i tried everything short of aristotle to dramamine and the whiskey bottle
Dana gave Isaac six weeks' notice, swore him to secrecy, and left for Las Vegas the night after her last show. She didn't say goodbye, she didn't leave a forwarding address, and she didn't regret the decision.
Well, she didn't regret it very often.
Dana had always believed that she'd be one of those women who got married and proudly kept her own name. Dana Whitaker - it was the name she'd made for herself. She didn't plan to give that up for anyone.
Mostly she just didn't think she'd ever get married.
Then Calvin Trager introduced her to a friend of his, this cute young lawyer named Tom Scavo, and the rest was history, as Danny would have said.
She thought about it for weeks before she said anything to Isaac - Tom had asked her to marry him, and she wanted to, but she wanted a family, too, and she wanted it to work. Dana had seen what Casey's career had done to his marriage to Lisa (though Lisa and Casey contributed to that cause personally, as well) and she had seen what her career had done to her relationship with Gordon. Tom was wonderful, and he wanted to marry her, and he wasn't asking her to give anything up to do it, either.
She decided she was going to, regardless.
Tom was waiting patiently for an answer, and she knew she was going to spend the rest of her life with him because he wasn't pressuring her. Everyone else in her life pressed down on her like a vise, and they may not have meant to do it, but all the same, everyone needed answers, and everyone thought Dana had them.
Two weeks after Tom asked her to marry him and gave her the ring that was sitting in its box in her underwear drawer, she went to Anthony's while the rest of the crew went to El Perro Fumando. She drank three glasses of Isaac's favorite scotch and smoked a cigarette she bummed from Jack.
She had a long talk with herself, and she made a couple of decisions.
The show was sailing along without her help these days. Between Sam's suggestions, Calvin's money, and Casey and Dan's writing, they were beating Fox most nights. Natalie was handling more responsibility, Jeremy was falling apart less, and Dana didn't mind handing the show off to Sally quite as much as she used to.
Tom loved her. She'd had a good run, producing sports. She was closer to forty than she was to thirty now, and she wanted kids. She'd always wanted them in a hazy, sometime-in-the-future sort of way, but she could hear her biological clock ticking, and she knew that if she was serious about having a life that wasn't her job, she had to start soon.
She had never wanted to give up her career for a family and a husband. It had never occurred to her that some day, it wouldn't be giving up.
Dana called Tom from her cell phone and told Isaac the next morning. She made him promise not to tell anyone until she was gone; she made him promise to give Natalie, not Sally, her job. Isaac smiled at her fondly and the only thing he said was, "Are you sure?"
She was, for once. Dana Whitaker, who could second-guess encyclopedias if given enough time, just looked at her boss and said, "Yes, I'm sure."
"Well," he replied. "Be happy, then, Dana. Or at least try."
Isaac kept her secret. She couldn't tell the others. Natalie wouldn't understand. Danny might go crazy again. Casey would find some way, purposeful or accidental, to derail everything. She didn't even tell her mother, because her mother wouldn't understand that she just wanted to disappear.
The night of her final show, the crew went to Anthony's, and Dana cleaned out her office, kissed Isaac goodbye, and caught a cab to meet Tom at La Guardia.
They were in Vegas by sunrise, and married by noon. Tom owned some property up in Westchester County, and Dana deleted every message on her machine without listening to them. She called her mother and gave her the news, and when her mother stopped screaming at her for eloping, Dana swore her to secrecy regarding her new address.
She erased herself completely. Dana Whitaker, who'd sworn on a case of beer in college that she'd never take her husband's name, changed her last name to Scavo without a second thought. Dana Whitaker, who'd hated her middle name for her entire life, introduced herself to her new neighbors as Lynette.
New husband, new life.
Not a single trace of Sports Night in the house.
It wasn't such a bad way to live.
She only watched the 1 AM rebroadcasts when she couldn't sleep, and she told herself she didn't miss it at all.
