The house was almost in darkness when her driver entered the security code into the gate control console. The gates swung open, and the car crunched over the gravel to the door.
“Would you like me to help you in with your bags, Ms McDeere?”
She looked in the mirror, at the man’s eyes. She couldn’t remember his name.
“No.” She gathered her purse, her briefcase. “Thank you.”
He opened her door. Paused solicitously, in case she had any difficulty swinging her legs out, and then she was just standing there, in the velvety darkness, with the smell of smog and bougainvillea flowers in her nostrils.
She lingered, but there was nothing to keep her outside. The path that edged the gravel was smooth, and clear of leaves. There was no mail in the mailbox, she knew that the housekeeper would have piled it on the table in the hall. If Rebecca had spent any time at the front of the house that day, the nanny had cleared away any evidence of her toys. She felt the brief sting of being extraneous to her own life.
She went in. Dropped her purse and briefcase on the chair in the hallway. Put her keys in the little silver and amber dish that Danny had bought her in Prague, after they had drunk hot chocolate and schnapps, and giggled their way across the Charles Bridge, past all of the artists churning out pictures for tourists, and cheap jewellery stalls.
Danny was sitting at the breakfast bar, laptop open beside him, cellphones lined up like soldiers on the granite. There was a glass too, the kind of heavy crystal tumbler that looked perfect with two fingers of bourbon nestled in it, and her stomach fluttered, a pale reprise of fear, before she noticed the open bottle of San Pellegrino resting on the worktop.
“Hey,” she stood, and looked at him in the half-light. She’d never really understood why he liked to work in the kitchen, sitting on an uncomfortable stool that made him fidget, when he had a perfectly good office, complete with ergonomic chair, and a perfectly good den, complete with Danish sofas, but she’d always thought it was kind of charming.
“Hey,” he looked up from his laptop screen.
“Bec’s asleep?” She licked her lips.
“It’s 11.30.” He pushed his glasses onto his head. “At night.”
“Yeah.” She stepped out of her shoes, and ran one stockinged foot up the back of her leg. “She upstairs?”
“She’s at Melinda’s house.” She watched him restrain himself from pointing to the printout of the schedule that was stuck to the front of the refrigerator. The schedule that Derek-the-New-Kevin synched with the nanny every day. “Melinda’s— someone is going to take her to school in the morning.”
“Okay.” She half-wanted tea, but she wasn’t sure that she could remember where she’d put the peppermint teabags. She didn’t want to search through the cupboards in her own kitchen in front of Danny, because at a certain point she just felt like a parody of the kind of career-obsessive that Oprah did hand-wringing segments about.
“Good day?” Danny sounded kind of dazed, like he’d been hyperfocusing on his work for hours, and still wasn’t quite sure who this person was standing in his kitchen.
“I had a meeting with NBS.” She climbed on to the stool next to him and crossed her legs. “Jeff offered me a job.”
“Jeff Gaspin offered you a job?” Danny was looking at her now, looking at her like he knew she was there. “I thought you were the sworn enemy of Jeff Gaspin, after that to-do at Morton’s.” He was half-smiling.
“Zucker,” she said. “Not Gaspin. He offered me Jeff’s job.”
Danny’s smile slipped, and his face twitched. “Chairman of –“
“NBC Universal Television Entertainment.” There was a cold heaviness in the pit of her stomach. She folded her hands in her lap. “And I guess I’ll be the Chairperson, unless there’s some kind of clause in my contract that Jeff didn’t tell me about.”
“Wow.” He worked his jaw. “I didn’t even know—“
She shook her head, cutting him off. “I didn’t know why he wanted the lunch.”
He raised an eyebrow, and she slid her eyes away from his. “You thought Jeff Zucker flew out West because he was jonesing for an egg-white omelette?”
“He wasn’t just meeting with me. He had other business in—“ She huffed a sigh. “Can we not right now?”
“Sure.” He leaned into her neck, nuzzling against her skin, and she wasn’t sure if she was relieved or disappointed. “Mmm, you smell pretty.”
She opened her mouth to say that she was tired, too tired for Danny to fumble her into bed, and that she had to take her makeup off, and pick out an outfit for the morning, and send a bunch of emails, but his tongue dipped against her neck and she felt a tug of desire for sex and comfort and closeness. She wrapped her fingers through his and slid off her stool, pulling him in the direction of the stairs, of their bedroom.
She woke up at 4.30 am and stretched an arm towards Danny’s side of the bed. The sheets were cold and smooth against her skin, and she felt a twinge of loss.
She turned her bedside lamp on, and looked around the room. The familiar swirl of deep-down tiredness washed over her, the kind she knew wouldn’t fade no matter how much coffee she drank, and she wished it were the weekend so she could sleep in until seven, instead of Wednesday.
The red light on her BlackBerry was flashing insistently, and for a second she wanted to take the TV remote control that was sitting next to it on her bedside table and smash it to pieces. Instead, she picked it up, weight and balance familiar in her hand, screen smooth under her fingers, and read the previous night’s ratings summary and emails from people who absolutely, definitely needed her input.
