the west wing. she likes neat things and she likes order and maybe that’s the problem with romance, right?: it’s too messy, there are too many complications, and more than that, there are too many plot twists. ainsley; ainsley/sam. rated pg. 3005 words.
notes: for modernthirst. HAPPY HOLIDAYS ANNA BANANA!!!!!
there will be little rubs and disappointments everywhere, and we are all apt to expect too much; but then, if one scheme of happiness fails, human nature turns to another; if the first calculation is wrong, we make a second better: we find comfort somewhere.
(mansfield park, jane austen)
She should know better of course.
That’s how the middle of this story starts. The middle of this story starts with how Ainsley Hayes should have known better.
(The beginning of this story started along the same lines and was set in Washington, DC instead of California and according to the origins of that particular interval of the story, Ainsley should have known better that hope and politics is a dangerous, heady blend when not mixed with enough cautious and careful realism and that flirting with good-looking political operatives or (deputy) communications directors or whatever they call themselves these days doesn’t always lead to fruition and consummation without a decidedly earnest and direct bit of effort on the lady’s part).
At this juncture, Ainsley Hayes should have known better, because it’s not as though she has not read each and every one of Miss Jane Austen’s novels and seen and appreciated each and every one of their theatrical renderings via BBC, that the plotlines of romances are tricky at best and more often than not wind up looking like the policy flowchart currently decorating the top of her desk.
The heroine’s heart always gets broken. Her heart is always broken and there is always a dilemma of miscommunication and improperly expressed desires and situations and the heroine’s heart is broken before she is allowed to marry her man of good fortune and live forever and ever in his stately manor.
It’s, like, a fact.
Too bad Ainsley forgot this lesson the second she took up with Sam Seaborn.
It had taken them all of three weeks to arrange their first date.
The whole thing started long-distance, which, according to Ainsley’s roommate, was a bad omen itself, but Ainsley hadn’t cared.
She took the leap first and thought she was going to vomit.
It’s like this: Sam had accepted a position with President Santos’s administration and Ainsley had accepted a position with President Santos’s administration and just like the first go round Sam didn’t stay engaged. Sam lasted twelve months and Ainsley lasted eighteen and in the interim Sam pulled that same trick he pulled last time and returned to California and was going to run for Congress yet again.
Only this time they talked him in to something else. Only this time they talked him into running for governor, governor of California. And he did.
And he won.
Sam Seaborn was now Governor of California, or, well Governor-Elect, or however that worked (Ainsley couldn’t remember if the titles worked the same way the whole president thing did or not; she had felt like it was the sort of thing she should know) and some evenings he still called. He would call, and he would ask her stupid, not-really-mocking questions like what are you eating? and she would answer, around a mouthful of ice cream/spaghetti/buttered croissant/onion rings nothing, and he would laugh, he’d laugh like it was a really great joke or something and she would take that as her entrance to inform him just why exactly she was so disgusted with the day’s Santos’s policy decision.
That’s what was happening the night she took the first leap.
They were arguing about, of all things, the estate tax and without really meaning to she had said:
“Sam what I’m trying to say is that I really like you and I have for some time and I just thought you should probably know that.”
And that was when she thought she might puke.
Their first date was held in the confines of Ainsley Hayes’s Washington DC apartment.
More specifically it was held in the confines of her bedroom (paired with the occasional excursion to the kitchen).
The date lasted two days.
On Sunday Sam flew back to California; he called her from LAX.
“We definitely have to consider doing that again. Soon. More than soon. Whatever the word is that arrives sooner than soon,” is what he said.
She had said, “yes.”
The next step: a job at O’Melveny & Myers law firm in Los Angeles.
For awhile she had weighed the options. The White House, whether or not she wanted to stay, whether or not she wanted to disappear like last time, whether or not she wanted to get heavily acquainted with Dulles International Airport and LAX and BWI or whatever.
In the end it was kind of simple.
“If you’re not happy you’re supposed to do something about that,” is what she said. “So I’m going to do that. That’s what I’m going to do.”
She packed up her apartment and ate a pretzel in Baltimore and waited for her plane to arrive.
They dated for two years.
They dated for two years and at the start of the second year, Ainsley found herself thinking things like marriage and babies without even really meaning to.
They dated for two years, and then they broke up.
If you’re not happy you’re supposed to do something about that.
That’s what she said.
That’s what she’s trying to do.
They break up.
That’s the part of the story at which we currently find ourselves. Ainsley Hayes and Sam Seaborn break up.
“I just don’t think I’m ready to give you what you want,” is what Sam had said.
