The big dumb ape her boss calls cook stubs his toe and just goes “splat” right into the griddle. His hand gets burned so bad the other waitress says she’s gonna be sick and the boss kicks all the customers out with an apology and a weak smile and Angie gets clean up duty and closing duty because the other girl is as green as their uniforms and the boss wears a tie and no fella in a tie is gonna sack up the trash or wipe down the griddle. No siree.
Angie glances at the entrance more than she maybe should while she cleans up. She hadn’t seen Peggy at breakfast that morning and was kind of hoping—as stupid as it maybe was—that she’d stop by for a slice of pie after work. Angie’s even left the slice out and the boss has already left for the night so she could let Peggy in and everything.
She gets all these pictures of how it’d be. Her cleaning and gabbing and Peggy sitting on the stool by the window, framed in the light of the city, legs crossed at the knee and lips pursed in thought as she considers the slice of pie and whether or not it “really is too large for just one person Angie.”
Then maybe Peggy’d smile at her.
Gosh golly Peggy has a nice smile. The kind that just warms a girl up from toe to top.
Angie doubles down on scrubbing the griddle because, let’s face it, girls aren’t supposed to get all warm thinking about other girls’ smiles. Maybe when they’re still, you know, girls, and their ma does their hair in braids and kisses them on the top of the head and tells ‘em they’re beautiful.
But not when they’re firmly in adulthood and living on their own with all those apron strings long ago snipped and the close bosom buddy girlfriend feelings reserved for doing each other’s nails before a date with a big galunk of a guy.
She cleans the griddle until she can almost see her face in it and Peggy still doesn’t show. Same after she mops. And after she wipes down every countertop.
She leaves the pie alone while she sacks up the trash.
So Peggy isn’t gonna darken her door and split a piece of cherry pie with her. Who cares! She’ll finish her work and finish her pie and still be home by curfew.
Unlike some ladies who can’t even bother to talk to their friends on a regular basis.
Outside the city’s cold but muggy. The fog’s rolled in and everything is damp, but not wet enough that she’ll be able to use her umbrella on her walk to the train. It’s clingy like a bed date and makes Angie shiver.
There’s enough water to make nasty little puddles that she has to side step to keep from ruining her company issues shoes.
She’s busy eyeing the alley way puddles on her way to the trash so she almost misses the figure lurking in the shadows like a creep.
Only Angie’s no fool. She was raised up wise and when she realizes there’s somebody just standing there she hefts her bag of trash over her shoulder like a weapon and tells ‘em to “come on out” in what she hopes to hell is a forceful sounding way.
But the figure, instead of stepping out, just kind of slumps. Sliding down the wall and hiting the ground like a sack of potatoes.
The light catches ‘em once they hit the ground and Angie squints trying to figure out if she can— “English?”
The nickname she saddled Peggy with just slips out. Not her actual name, which Angie has used on more than one occasion, but the nickname she likes to lay out when she’s thinking too much about Peggy’s smile and needs to put up a little distance.
Peggy doesn’t smile. Probably because she’s white as a sheet and only about half conscious.
Angie creeps closer and watches the shifty way Peggy breathes. Kind of like when her little sister got the flu back in ’28 and her last breath just rattled out.
She drops the trash on the other side of Peggy, shielding the both of them a little from the street, and she reaches out to touch her face.
Cool. Clammy. But warm enough to be alive still. “Peggy,” she whispers curiously.
Dark eyes flutter open, but they’re cloudy with confusion. “Angie,” she finally whispers. Peggy’s voice is thick.
She cups Peggy’s face like her own cold hands can transfer a little warmth. “Hey,” she says, and she manages to stop herself from adding a “kiddo,” because she’s pretty sure Peggy’s older and smarter and usually wiser than her. “You know the last guy who used the backdoor got hit upside his backdoor with a broom.”
Peggy sort of smiles and laughs, but then it goes into a little bit of a wheeze. So Angie leans back on her heels so the light over her shoulder can better illuminate Peggy. She almost misses it.
It’s so damp out that at first glance it just looks like Peggy got to close to a taxi when it ran through a puddle.
But it’s so wet. Carefully Angie reaches out and touches the wet spot on the back of Peggy’s ear and recoils when her fingers touch something red, tack and unmistakably bloody.
She hunches down and carefully tilts Peggy’s head and— “You’re hurt!”
Peggy pats her hand. “I bumped my head at work. I think…” she sighs, “it might be more severe than I originally thought.”
“You think? You must have bled down twenty blocks!”
She smirked. “Twenty-two.”
Angie is unimpressed. “Is now really the time to be crackin’ wise?”
The smirk falls away. “I suppose not.”
“Come on, let’s get you inside and call a hospital.”
She reaches for Peggy’s arm to pull her up but Peggy pulls back. “I—“
“I can’t afford a doctor.”
Angie stares. “What’re they paying you in down at the phone company? Tea and crumpets?”
“Brandy and—“ She winces. “Right. No jokes. Inappropriate time. I did—I did call someone. To help.”
“And you thought you’d wait for ‘em in the alleyway outside my work?”
“I’d rather hoped to make it inside. I just got…waylaid.”
“Because you got your clock cleaned! How the heck does that even happen at a phone company?”
Peggy looks earnest, which isn’t a thing Peggy does often, and the few times Angie’s seen her do it its kind of like watching that wolf all dressed up in granny’s clothes. But this time, this time she looks earnest and it feels genuine. Like she doesn’t just want, but she needs Angie, and only Angie, to believe her.
“I didn’t think it was as bad as this when I left.”
Angie sighs. “Any idea how long until they get here?”
Peggy looks down at her watch, the face rotated around to the inside of her wrist, and reads the time. “He’s always been very punctual. So I would imagine any moment—“
Bright lights of a fancy car flash on the both of them. Peggy shields her eyes and hisses in annoyance and Angie stands up, reaching for the half-forgotten trash bag like she’s gonna throw it at the car, but Peggy’s hand on her bare ankle stops her.
“It’s all right,” she says. “That’s my friend.”
The friend turns out to be the Tall, Dark and British that Peggy’s always chatting with and acting like people don’t notice. Which—okay maybe most people don’t. Maybe it’s just Angie.
He notices her too, but the recognition is faint, and while polite, he mostly just ignores her while he helps Peggy.
There’s talk on whether she should be transported elsewhere and then whatever they’re planning seems to stop being the plan when they both remember Angie’s standing there awkwardly clutching her bag of trash like an old lady with her purse.
“If she’s amenable, perhaps you can patch me up and Angie can escort me home,” she says, and Peggy looks at Angie, but without any of the pleading and yearning from before.
There’s a definite patsy sitting there in this threesome and Angie has a good idea who it is. But she nods anyways and doesn’t bother hiding any of her shock and awe. “Sure, I mean if you think you’ll be okay. I had a cousin one time who didn’t get a cut checked out on his leg and now,” she makes a cracking noise in the side of her mouth, “no leg.”
Tall, Dark and British smiles congenially. “I assure you Ms. Carter will retain the use of all her faculties. And,” he says as an after thought, “her leg.”
They move Peggy to the back of his spacious car and Tall, Dark and British has her hold a light so he can examine the cut, which is bloody and long but not so bad under the light. He cleans it and quickly stitches it like he’s darning a pair of pants and Peggy doesn’t even flinch.
Then he purses his pouty manly lips. “And your chest?”
Angie’s eyes must bug out of her head ten feet and she half expects one of them to remark on how she looks like a Looney Tune. But Tall, Dark and British is devoted to his patient and his patient is devoted to sighing, “It’s not so bad.”
“You’ve clearly harmed your ribs or you wouldn’t be wheezing like an asthmatic.”
Peggy glances at Angie. “The door hit my…chest.”
She’s wide eyed.
“It’s a very large door. With a…knob.”
“Like a fist,” Tall, Dark and British mutters.
Peggy is very perfunctory with the unbuttoning of her shirt, and it gives both Angie and Peggy’s “colleague” access to all kinds of skin and underthings that usually require face to face meals first.
She tries not to flush and pays lip service to finishing up and clocking out while they work. She thinks she hears light laughter on her way back to the diner, but she chooses to think she imagined it.
Tall, Dark and British insists on driving them home and he holds the door open so Angie can climb into the backseat of a car that costs more than her yearly rent.
“How’s a guy like you afford a car like this,” she asks him—staring hard at the rearview mirror.
He stares back and she can only see his eyes, hard and cool, in the reflection. “It’s not my car.”
“Whose is it?”
“Why do you want to know?”
“My friend shows up bleeding on my doorstep, so I’m a little curious.” Her “friend” is currently passed out beside her and the weight of her head on Angie’s shoulder is real nice.
“You’re concern is noted.”
And so is his lack of concern.
Peggy sighs in her sleep and Angie resists the real dumb urge to brush the hair off her face so she can get a better look at her.
“What’d you give her,” she instead asks softly. “Drink?”
Tall, Dark and British laughs in that demure Brit way. “Ms. Carter’s tolerance is far better than yours or mine.” Then he goes real tender. “And she really shouldn’t have anything with that lump forming on her head.”
