In Washington, the President and his staff had spent a very busy two weeks. First, a minor head of state had died, so Sharon had accompanied Vice President Elmira Vallegos to the funeral. Then there was the full-on revolt in one of the other Middle Eastern countries, probably fomented by the policy Mark had held to in Saudi Arabia – and which even Sharon finally had to admit had been the right course of action.
Mark also had federal budget issues to contend with, what with that phase of legislation coming due in a couple months, and he still had his education legislation that he wanted passed. So there were multiple rounds of meetings to the point that Mark found himself at Sharon’s at least five times during those two weeks, twice at PFZ parties with the rest of the Advisory Board and three times having dinner with her alone and playing chess and gin rummy just to relax.
By that Saturday, he was good and restless. The West Wing tended to be fairly empty on weekends, although Sundays there were several Muslim staff members who worked since they took off Fridays and Saturdays. Also, Sunday mornings, when the President was at church, staff members would sometimes show up to get a jump on the week. But if they were going to work Saturday or any time when the president was in the White House, the West Wing staff made a point of doing so from home simply because if they went into the office, they would more often than not get dragged into playing catch or basketball or running laps or whatever physical activity the President was in the mood for.
Sharon, he usually left alone, but when she showed up that Saturday, Mark decided to heck with it, popped up in her office and dragged her off to the White House basement, where the basketball court was.
“I hate playing basketball,” she complained as they rode down the elevator.
“Well, it’s no fun shooting hoops by myself,” Mark told her.
“I can watch and catch up on email.”
“You can play and finally learn how to do a decent lay-up.”
Sharon laughed. She was wearing a close-fitting t-shirt and jeans over a pair of running shoes. Mark was similarly attired, except that he had basketball shoes on.
As he often did when he caught a staffer working on Saturdays, he coached Sharon through the art of the lay-up, insisting that she run several drills until he was satisfied that she had it. Then he spotted her several points and the two began a game of one on one.
Once again, Mark was caught off guard by Sharon’s natural athleticism. She played hard and thanks to the points he’d spotted her, pulled ahead quickly.
“Why do I get the feeling I’ve been suckered?” he asked, gasping as she drained another three-pointer. He trotted over the area under the net to get the ball.
“You’re the one who insisted on spotting me the points,” Sharon said. She caught the ball as Mark threw it at her and went out of bounds to start play.
“Because I thought I had an unfair advantage on you,” he said. “You hate playing basketball.”
“So I’m not that competitive,” Sharon grinned as she bounced the ball a couple times. “I didn’t think you wanted me to let you win. I could.”
“Don’t even.” Mark grinned also.
He caught the ball as Sharon tossed it and play was on again. The two played for several minutes as Mark caught up, then began winning. Then Sharon got the ball and dribbled toward the basket. Mark shadowed her closely. She tried dodging, but he stayed close on her back, not letting her escape. Laughing, she tried dodging again, and again, and then. Mark folded his arms around her and his lips found hers.
Sharon let herself melt into the kiss, returning it, feeling the soft pressure of his mouth and the sweet saltiness of his tongue. Mark felt his heart beating out of his chest, wondering how long it could last.
Not long enough. He lifted his head and their eyes caught. Sharon smiled, then shuddered.
“Foul?” he said softly.
“Well, you are pretty sweaty.”
He moved in again and she pulled away. He sighed.
“I thought we weren’t supposed to be going there,” Sharon said.
“Well,” Mark said, helplessly as Sharon glared at him. “I guess I overstepped the boundaries again.”
“Do that often, do you?”
“Not that often,” he grumbled. “And never past propriety.” He paused. “Well, not since high school, but then I didn’t know what I was doing.” He paused again. “That doesn’t excuse it.”
“I wasn’t saying it did. But it doesn’t mean I’m that worried about you, either.” Sharon plopped down onto a nearby bleacher. “Not that way, at any rate.”
“So now what?”
“What do you mean?”
Mark shrugged and picked up the basketball. “Do you still want to keep trying to be friends? It’s been working. Or do we do the whole split-up routine, with you… I don’t know.”
“I don’t know, either.” Sharon sniffed and shut her eyes. “I was really liking the friend thing. And I can’t quit my job.”
“You probably could.”
“Except that, it’s the best job I’ve ever had in my life and I love my work.”
“Oh, brother,” Mark sighed.
“Not that I’m blaming you.”
“I didn’t think you did.”
Sharon looked him over. “Whatever.” She sighed. “I guess it’s time to try maintaining a little distance.”
“Just what I want to do.” Mark dropped the basketball onto the floor, then caught it again. “But you’re right. It’s probably for the best.”
“Yep.” Sharon pulled herself up off the bleachers and left the gym. Mark watched, wondering if he’d blown it yet again.