Joan's apartment building sits opposite a hair salon and a small chemist's, a relatively small, cramped place made of old-fashioned brown brick. The thin-carpeted hallways and tiny elevator are very dimly lit for this part of the morning. Coupled with his sudden departure from work, this makes it seem much later in the day. Last time he came here – on the night they'd come back from the clinic – Joan had asked to be dropped at the curb. He still wonders if she was more embarrassed by him, or by the building's modest appearance, but tries not to dwell on the thought.
Lane knocks on the door of 4C with three quiet taps, hoping he isn't disturbing her, or interrupting some type of family visit. He ought to have called. But when Joan opens the door and peeks out into the hallway, she blinks at him in confusion before motioning him inside.
Her foyer is cramped, with barely enough room for a coat rack by the door, but he sets his things aside here anyway. Once this is done, he's able to look at her properly. She's clearly exhausted. Her red hair is piled on top of her head in messy curls, and she's wearing a floral pattern kimono – cream with blue flowers – with a set of blue button-up pajamas underneath. There are circles under her eyes, as well as black smudges – perhaps she forgot to take off her makeup before bed – and she's even wearing a pair of black cat's-eye glasses. Lane didn't know she wore glasses.
He wants to hold her, but isn't sure if she'd want that, considering the circumstances, so he settles for taking both her hands in his, his thumbs tracing across the delicate bones of her fingers. “Caroline just gave me your message. I'm—so sorry.”
I'd have been here sooner.
Joan sighs as she looks up at him, briefly, and gives him a smile that looks more like a grimace. “I meant to call you at home—just couldn't find the number.”
She ducks her head to stare down at their joined hands, then glances around the hallway, wrinkling her nose in annoyance, as if the slip of paper he'd given her with that information is now hidden under a blizzard of detritus. Honestly, Lane can't spot much of a mess anywhere, save for one end table with a stack of colorful magazines. He's not sure what to ask her, or what to do.
“Come sit down,” she says after a minute, releasing his hands and ushering him into the living room, taking a seat on her sofa. She sinks into the cushions with a small exhale, arms splayed out palms-up by her sides, tipping her head back and closing her eyes.
“Are you all right?” he asks quietly, taking a seat beside her.
Joan opens her eyes, turns her head to glance at him. “The baby's fine.” A hesitation. She's obviously leaving herself out, which makes him anxious. After a beat, she speaks again, very quietly. “I was sick all night.”
He raises his eyebrows. Worst the pregnancy sickness has been in several weeks, if he remembers correctly. “Have you eaten?”
“No,” she mumbles, scrubbing the heel of her hand underneath the frame of her glasses.
“Right.” He lets out a breath, getting to his feet, and holding out a hand. “Come on.”
“What?” Joan asks, frowning at him although her voice holds a note of bemusement. She doesn't seem very keen on getting up from the sofa, and so he pulls his hand back, gestures toward the open doorway several feet to his right.
“Kitchen through here?”
Joan nods, some of the confusion leaving her face. Lane sheds his suit jacket and drapes it over the back of a wooden-framed chair. As he steps into her kitchen – painted another bright color, this time a spring green – he pauses for a moment to roll up his shirtsleeves. A yellow telephone is mounted on the wall to his immediate left, with a white bar stool sitting underneath. Past this is a small section of counter top, a blue porcelain sink set into a wooden cabinet and in the left corner, a small range and oven. To the right, lining the wall adjacent to the window, is a mounted spice rack, small hutch, and an icebox opposite the half doorway.
A yellow ceramic bowl sits next to the sink. Lane peers inside to find a green apple and a shriveled orange, taking the apple and setting it onto the counter. It's a start. Now to find a cutting board and knife—she doesn't have a block on the counter, which drawer would they—
A slight rustling makes him turn. Joan is settling into her seat on the white barstool, one hand moving to her abdomen as she leans against the bit of wall next to the telephone. "Don't slice the orange,” is all she says, voice low. He supposes this means she's resigned herself to the idea of a man rummaging around her kitchen.
“Okay. And—erm—your knives?” he asks, glancing at her with an apologetic expression.
He opens the far left drawer, finds a wooden-handled paring knife with a small blade. Taking this in his right hand, and holding the apple in his left, he slices the fruit clean through the middle, then into fourths, then begins to cut the bits of core and seeds away from flesh.