“She’s gonna feel like a horse kicked her in the morning.”
“And she got hurt—“
“She was rushing a file to the other side of the office. The door stopped her.”
It’s the same as Peggy’s story and, as stories go, it’s a pretty good one. Especially for ladies who don’t want people asking questions. No one ever wants to know more than that it was a door.
Or some stairs.
Or a clumsy baby with a meaty little fist.
But Angie doesn’t really believe it. Not when it was Phyllis in second grade or Doris who’s lips tasted like cigarettes. And not when she’s seen Peggy with bruises and cuts before. Not when she’s seen her talking discreetly with this guy who drives someone else’s expensive car and patches Peggy up like he’s been doing it all their lives.
“She in trouble,” she asks, and she knows Tall, Dark and British catches her drift. She’s never exactly been in their world but she’s seen enough of it to know how to talk.
He’s got the steel eyed look again, tempered by just enough tenderness to put most folks off the trail. “I assure you Ms. Martinelli, she’s not.”
Angie doesn’t believe him, because she isn’t the patsy he and Peggy seem to think she is, and she takes Peggy’s hand in hers and squeezes it.
Peggy doesn’t mumble, but her breath is hot on Angie’s neck.
They get to the hotel and Tall, Dark and British offers to help take Peggy upstairs. Angie levels a good glare at him, “She doesn’t talk much about her home life does she?”
“No,” he squeaks.
“No guys above the first floor. Especially not a friend of pimps patching up the girls.”
He flusters and tries to hurriedly dissuade her of her idea, but Angie’s pretty much well and truly done with the guy and ignores him. She leans all of Peggy’s weight onto her shoulder with a wheeze and pinches her as they walk towards the entrance.
“I need you to wake up English. We got a mission.”
Behind them Tall, Dark and British calls her name. She shoots him the bird without looking.
Peggy shakes her head and slowly opens her eyes after. Her whole head lolls back as she looks towards Tall, Dark and British and his car and what she hopes is his dumb face and then back towards Angie. “What happened?”
“Your ‘friend’ brought us home. Now you got to pretend you’re a-okay so we can make it up the stairs.”
Peggy half salutes and they march towards the entrance, Peggy giggling loudly like Angie’s never heard her giggle. It’s all…girlish. The kind of girlish they usually roll their eyes at when they hear it tinkling around them at breakfast.
Ms. Fry stops them half way up. “You’re home later than usual,” she says.
She glances at the clock at the top of the stairs.
Ten past the hour. They broke curfew.
Angie opens her mouth to spin God know’s what, but Peggy is faster and tells a tale of stuck trains and evil taxi drivers and dirty men that chase them home.
It’s the dumbest story but Peggy spins it like one of those breathless dolls on the radio and Miriam Fry listens with rapt fascination, nodding and being horrified at all the right moments. When she sends them upstairs she’s feeling sorry for them and hopes they both can sleep after such a harrowing night.
“Just carry that one up your sleeve,” Angie mutters out the side of her mouth.
“For a rainy day,” Peggy agrees.
“Got any more of ‘em? We could make a fortune selling them to girls on the hall.”
Peggy smiles sleepily. “I’ll see what I can do.”
On their floor Peggy becomes completely useless again and Angie has to prop her up against her own door and search her for keys.
Peggy stops her with a grip like a vice on her wrist and produces the keys from her pocket, dangling them in front of Angie. “Looking for these,” she asks coyly, and it occurs to Angie that her friend might actually be drunk.
Or she just gets flirty when they knock her in the head.
She snatches the keys out of Peggy’s hand and holds her up with a hand around her waist while she uses the other to open the door.
Peggy’s arms find their way around Angie’s shoulders and its just…
Its a hug.
Peggy Carter is hugging her and smelling like garbage and antiseptic and that perfume that’s always wafting out of her room and Angie almost—almost—doesn’t want to open the door.
But she does and Peggy steps back into the shadows of her room and as playful as she’s been it’s all gone once she steps over that threshold.
“Thank you Angie.” She’s serious again.
So Angie tries not to be. Even as much as she wants to follow her into that room and keep her sake and send her back on the first boat to England if it will stop whatever’s happening. “Take it easy English,” she says with a crooked grin.
She tosses the keys at Peggy’s chest and Peggy catches them without blinking and then she shuts the door on Angie and Angie likes to think she’s as confused and wrecked by the night as she is.
It’s only after she’s cleaned up and in bed and staring at the light of a street lamp splashed across the ceiling that Angie remembers the pie still sitting on the counter back at work.