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an island in your arms

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The telephone rings.

Joan rolls to her left and reaches for the receiver, clumsy. Her feet tangle in the blankets as she moves. The hands on her square-faced clock glow green in the darkness, and she squints to look at them as she rasps out a hello. Three-fifteen.

“Mrs. Harris?”

Bert Cooper's gravelly voice is unmistakeable.

Joan bolts upright, fear gripping her heart with icy fingers. “Yes.”

“I apologize for the hour, but we have a situation.”

“What's going on?” she asks, her mind beginning to race through the possibilities. Is something wrong with Jaguar? Is something wrong with Roger?

Mr. Cooper exhales loudly.

“Lane tried to kill himself this evening. He was found in his car two hours ago.”

Joan blinks, and presses the heel of her free hand to her temple, as if this will help her think.


Her mouth works soundlessly for a moment. He tried to—my god. She imagines blood-spattered windows. A razor. A gun.

“At present, he's still alive.”

Alive. She draws in a ragged breath, mentally repeating the word until it blurs into a stream of babbling nonsense. Alive.

Mr. Cooper's still speaking, his voice quiet and calm. “The partners are convening, of course.”

Joan nods, blankly, then realizes he cannot see her through the phone. “Of—of course. I'll be right there,” and lets the receiver slide from her fingers, fall to the mattress. She has to get up. She pushes the blankets to the side, legs dangling over the edge of the bed as she sits there, slumped.

Lane tried to kill himself in his car. Joan didn't think he owned a car. When did he get a car?

He tried to kill himself.

My god, is he that unhappy?

Panic bubbles up into her throat. She stumbles out of bed in the dark, toward her vanity, pulling open a drawer in a frantic attempt to find clothes. She has to get to the office. She has to do something. Sweat beads on her forehead – she feels dizzy – oh, god, she's going to be sick. Joan barely makes it to the trash in time, knocking over a lamp in her rush. The crash wakes the baby, who starts to scream. Shrill wails tear at Joan's ears, but all she can do is slump over the trash can, right hand gripping the lip of the dresser, until the nausea passes. After a minute, Joan hears, rather than sees, her bedroom door open. When she finally wipes her mouth on the back of her hand, moves to a standing position, her mother's staring at her from the doorway, one hand curled around the door frame.

“What happened?”

Words burst from Joan in a desperate rush. “Will you watch the baby?”

Light fills the room, causing Joan to shield her eyes. She turns back to the dresser, pulling open a second drawer. Her hands touch a bra, a pair of black leggings and a long-sleeved sweater, and Joan sheds her flimsy nightgown, pulls on the clothes with shaking fingers.

Her mother's voice is laced with curiosity. “Where are you going? Who was on the phone?”

“Someone's in the hospital. I have to go in.”

Joan ties her hair back with a green scarf, grabs her glasses, and slips into her lowest pair of heels. No time to put on her face. There's powder and lipstick in her purse.

Her mother picks up Kevin from his bassinet, balances him in her left arm while cradling the telephone receiver between her face and right shoulder. Calling a cab, Joan guesses, and is temporarily grateful. She stares at her reflection in the mirror for one last moment, willing herself not to cry.

Once she grabs her purse and coat, and bustles into the cab, she leans against the closed car door, pressing her cheek to the freezing cold window, and watches the city pass by in a blur of streetlamps. Her mind spins with a thousand possible answers to one question:

Why would he do this?


She hurries through the glass door to reception and down the creative hallway, almost at a run. Lounge is empty. Conference room is empty. When she gets to Dawn's desk, she sees light streaming from the doorway of Roger's office, forces herself to slow her steps, then enters the room.

Mr. Cooper sits behind the desk, wearing a full set of intricately-patterned pajamas and a nightcap. His bathrobe is tied neatly around him, while his slippered feet are propped up on a second desk chair. There's a nearly-empty glass in front of him.

Roger, sitting in his usual spot on the sofa, has on a full suit – the same one he wore to work yesterday – but his clothes are visibly rumpled, as if they'd been slung somewhere on the floor between now and then.

Pete's standing by the drink cart. His hair is sticking up in the back, his blue cotton bathrobe is askew and he's missed the first button on his pajama top. He's so unkempt it looks as if he literally rolled out of bed and into the office. He seems to regret his disheveled appearance, fixing his button and making a hasty effort to smooth down his hair with one hand.