Seven years later, she is trying to clean grape jelly off Porter and Parker's faces without smearing any more across the kitchen walls when the doorbell rang.
"Preston," Dana says. "Will you answer the door for Mommy, sweetheart? I'll be right there."
She crams a twin under each arm and is starting for the living room when Preston bellows, "Mommy, it's a guy with a square head! And a pretty girl, and a guy who can't stop laughing!"
Dana nearly drops the twins on the floor. There is only one person who might turn up on her doorstep and be both unfamiliar to Preston and the owner of a square head: Casey McCall. She rounds the corner from the living room into the foyer, fully aware that she is covered in grape jelly with peanut butter in her hair, and stops dead, Porter and Parker wriggling under her grip.
Standing in her doorway and wearing an expression that suggested Preston might have just punched him in the balls is Casey. Dan is collapsed against the porch railing, convulsing with laughter, and Natalie is standing next to him, visibly snickering with one hand pressed over her mouth.
They were the last people Dana expects to see standing on her front porch.
"Dana Whitaker?" Casey says, sounding both strangled and incredulous.
"Lynette Scavo," she replies. "I'd shake your hand, but I'm a little busy right now."
Casey opens his mouth to reply, but before he can get any words out, his eyes roll back into his head and he passes out cold.
Dana sets the twins down and skips the admonishments about smearing more jelly on the kitchen, puts her head in her hands, and starts laughing.
She doesn't hug any of them. Danny gets his laughter under control and hauls his unconscious partner into her living room. Natalie looks her up and down, wearing a sly smile that makes her look like a cat, and says, "Did you know that you have peanut butter in your hair?" Without waiting for an answer, she pushes past Dana into the living room.
"I didn't invite you people in here," she shouts, standing alone in the foyer with her eyes closed and her head still in her hands, and she suddenly feels as though she is standing in the middle of the Sports Night newsroom, trying to wrestle a broadcast onto the air on a bad day.
When she turns and stares into the living room, Dan is wrestling on the floor with all three of her boys. He's propped Casey up on the couch and Natalie is crouched beside him, looking about three minutes from slapping him straight across the face in an effort to revive him. Dana leans against the wall and says, "Oh, go ahead and smack him, Natalie. He probably deserves it."
Danny's head shot up and he grins at her. Dan's smile was still one of the most comforting things Dana knows, all these years later. He is looking older; he and Casey are both going gray around the temples, and if Natalie wasn't dying her hair, Dana will eat Penny's dirty diapers. But when Dan smiles, he still looks 21, the kid Casey picked up and brought to Dana. Casey had said, "We could do something good, Dana, the three of us."
And they had, for a while.
Danny smiles at her, Preston and Parker pinned beneath him and Porter hanging from his back, and says, "Hey, Dana, where'd you rent these monsters? I want some of my own."
She opens her mouth to respond, but instead of her voice, she hears the sharp crack of skin on skin and Casey mumbling, "Jesus fucking Christ, Natalie, what'd you do that for?"
"Watch your language, Casey," Dana says. "You wouldn't talk like that in front of Charlie, would you? So don't talk like that in front of my kids."
"I'll take the boys out in the backyard, okay, Dana?" Danny says, and he doesn't wait for an answer.
"Doesn't he," she trails off, looking from Natalie to Casey and back again, and wondering if Danny was just here for the ride - and not actually for the caring.
"He's good with kids," Casey says. "He'll keep them out of our hair."
"Danny knows that Casey will tell him everything you say, anyway," Natalie adds, with a look at Casey that tells Dana everything she needed to know. So Danny and Casey had figured it out after all these years; they were better together than they were apart. Good for them.
She hoped they were happy.
"So," Casey says. "Lynette Scavo. You own a minivan."
"So, Casey McCall, are you still sassing your producer on air?"
