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Two Years Ago

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When Jane walked into the Safford building that morning, she was thinking about Ingrid. Fumbling with her key card, she noticed her fingers were jittery with nerves. Her usual swish and flick to get through the gates was heavy and slow. Sometimes stories crept up on you. Sometimes they came too close, and out of nowhere you’d be struggling to hold a smile together or walk without cursing what you might look like. Jane felt like that today – a woman who had an unyielding weight on her shoulders. Maybe she’d been trying so hard to raise the voices of abused women that she’d forgotten to take a deep breath in and look around her.

As the lift ascended, her thoughts turned to Ryan. She’d not yet replied to his text about his latest talk on his book tour and she couldn’t bring herself to either. Low energy ebbed at her eyes, and already she couldn’t wait for the day to be over. It wasn’t a feeling she was accustomed to.

The lift doors finally slid open, and the tiredness fell away from her. Almost instinctively, she clung to the comforting sound of her high heeled footsteps and watched as the shining glass walls of Scarlet Magazine sprung up ahead of her, abuzz with noise.

Kat and Sutton spotted her instantly and pranced over to her, pushing a coffee into her hand.

“Slave to the Grind,” she remarked lightly, eyeing the coffee cup, “Are we ladies feeling fancy today?”

“Sure are, tiny Jane,” Kat replied, “fancy and feisty and ready to take a magazine run by old white dudes by storm.”

“Hell yeah,” Sutton chimed in, punching a fist to the air, “old white men with saggy peni-”

“Whoa okay,” Jane stopped her, suddenly overcome with mortified laughter, “it’s too early for the gross imagery. What’s the latest scoop for Tuesday?”

They headed towards the bullpen walking close together, arms hanging off each other’s shoulders, chatting their usual morning nonsense. Sage saw them and came bustling over, all 9:30 am urgency and big hair.

“Have you cute throuple been able to access the wi-fi yet?”

“Hi Sage,” Jane nodded to her, giving her a dazzling smile, “Did you have a good night? Same, thanks for asking.”

“You’re welcome Jane, pleased to hear it,” Sage quipped, then turned to Kat, “are you still locked out of the Scarlet social media accounts?”

Kat rolled her eyes, “Yep, still left out in the cold, awaiting death by frostbite.”

“The imagery this morning is on FIRE,” Sutton announced, almost half-yelling, then dropped her voice again, “but in all seriousness what is happening? Why is our internet down and-” she glanced down at her vibrating phone, “why is Oliver calling me already?”

She squeezed Jane’s cheek fondly, winked flirtatiously at Kat and Sage then swiped to answer the phone, heading towards Oliver’s office. Jane could hear her greet Oliver with a “Hey, what’s up King?” and she grinned widely again. It was nothing short of incredible how her friends could make her feel better, within moments of being in their presence.

When she finally reached her computer and dropped her bag to the floor with a thump, Alex swivelled on his chair round to meet her, snapping his pen as he talked.

“Welcome to the animal farm, Jane, it’s mayhem in here. Have you got into your emails?”

“Seeing as I’ve just arrived this second Alex, surprisingly no,” she told him.

He smiled, nodding with amused bright eyes. “Heard and understood. Let me know if you do – word on the street is there’s been a hack.”

Her hand was fidgeting noisily with the mouse as she leant over her desk, and she hardly registered what he had said. Until she did, about ten seconds later.

“What? Say that again?”

“A cyber hack. The board are in an emergency meeting upstairs about it now. Let’s just say it’s not looking good for our data.”

Jane could feel a headache prick at her temples, her mind was plodding along slowly that morning. “Our data? What do you mean?”

“Well, if it’s a ransomware attack, they’ll hold our data in exchange for a large sum of money. I’m just speculating, but I’m usually not wrong about these things, as you know.”

He grinned widely and Jane narrowed her eyes at him, before snapping her head towards Jacqueline’s office. She could picture every object in it down from memory. Jacqueline wasn’t there. A wave of nerves washed over her, and she had to sit down to steady the urge to be sick.

“Oh god, oh god…” she murmured, her head in her hands. “Ingrid.”

Like turning the pages of a book, her mind flipped over to the day before, when she and Jacqueline had interviewed Ingrid in her flat about Pamela Dolan. They’d promised her that her name would be kept anonymous, that no one would ever find out it was her – a timid, unknown model that had spoken out against the powerful, abusive photographer. As soon they finished, she’d sent Jacqueline a recording of the interview. It would still be in her emails.

Trying to steady her breathing, she logged onto the Scarlet dashboard and fumbled across to her email browser, all too aware of her quivering fingers. She couldn’t log in. Her heart dropped. She needed to speak to Jacqueline immediately. She quickly checked her phone to see if she’d had any messages from her. There were none.

 


 

An hour later, Patrick was addressing them all in the bullpen, his cardigan bright and boyish. Jacqueline stood next to him in a glossy black suit. 

"Unfortunately, the rumours you have heard are true. We are experiencing a serious data breach due to falling victim to a phishing email. The group of cyber hackers in question, the Custodians of Truth, are threatening to release all of our data to the public.”