Her face looked old and tired in the bathroom mirror. She turned on the shower, and watched the steam fog over the lines on her face. The idea of having a shower, of her morning routine, was suddenly so exhausting that she nearly sat down on the closed toilet. Better to cry here, she thought, than in my bathroom at the office, but despite the ache in her throat, the tears wouldn’t come. She slid off her robe and walked under the spray.
Danny was in the kitchen, with most of the lights off, and the screen from his laptop was glowing blue in the gloom.
“Good morning.” Her tongue felt too big for her mouth.
“Hey.” He looked up, glasses propped on the very end of his nose.
“We need to—.”
“Wanna go to the game tonight?” He picked up his mug. “You, me and Bec.”
The game? “The— Dodgers.” It wasn’t quite a question.
“Yeah.” He blinked.
“Who are they—“ It didn’t matter. “Yeah, sure.”
“I’ll bring Bec to the office. We can go from there.”
It would take Derek-the-new-Kevin at least two hours to shuffle that night’s meetings, but the Dodgers were something to Danny that she could only guess at. Fake-Mets, for sure, and sometimes when he couldn’t bear the fact that he didn’t live in New York another minute, he wanted to go to the game. A touchstone of Americana, also, for when he was having some kind of development crisis, and he wanted to commune with the people he was producing for. She thought sometimes that maybe the ballgame also said something to him about family, and togetherness, and she ached with how much she owed him on that score.
She met Harriet for breakfast. They didn’t talk about why Jordan wanted to eat in the executive dining room at the network, instead of at the Griddle Cafe, but Harriet’s career had gone supersonic since Studio 60, and it never hurt to remind people that she had friends too.
Even at 6 am, and under some fairly dubious lighting, Harriet glowed. Jordan watched a guy from CSC, who had stepped on an anecdote of hers at the annual company shindig, look and then pretend he wasn’t.
“You going to be at Sundance?” Harriet took a bite of her eggs.
“Danny is.” Jordan frowned. “Are you and Matt going to be there.”
“I have a meeting with Cameron.” Harriet put her fork down. “And I think the boys are planning on some kind of snowboarding stupidity.”
“I’ll get Derek to check our winter sports insurance.” Jordan smiled. “Make sure that your contract writes Celine Dion out of the soundtrack.”
Harriet laughed. “I’m not sure that I get to tell James Cameron who else gets to work on his movie.”
Jordan looked at her. “Oh, Hari. Tell me that you don’t really believe that.”
Harriet shrugged. “It’s nice to be nice.”
It’s nicer to win, Jordan thought, but Harriet hated the idea of playing those kind of games with her directors, wore her fame as lightly as she ever had, and Jordan ate a spoonful of strawberries instead of pulling the face she was tempted to make.
“So,” she said, instead. “Derek makes me packages of things that Matt writes.”
Harriet paused, fingers laced through the handle of her coffee cup. “You watch all the stuff that Matt writes?”
Jordan blotted her mouth with her napkin. “Yeah. I mean, mostly.” She shrugged, awkwardly.
“That’s really kind of sweet.” Harriet shook her head, as if Jordan’s sweetness had totally been in doubt.
“He wrote an episode of ER.” She took a breath, felt her abdomen move against her shirt. “About a pregnancy that goes wrong.”
She’d heard Danny tell the story, to Bec, about the night she was born and what a miracle she was, when their daughter was soft and sleepy in her little white bed. She’d heard Danny tell the story, to people they half-knew, which had a patina of joy and love on it, so rich and so burnished, that it made a flush come to her cheeks. She’d watched the episode of ER with the taste of the salad dressing she’d eaten with dinner at the back of her throat, Danny’s emotions raw and desperate on the face of the actor playing the father. She half-wondered at the fact that Matt had left it all out on the field, and that John Wells had just put it on screen.
“Jordan—“ Harriet was looking at her, and there was sympathy in the set of her jaw.
“Was it that bad?”
“It was worse.” Harriet ran her tongue over her lips. “And better.”
But she did know. It was better because of Matt.
She was glad, of course she was, that at one of the worst moments of his life he’d had Matt and Harriet. She let the knowledge sting her, though, that Matt knew Danny better than she did, because he’d written Danny with his skin ripped off, and Jordan had only ever seen that through Matt’s eyes.
“Danny’s never fallen for anyone like he fell for you.” Jordan couldn’t read Harriet’s expression, but the smaller, meaner part of her resented the hell out of the certainty, the knowledge, in Harriet’s voice. “He was never home with his first two wives. Always with Matt. Always planning something extraordinary.”
“He’s planning something extraordinary now.” Jordan’s tone was mild. Her step into the parlour tone, that she used with upstart hipster showrunners who were too busy being knowing and ironic to do their damn jobs, but it would do for this too.
While Harriet had been shooting in Italy, and Indonesia, and India, Matt and Danny had been developing a show for HBO. Green Zone meets The Wire meets Buffalo Soldiers; a novel of a show about betrayal, and greed, and realpolitik, and corruption. She’d shared Danny’s attention for months with Iraq. With the piles of books, annotated and thick with Post-Its; notes, scribbled on pads of legal paper, on the telephone pad, in the reporters’ notebooks he carried everywhere; articles, clipped and stacked in yellowing piles; and movies, towers of DVD cases on the shelves in his viewing room.
