Chapter 1: The Hack
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 how his latest talk on his book tour went, and she couldn’t bring herself to. 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 way 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 had any luck accessing 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 literally just got here and I haven't logged on to my computer, surprisingly no Alex," she deadpanned.
His lips quirked with amusement and he nodded. “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.
Alex had followed her eyes to Jacqueline's office, and back again with a frown. "Is something wrong?"
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.”
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.
Chapter 2: The Realisation
Jane struggles with the impending realisation of what the Safford data leak means.
In the few minutes after Kat and Sutton dropped the email bombshell, Jane had walked back to the bullpen, picked up her bag and calmly walked out of the building. Her mind blank, her face expressionless, she was unaware of anything or anyone around her.
That was over an hour ago, and she hadn’t stopped walking since. She didn’t know where she was going, but she knew that if she stopped, even for a second, the impending doom of what that email said would swallow her whole.
Looking up at the street sign now, she saw she was on a random block off Washington Square Park, and quickly searched for the nearest bars in Google maps.
She realised that Sutton and Kat had tried calling her, sent her texts and left her voicemails, but she wasn’t ready to face them yet. She wasn’t ready to open her mouth and talk a single fleeting word about it, which meant she was weeks from even acknowledging the subject with anyone else.
As Jane stood silently there in the fashion closet, the immensity of the situation hanging over her, Kat and Sutton had tried to tell her that the email wasn’t that bad. They’d explained that it wasn’t public knowledge outside of Scarlet magazine. It was nowhere to be found online, because the media had found no interest in it. They didn’t know what it meant, why Jane couldn’t tell Jacqueline how she felt and what those feelings were – were they feelings of anger, annoyance, stress? They didn’t even know the context of why Jane had sent it, and they didn’t care.
From the outside, it appeared to be an innocent email from an employee expressing sadness about leaving a magazine she adored, and the woman that led it. You could believe that it was light-hearted, and skim over it like it was nothing.
But at the time, Jane knew it held much more than that, and though they hadn’t explicitly said it, Kat and Sutton knew too. After she had left Scarlet and the restless months that followed, Jane had tripped onto the subject of Jacqueline on just one occasion. She recalled it easily. It was hard to forget.
It was late. Jane was loosely clasping a bottle of tequila as she lay on the sofa in her pyjamas, her body heavy after a day of doing nothing. There was an empty pizza box at her feet. Sutton lay beside her, her slippered feet resting on her legs, and Kat was sat cross-legged on the floor, joining up the discarded pizza crusts to make a face.
They were talking about Jane’s inability to hold down a job. Her latest interview at Next Century had gone up in a pile of smoke, and she’d lost all the accelerated motivation she had too much of at the beginning. Sutton had asked her why she thought that was. Without thinking, Jane said she felt Jacqueline had taken something from her when she walked out of those pristine Scarlet doors on her last day. And as she stared numbly in the distance, unaware of the sorrowful expressions etched on her friends faces, she told them that she’s never quite been able to get it back.
In the darkness, she was almost able to convince herself that no one could hear her, or what she’d just said. Until Kat had timidly asked her what Jane had thought it was Jacqueline had taken from her.
Jane waited a full five minutes before responding.
“I don’t know. Maybe my boldness. Maybe my energy to wake up in the morning. That feeling of sun, you know?”
Kat and Sutton had nodded and didn’t press her further on what that meant; they seemed to understand that Jane herself didn’t know. Maybe because they knew she was drunk and potentially didn’t remember, it wasn’t clear. But they hadn’t brought it up again. If Jacqueline was mentioned, it was only in swift passing and related to work.
Jane’s sense of desperation around Jacqueline had certainly lessened since then. She’d progressed as a writer, found herself in a serious relationship with Ben, and now Ryan. After she’d returned to Scarlet, her relationship with Jacqueline was ambiguously distant for a while, like there was an elephant in the room they refused to address. Eventually, they were able to maintain some level of professionalism and borderline friendship, though the boundaries were murky.
But it still crushed her to know that out of all the people that would read her email and her pained confession I can’t tell her how I feel, it was Jacqueline that would know. It was Jacqueline who would read into the lines. It was Jacqueline that would have some inclining of what the hell happened between them two years ago. Or maybe she didn’t, at all. Maybe truly nothing had happened. And Jane honestly didn’t know what was worse.
She let out a half-sob, before she forced the emotion back in and willed her mind to trample on the intruding thoughts.
She found a bar three blocks away that would do and set off in the direction.
When Jane woke up the following morning, her headache was so excruciating she could hardly see. She managed five dizzying steps before an overwhelming urge to be sick hit her and she bolted for the bathroom. Wiping her mouth with the back of her hand, she slumped against the cold tiles and hung her head to the ceiling.
She really had outdone herself with the hangover this time, but if she was being honest, she didn’t regret it either. The events that went down yesterday were one big, fat too-much.
Crawling back to her bed, she felt around for her phone on her bedside table and cringed when she saw the time. It was already past 10, which meant she was over an hour late for work. She had a dozen messages from Kat and Sutton that she hadn’t read. To top it off, she found if she looked at her phone for more than a few seconds, she needed to throw up again. On two occasions, she actually did.
Drinking alone in some shitty bar on a work night felt like a new all-time low for Jane. Yet, potentially taking the day off to recover, when she so desperately needed to help Ingrid, was even worse. At this point there was nothing else for it – she physically couldn’t move without her stomach reacting. There was no way she’d be able to make it in today.
Quietly cursing herself, she dialled HR and called in sick. The conversation lasted less than a minute, and she kept her eyes shut throughout in an attempt to savour her pride or squash her embarrassment. She wasn’t sure what. As soon as she hung up, she flung her phone behind her, as if it were a poisonous spider.
She crawled into the shower and spent what felt like hours curled messily on the floor, lost in thought as lukewarm water spurted out the shower head and rolled down her shoulders. When she eventually stepped out, the worst of the sickness subsided, she flopped down in her bed and fell asleep in her towel. She slept long and deeply, her body devouring all the rest she could get, like it unconsciously knew that a decent sleep would be hard to come by in Jane’s present state.
When she blinked her eyes open sometime later, hazy shapes focussed into moody city lights outside her window. It was nearly dark, and with a touch of sadness she’d realised that she’d wasted the whole day passed out in her pillows. It was so unlike her. It was so unlike the screaming productiveness of her to-do lists. Digging at her insides was a growing feeling of being inadequate, and it made her miserable.
Her stomach gave a hungry jolt, and she rolled over to check the time. Her bedside table looked different. Something seemed out of place somehow, but her sleepy eyes took a while to adjust to the change. Then, she spotted it. A takeaway food bag, with a note pinned to the side of it.
We sweet-talked our boy Alex to pick you up some greasy food to soak in all that ethanol. What a great roomie he is! We hope you’re doing okay baby girl. Talk to us when you can, and next time don’t you dare go drinking alone. We love you.
It was from Kat and Sutton.
She smiled weakly and peered into the food bag. Pad thai, a serious dose of dumplings, an iced tea and of course a can of Coke, the original (and the best) hangover remedy that the three of them swore by. She really had found the kindest and funniest friends in the world in New York City, and it was pure luck. She swiped to text their group chat a bunch of crying emojis, followed by:
I can’t with you two. I love you both so much. THANK YOU.
She snapped a picture of herself holding up the food bag, sticking her tongue out to reference what her face had been doing for most of the day, then sent it to them. Instantly, she saw the three dots typing their replies.
She’s ALIVE. Sutton said. Even when you’re hanging like a mothafucka, you look SO GOOD.
Then Kat. Can’t wait for our reunion tomorrow. One day without our boo tiny jane is too long!!!
She made a mental note to pitch an article to Jacqueline about the relationship between communal food, friendships and feminism. There had to be an interesting angle in there somewhere.
She shuffled into the kitchen to plate up her food, stopping to hold up the bag to Alex with a big, grateful smile, and was halfway back to her bedroom when she remembered. The reality crushed her. She may never be able to face Jacqueline Carlyle again.
At work the following day, Jane wasted no time shoving in her earphones and scrolling through her emails. The music helped her zone into what really mattered: Ingrid’s story and bringing her justice.
No one had asked her about the email about Jacqueline. On FaceTime to Kat and Sutton last night, when she was finally feeling more human again after eating Thai food, they told her that no one in Scarlet had asked them about it. It seemed like it had just slipped beneath everyone’s radar.
“That means it’s not important, you know?” Kat reassured her, as she lay on her chest in her bed. “People haven’t caught on to it, because it’s like, not even a thing.”
“Kat’s right. No one has noticed it and I’ll bet even Jacqueline hasn’t even seen it either. There are so many scandalous emails going around, yours was probably lost in them,” Sutton shrugged and gave her a small kind smile. “We just wanted you to know that it was there.”
“Yeah, of course, I get it.” Jane said softly, and her voice dropped in volume, “Thank you for telling me. Thanks for the food. Thanks for being here ... through everything.” She scrunched her face. “Just, you know, if anyone asks -”
“Business as usual?” Kat asked.
“Play dumb?” Sutton added, and Jane nodded, her face filling with relief. “Oh, I am fantastic at playing dumb. Going round pretending like you don't know anything, but really you know that they blocked the bathroom on the fourth floor? It's so fun, I love it."
“We got you babe,” Kat said, with a genuine grin. “Oh, did you see the article about Jacqueline’s email to Lauren about Bobby O’Neill? Looks like she has more than enough to deal with right now.”
“The big-shot advertiser? Hmm, I did see that.” Jane mused. “I guess I should be thankful his peanut allergy nearly killed him. It’s kind of saved me in this situation.”
“Yep, you can’t get a better distraction than a man nearly dying in your office, and then sending an email to say you were glad about it.” Sutton said, then shot them both a wink, “God, the shit we've caused."
So far at least, it looked like the Bobby O’Neill distraction was working. Jacqueline had been pacing up and down in her office all day. Whenever she wasn’t talking animatedly on the phone, occasionally flaying her arms about to accentuate her point, she disappeared off to long meetings with Andrew tailing her, talking rapidly in her ear.
This allowed Jane to concentrate on working through the list of crew members’ names Ingrid had given her who were there on Pamela Dolan’s shoot when she'd broken her arm. As of 4 o’clock, she had two more names left on the list and so far, no one had wanted to talk. Scarlet’s cyber hack and emails circulating the internet didn’t exactly help matters.
But one of them was a hairdresser, and Jane was long overdue a haircut.
Another day, another failed opportunity to make headway on this story, she thought, as turned the street corner away from the hair salon and began a slow ambling walk back to the subway. The one consolation was that now her hair looked marginally better with her new trim.
The hairdresser didn’t say a word about Pamela Dolan, and she had no progress to report back to Jacqueline if she asked her for an update. It was frustrating, and she hated coming up with nothing. Knowing that Pamela was getting away with it made her angrier.
Her phone started vibrating, and she stopped walking to check who it was.
“Are you kidding me,” Jane muttered.
It wasn’t the first time she was convinced Jacqueline had spies stationed around the city. She swallowed her pride and put the phone to her ear, making a mental note to herself to make this call as quick as possible.
“Jane!” Jacqueline’s voice was a burst of warmth. “Are you feeling better? I noticed you were off sick yesterday, but I didn’t have time to check in with you this morning. How are you holding up?”
“Oh right, yeah. Yeah I'm okay." Jane scanned the road around her, her mind gathering speed. "I – I just was feeling a bit off yesterday. Couldn't do anything about it. I needed a day to rest up and collect myself, you know?”
There was a pause, and the tone in Jacqueline’s voice changed slightly, though Jane couldn’t pinpoint what it was. “Collect yourself? How so?”
Jane shut her eyes and buttoned her lips, thinking fast.
“Uh – it was stomach cramps,” Jane replied. “Bad stomach cramps and other related issues. Just whacked me out. I’m better now, everything is as it should be.”
“As it should be,” Jacqueline repeated slowly. She waited a beat longer before pressing. “Jane, are you sure you’re-”
“I’m great,” Jane said confidently. “What do you need?”
She could see Jacqueline’s face now. Her eyes clouded over, staring her out. She would know that she wasn’t convinced, but Jacqueline seemed to let it slide.
“Well, I’m glad to hear that. We’ll move swiftly on then.” Jane got the impression she was holding in an exasperated sigh. “Where are you with the list of names?”
“I’ve been working through them. So far no one has wanted to speak out.”
“And I’m guessing the hack doesn’t help.”
“Exactly,” Jane breathed, feeling much more comfortable with the topic of conversation. “The last name was a hairdresser, so I arranged a haircut at her salon in the upper east side in the hopes she would tell me something or spill the juice, but well - it turns out hairdressers aren’t as chatty as I thought.”
“Mmm,” Jacqueline hummed, “Well, that means we need to think outside the box. Come up with something different, Jane. We need a new approach to gain people’s trust and we need a break in this story.”
“No problem, I’m on it. Speak to you later.”
Thankful the phone call was wrapping up, Jane unconsciously let out another exhale and her cheeks relaxed with relief. Jacqueline must’ve heard it, for she spoke again and pulled her back from her reverie.
“That was an interestingly long sigh,” Jacqueline remarked, and there was amusement in her voice. “Jane, what’s going on with you? Are you worried about the data breach?”
Every muscle in Jane’s body froze, and for restless, draining seconds, she didn’t say a word. Eventually, when the silence had gone on for too long and her panic was at an all-time high, Jane knew she had to shut the conversation down.
“No that’s not it… I don’t care about the data breach at all actually.” Jane quickly backtracked, swearing internally, “I mean – sorry, that’s insensitive, I didn’t mean that. I do care about it, a lot, especially because of Ingrid…”
She sighed again frustratedly. Wow, this really couldn’t have gone any worse. How had she managed to get it so wrong? She could just visualise Kat and Sutton’s laughter in her ears. Classic tiny Jane of two years ago, unravelling at the presence of Jacqueline Carlyle.
Before the hack, she held her own around Jacqueline. She met her directly in the eye and full in the face. She spoke to her firmly, with equal conviction and compassion, as a woman and a writer who knew what she wanted to say and had the boldness to say it. But her email had sent that demeanour down the drain. She glared at the brick in front of her, at the grainy cement that glued it together and gathered herself.
“Sorry Jacqueline - I’m about to jump on the subway and lose my phone signal. I’ll update you on Pamela Dolan first thing tomorrow. Is that ok?”
This time it was Jacqueline’s turn to be quiet. Jane waited on the line, biting fiercely at her lip, her heart racing. You could hear a pin drop, and still the seconds trickled on.
“Okay, fine,” Jacqueline’s voice came thick and sweet, it sliced her in two. “Tomorrow then.”
The line went dead. It wasn’t until Jane slid onto her seat on the subway and dropped her head to lean against on the wall that she understood how fucked she was.
Chapter 3: The Fashion Closet
The Fashion Closet is for honest conversations. Jane gets something off her chest.
It was Friday, and the mission of the day was simple: Come up with fresh ideas to bring down the fashion photographer powerhouse that was Pamela Dolan, all whilst trying to avoid her boss. Miraculously, she had already failed the second one that morning, and she called an emergency meeting in the fashion closet to tell Kat and Sutton about it.
Jane rounded on them as soon as they walked through the door, not even attempting to scale down her freak out.
“She knows. Jacqueline knows about my email.”
“What?” Kat was frowning. “Why do you think that?”
“Did you talk to her about it?” Sutton asked.
“Not directly,” Jane moaned, trying to steady her breathing, “but she gave me one of her long looks and asked me to meet her in her office at 5pm.”
