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if inconvenient, come all the same

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thirty-four weeks // march 1966

 

The partners’ meeting is scheduled for ten o’clock. At nine forty-eight, Joan’s already sitting in the conference room with her folio and stenography pad, reviewing the long list she's prepared for Scarlett, Clara, and Bridget. All the tasks have been organized and divided into sections per each girl's strengths, although both Scarlett and Clara will likely end up helping with the books. It will need to be reviewed for the final time today, before Joan's leave begins.

The secretaries are also throwing her a small baby shower during lunch. Between making sure everyone understands their work to the letter and taking the time necessary for the party, Joan's not sure when she's going to be able to finish payroll. She may have to do it over the weekend. Which Lane will hate. Every day she gets closer to delivering, he's become more fussy. It would be endearing if she could get up from the couch without him giving her nervous looks.

When the glass doors squeak open, she looks up expecting to see Lane, but finds Roger in the doorway instead, a white coffee cup in one hand. When he sees her, he raises the mug in Joan's direction instead of saying hello, slumping into the seat next to her with a loud huff.

“Jane informed me over breakfast that she wants a baby. I told her I'd rather take a flying leap from the roof.”

Joan raises an eyebrow. The girl's an idiot if she thinks having a baby will make Roger into a better husband. “Well, I'm sure she was thrilled.”

He scoffs out a laugh, and takes a quick sip from his mug. She’d bet good money there’s vodka in it. There's already an edge to his voice. “Ah, come on, Joanie. Want to talk her out of it?”

“No.” A small smile plays around the corners of her mouth.

There's a long silence, and when she looks back at Roger, he's watching her with an intent expression. “You know, every time I walk by your office, you're in there with Lane.” He takes a drag of a freshly-lit cigarette, and leans back in his chair as if wanting to relax. She knows better. He's studying her reaction. “Why do you let him hang around all the time?”

She forces herself to breathe normally, waiting for a more specific question, or the upcoming accusation. “You make it sound like I've got two shadows.”

“Don’t get me wrong,” he continues, as if the insinuation isn't rude, “I know you like feeling important, but if you wanted company during the workday, I've been told I’m very distracting.”

Joan narrows her eyes at the words, but she keeps her voice as light as she can. “In this condition, I'm not looking for distractions.”

He snorts out an amused noise, sitting up in his chair. Even jealousy is a shade he wears with humor. “Come on. You really want to listen to Lord Milquetoast talk about the free market? I could throw a rock through this window and hit twelve people who are more interesting.”

Joan fixes him with a warning look, lighting a cigarette in an attempt to keep her temper in check. “I find our conversations fascinating.”

Her pale eyes sweep over Roger’s in a way that dares him to contradict her.

“You’re kidding,” is all he says.

She doesn't smile.

He scoffs at her lack of amusement. “But you don’t even—”

Recognition takes over his face. Roger stops talking, his eyes widen, and he stares at Joan, mouth slightly open, as if he’s never seen her before. “Jesus.”

It gets worse. He actually starts laughing, the sound loud and obnoxious as it echoes throughout the otherwise empty room.

“Stop it,” she says in a low voice.

He laughs even harder, but after a few moments, manages to get himself under control. When he speaks again, his voice has an incredulous edge. “Come on, Red. Tell me you’re not serious.”

“Try me,” she returns, purposefully calm.

“Him.” Roger’s voice has gotten louder, betraying how upset he is by this turn of events. “For god's sake, Joanie, he doesn't even know you.”

Joan just looks back at him, knowing the color’s rising in her face, and trying to maintain her composure by tapping her cigarette in the nearest ashtray. She keeps her tone as even as she can. “Does saying that make you feel better?"

Roger's expression keeps shifting between confusion and disgust. “Your baby doesn't need a father that bad.”

Joan bites her cheek so hard she tastes blood. Her reply is sharp. “I think you should take your opinions somewhere else.”

He scoffs at her curt dismissal, grabbing his coffee cup and rising from his chair. “Unbelievable.”

Before she can say anything, he’s gone from the conference room and heading for his office, the glass door slowly creaking closed in his wake.