"Fair enough," Casey says, and he won't meet her eyes. The expression he's wearing - hurt and confusion and frustration, all in one - was the very reason she'd slipped away without telling anyone. She'd banked on the fact that she and Tom hadn't been dating very long before he proposed, and on the fact that she didn't expect anyone to remember his last name. Natalie had only met him a handful of times, at best, and Casey and Dan even fewer.
She'd erased Dana Whitaker. She'd erased Dana so that she could build a life without the constant guilt of having let other people down simply by making a choice, but Mary Alice was still dead and she was still guilty and deep down, Dana still loved the people sitting in her kitchen, looking at her like she was a stranger.
"How did you find me?"
"Danny was reading the obituaries a couple of weeks ago, and he saw ..." Natalie starts.
"Wait," Dana says. "Danny was reading the obituaries?"
"Danny's weird," Casey says. "In his old age, he says, he enjoys not being surprised the deaths of famous people, and so he reads the obituaries so as to not be surprised."
"That's the most backward logic I've ever heard," Dana says.
"Danny's weird," Casey says again. "You know him. He's never made sense."
"And he likes the out-of-town obituaries," Natalie adds. "Upstate. Westchester County. Long Island. He says the obituaries in the Post are crappy."
"The Post itself is sort of crappy," Dana says, and the banter feels right. It's the way she talked to these people, back when they were still her friends. Before she disappeared and started over.
"Yeah," Natalie says. "But Trager bought that, too, did you hear? So Danny can't slam the obituaries in the office. Isaac gets mad when he does."
"Isaac," says Dana. Casey and Natalie sitting across from her, the shrieks of the three holy terrors of her loins (plus Danny) in the backyard - it's a rush of nostalgia, of watching Charlie grow up, of living shoulder to shoulder with these people. She misses Isaac. She sends him a Christmas card every year, a photo of the boys and Penny, but that's all she allows herself. New life. New Christmas card list.
"He's fine, by the way," Casey says, and his sarcasm isn't lost on her. "Although apparently he's known where you were this whole time."
"Casey," she starts, and she can't think of what to say. Even while they're sitting in her living room, drinking Tom's beer and eating her pretzels, she can't think of an apology that wouldn't sound cheap and thin.
"So," Natalie says. "Danny is reading the obituaries in your lovely little suburb's paper, and he comes across one for a woman named Mary Alice Young -"
"Who," Casey adds, "looks a freakish amount like Sally Sasser, which is just creepy."
"And Danny sees this long obituary, and he reads it out loud to us, because of the Sally look-alike thing, and at the end, with the funeral information, it mentions sending notice of charitable donations in Mary Alice's name to a woman named Lynette Scavo," Natalie continues.
Casey cuts in, the way he always did, because he could never bear to let someone else finish the story. "It wasn't just this flash of 'We know where she is!'. A couple of days later, Danny said, 'Wasn't Dana dating some lawyer friend of Trager's named Scavo before she disappeared?' and Kim remembered that you were. And the day after that, Jeremy said, 'Isn't Dana's middle name Lynette?' and then after that Natalie hired a private detective, just to see, because there were no listings for any Scavos on Wisteria Lane anywhere in the county. And it was you and here we are. And I'm relieved that you're not dead somewhere. I'm just happy to see you, even if … you have a minivan, Dana! You have a house in the suburbs and poorly behaved children! You hate your middle name! What the hell happened to you?"
"Danny's bizarre and vaguely frightening obsession with being prepared for death lead you to an obituary for my best friend, and so now you're here, insulting my parenting skills and my name? Casey McCall, you really are too fucking much." Upstairs, she can hear Penny start to howl, waking up from her nap, and she shoves her chair back and stands up abruptly. "My daughter's crying," she says. "Let me deal with my family for just one minute, please, and then we can talk. Or not."
She tries not to see the hurt on Casey's face as she walks out of the kitchen. She hopes he didn't see the hurt on hers.
She pauses at the top of the steps, expecting to hear outrage from Dan at being pulled away from three boys who think he's the best thing ever, and to hear the front door slam behind them. Dana waits a full 15 seconds, even though Penny's really wound herself up to top volume, and the door doesn't slam. She can't hear murmur of voices over the shrieking coming from her nursery, though, and so she simply walks into the room to comfort her sobbing daughter.
It's what she does now, after all. Once she quiets Penny down, she stands at the changing table and hums quietly to herself, trying to make a little sense of this visit. Isaac, in his brief, cryptic notes - he knows she doesn't, she didn't want to know to much - has told her that Natalie's excellent at Dana's job and Jeremy had married Jenny who wasn't a choreoanimator and if she'd looked closely at his notes, she would have known that Dan and Casey had gone and fallen quietly in love.
They certainly don't need her back, is all she can think. And it's been seven years - they certainly can't still miss her.
She is blowing raspberries on Penny's stomach and finishing up the diapering when she heard footsteps behind her. Natalie, leaning in the doorway. Natalie, who says, "You have four? Man, Dana, you've been busy."
"This is Penny," she says. "The only girl in a family of boys. Like me."
Natalie comes closer and reaches out a hand to Penny, who grabs her fingers and shrieks with amazement. "She's cute. Looks like you."
"God," Dana laughs. "I hope not. I was hoping she might grow up to look like you, or maybe Sally. Being 6 feet tall in a family full of over-excitable boys would be a blessing, not a curse."
Natalie studies her for a long minute, Penny's tiny hand still clenched around her fingers. "Are you happy, Dana? Because you never struck me as a stay-at-home suburban sort of mom. Or as a Lynette, for that matter."
"It's -" she starts, and she isn't sure what she wanted to say. "It's fine, Natalie. I wanted a family, I wanted to marry Tom. I just looked at my life and I knew that if I didn't leave then, I wouldn't leave ever, and Tom and I would fall apart like Casey and Lisa. Or Gordon and me. So, you know, you make choices."
"Yeah," Natalie says, still staring at her, her face thoughtful. "Casey's just a dork, Dana. He didn't really mean any of that."
"I know," Dana says. They stand in Penny's nursery like that for another long, silent moment, Natalie's fingers in Penny's grip and Penny cooing happily, the boys and Danny shouting outside, the only noises they can hear.
Natalie shakes her fingers free and the shadow off her face and holds out her arms. "Give her to me. Can I take her outside with Danny and your boys?"
"There's a hat by the back door," Dana says, handing her daughter over. "Put that on her so she doesn't burn."
"Go talk to Casey," Natalie says. "He's the one who missed you the most." She starts to walk out of the room and stops in the door. "By the way, I ditched the curtains and kept the plants."
Dana just laughs, and Natalie smiles a real smile before she disappears down the stairs.
She waits a couple of minutes, until she hears Natalie's voice in the backyard, and when she goes downstairs, Casey is sitting on the couch, a beer between his knees, staring at the photo they'd taken for last year's Christmas cards. She'd forgotten how big his hands were, but it's a flimsy frame and the way he's holding it, it looks tiny and fragile in his hands.
He hears her walk into the room, and he turns, the photo still in his hand, and he just stares at her like she was an alien. "Four, Dana?" he says.
"You know," she snaps, "Natalie already covered the you-don't-look-like-a-stay-at-home-mom angle, so if you're going to attack the decisions I've made, you can pick another subject."
"Charlie's in high school," he says. "He's a junior. He won the state tennis tournament this year."
"I know," she says. "I read about it in the newspaper."
"And you couldn't call and say, 'Hey, Casey, heard your son isn't such a klutz after all, and hey, while I'm at it, I'm not dead'?"
"Casey," she says. "Look, I know you don't agree or understand with the decision I made, but I made it, it was mine, and for once in my life, I'm not second-guessing the things I do. How is that so hard to understand?"
"Who won Sacramento at Portland last night?"
"Portland," she says immediately. "108 to 89."
