Scarlet offices were eerily quiet, without the hustle and bustle of the usual hectic commotion. Jane was standing at the island in the staff kitchen, with the smell of fresh coffee barely keeping her awake. She stared at the blinking cursor at the top of the page, prompting her to write something. Anything. But nothing was coming.
So this is why, on a Friday morning around 5am, Jane took a subway and found herself all alone in the huge offices of Scarlet magazine. She was hoping for a small surge of inspiration, rationalising that she would find it between the walls of the place that shaped her mind. But to no avail.
Jane groaned, and pushed her laptop away, elbows on the kitchen island. She buried her face in her hands and decided to have a five minute pity party. It wouldn’t hurt. It’s not like she was on a verge of a breakthrough. She looked to her left at the brightly lit up poster covering the wall, the front page of the latest issue staring back at her. She recalled Jacqueline’s encouraging words from the editors letter, about taking chances and being extraordinary. Huh, thought Jane, so much for taking chances.
Jane closed her eyes and brought back memories from two nights ago. She was finishing up her piece, just adding final touches. She remembered so vividly looking up and seeing her bent over the desk, choosing photos for the next feature. Her face so focused, so in the moment. Jane let herself be daring and moved her eyes down the slim silhouette of the woman in front of her. Her bare, strong arms, her never ending legs. Jane’s ribcage expanded, asking for more oxygen. She was so long gone, so done with feeling completely helpless about everything she felt when she saw her. And just like clockwork, the second her eyes travelled back to the editor’s face, she was met with a piercing blue stare. Perfectly shaped eyebrow arched and that stupid smirk adoring her face and Jane’s heart was doing somersaults. It’s been happening a lot more lately, Jane convinced herself. Ever since the news of the divorce hit Page Six. Ever since her boss got back on her feet. Ever since she came back. Jane could feel the change in the air. But it was something she couldn’t quite put her finger on, and be it as it may, Jane would need solid facts before ever doing anything. God knows she would rather eat some glass than admit to her feelings out loud. Because what were the actual chances? What statistics could she beat that her very successful, intelligent, beautiful boss would harbour any sort of unprofessional feelings for someone like Jane? Zero. So Jane would just smile awkwardly, every time she got caught staring for too long. She would avert her gaze somewhere else, and blamed it on hero worship if anyone ever asked. And one day, she promised herself, she will move on and all this frustration and sleepless nights will be nothing but a dull memory. Right?
Jane sighed audibly and scolded herself. Enough of that. She had enough on her plate as it was, and her mind being infested in all-things-Jacqueline was not helping the cause. She looked at the clock. 6:03am. Soon people will start rolling in, the place will start pulsating with colourful clothes and smell of expensive perfume and Jane will yet again admit defeat of having nothing done. Ever since Patrick came around, Jane had been struggling more than ever. She knew that logically she should just bite the bullet and give him a chance. He was just another boss. She had those before and she worked just fine. Yet this time, she was finding it hard to let go of her selfish ways, not when she was robbed of her previous position at the print. And it was illogical, immature and childish of her to act the way she was acting, she knew. But every time Patrick would open his mouth something inside Jane would snap and drag her back to the rage she felt when he showed up to ‘shake things up’. All the progress gone. One day at a time, thought Jane, I can do it.
Her thoughts were broken by casual footsteps in the hall. Jane straightened her posture and brought the laptop closer. Maybe if she just pretends she’s writing, some kind of muse would appear. Right on cue, the owner of the footsteps appeared, and Jane lost all her patience yet again. Perfect.
“Jane! I didn’t take you for an early bird?” Patrick stated causally, with that ever present smirk on his face. He walked up to the coffee machine and poured himself a cup. He turned around and leaned back against the countertop. Only an island separating two of them. He was evidently waiting for response.
Jane mustered a smile, albeit the worst one she could. “I’m not, not usually. I’m just having some writers block at the moment and I’m looking for some inspiration where I can find it.” She hoped the explanation would be enough to make him leave.
“I usually come here early to meditate before work. It helps my energy to flow. Maybe you should try that?” Apparently the explanation wasn’t enough. Jane thought about buying a gun. She thought about how long it would take before police came knocking on the door. She thought about orange jumpsuits and prison food. It was all very dramatic and Jane hated herself, but she also hated him for bringing her to this state of agitation.
“Yeah, maybe I should.” She offered weakly and glued her eyes back to the screen. For the love of god, let him leave.