“5pm on a Friday? That sucks,” Kat said.
“Big time,” Sutton agreed. “The $2,500 sewing machine Richard bought me is arriving then… How different our lives are, sweet Jane.”
She explained to them what happened. How she was strolling into work that morning, earphones in and Taylor Swift blasting, when she felt a tap on her shoulder as she stood waiting for the lift. Turning around, she saw Sage.
“There’s a strong possibility you’re the only person I know that still listens to ‘Welcome to New York’ by Tay Tay.” Sage told her dryly.
“It’s upbeat and wholesome, like me. What’s not to love?” Jane shot back, her eyes twinkling. “What are you listening to anyway? Rage Against the Machine? Indie anthems from 2008?”
Sage purposefully leant forward to press the lift button, even though Jane had already pressed it, then turned to her knowingly.
“I doubt you’ll know what band I’m listening to even if I told you.”
Jane grinned in spite of herself, shaking her head. She waited a moment longer before opening her mouth to retort.
“Sage, you’ll quickly realise that’s one of the worst things you could say to Jane,” a voice cut in.
Jane and Sage both turned round. Jane already knew who it was, and immediately felt like a deer in headlights.
Jacqueline stood in a cherry-red pantsuit and sharp Louboutin heels, her phone clutched in one hand with a coffee in another. Her eyes glowed smoky with dark eyeshadow, and it made her seem even more daunting.
Jacqueline stepped forward with a smile. Both Jane and Sage were momentarily lost for words.
“Jane thrives on information," she explained to Sage, matter-of-factly. "She knows a lot. Give her a chance, and she'll surprise you.”
“Wow, okay,” Sage responded coolly. "Good perspective. I will take that on board, thanks Jacqueline. Do you know the XX, Jane?"
For a fleeting moment, Jane and Jacqueline looked at each other, and Jacqueline was smirking. All Jane could think about was how good she looked. She could only imagine the dumb look she had on her face.
Then, she registered what Sage said and rolled her eyes.
“The XX? Is that a joke?” Jane demanded, visibly affronted. “Of course I know the XX. I think they’re wildly overrated actually.”
The lift doors pinged open and Jane headed inside. Sage hung back, open-mouthed and eyes popping. “Erm, excuse me?"
Jacqueline laughed easily and followed Jane in. When the doors opened to the Scarlet office, Sage stopped before she got out.
“It seems you are full of surprises, Jane Sloan. A dark horse, I'll give you that."
They watched her head to her desk, her bag swinging over her shoulders, whistling a tune that sounded very similar to the XX.
Jane hung back and glanced across at Jacqueline, who was deep in concentration on her phone.
As if she sensed she was being watched, Jacqueline abruptly locked her phone with a snap and a self-assured raise of her chin. Jane immediately glanced down with a flare of anxiety, but she was too late. Jacqueline had caught her looking.
She raised her eyebrows and pursed her lips.
“Well, Sage isn’t wrong,” she began airily. “You are a dark horse, Jane.”
There was a smile tugging at her lips. Jane smiled back confusedly and shook her head slightly, tightening her hold on her bag.
“Are you meaning that as … a good thing?”
“On most days, but sometimes dark horses can go rogue.” She said vaguely, and made a motion with her hands. “Are you feeling better? No more stomach cramps? You seemed a little off on the phone yesterday.”
Jacqueline gestured for her to leave the lift first, and Jane accepted. They began to walk to Scarlet office together, and Jane tried her best to keep her eyes forward.
“Yeah, I’m fine ... thanks.” she added. “I’m sorry if I sounded…”
Jane hovered over the word for a moment, then left it, unfinished, hanging in the air between them. Jacqueline curiously titled her head and observed her once more. Jane brushed it off. She couldn’t show any signs of weakness.
“Doesn’t matter. Thanks for uh - saving me from Sage’s musical judgement. I actually have quite an eclectic music taste, but Sage thinks I’m some sort of... pop princess.”
Jacqueline turned her head sharply to her. “And you’re not a pop princess?”
“No,” she said firmly, but she scrunched her nose and it gave her away. "Not most of the time, anyway."
Smiling, Jacqueline averted her eyes back to her phone and resumed texting.
Jane watched as she typed a few last words of a message and hit ‘send’ with a flourish. She did it in one swift movement as if it was a natural body motion she had perfected, a little every day, over the course of ten years. Then Jacqueline turned her attention to her once again, arching an eyebrow at her.
“Well, pop princess or dark horse, Jane, we both know you don’t need saving. Least of all by me.”
Jane opened her mouth and closed it again, a cloud of confusion gathering her senses. Out of nowhere, Jane had the sudden urge to tell her that sometimes she did need to be saved. And if it had to be by someone other than herself, part of her wished it would be by Jacqueline.
Was that weird?
Jacqueline held her gaze, and her eyes lingered over her face a moment longer. When they had first met, Jane had thought she was seeing things in these moments. But somewhere along the way she had accepted that, whatever it was, it wasn’t clear or neat. She didn’t understand it and she couldn’t explain it.
Jane took a deep breath. “I know that. Even though the concept of superheroes has never really sat well with me, I can be my own superhero. Whatever that means.”
Jacqueline raised her eyebrows once more. “I’m intrigued. Bank that for the next pitch meeting. Come to my office at 5, Jane. I want to ask you something.”
Jane resisted staring at her and settled for an inquisitive frown. “Why? Is everything okay?”
“Yes.” Jacqueline concluded pointedly, and her eyes twinkled fondly. “Bye Jane.”
She turned her back and strutted away, her attention drawn back to her phone once again. She shouted behind her, “5 sharp, don’t be late!” and then she was gone.
Jane listened to the sound of her heels strike the floor all the way to her office, and by extension, all over Jane. And just like that, Jane was standing by the Scarlet front desk like it was her first day all over again, watching with the breath knocked out of her chest as the editor-in-chief walked away.
When she finished re-telling the story in the fashion closet to Kat and Sutton, there was a silence for a solid minute.
”This is rare. Are you two lost for words? Because same.”
Jane was pacing before them, becoming increasingly irritated.
“Okay I admit that sounds pretty intense,” Sutton decided gently, “I would be just as confused as you bunny.”
“Same,” Kat said, “I literally have no idea. What a mindfuck.”
“Right?” Jane hollered and paused pacing. “I am so glad that I’m not going completely crazy, because it could easily have happened by now.”
“Oh, we know,” Sutton confirmed. “But try not to get yourself too worked up. She probably just wants to ask you about the Pamela Dolan story.”
“Yeah, maybe she wants to see where you’re up to with it,” Kat suggested, very reasonably.
“No.” Jane shook her head, overcome with frustration by her inability to describe it. “No, there was something else. It felt… different. It felt personal.”
Jane suddenly felt self-conscious, as if she admitted more than she intended. Kat and Sutton were both looking with a mix of confusion and mild desperation, as if waiting for her to elaborate. To give them something more concrete.
Their lack of words and the hanging promise of them weighted on Jane’s chest. Maybe it was time.
Sutton gave her a moment to gather herself before speaking again. “What is it about Jacqueline, Jane? There’s something.”
“Okay, I know you want me to-” Jane inhaled shakily and glanced down at her feet. “Look I don’t like Jacqueline like that, if that’s what you think…”
She caught their expressions.
“I don’t," she insisted adamantly. "I get why it may seem like I do, or whatever, but I just - I don’t know what it is.”
She was concerned that her friends would think she was disguising some greater secret - but in general, she really didn't know. When it came to Jacqueline, she didn't know anything. And that had been intentional, from Jacqueline's point of view, from the very beginning. They weren't meant to know anything about her. She deliberately kept them at a distance. Everything that came out of her mouth was measured and controlled. When it came to her boss, Jane knew she was destined to be left in the dark, without ever understanding how she got there in the first place. That's why she hated talking about it. It seemed pointless and unmoveable to her.
“It’s Jacqueline,” Sutton summarised.
“Right, it’s Jacqueline,” Kat nodded, “It’s complicated.”
“But you always have been kind of obsessed with her,” Sutton began, then halted abruptly, as if gauging the atmosphere of the room and how honest they were being. “I mean, is that accurate - would you agree with that?”
“I … don't know.” Jane paused for a while, scrunching her eyes. She was finding it difficult to form a sentence. “Ugh, why is this so hard? I’m sorry.”
“Hey,” Kat offered softly. “Jane it’s fine. We’re on your team.”
“Yeah and you’re doing great kid,” Sutton reassured her, and reached out to squeeze her arm. “You don’t have to justify anything to us.”
“You don’t have to say anything.” Kat agreed.
She looked between her friends. She tried to downplay the internal alarm that she felt, but the fear was clear as day on her face.
“What if she did see my email and wants to speak to me about it? I genuinely don’t know what to do or how to play this. I’ve never been in this position before and I feel weird. I’ve turned back into intern-Jane mush and I am so embarrassed by it. Why is this happening?"
“I know, it's a lot,” Kat approached her, placing her hands comfortingly on her shoulders. “but Jane, it’s cool you know? The situation doesn’t need to be as stressy as you’re making it out to be.”
“Yeah, Jane, if you like her,” Sutton said and was quick to touch Jane’s cheek as she protested. “And honey I’m not saying you do, only you know how you feel. But heaven knows Jacqueline is a boss-ass bitch and she can leave a lot of people sexually confused with her power pantsuits and red lipstick and that hot swagger-”
“Uh, Sutton, no!” Jane clapped her hands to her eyes, pressing down on her forehead hard and wishing above anything for the ground to swallow her whole. “That’s not what this is!”
“Okay,” she sang calmly, “I’m just making a point that Oliver, the gayest man in New York, is fully bewitched by Jacqueline Carlyle on a regular basis. So am I.”
“Same here!” Kat added energetically. “I mean – what person in their right mind wouldn’t want Jacqueline Carlyle in their bed? She’s off the scale.”
“Exactly,” Sutton motioned, “Case in point. Jacqueline is off the scale hot. All I’m saying is you’re only human Jane, and it’s okay.”
“But I promise you I don’t like her, I don’t want her anywhere near my bed,” Jane assured them, and stopped abruptly, teetering over something. She had to grit her teeth and force herself to say it. “Not anymore.”
Her cheeks flushed brilliantly, and Jane covered her face. Kat and Sutton exchanged a subtle gleeful glance, which Jane noticed, and it was her turn to grip their shoulders in turn.
“I can’t talk about it otherwise I will die,” she rambled quickly, “all I can say is I was a young, impressionable intern trying to figure out my place in the world and then I met Jacqueline standing in front of me. It was a confusing time - but it was years ago and I’m over it.”
“Are you?” Kat enquired; her voice was high-pitched in disbelief. “Because you kinda seem-”
“I’m over it,” she repeated adamantly. “I’m with Ryan and you both know how much I like him. I genuinely do like him, and can we please just agree what a rare thing that is for me? It’s taken us so long to get to this point.”
They nodded understandingly and voiced sentiments of agreement. It was true. She did have feelings for him, which didn’t happen often when someone liked her. And it had taken a long time for her to trust him, trust his intentions, trust what was happening could lead to something. It was her nature to keep people at arm’s length, until she let them in.
“Everything was fine and uncomplicated before this hack,” she muttered.
If she sounded bitter, it was because she was bitter. She couldn't help it.
Standing in the fashion closet with her best friends, together they felt like they’d overcome something momentous just then, and the room felt lighter somehow. Sutton hooted, and wrapped her arm around her.
“Don’t be so hard on yourself tiny Jane,” Kat gushed, flippantly, flying her arms about. “Do you know what you have to do?”
Jane weakly let her hands fall away from her face, finally building up the courage to look them both in the eyes.
“What do I have to do?”
“What does she have to do Kat?” Sutton parroted, twirling around, as if asking on behalf of an invisible crowd.
“You have to own it baby. Who cares whether Jacqueline has seen your email or not? You can’t control what she does. What she thinks. What she’s going to say. So just let it happen. Live your fucking truth, Jane…” Kat shook her head and gripped her fists, getting overrun with passion. “That’s all you can do. Tell yourself you’re not gonna be afraid and, whatever happens, fucking own it.”
Sutton gave her a beaming smile and held out her arms. “I have nothing else to add. That was beautiful,” she whispered to Kat.
“Thank you,” Kat whispered back.
Kat and Sutton gathered her in a bone-crushing hug, left two wet kisses on her face and bounced back to work, leaving Jane alone in the fashion closet, surrounded by beautiful garments and a single thought: I finally told them about Jacqueline. About how she felt all those years ago.
It had been four years. Four years since she had worked at Scarlet magazine and watched Jacqueline sit behind her desk, interlacing her fingers as Jane spoke to her. Four years of Jacqueline leaning her weight on a table in pitch meetings, watching as she snapped her pen and pointed her fingers and shut people’s ideas down with curt answers, smirks or a dark twinkle in her eyes. Or even better, watching her be moved by something. She would shift encouragingly in her seat, willing them to continue if she saw potential in their offering. Sometimes, her eyes would gleam over, and she would shuffle her papers, to hide her emotion.
It had been this agonisingly long, pushing it all down and pretending like Jacqueline Carlyle wasn’t the most fascinating and inspiring woman she’d ever laid eyes on.
Kat was right. She just had to own it and live her truth. Wasn’t that what Jacqueline had always taught her to do, anyway?
Chapter 4: The Meeting
Jane meets Jacqueline at her office at 5pm sharp.
Jane, Kat and Alex took a late lunch at a seedy but verified incredible Mexican place five blocks away. Sutton didn’t join them; she was rushed off her feet, bustling about the floor with her hair scraped up, trying to source a Marc Jacobs red leather jacket Oliver wanted and she had misplaced. Juggling both her demanding job and her design course outside of work, Sutton was stretched beyond her limits.
“We’ll bring you something back!” Jane promised, as they headed towards the lifts.
“If they’re not those yummy vegan tacos I’ll be real mad Jane!” Sutton yelled.
They left her with a pained expression on her ruddy face and a tape measure tangled around her neck.
Once they escaped outside, they strolled lazily, laughed easily and soaked up the sun which spilled across the wide streets. It was Friday, and there was buzzed talk of having margaritas after work at a rooftop bar. She had splintered visions of how the night would end already - the three of them getting the happy side of hammered and stomping up the stairwell to Kat's apartment, possibly shouting crude nothing's at Alex through the window of a taxi as he headed back to the empty apartment he shared with Jane. The fat burritos and oozing sauce would help line their stomachs.
Her phone vibrated and Jane peered down to check it. It was a text from Ingrid, asking how she’d got on with the list of the names she’d given her. She hated letting her down and making her wait, so she replied back straightaway with as much hope and positivity as she could muster:
No one from the list wanted to talk – but don’t worry. Jacqueline and I are still working on it. We’re going to come up with something, we promise. I’ll let you know as soon as I have an update. Hang in there!
Fifteen minutes later, Jane was munching on a burrito in the restaurant window, zoning out of Kat and Alex’s conversation about how and why people get into the New York skateboarding scene. Scarlet people really covered all topic bases in life.
She audibly gasped. She had an idea.
“I could get a list of people at Scarlet who have worked with Pamela Dolan,” she blurted out, and temporarily discarded her burrito to squeeze Kat’s arm excitedly. “Scarlet people will help us!”
“That’s not a bad idea,” Alex said, leaning across to help himself to Jane’s tortilla chips. “I think that could actually work.”
Jane was so happy she didn’t even mind when he took a bold dip into her guacamole.
“Go work your powers of persuasion babe. You got a lot of ‘em.” Kat chimed in brightly, and gave a swift slap on her arse when she stood up.
