Some Assembly Required
Character(s): Sam, Donna
Summary: Good friends come in all shapes and sizes.
"That was some nasty bump." Donna spoke to Sam's jeans-clad rear end. "Are you sure you're all right?" Directly to his ass, right in front of her face.
"It was nothing," he assured her, his voice muffled inside the cavernous piece of furniture he'd crawled into. "Happens all the time. It takes a hell of a lot more than a knock on the head to -- Ow!" There was a pause before Sam began to slowly edge backwards on his hands and knees. "However, twice, in the same spot, might just mean it's time to take a break." He sat back against the edge of the coffee table, and brought a tentative hand to the back of his head. "Oooo."
Donna, still bent over, her hands resting on her knees, stared at him with concern. "Do you need ice? Let me get you some ice." Straightening, she began to turn towards the kitchen.
"Just bring another beer, and I'll hold that against my head for a while," Sam suggested, bringing himself to his feet awkwardly. He moved to the sofa, and flopped down into the cushions.
Donna was back a moment later with two beers, and she handed one to Sam before joining him on the couch. "So, what's the verdict?" she asked. "Are you going to be able to do it?"
Sam scoffed at her skepticism. "Of course! It's just a matter of making connections. I know it seems complicated, but once you can see the 'whole,' everything just kinda flows together." He swallowed a mouthful of beer and gingerly brought the bottle to the back of his head.
"'See the whole,' huh?" Donna said with a grin. "Zen, and the Art of Dvd Hook-ups; by Samuel N. Seaborn."
"My first bestseller after I leave the White House," he replied agreeably, and sipped at his beer once more. "Of course, all of this would be so much easier if you didn't have that, that...." He swept a free hand in the direction of the massive oak entertainment center in front of them. "Thing that I can't even get behind."
"It's pretty hideous, isn't it?" Donna crinkled her nose at the monstrosity against the wall. "I begged my old roommate to take it with her, but she insisted her fiancé had all the furniture they needed. 'We have everything we need.' Couples. Eck." Her delicate nose twitched again.
A perceptive smile flitted across Sam's lips before he hid it behind his beer.
"So, I should wait to order the food?" Donna tucked a long leg under herself and ran a lazy finger around the top of the bottle she held. "It's going to take a little longer than you thought, huh? God, Sam. I'm sorry to steal your Sunday away from you." She cocked her head and shot him a wan smile.
Leaning forward, Sam snagged one of the three sets of directions littering the coffee table, and set his beer down in its place. "Forget it. You know what I would have been doing if you hadn't asked me to help you?"
"Sleeping? Sailing? Hitting the bars, or maybe...?"
"Working," he finished for her without a sideways glance. "Wide awake, on dry land, and sober. Besides. I'm secretly hoping come Monday, you'll start spreading the word that I'm not a clumsy, inept, technology-challenged anti-male, and people will look at me with renewed respect and admiration."
"Because you can hook up a dvd player...?"
"And your vcr, and speakers, with cable," Sam declared, looking her squarely in the eye. "Hey, if it was so easy, you'd be doing it yourself."
"Or I'd've asked Josh." To which they both snorted knowingly.
Strands of translucent blond hair had escaped the loose knot Donna had tied them into, and she deftly brushed a few away with the back of her hand. The light in the apartment was shifting across the floor quickly. What she had assumed would be an hour job, two at the most, had stretched to nearly four.
They'd had to return to the electronics store for additional cables, in spite of the fact that the dvd box proclaimed 'everything included!' After Sam had assembled all the equipment in neat and orderly piles across the floor, they'd discovered that the presence of the cable box posed a new problem, and warranted a quick trip to Radio Shack. Surrounded by boxes, packages, and a plethora of instructions, Sam had set to work; which was when he'd realized he had virtually no access to the back of the components once they were set into their compartments in the entertainment center.
"Well, the couple across the hall might be willing to help us move it away from the wall. They're both pretty burly guys," Donna supplied helpfully. "But it seems like they don't get back until fairly late on Sundays. Place in the Shenandoah's, I think," she added in answer to Sam's apparent interest.
Flipping the manual closed, Sam tossed it onto the table flamboyantly, and retrieved his half-finished beer. "Okay, then. I'll just have to use my natural gifts of ingenuity and dexterity to get this job done. Watch; learn." He swallowed the last of his drink and slid off the sofa, strode to the front of the entertainment center and planted his hands on his hips.