Joan casts a quick look around the room. Don still isn't here. Everyone else, she realizes belatedly, is staring at her. “Have we heard anything?”

Her voice is a little tremulous.

Roger shakes his head.

Pete crosses over from his place beside the bar, and presses a glass full of brown liquor into her hand. She takes it with a mumbled thanks, gulping down a large swallow of what turns out to be whiskey. Holding the tumbler awkwardly, Joan fixes her eyes on the rim, remembering Lane's pallor and bloodshot eyes the last day he'd been in. Had he been drinking? Was this a drunken impulse? Was it something he'd been planning?

A conversation she hasn't thought about in months leaps to her mind, an off-the-cuff remark suddenly taking new significance.

Even with my mother and the baby, I feel alone. I don't expect you to understand.

The sound of his voice had been steadying. It's home, but it's not everything. I do understand.

Joan knows how well loneliness can eat away at your resolve, but she's never, even on her worst day, thought of suicide as a viable option. She's fought so hard for everything she has. Worked to change situations once they became too awful to bear.

Why would Lane want to die?

“You're pale,” someone's saying to her, and it's Roger. “You should sit down.”

She obeys numbly, legs moving almost on their own accord, sits on the other end of the sofa, and sinks back into the cushions, staring at the corner of a Life magazine on the glass table in front of her.

“Come on,” Roger murmurs to her, low. “Let me take you home.”

A little hysterical laugh bubbles up inside of her, and she clamps her lips together to keep it from escaping. He didn't mean it like that. But she's exhausted and terrified, and the impulse to laugh is growing. She has to fight to push it down, sipping her drink before she answers, firmly:

“I'm staying.”

His eyebrows raise in surprise, but he doesn't ask again, just turns, clears his throat, and directs his next question to Mr. Cooper. “You ever get hold of his wife?”

Cooper shakes his head. “As of an hour ago, the authorities were unable to reach her.”

“It's 4AM,” Joan says dully, her mouth falling open slightly as she registers this news. “Where the hell would she be?”

Pete's been pacing in front of the doorway, his movements jerky and agitated, bathrobe flowing behind him like an absurd cape as he walks, but suddenly he pauses. “She could be in England.”

Although this is phrased as an observation, rather than a question, it's clear he's looking for reassurance on the theory.

Roger looks so confused it's almost comical.

“Didn't she already leave him once? Am I the only one who remembers that?”

Joan doesn't laugh. God knows Roger sees separation and divorce as a boon instead of a loss. She imagines it would be shattering for someone like Lane, who thrives on structure and tradition and things continuing on as they always have. Maybe he told Mrs. Pryce about the money. He was terrified to tell her. Joan feels herself growing pale at the thought.

“He would have...” she searches for words, and does not allow herself to say he would have told me. “For god's sake, we would have known.”

Pete's expression indicates that he's waiting for Joan to keep talking. “He didn't mention anything to you?”

She shakes her head. The thought that she should have known is one she attempts to suppress. But Pete just scoffs, as if her lack of knowledge is inconvenient at worst, and resumes his pacing.

“What did he do?” Joan asks, after a long silence. “Where did they find him?”

“Joanie,” Roger says, his tone warning.

She cuts him off with a raised hand, slanting a look at Mr. Cooper that begs him to understand.

“Did he drive somewhere? Was it at home?”

The old man sighs.

“A young man from the building was walking through the garage. According to the authorities, this person saw the rigged car, pulled Lane from it, and notified emergency services.”

“So it was gas,” Pete says, and Cooper inclines his head.

Joan's stomach churns with the thought. She imagines Lane walking out to the deserted garage, preparing the car as methodically as he does the expense reports – checking the hoses, the tailpipe, the windows. Getting in and turning over the engine like it was nothing, maybe putting on the radio as the car filled. Coughing and wheezing and choking—

Roger interrupts her train of thought. “You think he—”

Stop,” she manages, turning away from the group, covering her mouth, and biting the inside of her cheek in an attempt to keep herself from sobbing. After several moments, she feels somewhat controlled, and turns back to the men, swiping a few stray tears from her face.

