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if inconvenient, come all the same

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twenty-six weeks

 

“Is this supposed to go with his business correspondence? Or hers?”

Bridget looks up from her typewriter to see Scarlett standing to the left of her desk, a thin sealed envelope in hand. She takes the letter from the brunette and glances at the postmarks and addresses. Chemical Bank. Mailed yesterday.

Mr. Lane A. Pryce
Mrs. Joan Holloway Harris
c/o Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce
1271 Avenue of the Americas, NY, NY

“Hm,” Bridget says, clearing her throat. Usually, letters from the bank are addressed only to Mr. Pryce. Maybe being included is a part of Joan's promotion. She'll need to ask about that later. “I guess you should keep it with his mail. Since his name's first.”

Glancing behind her to make sure Joan's door is closed, and lowering her voice. “If we're wrong, he can give it back to her.”

She's noticed Joan rarely loses her temper with Mr. Pryce. When they do have a disagreement—and it's sometimes hard to tell—Joan just yells at the first person to interrupt her after it happens. While he just spends an hour or so in his office with the door closed, or takes a long lunch.

Scarlett purses her mouth in a thoughtful way. “Ooh. Good point.”

The door to Mr. Pryce's office opens, causing Scarlett to scurry back to reception with a wince. He ignores her in favor of Bridget, whose small smile widens once she notices there's a small bag of potato chips tucked on top of the files in his arm. He's always bringing Joan snacks because of her condition. She doesn't dare draw attention to the habit. It's very funny, though.

“Good morning, dear. Is she busy?”

“Go ahead,” Bridget says, hitting her buzzer twice as instructed by Joan, and making a notation on her steno pad. They're supposed to go over the first quarter projections today.

As he enters Joan's office, she opens her desk drawer and sets a small glass bottle of water near the edge, next to her pencil holder. Joan will need a drink to go with those salty chips. Bridget's started keeping a spare bottle in her desk, in case the older woman might need to take one to her doctor's appointments, but they've begun to come in handy during the week, too.

Predictably, Mr. Pryce steps back into the hallway about a minute later. “Bridget, would you mind—” A pause.

She glances over to see him frowning at the water on her desk, as if he doesn't understand why it's there. “That's hers,” she prompts. “You can take it.”

“Oh. Erm. Thank you.”

The door closes behind him. Clara's watching her with a confused expression, as if she doesn't understand why Mr. Pryce isn't snapping at her about paperwork and tea and his schedule. Bridget just shrugs, and goes back to her typing, stifling a laugh. There's a reason she's on this desk.

**

In a diner a few blocks from work, Peggy wipes a dollop of mustard away from her collar with a thin paper napkin. Serves her right for getting pastrami. Stan’s laughing so hard at the sight that he almost sprays food across the table, and she’s ready to kick him in the shin when a familiar voice to their right makes her startle.

“Fancy seeing you here, ballerina.”

“Oh, hi, Freddy,” she says, tossing her dirty napkin aside with a wince.

“Hey, Fred.” Stan stabs a boiled potato with relish and eats it whole.

Peggy motions that the older man can sit down if he wants, scooting toward the wall of the booth. “How are you? How's Violet?”

“Oh, she's doing fine.”

A pale, skinny, dark-haired kid is standing several inches behind the older man, wearing a rumpled collared shirt with a loud pattern as well as khaki slacks, and eyeing the activity behind the lunch counter with avid interest. He looks really out of place. It makes her curious.

“Who's your friend?” She cranes her neck to try and see the young man’s face, and snags a quick french fry from her plate before Freddy can answer the question.

He gives her an exasperated look that says pay attention. “Remember that conversation we had about Dancer, couple months back?”

She struggles to remember. He'd gotten work on the business of some ancient car with a few other freelancers. And there was someone whose work he'd mentioned—telling ya, ballerina, this kid's got your kinda spark

“Oh,” Peggy says, realization dawning as she swallows her food. “Sure.”

“Michael Ginsberg,” Freddy says, drawing the kid's attention back to the table, and gesturing that he should straighten up. “Want you to meet Margaret Olson and Stan Rizzo. Sterling Coop.”

She raises her eyebrows at Freddy – Margaret? Really? – but shakes the young man's hand with as much professionalism as she can muster given her mustard-stained blouse. “Nice to meet you.”