**

Everyone else is late to the meeting. When she glances to Lane for some kind of answer regarding the delay, he shakes his head with a sigh and scribbles a quick note on the edge of a message slip. Nigel phoned again.

Joan tries to whisper her own news under pretext of a spreadsheet correction, but Lane doesn't hear it. He just blinks at her with the puzzled, benign look he sometimes uses on difficult clients and says something like oh, yes, of course. And she isn't able to write it down before Roger saunters in again, and takes a seat next to Mr. Cooper. For the first time in twelve years she feels nervous around him. Like his spontaneity is a liability instead of a pleasant distraction.

Ten minutes later, Lane's in the middle of a long-winded explanation about American Cancer Society and the tax exemption statuses of charitable organizations when Roger finally snaps.

“Can it, Henry Higgins. I'm sick of listening to this bullshit.”

Pete, Don, and Mr. Cooper all turn to stare at Roger, clearly stunned.

Lane just sets his jaw, glancing down at his notes. “You've started early,” he mutters, in the passive-aggressive mumble he uses when he's trying not to lose his temper at work.

“What the hell did you say to me?!”

“What is your problem?” Don asks loudly, staring from Roger to Lane, eyes narrowed.

“Roger, this is not the time for one of your temper tantrums,” Pete huffs with a sigh, like he's only offended by the lapse of professional decorum, and only sparing Joan a cursory glance. She blinks back at him in surprise. He sounds like he's getting ready to defend her, which would be unprecedented.

Roger throws his cigarette into the nearest ashtray, staring at the Englishman with unadulterated loathing before turning his glare on the rest of the room. “What's the matter? Too chickenshit to tell them the truth?”

“Roger!” Joan snaps.

He slams a hand down onto the table. “You're fucking him! Just admit it!”

Joan averts her eyes to the table for a brief moment, too humiliated to meet anyone's gaze. A heavy silence lingers over the table. Lane is the first one to break it.

“How dare you speak to her that way!”

She glances to her left. Two spots of red have appeared on Lane's cheeks, and there's a vein standing out on his forehead. The pencil in his hand has snapped into two pieces, which he sweeps off the table. One of them hits the side of Pete's chair with a clatter.

Joan forces herself to look back at Roger. It's sinking in, now. She can see it in the deep flush that creeps up from his collar, and in his shock-wide eyes as he speaks. “Jesus. You're not even gonna say anything?”

“Because you're acting like an immature child!” Lane roars.

“Shut up!” Roger yells back, pitching one of Don's files into the floor.

“Roger,” Cooper interrupts, holding up a hand for silence. His voice brooks no room for arguments. “Control yourself.”

Joan's throat feels tight, and she purses her lips, knowing if she tries to say anything, she's going to start crying. She can't cry in front of everyone. Not in a partners meeting. She pushes away her stenography pad and rises from her seat with difficulty. Five heads turn to stare at her as she moves.

“Don't—” Lane begins, reaching toward her.

She shakes her head no, and storms out of the room, sailing into her own office without even turning on the lights. She doesn't even stop for a cigarette or a drink, just pulls open the orange curtains and then the wooden half-doors which hide the intercom, jabbing violently at the on switch and turning the volume up as high as she dares.

A cacophony of voices clicks to life in a burst of static:

—widow, and she's lonely! You're taking advantage of her condition!

You are— blinded by your own petty delusions—

Jesus, Roger, would you just—

–discussing it? This is an office!

Sudden scraping noises, like people pushing chairs aside and jumping to their feet. Joan moves closer to the curtain, one hand moving to her necklace and twisting anxiously at the link between the chain and pendant.

Lane's shouting now, voice loud and forceful. You're a spoiled, selfish ass, and you will never be so vulgar to Joan again—not ever, do you understand me?!

Roger. Cooper again. Apologize.

To him? Never, Roger sneers in a mocking voice.

There's more rustling—Joan can't place the sound—and Lane speaks again, voice as low and clipped as before, a tone that sends cold dread into her stomach. When he gets quiet and angry, he's close to losing his temper.

You and I are going to settle that remark.

Oh, god. He can't be serious.