Patrick walked around the island and peered over Jane’s shoulder to see the blank page starting back at them. He sighed, “Well, why don’t you come with me and I show you some things that will help you relax? We still have about 20 minutes before anyone else shows up.”
Jane quickly turned her head to the right, ready to slam her laptop on his head for even attempting to sound like he’s trying to come onto her. But what Jane underestimated was how close he was standing and how overpowering his cologne was. The hairs at the back of Jane’s neck stood up and her hands went clammy. He shouldn’t be this close. Why is he so close?
But then Patrick moved closer, his chest pressed firmly against her arm. He raised his left hand, his finger slowly tracing the seam on Jane’s jeans. From mid-thigh, up to the waist. Jane heard his voice hitch and then felt his finger graze her bare skin. Everything went on fire. Jane felt like she was paralysed. Her mind was screaming at her to push him away, to make a scene. Tell him what a vile human he is, to think he has a right to do this. But her body just froze, just like the tears behind her eyes, and she just waited.
Patrick lingered for 3 seconds and then he took a step back, reached for his mug. “Suit yourself” he said and walked away, his smirk back on his face.
And Jane just stood there. She didn’t know how long she stood there but at some point, faint sounds from the bullpen started bringing her back and then someone walked into the kitchen. Just like that, Jane crashed to the ground with sense of shame. Someone asked her if she was okay and she plastered a smile on her face, nodded and left. Her laptop and coffee untouched. Her phone quietly buzzing on the counter. She left the kitchen, and walked straight into the closet. She closed the door. She quietly took a seat on the pink futon and broke down.
She felt disgusting. She wanted to take a shower, she wanted to scream, she wanted to buy that gun and not care about the consequences. She wanted to hide and never come back. She wanted him gone. She wanted to get a longer top, one that would cover her midriff. She wanted to disappear into nothingness and not come back for next two years. She wanted her best friends to comfort her. She wanted to be alone. She wanted Jacqueline. She wanted her to fix this and go back in time and fight harder for her to stay in print. She wanted to be back in her bubble where she felt untouchable and safe. She wanted to die.
So Jane just sat there, her sobs cutting the air, as she pitied herself for being weak. She cried because she felt helpless. She cried cause she had a bit of innocence left in her, that she protected so well, and now it was ripped away from her by hands of man who meant nothing. She cried as she mourned over her lost sense of pride in being a strong, independent woman who could take care of herself. She cried. And cried. And cried, until she was empty. When she looked up, she saw Kat and Sutton sitting on the ground in front of her. Neither of them speaking, just out of reach. Both of them with such concern painted across their faces that would normally make Jane swoon. She realised she didn’t know how long she’s been here, or how long they’ve been there. Her head started pounding and she closed her eyes. This can’t be real.
“Jane?” Kat spoke delicately, as if she knew not to make any sudden movements. Jane opened her eyes, and looked right at her friend, tears blurring her vision.
“What do you need, Jane?” whispered Sutton. Jane moved her head slowly to the right and looked at her blonde friend with fondness. She didn’t know what to say. She didn’t know how to say it.
She took a breath, her lips dry from hyperventilating. “I need some water.”
If the situation were different, Jane would definitely find it comical, how quickly her friends stood up to fetch her a bottle of water. Both reaching for their bags on record time. Jane grabbed the bottle from Kat and took a few sips. She made sure the cap was on tight before she handed it back. Jane wiped her cheeks and made a decision. She will soldier on, at least today. She will go back to her desk, and she will pretend like nothing ever happened. Until she figures it out. She can figure it out later. She won’t give him a chance to win. He won’t.
Once again, she looked at her friends, this time with more gusto. “I think I’m going to need some time to think about this before I can speak about it. But I’ll be okay. I promise.” She offered her most sincere promise. But it didn’t work. She should’ve known because Kat and Sutton weren’t just going to let her go on with her day, as if she just didn’t cry herself to death.
* * *
Kat was pacing the closet. Jane was thankful for the distraction. As opposed to Sutton, who was sitting with her hand supporting her forehead, looking at the carpet with unseeing eyes. Yeah, that view was much more depressing.
“I’m going to kill him. I am going to rip his balls off and feed them to him! Who the hell does he think he is?!” Kat was venting loudly. Then she stopped abruptly and looked at Jane. Their eyes met, and Jane knew the girl was locked and loaded. “He’s fucking dead.”
Kat started at the door but before she reached the handle, Jane stopped her. “No,” she said, “I don’t want to face him, I don’t want to start anything. Can’t we just leave it?” Jane pleaded. Kat frowned and looked between her and unresponsive Sutton.