"You can take the girl out of sports," he says sadly.
"Natalie's doing a good job with the show," Dana says. He's in her house, and she's the one hovering uncomfortably behind the couch. "You and Danny deserved the Emmy last year."
"You just disappeared," he shouts. "You told us you'd see us at Anthony's, and you didn't show up, and the next morning Isaac is meeting with everyone and promoting Natalie and no one would tell any of us where you'd gone!"
"I had to, Casey. If I hadn't, if I'd tried to tell you and then leave, we would have just had this scene 7 years ago."
"Don't you think you owe me this scene? Don't you think you owe me a fucking explanation, Dana? I thought you were dead! I thought you were in jail! I didn't know what to think, but I do know that you don't walk out on people who love you like that!"
"What broke up your marriage, Casey?" she asks.
"Lisa," he spits back, without thought, with complete assurance.
"You were an equal partner in that mess and you know it. What broke up your marriage?"
"Work. Danny. Work."
"What broke up my relationship with Gordon?"
"Sally," he says, and there's a tiny grin, a sliver of the Casey she remembers, creeping onto his face.
"And you," Dana says. "So, see? Work. I got out, Casey, because I really wanted to have a relationship that wasn't a mess from the start, and I thought about it for a long time. The only way out I could see was to get all the way out."
"It worked for a while," he agrees. A knot uncurls in her stomach, and she realizes that she's still standing, fists clenched, in the doorway of her living room. She takes a couple of tentative steps towards him, and he doesn't immediately recoil, so she finishes the movement and sits down on the couch beside him.
"You miss it?" he asks. His eyes are trained on the photo in his hands, and Dana knows he's thinking about Charlie. Even when he shouted, he hasn't looked her in the eye.
"Of course I do," she says. "But if you hadn't noticed, I'm a little busy. And I'm thinking about coaching Porter and Parker's soccer team in the spring."
"You should get Danny to help you," he says. There's a laugh in his voice, and he tilts his head. "He'd be miserable."
"I went out on top, Casey. My last show was probably the best I'd ever run."
"Yeah," he says, and he turns his head away from her. "I know. I just ... I don't get it."
"I'm sure Danny doesn't, either, and that's okay. I think Natalie might. If I thought Sally was human, I bet she would, too. But there were things I wanted to do in my life, and I did some of them, and then I quit doing those things, and I went and did other things I want and now that's how it is."
Casey looks up, meets her eyes, and smiles. "That, I get. But I wish you'd explained it to us then."
"We did feel a little abandoned," Danny's voice adds from the back door. Dana looks up and Danny's standing in the kitchen, Preston in one arm and Parker in the other. Natalie's behind him, Penny resting on her hip and happily chewing Natalie's hair, Porter leaning sleepily against her other side.
"But," Natalie says, "we did understand, even if Rectangle Head here wants to pretend that he didn't."
"My head," Casey says with great dignity, "is not a rectangle."
"Is too," says Preston sleepily.
"My children know what's what, Casey," she says. "Your head's a rectangle. Live with it."
Danny sets Preston and Parker on the floor and crawls onto the couch beside Casey. He reaches a hand out to her and she takes it. It's the first real gesture any of them have made to her directly since they showed up, unannounced and unexpected. "We did feel abandoned, Dana. Ten years, and you just leave with no goodbyes. What were we supposed to think?"
"I'd do it differently if I could do it over," she says, and she finds that she means it.
"You could still come back," Casey says. He has a hand on Danny's leg, and it's such a comfortable gesture that Dana is suddenly, overwhelmingly glad that they pulled their heads from their asses and fell in love. It's one thing that should have been a constant way back when; she's glad that it's a constant now.
"Can you see these monsters in the city, Casey? I can't come back. I closed that door and I burned my bridges, and maybe they're not as charred as I thought they were, but that's a life I can't go back to. I've got these guys now, and that's where I am. It's what I do. I'm okay with that."