"Not that I think it's any less of a joke, but why is that when you say something like that it sounds so sincere, yet if Josh were to utter the exact same words, he'd sound like an arrogant jerk?" Donna wanted to know.
"Because he's an arrogant jerk," Sam shot back. Then repeated, "Okay."
Donna went to his side, mirrored his position. Agreed with his silent assessment. "Okay." Watched his face carefully. "We're screwed."
"No, no!" Sam sprang into action, spinning around to locate the switch box they'd picked up on their last trip out. "This, honestly Donna, this isn't that complicated. There are instructions with pictures. A few common-sense considerations. It's all right here, and I know how to follow directions. I do my own taxes for Christ's sake; Toby's too. I set up a retirement account for Josh, and helped Ainsley negotiate to buy her condo. This is a dvd player. A cable box." He sniffed haughtily. "This is not beyond my considerable capabilities."
Donna looked at him sideways, and folded her arms over her chest. "Is there anything you'd like me to do to help?"
"Um... I don't think it's too soon to start with the aspirin. And possibly cut off the juice to that outlet." He pointed to the wall hidden behind his oak nemesis. "You know I'm going to end up injured before this is all over, and I'm proud of the fact that I have never once been electrocuted. Going for a lifetime record there."
Donna leaned on Sam's arm and laughed heartily. It felt good to laugh, felt better when Sam joined her.
"I gotta tell you, Sam, I'm beginning to not care that I ever get this thing set up. Maybe you could just come over every weekend and keep me company, doing a little bit each time." Her voice was wistful, yet light, the laughter still faint under the words. She rested her head against his shoulder briefly. Inhaled the scent of soap and skin, noticed the absence of any cologne.
"Hey," Sam began, turning to face her. His voice was low, and concerned. "You're feeling down? What's up?"
Donna sighed, waved dismissively between them. "Oh, you know. Just... stuff, I guess. My roommate's gone. I'm happy for her, really; she's got a great guy." She turned away from Sam and drifted over to a shelf that held a few framed photographs. "She always had great guys, and now she's got 'the' guy. And, I have yet to find a new roomie. Chirpy little neo-professionals," she complained. Her Democratic National Convention tee-shirt barely grazed the top of her jeans, and she yanked it down without thinking.
Sam stood where he was, giving her some space. But he chewed thoughtfully at his bottom lip. "I'm sorry," was all he could think to say at first. "Look, once we get this state-of-the-art system up and running, perspective roommates will be salivating to move in." He reached down and scooped up a handful of cables self-consciously, and began separating them.
"Thanks, Sam." Donna smiled gratefully at him. "It just feels so good to... to get the hell out of that damn White House, you know? Even though it's kind of lonely here, at least it's real life."
"That's... huh." Sam's eyes drifted around the room slowly, taking in his surroundings.
"What's 'huh?'" Donna wanted to know. She walked back to the coffee table and picked up her beer.
Sam shook his head quickly. "Nothing. I... I'll need you to hand me these, when I ask for them." He sank to his knees and began pulling out the vcr.
She sat beside him on the floor. "What were you thinking? Come on, Sam, I shared with you." Donna's touch on his arm halted his movements.
Sam carefully avoided her eyes, examining the appliance he held instead. "It's nothing. Nothing interesting, anyway."
"Give," Donna insisted, giving his arm a gentle nudge before pulling away.
A pensive expression clouded Sam's face, and she saw his jaw work a few times. Couldn't help but wonder what had given her the courage to insist that Sam share something he was obviously uncomfortable with.
Just when Donna was sure he was going to ignore her plea, he cleared his throat, and glanced at her before turning his eyes back to the vcr. "You said, this is real life." His eyes once again darted around the room. "You meant this, here; your apartment and everything, right?"
"Well, yeah, Sam," she snorted lightly. "What else would I mean?"
"The opposite of that?" Sam suggested. "That what we do in the White House is real life, and this - " He swept his arm out. "This is the filler. What we do, and where we go until we can go back to the real life." His eyebrows rose in a question, and his neck flushed slightly. "Man, that was a lot more eloquent, and frankly, not as psychotic sounding in my head," he chuckled dryly, then leaned forward until his face was obscured from Donna's sight.
She drew him back gently with a guiding hand. "Sam...." He wasn't looking at her; wouldn't meet her sympathetic gaze. "I don't think your way of looking at it is any worse than my way. But you can't live in the West Wing. In the end, I guess we're both pretty pathetic, living only half our lives." She smiled at him, hoping her words would ease his discomfort.
