Hollow Lake State Park
Author's Note: Just felt like briefly visiting these guys in the wake of the 2006 midterm elections.
Thanks to Terri and shalott for beta
Josh Lyman wanders down a cobblestone lane in Kentucky, tries to kick a rock, misses. It's entirely due to President Bartlet's strange fetishistic State Park thing that they do so many outdoor events. Tennessee, Iowa, Missouri, South Dakota—in all the states where they're hated (as liberals, as urbanites, as—and Toby is convinced of this—Jews), the President gives his speeches out in the open air with open arms, as if he's addressing the land itself.
This means that on days when the President's blood pressure is high, Josh has to wander down country lanes or into fields or hide behind barns or trees in areas where there are Republicans with guns. Josh doesn't much like this, but he is assured by some of the best medical minds in the country that it isn't good for the President to watch Josh fidgeting and hopping and gesticulating at the back of the crowd during the speech. Probably it isn't good for Josh either, but it's been a couple of years now since Roslyn and people have stopped worrying that Josh is going to keel over from a heart attack, though Josh thinks an ulcer or a brain aneurysm is a more likely cause.
He's far enough away that he can't hear the crowd cheering "four more years!" The lane is thick with trees, and above him, one tree in particular is full of tiny birds, chirping madly. It's enough to stop him in his tracks, and he looks up, because this isn't something that he sees every day. He doesn't really get out all that much.
"Josh!" and he turns to see Donna hurrying toward him, looking windblown and flushed. "Where have you been? The speech is over, the buses are leaving—"
Josh glances down at his watch. "No way, it's only a quarter past—" and it is just a quarter past, except it was a quarter past the last time he looked, and the time before that. He didn't think that was weird, because he sometimes looks at his watch fifteen or twenty times a minute if he's worked up about something, but now he sees that the second hand isn't moving. It was a gift from his father; a graduation present. Josh turns, grabs Donna by the arm, and begins hustling her back along the lane. "Why didn't you call me? You should have—" except he's flipped out his cell phone (no longer a quarter past, but five minutes to) and it reads "NO SERVICE."
"I tried," Donna says breathlessly, "but the phones don't—wait," she says, and digs her heels in. Josh jerks to a stop and looks at her. "We're going the wrong way."
"No, we're not, we're—" but when he turns back, Josh can't remember if he took the left fork or the right one.
By the time Sam gets to the airport, he's one hundred percent sure that they've lost Josh. "No, really," he tells Toby, on his cell phone. "He's gone. Donna's missing, too."
Toby's voice is tinny in his ear. "How do you lose Josh Lyman in Kentucky? It's not like he blends."
"He took a walk so that the President wouldn't see him having conniptions in the background," Sam explains, and then he sighs: "He's still not happy about the partial ban—"
"Who's happy about the partial ban?" Toby retorts. "I'm not happy, do I sound happy to you?"
"You haven't been happy since the Kennedy administration."
"—and since when does Josh represent the political conscience of this administration!" Toby yells. "Are you telling me that Josh Lyman has crawled out of the slough of pragmatism only to discover that he has an actual ethical position? Because I don't believe it."
"He doesn't like the partial ban," Sam repeats firmly. "He thinks it's cowardly."
"Cowardly? You know what? I'm glad he's missing," Toby says and hangs up.
Josh glances up at the sun's position, shading his eyes, and then studies the tree trunk in front of him. He's pretty sure that moss grows on the—what, north side?
"Oh yeah," Donna says, rolling her eyes. "Like you learned this hunting in the wilds of Norwalk, Connecticut."
"I went to camp," Josh says defensively, and it isn't worth mentioning that it was a policymaking camp for gifted teenagers. Donna sighs and tugs his arm, and Josh reluctantly continues walking down the lane with her. It's really wildly scenic: a million shades of green. They're beneath a tall canopy of trees, thick with leaves rustling gently in the breeze. The sky, where it breaks through the trees, is solidly blue, and it's warm like no summer day ever is in D.C., where warm always implies sticky. If he can forget for a moment that they're hopelessly lost, Josh can appreciate the view—and apparently Donna can, too, because suddenly she's pulling him down another lane, and hey, there's a lake, or a pond, maybe. Some small body of water with frogs.