A noise like a laugh or a scoff. Put your hands up, Professor.

Pete's voice is high and nervous, but Joan's not sure if he's just speaking to Lane or the room at large. You—you're not honestly going to—

Campbell, Lane interrupts, and it's with a raised voice again. Get the damn curtains.

After a pause, Joan hears footsteps, followed by the telltale rat-a-tat sound of blinds being drawn across a metal track.

**

First, Peggy hears yelling across the hall. When she steps outside her office to find out what's going on, she's met with tense silence, except for the click and rustle of curtains in the conference room being drawn. She catches a brief glimpse of Pete's face before it's obscured behind the fabric. His pinched expression makes her pause for a moment in the hallway, just long enough to hear a muffled thud and a clatter, like the sound of something crashing into a wall or a table.

What the hell?

Automatically, Peggy moves toward the open door of Joan's office. Once she gets past the doorway, she realizes the other woman is already two steps ahead of her. The intercom is turned up and the lights are off. Joan is standing by the orange curtains with a terrified expression on her face, one hand resting on the frame of the intercom, and one twisting at the chain of her necklace, near the pendant. When she sees Peggy, she motions for her to be quiet.

On the other side of the wall are the clear sounds of a fistfight—grunts and rustling and blows punctuated occasionally by someone knocking into the shared wall. Peggy jumps as a crash echoes just a few feet from where she's standing.

“Why—” Peggy begins, but Joan shushes her again, shaking her head like she doesn't have time to explain. Judging by the way the other woman's lips are pressed into a thin line, it's more like she can't. She looks really upset.

Roger's voice comes over the intercom, loud and breathless. He almost sounds like he's laughing. What was that? Give up yet?

Bastard, comes the furious reply, a harsh hiss, and it's Lane, for god's sake.Holy crap.

“What the hell happened?” Peggy blurts in a whisper.

The other woman's not even paying attention, just staring fixedly at the intercom. For several minutes, they stand together in silence, listening to the fight like it's just another a radio program.

You think she's in love with you?   Roger taunts the other man, now sounding gleeful, if winded. You think her kid's gonna call you daddy—

There's a savage yell, a clash of bodies, and a resounding thud so forceful it shakes the shared wall and the floor of Joan's office. The scuffle goes on for several seconds until it's stopped by a crack and a loud howl of pain.

Peggy gasps. Joan's mouth is open in silent horror, one hand twisted around the chain of her necklace. Next door, pandemonium reigns.

Jesus Christ!

This is medieval.

Get him up. Now!

Footsteps sound among the scuffling noises, like someone is finally separating them. The next person to speak is Don. Thank god.

Lane? Lane. Look at me.

Oh my god. Did he get knocked out? What happened?

“Peggy,” Joan manages in a very small voice, and when the younger woman looks over she notices Joan is as white as a sheet, hand gripping the lip of the intercom frame. She's wobbling on her feet as if she's woozy, as if she's about to faint. Without thinking, Peggy shoves some files from the nearest blue chair and drags it over to Joan, wooden legs squeaking as it gets pulled across the tile.

“God,” she blurts, watching Joan sink into a sitting position, eyes squeezed closed, her hands braced flat against the armrests. “Okay—just—take some deep breaths. Everything's okay.”

Sit him in that chair. Tip his head back.

Please don't pass out. Please don't pass out. Oh, god, please don't pass out.

She rushes toward the minibar behind Joan's desk. Beside the alcohol bottles is an unopened bottle of water. Peggy grabs this in blind panic. As she's taking it back to Joan, there's a grunt over the intercom, like someone finally getting up from the floor.

Lane's voice comes through, rough and quiet. No, it's—just my spectacles.

Joan lets out a long, shaky breath.

In the other room, there's a noise like glass crunching under someone's shoes. He really doesn't sound that bad, all things considered. Peggy's this close to saying as much when her attempt to speak is interrupted by a strangled cry.

You broke my fucking nose!  Roger's voice is thick and muffled, like he's covering his face, or – more likely – because he's bleeding all over the floor.