"Yeah," Sam agreed eagerly. "But you're going to have a kick-ass home entertainment system, so." He matched her smile with one of his own. "I am sorry you feel that way about your job, though," he added more seriously. "I can't promise you anything, but I can tell you it'll probably get better. It may not seem that way, but you might feel differently in a few months. It takes time." He held her gaze for a beat, before running his hands over the buttons on the vcr.
Sam's eyes snapped up to meet Donna's.
"I cry sometimes." Her voice faltered, and she pressed her lips together. Sitting so close to Sam, she could see her own image reflected in his clear blue eyes.
His voice was like oil; smooth and frictionless. "I can relate."
"No, Sam; I mean, I really cry." She felt ashamed; not for the confession, but for how stupid she felt for giving it so much emotional weight.
"Donna." Sam's knuckles passed over her hands, tight and tangled in her lap. "In the last sixteen months or so, I've cried more than any other time in my life." He tilted his head at her, a quizzical expression sweeping across his face. "Is that... that's probably not good, do you think?"
Donna sniffled in a breath. "Um, doesn't sound too good, no, Sam."
"No." He brightened a little then. "No, it wasn't. But, I don't anymore. It's... it'll get better, Donna. Lot's of alcohol, and a couple of rousing speeches. A few weeks on Toby's sofa, and I'm as good as new." His smile was warm, and genuine. "You just have to find the right combination. The one that works for you, you know? The single most vital component is the alcohol. Very elemental, that." He winked at her, and she felt herself relax at seeing his smile.
"That's something I can get started on right now, I suppose." She scrambled to her feet, and smoothed down her jeans. "So, do you want salt with your margarita?" she asked while sashaying into the kitchen.
Forty minutes, three powerful margaritas, two speakers and one vcr later, Sam and Donna sat tangled up in a mire of cables, extension cords, and sticky wads of packing tape Sam had insisted he needed, but for the life of him now couldn't remember for what.
"... so that's why he can't drink margaritas? Toby always struck me as a lot tougher than that," Donna was saying, peeling tape off the bottom of one foot.
"I could hear him through the wall. It was a cheap hotel," Sam chirped happily, the effects of the alcohol brightening his voice.
"You heard him puking? Ewww!" she squealed, covering her face with her hands. "Either they were really thin walls, or he was pretty dammed sick," she speculated, peeking out from behind her long fingers.
"Thin. The walls," Sam explained. "You could hear everything. To this day I still blush when I think of what he may have hea - Never mind." Sam abandoned the statement by doing just that. "So, these are all color coded. How cool is that?" His voice held more enthusiasm than Donna could muster looking at the coiled wires in his hands. "The cable box goes here, and the dvd here, and this'll make it all effortlessly switch over when one or the other is activated."
"So, we're almost done?" Donna ventured cautiously.
"No," Sam admitted. "I'm just reading from the manual. I still have to put it all together." He turned the switching box over, and examined his handiwork. "Ah. That's wrong." He glanced at Donna. "And, um, that. All I have to do is -- "
"Have another drink?" Donna beamed. "Have another drinky-poo with me Sammy-whammy?" Her voice twinkled, and she did a little wiggle. "Drinky-poo!"
Sam chuckled at the sight. "Stop calling it that, promise me you'll never refer to me as that again, and sure; I'll have another. But..." He placed a hand on his stomach. "No salt this time. My gut is already complaining...."
"Antacid in the bathroom, help yourself. But you're getting salt," Donna insisted. "I only make margaritas with salt. I love dipping the glasses," she confessed before skipping into the kitchen.
Just as she poured out two generous splashes of tequila, she heard a multi-faceted crash, then a thud. "Aaaaaaa!" came Sam's voice, from the direction of the bathroom. "Ohgodohgod. Oh. My. God."
Donna spun around, the sudden motion making her movements towards the commotion a little unsteady. Just as she entered the hallway, she saw Sam lurch out of the bathroom. Pale; eyes wide and terror-filled, mouth working, but no sound emerging.
"Sam! Ohmygod, Sam, what happened?!" Donna was at his side, holding him by the shoulders. She searched his face and hands for blood, but saw no signs of obvious injury. "Did you hit your head again?" she implored him. "Donna?" His voice was ragged, and he gasped her name between heavy breaths. "Donna... why? Why would you...?"
"Sam?! What's wrong?" Her throat was tight with panic. She realized suddenly that Sam looked spooked; scared.
"Why the hell would anyone keep... it in the bathroom?!" Sam squeaked, eyes darting towards the open, lighted doorway. "For god's sake! Why isn't it in the fucking bedroom, where it.... belongs?!"
