Every slice of the scissors is maddening. Even from behind his newspaper, in the armchair on the opposite side of the living room, the constant pattern of noise irritates Lane in a way few other sounds could. What on earth is Becca doing? He imagines she's taken up some sort of new creative project, but hesitates to inquire what it might be or why she's done it. She'll only get angry with him once he asks how much it cost.
Snip. Accompanied by a slight tearing sound, and a small frustrated hm.
Lane's read the same sentence several times over, unable to digest a word of of the article in front of him, but still takes offense as the paper is suddenly whisked from his hands and Rebecca bustles away with it, toward the coffee table.
“I was reading that,” he says through gritted teeth.
His wife shoots him an impatient look.
“Calm yourself. You'll have it back in a moment.”
Lane exhales loudly, wanting to tell her that he is calm, but doesn't voice the sentiment, replying instead with a crabby:
“Why do you want it, anyway?”
Rebecca neither reads the Journal nor any other newspapers, deeming the American press “very vulgar.” She prefers to get her news from radio. They're able to pick up the BBC.
“It's Tuesday,” she snaps. “Mrs. Fairbender and I had tea. I just told you.”
He doesn't recall this at all, nor does he understand why this is an important factor in a discussion about newspapers.
Rebecca purses her lips, obviously upset, but after a pause, she assumes a more placid expression, focusing her attention on her work and continuing to speak with such determined cheer it makes Lane wonder if his hearing's gone, as well as his sight.
“She showed me the article about your new chairmanship. Which you never mentioned.”
Snip. The blade slices through the middle of a page, and Rebecca turns the lot in her hands, cuts another sharp corner. Lane can't help but wince.
“I suppose it was surprising.”
She scoffs at his reticence, but her expression stays focused on a square fragment of paper, now attached to the greater sheet by one dangling corner.
“Any normal person might be proud of their accomplishment.”
She sets the clipping aside, placing the remaining pages in a neat pile by the edge of the table. Is that the announcement? Is she planning to keep it? He doesn't know what to say.
Lane can visualize the headline as if it's in front of him still: 4As, CONTINUED FROM PAGE 7. Nothing more than a list of names and corresponding agencies. No mention of the responsibility of a financial chairmanship, or the rigors of their selection process.
To be frank, her reaction is surprising.
Lane lets out a breath, hesitant to point this out.
“You realize it only means more time spent apart.”
It's meant to be a simple acknowledgment of an earlier complaint, but instead of coming across as an observation, the comment turns sour in the air. And while his mind is shouting you've got to fix it, Lane has no idea where to begin. Surely she doesn't want to hear the same excuses. They had this very argument over the weekend. Afterward, she didn't speak to him for twelve hours.
Rebecca stares at him as if he's lost his mind, eyes narrowed, her thin mouth drawn into a deep frown. This is an expression Lane knows all too well. He huffs out a sigh, averting his eyes in an unspoken apology, and they lapse into silence.
After a moment, she stands, moving across the room and pushing the remaining pages into his hands without a word, retreating toward the master bedroom.
Lane opens them only to discover the section he was reading has been cut away, the first sentence lost to a void of open space shortly after the words interest rates.
Inside the main ballroom of the Plaza is a swarm of men in suits. The 4As is hosting a regional three-day conference in the city and has strongly encouraged its local members to attend. As incoming financial chair, Lane is required to attend a few seminars and ensure the quarterly reports, which are to be distributed, are in order. Fortunately, the outgoing chair Mr. Buckley has already taken care of this. Unfortunately, Lane is still required to visit with the masses. Despite the fact that they're all higher-ranking financiers, less boorish than salesmen or accounts men or juniors in general, two days in and it's still a nightmare of handshaking and attempting to remember names and laughing at jokes he's heard several times over.
Serving as a sort of ambassador, Mr. Buckley taps his arm when they arrive at the group a few feet from the mahogany bar, and gestures toward three men standing apart from the crowd. One of the men is short, pale, and rather bald, another is large, red-faced, and light-haired, and the third is dark-haired, very tan. Lane sees this last man in his blue suit and loud tie and thinks very suddenly of Roger Sterling.
“Lane Pryce,” Jim says, gesturing to the others, “want you to meet Tom Martin, George Mercer, and Bill Vaughn. All committee men, so you'll see a lot of 'em in the next few months. Gentlemen, you're looking at our new chair. The man is a wizard.”
