrivals and departures traffic, heading for the highway. Donna looks anxious. "How was your flight?"
That isn't the real question, and Joey knows it. She answers as best she can. "It was about as rough as I expected."
The flight was as smooth as any she'd ever taken. Dale's eyes flick toward her rapidly. She sighs a little, knowing Kenny wouldn't have so much as blinked.
"That's too bad," Donna murmurs, her face clouding.
"How are you?" Joey asks.
She shifts uneasily on the leather upholstery. "I'm -- things have been really crazy. Not that that's anything new. But I wasn't expecting it this time. Everyone's stretched pretty thin right now. Josh is stuck in this meeting on the hill, and he's shouting at Senators. Not that that's anything new, either, but--"
"Donna." It's the double N, the way two quick beats slide into a strong A, that fits her the most. "How are you?"
She looks surprised by the question, Joey notices, as if her own well-being was the last thing that would have occurred to her, which it probably was. "I'm stretched thin, too. But I'm getting by."
"It's a hard time for everyone," Donna continues. "Josh is -- he's going to be glad to see you."
Mary Lucas didn't raise any fools, and Joey can see that saying this small, casual thing is twisting a knife in this woman's heart. She wants to remind Donna that she lives three thousand miles away. She wants to reach across the car, take Donna's hands and comfort her. It would be far more intimate than their relationship, though, and instead she thinks of the numbers and statistics she's carrying in her head.
Her answer is simple. "I'm not so sure."
The silence in the room when she breaks the news has its own special quality. At first it is hollow, shivering as if the temperature had dropped suddenly. Joey knows these people prepare for the worst, but she also knows they hope for the best. As the worst sinks in, she feels like she slapped someone, and the silence freezes solid and sinks to the floor like a stone in water.
She carried the numbers in her head from California, and she knows she will carry this silence with her for the rest of her life.
For the rest of the day, her hands tremble traitorously. She clenches them into fists intermittently, hating the stutter. She wants to seem pulled together, feels the need to be strong for these people when she's cast a chill over their day. But it is not easy, and she's glad when she can leave, go someplace where she doesn't have to stay composed for anyone but herself.
She's spent enough of her time at fundraisers and formal functions to tell good wine from bad. The Merlot from room service isn't the best she's ever tasted, but it will suffice. Sitting down on the edge of the bed, Joey sips from her glass and studies the bottle's label. It's a typical cheesy watercolor of a rustic vineyard, and it makes her want fresh fruit. It makes her want to break the unseasonable grayness of the last ninety-six hours, so she orders up some grapes and cheese to go with the wine.
Dale goes over her phone messages. Joey gives him half of her attention, but none of them are especially important. Nothing seems important today, by comparison. So she turns on the television, flipping defiantly past CNN and settling on a late night movie. The closed-captioning isn't on, but she doesn't really need it; she can guess at the flimsy, romantic plot. She drinks her wine and nibbles her food, liking the look of it more than the flavor.
As the movie breaks for a commercial, she decides she ought to call Kenny and find out how his wife is doing. Dale has his back to her. She plucks a grape off the twig and deliberates, rolling it around between her fingertips, testing the firmness of the tiny fruit. Unable to resist, she throws it, bouncing it squarely off the back of Dale's handsome head. He whirls around, startled. She starts to sign but doesn't get far before the giggles take over. Dale stares at her, bewildered; she indicates the grapes and he smiles somewhat. She throws her head back and lets the laughter ripple out of her.
When the light on the wall flashes, she's still catching her breath. Joey walks to the door, tossing and catching another grape like a pitcher about to wind up. She drops it when she opens the door and sees him.
The sign she uses for his name isn't so very different from the one she uses for herself. Each one is a strong J, but she makes his a few inches further away from her heart, and with a small quirky flourish that makes it special, makes it like him. It flies off her fingers automatically as she says his name aloud.
He nods, says nothing, stands still. The instant lengthens into a moment, and Dale may not know Joey that well, but he possesses enough sense and tact to know when it's time for him to leave.
Josh walks into her room as the other man is walking out. Joey smiles at him. He does not return it. The moment lengthens into a silence.
For the longest time, all they can do is look at each other.
She has no photographs of him, but there are snapshots in her mind. His hung-over face, red and bleary, coming up off his desk the first time she saw him -- and that ridiculous outfit. The earnest delight in his smile when they met at Ted Marcus' house -- and how it fell away, when she told him she was with someone. The awkward, embarrassed motions he made, backing away from her that night. The way the suit he wore special for her fit him perfectly. She has these snapshots of him in her mind, and now she has to add this one: the laugh lines absent, the glow diminished, absolute grief in his eyes.
He chews his lip very slightly and steps towards her. It's hard to tell whether his hands reach out before hers, but it's quickly irrelevant as their palms and fingers meet and meld. For the time being, there are no adequate words in either of their languages.