They stand there and watch the frogs, and it takes a moment for him to notice that they're holding hands. When he does, Josh doesn't move or say anything. Finally, he turns to Donna and asks, "What do people do here?"
"What?" she asks, and frowns.
"Here. People live here, right?" Josh demands. "There's a town here? Where people live, raise families—"
"Sheep," Donna interrupts, and then ticks off on her fingers: "Sheep farming, cattle, some residual mining; remember, we had to cut down the part of the speech where the President talks about—"
"Yeah, I know, I know that; that's not what I'm asking," because Josh doesn't want a policy analysis; he wants to be seduced into another life. "I want to know what people do here; what I could do. I could—mow, maybe," Josh says, and waves his arm at the surrounding greenery. "Look at all this mowing that has to be done; I would make a mint. I could hunt squirrels. We could have roast squirrel, squirrel stew, squirrel salad—"
"Uh, I think a couple of days of squirrel salad will send us fleeing to Chez Daniel," but Donna's cheeks have gone sweetly pink, which means she's heard Josh shift from them to I to we. She squeezes his hand tightly and looks up at the sky. "I wonder how long it will take them to discover that the White House Deputy Chief of Staff is missing," she muses, and right then, four large black military helicopters rip through the air.
"State park?" Toby sounds like he's freaking out. "Are there bears?"
Sam sighs, and takes off his glasses. "I told you; it's a tourist attraction. You bring your kids there."
"You know, I'm from Brooklyn, I don't understand why you'd bring your kids anywhere near bears."
At the sound of the helicopters, Josh impulsively grabs Donna and tugs her down the path and underneath a picturesque stone bridge; the copters thunder overhead and then recede into the distance. Donna is half-laughing and half-confused, and she says, "What are you doing? It could take hours for them to find us again," but then Josh pushes her against the curved stone wall, cups her face in his hand, and kisses her. They kiss for a while, a long time, and Donna's mouth is soft and sweet and everything he wants; everything he can't let himself have, most of the time. And then Josh pulls away and says, in a high, cracking voice, "We should go," and Donna says, with a quiet tenderness that totally undoes him, "It never happened. It's all right. This never happened," because she's Donna and she always knows just what to say.
They walk for a while, hand in hand, hoping that they're heading for an exit but no longer caring much. Donna's quieter than usual, they both are, and then suddenly she stops and meets his eye. "It's just four more years," she says, with a deliberately casual shrug, and Josh wants to say, I know, but some days I don't think I can stand it, but he just nods and says, "Yeah."
They come to a crossroads, and there's a little wooden arrow with a bear on it that reads, INFORMATION BOOTH. Josh's cell phone rings suddenly, and it's Toby. "Hey, we're lost in a state park," Josh explains.
Toby sounds bored. "Yeah, we know."
"We're heading for an information booth, though," Josh tells him. "We found a sign."
"Signs are good," Toby says cautiously. "Look, we've got some helicopters out there looking for you; there'll be one waiting at the booth when you get there."
"Okay, great," Josh says, and clicks his phone shut.
Donna is watching him with her huge blue eyes; Donna knows everything before he does. He wants to say so many things, but the words are all jammed up inside him. He takes her hands in his, then leans in and kisses her cheek.
"See you around," he says, finally.
Donna smiles a little. "Goodbye," she says, and then they drop their hands and hurry forward along the path toward the clearing where there's an information booth. A black helicopter is sitting there, blades whirring, a secret service officer standing beside it. A familiar-looking aide is waiting for Josh with a bunch of files. Josh stops and takes one last look at Donna before jerking into motion, pushing in front of her, and scrambling onto the copter.
"What's next?" Josh asks.