Jane swept her bag from the floor and pushed her remaining food towards them. Alex rubbed his hands together, and they both tucked into it without hesitation.
“Hey if it works, the first round of margaritas is on me!” Alex called after her, snapping another chip.
At 5pm on the dot, Jane stood in front of Jacqueline’s desk in her office, holding out a sheet of paper. Jacqueline was closely eyeing some photoshoot prints which featured Sutton’s relocated red leather jacket. Jane smiled, knowing she must’ve found it in time. Though the three of them pulled stunts close to the wire, they somehow miraculously managed to pull through.
“Jane,” Jacqueline declared and looked up at her. She spotted the paper instantly. “What’s this?”
“So, I took your advice and came up with a fresh angle. If we couldn’t get through to anyone who was on Ingrid’s shoot, maybe we’ll have better luck with people from Scarlet who have worked with Pamela Dolan in the past.”
Jacqueline watched her curiously, her eyes pinning her down. Jane met her confidently, her chin raised in determination. This evening, she was not afraid of anything. Tomorrow she wouldn’t be either.
Dropping her eyes to the paper, Jaqueline took it with an air of precision and rubbed her fingers absently together as she read it, her gold rings shimmering in the dark light of the office. There was a long moment of silence. Seconds passed by and Jacqueline slowly lifted her head. When she acknowledged her again, her eyes were softer.
“This is good, Jane.”
Jane glowed and the corners of her lips tugged, but she didn’t show it. She settled for a small, grateful smile. “Pleased to hear it.”
There was a hint of a smirk on Jacqueline’s lips, but she kept it at bay as she put the paper down again. Jane observed her as she wrapped her hand in a fist and clasped them together as she gazed out the window, contemplating something.
Jane remembered the first time she’d seen her do that. It was around the same time of evening, and Jane had handed in one of her first articles after she’d been promoted to a permanent position in the Scarlet writing staff. She had asked her if it got any easier. Jacqueline had responded: “The writing? Yes. But the broken heart? It just takes time.”
It was a strange, funny thing, the moments you hung on to from years past. The words you can’t forget. Jacqueline was speaking again, and she quickly disposed of the memory.
“Cammy Hartman is due to work with us this month in a product shoot. I can call them up tomorrow and see if I can bring forward the appointment. The sooner we can talk to them, the better.”
By the look on Jane’s face, Jacqueline elaborated, “Cammy goes by they and them.”
“Okay, sounds good. I’ll get started on the others then.” She hesitated and hovered by the door. “Was there anything else you wanted to speak to me about?”
Jacqueline had turned back to the computer and was already typing. When Jane spoke, she paused indifferently.
“This morning, you said you wanted to ask me something?” Jane hinted, and she watched expectantly as the recollection hit her.
“Ah yes!” Jacqueline recalled, with sudden enthusiasm. “There’s a panel happening this Saturday about women’s health in the media. My diary, as usual, is full and I can’t make it. I thought you would be the most suited for it. It will be a good opportunity for you.”
“Because I have the BRCA gene.”
She said it bluntly, and she wasn’t sorry about it. She bowed her head as her chest twisted.
Something inside Jane fell away, like debris plummeting from a cliff. She felt every free-falling inch of the drop. She tried her best to not let the emotion flicker across her face, but the disappointment was palpable. She could hardly hide it.
Jacqueline leant back in her chair away from the computer screen and laced her fingers across her chest. When she spoke again, she was looking at her attentively.
“Because you’re a brilliant, emotional writer who has real passion about women’s health, Jane. You know what young women are going through. You have opinions about it. You know how it feels… to be scared.”
She gripped her hand in a fist as she emphasised her last point, and Jane almost laughed. She was too annoyed for words.
“Well, you’re right about that. I’m scared 90% of the time.”
Jacqueline was blinking uncomprehendingly at her. Her throat felt dry. She continued.
“Sometimes I wake up feeling scared and I feel it in my chest all day. I can’t shake it. Did you know that?”
Every syllable was cold, hard and direct. They were bullets that left holes, and she didn’t care. Standing there before for the editor-in-chief, the woman she had long idolised, she couldn’t remember a time she had felt more exposed or more frustrated.
“I knew you were scared.” Jacqueline murmured. “I didn’t know how much.” Her voice was quiet and she shook her head in distress. Her eyes were clouded over with crushing sadness. “Why didn’t you tell me? Why didn’t you say something?”
“Because…” Jane shrugged, momentarily bewildered, “I didn’t need to. I don’t know.”
They looked at each other silently for what felt like long, stretched minutes. Jacqueline was looking at her like she was some hurt animal, and it made her more self-conscious for all the angles of herself she couldn’t see.
Jacqueline eventually spoke again, her voice cracking slightly.
“Maybe it will help to talk about it at the panel. Unpick what it is that scares you, get a handle over your fear.”
“What, tell a bunch of strangers about my mum dying, like they care? I don’t want my mum to be just another story to them, I don’t want her to be another sad figure in some sad list of figures people hear and forget about. I thought you understood that.”
Jane frowned as she spoke and realised maybe Jacqueline didn’t understand her after all. Maybe she had built her up to be something she wasn’t and never had been and only now was she seeing who she was beneath the surface.
As if she had read her thoughts, Jacqueline considered her intently and inclined her head to directly address her.
“Jane, I do understand. Don’t think I’ve forgotten about our conversation in the bullpen two years ago. I remember how hurt you were. I remember the tears, I remember the words you shouted at me. I can see a lot of that pain is still there and your constant grief is natural. Sometimes it can feel all-consuming."
She shifted forward in her seat. Her tone had a low pressing urgency to it.
"But I wouldn’t be your boss if I didn’t push you to address things you find uncomfortable. You have lived through this experience, and what if other women are going through similar struggles? What if you could help them? I know you, of all people, can.”
Jacqueline continued on, undeterred, trying to drum a message into her. Jane had to bite her tongue and bear it.
“Your words are full of life, Jane. You have a presence about you on the page and when you’re in a room. Your authentic voice is rare for a young reporter. I see something in you that needs to be let out, and I want to help you make that happen. That’s why I want you on the panel.”
Jacqueline’s voice was gentle and milky with reassurance, yet there was a distinct undertone of strong persistence and it didn't escape Jane; she was trying to be nice and complimentary and persuasive, and Jane couldn’t bear it. Not a single word more. She squeezed her eyes shut.
“Do you think that sometimes you push us too hard?” Jane demanded shakily, jabbing her finger in the air. “Do you ever consider that maybe one day we’ll snap under the pressure? That one of these days it’ll be me?”
“That’s not going to happen.”
Jacqueline had stood up, her hands flat against her desk, a pained expression on her face. Her reaction was stiff and instinctive, and she took a moment to collect herself. When she looked up at Jane again, her eyes were shining, reflecting the glass windowpanes, and her voice was barely above a whisper.
“I won’t let that happen. Whether I agree or disagree with your decisions, Jane, I hope you know that I would never force you to do anything you don’t want to do.”
“I know that.” Jane was punctuating each word with her hands. “I know everything you work for is about achieving a cause greater than ourselves, helping me to see some bigger picture. But there are smaller battles I go through too. I face them in every room I walk into and I feel exhausted. Right now, I’m done being a spokesperson for everyone but myself.”
Jacqueline examined her face for a few seconds. Her throat jumped up as she swallowed. Then, she dropped her eyes down to her desk. She was disappointed, and it hung stale in the air between them.
“Okay. For one of our most promising talented writers, I can’t pretend I’m not surprised you’ve said that, but it makes sense. You need to do what feels right to you.”
Jane noticed a flicker of confusion pass Jacqueline’s face, as if she was deciding whether or not to bring something up. She must’ve decided to, because she cocked her head to the side and observed her intently.
“But I’m sensing you’re not only angry about the panel, Jane. My instincts usually serve me well, and I know there is ... something else ... eating at you.” She paused and leant forward towards her inquisitively, a frown forming. “So, what’s this really about? Why are you angry?”
Her gaze was direct and intrusive, her voice melting like butter. She was goading her to speak, and Jane knew it. When did she let this conversation get on top of her? She was a few heartbeats away from hot, angry tears spilling down her cheeks, and she refused to let that happen. She coaxed herself to stay calm, stay focussed, stay professional.
Jane raised her chin and decided to test the waters.
“Earlier when you said I didn’t need saving, least of all by you... " she tried to keep her voice steady, "what did you mean?”
Jacqueline smiled at her and suddenly sat down, turning her attention to her papers, which were gathered across her desk.
“I meant that you need to save yourself.” She explained, simply. “I’m your boss, Jane. The only thing I can save of yours is your job. I’m here to help you progress in your career and to support you to be able to do that. You’ve told me you don’t want to do the panel and cited fair reasons for doing so. The matter is finished. I’ll find someone else.”
Jacqueline had broken their eye contact with a brisk and dismissive tone, but as the deafening silence fell over them Jane noticed her fingers kept clasping onto each other, as if she was searching for comfort in them. Or something to hold.
It was a tactic she used during difficult conversations. But, it clearly wasn't her place to decide what was difficult for Jacqueline or not.
“Well, that told me,” Jane announced light-heartedly, though her insides were jangling. She clapped her hands and gestured for the door. “Anyway, this has been nice. Put my name down for the panel on Saturday. I’ll do it.”
Abruptly, Jacqueline stopped re-arranging the papers and turned to her, a fathomless look in her eyes.
“What changed your mind?”
“Nothing. I want to tell everyone how terrified I am, every day. I want to talk about how it feels to lose a mum I hardly knew, and why it makes women’s health so important. Hopefully my pain will resonate with people and you’ll get a lot of website traffic and a boost in print sales. Make it worth it for you. For Scarlet. For that greater picture of yours, or whatever.”
Jacqueline’s eyes were stormy and piercing through the insufferably thick air. Jane let the emotion roll down her back and stared blankly back at her as she backed away. A rush of relief washed over her. She supposed it didn’t matter if Jacqueline had seen her emotional email after all; she knew now that she wouldn’t read into what it meant.
“Let me know what Cammy says. Ingrid text me for an update earlier and I didn’t have one. I don’t want to let her down. Oh, and Jacqueline?” she wheeled around again, fighting internally. “Don’t pretend like you care about me and then throw some professional bullshit when it suits you. The truth works both ways, and you taught me that.”
Jane turned on her heel and made her way to the door, anger radiating from her skin. She yanked hard on the handle and considered glancing back at her. She wondered if Jacqueline would call her back or stride across the room to stop her leaving, but she didn’t. Jacqueline didn’t move an inch, and she let her leave without saying a word. Strictly professional, as always. The reliable bottom line.
By the time Jane looked up she was out the building and halfway down the street.
The next few chapters are already written, I'm in the rounds of editing stages. Keep a look out as they will be posted over the weekend. In the meantime, please know that I am so happy to be contributing to this brilliant fandom. Let me know what you think of the story so far :)
Chapter 5: The Panel
Jane attends the women's health panel.
Jane couldn’t remember the last time she felt this nervous. Looking at herself in the mirror in the dim bathroom light of some random art gallery, she willed herself to get her shit together. It was Saturday night, and the voices in women’s health panel was due to start in thirty minutes.
She was wearing a sharp black pantsuit, sharper heels and her nails were painted a deep red to match her lips. It was an outfit dressed for confrontation, even though she wasn't sure what it was she was facing. Sutton had spent most of the afternoon meticulously styling her at every angle, tugging on her sleeves and whipping out her measuring tape. All the while Kat had lounged on the chair beside them, playing 90s club anthems on Spotify and changing the song every 30 seconds. They'd ordered food before jumping in the taxi, each of them quiet with anticipation.
Since they’d arrived, Jane had already asked Sutton twice if she was sure about the red, if she was certain it wasn’t too much. Sutton simply gave her a look and in a voice like silk said: “You’re a vampire in this outfit, Jane. You’re here for blood. And you’re gonna get it.”
And there they were, Kat and Sutton, standing either side of her in the bathroom dressed in their Saturday night finery and glittering gold eyeshadow, like good and bad angels in equal measure. They smiled supportively back at her in the mirror reflection, flashing their teeth.
Jane moved to touch her face.
“Don’t you dare,” Sutton warned, quickly tugging on her arm. “I spent half an hour doing your war paint and I did a fabulous job. You are the hottest woman in this art gallery right now, possibly in a ten-block radius.”
“Only ten?!” Jane groaned, then grinned manically. “Kidding, obviously. I'll take ten."
“You’re spicy as fuck, tiny Jane,” Kat added, with a nod of approval. “Bite me, girl.”
“Thanks babe.” Jane whirled round on her friends abruptly. “Okay, I need to do something to distract myself from this panel. Anything. Got any ideas? Shoot.” She began shaking her hands wildly.
“Okay, let’s do some breathing exercises,” Sutton suggested. “Never underestimate the power of a breath.”
Jane narrowed her eyes and inclined her toes to the ceiling as she deliberated. “Hmm – I’m going to say no. I was thinking something more fun?”
“I have cigarettes?” Kat piped up with a lazy shrug. “Adena left some in this jacket pocket from like six weeks ago…” she audibly swallowed as she caught her friends’ expressions. “When we broke up… horrifically in Paris...”
“Fine, that’s it." Sutton raised her hands up and made her way to the door. “The executive decision is that we’re sharing a cigarette. Are you coming, Dracula?”
She peered expectantly at Jane.
“I never thought I’d say this ever, but I feel like smoking is the most ironic way to toast women’s health and I am all for a metaphor,” Jane answered with a knowing smile and pulled on Kat’s hand. “Let’s go light up.”
The girls were already out the bathroom door and stomping into the lobby on the twelfth floor. They twisted and turned down corridors until they found a grey door to a fire exit.
Jane leaned heavily to push the door open and they were well rewarded. They were greeted with the cold air of an outside stairwell and a tiny metal forgotten viewpoint over the city. A gust of wind hit her face and whipped round her ears, and Jane felt an immediate sense of calm.
“God, it’s been so long since I had a cigarette,” she sighed and drew her lips on the butt. “I bet my mum would kill me if she were here.”
“Maybe she’s here sharing it with us, all of us collectively letting out our struggles of the day.” Sutton predicted whimsically, and both Kat and Jane smiled at her. They adored Sutton’s enlightening perspectives.
“The panel tonight is kind of about your mum, in a way, right?” Kat mentioned, as she took the cigarette from her. “Maybe this is a way to confront her and all your unsaid feelings about it. Maybe Jacqueline was right when she asked you to do this.”
Jane glanced down at the cigarette and flicked the ash with her fingers. “Maybe. I don’t know. I don’t really want to think about Jacqueline right now.”
She hadn’t heard from the editor-in-chief since she stormed out of her office the night before. She hadn’t expected to hear from her either. She didn’t regret what she’d said to her boss in the heat of the moment. In a way, she was proud of it, though she still seemed to stumble over their conversation every few minutes. At least Jacqueline wouldn’t be there tonight; she could take solace in that.
She gazed out at the city, taking it all in with a deep breath, swallowing all the sharp pointy ends of the skyscrapers and the hazy lights in one. It felt good to be out there with her closest friends. It felt right to share this moment together – the calm before the storm. She let all the emotions go and allowed herself to feel positively blank.
“I’m not sure what I’m going to say out there, anymore. I thought I knew, but it’s anyone’s guess now. Somehow, I’m okay with it,” she told them. Her voice was as gentle as the evening breeze.
Sutton squeezed her arm. “That’s great, Jane. That’s usually when your words have the most meaning.”
