six weeks later
It's a Monday morning, not even seven thirty, but the glass doors were unlocked when she got here and creative is nowhere to be found. There's a lamp on in Lane's office. She can see the light from underneath the doorway. Thank god.
Joan knocks once on the door as she pushes it open, trying not to startle him. "I need to speak with you."
“You're very early.” From his desk, Lane watches her with a bemused expression as she slips inside the room, closing the door behind her. Next, she locks the deadbolt, moving quickly to sit in the chair across from him.
“You bolted the door,” Lane says, as if he's completely lost. God, he probably thinks she's going to jump him. Joan has to stop herself from rolling her eyes or yelling at him, and folds her hands in her lap, meeting his puzzled expression with a steady gaze. She doesn't know how he might react to her news. He can't see her panic, either, or it will magnify his own reaction. Stay calm. Breathe.
Lane peers at her over the top of his glasses, confusion etched into his face. “Sorry?”
She presses her lips together, glancing away for a brief moment. In any other situation his confusion might be funny, but her stomach is tied in knots waiting for his reaction. He's so quiet that Joan feels she has to elaborate, in case it hasn't sunk in yet. “My cycle is late.”
At this, he bolts upright in his chair, posture rigid, pencil falling to the desk. “You—you're—”
She manages to nod, once.
Lane's mouth has dropped open. He closes it quickly, staring at her as if she's just said something as implausible as I'm a Soviet spy.
“My god.” He rubs a hand across his face, slumping forward in his seat, only to change his mind and jump to his feet, beginning to pace behind his desk. He's really panicking. Jesus.
“I thought you should know.” She rearranges her hands in her lap so he doesn't see them shake.
Lane suddenly stops mid-stride to look at her. Like if he doesn't speak at this exact minute, he'll lose his nerve. “And it isn't—delayed?”
Joan's surprised at the way he phrases this. Of course he'd want to know if she's sure, but she didn't expect him to ask about irregular periods, for god's sake. “It's overdue by fifteen days. I'm never late.” She pauses, wondering if she should share a more relevant piece of information with him, and decides to talk. The hell with it. “There are other symptoms, too.”
Her breasts hurt. She's exhausted. And sometimes she feels nauseous. Not physically sick yet, just puny. Like she's on the brink of a flu.
“And—you've gone to the doctor?”
She blinks, then sighs. “Not yet.”
“What?” Lane stops pacing again, stares at her as if mentally scolding her. “Joan—”
Joan forces herself to stay calm as she interrupts him. “I can't go to my doctor.” Emphasizing the last two words. Dr. Emerson knows her far too well. And he set her up with Greg, for god's sake. “He's a block from St. Luke's. Greg's old hospital.”
“Oh,” Lane says slowly, as if her logic is finally reaching him.
There's a small silence. Joan clears her throat. “I have the name of an office near Lenox Hill. They can do the blood test there.”
Roger gave her this doctor's contact information years ago at the old place. It had been needed for one of the girls in the steno pool. Arlene. The airhead had fallen in with one of the senior account men. What was his name? Skip? He'd eventually transferred to another agency. And Arlene ended up working ten more months before getting a steady.
He's good, Roger had said, as Joan had outlined the situation to him after an afternoon of fun in the Roosevelt. Expensive, but he'll take care of it. She hadn't needed to ask why Roger knew that.
“I don't know if this doctor's still practicing. Or if he'll even—” She takes a look at Lane's stricken expression and bites off the intended end of her sentence, replacing her initial thought – take care of it – with a more benign choice of words. “See me.” As she watches confusion take over his face, she clarifies. “I can't use my insurance.”
She could find someone less expensive, trust that a strange doctor would still write a prescription for the procedure. But she'll still have to pay out of pocket for any visit. And Greg is vigilant about the insurance. It will be the first paperwork he checks once he gets back.
After a moment of being lost in thought, a sudden movement forces her to look up. Lane's fumbling inside his jacket for something—his checkbook. Tossing it onto the desk, he sits down, grabs a pen and begins to make a hasty notation in the attached ledger. Joan watches as he fills in a check, his normally careful hand shaking as he writes. When he's finished, he tears it from the book, and slides the slip across the desk. It's dated and signed, with a note in the margin – physician – but otherwise—
“It's blank,” she says stupidly, staring from Lane's signature to his fidgeting hands.
