TITLE: Decorated
RATING: R [for language and sexual situations]
CODES: Donna/OFC.
ARCHIVE: Ask, please.
DISCLAIMERS: Consider me disclaimed. Lyrics from 'This' by Lisa Loeb.
SUMMARY: One day, she's going to realize that she's not as cute as she thinks she is.

Written as a sequel to S.N. Kastle's "American Girl," which you can find here: http://home.earthlink.net/~shanak11/american.html

This is brought to you by the letters J and k. And especially for SNK, who knows all the reasons why.



*
"You're so still,
You save face,
Try to erase all you feel inside.
Stand still,
I save face,
I misplace all the feelings I can't hide.
Of all the rooms I've loved before it's you I love inside this room."


- Lisa Loeb
*

"FIRST OF ALL," Miranda started after Donna called her pushy for the 18th time, "I have to tell you, I wasn't born with this attitude."

Donna was looking down into her water, swirling it around, and looking like she very much hoped that some way out of this conversation was at the bottom of the glass. She was wearing shades of blue, and her hair was shimmery around her ears, and she was biting her lip as if she didn't quite know what to make of this.

"I mean, like anything worth anything, it takes a little work, you know?" Miranda added, and then shook her head. "Donna, look-- Donna."

Donna looked up from her glass, eyelashes fluttering. "Yeah?"

"You knew about Josh and Sam, right? I mean, because you look like I just, like I just ran over your dog, or something. I just thought--"

"Of course I knew," Donna shrugged too nonchalantly, and Miranda pushed a crouton around her plate with her index finger.

"I didn't mean, well, let me-- Let me start over. My middle name is, for reasons beyond comprehension, Tamara. My favorite color's teal. I'm a vegetarian. I grew up in Boston with my three little brothers: Marcus, Matthew, and Manuel. Degree from Sarah Lawrence. Masters from NYU. Two years more in New York, five years here. I'm 33, and my eyes really are naturally this color.

"My hair, however," she added, looking up and smiling, "is a different story. Miranda Valencia. Pleased to meet you."

Donna extended her arm across the table and touched Miranda's fingertips before they shook hands. "Donnatella Moss, and the pleasure's mine."

THIS WASN'T ONE of those things that Miranda was very adept at understanding, which might be one way of explaining why she was 33, attractive, and stunningly single. Her talent was in under-thinking or over-thinking, and never having, really, any clue of how to read the signals.

Hell, she didn't even know the so-called signals existed until she was practically an adult and reading magazines directed at young, hip straight girls in major metropolitan areas. And if men had signals, Miranda figured, then women must have them. However, somewhere along the line, she thinks perhaps her understanding of the whole signal thing became so distorted that she found herself attracted only, and tragically, to straight women.

Almost a decade later, after the infamous 'signal' article, Miranda had managed to seriously date only two full-fledged, card-carrying lesbians, and both of them were, like all the men her friends complained of, dim-witted and fuzzy in all the wrong places. And along with what she deemed the two Lesbian Disasters, there had been no less than six head-over-feet lusts for straight women.

Enter Donna Moss, perhaps the straightest of them all: blonde, skinny, secretly ambitious, with that cute little chin-dip Miranda was almost sure Donna didn't realize she did, which made it that much more endearing. Donna Moss, who worked for the gayest man in the White House, and whose fingernails were short and painted. Donna Moss, who could pretend she was a man, her boss, and not see anything suspicious about it in the least.

Seeing all the signs, Miranda promised herself over dinner that she wouldn't let this get out of hand, but that was one of those promises she never stopped making and, once made, always broke. It was easy, over salads, to say that it was just friendly and that her smile really wasn't anything special, but by the time she ordered a bottle of wine, it wasn't so easy to avoid they way Donna looked out from under her eyelashes.

"So, how long have you been doing this?"

Miranda blinked twice before she was able to figure out what Donna was talking about. "Oh, two years. I've only-- I never intended on being a lobbyist, really, but after a while with gay studies, someone introduced me to Marcus Kingston, and things just sort of--"

Donna nodded encouragingly, but Miranda guessed, from the furrow in Donna's brow, that she was trying, unsuccessfully, to figure out who Marcus Kingston was. Miranda smiled, pushing her hair back from her face. "He does consulting for different groups, like, say, GLAAD and the ACLU."

These were clearly acronyms Donna knew, and she nodded again before resting her chin on her upturned palm. Miranda wasn't used to having a date actually care about her job, and she looked down, towards her plate.

"He's notorious for stealing people in the middle of the night and getting them into lobbying positions. I mean, half of the good queer activists--"

Donna's eyebrows rose, and Miranda swallowed.