Stan's already snickering behind his coffee cup. “How's it goin’.”

“So, were you on stage, before this?” is Ginsberg's first question to her.

Peggy blinks. “What?”

“I don't mean to offend. I'm just curious,” Ginsberg continues, taking a seat next to Stan and toying with the spoon next to his open napkin, as if this is all perfectly normal. “Freddy always calls you ballerina. But you don’t look like a dancer.”

Peggy's already turning to Freddy with a smirk. Him?

“Hey, man, is it okay if I have your toast?” Michael asks Stan, whose only reaction is to blink, then push the small plate in the kid's direction, amusement creeping over his face.

“Knock yourself out.”

The young man pulls a thoughtful face and slides into the seat next to Stan. “Great. I’m starving.”

Now she remembers the other thing Freddy mentioned. Mind like a mental patient. But he's a genius. There's a small pause. Freddy takes a seat, and looks expectantly in her direction, as if to say, you gonna talk to him or what?

“So, Michael,” she says conversationally, turning to look at him. “Tell me more about Dancer.”

“Oh, it was terrible,” he replies in a matter-of-fact voice, taking a bite out of Stan’s toast. “Those morons wouldn't know creativity if it bit them in the ass.”

“Uh, Ginzo.” Freddy clears his throat. “You do remember why we're here?”

Stan's grinning at Peggy like this is the best lunch of his life, like he can't wait to tell this story in a few months. Remember when Freddy brought that crazy kid to lunch? “Margaret,” he says innocently, “I believe you had a follow-up question?”

She kicks at his shoe under the table. Bastard.

**

“So this is the place.” Ginsberg looks around the conference room, frowning thoughtfully at the glass walls, and then turning to Peggy. “You neglected to say it was fancy.”

He is absolutely nuts. But he sketched out six ideas for ladies’ shoes on folded-out napkins over lunch—and grudgingly, she had to admit they were good. Seeing his portfolio sealed it. Don even signed off publicly with a handshake after Ginsberg’s final interview. Not that Don cares about anything other than being married.

“Look, man.” Stan takes a seat and slides a folder of his expense reports in the direction of Lane's usual seat. “There's three things you should know if you're gonna make it here. One—” he holds up a warning finger— “never piss off Joan.”

“Was that the woman with the paperwork?”

Stan raises an eyebrow. “Was she a pregnant redhead?”

“Uh. I guess.” A flush has appeared on Ginsberg's face.

Peggy throws a balled-up piece of notebook paper across the table in the kid's direction. “She and Lane basically run this place. You don't want to get on her bad side. She holds grudges.”

“Which brings me to my next point. Mom and Dad are a package deal.”

Peggy groans, glaring at Stan as if he's gone insane. “He thinks they're a couple. They're just friendly.”

“Come on, he brings her food all the time. There's definitely ulterior motives.”

“Yes. In her condition, it's making sure she doesn't kill us.” She writes something else on her legal pad, then frowns at the words, and scribbles them out.

“So, they're not married,” Ginsberg says slowly. “...Mom and Dad.”

Megan casts a withering look at Stan as she opens the glass door. “God. It's his second day.”

Stan just smirks. “You're just jealous because they like me more.”

She rattles off a long string of French in reply just as Joan enters the room. Some of the laughter dissipates as the redhead places her folio onto the table and takes a seat. Nobody misses the way she has to put a hand on the table to lower herself slowly into her seat, or the small sigh she breathes out after she sits down. Usually she’s the first one in the conference room.

“Joan, you met Ginsberg, right?” Peggy asks, to break the awkwardness.

“Yes,” she replies, cool eyes flicking over the group before she checks her watch. “Any sign of accounts?”

“Think Pete’s in the kitchen,” Stan offers. “Want me to drag him in here?”

Joan's glancing over his expense reports, and speaks with an arch voice. “You could pour coffee over his head while you're at it.”

Ginsberg snorts. Everyone else exchanges knowing looks. It’s going to be one of those days.

**

Joan wakes up in the middle of the night with the baby pushing on her bladder. Lane's not in bed, which isn't unusual. He isn't sleeping very well lately. Keeps tossing and turning, and won't talk about why except to say strange dreams. She hasn't found a way to broach the subject yet.