He gives her a jerky sort of nod, eyes owlishly wide behind his glasses. “Is that—not all right?”
She has to look away, briefly closing her eyes, and feeling her chest constrict with the emotion she's been trying to suppress. God. Just like that, he gave her a blank check. I'm sorry you're involved. I shouldn't have told you I was lonely. I was so stupid. “I'm sorry.”
A hand brushes her arm, and she opens her eyes. Lane's standing next to her chair, his palm heavy on her shoulder, thumb moving against her collarbone in a tiny back and forth motion.
“It's all right.”
He doesn't believe it. He's saying the words because he's anxious, and because it's something people say in times of crisis. But his hand on her shoulder is comforting. Joan has an absurd urge to lean into the touch.
She doesn't move, just swallows the lump in her throat. “I'll call this morning.”
“Dr. Blackwell. I can't have this child.”
The doctor's craggy face remains impassive as Joan says the words. He doesn't even flinch; the only clue as to his real feelings are in his eyes, which narrow slightly behind his bifocals.
His office is in a converted brownstone. The waiting room was spacious and airy, painted a French blue with plush furniture, elegant décor, and knotted pine floors. And the exam room is larger than her kitchen. The last time she had this conversation, it had been in a cramped studio apartment in Chelsea, with a haggard-looking nurse and a white-haired midwife.
“I came here to discuss alternatives,” Joan says, in as steady a voice as she can manage.
The doctor lets out a short bark of a laugh, though he isn't smiling. “You're a married woman. Considering your age, you should be thanking your husband for getting you pregnant at all.”
“My husband is not a good man.” Joan hears herself say the words so vehemently it's almost a relief. Something is loose inside her chest, like a wild animal has managed to claw its way free of her pounding heart, and she feels lightheaded.
Dangerous to say that out loud. She tries to push away the feeling, imagining Greg as someone's father. What's he going to do with a baby in the house night and day, a baby that can't communicate the simplest of needs without screaming? It will tear through the apartment like a small cyclone. It will want her undivided attention. He'll lose his temper at the drop of a hat.
Or worse—a thought that chills her blood—he won't even care. He'll just get up and leave the apartment every time it cries, leaving her to deal with the mess. That traitorous voice in the back of her mind has returned: maybe Greg won't even be around at all.
Maybe he'll be in Vietnam, and you'll be alone.
God. She should have asked Lane to come with her. He's a man, he could have gotten the doctor to listen. (She ignores the inner voice which says Lane wouldn't have had the nerve.)
“Is it even his kid? Or did you sleep around?”
Joan doesn't respond—knows she can't say a word without losing her temper, but she doesn't look away from his scornful gaze. The doctor takes a drag from a newly-lit cigarette, then puts it aside in an ashtray with a scoff. “You women always want it both ways. Want to spread your legs for fun, but you don't want to live with the results.” He sighs, closing her chart with one hand. “I let you walk out of here, you'll probably just pay some hack to do it, get yourself killed.”
On the exam table, practically hidden by her exam gown, Joan's hands are clenched into fists. She has to bite her tongue to keep herself under control, so hard she tastes copper blood.
“There's a guy in Morristown. Reputable. He's good.”
Noticing her eyes widen, he takes a ballpoint pen from the pocket of his pristine white coat, along with his notepad, and waves these in her direction. “You want it so bad; you write it.”
Afterward, with the prescription clenched in her right hand, and her hand jammed into the pocket of her raincoat, Joan pays the receptionist using cash (she'll use the blank check later, as reimbursement) and walks out the door. She makes it about five steps away from the practice's stoop before she has to duck into an adjoining alleyway, pressing a palm over her mouth to muffle the sob that threatens to claw its way out of her throat. It's evening; empty enough that no one notices her sudden absence on the sidewalk. Several moments pass before she thinks it might be safe for her to step into the open. She pats her eyes dry, checks her face in her compact mirror, and walks briskly away from the building, refusing to look back.
“How did it go?” is the first thing Lane asks as she slides into the booth across from him. The diner is practically empty. Two men are paying at the register, while a lone waitress wipes down tables in the middle of the room. There's an empty rocks glass in front of Lane, as well as a large, unfolded paper napkin that's been torn into uneven strips.
Joan places her purse and coat next to her on the seat, flagging down the young waitress. If she doesn't have a drink in front of her within the next two minutes, there will be hell to pay.