The color drained from Donna's already pale face, as the situation began to dawn on her. No. It really couldn't be.... She stepped around Sam, and peeked cautiously into the bathroom. Her eyes swept past the broken bottles of cosmetics, one shelf inside the medicine cabinet slanting at a violent angle.
It really couldn't be....
Laying in the sink, in all its pink, silicon glory. Perky and eternally erect.
A groan plowed out of Donna's throat, and the color came rushing back to her face in a brutal wave that left her swaying against the wall. "Oh, Sam.... I'm... Sam?" Turning back to the hallway, Sam was nowhere in sight. Vaporized by embarrassment? she wondered irrationally.
She found him in the kitchen, staring at a closed cabinet. "I, I need a glass. Is it safe to open this?" he asked plaintively, upon hearing her come up behind him.
Donna slammed open the door, snatched a glass, and set about busily filling it with water. As Sam reached out a shaky hand, she downed the contents in one, long gulp.
"My god, Sam." She turned on the tap, and refilled the glass. "I'm so mortified! I'm so sorry! I can't believe...." She again brought the glass to her lips, ignoring the way Sam's eyes followed the motion of her hand. "I forgot. I so forgot...."
Shaking his head sharply, Sam reached up and grabbed a glass of his own. "I, I really don't know what to say," he said rapidly. "I, I..."
"I know!" Donna agreed, filling her glass after Sam. "I... I left it in there to dry. I completely forgot - "
"Aggghh!" Sam groaned. "Please don't tell me about it! Oh, shit; this is bad. This is so very, very bad...."
They stood together, not facing one another, not making eye contact, gulping glass after glass of water.
"I'm going to die - "
"- of embarrassment."
"I wish I could turn back the clock."
"Maybe I just have a concussion. This whole evening is a hallucination."
"How am I ever going to - Sam!" Donna whirled around to face him, sending Sam skittering into the wall. "You can't tell anyone!" she wailed, flapping her hands like ineffective wings.
"Who the hell would I tell?!" he shouted back. They stared at each other for a moment, both panting breathlessly.
"Okay, we have to calm down," Donna reasoned, drifting over to a stool by the breakfast bar. "We're both, we're adults here."
Sam nodded his head, but there was no enthusiasm to his motion. And he remained plastered against the wall.
"Surely, you've... I mean, you're a sophisticated man. In your experience you must have - "
The slow, methodic up and down movement of Sam's head suddenly turned into a brisk back and forth action. "No, no, no; let's not take that any further," he begged, slinking towards the doorway. "I think... I need to go gouge my eyes out now." Ducking through the door, Sam stumbled to the sofa, where he collapsed, holding his head.
He felt the cushion next to him depress a moment later. "Sam." Donna's voice was a whisper. When he looked up, he saw the tears in her eyes, and saw her shoulders quivering. "This is humiliating. I'm so sorry. I did honestly forget. I guess I've gotten too used to living alone." She hiccupped a little, stared down at her hands. "Can you ever look at me again?" she wondered meekly.
Sam instinctively reached for her hands, cold and shaking. "Do you think I'm making judgments about you, Donna? Jesus, please don't think I'd ever do that!" He squeezed her hands gently, and she raised her eyes to meet his. "I would never do that. I'm just embarrassed," he said, and then surprised them both by laughing out loud. "You know, I should have been better prepared, what with having already seen your underwear, and all."
"And here I've never even seen yours," Donna quipped back, trying desperately to match Sam's attempt at lightening the mood. She scrubbed her hands over her face, and took a giant breath. "I don't know about you, but I need a big old whopping motherfucker of a drink." She scooted to the edge of her seat, before stopping cold. "Oh." She rose slowly to her feet. "No, you're probably dying to get out of here, aren't you?" She didn't even bother to hide the disappointment in her voice.
Sam was on his feet before the words had finished leaving her mouth. "I was actually hoping I could prove to you just how sophisticated I am, and stick around to finish the hook-up. But that all depends on you, and how you feel. If you want me to go...." Sam took a purposeful step towards his jacket.
"No!" Donna interrupted. "I mean, Monday morning is going to be difficult enough. Maybe, maybe if we hang out, and get all the awkwardness over with tonight, it won't seem so weird tomorrow?" Her expression was hopeful, but resigned.
