‘You really don’t have to do this,’ Josh says. He tilts his head against the headrest of Donna’s passenger seat as they drive through the dark back toward the city, and watches her long fingers twiddling the radio dial this way and that.
Donna sighs, though whether it’s in annoyance at him or at the endless static she’s getting through the speakers, he’s not sure. ‘Josh.’
‘I’m just saying, it’s not necessary; I had a perfectly good spot in the motorcade.’
‘I’m already doing it!’ she points out. ‘This is how you’re getting home. End of discussion.’ She gives up on the radio and turns her wipers up full-speed against the driving rain. ‘It’s the first event you’ve been to since you came back to work, and Toby and CJ are bickering and Leo’s stressed about the thing and I don’t want you involved with any of it.’
‘It’s my job to be involved,’ he reminds her, opening the glove compartment, where he knows she’ll have snacks.
‘Yeah, well, you’re taking a break. This way you can sit back; you can relax; you can sleep if you need to—and you do need to,’ she adds, breaking her intense focus on the road ahead for a moment to shoot a reproving look in his direction.
His search turns up nothing more exciting than a bag of dried apricots. It’s not what he was hoping for—previous finds include Red Vines, Starburst, and once a much-needed Snickers—but it’ll do. ‘I thought you said end of discussion?’ he reminds her.
‘I just want to make my point clear.’
‘And my point is that you really don’t need to be so cautious. This time, maybe,’ he adds quickly, ‘but next time I’ll be fine.’
‘Who’s in charge here?’ she asks, reaching blindly for the bag of fruit.
He presses an apricot into her hand. ‘Of my smooth and peaceful transition back into the working world?’
He frowns. ‘Well, you, technically, but—’
‘Exactly,’ she says, satisfied.
‘Okay, but you just declared yourself in charge and that was that. It was a bloodless coup, basically.’
He can’t really argue with that. He settles against the headrest again, watching as the lights of oncoming cars pass over her tired, lovely face, and thinks about how she drove out to Annapolis just to make sure he got home okay.
‘Thank you,’ he says.
Her eyes cut to him and she smiles. ‘No problem.’
There’s a sudden flash and Josh starts. ‘Was that lightning?’
‘Yeah. We’ve been promised a storm for a while now. It’s fine though.’ She gives his knee a comforting pat and then removes her hand before he can process it, nodding toward the back seat. ‘There’s an umbrella back there and I’ll park right outside your building.’
He stares at his knee where she touched him, feeling suddenly off-balance. ‘You’re definitely not allowed to do that. Wait,’ he says, peering at her. ‘We’re going back to mine?’
‘Where else would we be going? We’re not going to the office!’ she says sharply, before he can suggest it.
‘Because it’s almost eight pm and you’ve been dealing with the public and a very excitable new congressman for four hours and it’s not remotely necessary for you to be there right now! You’re going to go home and you’re going to sleep and you’re going to come in tomorrow feeling well-rested.’
‘I could go in for like fifteen minutes; it’d be fine!’
‘To do what?’
He shrugs. ‘I don’t know. Stuff.’
‘Okay. Sure,’ she says brightly.
‘I’m pretty sure you’re not allowed to keep me from going into work,’ he tells her.
‘I’m pretty sure I’m going to,’ she retorts.
Josh sighs heavily and slouches into his seat, preparing to sulk for the remainder of the drive.
Faintly over the sound of the engine comes the rumble of thunder. He leans forward to peer up at the sky through the windscreen, waiting for the next bolt of lightning.
The words are out of his mouth before he knows he’s going to say them. ‘Stop the car.’
‘Stop the car,’ he repeats, suddenly excited. ‘I want to get out.’
‘Have you lost your mind?’ Donna demands. ‘I won’t take you to the office so you’re going to walk?’
‘Not to walk!’ he says hastily. ‘I just want to get out for a moment.’
She pulls in to the side of the road and snaps the light on, looking at him with concern. ‘Do you feel sick? Is it the pain meds?’
‘I feel fine. I just want to—’
‘Feel the rain,’ he finishes, aware of how ridiculous it sounds.
‘We’re in the middle of a thunderstorm and you want to stop and feel the rain?’ she asks, looking completely bewildered.
‘I was trapped indoors for months!’
‘There are other, drier ways to be outside!’ she points out. ‘Drinking on your front stoop? Lots of fun. This? Not fun at all.’