“Sorry,” Roger mutters to her, but she doesn't acknowledge it. She's staring at Pete, who's staring out the window, his face shadowed by the dim light streaming in from the city below.

Pete risks a glance at her, then clears his throat.

“What are we going to tell the clients?”

Roger's in the midst of lighting a cigarette. “Jesus, Campbell.”

But the younger man is unmoved. “They're going to find out. We have to send them something.”

Joan closes her eyes briefly, sees maple-paneled walls and the sea of gray-green typewriters from the old Sterling Cooper steno pool. Remembers typing out addresses in the near-darkness while she focused on Mr. Cooper's voice to keep from breaking down.


Her eyes find Cooper's. His answering nod seems to indicate that he understands her meaning.

“Yes, but they can't—” Pete closes his mouth with visible effort, attempting, it seems, to censor himself. “What story do we give them?”

Roger begins to laugh. The sound edges at Joan's frayed nerves, and she snaps:

“Why are you laughing?”

But it's subsiding almost as quickly as it began. “We tell them it's a heart attack.”

He turns to Joan with a grin, as if she should be smiling, too.

“New company. First one's on the house.”

Pete's staring at Roger, his blue eyes nervously wide. “I don't think you should joke about that.”

Roger shrugs as if to say who cares, but Joan can see the tension underneath his dark humor and attempts to ignore him. She glances back at Mr. Cooper.

“We'll need to call one of the girls for the clerical work. Maybe two.”

CFO Lane Pryce has suffered heart attack. Stop.

“What are you going to do?” Pete blurts out, apparently directing his question to Joan.

“Excuse me?”

If he's trying to say he thinks she should be typing telegrams, there's going to be a problem.

“Well,” Pete continues, “I assume you'll take over Lane's work?”

“Yes.” The fierceness of her answer takes her by surprise. “Why do you ask?”

He has the grace to look embarrassed, running a hand over the back of his neck.

“With the acquisition of Jaguar, there's been a very steep influx in business. If he dies, everything will need to be in order.”

If he dies. The words make her skin prickle cold.

She fixes the younger man with a steely glare, biting off each word. “I'll take care of it.”

“I'll offer Mrs. Harris my assistance, of course,” Mr. Cooper adds, and that is that.

The sound of approaching footsteps can be heard in the hallway, and Don appears moments later, dressed like it's a workday. His appearance is impeccable: crisp shirt and suit, not a hair out of place. He's even brought his briefcase.

She feels a violent surge of anger. He couldn't just show up.

Pete speaks first, voice snide, and it makes Joan smother a smile.

“You took your time.”

Don glances around the room, expression taut. “I was parking. Did I miss anything?”

“We're going with heart attack,” Roger says around his cigarette, lighting another one straight off the last, casting the butt aside, and exhaling in a jet of smoke. “See? You're caught up.”

Mr. Cooper's eyes follow Don from the doorway to the drink cart, mouth set in a thin line of disapproval. From her seat, Joan watches as Don pours four fingers of whiskey into a glass. At this distance, she gets a glimpse of what he's trying to hide beneath his workday veneer. His face is ashen, and his hand shakes slightly as he replaces the cap on the bottle.

A dark pulse of satisfaction thrums in her chest at the sight. He damn well ought to be upset. They should have seen this. They should have known Lane was in trouble. The hair, the rumpled clothes, the bloodshot eyes. The lack of interest.

Damn it, how could she have missed this?


Sunday, they operate with a basic skeleton staff to take care of the emergency clerical work and so others will be there to answer telephones. Monday proves to be even worse. At least on the weekend, on that first day, everything felt abnormal, and each person was affected by Lane's absence whether they missed him or not.

Joan checked expense reports and finished two payroll cycles and updated the books and wrote up quarterly reports and set traffic meetings and partners meetings for the next month in order to keep ahead on her own work, in order to start doing Lane's. Late in the afternoon, Mr. Cooper also gave her an overview of the company portfolio, and they continued working on the paperwork for tax season.

She took four aspirin when she got home, not wanting to dream.