Ainsley had replied, “I never told you what it is I want,” and Sam just shook his head and looked down at where his hands were resting on his hips.
(That’s not fair, is what she had wanted to say. You can’t just preemptively say ‘I can’t give you what you want’ without knowing what the other party involved even wants. That’s cheating. That’s looking for the escape hatch, the break-glass-in-case-of-fire thingy, the easy way out and if there’s one thing she believes in it’s that Sam and her were better than this, that they are better than this, but he said it, so now what, right?
And besides, was it really that scary? Was it really that scary that all she wanted was him, that she just wanted Sam Seaborn?
You know, she’s not really sure who she’s talking about when she thinks about how frightening they once were. It might be her. It’s definitely her).
Sam had broken up with her and then Ainsley had cried for what felt like a really, really long time.
It was a really, really long time.
The aftermath is weird.
After, Ainsley realizes fast that she has to reconcile herself to the fact that she had moved across the county and despite the fact that throughout the entire time she was packing cardboard boxes and reading about beaches and restaurants and vineyards and listening to Beach Boys songs she had justified to herself that the job she now had was good and that she had always wanted to spend time out West, it just really, really wasn’t true.
She actually sort of hates California.
There’s the smog, for one thing. For another, there’s the traffic. And the ridiculous cost of living (but then again, it’s not like she wasn’t paying upwards of $2K a month for rent in DC, but that was different, she was different, that wasn’t California). And the surfers. Ainsley really doesn’t like the surfers. Or the waves. They’re not like the waves she’s used to, the waves of the Atlantic and the sand that squishes like damp brown sugar between your toes (not that she has ever actually squished damp brown sugar between her toes but she has a vivid imagination, she can fill in those blanks).
She misses magnolia trees and long porches and each and every cliché and trapping the South has to offer.
Go West, Young Son.
There is a morning between jobs when Ainsley receives a call from a popular women’s magazine.
“Wait, wait, wait,” Ainsley says. “So you’re saying you want to interview, me? You want to interview me? About what?”
When they say your job and your political career and that charity you once headed up, remember? she gets that these three things are not the things they want to talk about. No, that’s not it at all.
What they want to talk to her about is her break up with Governor Samuel Norman Seaborn and what it is she plans to do about it now.
She does the interview.
After – there is a position on an economic policy committee she finds herself a part of, and once again she is frequenting airports and getting to know the various coffee bars at the various terminals and which brand of trail mix is tastier at which outpost (JFK’s is proving hard to beat).
She boards a flight to London.
Her phone rings. Her phone rings and Ainsley bats at first the alarm clock and then the strangely modern touch lamp on her nightstand before picking it up with a groan and a, “this is Ainsley.”
“What the hell?” is what she is greeted with and she closes her eyes for a brief moment.
“Of course this is Sam! Jesus, Ainsley. What the hell?”
“What the hell,” she repeats back.
“Why’d you say that?”
“Why’d I say what?” she mumbles. It’s too late, early, whatever, for this.
“I said what the hell and then you said what the hell and now I’m sort of confused.”
“I thought maybe that’s how we were greeting each other now,” she says. Her head hurts. “What do you want, Sam?”
“I want to know what the hell…this is all about.”
Oh. She sighs.
“The article dropped, huh?”
“’The article dropped. The article dropped.’ Ainsley. I mean. Really. I mean. Do you know how bad this is for me?”
“I didn’t say anything particularly incriminating,” she says, and it’s true. She sits up a little, her weight resting on her left forearm. “I just told them I was a happy free woman now and that sometimes I sing-along to Dusty Springfield songs now and command my femininity or whatever. And that I’m happy. That’s not so bad.”
Sam just breathes into the phone for a moment and it’s a strange moment at that and Ainsley thinks her heart feels a little funny but that might be on account of the fish and chips she had at eleven at night and the better part of a box of antacids she downed shortly thereafter.
“You said that I broke your heart.”
“Well, yes, as I do recall that part was definitely true.”
“Why didn’t you tell me beforehand?”
“You tried? Godamnit, Ainsley. You didn’t try.”
“I did. I did so. I called your number prepared to tell you about the interview and that there was the distinct possibility that they were probably going to ask me questions about you and that I wasn’t going to lie or anything so I just wanted to give you a heads up and let you know be prepared okay? That’s what I was going to say. But I called your number and a woman answered and didn’t even say ‘Sam Seaborn’s phone this is so and so.’ No, she just said, ‘hello,’ and then I said, ‘hello can I please speak to Sam,’ and she told me no, rather nastily I might add, that you were busy, and this was your cell phone I called, not your office phone or however many other super important personal lines you may have – ”
“Okay. Right. So I said it was important and potentially a maybe big deal depending on how you feel about your national reputation and she said, what, and I said, tell him Ainsley called and she’s going to do the interview.”