As his hands travel up her arms, resting on her shoulders, she thinks for a second that this is wrong. She lives three thousand miles away and she thinks she should say that, to remind him that there is already a woman more devoted to him than she can ever imagine being. But he begins playing with her hair, gently and deliciously, and he needs someone, and he came to her. That is good enough.
Their first kiss is a first kiss, all teeth in the way and noses bumping together. But it gets stronger and surer, and while his hands run through the strands of her hair, hers glide cautiously to his chest. It has to be done at some point, so she does it quickly, scrambling over the buttons of his no-longer-crisp shirt.
Her fingertips tingle when she presses them lightly against the pale scar tissue. And she feels a twinge of guilt for having gone home to California, for not having been at his side. It reminds her that she will never be part of this inner circle, that no matter how much they trust her, she is always an outsider. And it reminds her that he could have died.
Josh covers her hand with his. And there is his heartbeat, and her own. After a little while, one of them reaches out to shut off the light. In the background, the television flashes, as if it is indignant at being ignored.
And this is signing too, because there is a language here. There are words that her fingers form touching his face, his back, his hips. There are words he traces around her navel, words in the slippery way their bare legs tangle together. And there are words he whispers to her unconsciously; words that neither of them knows are ever spoken. There are words lost in the darkness.
Later, wrapping the sheet around her, Joey gets on her knees and stretches to grab the tray at the foot of the bed. She lifts it off the stand, balancing it precariously until Josh reaches up to support the other side. He replenishes her glass of wine and they share it, and she eats the last few grapes and bits of cheese.
He speaks carefully, but she can't read his lips in the dim blue flicker of the TV set. She twists around to switch on the lamp by her side, and picks up the notepad and pen on the nightstand. Then she turns back to him.
"You're beautiful," Josh says.
She grins wryly and answers out loud. "So are you."
He scoffs, shaking his head. "God, Joey. Things are... so lost, right now."
"I understand," she tells him, in both her voice and the sign.
"It's like we're standing on top of a hill holding up a lightning rod, and it's starting to rain." Josh runs a hand over his face. "It's -- I wanted this man to be President so much. I wanted re-election so much. Now it's like waiting for the axe to fall."
Her pen flies scratchily over the paper. He reads it over her shoulder, silently first and then aloud. "'For in much wisdom is much grief: and he that increaseth knowledge increaseth sorrow.' Ecclesiastes?"
"1:18," she writes. Then, aloud: "I'm sorry."
"Sorry?" He frowns sadly and drains the glass of wine. "Don't. The numbers weren't any worse than we expected. It's for the best; it's for the best we know. It's going to get a lot worse before it gets better. If it gets better. If--"
Joey stops him, two fingers to his lips, and they don't talk again for a while. Eventually, they sleep; his hand on her waist and his head nestled in the bend of her arm.
The bedside light is still on, but there is early daylight trickling in between the curtains. Joey wakes up when she feels Josh stirring beside her. Still drowsy, she raises herself on one elbow, watches him shudder slightly as he awakens. His eyes flutter open, and he looks as if consciousness confuses him. When he sees her, his face brightens, a child receiving an unexpected gift. And that is one of the mental snapshots she's going to take home.
"Hi there," he says.
She gives him a tiny wave with her fingers. "Hi, yourself."
He struggles to sit up, rubbing his eyes. "What time is it?" Joey points to the clock. He stares at the red digital numbers, finally deciphers them and winces. "God. I have a meeting in twenty-five minutes."
"This early?" she asks.
"It's this tobacco thing. They need thirty million..."
Josh faces away from her then, picking up his clothes from the floor, and she loses the rest of the words. She touches his shoulder. He turns back apologetically, furrowing his brow. His eyes are reluctant. Uncertainly, he raises his right hand, stammers through the simple finger-signs she taught him. He mixes up his H and G, but she comprehends anyway. He has to go.
So she smiles at him, because it's okay. And she nods, and signs back to him. "I understand."
Yawning, he starts to climb out of the bed, but stops himself. He leans forward and kisses her, lightly but sweetly. She closes her eyes briefly, as he pushes the covers away and gets up. When she opens them again, he's got his shorts on, and he takes the rest of his clothes into the tiny hotel bathroom. She leans back on the pillows, lazy and comfortable.
Soon, she will get out of bed herself, shower and dress and page Dale so that they can start going about the day. Soon, she will be taking the three thousand mile trip back to California. Soon, the President of the United States is going to disclose information that will have a devastating effect on the majority of Americans -- the ones that it has not already crushed. And Joey suspects that for a while, the White House circle will close tighter than ever around the President, and she knows she's always been on the outside.
When Josh emerges, he's dressed, and his hair is relatively tamed. He raises a hand, touches the tips of his fingers to his mouth, and holds it up. Joey never had to teach him how to wave goodbye. She mirrors the gesture, and he nods and walks out, closing the door behind him.
Alone, she signs to herself. The strong J with the special twist, close to the heart but not against it. Soon things will get worse than they already are. But for the moment, she allows herself to smile.