“We know you’re going to kill it,” Kat said, as if it was a simple fact. “You just need to believe it too.”
All three of them stood noiselessly, letting the sounds from the city wash over them. The honking taxis, the clanking of construction work up ahead and below them. It was broken only by the sounds of their intermittent inhales as they each held the cigarette in turn.
“Jane Sloan has joined us from Scarlet Magazine, a leading publication that champions women lives and women's health. Jane has recently developed a strong voice in the women’s health space in her honest accounts of testing positive for the BRCA gene. Jane, we know this may be a difficult subject for you, but what advice would you give other women in your situation?”
The host of the panel was wearing a suit jacket that was fitted perfectly around her petite form, accentuating her breasts. There was a wide, empty smile plastered on to her face, but it seemed set into position, not raised organically. Jane had interviewed enough people to know the difference between genuine and fake smiles. She couldn’t peel her eyes away from it.
“Honestly? I don’t think I have any advice for women in my situation.” Jane found herself saying.
The room seemed taken aback by her abrupt blankness. Jane was surprised by it, too.
The host frowned and shifted slightly in her seat, catching the eyes of a man wearing an earpiece at the back of the room. “I’m sorry, but how can that be? You have spoken out a lot recently about-”
“Everything I’ve written about having the BRCA gene - and please forgive my use of words here – has basically killed me in the ugliest and hardest of ways. To look at yourself in the mirror so frankly and understand at once that our lives are nothing more than small chunks of time is an incredible weight to bear. We are all limited in that way.”
The other panellists had started to glance across at her curiously. People in the audience were inclining their heads to the side, as if predicting what side of success and failure this would fall in. Jane went on, as if she was being pulled by an invisible and unstoppable force.
“When you write about things that are important, that are fundamental to our society and our lives, you begin to realise that you don’t care about the implications of bad punctuation. You don’t need to answer to critics, awards, your boss, even. You only need to hold on to yourself, and what you believe. What you know is right. We all owe ourselves that brutal truth, even when it is difficult to acknowledge.”
She took a steadying breath and seized the opportunity to look around the room, at the ten rows of chairs in front of her and the eyes of the people that sat in them. The people that stared back at her were mostly women, each with bags of different sizes propped under their feet. Their bags full of practical objects that steeled themselves for problems.
She wondered if they were scared, every day, like she was. Catching eyes with a woman in her 50s, with dangling earrings and a limp neck scarf and a kind, lined face, she knew they were.
“If you were to ask what women’s health means to me, I would say it’s brutal truth, in its darkness and its light, in all its painful hours and guises. It is the core of what we all know, and yet hardly talk about. And I never understood that. Why, as women, are we subdued even in our pain? Why aren’t we talking about what hurts? What causes us the most devastating grief?”
“That’s – wow!” The host was smiling genuinely at her, unable to stop the surprise and relief from flooding across her features that Jane had said something of worth. “That’s quite a way to put it, Jane. If you don’t mind me asking, how much of these lessons have stemmed from your own mother’s death, which you have briefly touched upon in your articles at Scarlet?”
Upon hearing mention of her mum, Jane clung hard onto her fingers, pressing her nails into her flesh. The host had no idea who her mum was, and yet she referenced her so casually - dropped her name sloppily like a stone into a sea of grief. Jane knew the woman didn't mean to cause offence, but it hurt all the same.
Jane rose to meet her stare strongly, and didn’t back down.
“I don’t know – that’s almost impossible to trace back. I was five years old when my – my mum died of cancer. The effect it has on you isn’t cause and effect. It’s not a neat line of consequences and you don’t know when the lines become blurred. You don’t know how much of your mother you are, and where she starts and ends inside you. I don’t know if that makes sense to anyone else, but it – it does to me.”
She swallowed and bowed her head to fidget with her hands. There was an unmistakeable ache inside her, and it was painful to bear.
“I know what you mean by that,” one of the other panellists interjected.
Broken out from her trance, Jane turned to the voice. A woman sat a few chairs down. She had straight blonde hair and was wearing a charcoal jumper dress that looked cosy. She smiled at Jane - a nice smile, and Jane felt it.
“When my mother died, I was in a constant state of anxiety, trying to piece together the pieces of her in myself. I understand what you are saying, and I know how that confusion can manifest inside you. How painful it can be.”
Jane allowed herself to sit in a moment of peace before answering. She smiled back at the woman.
“Thank you for saying that.”
She never knew she needed that encouragement. She never knew how good it could feel, to have someone listen and know in her heart what she meant.
Another woman sat forward, who looked to be in her early thirties. Jane recognised her from magazines and newspapers she had seen, recalling she was a Doctor who specialised in women’s cancer research. She was causing ripples in the healthcare sector that were slowly breaking into waves. Meeting her eyes now, she looked like the sort of woman who had a big heart and bigger ambitions. Jane's admiration for her was instant.
“I have been following your pieces Jane, and I must say I have been so impressed with your ability to convey such a difficult topic. It’s a hard thing to do, let alone to do well. It has opened up many interesting conversations with my patients about the underlying but perhaps unspoken issues young women with cancer face.” She, too, gave her a knowing smile. “I wanted to commend you for your work.”
“I can’t even …” Jane began and shook her head helplessly. “Coming from a pioneering female Doctor who specialises in women’s cancer treatment, I can’t even begin to tell you what that means to me. Thank you. You are making the world a better place every day.”
“So are you.” The doctor affirmed, and her eyes sparkled.
Something in the way she said it made her think of Jacqueline. And something caught inside of her. Jane glanced away with a lingering smile.
In her blind euphoria at the situation that was unfolding, Jane spotted Kat and Sutton sat at the back of the crowd. Even from a distance she could see they were beaming at her; she could feel their pride fill up every space in the room. They were her cheerleaders, they were her family, and it made her feel pleasantly full. The panel host was speaking again.
“Clearly there has been a lot of appreciation for your work at Scarlet, Jane. Do you have any final thoughts to add? I’m sure I speak on behalf of everyone when I ask: what’s next for you?”
“Again,” Jane half-laughed and played with her hands. “I don’t know. I don’t think I realised until now what deep impact sharing my experiences about women’s health has had on others. And I’m still none the wiser, I won’t pretend that I am. But in my recent articles published at Scarlet, I have realised it takes years to get your head around loss and grief, if you ever do. And we as women need to own that pain, hold each other accountable in our words as much as in our silence. That’s what I will continue to try and do in my professional career as a writer and my personal life, with the unwavering support of the female role models I have around me.”
She continued, her voice crisp and calm. Her hands still. She made sure to look at the older woman she’d seen earlier, with the dangly earrings, the limp neck-scarf, the kind face.
“We are all different. We are all struggling in our own little ways. And if we decide to, we can help each other become stronger. We have been taught for so long that women should tear each other down, but why? I’m committed to building each of us up to become the most unapologetic and beautiful versions of ourselves. None of you are weak. Not in the face of our lives or threats of our health. Even in situations where you feel out of control, you can take hold of your fear and change your direction.”
“Hear, hear.” One of the women hollered, and there began a slow smattering of applause, which quickly thundered into an eruption.
A few people in the crowd got to their feet, their hands smacking loudly in front of them. It all seemed to play in slow motion, like the ending of a concert. Their hands, moving to and from each other, without sound. Their smiles gracing their faces, and the shine of their teeth under the glare of lights. Even the subjects and stains on the paintings surrounding the walls seemed to move.
Jane felt sure she was floating, or perhaps swimming underwater, with no concept of time. When she pinched herself, the noise of clapping still rang in her ears.
Jane was helping herself to an unclaimed champagne flute on in the gallery lobby when the Doctor on the panel approached her. Jane anticipated that she would, after their meaningful interaction on stage.
Standing in front of her, the Doctor complimented her again, saying something about her talk. Jane grinned easily and thanked her, noticing the twinkle in her eyes. They were the colour of amber wood caught in the sun. Out of nowhere, she was reminded of Jacqueline again, with her washed blue eyes, leaning towards her with both hands on her desk. She dropped the image as quick as it came.
“I’m still in a state of shock,” Jane said slowly. “I’ve never experienced anything like that in my life. I can’t explain how surreal it was.”
“Well, you shouldn’t be. Shocked, I mean.” She smiled. “I meant what I said up there. I’ve been really impressed. You should be rewarded for the bravery you showed, and you deserved every moment of the recognition up there.”
Jane thanked her profusely again and took a long, grateful sip of champagne.
“I’m Isobel Keenan, by the way,” she said, outstretching her hand. “But outside work and especially in dazzling Brooklyn art galleries, Izzy is fine too.”
She laughed softly and took her hand. “I’m Jane... Sloan. It’s so good to meet you, Izzy. I’ve been a fan of your work for a long time. What you’ve been doing for women is really incredible.”
This time it was Izzy’s turn to thank her. When Jane’s hands were safely back on her champagne flute, Izzy cleared her throat.
“I know this may not be the most appropriate time to ask but, in case we don’t cross paths again... would you like to meet for coffee or drinks sometime? I’d love to hear more about your experiences outside of the subject of women’s health.”
Smiling with a confused frown on her face, Jane gestured with her hands. “Are you – asking me out?”
Izzy laughed and seemed relieved. “Yes, I am. No pressure, obviously, it’s totally fine if you’re not into it. You just have an interesting vibe about you and I figured – why not?”
It wasn’t until hours later, in the misty senselessness of 2:00 am, that Jane decided out of the blue to tell Kat and Sutton that Doctor Izzy Keenan had asked her out.
Jane was lying in Kat’s bed with her legs leant against the exposed brick wall. Kat and Sutton lay next to her, full of junk food, alcohol and high spirits. They’d been dancing all night. Upon hearing the words, they sprung up like springs, all open-mouthed and beside themselves with uproar – as Jane had expected.
“Hold up, a low-key famous Doctor asked you out? Sorry, let me rephrase that – a doctor who is a WOMAN?” Sutton cackled and waved her arm up in the air. She was holding a stolen champagne flute and was completely oblivious of the contents dripping over her lap. “This night has been iconic. Meme-worthy. Jane Sloan, you flirt!”
“Can I just say, I don’t know how this happened,” Jane sat up, protesting defensively to anyone who would hear her. “I was networking and I thought she was being friendly!”
“How is it you’re pulling more women than me these days?” Kat moaned, her mouth was gaping open and dumbstruck. “I didn’t even clock that Doctor was queer. I would’ve been into it – probably.”
“You’re into every vagina,” Sutton told her, and patted her cheek affectionately. Kat nodded in fair assessment and muttered true, true. Sutton pointed at her accusingly. “Jane, you must’ve put a spell on her and I’ll take credit that it was the vampire outfit that did it. That and your brutal truths in all their guises and if you were to ask me what women’s health means to me’ …”
With Sutton’s loud proclaiming, Jane lunged for her and tried to grab her drink, and Kat rolled over to avoid further spillage. Squabble broke out, and within moments they were rolling around on the bed laughing in a pile of limbs and drunken carnage.
The champagne flute had rolled onto the rug and sometime later they’d agreed the situation was clear: there was no more champagne left.
They stared up at the ceiling, loose-limbed with contentment. Kat let out a long, happy sigh.
“It was the vampire outfit, for sure,” she said soberly, then erupted into happy laughter again, quickly joined by Sutton. “Jane I’m sorry, I’m just in shock that you’ve pulled a woman. I am so proud of you. This is a momentous moment, a huge victory for our very own gay Bella Swan.”
Sutton snorted with laughter. “Why didn’t I think of that? That’s so much better than Dracula.”
“Really?” Jane rounded on them with a voice thick with amusement. “Did you really just compare me to Bella Swan, the most pathetic and pining character in -”
Jane’s phone beeped amongst the mess, and Kat was lying on top of it. She heaved her over and grabbed it. Her mind was slow and foggy. In this mood, everything was funny, she couldn’t take anything seriously. She blinked groggily at the phone light.
Even though the sender’s name had popped up before her, Jane had to read it four times before she registered who it was from.
I watched the live stream of the panel. You weren’t fearful at all. You were astonishing. Once again, I am amazed by your words, your passion, your unrelenting courage. You really did it, Jane.
Even in her drunken stupor, she felt the emotion grip her throat and felt something dig into her chest.
“Is the hot doctor booty calling you already?” Kat’s muffled voice from under the pillow pulled her back. “You got mad power, tiny Jane.”
“Iconic!” Sutton exclaimed.
Smiling with a hand over her mouth, Jane ignored them. Her phone beeped again.
I’m sorry that I upset you last night. I was surprised by your wording but I found it refreshing nonetheless. To avoid any doubt, I do care. I think you know I do.
You’re allowed one storm out of my office per year and yesterday you used it. No more running please, Jane. Only confronting ;)
See you Monday.
Jane stared at the tiny yellow face on the phone, squinting at it so closely that her nose hit the screen. She fell backwards, stumbling clumsy, startled words. Had Jacqueline Carlyle really just sent her a wink face at 2:00 am?
Surely not. It was so uncharacteristic of her - the mischievous wink and whatever it allured to was the exact opposite of professional bullshit, and they both knew it. It also ended the sentence in an abrupt manner that was so Jacqueline, and it summarised for Jane everything she liked about her. She couldn't put into words what the fragmented digital parts of Jacqueline meant to her, but it was a lot.
Jane’s teeth gripped her lips and she laughed softly. She couldn’t help a triumphant hoot escape her mouth.
When Kat and Sutton sat up and immediately hounded her about who it was, Jane told them it was Doctor Izzy Keenan. She would’ve told them sweet, black lies until the cows came home, slipping them all the flirty innuendos in the world that Izzy had never said.
Jacqueline’s 2:00 am words and winks belonged to her.
More chapters are written and on their way soon. In the meantime, let me know your thoughts! I love hearing everything you have to say about these gay fluff balls and I appreciate every comment. It is such a great feeling seeing them pop up in my inbox, so thank you. In Jacqueline style, I'll end with a ;)
Chapter 6: The Tired Monday
It's the Monday after the panel, after the text. Jane is back at work.
Monday rolled around again, as it so often did. It always arrived in the same way: unexpectedly tired - lounging with unstretched limbs, sunken in with a sad dose of nostalgia that kept clinging weakly onto backs. But, Mondays that followed a big weekend were a special kind of battle, as Jane knew all too well. She was still riding high from her appearance at the women's health panel, and she was finding it particularly difficult to work through.
Sitting at her desk engaged in lazy conversation with Alex, Jane accepted that today she’d need all the coffee she could get her hands on.
She heard the snap and click of a pen behind her, and Jane swivelled around in her seat, expecting to see Sutton, or Andrew, who usually hit her with a drawling and depressive Monday greeting around this time. She’d brought her coffee with her and the speed of her moving chair jogged it slightly, and it sloshed over her jeans. They were black and from H&M, so it wasn’t a huge deal, but it was still annoying. She let out an irritated groan and leant over.
She caught sight of blindingly red heels first. When she looked up, Jacqueline was inclining her head towards her with all her Monday morning predatory vibrance. Her lipstick was 5 minutes fresh, likely expertly applied in the car on the way in. She was pristine and glowing, the very opposite of spilled coffee. Jane's breath hitched in her throat, and she gathered herself.
I mean, of course it was Jacqueline. Luck would have it that whenever she did something ridiculous that backfired, Jacqueline appeared miraculously out of thin air. It was the world’s way of keeping her in check. Making sure she stayed grounded, or something.
Jacqueline’s eyes flickered over her mildly frustrated face and dropped to linger on her damp lap. One side of her lips gently tugged into a smile.