“Tiny Jane, are you mad? We can’t just let him get away with it. He’s out there, going on about his life with no care in the world while yours is falling apart! How is that fair?!”
“I’m not saying it’s fair, Kat.” Jane sighed and rubbed her temples. This was officially the worst day of her adult life. She looked up at Kat resigned. “I know you always want to be on the right side of history, and I love you for that. But this is not your battle. It’s mine. And I can’t have you fight it for me.”
Kat rested her hands on her hips and looked at the ceiling. A minute later she was back on the ground, her breathing slowed down. “Okay, so how are you going to fight it?”
Jane shrugged. She didn’t care at that moment. She just wanted to forget about all of it.
Suddenly Sutton moved from her position and reached for Jane, kneeling in front of her. She clasped her hands around Jane’s and looked up at her. Sutton smiled slightly, just enough for Jane to notice and it sent a warm feeling down Jane’s chest.
“You are so tiny, Jane,” she started jokingly and then quickly sobered up. “but you’re also so freaking strong and powerful. And you will get through this because you have been through so much and yet you always come out on top.” Sutton’s pep talk was working. Jane started feeling like her blood was returning to her face and breathing became easy again. Sutton squeezed Jane’s hands and offered another reassuring smile before continuing. “But what if the next girl isn’t strong, Jane?” Jane’s gaze dropped in shame. She knew what she should do, she knew it in her heart but her head was telling her to abort. Just like she knew to push Patrick away but she didn’t. There was something wrong with her. Why was her brain not working?
“It’s going to be hard, and it’s going to be painful. But we’re going to be here every second of it. You will never be alone. I promise” Sutton reassured. Kat agreed quietly in the background. Jane looked at her friends. She knew they were right, so right. But she was too fragile to speak about it. She was too weak to fight. She wouldn't be able to handle it.
Jane stood up, slowly and surely, as if she was preparing for another blow. She slowly gazed around the room, as if seeing it for the first time. She shifted her gaze between her best friends and she shook her head, barely noticeably.
“Tomorrow. I will do it all tomorrow. I just need to.... I- I just need one day to fall apart. And then I can fight” Jane said, sounding like she was trying to give herself a pep talk. Sutton stood up and nodded eagerly. She shot Kat a look as if to say get on with the program. Jane knew Kat would want her to speak up. And Jane knew she would but just not right now.
“I think I’m going to go home, could you get my stuff from the kitchen?” Jane asked no one in particular, but just as she finished the question, Kat was already halfway out the door. Jane rolled her shoulders and prepared for the headache that was inevitably coming. She turned to Sutton, who was sitting on the futon now, apologetic smile grazing her features.
“Do you want me to come home with you? I don’t know if you should be alone” Sutton offered, hoping her tiny friend agreed. But Jane just shook her head and smiled.
“I’m gonna be fine. I’m just going to take a long, long shower and go to sleep.” Jane explained, but she knew that wouldn’t ease her friend’s worry. “You guys can come over after work and we can have some food. No serious talk. I just need today to be over.”
Kat walked in to the closet, coat and bag in hand. “Come on, Tiny Jane. Time to hit the road.”
Jane was in awe of how easy it was to just forget the empty feeling in her stomach when those two were around. Something so effortless was floating in the air between them, like a cure for sadness and Jane thanked the world that she had found them when she did. Life was too much of a ruin to go through it, without extra set of helping hands.
Kat peaked her head out the door and looked both ways, as if she was sneaking out past curfew. Jane let out a chuckle at the stupidity of the situation. Sutton bumped her shoulder against Jane’s and for split of a second, world was back to normal.
And then they walked down the hall, manoeuvring between a sea of Scarlet employees. Before Jane realised, the three of them were standing in front of the elevators. Silent hum of the mental box rolling up to meet them was distracting Jane enough that she didn’t look over her shoulder. What if he was just watching them? What if he knows she said anything to her friends? Can he do anything? The ding of the the elevator arriving brought Jane straight back. Steel doors slid open and Jane’s whole bravado crumbled.
It couldn’t have been more than two seconds, before Jacquline’s eyes met hers. Her casual and relaxed demeanour changed in an instant, worry painted on her face. She pushed herself off the back of the cart and stoped right in front of the girls. And she knew that Kat and Sutton would’ve been oblivious to the change on their bosses face, but not Jane. She has spent so many torturous hours studying that face, she knew it inside out.
Kat and Sutton moved into the elevator to stop it from leaving. Jacqueline opened her mouth to speak, and Jane knew she had to react quickly, cause she couldn’t afford to fall apart again. Not in front of her.
“Hi,” Jane spoke softly, quietly, enough just for her boss to hear. “I think i have some stomach bug, I feel awful. Would it be okay if i just head home and get some rest? I promise to have the pitch ready for tomorrow” Jane spoke in monotone, trying with all her might to stop the tremble in her voice. She won’t cry in front of her, she won’t. Jacqueline’s features softened and she offered one of her reassuring smiles that always made Jane warm.
“Of course it’s fine” Jacquline answered equally as soft, and Jane wanted to swoon because world was gone now and life was okay. Jacqueline was here and she wouldn’t let anyone hurt her. Jane’s eyebrows furrowed as she lowered her gaze down and swiftly slid into the elevator. She should’ve just told her there and then. She should just rip the bandaid off and get it over with. It made Jane feel sick that she was lying, and it made her nauseous that Jacqueline so naively believed everything she said. Why doesn’t she question her?
Jacquline turned around to watch three of them in suspicion.
“Thanks. I’ll keep you updated” Jane said. The doors started sliding shut, and up until they closed completely, Jane could feel Jacqueline’s eyes burning into her with a power of million suns. Jane rested her head against the cold metal door and sighed in relief. Silence in the cart was killing her. It was also killing her that she knew her friends knew. When did her life become so not hers? How did she get to a place where every part of her life was decided by someone other than her? Jane really didn’t know.
“Well,” Kat broke the silence. “at least your undying love for Jackie is still strong.”
Sutton laughed. “Don’t blame you, Tiny Jane. Have you seen what she was wearing yesterday? Yeehaw.”
Jane shook her head and snorted. “Unbelievable. Both of you”. She never turned to look at them but she was so grateful. She could practically see their wide smiles fill the elevator with light. She was going to be okay, right?
“I ordered you a tiny Uber, okay?” Kat said and Jane just agreed by nodding. She was ready to take off all her clothes and burn them the second she could.
* * *
Jane was lying on her back, staring at the ceiling. Her wet hair soaking the throw cushions on her bed. In the corner of the room, under her armchair, lay a black garbage bag, filled with todays events and with them, Jane’s black jeans and top. She knew she wouldn’t ever wear them again. Her phone quietly buzzed against her belly and she raised her hand to read the message. Kat and Sutton were on the way, bringing Indian take out and their shoulders to lean on. Jane sighed to herself and went back to staring into nothingness. She thought about her morning incident about a million times now. Replaying in her head every second, just to see if she missed anything. How could she have missed this? And the more she replayed it, the angrier she got.
This morning she was a mess. She felt like her heart has been ripped out of her chest and spat on. She felt violated, dirty and small. But with more and more time, Jane started noticing the change in her. She no longer felt dirty and small. This was not her fault. She never encouraged this, she never expressed any kind of feelings that would’ve indicated that what had happened today was okay. She felt violated because she was violated. Jane was doing fine by herself until he swooped in and in five minutes shredded her whole belief system. How did this happen? At Scarlet, a place that was her home?
So Jane started to get angry, because she knew, you don’t just barge into somebody’s home, uninvited, and start making yourself comfortable. No one should ever feel like Jane felt today, and she would make sure that this happened. And she felt sick whenever she thought about his hands, or his coffee breath, or his disgusting smirk. But she would do it.
As far as blame went, Jane felt she needed to blame someone or something. Patrick would be an obvious choice in this situation. But Jane’s thoughts were spiralling out of control and grasping so hard at everything that made a slight sense in her head. And there was something that made her so angry, so irrationally mad. Yet before she could explore the feeling, keys jingled in the door and the flat was filled with the smell of korma and Jane’s thought halted. Maybe she could just forget for a little while. Maybe…
“I’ll be right there!” Jane shouted at her friends, who were already causing havoc in the kitchen. She unlocked her phone and quickly typed a message.
Could we speak tomorrow? It’s kind of urgent.
Jane locked her phone and got ready to get up when it buzzed in her hand. She slid the message open, dazzled by the speed of the response.
I’m always here. You don’t have to wait until tomorrow.
Jane smiled to herself and pondered about what it would be like to be openly loved by this woman. She reckoned it would give her wings and a new sense of accomplishment. Like she achieved the biggest honour of her life. It probably meant safety and lust and passion and stability. All the things that Jane quietly craved. She stared at the screen for a while, her thumb lingering over the name on top of the messaging app.
I think it might be better to speak face to face.
The read receipt automatically put a time stamp under the blue bubble and Jane’s heart skipped three beats. She was waiting for the response. Her head swam, palms sweaty. What does this mean?
Come to my office first thing. Goodnight, Jane.
Jane was pacing around the downstairs lobby for what seemed like the millionth time. Sutton had to leave really early because Oliver had a crisis that only Sutton was able to solve. Kat offered to wait in the lobby for Jane, so they can arrive together, but the subway was late, and Kat had a meeting. So now Jane was pacing the floor of the lobby. She looked at the clock. 8:34am. Most of the staff are probably already upstairs. There was nothing to be worried about. She won’t be alone, not even for a second. She looked at the clock again. 8:49am. Few more minutes and she will be late for work. Everyone is upstairs. Nothing to worry about.
When the elevator door closed she sighed in relief. She pressed the button, her hand clammy. She arrived with a soft ding and moved slowly to the offices. With every step she slowed down, until she came to a halt at the reception. She looked around like a scared child. Her breath hitched. It was going to be okay, she’s not alone.
Jane’s head spun so quickly, it almost came off of her neck. “Tracy, hi!” She smiled at the girl behind the desk. “Um… Is Patrick around? I was-“
“He has meetings all morning, I think” Tracy responded, none the wiser.
Jane exhaled slowly. Right, it’s going to be fine. Where was all the rage she cooked up last night? Where was all the courage? Jane walked up to her desk, threw her bag on the chair. Alex offered a nonchalant hello, but it wasn’t reciprocated. Jane was startled by the discovery of how incredibly suffocating this place became. The place she loved was ruined. The thought of what her life might look like going forward, she couldn’t bare this. She spun on her heels and walked straight for the glass door. Nearing the entry, Andrew stood up, explaining something about a hectic morning but Jane couldn’t care less. She swung the door open and stopped in the middle of the room. Her chest raising and falling, like she ran a marathon.
Jacqueline looked up from her files and zeroed in on Jane’s face. Her face fell. Something was off. Andrew was hoovering at the doorway, ready to throw her out. Jacqueline threw him a look and in the split of a second, Andrew was gone, door closed behind him. The editor focused back on the girl in front of her. She slowly raised from her chair.
“Jane? Are you okay?” Jacqueline asked and Jane would cry because of the concern that was filling the room. She watched the blonde move to the side but before she reached the side of her desk, Jane took a step back. Jacquline froze on the spot. And it hurt Jane to the core, to make her boss believe even for a second, that she didn’t want her near her. Because that is all she ever longed for. So it took them both by surprise when Jane spoke next.
“It’s your fault, you know?” Jane eyes widened and her head started spinning. That anger she had last night, the one she didn’t get to explore? It all came rushing through her veins.
Jacqueline tilted her head to the right, crossed her arms across her chest and waited. Jane always admired how stoic she was, even in difficult situations. She never raised her voice without reason. She never jumped to defend herself until she heard the full story. But Jane knew that she wasn’t immune to everything. And this, whatever was about to happen, would make her react. Jane felt like she should protect her and leave and just forget she has mentioned anything. She can put on a show, she can pretend she’s fine. But wheels were moving, and Jane’s breath was not slowing down. On top of that, Jane was about to throw up. It was all becoming too much.
“Why did you ever send me to work on digital? Why didn’t you fight for me to stay? I was doing great”
Jane knew the answer to all this. She asked her these questions before, when she was hurt and vulnerable and needed Jacqueline more than anything. So why was she so hurt now? What was happening?
The editor furrowed her eyebrows. “Jane, we talked about this before. You know I didn’t have a-“
“Choice? There’s always a choice. People choose everyday” Jane said, more calmly now. She went to sit at the edge of the couch and looked right into Jacqueline’s eyes. “You chose to wear this blazer today, I chose to wait in the lobby today, for God knows how long. I chose to work here. I chose to listen to your advice about everything in my life. I chose to give my all to this magazine because I grew up reading it. And you chose to give me up for digital because that was the right thing to do. And he-“ Jane’s voice broke and she noticed the change immediately. She saw Jacqueline’s posture go rigid. She saw her lower her hands. She saw her eyes go darker by the second. Jane sighed and lowered her head. Seconds later, she saw the red Louboutin’s right in front of her line of sight. She looked up, Jacqueline just few centimetres in front of her, perched on her coffee table. She slowly grabbed Jane’s sweaty palm and she squeezed it so tight and so gently at the same time. Jane was crumbling.
Jacqueline’s soft tone reached her ears. “He what?”
Jane was hoping she would forgive her for starting this mess. For all the hassle that this would start. “He hurt me. I can still smell his- his cologne.”
Jane wanted to add that it wasn’t that big of a deal, that he only touched her side for three seconds and he left right after. But she didn’t manage. Because Jacqueline let go of her hands and stood up. She was giving Jane a look she had never seen before, and Jane wanted to asked desperately what was she thinking. Something flashed in the corner of her eye and Jane turned her head to peer through the glass.
There he was. Speaking to an intern, like he had no care in the world. Jane’s insides turned. She inhaled slowly and moved her focus back to her boss. But Jacquline was looking at him too. And then she turned to Jane, her gaze softening for a second.”Stay here until I come back, okay?”
Jane nodded and that’s all it took. The show was on and Jacqueline saw red. Jane watched in horror as her boss moved to the door, opening it with maybe too much force. Andrew squealed in his seat when Jacqueline appeared right next to him. “Get Richard Hunter down in the boardroom right now. I don’t care what he’s doing. I want him there as soon as possible.” She hissed and Andrew almost killed himself trying to catch the phone. Jacqueline charged forward, straight ahead, and she must have looked like she had no intention of getting interrupted because everyone quickly moved out of her way. Jane held her breath when she reached Patrick. She saw them exchange few words and then Jacqueline pointed towards the elevators, both of them disappearing out of sight.
Jane exhaled. She could wait. She could do it. And Jacqueline would speak to him and she would make it right. So Jane looked at the clock. 9:58am. She could wait. So she leaned back and did just that - she waited.
Her mouth was so dry. Her leg was bouncing nervously and as she sang Good Morning, Baltimore in her head, for the 8th time. Waiting game was hard. Logically Jane knew that she could go and get some water. She could stretch her legs and breathe deeper than these shallow intakes she was taking. But something told her to wait. Few minutes later Kat passed the office, her eyes landing on Jane. She crooked the door and peaked in. “I’ve been trying to reach you all morning. You all good, Tiny Jane?” Kat asked confused.
Jane moved her eyes from the clock for the first time since she saw Jacqueline disappear. She looked at Kat with melancholy in her eyes, she wanted to say so many things but she didn’t know what to say. Where should she begin. She noticed Kat started to look worried at the lack of response.
“I told her.”
Kat’s mouth opened and closed. She looked like she was about to say something, but Sutton came stumbling in, pushing Kat in the office.
“He’s fired.” Sutton exclaimed breathlessly. Jane stood up in a flash, and then she regretted the decision straight away when her knees gave in and she sat right back. Her eyes burned.
“What?” Jane asked, the confusion was too much.
“Richard just messaged me. They had an emergency meeting downstairs. Apparently Jacqueline dragged him into a boardroom full of heads and ripped him another one.” Sutton explained, sounding like even she couldn’t believe what happened.
“How?” Kat asked in shock. “Week ago she couldn’t keep people on print and now she’s firing people?”
“Richard said he had never seen anything like this. She was so scary Patrick admitted to everything. They couldn’t not fire him.”
Jane looked at the clock. 11:36am. She heard her before she saw her. The familiar steps filled her ears and Jane chuckled. She looked at her friends in disbelief and chuckled again.
“Tiny Jane, welcome back” Kat said, her voice slightly trembling. Jane wiped her cheeks and stood up just as Jacqueline reached her office. Kat and Sutton made their exits and Jane looked at Jacqueline like she saw her for the first time ever. Everything was so still and quiet. Jane marvelled at the beauty of how unpredictable life was with someone like Jacqueline. She chuckled again and the editor smiled at her with so much warmth Jane melted into a puddle.
Jacquline stepped closer and sighed. “He’ll be gone by tonight. Go home, Jane. We can start again tomorrow.”
Jane could see the fight on her face. Sutton wasn’t lying when she said she really went for it. Her energy was still bouncing around Jane like a ball and Jane felt like she was drunk and sober at the same time. “I don’t know what to say”
“Just get home safe, we can talk another day.” Jacqueline offered and removed herself from Jane’s bubble. Jane almost groaned at the loss, but she regrouped and shook her head. Go home before you make a fool out of yourself. She walked towards the door and just before she left, she turned to her boss one last time and waited. Jacqueline raised her head and met her eyes.
“Thank you.” Janes melodic praise filled the room, and Jacqueline held her gaze for few second longer than would be considered appropriate, before she responded with:
15 days later
Jane buried herself in work. She filled her head with ideas and reinvented herself. She destroyed herself completely, rebuilt and she was new. She was still the same Jane, but stronger. Daily sessions at the closet continued, she was able go the staff kitchen all by herself without flinching. She decided, never to come to work early again. She blamed it on her laziness. Everything was back to normal. She would go to pitch meetings, get rejected or accepted, worked her heart off and it payed off. Her and Jacqueline were okay. They never talked privately after that day. They kept missing each other in the heap of work and meetings and that was okay. Because Jane had time, she wasn’t going anywhere and neither was Jacqueline. She still stared at her, and Jacqueline would still catch her from time to time and made her heart speed up. Life was good.
When Jane looked around the bullpen and found no one around her, she knew it was time to go. The extra hours were doing wonders to her creativity and blues but were destroying her sleeping pattern. She powered off her computer and packed her bag. She put her coat on and moved to leave but her legs moved in the other direction and before she convinced herself it was a stupid, stupid idea, she was leaning over the open door and looking at her boss. Jacquline was so deep in her own world she didn’t even notice Jane come in. The Brunette smiled at the way New York city lights adored the editor’s face, making her look even more dreamlike.
“Penny for your thoughts?” Jane heard herself say. Jacqueline shook her head, like she was trying to get rid of whatever was occupying her mind, and looked at her guest. Small smile resting comfortably on her lips.
“I’m charging extra tonight.” Jacqueline joked and leaned back in her chair. She looked tired and Jane had to stop herself from saying something stupid, like:
“I have $5 in my pocket?”
Jane wanted to self combust right there and then because honestly, who says that?! But Jacqueline smirked and something flashed behind her eyes, disappearing too quickly for Jane to explore. Maybe she should’ve waited for an invitation but her lack of sleep was playing tricks on her and she smoothly sat down in one of the chairs in front of the desk, her bag resting by her feet. There was something about the light in the office, that changed once everyone was gone. It was warm and inviting and made Jane feel safe.
“Are you going to tell me what you’re doing in my chair, at 10pm at night, when you should be home? Or will I have to guess?” Jacqueline prompted, her features still welcoming and soft. Jane’s belly filled with butterflies and part of her convinced herself she should grab onto something before she started floating.
Jane looked nervously out the window. “You didn’t have to defend me so fiercely” she started, and moved her gaze back onto the editor. Jacquline was looking at her with curiosity. “Is this how it will always be? I mess up and you come swooping in?”
Jacquline flinched “You never messed-“
“I know,” Jane interrupted. “I know.”
The silence stretched between them and Jane was struggling to find words. How ironic.
“I guess what I’m trying to say is, you didn’t have to do all this,” Jane looked at her intently, her palms sweating. “But you did. And maybe I didn’t deserve the gesture, but I am so grateful. I don’t think I will ever be able to express what it meant to me.”
They looked at each other for what seemed like eternity. Jacqueline leaned her elbows on the desk and rested her chin on her fist. Golden bangles glimmered in the city lights.
“You would have done the same” Jacqueline stated with confidence.
“I would” Jane responded without any reason. She didn’t even have to think about it.
“You already did, remember? Jacquline raised her eyebrow and Jane smiled at her. She remembered every second of that day, when the editor bared her soul and laid it right in front of her, with all the ugly and sad. And Jane listened like she never listened before and felt more than she ever felt in that moment.
Small bulb went off in her head, and Jane’s eyes widened a bit. “You did it for yourself as well.”
Jacquline shifted in the seat so slightly, you would’ve missed it if you blinked. Her nostrils flared and she broke their eye contact.
“Jane-“ Jacqueline started.
“You did it, you’ve waited so long,” Jane smiled and hoped that Jacquline would understand what she was trying to say. And perhaps she did, because Jacqueline’s eyes shone and her gaze became so dark. Jane remembered how she told Kat it wasn’t her battle to fight. Yet she was so okay with Jacquline fighting for her. And for herself. Because Jacquline never got her fight. She never had anyone to fight for her. She was just Jane back then, without a mentor to fall on. And maybe if she wasn’t sleep deprived, she would have left it at that. She would say goodnight and walked home to settle her heartbeat. But all those what-if’s washed away the second Jane opened her mouth.
“I’m so proud of you.”
And it was that moment, she knew, when the dynamic shifted. She wasn’t a junior writer anymore. She was just Jane. And Jacqueline wasn’t an editor-in-chief of Scarlet. She was just Jacquline.
Editor shook her head for the second time that night and laughed quietly. She looked so lost for a second. But as soon as her blue eyes returned to Jane’s, her dazzling smile was back on. “You know what is the most extraordinary thing about you?” editor asked.
Jane’s nails almost went through the skin, as she clenched her fist. Acting cool never came easy to her, especially around Jacqueline. Just say something stupid.
“The fact I get into trouble almost every single day since I started working here?” Jane quipped.
Editor offered a small laugh, her pearly white teeth showing. “There’s that, definitely.” The blonde’s face became a bit more serious now and Jane wondered where her oxygen went.
“You are also remarkably kind. I see it in your work, the way you carry yourself around these halls,” Jacquline started explaining. “You never ask for anything, you take everything as an opportunity to learn and you bring so much joy to everything you touch.”
Jane forgot how to breath sometime after the word kind stumbled out of Jacquline’s lips. Tomorrow’s Jane will be so shocked. Tonight’s Jane was counting herself lucky. Soaking the praise like a sponge, her eyes staring at red lips. Did Jacquline know?. There was no doubt. Still, when her tongue darted out to lick the listing covered lips, Jane grunted and covered it with a shameful cough. Jacquline knew.
“Well, I did have someone to learn from” Jane answered when she found words. This train she ended up on was rushing, full steam ahead, and Jane couldn’t stop it. Maybe she would crash, but maybe, just maybe….
“Why do you let me look at you?” Jane asked, her hot breath lingering between them like a stick of dynamite. Jacqueline’s eyes went dangerously dark.
“Whatever you mean?” the editor pressed and Jane noticed her voice was lower. The train surged faster.
“When you catch me looking at you, why do you never say anything?”
Jacquline eyes darted down to Jane’s mouth for half a second and right back to drill right into her thudding heart. Maybe. “I think you might already know the answer to this question, Jane.”
“Is it just me? Or are there other people’s stares that you welcome so kindly?”
“I wouldn’t know about anyone else. I never cared enough to pay attention.”
Jane hummed. She was going down for this. She would get fired for this, shunned from any magazine in the city. Her life was over.
“Why didn’t you say anything?” Jane asked.
“Why didn’t you?” Jacquline fired back.
“You know that’s different. You were married, I couldn’t risk getting fired” Jane explained like it was the most obvious thing in the world.
“I could end up being Patrick” Jacqueline stared her down and Jane gasped quietly. Blonde smiled at the girl to quiet down her mind. Before Jane had a chance to say anything more, Jacquline continued, her voice low and powerful. “I need you to know, everything said or not said right now is completely between us. If anything about this makes you feel uncomfortable in anyway, we can leave this right now and tomorrow I will be your boss and you will still be my writer. I am never going to pressure you to do or say anything you are not ready to.”
“I know” Jane said quietly. “And you wonder where my kindness came from?”
Jacquline’s cheeks slightly coloured and Jane’s face went completely still. She wasn’t sure if she was dreaming, but she knew she wouldn’t want to wake up. Ever.
Jacqueline noticed the change and furrowed her eyebrows. “Are you okay?”
Jane looked in awe for a few more seconds and then laughed so earnestly, that the sound rang like sleigh bells in the air. And then she fell. She fell so hard in love in that moment and she kept on falling without taking a breath. When she finally came to it, Jacquline was looking at her with such wonder and love. Jane’s ribcage trembled. “I have actually never been better.”
Jacquline leaned back in her chair again and continued to stare at the brunette. A few seconds later, Jane got up from her seat, her bag in hand. Her eyes haven’t left Jacqueline for even a second. How do you leave? How do you go home and pretend that life is exactly the same.
Jane sighed quietly and went for the door. Before leaving the room, she turned once more and looked at the blonde. The piercing blue eyes were boiling her blood. What is actually happening?
“If I’m going to ask you to dinner tomorrow, are you going to agree?” Jane asked, shocked at her own bluntness. Jacquline smiled, her eyes not leaving her for a second.
“That is a big possibility, Jane.”
Jane smiled and bid her goodnight. She walked to the elevators in a haze and she didn’t even notice when she reached the lobby. As she stared at the escalator, she grabbed her phone and quickly typed a message.
Not to be overdramatic, but I may not survive till tomorrow.
She sent the text before she had a chance to change her mind. She reached the security gates and swiped her card across. When the cold New York City air hit her face, Jane took a deep breath. Her phone buzzed quietly.