“Look at you,” Joan says, the slightest note of surprise in her voice. “Comfortable in a kitchen.”
He huffs out an amused noise. “I can do a few practical things, you know.”
“Did your wife not cook?”
“Well, she was able to, if that's what you mean,” Lane says, feeling more comfortable talking because he's got something to do with his hands, and cutting a quartered piece into several slices. “But I was—older, before I married, and—picked up a few tricks, in the service. Manage to feed myself, anyway.”
He immediately feels guilty for bringing up anything military related, sneaking a look at Joan to see if this has upset her, but she seems unfazed. “I didn't realize you were in the war.”
“Oh, well—we all were,” he hastens to say. “Though it was nothing flash for me. Lot of KP duty. Peeling spuds. Although, technically I was supply regiment. Scotland.”
“Were you drafted?”
Lane grimaces, picking up the last quarter of the apple. “No. Volunteered.”
He'd gone up to the station several times with groups of men from work. He was older and smaller than most of the chaps there, but still spent hours dreaming of RAF glory and heroics and femme fatales, only to be told his eyesight was too bloody awful for combat. A fact of which he was well aware, thank you very much.
When he says as much to Joan, she sighs out a long breath. “Greg did, too. But he was desperate.”
It's a harsher word than he was expecting to hear, even knowing her marital unhappiness, but Lane doesn't comment, just puts the apple slices on a blue ceramic plate which he finds on one of the upper shelves.
“Oh?” Looking around for the bin, which is in the corner below the window, and depositing the remnants of the apple core inside. What else might she eat? He thinks he remembers crackers being all right, and moves to search for these in the pantry cupboard above the sink.
“He just—came home and announced it to me like it was the perfect solution. We'd never discussed it. Not even as a possibility.”
Lane pulls a skeptical face, opening another cabinet door. He pushes aside a box of bran cereal and discovers a box of saltines, which will do nicely. “I'm sure that went very well.”
Knowing Joan, she wouldn't take kindly to being excluded from that type of decision. Lane wonders why her husband would have joined up on a whim. Perhaps he was one of those patriotic types. Got it into his head. Pressure from the others.
“They told him he had no brains in his fingers.”
This is such an odd statement that it causes Lane to look over at her. She's taken her pack of cigarettes from her pocket, but doesn't move to get one out, just toys it back and forth in her hands.
“What?” he says, utterly lost.
“St. Luke's,” she clarifies, glancing up at him. A pink flush has darkened her cheeks, as if she's embarrassed to admit this, but she speaks in a rushed, flat voice. Maybe she's just got to get it out. “His boss. That's why he never made Chief Resident. He wasn't a good surgeon.”
“Christ,” Lane breathes, putting the half-empty sleeve of crackers back into the box, and suddenly understanding her choice of the word desperate. He watches her for a moment, unsure what she wants him to say in return. “That's awful.”
“Not exactly something I can say to his parents,” Joan mumbles, scooting her chair closer to the counter, putting her cigarettes on the surface, and reaching for an apple slice.
“No,” he agrees, with a shake of his head.
She takes a small bite of her food, chewing slowly and seeming to feel fine. Lane taps his fingers against the vinyl counter in an anxious rhythm, wishing he had something else to do. Perhaps there's something in the icebox she could eat. He moves to the door and pulls it open, feeling a blast of cold air roll over him as he does so. “Erm—how do you feel about eggs?”
Hm. There's not much else here. A bit of celery, two large tins of juice, several green tupperware containers and a small block of bright yellow cheese. He gathers the veg and cheese in each hand and peeks around the refrigerator door, showing off the items to her as if they're in some sort of game show. “Either of these all right?”
“I'll try the cheddar,” she says after a minute, frowning deeply, as if trying to remember past consequences and coming up blank. “I think I ate some last week.”
“Stan,” Megan says, rummaging through a stack of posterboards against the far wall by the window, “where's the mock-up you started for Heinz? Don wants to know how it's going.”
“Uh. At home.”
“Seriously?” she huffs, straightening up to glare at him. He's pulled a chair up to the other side of Peggy's desk. She and Pete are out for brunch with Vick Chemical. “I asked you two days ago if you were done and you said almost.”