"If I could do it over, I'd spend more time with Charlie."
"You see what I mean."
Natalie has settled Porter onto the floor with his brothers, all three of them sprawled at her feet, sleepy and content like puppies, and herself into the armchair with Penny in her lap. They're all quiet for a change, and Dana closes her eyes and holds Danny's hand and breathes it in. She can't go back to work, she doesn't want to go back to work, but she doesn't, she didn't, have to lose
"Wait," Dana says into the silence. "Don't you guys have a show to do tonight? How can you be here?"
"Isaac gave us the day off," Natalie says.
"The West Coast Update guys are doing the show tonight," Casey says, and he doesn't sound nervous about it at all. Which, Dana thinks, is unlike him.
"You let Sally run my show?" As soon as she says it, she realizes what the words means, and she tugs her hand free from Danny's fingers and clamps it over her mouth.
Casey laughs, long and loud with his head thrown back. "What did I tell you, Danny?" he says. "Of course she misses us. The show. You owe me ten bucks."
"I'll owe you good," Danny says, and bites Casey on the shoulder. Dana watches this, and sees her own boys sleeping on the floor, and thinks of Tom, and Calvin Trager, who saved them, and Isaac, who saved her, too, and she thinks, I know good men. I know the best men in the world.
"Didn't Isaac tell you?" Natalie says, disturbing her revelry. "Sally jumped ship for ESPN last year."
"Yeah," Danny adds. "She's now a junior associate producer, and she's shorter than all the anchors and making less money and she's absolutely miserable. Jeremy's running West Coast Update these days."
"I told you not to sound so happy about Sally's misery," Casey tells him.
"I can't help it," Danny shrugs. "It's in my nature. And I'm sure Dana's glad to hear it."
"Glad is a strong word, Dan," Dana says seriously. "But not strong enough. Positively ecstatic is the phrase I would have used."
Danny laughs, and Casey joins him, and the boys sleep on sprawled across the floor. Dana loves having a pack of children, even when the house is messy and the boys are unmanageable, because the house is always full of laughter and noise. It's like the newsroom after the 8 o'clock rundown; color and light and sound, overwhelming and fantastic.
"Stay for dinner," Dana says, and they do.
Susan catches her on the way to the car the next morning. "Lynette, I have to know, who were those two divine men standing on your front porch yesterday?"
Dana is startled. After an afternoon and evening of answering to Dana like she'd never shed that name, Lynette jars her. But she's Lynette to these friends here, and they don't need to know that Dana ever existed. It isn't a double life; it's just two halves of one whole.
"Just some people I used to work with in the city. But no luck, Suze, they're both gay."
Susan sighs. "All the best ones are." Lynette pauses, halfway into the driver's seat, Susan standing on the front lawn. "You know, Lynette, I don't know what you used to do. Just that you were this big mover and shaker before you married Tom. What gives?"
"It's not worth mentioning," Lynette says. "I worked in TV for a while. Production."
"Would I know the show?"
"You'd never have heard of it," she lies.
Susan shrugs. She looks a little like Danny when she does it, sheepish and younger than her years. She's suddenly grateful that she can now think of Danny and his shrugs, and Casey and his obsessive compulsion, and Natalie's still too-short skirts, without cringing inside. The wounds haven't healed, the cuts are still bleeding - but things are beginning to clot.
"If they ever decide to not be gay," Susan says wryly. "Tell them to look me up."
"Will do," she says, and slams the door. Susan waves her off and crosses the street back to her house while Lynette backs down the driveway, and she thinks to herself, I think I'll take the boys down to the studio before Christmas. They'd like that, and I'd like to see Isaac.
It's as easy as that. It's like waking up from a dream and discovering that the dream and reality are both the truth.
It feels like coming home.
Author's notes: 4900 words. Insidian did beta duty and all necessary hand-holding and Megan gave me the idea to begin with. Title and epigraph from Billy Pilgrim, "Insomniac".