"--they've gotten into the business because of Marcus, I mean," Miranda finished. "To use the word queer," she added, "in a totally--"

"No," Donna interrupted, smiling. "No, it's okay. I get it. So, I mean, I know you're--" Donna gestured vaguely.

"Yeah," Miranda nodded, resting her forearms against the table.

"So, when--"

"I was fifteen. Her name was Amanda Kaufman. She was a year older than me, and my algebra tutor. She was a red-head," Miranda offered, "which might, incidentally, explain the whole thing."

"I don't think you're allowed to blame other people's hair color," Donna said, smiling impishly. But, just as quickly, she was looking back down into her lap. "But how did you-- I mean, how, how did you know?"

When Donna looked back up, her eyes were a little wider than they had been, and she looked almost exactly like a deer in headlights.

Miranda had been asked this question no less than a thousand times during her life, and she'd never been able to give a good answer. "I just knew. I knew it before Amanda, truth be told, and for as long as I can remember. I just-- all my friends were having heart attacks over boys in magazines, and, well, it just didn't do anything for me."

"Did you ever, you know," Donna blushed, "sleep with--"

"A man? Once or twice. Why does everyone think only straight girls experiment in college?" Miranda laughed, and Donna's eyes dropped. Miranda continued, "And you--"

"I've been with women," Donna said and flicked her eyes up to meet Miranda's. And even though Miranda knew that probably meant Donna sloppy-kissed a few girls back on the farm, her cheeks flushed. She blamed it on the alcohol and nodded.

"What a relief," Miranda said, and swallowed the rest of her wine. A waitress appeared, sliding the check between their plates, diplomatically, and when Miranda reached for it, Donna touched her arm and left her fingers there, warm against Miranda's bare skin.

"I could get it," Donna said.

"No, really. I invited you, practically abducted you from your office," Miranda smiled. "Besides, you've earned your supper with your lobbying tips."

"I'll reschedule that meeting, maybe even for a reasonable time during the day. And Josh might actually show up. And I'll get the check next time," Donna added, trying to sound casual.

"Of course you will," Miranda said. "What century do you think this is, anyway?"

Donna blushed a little, across her cheekbones. "Just, you know, making that clear."

"As a bell," Miranda said, and gestured towards the waitress with her AmEx.

IT FELT A lot like high school, getting out of her car and resting back against the hood as they said goodbye. Except, instead of the little blue house with the green awning at the end of Palmer Drive, they were on Pennsylvania Avenue, and the White House was lit with floodlights behind the wrought-iron fence. Donna was backlit, and her hair made Miranda think of spun gold.

Miranda drove a very sensible little Camry, in silver, and Donna had her arms across her chest in a way that either meant 'back off' or 'come hither,' depending on how Miranda squinted. Miranda had noticed, earlier, that Donna's fingernails were painted the lightest shade of nude, and by the end of dinner, all her lipstick had come off.

Miranda ignored the fact that she was filing all of these things away for later, and put her arms back against the hood of the car, trying to seem casual, even though after all of these years, her heart was still pounding hard enough to make her worried about possible arrhythmias.

Donna looked up from the pavement. "I like your shoes," she said.

"Thanks. When you've got to wear these damn suits all day, it's really the shoes that make it bearable."

Donna laughed throatily, dropping her arms to her sides, holding her clutch against her thigh. "Thank you for dinner, Miranda," Donna said, smiling, but it sounded like she'd been practicing it inside her head for a while. "We'll do it again soon?"

"Well, most normal people, like myself, try to keep office hours between, oh, 9 and 5, so- - you'll call me?"

Donna was obviously surprised, but she hid it well.

"I mean, since you must have my number memorized now, from having to reschedule this meeting so many times."

"You don't have to rub it in my face," Donna said, and she took a step forward. "My failures, as an assistant, I mean."

"Well, it's an important position. I bet you probably do a great job."

"It's-- I'm just a secretary," Donna said, shrugging.

"And I'm just some gay girl who talks to people. Everybody can make herself sound less important than she is, you know. You just, you know, work for some guy, who happens to work for some other guy, who happens to sign a few pieces of paper, or something."

"Okay, okay. I get it," Donna grinned. "Remind me not to let you have that much wine again, okay? You get a little feisty--"

"I think that's enough out of you," Miranda said.

"You think so, huh?" Donna said, and with another step, she was as close as she could be to Miranda without touching, and Miranda decided Donna was either the world's most practiced tease or that she had no idea of the effect she was having. Miranda guessed the latter, and before she could find some casual way of sliding away, Donna touched her arm and leaned forward.

Miranda hadn't exactly expected to kiss her, but there she was, blonde hair and hot breath brushing Miranda's cheek. And so it only seemed reasonable that Miranda shift just that millimeter forward. Donna smelled like Pert Plus and perfume touched behind her earlobes. Donna seemed a little shocked that Miranda hadn't run off, and her fingers tightened around Miranda's forearm as their lips touched.

It was over as quickly as it had started, with just a touch of Donna's tongue across Miranda's lower lip, and Donna smiled, embarrassed, and said, "I should--"

"--get back to work," Miranda said, her voice a little lower than it had been a minute earlier. "Right. Of course. I'll, I'll talk to you soon?"

"Yeah," Donna nodded. "So-- yeah." She turned, and headed off towards the White House, and Miranda slid back into the driver's seat, her forehead against the steering wheel, thinking, 'When will you ever learn?' and wondering what lip gloss Donna had been wearing.

IT WAS AFTER ten, and Miranda was in a ten-year-old tee-shirt and a pair of boxers, drinking hot coffee and Bailey's from a tall mug her mother had given to her for her last birthday. Her laptop was open in her lap, and she was reading the op-ed page of the New York Times online, because she always felt a little guilty about wasting all that paper.

She was wearing her glasses, little black wire-rims, but she pulled them off as she reached for the ringing phone. The cordless was half underneath a pile of legal briefs Miranda was supposed to have read, and she managed not to send them to the floor as she pressed the 'talk' button on the fourth ring.

"Hi, Miranda, it's me. I mean, it's Donna. Not that you should recognize--"

"Oh, if I couldn't recognize your voice after all those voicemail messages, I don't think you'd want to know me, Donna." She shut the laptop and pulled her knees towards her chest. "So, what's up?"

"Josh left. I'm supposed to be pulling facts about historical houses, but I decided that since I would rather, you know, injure myself with a blunt object," Donna said. Her voice was warm, even through the phone.

"Really?"

Donna laughed. "Don't tell anyone, but secretly, the research is the fun part. I am a total library geek."

Miranda smiled and rubbed at a bruise on her calf she'd gotten falling over her coffee table. "Your secret's safe with me."

"I had a good time tonight," Donna said, and Miranda imagined her in Josh's chair, her feet up and her hair down, twirling a pencil between her fingers.

"That's just 'cause you didn't have to pay."

"No, no, really. I did," Donna said, too quickly.

"I'm kidding, hon. Calm yourself, and tell me what you're up to this weekend," Miranda said, not sure if it was bravery or the Bailey's that made her say it.

"I think it's entirely possible my friend Ash will force me to go listen to some really terrible friend of hers sing. Ash thinks she sounds exactly like Ani Difranco, but--"

"You're a big Ani fan, Donna?" Miranda laughed.

"I've been known to put her CDs on repeat," Donna said, as if that made her an aficionado.

"I have to be honest with you, I can't say I like her all that much," Miranda said, smoothing her hand over the bedspread and feeling warm.

"She's an acquired taste," Donna agreed, and then went on, "So, I'll do that tomorrow night, and then, Sunday, I have to be home in time to get to bed to be at work by 6. I bet you wish your life was as exciting as mine."

"My cat and I will spend this weekend cloistered away trying to understand a few hundred pages of legal jargon. So, which one of us will suffer more, do you think?"

Miranda could hear Donna's intake of breath, and then Donna said, "Do you want to have dinner, or something, Sunday? I mean, I can understand if you can't, you know, or--"

"No, no. I, yeah. I'd love to," Miranda said, and already, she was anticipating and making plans and getting caught up in things that hardly existed. "Really."

And not so long later, when they hung up, Miranda wondered if she was making a mistake, but instead of thinking about it, she put her laptop on the bedside table and shut off the light and went to sleep, because everything makes more sense in the morning.

She fell asleep smiling, and maybe that should have been the first sign.

A WEEK OR more later, there was a message from Donna on Miranda's voicemail at work, and Miranda was listening to it and smiling, her elbows on a table full of three-ring binders.

"She called again?"

Miranda spun around her chair, and the phone cord snapped against the edge of the table. She dropped the receiver from her mouth and said, "Scare the crap out of me, why don't you? And what are you talking about?"

"Your little girlfriend," he said, leaning against the doorframe. He was six feet tall and named Justin, and he'd grown up angry and repressed in some town in Iowa. Now, he was wearing tailored suits and dating a pretty boy named Carlos, who had moved to Washington from Miami in the 80s.

These were the people Miranda worked with, everyday, and through the phone, Donna was wondering where Miranda was and if she would please call her? Donna's voice was pretty and clear, and Miranda hung up the phone before saying to Justin, "She's not so little."

"So you admit to dating her?" Justin said, his eyebrows raised.

Miranda was wearing highly sensible work shoes, but she had taken to wearing make-up because Donna seemed to like it. Her shirt was white cotton, and her eye shadow was Stila, and Justin was looking down at her and waiting.

"If you forced me to describe her in one word, I'd call her my girlfriend, okay?"

"Hiss, baby. No need to bring out the claws. But, I mean, I've heard that--"

"That she works for the White House? I mean, I know that, but--" Miranda interrupted, saying the things she had practiced for when this happened.

"I've heard she's straight," Justin said, disapproval written all over his face.

"She's perhaps not as queer as we would have hoped," Miranda shrugged. "But, I mean--"

"And you, with your buts. A month from now, and you'll be moping around here like someone killed your grandmother, and you'll be the ultra-dyke, wishing death to all the hetero women in Washington."

"Hey, a girl goes off on one little rant," Miranda said, trying to make her voice light and turning back to her pen and legal pad.

"Yeah, one little rant. What was her name? Jessica, wasn't it? And before that was Paulette, and Karen, and need I go on?"

"How very much do you not need to lecture me, Justin? I'm a big girl, and I don't need--"

"I'm just saying, you're smiling now. At least, tell me that she's cute?" Justin smiled at the corners of his eyes.

Miranda couldn't help it, and her voice dropped a little. "Oh, she's beautiful, really. Skinny, and blonde, and just fantastic."

"I don't condone this, you know," Justin said, and someone called him from down the hall.

Miranda smiled. "Well, then it's good that you're not my mommy, isn't it?"

MIRANDA KNEW THINGS were getting serious when she invited Donna to her apartment for dinner, because she wasn't, honestly, a very good cook. But she made a passable vegetarian lasagna, and Donna brought a decent bottle of Merlot, and they sat on her living room floor and looked at one another over the rims of their wine glasses.

Donna looked tired, and when Miranda asked, Donna shrugged and tried to brush it off as nothing. "Oh, work. You know how it is," she said, gesturing vaguely with her glass.

"I guess, it's the White House, and all."

Donna sighed. "It's not really that impressive, you know. It's just like working anywhere else, but the hours and the pay are worse. Really."

Miranda didn't want Donna to think that she was only dating her because Donna worked for Josh Lyman, because it made it sound like all of this just suited her political agenda, like she was trying to influence public policy with a poorly made lasagna. But, who could ignore the fact Donna worked in the White House? "It sort of is impressive, though. But really. You just seem pretty worked up."

Donna shrugged. "Something-- there's something going on. At least, I think there is. Which puts everyone on edge, and all the sudden, I'm doing things that Josh use to do for himself, so that he can do whatever else it is that he's doing." Donna picked at the loops of the carpeting.

"Look, I'm sorry--"

"I know a lot about tobacco," Donna said, looking away, not letting Miranda finish. "I mean, a lot. You don't have to apologize. I just haven't been sleeping too well. You know how it is," she said again.

Miranda just nodded. "Yeah, I understand," she said, even though she was one of those people who slept eight hours a night and woke up after the sun was in the sky.

Donna looked up, and she smiled. "It's, it's great to see you after a week like this one. I'm so glad I'm here."

And it was unexpected, so Miranda flushed and drank her wine. "There's no where else I'd rather be, Donna," she said, and she meant it, and it worried her a little. She also thought about how this whole thing looked a little bit like the build up to a tasteful porn movie, with Donna in her black shirt with the top three buttons undone and the edge of her carnation pink bra showing along her shoulder. "Have you," Miranda started, "have you told anyone about us?"

"Is it a secret?" Donna asked, a little too quickly.

"No, no. Just the opposite. I've told my friends, and I just wondered, well, when I see Josh, if I'm going to be meeting him just as Joshua Lyman or as the boss of my girlfriend." Miranda bit her lip and leaned her head back against the sofa.

"Would it matter, if he knew? Or if he didn't?"

"Maybe," Miranda said.

"He, he doesn't know exactly. I mean, I haven't told him in so many words," Donna admitted. Miranda's stomach sunk, but she found herself nodding.

"Yeah," she said. "I understand. I mean, yeah."

"Have you told your friends?" Donna asked, picking at a cuticle.

"I mean, a couple," Miranda said, thinking about how she had practically gushed to Karenna and how Lawrence was calling her daily for updates. "But it's no big deal. Some of my friends, they can't stand it if they don't know everything, minute to minute, about my life. You know." Miranda didn't look at Donna as she said it.

"I mean, Josh has enough problems with him and Sam, right? I mean, why does he need me complicating things even farther, you know? And, with work and everything. It's not like I'm ashamed, or something," Donna said, laughing a little, but just the fact that she mentioned it told Miranda that she'd considered the possibility. "Hey, Miranda. Come on, really. Don't get upset."

Donna's voice was honey-sweet and her fingers were warm as they traced a path down Miranda's arm from her shoulder. Miranda's shirt was dark blue and sleeveless, and Donna's fingernails were just long enough to make Miranda shiver, and when she reached Miranda's wrist, she let her hand fall to rest against Miranda's thigh.

"I'm not upset," Miranda lied. "I mean, I understand. You don't really think I'm that petty, do you?" She put her hand over Donna's. "Do you?"

NEEDLESS TO SAY, Miranda's friends were less than thrilled with her pretty new girlfriend.

"What," Karenna asked, "have you run out of bicurious, but, I needn't add, ultimately straight redheads? Have you used them all up?"

"It's not like I went out of my way to pick her up, Kar. I mean, it was just a strange set of coincidences, and, um, aren't you the one always telling me to listen when the world is trying to tell me something?"

It was a Saturday morning, and they were having brunch at a café near Karenna's apartment in Georgetown. Karenna was one of those lesbians who'd always looked straight, and Miranda always thought she'd become a lawyer just to keep up the pretense. It was fortunate, though, that Karenna wasn't the tall-and-waifish type, Miranda thought, or sex would've ruined their friendship, and she'd done that enough times to know it was worse than anything.

"I tell you to listen to the world when it's, I don't know, telling you to get a new haircut or telling you to go to the gym, or something. Not when it's telling you to fuck straight girls." Karenna drank from her glass of orange juice and jabbed towards Miranda with a slice of wheat toast. "You," she said after she'd swallowed, "are pretty much a royal idiot. Have I told you that?"

"I think the 'royal' is new, but the sentiment isn't," Miranda said, hiding behind a forkful of her cheese omelet. "Maybe we could just refer to this all as, I don't know, lesbian outreach."

Karenna arched an eyebrow. "Lesbian outreach?"

"I mean, I was distraught to find out that there wasn't any toaster involved, damn that Ellen Degeneres, but I mean, I figure, it's the least I can do after all these years of loving kindness from the lesbian community."

"Oh, my God. You are so incredibly full of crap, Miranda. I mean, you couldn't be more full of crap if, if-- no, I can't even come up with an example," Karenna said, looking skyward. "Only you could have a thing for innocent and inexperienced, refuse to admit it, and then try to make the fact that your dating some straight, blonde White House employee into some sort of political maneuver. What, you think bringing her over to our team is going to somehow change the White House's stance on health care for domestic partners?"

"This isn't political, and you know it!" Miranda crossed her arms across her chest, looking through the window over Karenna's shoulder. There was a guy in his twenties walking a golden retriever, and a woman sitting in the passenger seat of a car, reading the Washington Post and clearly waiting for someone to return. Miranda looked back to Karenna and took a breath. "Look. I like her. I like her a lot. Is there something terribly wrong with that? Because if there is, if there's something wrong with spending time with her and enjoying her company, I'd really like you to tell me."

"I could tell you a thousand times, Miranda, and you wouldn't hear me. I'm worried you don't like her as much as you think you do. I'm worried you like the idea of her more than you like her as a person. I'm worried that the sex is going to be bad, that she's going to get tired of covering her ass when she has to explain where she was when she was out of the office because God forbid she should tell anyone about you-- incidentally, doesn't that strike you as a little strange?"

Miranda shrugged. "We do what we have to."

"My policy is only to date girls who can use the word lesbian in a sentence. In public. Preferably, on some sort of national television broadcast. Possibly, carrying a sign."

"Got it."

"She's working for Josh Lyman, and every queer in Washington knows that he's a fag. Point being, she won't tell him? If anybody in the whole administration would be cool with it, it would be him, and she's hiding like you're a Republican or something."

"Perish the thought," Miranda said, but even still, she looked down into her lap. "But so what? Do my girlfriends have to have some certain level of activism oozing from their pores before I'm allowed to sleep with them?"

"Maybe you should consider making it a prerequisite, you know? After a while, we aren't going to think this is cute, Miranda." Karenna drained her juice glass. "And then where are you going to be?"

"YOU LOOK INCREDIBLE," Miranda said to Donna as she opened the door. Donna's dress was short and black and sprinkled with little rhinestones, and her hair was back with sparkling clips. And Miranda was impressed with the fact that Donna looked so calm, when Miranda was anything but. "I mean, really incredible."

"I do clean up well, don't I?" Donna smirked, and Miranda kissed the back of Donna's hand. She wiped away the smudge of lipstick as she raised her head and Donna smiled at her. "You don't look so bad yourself. I like the purple."

Miranda was wearing a purple turtleneck and dark pants and a black leather jacket, and together, they were going to epitomize the butch/femme stereotype that Miranda had spent her whole life trying to convince people wasn't the end-all of lesbianism. And, strangest, she didn't really mind, as her fingers brushed against Donna's leg and Donna looked surprised.

"Come on, my car's up the street," Miranda said, and took Donna's arm as they left. When Miranda turned to lock the door, Donna leaned against the wall and smiled nervously.

"Are they going to like me?"

Miranda bit her lip. Karenna wasn't, but she would stay quiet as long as they were in a group. And honestly, after almost a month, wouldn't Karenna admit that maybe, maybe Miranda had been right all along? She turned from the door and smiled maybe a little too brightly. "They'll adore you."

Donna blushed. "You swear?"

"Yeah. Yeah, hon. Really," Miranda said, but she wouldn't meet Donna's eyes as she said it.

The club, when they reached it, was darkish but relatively quiet, and Miranda's friends were practically huddled around a table, their heads leaning in over their glasses. They all looked up as Liz nodded towards Donna and Miranda making their way through the maze of tables.

"Nice jacket," Liz said, arching an eyebrow.

"Pretty girl," Christine said, smiling.

"Who let Christine have the tequila shots?" Miranda asked, laughing, pulling Donna by the hand towards the table, even as Donna offered a little resistance. She squeezed Donna's hand in reassurance and elbowed into the booth next to Christine, who was laughing too loudly.

"Everyone, this is Donna," Miranda said, reaching for the nearest drink and taking a gulp to calm her nerves. Donna blinked a little like she was expecting to be, perhaps, shot.

Christine stuck out her hand and shook Donna's warmly. Christine was dressed in the same clothes she'd undoubtedly worn to work that day. "Christine Laramie, attorney at law. A pleasure."

Miranda laughed. "Let's play, guess-how-drunk-Christine-is."

"Let's not," Liz said, rolling her eyes, and then she smiled at Donna. "I'm Liz. I'm babysitting Christine for the evening."

"That is," Miranda said, "they've been dating for two years. Liz is an ER resident at GW."

"Dr. Liz, then?" Donna smiled, and she put her hand on Miranda's leg under the table.

"Keep in mind, I could kill you, and no one would be able to determine the cause. Keep that in mind," Liz said, quirking an eyebrow and taking a sip of her drink.

"Okay, so that was a little scary," Miranda said, and shook her head. "Rounding the table, we've got Megan, Karenna, and next to you is Sarah."

"Going to be able to keep all that straight?" Karenna asked, throwing a look at Miranda.

"I have a thing for names. You can't very well keep track of, like, a thousand phone numbers if you can't remember which one belongs to which Congressman, you know," Donna said, and then asked, "So, is someone going to buy me a drink, or what?"

Donna stood as Miranda slipped out of the booth. "I can take a hint. What do you want?"

"Something with vodka," Donna shrugged. "Surprise me."

When Miranda returned with Donna's Cosmopolitan and her own glass of wine, Donna was smoking one of Christine's cigarettes and having an animated conversation with Sarah about Megan's latest book, and Miranda wondered one more time if any of this was such a good idea.

DONNA WAS DRUNK when they got back to Miranda's apartment, and Miranda wasn't. Miranda knew she should bring Donna back to her own apartment, unlock the door and tuck her into bed to make sure she didn't cause any harm to herself.

But that's not what she did, even though she was sober. And it was one of those things where, even as she did it, she was saying to herself, "I'm going to regret this."

And it was one of those things she did anyway.

Donna had a little trouble on the steps, and Miranda held her hand and helped her up, laughing. "Having some difficulty there, Donna? You okay?"

"I'm fine," Donna grinned. "Fantastic. Wonderful. A little embarrassed at how drunk I am. How're you?"

Miranda smiled. "I'm great, thank you. Hey, you okay by yourself while I get the door?" Miranda asked, even though Donna wasn't really that drunk.

"I'm fine. Look at me. I can even stand in one place without your help. I could dance a little jig, too, but, it'd look silly in this dress," Donna said, but she put a hand on Miranda's back when Miranda turned back to the keyhole. Donna was wearing Miranda's jacket, and Donna's fingers were tracing the place left bare where Miranda's shirt lifted.

Miranda's key caught the tumblers of the lock, at the same time her breath stuck in her throat. She pretended to ignore it, thinking perhaps Donna had no idea what was going on, but then Donna's fingers were sliding down to rest on Miranda's ass. Miranda thought maybe Donna was just drunk. Really drunk.

But when Miranda pushed the door open and turned, Donna stepped forward and pressed up against her, arms around Miranda's neck. "Hey," Miranda said, almost reluctantly putting her hands on Donna's hips, which are hard under her fingertips, "what--"

"I think, perhaps," Donna said, close to Miranda's face, her breath sharp like a Wint-o- green Lifesaver, "I've waited long enough. So--"

"Come on, let's go--"

"--inside, come on," Donna said, pulling Miranda into her apartment backwards, without stumbling, with her hand cupped around Miranda's neck. She was too graceful, and her eyes were too clear, and Miranda saw that Donna knew exactly what she was doing. It didn't keep her from kissing Donna as soon as the door was shut, her hands on Donna's thighs, fingers against slick nylons.

Donna's lip gloss tasted like a Luden's, and her knee was insistent against Miranda's pushing them apart. Her breasts were against Miranda's, and through their layers of clothing, Miranda could feel Donna's hard nipples. Donna kissed like girls shouldn't be allowed to, all tongue and no teeth, kissing like they describe in romance novels, so that Miranda's head swam.

Donna took a little step back, biting her lip. She touched Miranda's stomach, dipping a finger in Miranda's navel through her turtleneck, and she said, "You know when I said I'd been with women?"

Miranda tried to hide her smile. "Yeah?"

"I may have been overstating things a little." Donna looked at Miranda, hard, eyelashes dark with black mascara.

"No kidding," Miranda laughed, and pulled Donna forward by the hem of her dress. "It's not too hard to figure out, I swear."

Donna licked her lips and touched Miranda's throat. "I think we'll manage," she said, before she kissed Miranda again.

MIRANDA DIDN'T COME.

She was disappointed, but not surprised, because despite the cultural wet dream, the home court advantage really doesn't mean anything when it comes to sex. Donna's touches were too hard, her mouth too shy, and in the end, Miranda just ended up kissing her and saying, "Let me touch you," because it was simpler.

Miranda woke up at quarter past ten, wearing only black Victoria's Secret panties, her pillow on the floor. Donna wasn't in bed, but Miranda heard water running in the shower, and so she got up and found a pair of sweat pants and a tee-shirt for Donna to wear, before pulling on a sweatshirt and padding into the kitchen for a Diet Coke.

She was curled up on the futon reading the Sunday Times when Donna emerged, wearing the clothes Miranda had laid out. Her hair was a mess of wet tangles, and her cheeks were bright from the hot water.

"You want something to eat, or something? The book review section?" Miranda asked, look up from the Week In Review.

"No, no. I've, I've really got to get home. I have to stop by the office this afternoon--"

"It's Sunday," Miranda interrupted.

"Yeah, but, the White House never sleeps, or something like that. There's this thing, or, really, there are a dozen things and," by the time she stopped, her hand was on the doorknob and her back was to Miranda. She turned, leaning back against the closed door, and her hair was making damp spots on her shoulders.

"Miranda, I'm really not doing that running away thing where-- I mean, I'm just really busy. You know. And pretty hung over, and I won't make good company at all. You're not upset, are you?"

Miranda smiled, but it didn't even feel real, so she knew it wouldn't look it. "Of course not. You look nice."

"Thanks," Donna said without smiling, and she'd closed the door behind her before Miranda could say goodbye.

THE ANNOUCEMENT WAS on every news channel, and Miranda knew better than to try to call Donna, because if things were crazy outside the White House, Miranda could only imagine what was going on inside of it. She was almost jealous of Donna, but then she thought of Grand Juries and subpoenas.

She waited a ten days to call, and she just ended up leaving a message on Donna's home voicemail. "I'll get back to you as soon as possible," the recorded greeting assured, but Miranda didn't hear back for a week.

"Let's get dinner," Donna said, too seriously. "I've missed you," she said, and her voice didn't warm.

"Yeah, okay. When? Where?" Miranda asked, trying not to sound eager, trying not to sound at all in love. She wasn't in love, she told Karenna. It wasn't like that. Donna told her a date nine days in the future and a place practically sitting atop the White House, so that Donna wouldn't have to go far.

Miranda agreed, because it was easier that way, and a week later, it only took her two hours to find the perfect don't-dump-me outfit, and she spent time blow-drying her hair. Donna chose a table near the windows and a bottle of wine, and they had eggplant parmigiana as Donna told Miranda that she really couldn't talk about work. "It's all, it's all sort of secret, you know, because of the investigation. Not that we're hiding anything," she added, out of habit.

"I didn't think you were," Miranda said, making a pattern in the marinara with the flat of her fork. "How are you? You, I mean."

"I'm fine. You know, busy," she said, as if they'd never met, as if none of it had ever happened. Miranda wondered if she was going crazy, but then she remembered the bite marks Donna had left behind, and she knew she wasn't.

"Yeah, I hear that." Miranda nodded.

Donna dropped her fork onto her plate, only half-finished, and Miranda saw her glance at her watch. She was, it seemed, timing this, and Miranda wondered if it would prove a point to scream or cry or make a scene. She just wiped her mouth with the cloth napkin and waited.

"Look, Miranda, I don't-- I don't think this is working," Donna said, and Miranda was surprised by the way Donna could meet her eyes. "Us, I mean. This is abrupt, I know, but--"

"You're busy," Miranda said, turning to look out the window. She tucked her napkin under the lip of her plate and took a gulp of the wine.

Out of the corner of Miranda's eye, Donna had at least the decency to look embarrassed. "Right. Yeah. I-- Look, I'm sorry. This isn't, this isn't the person I wanted to be."

Miranda turned back. "No?"

"I just, I thought you were fun and--"

"You thought we could just have a little fun, huh?" Miranda shook her head.

"I wasn't trying to use you, if that's what--"

"No, I don't think that," Miranda interrupted. "You just thought I was fun. No, I get it."

Donna frowned as if this wasn't how she'd planned it at all, and she seemed to decide to take a different tack. "And, I figure, with the White House under investigation and all, I just-- I mean, the stuff I've written in my diary alone might be damaging."

"We didn't have anything to do with MS, Donna," Miranda said.

"I mean, personally damaging. To me, or to Josh, or," Donna seemed a little lost, but Miranda had no plans to bail her out.

"Because people might think you were queer, you mean?"

"Don't say it like that," Donna said, looking down to her lap.

"Like what? Like I thought it was true? Like I think it still is?"

"Just, stop. Stop. It isn't about that, and you know it," Donna said, sounding almost exactly like a teenager.

Miranda sighed. "I mean, I guess I know now why you still haven't managed to reschedule that meeting with Josh," she said.

"It wasn't like that--"

"No, I mean-- a gay rights lobbyist who can't even convince her own girlfriend that it's all right to be gay? I wouldn't want me making a fool out of myself in front of my boss, either."

"Miranda--"

"No. No, really. I get it," Miranda said, and drank her Chardonnay. "It's just--"

"Yeah?" Donna asked.

"One day," Miranda smiled sadly, "one day somebody isn't going to think this is cute. And then where are you going to be?"

DONNA LEFT HER a message at work, saying that the meeting was scheduled for six o'clock on a Wednesday night. The weather was humid, and Miranda was wearing a summer suit and new shoes, and she wore eye shadow to the meeting, just to make a point.

Donna was there, of course, and Miranda smiled at her. "Hey," she said, "I'm here to see Josh Lyman."

"Yeah, come on," Donna said. "You've hit the big time, now, Miranda. No more dress rehearsals." Donna was walking in front of her, so Miranda couldn't see her face. She stopped at Josh's door, and let Miranda pass, and they didn't touch at all.

Josh smiled like he wondered what was going on.

"Josh," Miranda said, smiling brilliantly, "I'm Miranda Valencia, and it's nice to finally get the chance to meet you."

Josh laughed a little. "We like to test our lobbyists, you know. See if they come back three times, and all that. To test the strength of their will."

"I think, then, maybe I deserve a medal or something. Think someone around here could work that out for me?" Miranda asked, leaning forward.

"You're pushy," Josh said, flirting with his eyes, and Miranda struggled not to laugh. "I admire that. Hey, Donna," he said, looking over Miranda's shoulder, "get the door, will you?"

And when the door was closed, Miranda set a manila folder down on Josh's desk and sat in one of the free chairs.

"Convince me," Josh said, sitting behind the desk.

"It's hell being gay, Josh," Miranda said, smiling like he was in on the joke, "but it shouldn't have to be lethal. Let me, let me show you some numbers."

--
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