There was an outburst of noise and Patrick raised his arms to hush them, to no success. When Jacqueline’s voice cut through the air, the room fell silent immediately.

“I know this is a lot to take in, but please know that we are working as hard as we can to resolve this. We will keep you all updated as the situation emerges. In the meantime, stay vigilant and stay off your emails. This will all be over soon.” She flashed everyone a calming smile.

“And stay off social media!” Kat piped up quickly, pushing between the crowd to get to the front, “Please don’t use your personal social handles to discuss what is happening. Scarlet’s accounts will be the official messaging only.”

“Great point, thank you Kat,” Jacqueline smiled, the corners of her eyes crinkling. “Alright people, let’s get back to doing what we love and kill it with the next magazine.”

There was a rush of sudden movement and voices. Jane caught eyes with Alex, who tapped his pen on top of her monitor and said, “What did I tell you Jane?”

She was about to indulge herself in a funny, indignant reply when Jacqueline’s voice snapped her trail of thought.

”Jane?” Jacqueline’s eyes suddenly found hers over the crowd, “A word in my office please.”

Jacqueline always seemed to know where Jane was stood, and though she had become accustomed to it, she still felt a distinct rush of nerves when she addressed her after all this time.

Moments later, Jane was knocking at her office door and Jacqueline beckoned her in without looking up. By her tone, Jane knew the drill of how the meeting would go. It was going to be one of those in-and-out interactions full of blunt questions and hard answers, and she had to be on her game.

“Hi Jacqueline, I wanted to speak to you about-”

“About Ingrid and her recording? Yes, I know.” Jacqueline was rapidly typing, and still hadn’t looked up. “You sent it to me via email and now it could be leaked, along with her identity. Have you spoken to her?”

Jane shook her head. “Not yet but I’m – well, I’m worried. We can’t let her name get out. We promised her she’d be kept anonymous and I intend to keep that promise.”

“In hindsight, maybe we shouldn’t have done that,” Jacqueline stated, and she stood up to ruffle intently through her papers. Jane watched, unable to escape the thought she was clearly searching for something far more pressing than her.

“Okay I get that, but Jacqueline, we can’t let her down. I can’t let her down. If that data leak gets out, she needs to be protected. She’s already risked a lot to help us and she’s scared.”

Jacqueline stopped ruffling the papers and looked up at her for the first time, curiosity pulling at her arched eyebrows. When their eyes met, Jacqueline smiled slightly and her eyes trailed down her body so quickly she thought she’d imagined it, then she was speaking again.

“I don’t blame you for thinking that, Jane. This is not how I envisioned our initial interview would pan out.” Her voice fell quieter and Jane held her eyes expectantly, hopeful for some assurance. “I want to protect Ingrid as much as you do, trust me. Unfortunately, the situation is out of our hands.”

“I was afraid you’d say that.” Jane said, letting out a long-suffering sigh as she looked down at her feet. “What are you going to do?”

“What am I going to do?” Jacqueline questioned, a smirk playing at her lips. “Jane – the last time I checked this was our story. One we are writing together, on equal footing. What do you think we should do?”

“Right, of course,” Jane stated, and took a deep breath in. “I think we should speak to Ingrid.”

Jacqueline paused for a moment before tipping her head encouragingly. “I agree. And say what?”

The truth was Jane wasn’t sure what they should tell her or how they should play it, but she knew in herself what would ease her conscience the most.

“We should tell her the truth. What’s happening with the hack. Just so she is aware and understands the possibilities of what could happen.” Jane held her hands together and nodded self-assuringly. “I think it’s the right thing to do.”

Jacqueline considered her thoughtfully. “I’ve always thought the truth is a good place to start. The data has not been leaked yet, so we still have time to rectify the situation. You know what to do, Jane.”

Jane smiled, feeling lighter all of a sudden, and Jacqueline looked at her for a moment longer before she turned back to her computer screen. Jane knew well enough from all the years of standing in front of Jacqueline’s desk that the conversation was over, and it was her signal to leave. She made her way to the door, her head full of words and scenarios.

“Oh, and Jane?”

She swivelled back around, mid-thought. “Mm-hmm?”

“You have a natural instinct to earn people’s trust. Don’t think too hard – you can do this.”

Jane’s eyes softened and her racing thoughts ground to a halt. She got the feeling Jacqueline knew she had this effect on her. On occasion she got the feeling that she had an effect on Jacqueline too, but neither of them would ever acknowledge it.

It was with a voice of steely determination when she said, “Okay. I will.”

Jacqueline watched her saunter out the door, her chin high and jaw stubbornly clenched, ready to rise to the challenge. As soon as she was clear of her office, Jane pressed her phone to her ear, calling Ingrid.

While she waited for her to answer, she turned to glance back at her boss. Jacqueline was still watching her, and their eyes met intently for a single fleeting moment before Jacqueline’s phone also started ringing. She answered it in a flash in between taking a sip of coffee, and there was a tugging smirk spread proudly across her lips.