“They’re doing it from your kitchen table, Jordan.” It was the nearest that Harriet came to taking a tone.
If Jordan had had another friend like Harriet, she would have told her that Harriet minded just as much about MattandDanny as she did, but that she had convinced herself that it was ungracious to acknowledge that fact. She didn’t have another friend like Harriet, though, so she was just left with that thought, lumpen and undigested in the bottom of her stomach, like dough.
“They’re doing a great job.” She didn’t know, not really, where they were with pre-production, but she didn’t want to fight with Harriet. She loved Harriet. “Matt’s good for him.”
Harriet was an actor, a great one even, but she couldn’t conceal the burst of pleasure she felt at that, and Jordan wondered if anything passed her lips anymore that lined up, edges straight, with her real feelings, or whether she just slid her personality on in the morning with her Calvin Klein separates.
“Do you guys have dinner plans?” Harriet picked up her fork again.
“Ballgame,” Jordan said, laconically. “Bec stayed over with a friend last night, so I haven’t seen her in a little bit.” It was nearly the truth.
They stood online for tickets, and the air was warm and sweet. She could have asked Derek-the-new-Kevin to organise them, to arrange a car, but Danny drove them from the parking garage in her office. She liked watching him drive, liked knowing that Rebecca was sitting in the backseat, clutching Brown Bear. It made her feel, irrationally, like she was actually a grownup.
She spotted some people, in the snaking lines, that worked in the industry. Danny got a couple of nods, respectful and regarding, and she felt a buzz of pride, deep underneath her skin. She felt unexpectedly mellow, the riptide of adrenaline that had carried her through a morning of meetings, and five straight hours of phone calls had washed out. She’d been glad to get out of her business clothes, and into the jeans, t-shirt and jacket that Derek had hung in her office’s bathroom. She’d smiled at the fact that Derek stored her worn All-Stars in the same kind of transparent box in which he kept her current emergency black-tie outfit Manolos, but he’d spent the same five hours on the phone with her, taking notes and keeping things moving, and amusement became a starburst of gratitude that she got to do this all day.
They made it inside for the National Anthem, and the way that Derek had packed her day impossibly was suddenly worth it, to see Rebecca take her Mets cap off and stand with her hand over her heart, face serious. Jordan felt a rush of love for her daughter, for Danny, for her life.
“I saw your Aunt Harriet today,” she told Rebecca. “She wanted me to give you a kiss.”
Rebecca smiled. “Did you ask her?”
Jordan smoothed her hand over Rebecca’s hair. “Ask her what, Bec?”
Rebecca wrinkled her nose. “About a cousin for me.”
Danny smiled at her over Rebecca’s head, entertained. Ever since Melinda’s aunt had had a baby girl three months previously, Rebecca had talked about the possibility of Harriet and Matt having a baby at least once a day. “We talked about that, honey. That’s up to Aunt Harriet and Uncle Matt.”
Rebecca considered this. “Could they at least get a puppy?”
Danny raised an eyebrow. “Why don’t I talk about that with Uncle Matt?”
Rebecca nodded, and leaned against her father. Jordan made a note on her BlackBerry to talk to Danny about a puppy for her birthday.
There was a lull in the action in the fourth and fifth innings, and Danny went and got hot dogs, plain for him and Rebecca, hers slathered in mustard and ketchup. She bit into it, her teeth sinking through the roll, bursting the skin of the dog, and then the mustard was tangy on her tongue. She took a sip of her beer, cold bubbles burning her throat, and felt the dregs of the sun on her skin.
Rebecca was sitting on her lap when Danny leaned over.
“You think I don’t want this for you,” he said, quietly, because they didn’t know who the people were around them. “But I do.”
She swallowed. “It will mean more.” More politicking. More travelling. More people watching for a mis-step so they could sweep in and stick the knife in her back. More re-telling of the stories of the ex-husband and the sex clubs. More emails, and meetings, and phone calls. More being so tired she could cry.
“I know.” His lips were soft against the skin of her cheek. “We’ll figure it out.”
“I should have told you.” She frowned. “Discussed it with you.”
“No man is an island.” She had her hand fisted in his shirt, and she could feel the steady beat of his heart under the fabric.
She smiled. “You’re quoting me Donne? Was his wife Chairperson of a network, too?”
He shook his head, his hair scratching against her ear. “No, but he went to jail for her.”
She heard what he didn’t say, felt it curdle under her skin like warm honey. She buried her nose in Rebecca’s hair, smelling her shampoo, and the indefinable scent of her baby girl.
Danny’s cheek was still pressed against hers, rough and familiar and home. “You never put her in a Prada bag.”
She thought back to the fear she’d had when she was first pregnant, when things were stuttering between them, before the rhythm of their life together was established, even and strong. She laced her fingers through his. “I really never did.”