Peggy's so stunned she has to set down the bottle of water to keep from dropping it. Joan seems just as shocked, covering her mouth with one hand, a flurry of emotions playing across her face.

Let me examine it, Cooper says.

A short pause. There's a hiss of breath and a long string of curses, like whatever Cooper did was too painful to endure. A long pause stretches over the room before Roger's voice is heard again. The hell are you staring at, Errol Flynn?

Pete, Don snaps, the name a single command. Get him out of here.

The door to the conference room opens and slams shut, followed by two sets of quick footsteps moving across the tile. Even with Joan's door cracked, Peggy can't see anything, but Lane must look like hell. The shocked reactions are audible.

“Fuck,” she hears Ginsberg exclaim, as the door to Lane's office slams closed.

Cooper's speaking again, ostensibly to Roger. A foolish bird fouls his own nest.

Bert, Don mutters, sounding exhausted. Don't.

The intercom suddenly clicks off. Joan must not want to hear any more. Peggy's still staring at the stream of light from the hallway, wondering if it's safe to wander outside, when a strangled noise makes her turn back toward her friend.

The other woman is hiding her face in both hands, body shaking with quiet sobs, and Peggy's stomach jumps into her throat at the sight. Shit.

“Oh, my god, Joan, no. It's—it's okay.” She puts a tentative hand to the redhead's shoulder, not knowing what else to do, and moves her palm back and forth in what she hopes is a soothing motion. “Lane won, at least, so that's....good.”

She keeps blurting out the stupidest things in an attempt to land on something that will help Joan calm down. Roger's an asshole. He deserved it. You know my sister once had two boys fight over her? She was fourteen. She still talks about it. Did you know Stan calls you and Lane Mom and Dad?

After a minute, Joan pulls her hands away from her face to wipe her damp eyes with the fingertips of one hand. Her nose and cheeks are bright red, and her mouth is trembling like she's barely hanging onto her composure.

“Here,” Peggy prompts quietly, remembering the water at her feet, and offering her friend the sealed bottle. “You should drink something.”

The other woman shakes her head no, mouth twitching down. When she speaks, her voice is a rasp, like she's about to start crying again. “I can't.”

She still looks like she's going to pass out. And she's now holding her taut, round stomach with a pained expression, making Peggy's blood pressure go through the roof. What if something's wrong with the baby? What should she do?

“Can you eat? I could get something, or we could—”

There's a throat-clearing from the doorway, and very slight movement. Joan glances up with a panicked gasp, but even before Peggy can look to confirm it for herself, she knows who it is. Joan's eyes go soft, and she makes a beckoning motion with one hand.

Peggy stands up and quickly moves toward the other door, trying not to stare at Lane as he walks closer. His face is haggard and bruised, even in the dim light, and he kneels beside Joan's chair with a grunt, movements stiff. As Peggy steps into the hall, she hears Joan's voice, a tremulous whisper.

“I'm so sorry.”

Lane reaches for her hand before it can touch his face, shaking his head, and it's such an intimate moment that Peggy feels her skin crawl, witnessing it. She shuts the door, realizing too late that she's still carrying Joan's bottle of water in her left hand. Damn it.

And even worse, there's crying in the kitchen, too—Bridget, of all people, being consoled by Caroline and Scarlett.

“Everything's ruined,” she's sobbing loudly to the other secretaries, clutching a yellow slip of carbon paper in one hand. “The cake's c—coming in an hour—and e-everyone's—”

“Honey,” Caroline says with a sigh, putting a soothing hand on the girl's arm, “we'll put it off until the afternoon. I promise you, we've had worse parties.”

“When?” Scarlett blurts, like a complete idiot.

Oh, god, the baby shower. It's going to be shitty.

In a kind of frantic desperation, just to find someone in this office who isn't breaking down completely, Peggy heads straight for the creative lounge, where Stan, Megan and Ginzo are clustered in their usual places around the red sofa, staring at her. Clearly dying to ask questions. There's an empty spot next to Stan, on the side of the couch nearest reception, and she stalks up and sinks into the cushions with a relieved huff of breath, briefly closing her eyes.

“Is Joan okay?” Megan asks in a tentative voice.

Peggy shakes her head, sighing again. “Would you be?”

**

“They have a joint checking account,” Scarlett whispers, slanting a nervous look at the shared wall with Joan's office, and depositing one last pan full of glass shards into the trash. She's fairly sure Mr. Pryce and Joan have gone into his office by now, but she's not going to take any chances on being overheard. “I opened the statement by accident. It's been active for months.”

Clara looks up from where she's kneeling on the floor, scrubbing two tiny spots of blood from the tile with a rag. “Don't you have to be married to have joint checking?”

“No,” Scarlett breathes, with a kind of double take. “Mr. Pryce wasn't even—when did Joan's husband die, again?”

“Halloween?” Clara asks, pulling a face. “October. She started eating a lot.”

“They can't be married. She hasn't changed her name—and in her condition—it's just so fast.

The other girl laughs, getting to her feet and examining the clean tile with satisfaction. “That's one word for it.”

**

“She called him her rabbit? When the hell was this?”

Megan grins at Stan's slack-jawed expression, and lifts one shoulder in a shrug. “Weeks ago.”

“Man, I told you they were hot and heavy,” he says triumphantly—loudly. Glancing next door, he quickly lowers his voice. “He's been in love with her forever.”

“Years,” Megan specifies, with a knowing look. “Once, he sent her a box of red roses. She threw them in his face.”

“Bullshit.”

“I had to clean up the mess. I saw the card.”

Hearing Lane and Joan fight was odd, even then, because they've always been so restrained around each other. But that blowup was office gossip for weeks, especially since someone got fired.

“Oh, really? So what'd it say?”

Stan looks so eager for the rest of the story he may as well be a gossipy teenager. Megan has to stifle a laugh. “I don't remember exactly.” Something beginning with darling. “He signed with kisses.”

“Okay, he's definitely the father,” Stan insists, lifting his hands as if he can't believe they're even having this conversation. “Ginzo, back me up. What'd I tell Peggy?”

“Will you stop crowing about it!” Ginsberg barks from the corner, crumpling up a sheet of paper and throwing it in the direction of Stan's face. “You're giving me a fucking headache!”

**

Even in the privacy of his own office, Pete takes care to make sure he's whispering. Surely Roger would have gone to the emergency room. He wouldn't be next door. “Lane tackled him to the ground. And broke his nose.”

Harry's face is very pale, mouth hanging open in an oh of surprise. “Holy crap.”

Ken just sighs. “Shouldn't have yelled at Joan.”

“No,” Pete replies, still dazed, although it's been more than an hour. “Lane made his feelings on that subject very clear.”

Immediately following the fight, he'd spent a brief moment inside the older man's office before being booted out, standing awkwardly beside the coffee table while Lane poured gin into a glass with a shaking hand. If he ever makes my wife cry again, I will break his filthy neck!

Pete had forced himself not to point out the glaring verbal slip, venturing a careful reply instead. I don't think that will be an issue.

“Did she and Roger really have a thing?” Harry's looking from Ken to Pete, confusion etched into his face. “At Sterling Coop?”

Pete gives a helpless shrug. Joan used to have admirers following her around the agency like a pack of wild dogs. Roger was never one of them. But there was no mistaking his fraught expression as he stared at Joan, or his raspy voice. You're not even gonna say anything. “They did seem familiar.”

There's a brief silence. Eventually, Harry breaks it, unwrapping a lollipop he pulls out of his pocket, and sticking this into his mouth with a satisfied noise. “You know, Stan thinks Lane got her pregnant. I overheard him telling Peggy.”

“Jesus,” Ken says with a wince, rubbing one hand over the back of his neck.

“Oh, come on,” Harry continues loudly, gesturing toward Kenny with an open hand, as if the reasoning for this theory ought to be obvious. “Aren't you and Lane friendly? I bet he would tell you.”

“Yeah, let me just check if Joan cheated on her dead husband,” the other man counters, rolling his eyes. “He can beat my face in at the next traffic meeting.”

For once, Pete doesn't laugh, remembering the thunderous look in Lane's eyes as he rushed at Roger Sterling. “He's taking her reputation very seriously. I don't think you should joke about that.”