“Oh. Well, I don't know about all that,” Lane says between greetings, shaking each of their hands in turn.
The light-haired man – was it Tom? George? – grins at him, claps him on the shoulder.
“How's it feel to be homecoming king?”
Lane stares at him, baffled.
Everyone stares back before the original speaker bursts into raucous laughter. “Look at this guy! Doesn't even blink!”
Now they're all laughing. Someone starts telling a story about their school days. Lane tries to smile in all the right places, tries to summon up the proper enthusiasm, but even this level of effort is tiring, and eventually someone presses a drink into his hand - whiskey. He settles for drinking and listening in silence.
He drinks too much – far too much – stumbles into a cab with his head spinning and arrives home only to find Rebecca in her best furs. Of course he tries to talk her out of dinner – he can't go back out in this state, not after the day he's had – but she coos at him and cajoles him and even compliments him. I'm so proud of you. It's been so long since she said anything of the sort that he can't bear to refuse her. Thinking of the truth, he feels the heavy press of guilt pounding in his temples and in his jaw but she's looking at him with such eagerness that he lets her lead him away. He's nearly convinced himself that he can make it through the evening when they get to one end of the garage and Rebecca suddenly blurts, “I thought racing green.”
Gesturing to a shining Jaguar parked by itself in the corner, and producing from her pocket a leather key fob with several small brass keys.
His stomach jumps into his throat, tears spring to his eyes, and he feels ill all over, cold and dizzy and sick but she's smiling at him and laughing as if this surprise is the best thing to have happened to her in months. You never spend on yourself, always for my travel or Nigel's schooling. He can't even bear to listen to her justifications, all he hears are his own lies borne back to him on someone else's lips.
“Sit in it,” she urges, flashing him a smile.
Lane can't look at it anymore. He stumbles away from the car, gloved hand briefly pressed to his mouth, and makes it around the corner before doubling over and retching, clutching the cement post for support.
“Oh, dear,” he hears Rebecca say.
It's been an hour, and Lane's rinsed out his mouth twice, but he can still taste the bile in his throat. He's sitting on the sofa with his head in his hands. Though this hunched position makes his back ache, it was the only one, initially, that kept his head from spinning. He's not ready to give it up just yet.
Rebecca's changed out of her furs but is still wearing her red dress, pacing in front of the window, the way she always does when she's excited.
“Now, darling,” she says in a brisk voice, as if watching one's spouse sick up in a carpark is everyday business, “I realise you don't much feel like driving tonight, but I thought we could take the car out tomorrow.”
Lane makes a mumbling noise that could hopefully be construed as “no.”
“We ought to make a day of it,” she continues. “Perhaps leave the city.”
“Becca—” he begins, lifting his head, but she's ignoring him.
“I should like to go upstate,” she sighs, casting a wistful glance out the window. “Or perhaps a little further. Of course, we'll have to wait until Easter for a real holiday, but since our situation is improved—”
Lane winces at the implication, and speaks more loudly than intended.
“Don't use that word.”
A raise of her eyebrows and the sudden pursing of her mouth indicates she has heard him, but she continues as if his sudden outburst was no more than a throat-clearing.
“Lane, darling,” she says, voice still very hopeful as she comes to sit beside him, “I know you'd still like us to be cautious, but surely there's no reason why we can't begin to make...small adjustments? It doesn't need to be a true—” and here, she demurs, as if concerned for possible offense: “holiday.”
Lane feels a spike of irritation surge through him.
“There is a difference between small adjustments and what you're proposing. A holiday of any duration is expensive. Out of the question.”
“Honestly,” she huffs, waving one hand in a dismissive motion. “We'll be all right. You worry too much.”
“You don't,” he replies flatly. “You bought a car.”
Rebecca's expression morphs from irritation to shock. Lane immediately realizes his mistake, reaching out for her hand, but the moment his fingers brush hers, she pulls back.
“You don't like it,” she whispers, turning pale.
Her lower lip wobbles, and Lane fears the worst once she turns away, covering her mouth. He knows what he should say to rectify the situation. Of course I like it. Why wouldn't I like it, when you've bought it for me? We'll take it out now. We'll take it out tomorrow.
The words turn to ash on his tongue. He can't bring himself to do it.
“It isn't that I don't like it,” Lane begins carefully, but even if these were the right words, they're far too late to soothe the looming storm, and Rebecca turns back to him with a look of contempt, eyes bright:
“You can be so unfeeling!”