Lane's eyes widen, but the waitress gets to their table before he can say anything. Joan takes the opportunity to order a bloody Mary, but doesn't get food, and opens her purse to pull out her cigarettes the second the girl walks away. She manages to get one out of the pack, but fumbles the lighter as she's trying to bring it up to her lips. It goes sailing across the table with a clatter. She resists the urge to put her forehead in her hands. Damn it.
After a small hesitation, he picks up the silver lighter, opens it, and gestures toward her unlit cigarette – let me? Joan leans in, allows him to light it. He does, then puts the lighter down in the middle of the table, carefully, like he's afraid to scratch the metal. “What happened?”
She breathes out in a jet of smoke, holding her cigarette between two fingers. “He was an ass.”
You women always want it both ways.
The waitress arrives at their table, places Joan's drink in front of her, and does a quick about-face, practically running away in her haste to get to the other side of the room. Maybe she's eavesdropping. At this point, Joan doesn't care, and takes a large gulp from her glass. She can even taste the vodka. Thank god.
“I'm sorry,” Lane says first, watching her movements with a concerned expression.
She shrugs, not wanting any sympathy, and puts her cigarette aside in the ashtray. “I'm still pregnant.”
He exhales, mouth twitching as if he's trying not to frown. After a moment, he runs a hand over the back of his neck, fidgeting in his seat. “How did this happen?”
Joan rolls her eyes at this. “We had sex.”
She's not trying to be funny, but it does amuse her to watch him flush red and glance furtively around the restaurant, like someone's going to overhear this comment and blab their liaison all over town. Which is why she wanted to meet out of the office. Nobody knows them here.
“I know that,” Lane says gruffly, tearing another uneven piece off his napkin. She does understand what he's trying to say. It's been years since she had to worry about being pregnant. It was supposed to be exciting the next time it happened. It was supposed to be planned.
He breaks the silence, breathing out a sigh. “What—do you want to do.”
She toys with the straw in her glass before glancing up at him. “I need to take care of this. Immediately.”
His brow furrows in confusion. “...How?”
Maybe it's the alcohol, but Joan suddenly wants to laugh. It's such a naïve question. Does he really not know what she's talking about? Before she can enlighten him, a shadow crosses Lane's face. Thank god she doesn't have to explain.
He's turning a little pale. “Well—we don't know—what might happen.”
She almost chokes on her drink, putting down her glass very quickly to keep from dropping it. “I'm well aware of human biology. Are you?”
“What,” Lane begins, pushing aside the shredded napkin, “of course—I'm only—you might not have to take any action at all—”
“If I do nothing,” Joan interrupts, raising an imperious eyebrow, “I'm going to give birth. That's how gestation works.”
“You don't know that!” He rubs a hand over his anxious face.
Joan doesn't let him hide from the insinuation. “Are you suggesting I'll miscarry?”
“No,” Lane denies quickly, his voice becoming slightly high-pitched. “I'm only—you keep saying you have to take care of it now, but there might not—be a matter to take care of. We can't predict the future.”
“I don't believe in speculation,” she answers flatly. “And I won't pretend this isn't happening.” At his stunned expression, she elaborates. “If I had this baby, I would be completely responsible for it. I would be supporting it. It would be Greg's.”
Lane's staring at her with a gobsmacked expression. She tries to outline her plan. “So, I'm going to go to another doctor. You won't even need to be there.” A beat. “Our lives stay the same.”
She's embarrassed to admit she still doesn't know much about the way Lane lives when outside of the office. They've become much friendlier as of the past few weeks, but not close. And although she knows some extremely personal information about him – remembers the way his body trembled between her thighs that night, among other things – in many other ways, they're still strangers.
“Do you honestly believe I'm not—that I won't—take responsibility?” Lane asks loudly, as if he's personally offended, as if her earlier comment is the cruelest thing she's ever said to him.
Joan blinks, surprised by the vehemence of his reaction. “Lane, I'm saying you won't have to.” After a pause, and in a surprised tone. “I thought you'd be relieved.”
“You thought—” Lane begins, then stops himself. “Fine.”
God. She hates when people are passive-aggressive. Why the hell is he getting so upset? “Excuse me?”
“No. You've...made the decision. Well done.”
“Don't congratulate me,” Joan retorts, pushing away her now-empty glass, and picking up her lighter from the table, tossing it into her purse in frustration. “I don't want sarcasm.”
“You asked me what I thought—I just told you—”
“No, you're clearly upset,” she huffs, lifting one hand in the air in a kind of shrug. “I don't know what else you want me to say. This is good news.”
“Why would I—for god's sake, Joan, I am not upset—”
“Stop saying that!” Joan counters loudly. “Don't act like this decision doesn't matter to you when it obviously does. You can't actually want an illegitimate child?”
“I said it's fine!” Lane forces out each word, his voice rising in pitch with every syllable.
“Shut up!” she snaps, grabbing blindly for her purse, slinging it over her arm and shoving her coat over one arm as she slides out of the booth, marching toward the front door. She can't see Lane's face, but she can hear the outrage in his voice. “What're you—”
She ignores him. A lone boy cleaning behind the deli counter meets her eyes as she leaves, and even he knows better than to try and stop her. The bell above the door jingles loudly as she pushes her way outside and onto the sidewalk. A cab is idling at the nearby crosswalk about twenty feet away, its service light off. Joan strides over to the driver's window, which overlooks the curb.
The old man inside glances up at her, flicking ash from his stubby cigar. “Not in service, lady.”
She levels him with a glare. “Take me to the Village right now. I'll give you double.”
He turns on his light, motioning for her to get in.
Lane, meanwhile, has caught up, coat collar turned under and hat askew. He catches Joan's arm before she can get into the cab. “Don't—just—wait a minute—”
“I'm going home,” Joan snarls, pulling her arm from his grasp, wrenching open the cab door, and practically shouting her address to the driver as she gets in. The thought of sitting in that stupid booth, listening to Lane grind his teeth and fidget and pretend to be okay makes her want to scream.
“Fine!” He slams the door behind her.
“Stop saying that!” Joan shouts, banging once on the glass with an open palm.
The cab pulls away from the curb, the driver openly snickering under his breath. Joan despises him, despises everything about this damn afternoon. She just wants to be alone for ten minutes.
Lane avoids her for the next two days. There is virtually no contact between them except for an extremely awkward traffic meeting on the second day, in which Lane bites Stan's head off over one stupid line item on creative's monthly expense reports. Joan, for her part, doesn't say a word when Stan makes fun of him in return.
On day three, she stays late in order to finish some paperwork she'll need to have ready before the upcoming appointment. It's seven fifteen by the time she's through the secretarial payroll, and the floor is completely deserted – or so she'd assumed.
Without warning, she is rudely interrupted as Lane storms into her office and slams the door behind him with a shout. “You are taking your life in your hands!”
Stepping closer to her desk, he jabs a pointed finger in her direction for emphasis. The other clutches the spine of a very thick, leather-bound blue book. His face is flushed, as if he's been drinking, as if he's been arguing this point aloud to himself for ten minutes before bursting in.
“Excuse me?” Joan manages to sputter, stunned by this display. In response, he tosses the book into the seat of one of her blue chairs, continuing to pace in front of the desk. The book bounces off the cushion and almost sails into the floor, but not before she can glimpse the title in gilded letters: Textbook of Obstetrics and Gynecology. It's from the public library. There's a tag on the bottom of the spine. Her mouth opens in surprise. She doesn't know what's more shocking: that Lane willingly checked out a book on female medicine or that he's trying to confront her with his new found knowledge. Lane misinterprets her expression as a look of outrage.
“Have you any idea what might happen to you if this goes wrong?”
She closes her mouth, and fixes him with a glare, straining to keep her voice level. “What kind of question is that? Of course I know—”
“And you don't care that induced abortions are dangerous—”
She's surprised he can even say the words without flinching. “It's performed by a doctor, for god's sake—an experienced doctor!”
He runs a hand through his hair with a growl of frustration. “There's—lists of possible complications—” he gestures wildly toward the book next to him “—toxemia, sepsis, hemorrhage—”
“When did you swallow a medical journal?”
Lane doesn't let her purposeful flippancy derail his argument. “You could bleed to death on your own in the middle of a bus! Don't ask me to be all right with that, damn it!” He slams a palm down onto the surface of her desk. Her ashtray skitters several inches to the left. One of her pictures falls over.
Joan flinches at the noise, eyes wide, staring at him in stunned silence before speaking, very quietly. “It's a simple procedure.” I've done this before.
Lane pulls his hand back from her desk, running his palm over his mouth and jaw as he blows out a breath. After a moment, she reaches out, rights the picture frame, and pushes the ashtray back into place with her fingers.