“Have I caught you at a bad time? You look otherwise engaged.”
“No, no - it’s fine." She asserted, firmly. "It’s just been one of those mornings. I’m probably going to smell like vanilla latte for the rest of the day.” Jane didn't have the energy to be embarrassed at this point.
“It could be worse. Those terrible gingerbread lattes come to mind.”
Jane caught Jacqueline’s expression and laughed. Jacqueline’s humour was a witty and understated part of her, and Jane had never quite understood why people didn’t notice it more. Why it was never mentioned how funny she was in featured articles about her, with titles like ‘An hour with Scarlet's Editor-in-Chief, Jacqueline Carlyle’ emblazoned in big, curly letters. Jane had always appreciated her uncanny ability to deliver startling one-liners – especially then.
She watched as Jacqueline glanced behind her and swiftly grabbed a box of tissues from Sage’s desk. Sage had her headphones in and was scrolling down an article titled ‘19th century sex positions – what has stuck, what has slipped?’ and when Jacqueline’s arm snaked next to her, she jumped and audibly shrieked.
It was a sound that made both of them laugh easily. Jacqueline offered her the tissues, and Jane accepted them with thanks. Her gold rings shone fleetingly in the morning light as she moved, and it strengthened the glow in the air about her.
Jacqueline watched her for a moment longer before speaking.
“Congratulations again for your success at the panel. It was good for you, good for Scarlet.”
There was a steely formality in the way she said it. It was distinctively different than the congratulatory text she’d sent her in the early moonlit hours of Sunday morning. Jane was wise enough to know there would never come a time when Jacqueline would need to identify what the differences were.
Up until that moment, she wasn’t sure whether the texts would be brought up. Now she knew the answer. Their eyes lingered over each other, and they both recognised it. An unspoken agreement to steer clear of any mention of it, when she had been drunk and happy, and Jacqueline had been different.
“Thank you." Jane smiled, and her voice flooded with genuine surprise. "Honestly I’m still in shock. I didn’t expect such a reaction. It was …”
She squinted as she tried to find the right word. Jacqueline waited for her to elaborate, smiling steadily in anticipation.
“Fundamental? Courageous? Inspirational? Powerful? There's a lot of words to describe how you handled it, Jane.” Her eyes shone as they held her, unwaveringly. "You took the pressure and made it yours. That's no easy thing to do."
She was reminded again of the words Jacqueline had said in her text. You were astonishing. The words she’d played in her mind for most of the weekend. The words she’d read until she fell asleep and woke up the next morning with her hand clutching her phone to her chest.
Jane felt a deep sense of sadness overcome her, but also a fresh kick of reality.
She had been biting her lip, deep in thought, and didn’t realise how long she'd not said anything. Suddenly, Jacqueline said her name and she was pulled out of her head.
“Sorry, I was just -” She caught Jacqueline’s expression and realised explaining was pointless. “Never mind. What were you saying?”
Jacqueline had crossed her arms, and her thumb poised dangerously over her pen. She regarded her open-mouthed, in a mix of fond amusement and demanding curiosity.
“I said you mentioned a lot of complex feelings at the panel. Some difficult topics. I wanted to know if you were truly happy that you did it." She paused for a moment, and glanced down at her hands. There was a noticeable change in her tone, as if she was choosing her words carefully. "When you were talking on Saturday I noticed you did that thing where your eyes glaze over and you temporarily vacate the room. Very similar to what you just did.”
“You noticed that?" Jane asked her, numbly. “At the panel?”
It wasn't really a question, and Jacqueline didn't answer her. For a split second, she almost looked offended. That was all the confirmation she needed.
For a moment, Jane genuinely didn’t know what to say, and they stared each other silently. Then, out of nowhere, the words came.
"To answer your question, yes. I couldn’t be happier about it. To see that other women understood and felt a similar way to me was … comforting. It felt good to be part of something bigger. To know that – that I wasn’t the one going insane with all the heavy health stuff.” She let out a deep breath and found herself examining her hands. “That’s probably why my eyes were glazed over. I'm still processing it. Sorry.”
When Jacqueline spoke again her voice was soft, and the sound of it seemed to sink into her, with all of its sharp edges too.
“Don’t say sorry. You have nothing to be sorry for. I’m happy to see you happy, Jane.”
Jane nodded, as if she was reliving the panel over again and reconfirming to herself that yes, the semi-standing ovation really did happen. The moment of recognition for her work, by successful women like Izzy Keenan, was real.
Her mouth opened to say something again, but she didn’t know what. Instead, she picked up her coffee cup from where she’d left it on the floor and placed it on her desk.
She knew Jacqueline was watching her. She knew she was waiting, knowing full well that Jane was hanging onto something, in the way she always knew. Finally, Jane rose her eyes to hers.
“What you said after… it meant a lot. Thank you for bearing the brunt of what I said. Thank you for pushing me to do it.”
Her voice dropped in volume, and she said it quietly. It took up the air between them in a secluded exchange that was meant for their ears only, and she didn't know why. She just felt weird knowing that other people might be able to hear her.
Jacqueline turned away for a fleeting moment, running her eyes over the walls and the people that moved about them, before she turned and addressed her again.
They looked at other, a distinct moment of understanding passing through them. Jane knew they were acknowledging their heated conversation on Friday. She wouldn’t say sorry for the words she’d used, because she meant them. But, she wanted Jacqueline to know that she was grateful. Grateful for continually driving her to confront her pain in unexpected ways, and for believing in her to emerge out of the other side, somehow more self-aware, stronger, grown.
Jacqueline’s eyes softened as she spoke, and there was a sturdiness to her words that said she believed in her.
“You were honest and spoke your truth, as I knew you would. I’ll take the credit for pushing you but …” she raised her arm and pointed at her convincingly, and even though she was far away, Jane felt the movement as if it touched her. “You did it. It was your words, not mine. I’m glad you were able to voice them, because people really listened to you.”
Her voice was gentle and commanding, and she leant forward to place her hand on her shoulder, resting it there for a moment. Jane felt the reassuring weight of her hand. The cold hardness of her rings pressed against her skin and her fingers were warm and sure of themselves. Then she drew back, and it was gone.
“Cammy Hartman.” She declared with a flash of her eyes, and the emotion snapped out of her. “Let’s see where we’re at with the story. My office. Bring your coffee. What's left of it.”
She abruptly turned her head and sauntered towards her office, every hit of her heels on the floor solid and purposeful. Jane watched her coat trail behind her, lapping at her calves. It was another movement that seemed trodden into who Jacqueline was; somehow the walls of the Scarlet office, and everyone in it, seemed to part and fall as she walked. She couldn’t fathom how anyone couldn’t be impressed by the force that was Jacqueline. She defied everything, and was as inter-changing and fierce as the weather beyond the windows.
Exhaling, Jane hurriedly wiped down her jeans and slapped the box of tissues back on Sage’s desk as she stood up to follow. Sage, still with her headphones on, called after her.
“You’re welcome to use my tissues any time, Jane!”
“You’re the bomb, Sage!” she shouted back.
As soon as the door of Jacqueline's office closed behind her, Jacqueline leant back on her desk and laced her hands together on her lap as she addressed Jane.
“We meet with Cammy Hartman tomorrow. Get your questions together. This is where we fly or fail.”
From that point onwards, Jane was pulled into frequent meetings with Jacqueline where she would fire her quick updates on Cammy Hartman. They would walk and talk, nodding a lot, gesturing forcefully with their hands, eyeing the floor. They were racing against the clock, and both of them felt compelled to handle the story right.
Their appointment with Cammy Hartman was tomorrow at noon, and they had to get a lead on it. Neither of them could afford to make a misstep. The stakes were simply too high.
Though they were spending more time together, the cement of their professional boundaries had been set in stone again, and they were harder than ever.
There had been no more references to their text messages, however subtle. There was no mention at all of the email leaks, not even the high-profile ones, like Bobby O'Neill's. Jane begun to think that Kat and Sutton appeared to be right. Jacqueline hadn’t seen her email. She hadn't seen the secret pain in her words I can't tell how I feel.
She was too busy attending to more important things and more important people. There were more topics to discuss and deal with every waking hour Jacqueline was at work. Jane had expected this and was more than okay with how it had played out. She was relieved beyond words that her email, so far, had slipped by unnoticed. The impact this had on her work was significant, and her energy and motivation only heightened; she wanted, more than anything, to make progress for Ingrid. Right some wrong’s, if she could.
Right now, all she knew was that she needed to get the Pamela Dolan story out there without letting Ingrid and Jacqueline down.
And maybe she resented not being able to have fun, cheery, uncomplicated sex with Ryan that would help relieve her stressful days at work.
And fuck, had the last few weeks been stressful.
Driving thoughts of sex out of her mind, she pushed herself into determination mode. She worked solidly through lunch and well into the afternoon, hardly moving an inch from her computer screen. When she did, it was to reply to texts from Ryan.
It wasn't until 4PM when she finally stopped to look around her, and the crushing tiredness of the day hit her like a ton of bricks. She leant against her desk, trying to still her mind, before deciding to heave herself up and move about. She grabbed her coffee mug and ambled restlessly over to the kitchen.
Sutton was standing by the sink, mindlessly shaking a coffee sachet. She slunk over to her and rested her head on her shoulder.
“I’m tired and stressed and I miss sex,” she announced miserably. Drawn out fatigue filled every syllable.
Sutton wasn’t remotely phased by the intrusion.
“I feel that. Have you and Pinstripe jumped aboard the phone sex train yet?”
“I’m not sure we ever will. Is it … worth it? It seems kinda awkward.” She eyed her sachet. “How come you’re drinking the poor coffee?”
“Because I’m poor,” Sutton replied, matter-of-factly. “Last week I calculated that I spend nearly $200 per month on lattes, and that doesn’t even touch on bagels. On my assistant salary it’s not okay.” She sighed heavily and wrapped an arm around her, comfortingly. “Anyway, yeah, phone sex is worth it.”
“Why do I find that surprising?” Jane muttered and contorted her face in consideration. “I just really need -”
“Phone sex?” Sage finished brightly, turning the corner with her voice dripping with sarcasm. “You doing it, Jane? I’m glad someone is getting it from afar.”
Jane rolled her eyes and almost laughed out loud. “Here we go. Sage, can I ask you a serious question? Do you state on your resume that you’re highly skilled at jumping to conclusions?”
Sage acknowledged her, pointedly, as she opened the cupboard. “No, but you make a good point. I’ll add it at your request.”
“Thank you," she breathed out steadily and held onto the table edge. "That makes me feel better.”
She rested her head against the table, suddenly exhausted. It was unprofessional, and she hardly ever did it, but the weight of the last few weeks were catching up with her. She just needed to take a moment.
“You know my friend has launched a new cute vibrator start-up and she’s given me some freebies to write a feature about. I could give you one if you want – a little friend to help you out.”
Sage shot her a deliberate ‘thank me later’ look, and Sutton politely raised her hand to interject.
“Can I add that Jane seems to have plenty of those at the moment." She gave Sage a dramatic look. "Has she told you about the attractive Doctor Izzy that asked her out at the panel? It’s a screamer.”
She winked slyly at Jane and gave her a playful nudge. Jane knew exactly where this was heading, and buried her face in her hands with a groan.
“Izzy Keenan, the female Doctor? Well, how about that.” Sage’s eyes widened in gleeful shock, so much so that she ripped open a sweet n’ low and poured it into her cup without looking. “Are you queer, Jane Sloan? Jacqueline sure wasn’t lying when she said you are full of surprises. Welcome to the LGBTQ+ community!”
Jane sat up and raised her arms, incredulously. Sage was hilarious and too much. The ridiculousness of the situation had slipped out of her control and it had passed the point where she could take it seriously.
“Okay, backtrack. I would love nothing more than to be a proud member of the LGBTQ+ community, however I’m not sure if I’m the right -”
They were interrupted by the familiar sound of heels pounding the floor and Jacqueline strode past typing on her phone. Out of habit, she glanced up to scan her surroundings. When she spotted the three of them, she stopped and turned on her heel, prowling towards them with her arms swinging.
“What’s happening, ladies?”
“Apart from Jane Sloan having phone sex with her aloof boyfriend and getting asked out on a date by a hot female Doctor, nothing much,” Sage explained, then took a triumphant slurp of coffee. “Anyway, let me know if you want that vibrator, Jane.”
Jane’s mouth fell open and she turned to her, reeling. Unbelievable didn’t quite cover it.
"Wow, you're really going to do that to me.”
It was a statement, rather than a question. In response, Sage twirled elegantly on the spot and left the kitchen with an extravagant flourish of her arm. All three women watched her leave.
Jane turned to face the two women left with a raised hand and a gaping mouth as she pointed after her. "Is she being serious?"
Sutton looked at her uncertainly, caught between wanting to laugh and wanting to console her. Mind-numbingly embarrassed, Jane was left to pick up the pieces. She gripped the table and steered herself to face forwards, mentally murdering Sage.
Jacqueline observed the scene with her eyebrows raised. It must've dawned on her that she’d stumbled upon a pot of gold.
“Phone sex and hot female Doctors, huh? You’ve been busy, Jane." She motioned with her hands. "So ... is there more to this story?”
“Yeah, there’s more,” came Sutton’s assured response.
Jane frowned at her. "No, there really isn't."
Jacqueline looked between the two of them, nodding pleasantly. "Sounds... contradictory."
At some point between their last meeting, Jacqueline had taken off her jacket, revealing a classic black button-up shirt underneath. It exposed her bare arms and contrasted beautifully with the red of her lips. Her gold ringed fingers clung to the end of the table and she leant her weight against the edge of it not far from her.
Jane decided the table was the safest thing to focus on, for now.
“Uh, I’m not sure what Sage means by the phone sex. I hadn’t really thought about it.”
Jane said it dismissively, devoid of all interest, to shut down the topic entirely. She was aware it sounded like a hasty and shitty excuse. Apparently, everyone else did too.
Jacqueline appeared to be unable to stop the smile that grew on her face, and as Jane met her gaze, Sutton spoke up from behind her.
“It sounds like she’s lying about the phone sex, Jacqueline, but actually it’s true. But, to confirm, one of the panellists did ask her out on Saturday and yeah, she was pretty hot.”
Jane cringed just hearing the words, and Jacqueline inclined her head to the side with interest. She narrowed her eyes, as she tried to recall the name.
“Dr Isobel Keenan, the revolutionary feminist Doctor? That panellist?" she questioned. "The woman who was in Forbes’ 50 influential women to watch from the last decade?”
Jane tried to keep her voice balanced and blank. Jacqueline blinked slowly as she comprehended it, then she nodded in agreement.
"You're right, she's hot. And she's an intellectual on top of her game."
She glanced at Jane with cloudy eyes and a slight frown in her features, as if questioning her on something, or wanting answers.
"I saw your exchange with her at the panel. It seemed pretty obvious that she appreciated what you had to say.”
“She liked much more than that to text her at 2:00 am.” Sutton added, her voice low with lustful scandal. "You should've seen Jane's reaction. She was so happy, it was amazing.”
Jacqueline slowly turned to look at Sutton, a fathomless expression on her face.
There was something decidedly different in her tone, as she asked the question. A repressed tension, somehow.
Sutton nodded brightly. "Yep."
Sutton seemed pleased with herself, and Jane immediately shut her eyes. This was bad.
Of course, Sutton didn't know that it wasn’t Izzy who had text her, like Jane had told her. Izzy had text her at 1pm on Sunday, a universally safe time to talk to someone you barely knew. Jane was hungover in her pyjamas, sluggishly eating grilled cheese and on her 3rd cup of Alex’s special brewed coffee. There was no wink emojis, just pleasantries and a couple of exclamation marks.
