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if inconvenient, come all the same

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thirty-two weeks // february 1966

 

“Let me ask you something,” Roger walks toward Don's drink cart, half-full bottle of Absolut in his sights. He drops a single cube of ice into a gilded glass. “You think Lane's a homo?”

Don frowns at him, a manila folder hanging open in his hands. “What?”

“Don't give me that look.” He takes a gulp of his drink. “I'm serious.”

He's already spent too much time thinking about this. Now, every time he walks past the lounge, he looks into Red's window to see if she's alone. So far? No dice. Plus, he's running out of reasons to talk to Campbell's girl, not that she's noticed.

Lane probably wouldn't know what to do with a woman like Joan unless he had a compass and a field map. But he doesn't look twice at the steno pool, probably hasn't had a date since his wife split, and he's always in that office. And she doesn't care. There's got to be something kooky going on. Else it means she actually enjoys the man’s company. Or the work. Which is impossible.

“He was married,” Don counters. “With a kid.”

Roger scoffs. “So’s Lee.”

Thirty-six years in this business, he's always gonna remember the sound Lee made when the guy's balls were in his hand. God. He's had girls that were quieter. Not enough vodka in the world to tank that memory.

Meanwhile, Draper's pretending to be some kind of yokel, rubbing a hand over the back of his neck. “What do you want me to say?”

The buzzer sounds. Carolne's voice. “Mrs. Draper's here to see you.”

“Send her in.” He stares at Roger, hands spread as if in surrender. “Are you done?”

“Jesus.” Newlyweds. Can't do anything by themselves.

Megan gives him an irritated look as she walks inside. Roger takes the bottle of Absolut in hand, tipping the capped neck in her direction as he moves toward the door. “Goodnight, sweetheart.”

“It's one thirty,” he hears her say to Don before the door closes. He pulls a face. Girls.

**

“What if they make her a partner? Are we all supposed to give up some of our shares to ensure she and her paramour are on equal footing?”

Ken puts down his pencil, with a half-shrug. “Pete, you're taking this too personally. They're not getting married, for crying out loud.”

The other man scoffs. “Megan was promoted as soon as she and Don became engaged.”

“Okay, first of all: Joan isn't Lane's secretary. They're not engaged. And she's got an established position. So I count zero conflicts of interest.”

Pete growls out an unhappy noise, shaking his head like he can't believe they even have to have this conversation. “He's the chief of finance, Kenny. She's a—personnel manager, at best. There's going to be some kind of advancement.”

Ken sighs, wanting to derail this train before it can pick up speed. “She's going on leave in what, a couple of weeks? I really can't imagine her ambition being an issue for you.”

He's still trying to wrap his head around the fact that Lane actually kept a secret for so long. If those two are involved and are that serious about each other – and Ken's not sure if he believes it, to be honest – he’s surprised the news wasn't being passed around this office months ago.

Honestly. It's kind of impressive.

“I—think that's changed.” Pete steeples his hands over the desk, and slants a nervous look toward the shared wall with Roger's office, lowering his voice. “Lane is clearly her child's father. Now that he and Joan collude on all levels, who knows what else she may suddenly decide to want.”

“Wow,” Ken says, shaking his head. This is paranoia at its finest. It's practically an art.

Pete lifts one shoulder in a shrug. “It's going to affect us.”

“Listen,” Ken says, holding up two hands. “Best thing you can do is to stay out of it. If Joan and Lane are serious, they're serious. If she gets promoted, she gets promoted. Don't stir the pot.”

**

“Joan, Mr. Campbell is here to see you.”

“Send him in,” Joan replies, releasing the intercom button and trying to school her features into a more placid expression. What on god's green earth could he want from her?

“You're looking well,” he says as he enters with a cup of coffee, shutting the door behind him. She raises an eyebrow. He wouldn't be stupid enough to bring up her personal life, would he?

“Yes,” she answers, sweeping a bit of cigarette ash from the corner of her desk calendar. “Even in my condition.”

He smiles and laughs, although the good humor doesn't quite reach his eyes. “I imagine you had a productive weekend? Trudy was...heartened to see you.”

Jesus. She levels him with an unamused look. “What did she say?”

Pete doesn't even have the decency to blush, although he does avert his gaze for a moment, huffing out a noise like a sigh. “She was left with a very strong impression following our encounter. Obviously, I'm willing to correct any of her assumptions, should she be mistaken.”

“She's free to form her own opinions,” Joan says calmly.

“Yes, well,” Pete continues, setting his coffee aside onto the edge of Joan's desk. “This is a very delicate situation. I don't think you've given serious thought to its potential effects.”

“Excuse me?”

Pete fixes her with a pitying expression. “Personal attachments aside, your involvement with Lane is going to affect all of us. In a professional sense.”

Joan's voice is silk. “You must be joking.”

“People are going to talk,” he says, with a little lift of one eyebrow. “I'm sure you understand the types of rumors that will circulate, given the—” he glances at her stomach, “—timing.”

She sets her jaw against the insults that threaten to sail past her lips. “Well, that explains Trudy's strong impression.”

“I don't think you understand,” Pete continues in a haughty voice, as if he's trying to appeal to her rational nature. “If the two of you are—” and this is where he hesitates “—united, your position in the company will change. You'll have the ear of a voting partner. You'll wield greater influence. Are you honestly going to tell me he won't push to promote you as a result of your involvement?”

“You don't have the right to make baseless allegations.”

“Is that what you're planning to tell Bert? Or, god forbid, Roger?”

She can't stand up quickly in her condition, but sits as tall as she can manage, one finger pointed at the door, and her voice a sharp command. “Get out.”

Pete remains seated, glancing at her aggressive posture with something like apprehension. “You said it yourself when Don and Megan broke their own news. He won't want to be engaged to a secretary.”

“I'm not Lane's secretary,” she snarls, clenching one fist by her side to keep from throwing something fragile into his smug little face.

“But you're not his professional equal,” Pete says, standing now, and buttoning his jacket. “At the very least, you'll be moved to a non-administrative department. He may even push to make you a junior partner. Are you just going to allow him to do that?”

“You have no idea what you're talking about,” she counters, biting off every word.

Pete raises his eyebrows, and picks up his coffee from her desk. “We'll see.”

He walks out as if this was nothing more than a friendly chat.

Joan stays at her desk for another moment before deciding she needs to move. If she sits in here and stares at Pete's door long enough, she's going to do something very foolish. This is why they didn't want their personal life to be common knowledge. Unhappy people always try to poison the well.

She struggles into her coat, takes her purse from her desk, and exits her office, stopping only to speak to Bridget. “Messages?”

The blonde girl shakes her head, looking slightly concerned. Maybe she overheard something. Maybe it's written all across Joan's face.

“No—but—Mr. Pryce said to tell you he'll be back. He had a lunch meeting.”

“Oh,” Joan says dully. Well, she can't go into his office anyway, not after the argument she just had. She is not dependent on Lane. She doesn't need to speak to him every time she gets upset.

“I assume you're taking lunch?” the secretary asks, hesitant.

“Obviously,” Joan retorts, and strides toward reception, keeping her steps as brisk as she can make them, despite everything. If she has to dab discreetly at her eyes while waiting for the elevator, or in the lobby, or take out her handkerchief and wipe her nose after getting into a cab at the curb, no one seems to notice anything amiss.

**

“Jeez,” Ken says, eyeing the crowd of people at the front door from their booth in the back of the restaurant, “glad we beat the rush, huh?”

“Timed it well,” Lane says with a nod. Which is basically the fifth time he's said it since they got here. Ken snorts out a laugh, and as a hurried waitress rushes by their table, he taps her arm.

“Hey, when you get a chance, can you bring us a couple of whiskeys? Neat.”

“Oh,” Lane manages, as the waitress scurries away, “I don't think—there's really no need...”

“Already been done,” Ken replies, waving a hand, and deciding this is as good a time as any to broach the subject of Joan. They'd needed to meet anyway, and talked strategy for Bird's Eye before the food came, but really, he just wanted to get Lane out of the office. Strike up a casual conversation, maybe congratulate the guy before getting into Pete's wacky theories.

“So, a little birdie told me they saw you over the weekend. Helping Joan shop for baby stuff.”

Lane's eyes widen, but he doesn't say anything apart from, “Oh?”

“Well,” Ken says with a shrug, trying not to make it sound like an accusation. “Technically it was two birdies. Trudy mentioned it to my wife, who told me. And Cyn was really excited.”

Lane looks confused. Ken decides to clarify.

“She's dying to set you guys up. Keeps telling me you and Joan could be this...dynamic couple, and that I should invite you both for dinner.” He chuckles. “There's a whole scheme.”

Mostly revolving around something from the Christmas party? A look, or some offhand comment. Ken can't even remember what it was, just that Cynthia insists it was darling.

“Oh,” Lane says again, looking bemused now, like he doesn't know what to say.

“Yeah,” Ken says, with another shrug. He snags a french fry from his plate while they're still warm. “Anyway, if she starts asking you pointed questions at the next company party, she's matchmaking. Don't be offended.”

Lane does laugh at this, so hard his face turns red, and when he recovers, he gives Ken a significant look. “Well—please tell your wife that particular—favor isn't...necessary.” There's a little smile tugging at the corner of the older man’s mouth, although he's trying to hide it behind his teacup.

“So you two are an item,” Ken says slowly, raising an eyebrow.

And Lane laughs and blushes like it's his birthday and Christmas all at once. Ken shakes his head, grabbing another fry.

“How long's that been happening?”

“No, I really can't—say—anything else,” Lane insists quietly, glancing around like he's worried they might be overheard. Although the guy's grin is so wide, Ken's gonna be very surprised if he doesn't want to brag a little. It's Joan.

“Come on, you gotta give me something. Cyn'll kill me otherwise.”

**

Joan clutches a yellow cotton romper in one hand as she walks around the small baby boutique. The chest of the outfit is embroidered with a patch of blue and green and orange flowers. It's darling. But it would be far too big for a newborn. The baby wouldn't be able to wear this for at least six or eight months.

Joan’s been holding it for fifteen minutes already, and can't force herself to put it down. Early in the second trimester, after Greg died, she'd begun to carve out a kind of quiet hour. She'd stop somewhere for a sandwich or a hamburger – happy to be able to eat again – and afterward, would walk one or two blocks in either direction. One particularly energetic day, she'd walked three, and had stumbled onto this boutique. It's tiny, but elegant, and Joan finds the environment calming. Even now, it's something that's just hers.

“My goodness,” says a strawberry blonde woman to Joan's right. She looks like she can't be more than twenty five. “You're ready to pop, aren't you?”

“Well,” Joan says, glancing down at her enormous stomach, not even hidden by the panels of her camel coat. “Not quite. I'm due next month.”

And she's bigger than most. The patients in the waiting room during her doctor's appointments all seem very petite by comparison. She slants an envious look at the other woman's flat stomach. It doesn't go unnoticed.

“Fifteen weeks,” the woman volunteers. “I'm—not showing.”

Joan offers her a smile. “In fifteen more weeks, you'll be wistful. I can't even see my feet.”

The younger woman glances downward, and pulls a considering face, as if this isn't a surprise. “You are wearing two different shoes.”

Joan's mouth drops open, and she cranes her neck to try and see it for herself, although this is impossible.

The other woman briefly presses a hand to her mouth, either because she's embarrassed or because she's trying not to laugh. “One's black and the other's a dark navy—you can't really tell unless it's in the light. I'm sorry. It's really not obvious.”

Joan growls out a frustrated noise, shaking her head. “Lane.”

This morning, she kept knocking clothes off hangers trying to pick out her shoes. Lane volunteered to get them instead. And he swore these were the black ones. How could he not see that they were two different colors? Is he that blind without his glasses?

“Well, I think it's cute,” the blonde says. “Maybe you'll start a trend.”

They're silent for a moment, perusing an island display full of bibs, burping cloths, and diapers. Joan puts her free hand to the middle of her stomach, near her navel, where the sole of the baby's foot pushes insistently against her palm. What kind of wriggling is she doing in there?

“Bobby and I've only been married four months,” the young woman whispers with a guilty look, motioning Joan closer like she's afraid the sales clerks will overhear. “He jokes this is our Vermont souvenir.”

We're not even married, Joan thinks, but gestures to her stomach with a small smile, in an attempt to keep the moment light. “Well, this one happened at work.”

The young woman raises her eyebrows, clearly shocked. “You and your husband still work together?”

Joan does not let herself dwell on why the sentiment makes her so wistful. “Yes. We do.”

**

“Yes, all right, we'll have one more,” Lane says to their waitress, chuckling now as she takes away some of the empty plates, and turning back to Ken. “Sorry—were you saying something?”

Ken snorts out a laugh. “Just that Pete's cooking up some crazy theories. The guy thinks you two are gonna run some elaborate coup once your relationship comes out.”