“It's surgery,” he corrects, moving to stand behind her blue armchair. His hands curl around the high back. They stare at each other for several seconds before he continues speaking, voice quieter but no less forceful. “If you're going to do this—I won't—stop it, but you will not go on your own. You are taking your life in your hands.”
He glances away, color still high in his cheeks, clearly uncomfortable after making such an impassioned argument. Joan breaks the lingering silence by clearing her throat. “Are you volunteering to chaperone me or drop me off at the front door?”
“I'll—take you,” Lane says immediately, so quickly he stumbles over the words. It's clear he hadn't imagined winning the argument so soon. Maybe even at all. “Hire a car. When—have you already made the—appointment?”
Joan watches him for several seconds before pushing a few papers aside with the tip of her pencil. “It's this Thursday. Six o'clock.” It was the only time she could reasonably take a half day without drawing attention. No big meetings, no important clients. Just a few things to be organized, and Caroline can take care of it with help from the girls. Plus, she'll only have to work Friday before having the weekend to recover. She'd considered that, too.
“Thurs—” he chokes out, then bites down on the retort that is probably following on its heels. “Right. And shall we—go from here?”
Her voice is crisp. “Is that a problem?”
“No.” A beat. “What time?”
“Fine,” Joan echoes, a little nastily.
He mumbles something else she doesn't catch, turning on his heel, pulling open the door, and exiting the room with a speed that's very surprising. It would even be impressive if he hadn't forgotten his ridiculous textbook in the process. After at least thirty seconds, Lane returns, gingerly picking up the book where he'd left it in her chair, his pinched expression suggesting she'd better not say a word.
She huffs out a sigh. He slams the door behind him as he leaves.
Thursday morning, just before lunch, Joan receives a handwritten note in her inbox. Two fifteen. Garage. Second floor. When she arrives there at the designated time, scanning the concrete walls for a familiar face, she spies Lane in the middle of a row on the left, waiting for her beside the door of a beige Plymouth. He's wearing his hat but no coat, holding his lit pipe between his finger and thumb. In the dim light, Joan can even glimpse the smoke from where she's standing. She hasn't seen him smoke in months. Honestly, she thought he quit. Maybe he just does it when he's stressed.
They don't say hello, but he quickly extinguishes his pipe when he finally notices her walking closer. She's about ten feet away from him. “Erm—don't you—have a bag?”
She shakes her head, gesturing to her purse. The girls at the old place had called it the hope chest. “Just this.”
Inside is a change of clothes, a toothbrush, her menstrual belt and a few napkins. In case the doctor doesn't give her anything.
“Do you—want to wear your coat?” he asks awkwardly, extending a hand to help her out of it if necessary. She waves it away. She doesn't want him to help her with the damn coat, she just wants to get on the road and have this over with already.
“I don't care,” she answers sharply, motioning for him to get the door.
Once settled inside, she shrugs out of her coat – it really is too warm – and looks briefly into the backseat. She notices his coat, folded into neat fourths, lying next to his briefcase. She glances to her immediate left as Lane gets into the car, watching as he rolls down the window to adjust his side mirror, puts on his seat belt, and places the keys into the ignition.
They sit beside each other in meetings. They spend hours in his office, working alone – and for god's sake, he's seen her half-naked, he's touched her, he got her pregnant – but to sit one foot away from him in the close quarters of a car feels very intimate. It's...domestic in a way none of their normal interactions can be. For a brief second, to keep her mounting anxiety at bay, she allows herself to imagine they're taking a day trip instead of going to the doctor. In her mind, the scene's practically sprung from a B-movie. She'd have a bright scarf in her hair; elegant sunglasses. He'd wear a linen suit, or at least something in a lighter color. Maybe even some sort of patterned tie.
Let's take the car out, honey, she'd say. You drive.
“Joan? Are you ready?”
Joan shakes her head to clear it as she realizes Lane is trying to get her attention. Probably not for the first time. “Oh. Yes.”
He starts the engine. Before he can say anything else, she reaches out with one hand and turns on the radio, not even bothering to tune it to a particular station. A station bulletin echoes through the quiet car: This is WCBS, broadcasting live with a brief news update. It's now thirty-one minutes past the hour. I'm Douglas Edwards...
Lane guides the car out of its parking space. She turns her head to stare out the window.