“Megan, this is not about our relationship,” Stan says with a snort, erasing a stray line on his sketchpad. “I'm performing at a level of unmatched excellence.”
She laughs, rolling her eyes. “You're terrible.”
“Never thought Lane had it in him,” he replies with a smirk.
“I just can't believe he stuck up for her. She doesn't go out of her way to make friends.”
“It's an unholy alliance. Doesn't have to make sense.” A pause. “I mean, he wants her, but other than that...”
She scoffs, giving him a skeptical look and beginning to page through some loose sheets of paper on her own desk. “She's not that good-looking.”
“Please.” Stan waves a hand at the shared wall. “She so much as winked at him, he'd be doing her on the floor of that office, clothes on.” Pulling a face, mouth obscenely round. “Ohhhhh, dahhhling.”
“You're disgusting.” She throws a legal pad at his head, which he bats away with a laugh. It slides across the floor and into the foot of Roger Sterling, standing in the doorway, who glances down at it with a bemused expression, then back to them.
“Mouseketeers.” Smirking at Megan. “Either of you seen Olson?”
“No,” Stan says, frowning. “Why?”
“We're getting married,” Roger retorts around his cigarette, then winces. “Jesus. Can't even pretend to sell that. She gets back, tell her to stop by my office.”
“We wish you every happiness,” Megan says airily, fixing him with an innocent look.
He rolls his eyes in reply, and walks back into the lobby.
“Okay. I'll see you soon.”
Joan replaces the telephone in its cradle, and returns to the dining room table, settling into her chair opposite Lane. There's still some food left over from before, but she's had enough to make a meal, at least. Given the way things are going, she'll need the energy.
“Was that—his parents?”
She nods. “They're just getting on the road.” An awkward pause. Her mouth twists into a sympathetic expression. “Ruth's hysterical. Greg was the apple of her eye.”
“I can imagine,” he murmurs. Awful to think of losing a grown child. Makes his blood run cold.
Joan nods in agreement, the motion jerky and small. One hand drifts to her stomach, lingering on the swell of her abdomen, her voice just above a whisper. “I didn't tell him about the baby.”
She gives Lane a guilty look, biting her lip, and he feels himself flush at the implication as she continues speaking. “I don't think it would have changed anything, but he could have—had that much. All things considered.”
Water glistens in her eyes, reflected through the lenses of her glasses. It's the first time he has seen her cry over the loss, and Lane braces himself for more tears, for a complete breakdown, but it doesn't come. She turns her gaze to the window, expression turning distant. What is she thinking? Is she unhappy with the way everything's turned out? Does she regret it?
Lane doesn't think he can bear to know the answer, if it's yes. So it's somewhat of a relief when Joan breathes out a long sigh, and turns back to him. “I'm sorry. I just keep thinking about it.”
After another moment, she gets to her feet, drawing her floral robe more tightly around her, as if she's cold. “I need to shower. There's a lot to do before they get here.”
“Oh,” Lane says dully, mind fixating on the word shower despite his best efforts. “Well—I could take care of some of it, if you—erm, wanted.”
She fixes him with a stern look. “I doubt you want to do my grocery shopping.”
“No,” he blurts. “I can do. Just—make a list.”
Better than going out of his mind while waiting in her empty living room, trying to find something useful to distract him. He'll end up alphabetizing her magazines, or reading them, or something equally embarrassing.
“You really don't have to,” she warns, moving to one of her end tables, and pulling a small notepad out of the drawer, along with a single key on a small fob. “I'm perfectly capable.”
“I'm aware,” Lane says calmly. “Only—if it will help—”
She nods once, and begins to jot down items onto her notepad with alarming speed. After a moment, she blinks, pulls her pencil away from the paper with a single huff of breath exhaled through her nose. Next, she strikes through the first eight or ten words, shaking her head, as if she's mentally scolding herself.
“You can't read shorthand.”
Peggy knocks twice on Roger's open office door. He's leaning back in his reclining chair, holding a folded-up newspaper in one hand.
“You wanted to see me?” she asks.
“Close the door,” he says, waving her inside. “Sit down.”
She does, giving him a wary look as she crosses to the sofa. “Is this about the wedding?”
Megan and Don are getting married in another month. She hasn't even picked out a card, let alone a gift. She's really got to go shopping.
“No.” He walks over to the drink cart, puts two pieces of ice in two glasses without even asking her if she wants a drink. She frowns at him, watching as he pours a heavy measure of Grey Goose into each one, then crosses over to press a glass into her hand. He obviously wants some kind of favor. Is it about an account? Is it about Megan? Are they hiring someone else?
“You're friendly with Mrs. Harris. Would you say that?”
“I—guess,” Peggy stammers, completely thrown. “Why do you care?”
Roger waves a dismissive hand, as if he's uninterested in the details. “Partners want you to pay her a personal visit. Give her our respects.”
Jesus. Her mouth drops open, and she quickly closes it. “Personal visit?”
It sounds like something Cooper would think up. Have a girl go over there. He would want to know what was happening. Pete and Lane wouldn't want details. Don would just go over himself, if he was worried. But – given the rumors she's heard about Roger and Joan over the years – she's guessing he just can't drop in alone without so much as a phone call.
She clears her throat, in an attempt to be diplomatic. “She's very private—”
Roger scoffs, as if this is the dumbest and most obvious thing she's ever said. “You know I could just order you to go over there.”
“And I could just tell Joan you're all too scared to pay condolences,” Peggy retorts.
They stare at each other for a moment before Roger huffs out a breath. “Jesus. What do you want, cash? It's a favor!”
Peggy stares at him like he's lost his mind. Cash? “For popping in unannounced? Really? ”
“Maybe you don't understand what I'm saying here,” Roger retorts. “I tell you to do something, you get something in return. It's good business.”
She considers this, briefly, before her gaze turns to the drink cart, and she narrows her eyes at a wax-sealed brown bottle on the cart behind several others, pointing at it with her drink glass. “Is that Lagavulin? In the back?”
“Jesus.” Roger lights a cigarette.
Peggy raises her eyebrows. “I don't even know her address.”
Lane's put away the groceries as best he can and returned the spare key to its drawer, standing awkwardly by the sofa in his suit, when there is a throat-clearing behind him. Joan's standing in the open doorway, wearing the same floral robe from this morning, this time tied tightly around her waist. Her red hair is pinned up in its usual style, although there's a colorful scarf holding her fringe back from her forehead. And her complexion's flushed pink from the hot water. On second glance, it seems as if she hasn't even put on her face yet. Very intimate to see Joan without her normal makeup. It almost makes him nervous, but she doesn't seem to give it much thought, pale eyes sweeping over him. “You don't have to stay out here.”
“Oh,” he says, not really understanding what that means, and assuming it's something like I don't want to be alone. “Erm. All right.”
In her bedroom, there is a vanity dresser directly to the left of the doorway. Joan's put a small wooden chair in front of it, and immediately moves to perch on the edge of this seat. When he doesn't move inside right away, she glances up at him.
“Don't hover.” Gesturing toward the foot of her bed. “You can sit.”
He directs an alarmed look toward the indicated spot, but obeys, moving to sit down. The gold comforter is plush and soft underneath him, and he glances around the immediate surroundings. This room is painted a sea blue, with several gold ornaments decorating the walls. Her headboard is covered in a kind of brown floral fabric, and there are two small night tables bracketing the head of the bed, each with a small lamp. The one on the right also features a white rotary-dial telephone, a notepad, and several books. Must be her side.
Lane glances back to the vanity, in an attempt to keep himself present. It's neatly arranged, with perfume bottles, several gold compacts, a few lipstick tubes and an array of makeup brushes placed a few inches in front of the mirror.
“Beautiful table,” he says, in a desperate grasp at conversation. “Everything...laid out...just so.”
For some reason, this coaxes a true smile out of her, teeth and everything, though she directs this toward the open compact in her hand, and not to him. After a moment, the humor eases from her face, and she meets his eyes in the mirror, voice soft. “I'm planning to put the baby's things here.”
Suddenly he's picturing it—Joan swirling around this bright little apartment in her glasses and floral robe, murmuring to a blanketed bundle in her arms. The picture makes something tighten in his chest, and he shakes his head to clear it of the image. Don't think about it. You're not supposed to be involved. “But—where will you have your makeup?”
Her mouth quirks up again, sunlight from the windows on the opposite wall lending her hair and skin a soft glow. “I haven't decided.”
She pours several drops of pale base from a glass bottle onto a white triangular sponge, gently swiping the sponge over her skin until it appears almost luminous. Her hands open powder boxes and colorful compacts and draw tiny brushes over her eyes and lips and cheeks with all the focused skill of an artist. It's amazing to watch. He tries not to gawk at her, but can't help it, and eventually she says:
“You keep staring at me.”
Lane ducks his head, averts his eyes to the quilted bedspread. “Sorry. It's—I just find it fascinating. All the—jars and brushes and things. Very complicated.”
“You never watched your mother do this when you were little?” she asks, hand poised in the air next to her eye. After speaking, she draws a very thin black line across her eyelid, directly above her lashes. Seeming to find it satisfactory, she does the same across the other eye, ending the movement with a small flick of her wrist.
“No,” he says, realizing he hasn't answered her question, briefly looking down at his feet. “My mother—died when I was young. Even if she hadn't—my father wouldn't have—approved.” A pause. He gives a shrug of his shoulders, still speaking mostly to the floor. “And Becca never liked me seeing her without her face, if she could help it. She's....shy.”
“Shyer than you?” Joan asks.
Lane looks up to see her raising an eyebrow, mouth pursed as if she might laugh—but it's not mean-spirited. He can't help but smile a little.
“Well, you wouldn't know it to talk to her,” he offers, as if this explains everything. Becca can offer her opinions freely to other people when she likes, but prefers to keep her own counsel for private matters. In their marriage – particularly after they had Nigel – she'd kept him at a distance. He still doesn't know why. She could never really explain the reason, and eventually he'd given up asking.
Joan tilts her face slightly to the left, then the right, examining her handiwork. When she puts down her last brush, still pink with lipstick, and lets out a small sigh, he supposes her routine is finished. But she doesn't move to get up from her chair, just stares at her reflection, unblinking, for several moments.
“I don't look like a widow,” she says finally, wrinkling her nose, as if the word itself is distasteful.
Lane bites down on the tongue that wants to blurt you look beautiful. You always look beautiful. “No,” he replies carefully, eyes never leaving her face. “But you—don't—fit the type.”
She gives him a half-smile, then glances down to check her watch, eyes widening in surprise at the time. “Jesus. Greg's parents will be here in an hour.”
A warning for him to leave, if not an outright dismissal. He decides to take the hint as gracefully as he can manage. “Oh. Well, I—suppose I ought to go.” He does his best to smile, standing up, re-buttoning his suit jacket, and brushing lint from one of his cuffs. “Give you some time alone.”
“Hi,” Peggy blurts out, the second Joan opens her apartment door. The redhead's eyebrows are so high they practically disappear into her hair, eyes wide, but she stays silent, obviously shocked.
“I'm so sorry to drop by,” Peggy continues in a determinedly cheerful voice, noticing Joan's thin mouth and tense hands. “I know I'm—intruding. But I just...wanted to see how you were. And I brought you...something.”
Joan's eyes flick over the neck of the bottle in Peggy's hand, the label and name concealed by brown paper. She had felt too guilty to keep it. But at least it's nice. It's a good gift.
“You're kidding,” Joan says, after a long pause.
“Everybody makes casseroles,” Peggy mumbles, with an awkward shrug. Now that she's here, she feels stupid for not bringing food.
Joan's mouth twitches as if she doesn't know how to react to this pronouncement, but she motions Peggy in with a sigh, voice flat and hushed. “Put it by the coat rack. His parents are here.”
“Oh. God. I can go—” Peggy mumbles as she straightens up, giving Joan a horrified look, but before she can flee, Joan's closing the apartment door and showing her into the living room.
A large, round woman in a blue shirtwaist dress is sitting on Joan's sofa, and she's the first person Peggy sees. Her brown hair is arranged in a messy bob; her mouth is pinched and her face is bright red, like she's been crying for hours, and has only just stopped. Oh, my god. Why did she ever agree to do this?
“Ruth, this is Peggy. A friend of mine from work,” Joan says, which is generous, considering the circumstances. “Peggy, my mother-in-law, Ruth.”
Peggy tries to smile, then realizes this may be disrespectful, and quickly stops herself. “I'm so sorry. I don't mean to—interrupt. I just—wanted to see how—Joan was doing.”
Greg's mother doesn't even seem to hear this, just glances to the left, past Peggy and Joan, toward a person in the corner. “When is Joe coming back?”
Peggy looks to her right and notices a petite older woman standing in the kitchen doorway. She's dressed in low-slung heels, black slacks, and a floral yellow blouse, with short, pale red hair. Her voice is calm and measured. “Ruthie, he just went to pick up a few things from the drugstore. He'll be back.”
Exchanging a sharp look with Joan that says I highly doubt it, while Greg's mother wipes her eyes with her handkerchief. Oh, my god. This must be Joan's mother.
“Hello,” Peggy says, waving awkwardly. “I'm Peggy.”
“Gail Holloway,” the older woman says, looking Peggy up and down as if amused by her, then turning to her daughter. “This the same friend who was here this morning?”
Someone was here this morning?
There is a pause, and after a moment, Joan reaches over and taps the top of Peggy's wrist, twice, with her hand. It's probably supposed to look like a gesture of thanks, but it's so awkward it feels as if Joan's her teacher, silently prompting her student not to misbehave.
“Yes. She's very thoughtful.”
“Um,” Peggy says, not knowing what the hell to say, but before she can complete a sentence, she's interrupted again by Gail. Physically, the older woman resembles Joan in a vague way, but it's the familiar steel-under-silk mannerisms that make it obvious the two women are related. And the sharpness in her voice is unmistakable.
“Honey, you went a little overboard. We're not having the funeral here, you know.”
Greg's mother visibly tears up again at the words, causing Peggy to glance away, toward the nearest bedroom door, and for Joan to interrupt, in an airy voice.
“We don't need to talk about this.”
“What? I'm just saying,” the other woman continues, as if she can't understand why this is gauche. “She bought two bushels of apples, for god's sake. Who's going to eat them all? You?”
Joan purses her lips. Peggy looks to her friend with a helpless expression.
“Joanie, you can't let yourself go,” Gail continues, glancing over her daughter's figure with raised eyebrows. “God knows you miss Greg, but you've already gotten heavy.”
“I don't think—” Peggy stutters in a quiet voice, alarmed and confused—they don't know Joan's pregnant? —but before she can finish her sentence, Greg's mother bursts into tears, rises from the sofa and pushes past into the nearest bedroom, slamming the door behind her. Loud, hysterical sobbing can be heard even through the door.
Gail exhales a sharp breath through her nose, as if annoyed by the display, and moves into the kitchen, mumbling something in a low voice. Peggy stares down at her hands for several moments, feeling very out of place, until Joan finally speaks. “Let me walk you out.”
They shut the door to Joan's apartment and walk down the hallway in silence. It's not until they're inside the elevator car and on the way down that Peggy feels she has to say something, or else she'll burst. “Jesus. I'm so sorry. Cooper and Roger wanted someone to make sure you were okay, and I said you wanted privacy—but now I know things—I'm so sorry—”
Gesturing vaguely to Joan's abdomen as a catch-all for this problem. Why don't they know you're pregnant? What did you tell them? And who the hell visited you this morning?
The other woman stands taller, buffering her shoulders. Peggy knows this is a warning not to bring it up again, and has resolved to put it out of her mind when Joan speaks.
“Stop apologizing.” In a voice that sounds exhausted but is no less authoritative. “I—appreciate your consideration.” She blows out a breath. “You certainly didn't have to come. Or lie to my mother.”
“Oh,” Peggy says after a beat, not expecting to hear words that sounds remotely like thank you. “No—I mean, we're—friends.” She pats Joan's arm just as awkwardly as the other woman did before, in the apartment.
Joan lets out a deep breath, giving Peggy a smile that doesn't reach her eyes, and so Peggy removes her hand, and decides to change the subject. Don't ask if she's okay, for god's sake. She's obviously not.
“Where's Greg's dad?” is all she can come up with. Jesus.
Joan huffs out a noise that could almost be a laugh, though she isn't smiling. “Probably drunk in some dive bar. He's been gone an hour.”
The elevator glides to a stop, and the doors open with a garbled ding.
“Good night,” Joan says quietly, before Peggy can get off.
Peggy stares at her friend, stunned, before recovering, and patting Joan's hand with a more genuine rush of affection. “Take care of yourself, okay?”