There is a pause.
“I guess she never gave you that message, huh?”
She can hear Sam swallow over the phone.
“Uh, no. No she did not.”
“Is that…is that the woman who…?” She can’t bring herself to continue. What’s there to say? Is that the woman who took my place? Hey Sam, is that the new me? Is that woman who was all rude and cold and awful with me over the phone the same woman you’re sleeping with now? Granted, it has been upwards of six months, no, nine months? since she and Sam were anything close to intimate, but it’s still too gross for her to even completely think about.
When Sam doesn’t answer the half-asked question with a half-answer of his own, Ainsley knows. Ainsley knows and she sighs and tries to burrow down deeper into the covers.
“That’s not what I meant when I asked you why you didn’t tell me beforehand. The article wasn’t the part I was talking about,” he says quietly.
Ainsley thinks she might be blinking back tears but she’s trying really, really hard right now. She’s trying really hard to convince herself that they’re not tears, that she’s just tired, that her eyes are watering, that she’s allergic to her pillows, oh God, something. And he would do that. He would really say something like that because that’s what Sam Seaborn does. It’s just like that time he had shown up at her door one night after a fight and had asked her, all gentle-serious, are you okay, and of course she was then, of course, or like the time he called her and she was in the airport, and she was sad, she was really sad, she missed home, and she was mad at him for that, irrational, but she was mad and he had said so fast and so nervous before he hung up: I just really love you, you know.
She swallows hard and there’s this huge lump in the middle of her throat, and there were airports and the basement of the White House and election nights and nights without name and Sam Seaborn and that silly, silly magazine, and she should have expected this sooner and she’s really afraid she might trip up and say something sad and embarrassing and true like I really miss you.
Instead her voice rises into a sharp, brisk cadence and she can’t stop rambling:
“Well. Right. As lovely as this has been Sam I need to go and get some sleep, I was on a plane all day and I’m in London right now, I don’t know if you knew that, but I am, there’s a conference, right, there is a big conference tomorrow, and I need to get up in, like, I don’t know literally three hours, so I’m going to try and go back to sleep now and maybe next time you want to chat and I might be across the Atlantic you could maybe kind of take things like time zones and clocks and me into consideration. Okay. Well. Good bye.”
She snaps her phone shut fast before Sam gets a chance to return the sentiment.
That’s good, she thinks. That’s real good.
Ainsley does not go back to sleep.
Not even a little bit.
(She stays an extra week in London, and then she makes it two, and then she has to go shopping because she didn’t pack enough clothes, and then she stays an extra four days and then three and spends the last outside of Buckingham Palace, sipping on a cup of coffee.
“It’s just like I imagined,” she muses. “How nice.”)
“I don’t think I’m very happy,” she says on the flight back to LA.
The man next to her barely even looks at her, but there is the slight lift to his shoulders, a sort of half-hearted shrug. She takes that as encouragement.
“I mean, I don’t think I’m very happy like I used to be.”
The man sighs.
“No one’s happy, kid,” he barks. Ainsley frowns. She pops a peanut in her mouth and continues to frown.
“I really don’t think that’s true,” she says quietly, but the man isn’t listening anymore.
“I really don’t think that’s true at all,” she says again, to herself. She looks out the window.
She remembers the first day she ever met Sam Seaborn and how full of promise he had seemed.
That’s happiness, she thinks. That’s real.
The plane taxis.
When she gets off the plane and when she finds her suitcase in baggage claim, she also finds Sam, waiting.
“Hi,” he says.
“Hi,” she says back.
He walks over to her, his hands in his pockets, and he gets real close, just like he always used to, a head taller than her and he has to look down.
“You never told me what it is you wanted,” he says quietly, each word measured.
Ainsley just laughs or maybe cries, she can’t really tell, and says, “I hate California,” and that’s when Sam kisses her.
The whole thing is just so happy endings, so last page of the novel that Ainsley can’t help but smile.
Her fingers entwine with his and they walk, and it’s right, she thinks; she wants to sing “Moon River” really loudly for some inexplicable reason and more than that, she wants for there to be an orchestra to crescendo, and even more than that, she wants to kiss him. She wants to kiss him a lot and for a long time and even longer than that to come.
“I’m going to do that,” she says, and Sam looks at her funny and then smiles.
“That’s what I’m going to do.”