 


 

The following day, Jane shut the door of Ingrid’s flat and let out a raspy sigh of relief –a weighted breath she didn’t know she was holding. The situation had been temporarily fixed, kind of. She was able to talk to Ingrid and get her agree to continue to release the story about Pamela Dolan, on one condition: get more people that were present on the shoot to back up Ingrid’s story, in the case that their data was released to the public. Hopefully, it wouldn't come to that. 

Now she just had to get them to agree to speak out. Always such simple tasks at Scarlet.

She pulled her phone out of her pocket to text Jacqueline an update when a text popped up from Ryan.

Your hot ass boyfriend nailed his speech.

Jane sent him a heart emoji back, along with a: Yaaaas! My man!

It was a relatively unthoughtful response to Ryan’s daily book tour updates, considering he was making waves in dozens of cities. She knew she'd probably have to elaborate on it later. Shifting back into work mode, she pulled up a message to Jacqueline. Her fingers stalled for a few seconds, and she bit her lip. This often happened when she was about to text her boss.

Just spoke to Ingrid. She’s agreed to help us, but only if we can get crew members who were there on her shoot to agree to speak out & we promise they’re protected. She’s given us a list of names. I’m on it.

She was halfway back to the subway when Jacqueline replied.

So, you worked your magic and got her to trust you. I never had any doubt.

Jane smiled at the text for a few moments. Once she had settled into her seat on the subway, she pulled it up a few more times to look at it, gazing at every word and letting each syllable lodge themselves deeper inside her. She caught her reflection in the opposite window as they slid through black tunnels and rusty piping.

When she returned back to Scarlet office nearly an hour later, her eyes were gleaming brighter than usual. She was heading for her desk and mulling over which insulting greeting to hit Alex with when a message pinged up from the group chat with Kat and Sutton.

Fashion closet now.

 


 

“Do you know what’s happening, tiny Jane?” Kat asked her, as soon as she bounced through the door of the closet, their unofficial home.

Jane started to shimmy for no reason at all.

“Uh, yes! What’s happening is I’ve just saved our Pamela Dolan story from going up in smoke. Ingrid has agreed to go ahead with her evidence and she’s given me a crew list of people who were there on her shoot to back up her story -”

“That’s great babe, but we’ve got news,” Kat said.

“What news could be more important than-”

Shaking her head, Sutton clasped her hand over her mouth, muffling Jane’s voice as she continued. Jane furrowed her eyebrows. She knew that look – it was full of pity and worry, and meant drama was brewing. 

“Jane, honey, wrong subject, very wrong subject. Right now, you are in an igloo and we are in the Sahara.”

“What?”

Kat exchanged an uneasy look with Sutton. “Weird analogy Sutton, but it works. Jane – please don’t freak out too much when we tell you this.”

“But we know you probably will freak out anyway, so try and keep the dramatics below a level seven,” Sutton said jokingly, though her face fell away into a serious frown afterwards. “You’re going to be okay.”

“Okay,” Jane replied slowly, staring between them. “You’re starting to scare me. What’s going on?”

Kat and Sutton looked at each other again. Jane raised her hands and stepped forward to interject when Kat cut her off.

“Remember that time you sent us an email about Jacqueline? The email from like two years ago, when you were leaving Scarlet.”

“Literally the only email you’ve ever sent talking about anyone else other than Patrick,” Sutton explained.

Jane glanced between the two of them, her best friends in the world, growing increasingly aware that she could hear her heartbeat in her head. “Erm, yeah I mean, maybe – I can’t really remember?”

“We need to be more specific,” Sutton commented, and Kat clapped her hands, trying a different take.

“Okay.” Kat began, blinking slowly as she addressed Jane. “It was your last day at Scarlet and you were telling us about your last meeting with Jacqueline…”

“She told you that you have the potential to be exceptional…” Sutton went on, her words lingering in the air. 

Like the flick of a switch, all sense of amusement was sucked from the room.

Jane had tried to forget that meeting, but upon hearing those words she felt them like a punch to the gut. She remembered the way Jacqueline had twisted her body towards hers as she stopped the recording. Her eyes were glossy and clouded over, and Jane had never seen her so open and vulnerable before. She remembered how she had stumbled out of the meeting, fighting a brutal ache in her chest, knowing that Jacqueline had trusted her to tell her story of sexual abuse and now she was leaving the magazine she loved, and the woman that ran it.

In that moment, she remembered thinking she would never feel happy again. It wasn’t a time she liked to think about often, and when she did, it hurt.

“What about it?” Jane’s lips were dry.

Sutton’s voice was quiet and sombre. “Jane… about twenty minutes ago all emails on the Safford server were leaked. Including that one.”

Sutton slowly raised her arm and offered her phone to her, and Jane took it with heavy hands full of dread. She glanced at the screen and there was her hidden email from the past, glinting at her as plain as day.

Had my last meeting with Jacqueline. She told me I had the potential to be exceptional. I can’t feel anything, guys. I can’t tell her how I feel. Not to be dramatic but I might be dying. I need drinks, ASAP.

The only reply to the email had been from Kat.

RIP Jane Sloan, she got you. Drinks are on.

Ironically, just as she felt when she sent that email to her two friends two years ago, typing painfully slowly, dragging her stone heart along the ground, Jane couldn’t feel anything. Not a damn thing.