‘This is spontaneous,’ he insists, with a sweeping gesture toward the admittedly not-that-inspiring scenery of Maryland Route 450. ‘This is an adventure, Donna!’
She groans, shutting off the engine. ‘You know what’s going to happen? You’re going to survive a gunshot wound and end up being struck by lightning instead.’
‘We’ll be fine.’
‘“We’ll be fine”?’ she echoes.
‘Aren’t you gonna come with me?’ he asks, whatever strange burst of impulsive whimsy is driving his decision-making fading a little. The very small part of him that has, to his own surprise as much as anyone’s, decided it would be enjoyable to stand out in a rainstorm is also certain it won’t be as good without Donna.
‘You don’t want me to stay here so I can describe to the police what the local roadside axe-murderer looks like?’ she wonders, which also does its bit to kill his sense of childlike joy at nature, or whatever.
He plows on, determined. ‘Don’t you think in ten years’ time this will be an interesting story to tell?’
‘The time I contracted pneumonia with my boss?’
‘Would you get into the spirit of the thing a little?’ he begs.
She stares at him for a long moment before letting out a heavy sigh, unbuckling her seatbelt and reaching into the backseat for her coat. ‘I don’t get paid enough for this.’
‘I can see about a wage rise.’
‘You’d better,’ she says darkly, and opens the car door.
They’re both immediately drenched. Josh calls to her over the sound of the rain as it beats down on the hood of her car.
‘This is cool, Donna!’
‘No, it isn’t! Are you punishing me because I won’t take you to the office at stupid o’ clock?’ She tucks her arms around herself, tugging tighter the very sensible anorak she’s produced from nowhere. He’s going to have to get himself one of those now that he’s a man who goes out for spur-of-the-moment walks in the rain.
‘This is living!’ he insists.
‘You know what I think is living?’ she asks, as he splashes his way around the car to join her. ‘Sipping margaritas on a beach somewhere. When can we live like that, Josh?’
‘Another time,’ he promises, leaning against the car next to her and turning his face up toward the sky.
There’s another flash of lightning, a sharp fork in the distance.
‘Are you done with this little venture?’ she asks, teeth chattering. ‘Can we get back in the car?’
‘Soon,’ he says. He shuffles closer to her. ‘It’s colder than I thought.’
She gives him a sidelong glance. ‘It’s late November. How warm did you think it was going to be?’
‘I don’t know.’ He nods resolutely. ‘It’s brisk. It’s refreshing.’
Josh wriggles his toes. ‘I think my socks are getting damp.’
‘No kidding,’ she says. ‘You know, if you brought along waterproof shoes to these kinds of events you’d be better prepared for sudden bouts of lunacy.’
‘Well, you’re not wearing—’ Josh begins, and then follows her gaze to her feet. ‘How and when did you change into those?’
Donna shrugs. The rain, if possible, gets heavier.
‘This was a horrible idea,’ he says at length.
‘Yes,’ she agrees.
‘Why didn’t you talk me out of this?’
She turns to glare at him and he grins. ‘I’m just asking,’ he says.
‘Get in the car,’ she tells him stonily.
‘I have to have a little fun, Donna!’ he says as she starts the engine and turns her heaters on.
‘And I have to suffer?’ she demands.
‘Hey, your borderline survivalist level of preparedness for apparently any eventuality means you fared way better than me.’
She rolls her eyes at him. ‘Keeping a pair of boots in the car does not make me a prepper, Josh. Could you try not to drip too much?’
‘And besides,’ he reminds her, ‘you’re in charge.’
‘Yeah, yeah,’ she mutters, doing up her seatbelt.
‘You gotta take the rough with the smooth. I still think it’s a good story, for what it’s worth.’
‘A story about how you said “Let’s go out in the rain” and I said “Let’s not” and it turned out I was right?’
‘Well, I’ll probably edit a little in the retelling—hey,’ he says peering over into her backseat. ‘You don’t have a towel back there, do you?’
She reaches over and flings one at him.
‘Wow,’ he says, staring at it where it’s landed in his lap. ‘That was a long shot; seriously, I didn’t expect—’
‘You need anything else?’ she asks, wriggling out of her coat.
‘You got a hot shower installed somewhere in here?’ Josh asks, brushing his fingers against the roof of her car.
‘No,’ she says, drawing the word out. ‘You know where does have a hot shower?’
He sniffs. ‘Yeah, I guess we can go to my place.’
Donna smiles, shaking her head. ‘You’re full of bright ideas.’