This morning, the current group of freelancers – so young they're practically children, and Joan has never hated them more than she does right now – started cutting up in the lounge with creative as soon as they arrived. The secretaries took coffee in the kitchen and gossiped among themselves. Joan wanted to grab their cups from their hands and smash each and every one on the tile until they stopped laughing and got it through their thick heads. One of their coworkers is seriously ill. He tried to kill himself, not that they're aware. He could still die. What the hell is wrong with them?

All she can do is stay focused on the work. If she does that, she will not think about Lane, comatose in a steel bed in a dingy room in intensive care. Is he in pain? Does he know that he's alone? She doesn't want to think about it, but she can't stop. And every time she thinks about it, she feels her throat tighten. He was unhappy. Why did she ignore that? Why did she assume he was fine? Why didn't she just talk to him?

She works in her office with the doors closed, only leaving to confront people about shoddy work or unprofessional behavior. She tries to convince herself that if she believes things will be fine, it will eventually prove to be true. She's fine. Everything is fine.


Wednesday, she's practically stuck to the telephone. Lane's line rings off the hook, whether it's people calling to leave messages, express their sympathies, or to get in touch with him about pending business. Scarlett has to put several people through to Joan so someone can explain the situation.

“Heart attack,” the man on the other end manages, voice hoarse. “My god. Are you—when did it happen?”

Joan tightens her grip on the receiver, attempting to keep her voice level.

“Saturday night. It's...obviously a shock.”

“Shock,” the man echoes, sounding as helpless as Joan feels. “Yeah. I mean, he was fine last week. Met all the members—we went over everything. The guys loved him. They thought he was hilarious. He wasn't—I mean, he seemed great. We had a good time.”

Out of all the phone calls she's fended for Lane over the past several days, telling people the agreed-upon story, this one is by far the worst. Jim Buckley seems genuinely distressed. Most of the people she spoke to sounded vaguely sympathetic, but generally inconvenienced. She's embarrassed to admit she didn't realize Lane was so popular with the 4As, though with the finance chairmanship, she should have guessed.

“I understand. I'm sorry to tell you.”

“No, it's—I'm just glad I called. God. His wife's probably a wreck. I know mine would be.”

Joan presses her lips together to keep from giving away even the slightest hint regarding Lane's marital situation, but Mr. Buckley talks over any potential slip, musing aloud.

“You think he'd mind a visit? I mean, he's a private kind of guy. But maybe it would cheer him up. Can he see visitors?”

Panic rises so quickly Joan can practically feel it lodged in her throat. Absolutely not.

“No. He can't.”

“Ah,” the man continues, sighing. “Well, maybe I just ought to send him a card.”

She seizes this opportunity to redirect him, saying, “I'm sure he would appreciate that,” and gives him their mailing address.

They speak briefly about 4As business – Joan suggests he stay on for the beginning of Lane's term as chairman, or find an interim, as they won't know the full situation for several weeks. They also exchange contact information and discuss the financial work she'll be undertaking here. Before Mr. Buckley hangs up, he says:

“I'm just sorry to hear it, you know? Lane's a good guy. If you talk to him, give him my best.”

“Of course,” Joan says in a rasp, trying to push a traitorous thought from her mind. Lane might die before she can tell him anything, least of all hello. “Take care.”


Thursday, she has to go into Lane's office several times. It's usually to grab specialized documents pertaining to the finances, files containing all of Lane's notes.

She always keeps the door closed but unlocked. Each time she opens it and walks inside, the neatness of the room surprises her. Every surface is pristine – was pristine even on the first day. He'd deliberately organized his things. Four mostly-full whiskey bottles, his tea set, china water pitcher and a row of cut glasses are neatly arranged on the credenza. Work is sorted into three disparate stacks on his desk, kept together by a few paperweights. Joan's had to take several files from the lower desk drawers, but still can't bring herself to open the long middle drawer, where he would keep odds and ends. It's too personal. It feels like an invasion of privacy.

A noise in the doorway makes Joan look up from the paperwork on the desk.

Mr. Cooper enters the room and closes the door behind him. “Mrs. Harris. May I have a word?”

Joan feels her stomach drop. If it were related to business, he'd have kept the door open.

“Of course.”

Cooper takes a seat in the chair across from Lane's desk.

“I've just received a call from the hospital.”

She steels herself for the worst. Her legs feel weak, and she puts a hand on the edge of the desk. God. He's dead. He can't be dead.

“They tell me Lane is awake. As of this morning.”

The cold shot of shock thrums through her body before her brain fully absorbs his words. Awake. Not dead. She swallows, tries to speak around the tightness in her throat. It's painful.

“How is he?”

Is he lucid? Does he remember what happened? Is he in pain? Is he upset?

Mr. Cooper steeples his hands across his abdomen. “Troubled, from what I'm told. But alive, which is welcome news. I understand the two of you are cordial.”

“Yes,” Joan says flatly. She feels idiotic, like her tongue is numb, and quickly tries to recover her senses. “It is good.”

Her next words tumble forth in a rush.

“He shouldn't be alone. The partners should visit. I'll organize a schedule—someone can go tomorrow.”

“They're holding him for psychological evaluation,” Cooper says, holding up a placating hand. “Seventy-two hours. Standard procedure for these situations.”

“Oh—of course.”

Even now, she's still so used to thinking about the chaotic rhythm of surgery and emergency room care that the idea of an evaluation never occurred to her. Of course that would happen. It's the next logical step. How could she be so stupid?

“Afterward, I think, would be appropriate,” Mr. Cooper says, rising from his chair, reaching out, taking her free hand and patting her wrist, not unkindly. Once he's left the room and closed the door in his wake, Joan turns, walks on dazed legs and sinks into Lane's desk chair. It rolls a little to the right, and she grabs the lip of the middle desk drawer just to steady herself.

The motion, small as it is, pulls open the drawer almost an inch. After a moment's pause, Joan allows herself to look down, to open it just a little wider.

The first object she sees scattered among the clutter is his spare pair of glasses, tortoise-shell brown, broken into two pieces. Snapped cleanly in half at the bridge. Joan traces over a jagged plastic edge with one finger. He never wears this pair, only the black ones. But he broke them on purpose.

She pulls her hand back, and slams the drawer shut.

Her eyes fill, and she presses a hand to her mouth to try and control herself, but this time she can't. A cry escapes her lips, followed by another, and another, and suddenly Joan's got her forehead pressed against the dark wood, her hands balled next to her mouth, sobbing so hard she can't breathe. Lane wanted to die. She is his friend; she should have seen it. Why didn't she see it? How could she have failed him like this?


“Ah, cut her some slack,” Ken says to Stan, leaning against the creative doorway and glancing out into the hall, toward Joan's closed door. “With Lane in the hospital, she's got a lot going on.”

Stan snorts out an unamused noise.

“Doesn't mean she gets to be a bitch. Yesterday, she made one of the freelancers cry.”

Ken huffs out a breath. “Look. I've worked with Joan for...ten years now. She tends to take out her stress on other people. Just keep your head down, do your work, and she won't get onto you. Trust me. It always passes.”

“Jesus,” Ginsberg says suddenly, pushing back from his desk, standing, and wheeling around to face them. “What the hell is that noise? It's making my skin crawl. Stan, are you the one doing that?”

He scoots his chair back and forth, experimentally with one hand, and shakes his head.

“Am I the only one hearing this?”

“No, I hear something,” Ken replies after a second of silence, and pushes the door shut with one foot to dim the noise from the hallway.

“Sounds like crying,” Stan says with a shrug, swiping eraser bits from his sketchpad with his left hand. “Maybe Joan got to another one.”

Ginsberg rolls his eyes, but Ken's mouth draws down into a frown, and he eyes the green sofa, steps up onto it before the others can move. It makes him tall enough to see over the partition. When he sees a red-haired figure hunched over Lane's desk, face buried in her hands, her shoulders shaking with visible sobs, he feels a sharp twinge of surprise mixed with guilt. One hand twitches at his side, and he steps down as quickly as he'd gotten up.

“It one of the girls?” Stan asks, not looking up from his work.

Ken clears his throat before replying. “Yeah.”

Ginsberg cuts Ken a kind of suspicious look, but manages to censor himself for once—if he really is suspicious—and says nothing apart from, “Jesus, I can't listen to it anymore. It's fucking upsetting.”

He stalks over to the record player, flips it on, and positions the needle in a random place. A loud guitar riff blares from the speaker.