Lane recoils from her words, and the pounding in his head returns full-force.
“I get you a gift and you tell me you hate it!”
He focuses on the table in front of him, staring at the clawed foot.
“How could I hate your gift if I'm unfeeling?” Lane replies through clenched teeth, trying to breathe through the pulsing in his temples.
She scoffs at his misery, getting up to pace in front of him.
“You know, we never have nice things anymore—it's always scrimping and saving and making adjustments while the rest of our friends do whatever they like—”
“—no, do go on, I love listening to how well our friends are doing—”
“—we have lived on austerity for over two years and I only thought—”
“It was a necessary measure—” Lane interrupts, feeling anger coil in the pit of his stomach, but she pretends not to hear him, one hand cutting through the air as she talks over him.
“What kind of person wants to return a gift bought by their wife?”
“It is a very expensive gift!” Lane snaps. “I don't even drive here!”
Her eyes widen, and she closes her mouth with a pop.
“Well, you used to,” she says primly, “when we were in London.”
Lane exhales loudly.
“We're not in London, Rebecca—”
“Yes, I realise that, Lane, not least because you continue to remind me,” Rebecca answers, ice in every word. “Honestly, how difficult would it be to bring this household up to the same standard now that we've the money—?”
“Standard?” Lane echoes, head snapping up to stare at her. “You—I've been keeping up two households for five years! Have you any idea what that means? It's—you're off—redecorating and buying cars while Inland Revenue breathes down our bloody necks!”
Her mouth hangs open in shock.
He puts his head in his hands.
“They taxed—an investment. A...personal investment...in the company. Had to liquidate my portfolio to procure it.”
After a moment, he's able to look up, gauge her expression. She's staring at him with dawning comprehension.
“How much did you invest?” she says in a low voice, biting off each word, and he winces, turning away again.
“I can explain,” he begins, but she speaks over him, forceful:
“I don't want you to explain! Tell me what you gave them!”
He covers his eyes, not wanting to look at her.
“Fif—fifty thousand dollars.”
She's quiet for so long he does look up, sees her jaw set and eyes closed before she opens them, cutting a glare in his direction.
“You wouldn't let me open the mail.”
“You told me you were taking care of it—”
“No, you don't understand—we were facing real trouble—I couldn't very well say no, it was the only way—”
“All this time—you lied to me?”
The silence is damning.
“I – I'm sorry,” he stutters out. How does he even begin to explain? “It was foolish, I know that now, only I–I thought I was doing what was best. I never meant—I didn't know how to tell you. I didn't even know they had taxed it till a few months ago.”
How was he supposed to admit something so shameful?
Her stare is fixed on him.
“Last year, my parents told me I was childish for leaving,” she says after a long silence, her voice quiet but firm. She's twisting her wedding ring around her finger in an unsettling motion.
His throat tightens in anxiety, but he stays quiet.
“The night I arrived, Mama got so hysterical she had to lie down.”
Lane knows this is not inconsequential. Rebecca's mother isn't prone to maudlin displays. She barely even wept at their wedding.
Rebecca looks him up and down with narrowed eyes, as if she's committing him to memory, to some part of her mind she never wants to access.
“I should never have let you talk me into coming back.”
Giving him one last look of contempt before getting to her feet.
Shock keeps him seated for a second too long. His throat is tight with panic – heartbeat tattooing a frantic rhythm against his chest as he follows her toward the master bedroom.
“Wait,” he sputters, trying to get to her before she can slam the door in his face.
But Rebecca bypasses it completely, walking instead to the closet at the opposite end of the bedroom and yanking open the French doors. She pulls out a powder blue suitcase by the handle, using both hands, wrestling it through the clothes on hangers and depositing it on the bed with a muffled thump. She immediately begins to fuss with the latch.
“What are you doing?” he asks in a dull voice, staring at her hands as she flings open the lid. She doesn't answer, just crosses the room to pull open a drawer on the bureau. Out comes a pile of underthings – slips and garters and nylons and nightgowns – which she deposits into the suitcase in a heap. After a moment of consideration, she returns to the bureau, pulling open another drawer and examining its contents before pulling out two jumpers. She doesn't even bother to push it closed.
“Becca, stop this,” Lane says in a panic, hurrying to take her free arm. She stiffens immediately, looking away from him as if she can will herself to be gone with a single thought.
“You have to understand—I thought it was better for you not to know. I didn't want you to worry.”
“Worry?” she says, and she does look at him now, her mouth twisting in a mocking sort of way. “You didn't want me to know you'd failed.”
Yanking her arm from his grasp and tossing the jumpers into the suitcase.
“I—” Lane blurts, suddenly feeling a little faint, “no, that wasn't—”
She whirls around—
“I don't care what it was!”
He pulls back as if he's been slapped, but Becca continues:
“I told you four years ago no partnership was worth this. They never wanted you. They never even liked you!”
“I understand you're angry,” he mutters, flushing, but she interrupts him—
“You said things were going well, you said you'd been instrumental in the company's success, when all the while you were counting pennies.”
“That isn't true,” he begins, “our accounts—”
“Oh, yes,” she hisses, “your precious accounts. Don't think I don't know what those men want when they come to the city. They want to have fun, they want to be entertained. I am well aware what they receive from your company.”
“Becca, I would never—take part in that. I have never—”
“No, of course you wouldn't. Why would they ask you?”
She makes a hissing noise that is somewhat like a laugh, covering her mouth with her hand, then uncovering it only to whisper:
“It's never going to be any better. It's always the same. Money and the company and New York—and you never take my side!”
“That's not true,” Lane interrupts. “It isn't—just—tell me what you want.”
Her iron gaze seems to tear through him, and she snorts out a breath.
“It's too late,” she says dully. “Even in the beginning—you never knew.”
His face burns hot with shame, and he can feel the emotion rising in his chest, struggling for release, but Lane tries to hold it in all the same.
“Becca,” he says, and his voice cracks ominously as he speaks. “It isn't, if you only—I'll do whatever you ask. I promise. You don't have to leave. Please.”
She says nothing, eyes flickering toward her open suitcase, and walks quickly toward the hallway. He follows her, grabbing her free hand just as they get to the doorway of Nigel's room. The tightness in his chest increases, and his face crumples with pent-up emotion.
“Becca, please don't go.”
He begins to cry: ugly, short sobs that rack his body, and flings himself around Rebecca's shoulders, weeping into her chest like an inconsolable child.
Her body stiffens in his desperate embrace, arms braced at her sides, but even this can't stop him from clinging to her, and after a moment, she's struggling to free herself.
“Let go of me, Lane—”
“Please don't leave me,” he wails, knees wobbling so badly he has to kneel in front of her, grabbing her around the legs as if he's a terrified child.
“Let go,” she demands, pushing at his shoulders and face. “Stop it.”
He won't be moved. “For god's sake, what am I supposed to do?!”
As she struggles to get free, the back of her hand suddenly catches him in the nose. He recoils with a whine, glasses going askew, his hands coming up to cradle his face, and she stumbles backwards, back pressed against the wall next to the closed door of Nigel's bedroom, one shaking hand gripping the doorframe. Looking at her pale face, at the obvious fear in her dark eyes, he cries even harder. Oh, god, what has he done?
Her last two knuckles are smeared red. Her mouth works as she whispers:
“Leave me alone!”
Walking quickly down the hallway, slamming the door to their bedroom, and locking it behind her. He can hear her picking up the telephone.
Dazed, unable to move, Lane sinks into a sitting position on the carpet. Blood and tears and mucus run down his face and neck. He can't go after her. He can't even stop crying, and eventually he just lies down in the middle of the hallway, turning onto his side and covering his face, weeping into his hands.
Her suitcases are gone, along with most of her clothes, but the rest of her things litter the apartment: pictures, trinkets, cosmetics. Her grandmother's china and silver gleaming in the display cabinet. She didn't take it. Worst of all, the night table by their bed still has all her things on it – pair of reading glasses, handwritten notes, pictures, right down to the earmarked book she was reading two nights ago. As if she were coming back at any moment.
Lane would do something about it, but he's so tired. He can't tell if it's been five hours, or two, or ten since he woke up on the floor, but when he did, the apartment was empty and her suitcases were gone. He crawled back into the rumpled bed, and only left to grab a half-full whiskey bottle from the living room. Long gone now. Empty bottle at the end of the bed.
She left, and she's taken Nigel with her.
You will not live in between.
His fault. He should have done more. He should have said more.
You never knew.
She hates him. He hates himself for not being able to see it.
God, he's such a fool.
Just before lunchtime, Joan strides up to Scarlett's desk, inclining her head toward Lane's door, her arms full of paperwork.