One corner of Sam's mouth crooked up into a smile. "Oh, make no mistake. This is always gonna be weird. Very, very weird." He shrugged, his shoulders hovering up around his ears a moment before he let them drop. "But what the hell. Just, seriously, Donna; I can offer you, um, non-judgment, and a sincere effort to pretend this never happened. But no reciprocity, if you know what I'm saying. I don't do giggly secret-sharing. Even for you." He watched her response carefully. "I... don't care to reveal myself that way."
Donna knew this. And it hadn't occurred to her to try - at this particular moment, anyway. His earlier admission had surprised her enough; she never intended to push any further.
"I understand, Sam. And, if this had to happen, I can't think of anyone else I'd rather.... hell. Who am I kidding? I just wish to god it'd never happened at all," she mumbled, and stalked into the kitchen.
Returning with two deadly margaritas, Donna found Sam back on the floor, camped out in the midst of the remaining debris. "Um, do you still need those antacids?" she asked timidly.
"Like you wouldn't believe," Sam sighed. "I was afraid to ask."
"I kinda need to go back in there, anyway," Donna said, her face flushing bright pink.
From the safety of the living room, Sam heard Donna sweeping up the broken glass, and run the faucet in the bathroom. Eventually, she crept across the hall into her bedroom, emerging a few moments later to bravely take a seat next to him, handing him a bottle of Maalox.
He worked on for a while longer. "Just have to tighten a few more connections, and we should be done," Sam explained to her. He glanced over at his friend, who hadn't said a word since her return, but sat quietly lapping at her drink. "You okay?"
"Hm," Donna answered lazily. "Yeah. Buzzed. And still... self-conscious." She set her drink down, and scooted closer to Sam. Her eyes were a little bleary and unfocused, but she held his gaze steadily. "Sam. I just want - "
"You don't have to say anything, Donna."
"No, I want to say... I trust you. To, you know, not say anything, and to not make me uncomfortable on purpose, and most of all, not to judge me."
Sam snorted softly. "You haven't committed a crime, Donna. You haven't done anything wrong, or immoral, or questionable in any way. I'm a little worried that you might think that. It's the most natural thing in the world to need some... satisfaction. Nature simply made it a little more complicated for women, is all." He shook his head in awe. "And hey; after four margaritas, and two beers, I'm amazed to find that I'm not as... traumatized as I thought I'd be."
"Well, I'm going to throw the fucker away," Donna declared, then giggled. "I mean sucker. Oh, fuck, suck, what's the difference?"
"Quite a lot, as it happens," Sam muttered.
Donna giggled again. "I don't want to throw it away; it cost a small fortune," she whispered loudly in the general direction of his ear.
"Then don't you dare," Sam told her emphatically.
"Oh, but I have to," Donna complained, leaning back against the sofa, stretching her long legs in front of her. "Every time I look at it, you know I'm going to remember tonight. And no offense, Sam, but the idea of associating it with you - "
"Done!" Sam exclaimed a bit more loudly than a balloon popping. He leaped to his feet, and took an evaluating step away from his accomplishment. Then took another away from Donna. "So, um, I'm done. We're done!" The strained smile didn't appear on his lips until Donna was staring directly at him. "Finished," he reiterated.
She made it to her knees first, then unsteadily clambered to her feet. Eventually, Donna was standing face to face with Sam. "My hero," she slurred dreamily. "Do you think it works?" Already, she was fumbling with the dvd she'd bought in anticipation of this momentous event.
"I doubt it," Sam murmured to himself. "Hey, were we gonna... I think we should eat something, before we test it out."
The mere suggestion distracted Donna from her task, and she happily ambled towards the kitchen. "I'm buying you din-din, to go with the drinky-poos. So what'll it be, stud? Something manly? Ribs? A nice slab of beef? I think I have one in my nightstand...." Her laugh drifted through the room, and in spite of himself, Sam smiled back.
"Let's keep it simple, okay?" He followed her into the kitchen, and pressed her onto the stool. "I'll order pizza, we'll watch the movie, then you're going to take a fistful of aspirin and go to bed."
"Would you be a doll and get it for me? It's in the medicine cabinet," Donna teased.
"Enjoy this while you can," Sam warned. "Tomorrow this won't seem quite as funny again."
"And then, we're both gonna start trying to live the other half of our lives. Right, Sam?" She leaned her head against her arm, propped up on the counter.
Sam stepped to her side, and placed his hands on her hips, shifted her so she wasn't perched quite so precariously. "Let's... give it shot," he agreed, and picked up the phone, dialed the number he knew better than his own.
| back | send feedback | The National Library |