When she exits the restroom after several minutes, she hears a raised voice in the living room. She grabs her silk bathrobe from the hook behind the door, pulls it on with a little wince, and pads softly down the hallway in bare feet.

Lane's voice is rising in pitch with every word. “For god's sake—did you imagine I'd just come running back to England, tail between my legs?” A pause, followed by a scoff. “Because you were the one who left! And you keep putting ideas into Nigel's head when I specifically—”

Another small silence. Joan pauses just before the half doorway to listen, hidden by the darkness of the hallway. When Lane speaks again, he's yelling.

“I have every right—it affects my family and my children—

She walks into the living room just in time to see Lane grab a small ceramic figure from the coffee table and pitch it into the far right wall. It shatters on impact against a bookshelf. She raises her eyebrows. Jesus.

“Yes, I said children!” A frustrated growl. “Because I'm having another! And I'll thank you not to—” he stops, wrenches the phone away from his ear with a curse, and pushes the base from the end table with another shout. “Damn it!”

Rebecca must have hung up on him. The echo of the telephone hitting the floor rings around their apartment for a few seconds. Lane, meanwhile, sinks into a sitting position on the couch, bracing his elbows on his knees and putting his head in his hands, exhaling a deep breath.

“Are you all right?” she asks.

“Go back to bed!”

Joan does a double-take at the retort, fixing him with a look that says absolutely not. “I can’t sleep.”

“Well, I don't want you seeing this!” Voice still strained, but not as loud as before.

She shrugs, searching for the best way to diffuse the tension in the room, and decides that pointing out the obvious might help. “Lane, it's not like I don't know you have a temper.”

He's still hiding his face with one hand, and not responding now, so she decides to try to make a little joke, voice very calm. “If you want to break something else, you should start with that hideous orange vase on the mantle.” She’s always hated looking at that thing.

Lane doesn't laugh.

Joan exhales a deep breath, feeling the baby wedge itself closer to her ribs with the movement, and decides that ignoring him will be the best strategy for now. “I'm putting the kettle on.”

If she goes through the routine of preparing tea, he'll probably want some eventually.

Fifteen minutes later, she's pouring steaming black tea into a yellow china cup and is munching on one of those chocolate-coated cookies Lane's obsessed with. She can almost hear him correcting her. Biscuits, Joan. They are chocolate biscuits.

There is a heavy sigh on her left as Lane slides into one of the barstools across from the counter. He's so upset he forgot his glasses on the other side of the room. She glances at his forlorn expression—the way he’s slumped in his chair—and pours a cup for him without asking, dropping in two lumps of sugar and handing him a spoon. He always takes extra sugar when he's stressed.

“Stir,” she says, and also pushes a cookie in his direction, just in case.

For several minutes, they don't speak. Joan is on her fourth cookie when Lane sighs again, pushing his teacup aside and shaking his head.

“I don’t know how we stayed married so long. Truly.”

Joan looks up to see him staring at her, as if he's waiting for her to dispute this claim, and reaches out to touch his arm, briefly. “She's just trying to punish you for moving on.”

“She made the choice to go back to England. She drew up the papers.” 

There's another short silence. Joan exhales deeply, feeling the baby shift and turn as she does so. Maybe a subject change is in order. “I assume she tells Nigel I'm the reason you divorced.”

Lane rolls his eyes, rubbing at the back of his neck with the palm of one hand. “You don't want to know what she says.”

Joan's almost loopy from operating on so little sleep, and adopts a kind of crisp accent which isn't quite British. “That absolute slut seduced your father.”

His face flushes if she's hit a nerve. Joan touches his forearm again, now speaking in her normal voice. “It doesn’t bother me. I'm sure I've heard worse.”

“She doesn't get to talk about you that way,” is all Lane says, voice gruff.

Joan reaches out to push the cookie tin in his direction.“Want another?” She really shouldn't be eating them, considering how much weight she's already gained.

He huffs out a breath, as if debating it, but nods, and reaches for the lid.

**

“Come on. Don’t you girls have any fun around here?”

Clara laughs, playfully swatting at Mr. Sterling’s arm. He’s leaning on her desk with one hand, grinning at her the way he sometimes does in the afternoons, after accounts has had a long client lunch. “Mr. Campbell gets cranky if I leave the phone without telling him.”

Mr. Sterling laughs as he puts a cigarette in his mouth and lights it. “I’ll bet he does.”