“Is he in?”
“Oh – no, he's still with the 4As,” Scarlett says slowly, wrinkling her brow. “He's not back till Monday.”
“Scarlett,” Joan says, with a lift of one eyebrow, “it ended today. They don't convene on Friday.”
“No,” Scarlett says, looking down at her calendar. Joan can see the neat scrawl of "4As - Regional" running parallel to the edge in blue ink. “I know that, but it's – I think they needed him for chairmanship things. He didn't call. I'm sorry.”
Joan suppresses a noise of disgust. Of course he wouldn't call to update anyone.
“Fine,” she replies sharply, placing a hefty folder onto Scarlett's desk. “When he gets back, tell him I've got the spreadsheets ready, and give him these reports. They're marked.”
Scarlett nods, jots something on a post-it note.
“Right away. Of course.”
Tuesday afternoon, the partners meet to revisit the issue of commission structures versus fee structures. Joan produces the required papers from her folio, sliding the first across the table toward Lane and the second toward Mr. Cooper and the rest of the partners – a spreadsheet document stating which companies are paying the highest commissions throughout the fiscal year, and what they've paid over the course of their history with the agency.
They've been discussing this topic for weeks, after Jaguar's initial request was made, but while Lane argued vehemently against fee structures a month ago, to the point of being annoying, today he's in a fog. He hasn't spoken at all. He isn't even looking at anyone, just staring at his papers on the table.
Joan glances over at him, briefly, while walking the others through the document. Maybe he's under the weather. He was pale and withdrawn on Monday, but seems worse today, with bloodshot eyes, and face and hair a little greasy. She even saw him coughing earlier. She also saw Pete edge his chair two inches to the left just after it happened, looking nervous. Maybe it's fever, or the flu.
She finishes her summary of the points in question, preparing for a final vote on the matter, but Lane's reluctance to speak on the matter is making her uncomfortable, so she prompts him.
“Lane? Anything to add?”
He stares at the papers for little more than a few seconds, with glassy, indifferent eyes, before turning back to the rest of the partners.
“No,” he says, and rises from the table with a half-shrug. “Sorry.”
With that, he gathers his things in one hand and exits the room. He pushes open the glass door and it emits a creaking sound as it slowly shuts in his wake.
Joan stares after him, mouth open in stunned silence. He's walking out on a vote?
Roger's wearing a bemused expression. “Huh.”
Pete snorts out a laugh, shutting his notebook. “Well, I assume we're finished? I'm very busy today.”
“No,” Joan says sharply, recovering her power of speech just as Cooper nods his head and says, “Of course. We'll reschedule.”
Pete stares at the two of them for a moment, then continues to gather his things, casting a quick look at Don, across the table, standing up as he says:
“Don, I give you my proxy.”
Don exhales smoke in a surprised huff of amusement, watching Pete leave.
“We can do that?”
“Don,” Joan snaps. This isn't a laughing matter.
“Mrs. Harris,” Cooper says, holding up a placating hand, “given the situation, it would be more productive to postpone the discussion and the subsequent vote.”
“Of course, if everyone decides to participate,” Joan says snidely, with a sideways glance at the hallway beyond the glass wall. What the hell has gotten into Lane? He was the one who fought for keeping the commissions structure in the first place. He wouldn't just walk out before a vote, even if he was sick.
“Joanie,” Roger says around a newly-lit cigarette, causing Joan to turn her attention back to the rest of the group. “You really want to do this now?”
“I did,” Joan snaps, casting him a withering look. She tosses her stenography pad onto the desk, giving up the ghost of productivity. The room's already half-empty.
Scarlett's scribbling furiously on her notepad, trying to take down the rest of the minutes before everyone walks out. Joan spares a glance for the younger woman as she moves past her chair and rolls her eyes. Even written in shorthand, those notes are complete gibberish. Just knowing they're illegible is infuriating.
She strides up to Lane's door, knocks very loudly once, then turns the knob.
The desk is a mess, and papers from the meeting are stacked haphazardly on the side table by the door – sliding off onto the arm of the sofa and the floor, actually – not to mention, his briefcase is still here, but his hat and coat are gone. He's nowhere in sight.
Why would he just leave? Why wouldn't he say anything?
She closes his door, slams the door to her own office, sits down, and lights a cigarette, furious and embarrassed and uneasy. The look on his face before he left.
What is wrong with him?