“The guy can't break all our noses,” Harry scoffs.

Pete glares at him. “You weren't even there!”

**

“Um,” says Peggy, watching Joan drain the last of her gin fizz in a single gulp, and gingerly pushing her own plate across the plastic table. A pastrami sandwich on greasy buttered bread sits untouched next to a large portion of potato chips. “Do you want any of this? I'm not hungry.”

“It looks disgusting,” Joan says pointedly.

“Okay,” Peggy replies after a pause, and decides not to speak again.

After another second of silence, Joan reaches toward the full plate, spears the pickle with her fork and cuts it into two halves before taking a huge bite. She chews and swallows her mouthful before speaking again, voice quiet and rushed. “I'm not going home.”

“I wasn't—going to ask,” Peggy stutters, brow drawing down in confusion. She watches Joan take another bite of pickle. “Do you...want another drink, or something?”

**

Lane sits behind his desk, staring blankly at the face of his pocket watch, which he's placed face-up on the surface of the wood. Quarter past one.

Christ.

Joan had absolutely refused to go home, even after crying in his office for twenty minutes, even as he'd rationalized and pleaded that it would be best. She'd only dug her heels in at his insistence, sobbing even harder. I'm not leaving!

A knock sounds at the door. Lane ignores it.

They spent nearly an hour together in his office after the fight, not speaking, just lying on opposite ends of the sofa. She curled up on her side with one arm wrapped around her stomach, petting the top of her belly and murmuring something to the baby that he couldn't hear. He put ice on his hand. Soon afterward, she went for a long lunch with Miss Olson, who until now is the only other person to have knocked on his door.

The summons comes again, more insistent this time, and accompanied by a voice. “It's Caroline. Are you busy?”

He growls out a sigh, staring at the abacus on his desk. “For god's sake, just—come in, then!”

The door opens. When Caroline glimpses his face, she raises her eyebrows – he knows he looks like hell, thank you very much, he feels like it, too – but she doesn't say a word about his appearance, just pushes the door closed with the tip of one shoe. She's balancing a full cup of pink punch in two hands, and gestures toward him with it.

“I can spike it, if you want,” she says, with a wavering smile. “I just thought you'd like some.”

“Fine,” he grumbles, frustrated by the inane interruption.

“Say ramshackle,” the secretary replies casually, raising the cup with a little flourish, as if she's completely forgotten the word please.

“Why in god's name would I do that? Ramshackle?!”

Caroline lets out a relieved sigh, moving to the bar, setting down the half-full cup, and picking out a bottle of gin from the lineup on the credenza. “Oh, good. I don't know what I would do if you were too far gone to say it.”

Belatedly, it occurs to him that the secretary is making sure he hasn't overdone it, and perhaps he should thank her. But he's being childish and doesn't want to speak, so he just keeps quiet, mumbling a thanks only after she sets the glass on his desk.

After a hesitation, she sits down in the chair opposite his, twisting her hands in her lap.

“You've something to say?” he asks, waving a hand to mean she may as well get it over with.

She sighs again, fixing him with a sort of commiserating expression. “I know you don't want to be social, but are you stopping by Joanie's party?”

“Not in the mood,” he snaps, instead of giving her an outright no.

“I don't blame you,” she says simply, after an awkward pause, and thank god there are no excuses for that bastard's behavior, no attempts at explanation or pleas for pity. “She's not even back from lunch.”

“Isn't she?” he asks dully, trying not to sound surprised.

Caroline shakes her head.

He stares into the sea of vibrant pink punch in his glass, not wanting to give voice to the anxieties creeping into the back of his mind. What if she did go home? What if she's angry with me?

“I don't know why she wanted to stay,” he growls instead, crossing his arms over his chest as he speaks. “It's only a party. We could have another.”

When he looks up, Caroline has fixed him with a type of disappointed look, her voice a gentle reprimand. “The girls wanted her last day to be special.”

Lane frowns, not sure whether she is implying he ought to know how much the girls will miss having Joan around the office. Or to understand how special a time this is for her, on the cusp of having a baby. His baby. Either way, he feels the heavy weight of guilt press against his chest, and shifts uncomfortably in his chair, trying not to meet the secretary's eyes.

“Anyway, when you feel up to it, you should stop by.” Caroline rises from her chair, with a shrug of one shoulder. “She'd miss you. And we got a cake from down the street.”

“I should hope it's red velvet,” he grumbles after a long pause, pretending not to care about the answer either way. For a litany of complicated and strange reasons, the only kind of dessert Joan finds tolerable at this point is red velvet cake with white icing—the rich Philadelphia kind. Anything else gives her an upset stomach.

She nods, a small smile playing at the corners of her mouth. “Don't worry. We remembered.”

**

“My goodness.” Joan unfolds strips of yellow tissue paper from a large box to reveal a yellow and green baby quilt with a white border. The panels feature alphabet blocks and rattles in several colors. “Caroline, did you make this?”

The older woman just laughs as she places her cup of punch on the table. “My grandson got into my sewing box, so the first panel's a little messy near the corner.”

“It's lovely,” Joan says. “Thank you.”

This isn't the baby shower she had in mind. She wanted a party that was fun, and vibrant, and free of sentimental goodbyes and awkward silences and more than a few nervous glances. But now that she's finally stopped crying, had a slice of cake, and a few glasses of what must have been spiked punch—Peggy kept handing cups to her without comment—she's almost starting to feel sharp relief, instead of the paralyzing shame and embarrassment from this morning.

Almost. It's still taking considerable effort to put on a bright face.

Clara jots down the item on her stenography pad, then places a medium-sized, silver-papered box in front of Joan, who unwraps it to discover a turquoise silk bathrobe nestled inside. On closer inspection, the card on the lid of the box is clearly marked best wishes, from the Drapers. She turns to Megan with a raised eyebrow. It's extremely impractical.

“This isn't the baby's size.”

The young woman laughs, not seeming embarrassed. “I thought you might like having something to wear after you delivered. My mother always hated maternity smocks.”

There's a snort from the far left corner, followed by Stan's voice. “Are we even allowed to see that? Or is that only meant for—”

Peggy hits him in the arm before he can finish the sentence, causing him to blurt out an ow! But an anxious titter still runs through the room. For better or worse, they all know who he means.

Joan meets Megan's amused glance, suppresses a sigh, and holds up part of the item accordingly, to prove there's no real salaciousness. It's just pretty.

“I like the color,” Bridget offers, and there's a general murmur of agreement to Joan's right.

“Okay,” says Clara, whisking away the silver paper and placing a large package in front of her, using both hands as if it's very heavy to control. “Open this one next. It's from Mr. Cooper.”

Joan makes an impressed face, glancing down the creative hallway by reflex to see if the man himself might come inside to tell her more about why he chose it. He doesn't. He rarely attends these kinds of parties. But in the shadows near her office, just behind the open doorway where the secretaries are standing, she spies another familiar profile.

Lane obviously doesn't want to draw attention to himself, so she quickly looks away. But as she finishes unwrapping the gift—an ornate rectangular wooden box, whose lid boasts an elaborate carving of three blooming cherry trees beside a rippling lake; two of them large, one just a sapling—and shows it off to the room, she notices him moving closer. Now, he lingers just outside the door to the conference room, a cup of punch in one hand.

Joan glances back down to the gift, touching the polished wood with her fingertips. Three trees. How did Mr. Cooper know?

“He's very generous,” she says to excuse her sentimentality, dabbing at her eyes before she can ruin her makeup again, and offering the room as large a smile as she can manage. This constant crying will be a part of pregnancy she won't miss.

“He's making the rest of us look like chumps,” Harry pipes up, in a voice that says he's only half-joking. The room laughs anyway. And amid the laughter, in a movement so quick it's barely noticeable, Ken Cosgrove glances left, sees Lane in the doorway, and gives the other man a small nod.

Joan has to force herself not to stare, and motions for Clara to bring over another present. “What about the bag with the red paper?”

“Oh, that's mine!” the young secretary says, giving Joan a grin. “I think you'll like it.”