He exhales a jet of smoke, glancing down the hallway just as Mr. Pryce opens his office door and heads straight for Joan’s office. Clara suppresses a smile, and jots down a tally mark onto the last page of her steno pad. She and Scarlett have a little game going.

“What’d you do that for?” Mr. Sterling asks, following her gaze. “What is this?”

He picks up her steno pad and flips it open so the sheet with the tally marks is completely visible.

“Oh,” she says, flushing. “No, it’s—silly.”

“What does this say?” Gesturing to the header at the top, written in shorthand.

Clara averts her eyes to her typewriter. Pryce Pong. Stan’s idea.

“Well, um, some of the secretaries have a work game. We track how often our bosses go into...other people’s offices, and wherever they spend the most time that month, that person’s secretary has to buy lunch for her opponent. So if I was playing against Caroline, and you kept visiting Mr. Campbell, I’d have to buy her a lunch. Because he never goes to visit you.”

This month, she’s keeping track of Joan, while Scarlett is keeping track of Mr. Pryce. They tried to get Bridget to play, but she was a drip and said it wasn’t funny. Megan was the only other girl who would have played, but she’d probably rat them out, now, being married to Mr. Draper. And it’s hard to keep track of Mr. Crane and Mr. Cosgrove, since their offices are so far away. Nobody ever visits them.

“Jesus,” Mr. Sterling says, looking amused. “Twelve marks. This Campbell’s whole month?”

“No,” she says, laughing a little. “It’s Joan’s. Just this week, actually.”

He gives her a skeptical look. “Who’s she seeing a dozen times?”

Clara bites her lip to keep from giggling, and nods her head in the direction of the glass windows separating Joan’s office from the creative lounge. Isn’t it obvious? Behind the clipped advertisements and sketches and displayed pictures, she and Mr. Pryce are smiling over something. Joan looks like she’s holding the ledger.

“Come on,” Mr. Sterling says, giving her a skeptical look. “Really?”

“He’s in there a lot.” With a little shrug. “I guess it’s important.”

Mr. Sterling’s still frowning at her stenography pad, like he’s annoyed or confused. Thankfully, the phone rings, releasing her from any more conversation. As she motions for him to hand it back, and reaches for the receiver, she has the feeling she’s done something wrong.

“Peter Campbell’s office.”

**

They're going over the books in Joan's office when Lane says, out of nowhere, “Colin.”

Joan looks up, mouth pursed slightly. “What?”

“Colin,” he says again, with a glance at Joan's stomach. As if this is as casual a conversation as discussing the list of expenditures in the second column. “I—don't know. It was only a thought.”

She levels him with a skeptical look, although her voice is airy. “If we name a girl Colin, she's going to be laughed out of school.” A pause. “Kimberly.”

He pulls a face by reflex, like he's swallowed something awful. “Is she a teenage actress?”

Joan huffs out an amused noise, and after another moment, places the ledger back onto her desk, removing her glasses so they dangle around her neck. She’s had to start wearing them more often, although she hates it. “Charles.”

“God, no.” His younger brother’s name. Can’t remember if he’s ever said as much to Joan. He sets his notes into the second chair. “What about Anne?”

She wrinkles her nose. “It sounds odd. Say it aloud.”

He murmurs the name under his breath for a moment, still not understanding what Joan means—is it a pronunciation difference?—and lacking answers, decides to retaliate with the most absurd name he can muster.

“Major.”

She blinks, and after a moment, begins to laugh. “Like Joseph Heller?”

“Could be distinguished,” Lane says mildly, not understanding the reference but being amused all the same. “Has a nice ring to it, hm?”

Joan's speechless now, her entire body shaking with silent paroxysms of laughter, with one hand curved against her stomach and the other clutching the armrest of her chair.

Lane raises his eyebrows in a mischievous expression. He does love seeing her laugh like this. “Prefect Major Pryce. Barrister Major Pryce.”

She's wiping tears from the corners of her eyes, still giggling as she tries to speak, voice high. “Sounds like something we'd name a dog.”

As if she's expecting him to warm to this idea, or suggest they get a pet. “No. You already feed that mangy tom on the patio.” She sighs out a breath, her laughter abating as she speaks. “I can smell the tuna when it sits out.”

Lane didn’t realise she knew about that. “It has a name, you know. Cat.”

She's struggling to keep a straight face now, which ruins the effect of the glare she's trying to give him. “Didn’t you suggest Catherine before?”

“Have we gone back to that discussion?” Catherine is a very elegant name. But when he’d suggested it, Joan had pursed her mouth and waved one hand in a way which seemed to mean she hadn’t seen the appeal.

“Not when you tried to name our daughter after a rabid animal.”

He actually laughs. “Well, it isn't rabid, Joan, honestly.”

And they wouldn’t call a child Cat. That would be ridiculous. With a snort of amusement, he takes a paperclip from her tray and slides it across the desk in her direction. It hits the side of her forearm and ricochets into the floor.

She's gone helpless with laughter again, but in retaliation, takes a post-it from her desk, crumples it into a tiny ball, and throws it at his chest.

**

“Well, that was a bust,” Stan groans to the group as he flips on the overhead lights. Next door, in the conference room, a few of the secretaries are dropping off surveys with Joan, chatting among themselves as they file out into the rest of the office. With a topic like pantyhose, Megan knows Stan was hoping the girls would talk about something sexy. Not about thigh fat and elastic lines.

Serves him right, really.

He, Ginsberg, and Peggy all walk out grumbling, slamming the door behind them. Megan’s still gathering her things when voices next door catch her attention—Lane and Joan. Over the intercom, their voices come out low and tinny, with a little static.

“How was your session?”

A sigh. “Unhelpful.”

The sound of pages turning. “Nothing interesting to say about stockings?”

“Nothing you’d appreciate.”

Why does Joan have to try to flirt with everyone? It’s like a compulsive need for attention. It’s annoying. But they all fall for it.

There’s a short silence. The door to Joan’s office creaks open a little further, and Bridget steps inside, moving to clean up a few of the Styrofoam cups left behind, and closing the door behind her, with a little wave in Megan’s direction. For a few minutes, they work quietly. Megan keeps correcting over her own notes, trying to decipher the worst of her handwriting before she gives this to Peggy. Her shorthand isn’t as good as it used to be.

“Have you phoned the movers?” Lane asks, still in the conference room. It’s such an unexpected question that it makes Megan glance up from her notepad in confusion.

“Mm hm. They’re coming Saturday.”

She and Bridget are still and silent, frowning at the intercom as if it’s not just broadcasting noise, as if it has the power to explain everything to them. What the hell would be delivered here on a Saturday? Why would they need movers?

Trés bon,” Lane says next, in the weirdest, most playful tone Megan’s ever heard from him. His accent is awful. She has to clap her hand over her mouth to keep from laughing out loud. Is he actually trying to flirt back? Gross.

Is Joan--laughing? It's low, and quiet. “Mon lapin.

Lane’s voice again, soft this time. “You--never call me that here.”

“I know.”

The intercom clicks off. Megan looks over to see Bridget’s hand hovering over the power button, eyes wide. But she’s still staring at Megan as if waiting for her to translate the French, to confirm it. What did she tell him?

Megan’s shoulders are shaking with silent laughter. She doesn’t even bother to explain, just steps out into the hallway and walks toward the creative office as quickly as possible, keeping her head down. When she closes the door behind her, she notices she isn’t alone—Ginsberg and Peggy are in the corner arguing over some storyboard—but Megan can’t keep the laughter bottled up any longer, and sinks down into Stan’s usual chair, clutching her stomach and giggling until her throat feels raw and her stomach aches from the movement.

“What’s with you?” Ginsberg demands to know, the second she stops.

Megan wipes her streaming eyes, trying to regain her composure, and swallows the laugh that threatens to well up again, remembering the first comment she overheard. Movers. A new thought occurs to her. What if Lane and Joan are living together? Older people don’t just shack up; they get married. And even if they aren’t living together, it still means Stan’s been right all along.

Mon lapin. Merde.

Did it start before Joan’s husband died? Maybe Don will know something.

“Nothing. I’m fine.”

“Well, did you at least bring back the notes?” Peggy says, frowning at Megan and scoffing as if she’s the stupidest person in the world.

Ugh. She doesn’t have to be so snide about everything.

“No, sorry,” she says instead, not even bothering to hide the annoyance in her voice. Least Ginsberg isn’t acting like a jackass. “I’ll get them.”