Sutton had no idea that the person who had text her happened to be standing in the very room with them. She had no idea the position she'd put her best friend in, and Jane couldn't be angry at her. Only Jane was to blame, and she felt the weight of it press her. Never had she felt so exposed. The embarrassment of it washed over her like freezing water.
Sutton seemed to sense something wasn't quite right, because she averted her attention back to her coffee with a breezy "Anyway! Don't you just love sachet coffee?"
Jane and Jacqueline didn't respond. The tension in the small, stuffy kitchen was palpable. The only sound was the clinking of the spoon as Sutton stirred her coffee. Jane raised her head to glance at Jacqueline, and saw her looking at the opposite wall. There was a slight frown on her features and a stiff clench in her hands on the table, but nothing more.
She knew that Jacqueline would read between the lines of what was happening. She could read Jane like a book, know how she was feeling before Jane did herself. Surely, she was aware what time she had text her, but there was always the possibility that she hadn't checked the clock. Maybe she thought Izzy was texting Jane at the same time, and she was now discovering that she was unknowingly engaged in a battle of Jane's attention with a famous Doctor at 2am.
Whatever she was thinking about the situation, she didn't give anything away. It was just another thing to add to the growing list of things she and Jacqueline would never mention. Never utter a word about. Because if they did, it would mean they had willed it into existence, and that couldn't happen. Jane found herself wishing to be struck by lightening.
Jacqueline cleared her throat and her eyes flickered back to meet Jane's. In her temporary absence staring at the wall, Jane had forgotten how bright they were. Her insides clenched.
“I’ve met Dr Keenan." She pronounced, her voice sure and solid. "She’s passionate. It seems you and her have a lot in common. Wouldn’t you agree?”
“I mean...” Jane frowned, not sure what she was getting at, then decided to let it go. “She’s absolutely passionate. I admire her work and everything she’s doing, if that’s what you mean. She’s interesting to talk to.”
“I sense a ‘but’ coming. Are burgers, beers and karaoke with Dr Keenan not on the cards?”
Jane peered around the kitchen, and found she had no idea what to say. Jacqueline watched her intently, a confused smile playing on her lips. Amongst the whirling haze of her thoughts, Jane felt a smile grow impulsively on her own.
“Jane, considering you have barely uttered a word, your thoughts are deafening." Jacqueline told her crisply, and Jane couldn't stop looking at her hand, flat on the table. Sometimes it clenched and hit the table as she talked. “Are you going on a date with her? It's a simple question with a yes or no answer. Any time today would be fabulous.”
Jacqueline leant forward against the counter, an exaggerated gesture to show she was listening and had her full attention – a rare thing when everyone in the building demanded a piece of her time.
Jane was unable to accurately say exactly how far she’d strayed out of her comfort zone, but she knew it was past the point of return. Navigating her way back to safety would be impossible and the attempt futile.
Jacqueline audibly sighed, then her voice sliced sharply through the air.
“Sutton!" she announced, and twisted to address her. "Jane and Dr Keenan - is it happening?”
She had clearly given up trying to get Jane to talk.
Sutton hovered behind her, and took her time drawing out a long "errrmm", before she poked her in the back. “Jane, come on. This one’s on you.”
“Okay, fine! I'm not going on a date with her!” She blurted it quickly and louder than she expected, and Jacqueline looked at her questioningly. “I said... no, but we exchanged numbers so we could set up an interview for a future article. I suggested it, I thought there was an important story there.”
“Exchanged numbers,” Jacqueline repeated, and the tone in her voice failed to hide her surprise. Her eyebrows quirked up and knitted together. If Jane wasn’t mistaken, for a second she appeared to be annoyed. “That would mean I’d already approved your pitch for it, which I haven’t.”
Jane stubbornly met her stare, and Jacqueline raised her chin. "Good. So, what was the reason you turned her down?”
She asked her it casually, as if they were discussing something simple and carefree. This was often how Jacqueline challenged her. She let the most difficult questions slip out casually and waited to see if Jane tackled them or dodged them. Jane dropped her hands down to lay upwards on the table with a beaten thump. If she wasn't exasperated before, she was now.
“What do you mean?" she huffed. "How can I answer that?" she was nearly laughing and laid out her hands palms up on the table as she argued her case. "I’m already with someone, he’s called Ryan -”
“Ryan Decker, former sex column writer upstairs.” Jacqueline finished bluntly. “Interesting choice. Continue.”
Jane rubbed her fingers soothingly over her temples, trying her hardest to avoid Jacqueline’s eyes. She could hear Sutton behind her, trying to stifle her laughter.
“And I - I don’t usually date women.”
“Well, if one of Forbes’s 50 most influential women can’t win Jane Sloan's heart, I don’t think anyone can," she quipped, cuttingly. "Let’s hope Ryan has better luck.”
Jane stole an uncertain glance at Jacqueline and promptly hung her head to the ceiling, and just decided to say it.
“It's not that I'm - what I'm saying is -" she started again, well aware her cheeks were flushing. "What I'm trying to say is, I don't think I'm opposed to dating women."
The sentence finished with a high-pitched flick of her voice, as if it was a question to herself as much as much as it was a statement to the room. Then, she was done. She pursed her lips and tapped her coffee cup nervously with her fingers as she waited for the room’s occupants to process it. What a shit-show this was.
If she was being honest with herself, Ryan was the main reason she had declined Izzy’s date. But her mind was continually plagued with a single nagging possibility that he wasn't the only reason. What the other reasons were, exactly, she hadn’t worked out yet. Right then, she was trying to work out how she'd come to the kitchen for a break from Pamela Dolan research and it had wound up with her saying all this out loud.
“Wow, there we go.” Sutton sang cheerfully, and she held up her coffee mug to cheers the room. “This has been a pleasure.”
Jacqueline hadn't moved. Her hands still rested on the table and she appeared to be mulling her words over. Finally, she raised her chin and considered her thoughtfully. There was something in her expression that said she had a dozen more things she wanted to say and was carefully deciding which one to go with. Jane couldn't bring herself to look at her.
“Hmm, it most certainly has been a pleasure,” she echoed, then leant forward slightly with a warm smile. "I didn’t mean to put you on the spot, Jane."
That was all it took for Jane to snap her head back to her, comical frustration bursting across her features. “Are you kidding, Jacqueline? You couldn’t have meant it more!”
Her voice was thin and shrill, because she’d spent most of the conversation trying to breathe normally.
A wide grin stretched across Jacqueline's red lips, framed her white teeth and her eyes danced with mirth. The beauty of Jacqueline seized her so completely, it left her chest twisting in painful, burning knots. She let her hand rest gently on Jane’s shoulder, for the second time that day. It felt full and warm, and her fingers stroked at her fabric.
“There's nothing to be embarrassed about, Jane. Women are very sexy. Good for you.”
Jane could feel Sutton’s burning presence behind her, no doubt revelling in the terrible situation she found herself in, and it made it worse. Jane didn’t believe in God – had never believed in religion of any kind – but she found herself wishing a being greater than herself would help her out now, remove her from the room with one swift strike and take her to a place of safety. It was truly unbearable.
“As for the phone sex, if you’re into it, it can be good,” Jacqueline debated, theorising as if it were a pitch meeting and the discussion of phone sex's pros and cons were a matter of science. “The only thing is,” she went on, wisely. “A lot of your pleasure relies on the work of the person talking to you. So, it can be hit or miss. Get yourself an imaginative partner.”
Jacqueline reached over and knocked on the table with her knuckles, not too far from where Jane sat, and shot them both a pointed, meaningful look.
“Have fun ladies.”
Jacqueline turned away and marched off, a smirk gracing her lips. A few moments later Jane managed to push herself weakly to her feet. Behind her, she heard Sutton exhale heavily and chortle like an old woman who had witnessed top entertainment from the comfort of a nearby armchair.
“My God was that was intense. I think you two just invented the definition of eye-sex. Watching you try not to die is up there with the best things I’ve ever seen." She pulled her into a one-arm hug and clucked her tongue. "Looks like you’re going to need that phone sex ASAP, honey.”
Sutton had turned the corner just as Oliver rung her. She heard her distantly answer “Yep, I’ll be two minutes!” halfway along the corridor.
The door shut and Jane was alone again. She squeezed her eyes closed, unable to grasp what had just happened. She was shocked she could even stand up at this point. She couldn’t feel her legs beneath her, her breathing was sparse, and the ache in her chest was pulsating more than ever.
For the first time, Jane was close to admitting to herself that maybe Jacqueline’s pantsuits, red lipstick and decisive hand movements did something to her after all. Maybe the complicated, confusing, unresolved feelings of two years ago had never really left, only resurfaced after a long period of hibernation.
That was a difficult bombshell to process and deal with on a Monday, when there was so much at stake. Their interview with Cammy Hartman was tomorrow and Jane had to be ready. Messing it up simply wasn't an option.
The comments on this story have been lifted me up so high, I have adored every one of them. Thank you.
This chapter ran Jane over, emotionally, mentally, spiritually. I couldn't resist it. Was Jacqueline jealous, when she found out about Izzy? Hmm... I hope you enjoyed it as much as I did. Let me know your thoughts so far and get ready for the next chapter in the coming week.
Chapter 7: The Desk Drawer
Jane and Jacqueline have a break-through in their Pamela Dolan story. Jane finds something unexpected.
“Would there be any chance that you remember the models?”
Cammy Hartman looked between Jane Sloan and Jacqueline Carlyle with eyes full of uncertainty. Their whole demeanour was stiff with reluctance - they were scared. Jane and Jacqueline’s subtle glance at each other indicated they both knew it.
“I do, but I wouldn’t feel comfortable giving you their information,” Cammy explained.
“What if we found the models and then brought you their names - would you be willing to confirm that they did in fact sign NDAs?”
Jacqueline’s line of questioning was always skilfully executed. She was gentle and empathic, but also blunt and straight to the point, and she switched between them seamlessly as and when she needed to. The result was it often threw people off guard, and it earned her the respect of nearly everyone who she worked with.
Cammy hesitated and bowed her head to the floor, considering the offer. Even in her fear, Jane sensed that Cammy felt a degree of guilt about something, and it wasn’t clear what about. For some reason, something seemed to crumble away in them, and Cammy glanced up with steady resolution.
“Okay,” they said, “sure.”
As anyone who had ever worked at Scarlet would say, Cammy took a swing.
Jane immediately relaxed. Beside her, she felt Jacqueline do the same. Finally, they had something to run with. There was light at the end of the tunnel. Now they just had to get something solid to show for it – they had to find the models and earn their trust.
As they stepped outside and into the orange splintered rays of the afternoon, Jane and Jacqueline looked at each other and shared a knowing smile. Jacqueline’s eyes were tinted with eyeshadow the colour of the sunset, and much like the sky above them, they were glowing. It was Jane’s unspoken favourite of all the colours that shrouded Jacqueline’s eyes, and she wanted to tell her how nice she looked. She wished she could tell her a lot of things.
They waited for the car to turn the corner and stood comfortably, bags under arms. There was a slight breeze in the air, and they felt light with their newfound progress.
Jacqueline cleared her throat and commented on how well Jane had held her own in there. It was the first time either of them had spoken since the meeting with Cammy, and she could hear the pride in her voice, she could feel it in her chest.
Jacqueline leant towards her and grasped her shoulder. She pressed comfortingly just below her collar bone, and the feel of bare fingers on her skin reminded her that moments like this had become a regular occurrence for them of late.
The car approached in the distance. Larry greeted them with a flash of lights. Jacqueline casually dropped her arm and greeted him with her warm smile. Climbing into the backseat, the two women didn’t speak again for the entire journey back to Scarlet. It wasn’t an uncomfortable silence, just calm and still. The pleasant afternoon sun and the success with Cammy made the built-up tension of the past month slip away. Everything seemed to recoil back to its original place.
A few times, Jane peered across at Jacqueline, as she sat with her hands clasped in her lap. She gazed out the window, her brow often arching with thought. She had that unreadable gaze on her face, flickering in the window reflection and glossing over cars, shops, streets they passed by. Her phone vibrated several times, and she ignored it, always in favour of the New York view.
Upon their return to the Scarlet office, Jacqueline disappeared wordlessly into another meeting. Jane settled into her chair and set to work. After the headway they’d made with Cammy, she instinctively felt more determined than ever. Her fingers itched to strike gold with every Google search and she wouldn’t stop until she did. Once Jane got her teeth stuck into something, she was like a dog with a locked jaw - she refused to let up. She refused to loosen her hold.
5pm rolled around and it was near impossible for her to focus on anything else. She was deeply engrossed in research about young, relatively unknown models Pamela Dolan had worked with over the past ten years.
Unsurprisingly, there were a lot, but four models in particular stood out as potential case studies in her dangerous pattern of abuse. If they were proven to be true, their experiences were horrendous. The need to get justice for them picked at her, constantly.
When she looked up at the clock again, it was 8pm.
She printed out the relevant information on each model and peered over the top of her monitor to Jacqueline’s office. The editor-in-chief wasn’t there, and the lights were off. She’d must have left some hours ago. Jacqueline didn’t allow anyone in her office without her permission, but Jane had, in some instances, become the exception. And surely it wouldn’t matter, if Jacqueline wasn’t there and if she was quick?
Jane took her chance to bound across the floor like a leaping deer and shoulder open her office door. Careful not to touch anything, she walked stealthily round to Jacqueline’s desk and placed the neat stack of papers to the side of it. Jacqueline wouldn’t be able to miss them.
With a satisfied smile, she peeled a sticky note from her pad and leant over to write an explanatory note when she realised she’d forgot her pen. She couldn’t be bothered to go back to get it.
Hovering over Jacqueline’s desk, she spotted a fancy silver one and recognised it instantly as the pen Jacqueline held during pitch meetings. She could just envision her now, clicking the pen lid and twirling it slowly in her fingers as she listened to people’s ideas, pausing her movements only to take short notes. She imagined her hands on it, the same hands that rubbed her shoulder. The same hands that gripped the table with smooth, gold ringed fingers. The same clasped hands that rested on her lap in the car.
Hesitating, Jane stopped to listen to the sounds of the office floor. It was silent, and she was sure she was the only one left. She picked up the pen and removed the lid, hurriedly scribbling:
‘These 6 cases studies stood out to me as potential cases of abuse. Let’s reach out to the models. - Jane’
“What are you doing in here, Jane?”
Jane bolted upright and nearly fell backwards. In the commotion, her hand brought down a large pile of Scarlet magazines on the desk and they toppled noisily to the floor. Mumbling incoherently, she bent to pick them up, fully aware she couldn’t have been less discreet if she’d tried.
Andrew stood by the door watching her in a pristine suit. His clipboard was held firmly across his chest and his eyes were wide with scandal. He approached her, immediately on edge.
“Jane, you aren’t allowed to be in here without an appointment, especially not after hours-!”
“I know, I was just leaving some important documents on Jacqueline’s desk to do with our Pamela Dolan story. I promise I’ve been in here for a minute, tops-”
“And you were using her pen? That pen is from Gucci! Oh my God, Jacqueline is going to kill me.”
“I wasn’t using her pen!” Jane retorted adamantly.
Andrew regarded her straight-faced and unamused, as he so often did, and she sighed. “Okay, fine, I used it for literally ten seconds to write this note-”
“Of course you did. Truly vulgar behaviour.”
“It’s hardly vulgar, can you relax?” she exclaimed, "It's fine. She won't even know."
He rolled his eyes and bustled around to the desk, observing her desperately as she knelt on the floor gathering the magazines.
“You are an assistant’s nightmare, Jane. Put everything back in its place. She knows where everything is. She’ll be able to smell that someone has been in here, trust me, she’s like a wolf-”
Jane glanced up at him, frowning. “A wolf, Andrew? Really? Come on.”
Andrew went on talking rapidly as Jane tended to the spilled magazines. There were dozens of them, all issues from the past ten years, bright in their different shades of glossy colours.
She’d remembered most of them from her own collection of Scarlet magazines in her room in Colorado. She'd read them cover to cover, as she lay on her bed in the lamplight. She was adding a 2011 issue featuring Blake Lively and Leighton Meester to the pile when Andrew’s voice pulled her back.
“I mean the last week has been so hectic, the only person in this building who may have had a busier week than Jacqueline is Kat, and she’s running for office.”
“Oh, I know. I helped her flyer on my lunch break last week.” She shoved the remaining magazines to the pile and heaved them back on the desk, using her chest to push them forward. “Okay, that’s it, I’m done.”
“Those magazines are why I’m still here. I’ve been sorting inventory and it’s the last thing on my list. They need to be put into storage and Jacqueline wants them in that cupboard there.” He pointed elegantly to a large cupboard at the furthest end of the room. “You’re helping me.”
His tone left no room for negotiation and Jane knew it.
“Okay, fine. But promise me you won’t say a word about me using her Gucci pen or being … in here in general.”
Andrew wasted no time picking up a stack of magazines.
“Whatever.” He sighed, irritably. “I’ll pretend like it never happened. The key for the storage cupboard is in the top drawer of her desk.”
He marched over to the storage cupboard and waited with the magazines. Jane turned back to the desk. She had only ever been around this side of her desk a handful of times, and rummaging through her drawers felt like a criminal offence.
She was overcome with a looming guilt, but equally she felt her fingers twitch with a heady rush of excitement too. Jacqueline’s desk was a forbidden sanctuary, a place of fascinating artefacts, and opening one of her drawers was like uncovering a secret part of her.
She did it anyway, and she saw the key instantly. It was lying on top of some papers, minding its own business. She picked it up and spotted something else in the corner of her eye.
A single folded piece of paper. With Jane’s name on it.
It was untouched in its own pile, neatly preserved. Her name was written in black ink, the same black ink that oozed from the pen she had just used. She recognised the writing. She had an innate feeling that if she was reborn again as a different person, she would still remember that writing. It would come back to her, through everything. It was magnetic to Jane.
She suddenly became overly aware that Andrew was still waiting behind her, and she quickly turned round and handed him the key. He fumbled and struggled with the lock with his free hand, huffing as he gripped the large stack of magazines in the other. She took the chance to turn her back and unfold the paper in the drawer.
She didn’t know what she expected to see, but it wasn’t this.
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.
Even the sight of it seemed to scold her. As she stared at the words, I can’t tell her how I feel stared back, hard and stubborn and unrelenting. She felt sick with dread.
For a split second, she saw Jacqueline sat in the chair across the same office she stood in now with glassy eyes as leant towards her and murmured, “I really do believe that you have the potential to be exceptional.”
And again, she relived stepping out of the doors of Scarlet Magazine and walking away, gripping her silly box of silly belongings. She was naïve and ambitious, and remembered feeling none of it really mattered, anymore, without Jacqueline. It was the pained ending she’d never quite gotten over, and it was right there, on the page she held. Tucked away in the top drawer of Jacqueline’s desk.
“Jane, do you remember when you said you'd help me?" Andrew said pointedly, his voice brittle with sarcasm. "Because I do."
“Right, sorry – yes!”
Before he could notice, she instinctively folded the paper up and dropped it back in the drawer, shutting it with a snap. Her hands were empty, but her head was spinning.
It didn’t take long to fill the storage cupboards with the magazines, but to Jane it felt like an age. She struggled to breathe normally and had an insatiable need to be alone in the cool night air to process what she had just seen. This new information.
Sometime later, Andrew finally stood up and grabbed his clipboard again. Annoyingly, his suit was still iron-crisp, as uncreased as the bright morning when he’d put it on. In contrast, there wasn’t a single part of her that wasn’t internally collapsing.
“Don’t come in here again after-hours, Jane. This is your final warning. You don’t get any privileges with her like I do as Jacqueline’s assistant.” His voice was a shouted whisper, and he scowled dramatically as he ushered her out the door.
Ordinarily, Jane would’ve responded something funny and sarcastic which Andrew would’ve no doubt appreciated. But right then, Jane couldn’t hold on to a single thought about anything, let alone string a witty sentence together.
She swung her coat on and headed for the lifts, her feet like lead. It was strange, how heavy her limbs felt; how every step felt like someone else’s, not her own.
Instead of catching the subway home, she took a taxi. Conversation with the driver was stilted and she stared at the window, as if in a trance. It took the whole ride home before she registered what had happened. What this folded sheet of paper with her name on meant. Why her email was printed out and placed hidden away in her desk. She sat, numb with panic, through all the traffic light stops and all the gentle brakes, watching the indicator click on and click off.
Jacqueline must’ve seen her email after all.
I found two models who received huge monetary settlements after working with Pamela. Any updates your end?
She was on the phone to Ryan and walking slowly into work when the message popped up from Jacqueline. Ryan was telling her about the freebies on offer at his current hotel as he chewed mouthfuls of pastry, and Jane zoned out of his voice like her ears had been cut off. She stared at the message, at the sight of her name appearing on her phone.
She’d been lucky to get three hours sleep last night. She’d tossed and turned until the moonlit shapes beyond her window set into the misty morning. Somehow, the following morning was underway before she’d had a chance to settle into the previous night. And through it all, she thought unwaveringly about Jacqueline. She couldn’t tear her brain away from the nagging truth that she had seen her email, and had not mentioned a thing about it.
It was all Jane could manage just to turn up at work today. The thought of walking through the Scarlet office and facing her, knowing the information that she now knew, was enough to make her bolt for the door and sprint for the nearest bar - a repeat of last week.
Until this point, she didn’t know what was keeping her at work. Her willpower was on the brink of extinction and she needed a reminder.
Pamela Dolan. Bringing down Pamela Dolan. Making her face up to what she’s done.
She pulled her phone from her ear and swiped to message Jacqueline back.
Check your desk.
She stayed on the phone to Ryan as she ascended the escalators and the bullpen slid into focus. She strolled towards her desk, her phone to her ear, still chatting pointless non-sense about hotel coffee and breakfast food and the little sachets of sugar left on bedside tables. It was mindless talk, but it was a distraction.
Spinning round in his chair, Alex shot her gun fingers and smiled. Jane dropped heavily to her seat and hung up shortly after. She wondered if that phone conversation had been as mundane for Ryan as it had been for her.
Alex regarded her with his eyes glistening. “Why do I get the feeling you didn’t catch many z’s last night?”
“Because I didn’t.” Jane's response was deprived of all amusement and Alex frowned.
“Hmm, I thought so. How’s Ryan?”
“He’s great. Apparently hotel number 7 has got free aloe vera moisturiser.”
”No way. That’s ridiculously fancy.”
”Yup.” She opened her desk drawer and closed it again with an restless snap.
From the corner of her eye, she caught Jacqueline leaning over her desk in a vibrant two-piece suit, full of electric interwoven colours like the feathers of a peacock. Inside her, Jane felt her muscles relax. Jacqueline Carlyle was the very opposite of mundane and hotel freebies.
She watched as Jacqueline moved about, occupying the space in her office with decisive movements. She spotted the papers Jane had left the night before and stopped. Her hands hovered over them for a moment, before she picked them up, with her eyebrows raised with interest. Her eyes scanned the note on top of them and she smiled.
Jane was still watching her, or trying not to, when Jacqueline glanced up and looked straight at her as she sat at her desk, quite obviously not doing anything. Even from across the room and with the lengthy distance between them, she could sense the softness in Jacqueline’s eyes. She couldn’t help but think Jacqueline often looked at her in a way that she could feel, not only see. Did that make any sense? Maybe it didn’t.
Kat appeared behind her and she didn’t have time to think any more about it.
“I’ve missed you, tiny Jane. Where you been?”
Kat rested her arm loosely on top of her chair and squeezed her hand with the other. Jacqueline was still watching her with that fond, pleased smile and shortly returned to the papers in her hand.
Kat was mid-sentence about her night with Tia who she described as definitely, absolutely only her campaign manager, when her phone beeped on her desk. For the second time that day, it was a message from Jacqueline.
These cases are FANTASTIC. I’m stacked with meetings this morning - let’s touch base after my 3pm.
A moment later, another beep.
How late did you work last night?!
Despite her growing fear of their inevitable meeting in a few short hours, the grin burst mightily across her cheeks. She was starting to think Jacqueline had a habit of double-texting.
It was scraping 5pm by the time Jacqueline returned from her meeting. Her heels hammered on the floor and her peacock suit flashed through the bullpen as she strode purposefully past them towards her office. Jane felt her before she saw her. As she neared closer, she kept her eyes locked on her word document, though her fingers had paused from typing.
Jacqueline half-turned as she passed Jane’s desk. She inclined her forehead towards her. Her eyes were unusually bright.
“Well, that meeting was insanely overrun. I'm sorry to keep you waiting, Jane. Walk with me.”
Andrew watched their exchange from his desk.
Jane swallowed her nerves and stood up to follow her, brushing down her skirt and grabbing her notebook. Alex gave her an assuring thumbs up as she passed him. He had no idea what was happening or what the root cause of her nerves were, but it was a sweet gesture nonetheless. She returned his smile weakly.
All too soon she was shutting the door of Jacqueline’s office behind her and they were alone in a confined space. Looking around her office, it dawned on Jane this was the very situation Jane had wanted to avoid.
“Those models you found," she announced. "Two of them matched the two models I told you about who received large settlement money. Great work again, Jane.” She regarded her coolly and held up the papers. “Have you reached out to them?”
“Yes. So far one of them has agreed to meet me tomorrow. The model from Iowa, Eden Verbrugge. I didn’t know where to suggest so I found a bar. Skinny Dennis on Metropolitan Avenue.”
She cleared her throat. She was finding it difficult to meet her boss’s eyes.
“Okay,” Jacqueline quipped. “Send me the details, I’ll go with you. We need to do everything we can, everything within our power, to get her on board. Especially after this hack.”
“Of course, I'm handling it." Jane assured her. "I’ve already established the relationship and I can get her to trust me. You really don’t have to come if you …”
Her voice trailed to silence. If you don’t want to. She didn't say it, but she may as well have.
Jacqueline crossed her arms and titled her head as she stared her down, confusion pulling at her. She seemed taken-aback and was trying not to show it.
“Why would you say that?”
She was frowning, and there was a slight change in her tone. It was demanding, but there was something else in it, too.
"I didn't mean anything by it. I thought you'd be busy, or it was too late notice." Jane tried to explain, and Jacqueline held her eyes captive.
“I thought we'd established that we're working on this story together. I want to be there. Eden Verbrugge was left in freezing ocean water for hours, at sixteen years old. If I can help you help her, I'm sure as hell going to.”
“Okay, no absolutely, I get it.”
Jane nodded, like it all made sense and they could move the conversation on. Crossing her arms with interest, Jacqueline didn't buy it, nor did she take her eyes off her.
“Jane, is everything okay?" She said it slowly, each word stretched out. "You've been acting oddly for weeks. Is there something you're not telling me?"
Jane was quick to jump in.
"No, no, there's no problem. I assure you I'm fine. I just, I wanted to check you were okay with the bar and that you weren't busy - which you're not - and that’s great."
She gave her a wide grin, and tried to appear as relaxed as possible. It took everything for Jane to hold her own. To bury her panic. To not think about the email that she'd sent and Jacqueline had most definitely seen.
Jacqueline gazed at her and her eyes took her in whole. It was a look that said she knew her, that she could see right through her. There was something intimate about it. Jane stared back and they stood like that, regarding each other closely, until Jacqueline clapped her hands together.
“Good. I'm absolutely okay with it. Skinny Dennis it is. What time?"
Jacqueline threw the papers down and looked about the room, exhaustion flooding her features. For a moment, Jacqueline seemed to be at a loss of what to do, and she wasn't the only one. Jane clung onto her hands and had to fight not to hang her head in frustration. She hated being off her game.
"Well, I don't know about you, but I’m going to need a drink after my back-to-back meetings today. Let’s have a Scotch and go over our notes ready for tomorrow. You drink Scotch, right?”
Jacqueline sauntered round to the back of her desk and slid open the third drawer. Jane watched, holding in her breath, as she took out a bottle of Scotch, followed by two glasses, and unscrewed it in a well-trained movement. She was pouring the amber liquid before she had a chance to respond.
Scotch in Jacqueline’s office was her territory, her private ritual. Jane briefly wondered how many powerful celebrities or wealthy clients Jacqueline had done this with over the years.
"Yeah, I drink anything. I've drank Scotch in your office before, I think.” She said, and her voice became quieter as she explained. "It was two years ago now. The night we were stuck in the building because of Trump."
"Ah yes. You and your 'How to Tell When It's Time to Move on From Your Job' quiz. How could I forget?"
She smiled fondly, as if recollecting the memory, and Jane turned to look out the glass windows that looked out on the rest of the office. She saw Alex stand up and slowly gather his things together, finishing up for the day and preparing for home. Others were doing the same. Some people had already left.
She couldn't see Kat and Sutton anywhere, and part of her needed them to rescue her like they did from shit dates - burst into Jacqueline's office with an excuse of a medical emergency or something, but she knew Jacqueline would see right through it. She needed their back-up plan more than ever, and it wasn't because she thought Jacqueline would be a shit date. Looking at her now, her hands splayed over glasses as she waltzed about in her peacock suit, the sight of her burned Jane right through.
Jacqueline held out a glass to her. She seemed to sense her hesitation and she was smirking; her eyes flickered over face, and they shone with incredulous fondness.
“Don’t look so terrified, Jane. You act like I'm a monster sometimes."
"What?” she could tell she was making a face. “No. I would never think that."
Jane's response was quick, a little too quick, and she couldn't stop the glare of adamance sink into her face. She was genuinely annoyed she would even suggest it.
"I really don't think that." Jane said firmly again.
Jacqueline saw it all play out before her, could see the wheels turning in Jane’s head. She blinked at her silently for a few moments, evidently surprised by her response. What it was that surprised her wasn’t clear.
"Okay then, good. I’m glad. Take a seat.”
She gestured to the sofa. Jane took the glass from her and did as she was told. She hated Jacqueline thinking she was scared. She didn't want to be scared, it wasn't in her nature to be scared. She was bold and brave and could answer to any one. It didn't matter who they were or what their job title was. Kat’s words found her once again. Live your fucking truth.
Jacqueline sat down at the opposite end, and even with all the space in the world between them, her nerves jangled and soared.
Jacqueline crossed one of her long legs over the other as she raised her chin and her glass of Scotch simultaneously.
“So. How late did you work last night?”
Jane gripped her glass and took a long sip.
Thanks again for all the beaut comments on this wee story! It's so nice to hear from you. The next chapter is already written, I am just editing it and hope to have it posted in a few days so you won't have to wait too long! What do you think is gonna happen? This conversation will be a particularly interesting one. Send me your predictions. I am toying with having a POV from Jacqueline's perspective, but I quite enjoy that we never know what she's thinking either. We'll see...
Chapter 8: The Scotch
Jacqueline's office, drinking Scotch. Jane was now in her territory.
I said you wouldn't have to wait too long and you did... I'm sorry! This chapter could've gone a dozen different ways, with a dozen different questions, and I feel like I wrote them all. Here's the version I settled on and it still doesn't do them justice...
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
The Scotch burnt her throat, and Jane felt the searing spice of it trickle all the way down. But it didn’t come close to the heat building in her chest at the way Jacqueline was looking at her, sat on the other end of the sofa.
They regarded each other quietly for a while, their eyes catching from over the steely tops of their glasses as they sipped wordlessly.
This meeting was strictly work, Jane reminded herself. Pantsuits, corporate work drinks, no-nonsense business. No more, no less.
She dropped her eyes to her knees and absent-mindedly tapped her fingers on her glass, trying not to look in the direction of Jacqueline's desk at the end of her office. The secrets that lay hidden in the top drawer that were hers and hers alone. She hoped she could keep a lid on her emotions for the duration of the meeting.
Jacqueline was still waiting for her to answer her question about working late.
“Last night I think I left the office around 8:00pm maybe?" her voice inclined upwards in question. "It all seemed to be coming together and I wanted to keep pushing on. I’m glad you thought the research was useful, though, that's great.”
“Thanks to your hard investigative work we've had a breakthrough. I sent the list of names to Cammy and they confirmed that they did sign NDAs for the models that appeared in your research."
Jacqueline inclined her head towards her, as she often did when she was pleased with her progress. Jane found herself nodding slowly as she took it in.
“Wow, that’s big news. That’s-” she scrunched her eyebrows gratefully. “That’s amazing. Thank you. Cammy really came through for us in the end."
Jacqueline contemplated for a moment, before she said solemnly. "They certainly did. It’s some dangerous game Pamela Dolan is playing, but we’ll get to the bottom of it.” Jacqueline gave her a reassuring smile and paused to sip her drink. “So, how do you want to start the meeting with Eden? Got any ideas for me?”
“Yes,” Jane responded, confidently, and clutched her notebook purposefully. “I was thinking we should present to her the case, what we’ve found so far, what Pamela Dolan is doing. If Eden is distant and unsure-”
“Which she most certainly will be.” Jacqueline added. “Given the sensitivity of the subject.”
“Right, exactly.” Jane agreed. “We can almost count on her to feel uncertain and she'll probably need time to gain our trust, so we should make her aware that she isn’t the only one. It’s not going to be her word against Pamela Dolan’s. We’ll make it clear to her that there are others who have also been abused, who have also signed NDAs. If there are other women who can stand with her…”
“Then she'll be more inclined to speak out.” Jacqueline finished.
Her eyes gleamed in the low light of her office as she considered her offer. Then, she moved swiftly and she pointed a finger at her victoriously.
“I like it. It’s that way of thinking that will make this story work.”
Jane smiled softly at her approval, and she glanced down at her glass, spared a moment to be pleased with herself. It was the first time she’d smiled since she’d entered her office. There was no doubt the Scotch was making her relax a bit, but it was nice, feeling comfortable in her office. It was a rarity.
“We can’t make Eden any promises we can’t keep.” Jacqueline was suddenly saying, and her assertiveness filled the room. “You and I both know how damaging that can be to sources we work with, and our reputation as a magazine, if we give them false hope or a false sense of security. We’ll be transparent that we will need to speak to the other models first before going further.”
“Of course, I understand.” Jane said, reassuringly. “You can trust me. I feel confident I can handle this story.”
“Good, because you're going to lead the meeting, steer the conversation," she responded frankly. "What else are you going to say to Eden? What are your other angles? Let's hear them."
She pulled her phone out of her pocket and started rapidly typing, then paused to glance up at Jane expectantly.
Jane was momentarily caught off guard by her quick movements, but recovered smoothly. She was well-practiced with her speed of conversation, by now.
"Okay, sure, so..." She slid her notebook across the table to her and gestured to a specific section of the page. "These are all my notes on Eden's case, including evidence. These are my questions for her. This section-" she turned the page. "Is some additional thoughts I had that I wanted to run by you first."
Jacqueline leant forward and picked up her notes, bringing them to rest on her lap. The office was completely silent as she read, and Jane watched her. She hadn't realised she was tapping her glass again, to distract herself more than anything, and she was unable to stop her teeth tugging ruthlessly at her lips.
"These are good, Jane." She said at last. "They're thoughtful, precise... you're on the right track. I especially like this one, 'What false hard-truths did Pamela Dolan force you to face, and how did they disturb you physically, mentally and emotionally?' Go deeper with that."
"Okay I will."
She turned a few of the pages and continued to read intently for several more minutes, her eyebrows rose in intrigue, until she slowly rose up to meet her. "Well, I can see you didn't use my Gucci pen to write these. I'm surprised."
There was an unreadable expression on her face, and Jane's eyes widened as she clutched her drink tightly.
"Wait, did Andrew-?" she asked, and when Jacqueline didn't say anything, her face contorted in panic and she shifted restlessly in her seat. "Oh my God, Andrew told me he wouldn't tell you about that. I'm sorry. It's a great pen, incredibly reliable ink-"
"It is a great pen." she agreed breezily, and at once. "It's also mine. A unique gift from Alessandro Michele, the Creative Director of Gucci and an old friend. It has personalised engravings on, and it's the only one of its kind that exists in the state of New York."
Jane set the glass on the table in front of her and held out her hands in innocence. "Okay, shit. I didn't know that. I had no idea. I also didn't mean to say shit in your office, it's a been a day. I'm sorry Jacqueline-"
"Jane, stop, stop." She held out a hand to quieten her, and Jane slipped back on the sofa uncertainly. She was regarding her with such warmth, Jane didn't know what was happening. "Jane, it's a pen. You think I care that much about a pen? I'm obviously kidding. You really must think I'm a monster." She was laughing into her Scotch, and Jane could hardly believe it. "Use it to write down the angles we discussed. I want your typed notes on my desk by 9:00 am tomorrow."
She dug her hand into her pocket and threw the pen across to her. Jane caught it numbly and looked down at it in her hand, at the engravings of Jacqueline's initials that cut deep into the silver. Her frown and smile were fighting with each other. Her reaction didn't go amiss by Jacqueline, who was regarding her with curious interest.
"Also, never ever apologise for saying shit in my office. I welcome everyone’s shit.”
Jane turned to catch her eyes again. Jacqueline wouldn't even know how good she looked, smiling so fully at her right then as she clung casually onto her drink. It left Jane's stomach twisting in hot, burning knots. Were Jacqueline's social invitations with Scotch, skyscrapers and the rich and powerful clientele of New York always like this?
She took a long drink to cover her anxiousness that was on the verge of unravelling, but she couldn't contain it.
"I don't think you're a monster, by the way." Jane was speaking before she even knew it.
At her words, Jacqueline immediately stopped what she was doing and slowly raised her chin. If she was surprised, she didn't show it. She didn't give anything away. She was an expressionless mask of beauty.
"Yes, you said before." Her lips quirked to the side and her voice lingered, as if prompting her to explain.
Jane hesitated, and began hurriedly debating how deep of a hole she wanted to dig for herself, but sped recklessly on anyway.
“I know, but I’m sorry if the way I’ve acted in the past made you think that. I swear that’s not what I think of you at all. I think you're ... well, you know what I think.”
She was finding it difficult to look at her. She had wanted to convey the words as honestly as she could, but she couldn't continue. It hurt her that Jacqueline had thought she saw her as a monster - even if she'd said it in a light-hearted way, it still made her feel like shit. Jacqueline was God-tier in her eyes, and she unmistakably always had been.
In a sense, Jacqueline's presence was the pinnacle of most things Jane had come to believe in. She defined and executed everything she loved about Scarlet, about women. No one could knock Jacqueline from the pedestal in her mind, and every time she watched Jacqueline waltz into a room her position there became cemented. The seat got higher. Jane hadn’t considered what that meant on the page or in her life, but as their eyes fixed on each other and they held heavy glasses in weakening hands, the reason beneath it all edged closer to surface.
Whatever it was Jane thought of Jacqueline, she couldn't articulate it. And it would be detrimental to the both of them to try.
Jacqueline observed her thoughtfully, her lashes low and thick, her lips pushed into a pout. She narrowed her eyes as if trying to pin her down into a calculation.
"I don't think I do know what you think, Jane, but I appreciate the gesture. Thank you.” She had tipped her head back to acknowledge her, and her eyes were bright. "It's nice to hear.”
Something uncurled in Jane as she spoke, and a tender moment of confidence passed over them; a sense that they understood each other better than they had a minute before. Jacqueline had quickly glanced down at the floor, and her contented expression slipped into a frown.
"Jane, do you mind if I ask you something?"
Jane tightened her grip on her glass until her knuckles strained white. Her mind whirled, and she realised she was unconsciously looking at Jacqueline’s desk. It was the worst possible scenario. Surely, she wouldn't go there.
"Your behaviour in recent weeks has been odd. All of a sudden you're incapable of speaking in full sentences, like when you were an intern. Why is that?"
Jacqueline was observing her with hooded eyes, and sharp curiosity ebbed at the edges of her voice.
Jane opened her mouth to speak and closed it again, and Jacqueline raised a hand in signal.
“Case in point.”
"That’s not true, I'm speaking fine."
Jacqueline continued, undeterred. "You were sick from work and acted strangely when I asked you about it which, in fairness, is reasonable. Sickness is confidential and private. And yet, earlier you suggested that I didn't need to join you to meet Eden tomorrow, who is an important source to a magazine that I am Editor-in-Chief of."
Mortified, Jane closed her eyes with a drawn-out exhale and Jacqueline's voice sliced through it.
"Your work is good, but you’re treading on eggshells. Why?" her voice soft but demanding. "What's this all about?"
"Nothing - it's about absolutely nothing. You keep asking me and I don’t have an answer for you." Jane was staring at her hard, and her voice cracked as she stubbornly added, "I've been handling this case and I want to do it well. It's all I've been thinking about."
"Okay," Jacqueline said, curtly, and her eyes never left her. "Then let me ask you this. From the moment you presented me this story I could tell you had that determined look in your eye. What is it about Ingrid's story that captured your attention? What is it about it that bothers you so much?"
She tilted her head, as if the new angle would help her find more answers.
It wasn't at all the direction Jane expected, and she was absurdly relieved. She hoped it didn't show.
"I just really need to bring Pamela Dolan down, for Ingrid. I hate that she thinks she can get away with what she's doing."
Jacqueline crossed her arms as she considered her. Jane knew what it meant and sighed, the growing sense of frustration was already building.
"I just think what she's doing is so inherently, so inexplicably wrong. The injustice of it gets to me, the abuse of power, her arrogance in knowing her victims are too scared to say anything. It's hard to detect, it's manipulative, and it's cruel." She was accentuating each point with her hands. "If I think about it for too long it makes me so angry, I can actually feel myself shaking. Is that normal for a reporter? Is that weird?”
She glanced uncomfortably at Jacqueline, fearing she'd said too much. Simultaneously, she couldn’t recall a single word she'd said.
Jacqueline was silent for a moment as she stared at her, trying to piece her all together. Then, she was shaking her head.
"It's not weird, but I wouldn't say it's not not normal either. There is absolutely nothing wrong with emotion, Jane." It was hard to tell what was softer - Jacqueline's eyes as she gazed wistfully at her or her milky voice. "You've always been an emotional and passionate writer. They are natural territories that are instinctive to you. When you feel things, you feel them deeply. Writing is your way of controlling the way you think about the world."
She watched Jane carefully as she drank, her hand greedier and heavier than before. When someone explained her behaviour, what made her tick, Jane never knew how to respond. It usually went one of two ways - she wounded up shutting down her emotions completely or they came cascading wildly out in a mass of heat and movement. It was endearing, and it fascinated Jacqueline to no end.
"For what it's worth," she pressed on delicately, "I really do believe you'll take down Pamela Dolan. I’d count on you to win most battles. Some of them single-handedly."
"Why do you think that?" Jane blinked at her. The immensity of what she said hadn't hit.
"Because your battles are my battles," she concluded simply, "and because Pamela Dolan has no idea who she's started a war with."
Even with the space between them, Jacqueline's eyes sought hers and they wavered with emotion. For a moment, Jane melted into her.
"Whatever happened to this being our story?" Jane retorted, after she'd managed to tear her eyes away. Her mouth was dry and gaped open in feigned shock, and she was a beat away from laughing. "'We're writing this together.' Isn't that what you keep telling me?"
She was deflecting from more serious conversation, and they both knew it; it was a familiar and well-trained tactic of hers. Jacqueline raised her eyebrows and the amused smile that grew on her lips said she'd been let off the hook.
"I like to think I know you well enough to know that when you are feeling this determined, you can lead anything." She was pointing a strong finger at her again. "Your actions at my anniversary party are a prime example of that.”
Her courage and her heart makes every woman on that team stronger.
Jane swallowed more Scotch as she let Jacqueline's words sink into her. She was being so kind and non-judgemental, her heart could barely take it and her ears struggled to soak the sounds in. She'd waited years to get her approval - had worked hard for it. Now the compliments seemed to tumble in at once, colliding in her chest, crawling their way into her heart, at an unstoppable speed.
Jacqueline's eyes drifted towards the window, and Jane longed to say something to pull her back.
"I don't agree with 80% of what you just said, especially the winning battles single-handedly part, but I want you to know. I'm going to do all that I can to take her down." She told her, directly. Every ounce of her was determined. "I'm going to tell the truth of Ingrid's story, and Eden's, and all the others. We're going to do this right... for them. And I'm grateful you had enough belief in me to take it even this far."
It was all she could manage.
Jacqueline seemed frozen with surprise as she stared at her, like she was an unearthly gift and try as she might, she couldn't fathom where she'd come from. She shook her head in amazement and returned to her drink.
In her ringing ears, Jane thought she heard her mutter. "There's the battle-winner."
Jane smiled softly into her drink, and noticed Jacqueline do the same. The glass felt heavy in her weak fingers, and the liquid slipped easily down her throat.
When she caught sight of the glass windows that looked out upon the bullpen, she saw the office was deserted. Not a single person was still working, and the automatic lights had shut off. Jacqueline had followed her eyes, and as if in unspoken agreement, Jane and Jacqueline instinctively turned to gaze out of the big window that opened to the city.
It was getting dark, and the thick buildings around them blocked out any last glints of sun that tried to reach them. Tiny cars moved swiftly, and the distant clunk of cranes whined jarringly up ahead. The grey slates of buildings stared hard back at them, all grit and no sympathy and red and silver circular beams floated across the office walls. Amongst it all, the glass revealed the reflection of them, angled towards each other on the sofa.
Jacqueline cleared her throat. “I won’t keep you late, Jane. Especially after your work last night.”
"It's fine." she replied, honestly. "I’ve missed working for the magazine. We don’t have these meetings too often these days. It’s been ... nice.”
She had hesitated slightly at the end, and she could feel Jacqueline's eyes on her as she peered down at her hands.
"You know it's funny.” Jacqueline said suddenly, but there was no amusement in her voice. There was something different in it, and Jane rubbed her hands nervously against her jeans.
Jacqueline shifted her elbows to rest on her knees and paused, staring at her thoughtfully. Long seconds trickled by, lost forever, as she mulled over what to say.
"You hardly let anyone in. Sometimes your emotions play out on your face, and I can tell what you're thinking, see what you're feeling, as plain as the day. