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Misinterpretation

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‘Can’t you do this at your own desk?’ Josh asks, leaning against the wall of his office.

Donna peers into the little mirror she’s got open on Josh’s desk, carefully applying foundation. ‘I can see better in here. Did you know there’s an abundance of natural light if you actually open the blinds?’

He tears his eyes away from her for a moment and looks dubiously around the room. ‘I’m seeing corners I’ve never noticed before.’

‘I think I saw something go scuttling into one,’ she says. ‘Fleeing the sunlight.’

He edges more into the center of the office. ‘I like it dark. You know how many people I have to intimidate in this room?’

‘And you think the photophobia routine is the best way to do that?’

‘My point is it’s nowhere near as menacing if you walk in to blazing sunshine. Even less so if you walk in to find it’s been turned into a beauty salon.’

‘It’s five minutes while I get ready for my date, Josh. After that you can turn it back into your scary lair of doom.’

‘It’s been more than five minutes,’ he mumbles, glancing at his watch. He frowns. ‘Date?’

‘Huh?’

‘You have a date?’

‘Yeah.’ Donna snaps closed the lid of her foundation and reaches for her blusher pot. ‘What did you think I was doing?’

‘You have friends you could be seeing.’

‘Well, not tonight,’ she says.

‘Is this the fly fishing guy?’

He hopes not. The fly fishing guy is definitely not worthy of her in that little blue dress.

‘No.’

And neither is anyone else.

‘What guy?’ he asks.

‘Different guy.’

‘What happened to the fly fishing guy?’

She turns her face this way and that, looking at her reflection. ‘Would you believe I don’t care about fly fishing?’

‘I would. What weird sport is the new guy into?’

‘Unicycling, I think.’

‘That’s not true,’ Josh guesses.

‘No. Stop bugging me.’

‘If you’re going to use my office…’

Donna stands up, sweeping her things back into her makeup bag.

‘I didn’t mean you have to leave!’

‘No, I’ll go and finish getting ready in the bathroom,’ she says. ‘I don’t need to sit here and listen to you pick holes in a very nice man who’s going to take me to a very nice restaurant.’

‘I’m just curious!’ he tells her, following her out of his office and hurrying after her down the corridor. ‘I'm not gonna pick holes; I was just wondering about him.’

‘Yeah, but I talk about my dates and you make fun of them even though you don’t know them—’

‘I could have warned you about the fly fishing guy. I didn’t like him even before you said about the fly fishing.’

‘This is my point,’ she says. ‘You met him for two seconds. How do you decide in two seconds that you don’t like somebody? And not just him. Everyone I go out with.’

They round a corner. ‘Where do you find all these people?’ Josh asks, not wanting to examine Donna’s question too closely. ‘I mean, how do you find the time to look for people to date, let alone find this many you actually want to date?’

She shoots him a look. ‘You’re charming, you know that?’

‘What?’

‘It’s not an entirely one-sided thing, Josh! I’m a very desirable woman.’

He clears his throat. ‘Yes. I didn’t think it was one-sided.’

‘Good. Also, despite your best efforts, I leave the office every once in a while.’ She strides across the lobby at such a pace that he struggles to keep up with her. ‘You should try it. Wait a minute.’ She slows down, then stops altogether, turning to face him. ‘Hold on. Are you jealous?’

Josh gapes at her. ‘Wha—no! What the hell are you talking about?’

‘Oh my god.’ She whirls away to continue walking. ‘You are! You’re so totally jealous!’

‘Could you—please, could you not be so loud?’ he hisses.

‘So you admit it?’

‘No! You’re on absolutely the wrong track, here. I don’t even—what am I supposed to be jealous of?’

She stops again outside the door to the bathroom, giving him an incredulous look. ‘Of me!’

Josh blinks, thrown. ‘Huh?’

‘Of the fact that I’m meeting people and you’re going through… look, it’s just a lull; you’ll find someone soon.’ She frowns. ‘What did you think I meant?’

‘I’m—I mean, I don’t—’ he stammers. ‘I don’t know.’

‘Okay. Well, this is the ladies room. You can’t come in here,’ she says, and leaves him standing bemused in the corridor.

***

‘That’s what I thought you meant,’ Josh says.

Donna jumps as the door to the bathroom swings shut behind her. ‘God, Josh! Were you just hovering outside the whole time I was in there?’

‘I was waiting for you.’

She wrinkles her nose, turning to head back toward the west wing. ‘Outside a women’s bathroom? People are going to think you’re up to something weird.’

‘Like what?’

‘I don’t know, but they’re going to think you’re doing it. Did you need something from me before I leave?’ she asks.

‘No. I just wanted to tell you, you know, that’s what I thought you meant. When you said I was jealous. Of you. I totally got it.’

Donna sighs. ‘Look, would you like me to set you up with someone?’

‘Uh,’ he says, eloquently.

‘I really think your only problem is that you don’t get out there enough,’ she continues. ‘It’s hard for you to find people, which is no reflection on you as a person and nothing to be ashamed of.’

‘I know that,’ he says, with some indignation.

‘It’s not like there are many women just wandering around the office that you’d want to date.’

They walk in silence for a few moments. ‘Josh?’ she says eventually.

‘I don’t want to date anyone right now,’ he blurts out.

‘Right. That’s fair.’ Donna grabs her coat off her desk as they arrive back at his office. ‘It’s good to take some time to learn about yourself. Have you ever considered taking a yoga class?’

‘The thought hadn’t occurred to me, no,’ Josh says, going and slumping down in his chair. He expects her to head off straight away, but instead she follows him into his office, perching on the edge of his desk.

‘Well, that’s what I did after my last big breakup,’ she says, absently neatening up some files. She’s painted her nails a delicate pink color. He doesn't know an awful lot about nail polish but he thinks it looks pretty good on her. ‘Actually, that’s a lie—I didn’t have the time or money to take a class, but I did buy a book, and it turns out that if you’re naturally flexible, it really doesn’t take long to master the downward-facing dog right there in your bedroom.’

Josh leans back in his chair and covers his face with his hands, sincerely wishing he’d escaped back to his office while she was in the bathroom. ‘Donna,’ he croaks, ‘please, I am begging you, can we be done with this conversation?’

She shrugs. ‘Okay. I need to go, anyway. I just don’t want you to feel, you know, like I’m flaunting my great love life.’

‘I don’t,’ he says quickly.

‘It’s really not all that much to brag about,’ she assures him. ‘You’re right about most of them, anyway. They all have this particular…’

‘Washington arrogance?’ Josh suggests.

‘Exactly. A unicyclist would add a little excitement, honestly.’

‘Well.’ He nods a few times. ‘You look lovely. And this guy better treat you well.’

She smiles. ‘Or?’

‘Or I’ll be having words.’

‘My hero.’ She hops off his desk, heading for the door. ‘Thanks, Josh.’

‘Have fun,’ he calls after her, and puts his head on his desk.

***

‘You reckon I could ride a unicycle?’ Josh asks Toby later.

‘God, no,’ says Toby.