Lane's staring at him as if he's gone insane. “What?”

“He thinks Joan's gonna steal all his partnership shares, or that she'll get promoted over him. I kept reminding him she's going on leave. She'll kinda have her hands full.”

The older man's laugh has subsided into kind of an appraising frown. “Well, not—forever, obviously,” he says, slowly, like an idea's taking root in his brain. He lapses into silence, staring at his napkin and tearing an edge from a corner, until he seems to realize Ken's waiting for him to say something else. “Sorry. I—don't know why I never considered that. For her.”

“What, a promotion?”

Lane shakes his head, gaze still distant, like he's running the probabilities in his mind. “No—erm, partnership.”

Honestly, Ken doesn't have a dog in this fight. If he could support himself with his writing, he'd give his notice and be out the door tomorrow. And he knows Pete only brought up partnership shares as a joke. But if Lane's taking it seriously...

“You really think she'd be interested in that?”

Hell, maybe Pete's right. Maybe things have changed.

“Well, she could—do the work easily,” Lane says with a shrug, as if that's all the reason he needs. “But that's only—if she wanted. I—I don't know. I...suppose I ought to...ask.”

Ken raises his eyebrows. If Lane thinks she's easily partner material, she must be even sharper than she lets on. Maybe that's part of the reason they get along so well. “Okay,” he says, not knowing what else to tell the guy, since it's all hypothetical anyway, “well, let me know when the big day arrives. I'll bring a camera. We'll celebrate.”

Maybe he can get a picture of the scowl on Pete's face as they all swig champagne in the conference room. Frankly, that would be hilarious.

Lane blinking at him with a stunned expression. “Do you—honestly mean that?”

“Yeah. Come on. It'd be great.”

Joan's sharp, she's got gumption, and she doesn't spend her days floating inside a vodka bottle. Far as he's concerned, she'd probably be fine.

Before Ken can say anything else, Lane reaches into the inside pocket of his jacket and pulls out a creased booklet the size of a brochure. He slides it across the table. Face-up is a two-page color spread of diamond rings. Nice ones.

Lane's hands twitch on top of the table, and he quickly looks away, taking a drink of his tea before pushing the mug aside. “She—doesn't know. Well. Obviously.”

Ken's still staring at the booklet, open-mouthed. Cynthia is gonna have a cow.

“Holy crap.”

**

Even after a long lunch, and four cigarettes, and an hour spent in the baby boutique, Joan's still upset enough to feel a surge of irritation as she boards the elevator in the lobby. Outlandish theories aside, Pete's condescension is inexcusable. How dare he imply she isn't qualified to do more than her current job. She was working and had account experience before he had the chance to stumble out of an Ivy League fraternity party. He doesn't get to underestimate her.

When the doors slide open on floor sixty-seven, Joan exits the elevator with surprising speed, passing through reception and into the office with purposeful steps, and making a beeline for Pete's office. The door is closed. She'll solve that. 

Out of the corner of her eye, she notices Clara rising from her chair. “Joan—what are you—”

Joan ignores her, throws open the door with as much force as she can muster, and fixes her sights on Pete as she walks inside, her voice a snarl.

“Let me make something very clear to you. I don't care what you think about my personal life, or what delusions you've drawn from it, but I refuse to be the scapegoat for your professional insecurities.”

“Excuse me?” Pete sputters, face frozen in an outraged scowl.

“If I wanted something so petty as to change jobs,” she continues, every word as sharp as ice, “I wouldn't need nepotism to accomplish it. Without my work, this agency would still be operating out of a hotel room.”

From the chair opposite Pete's desk, Harry Crane blinks at her, loose papers slowly dropping from his hands into the floor, his mouth slack with shock.

Pete, meanwhile, has recovered some of his composure, and looks at her with narrowed eyes, pushing away a thick file on his desk. When he speaks, he practically scoffs out the words. “And you say you aren't ambitious. I don't believe you.”

“Will someone tell me what the hell is going on?”

Joan cuts Harry off with a raised hand. “Don't talk. You'll embarrass yourself.”

She fixes Pete with one last glare, turns as gracefully as she can manage, and sweeps past a wide-eyed Clara, who's lingering awkwardly on the other side of the doorway. Moving into her office and toward the bar behind her desk, Joan finally pauses to pour herself a small dram of gin. She sips this with a tiny sigh of relief, tapping two fingers against the delicate glass.  Now she feels better.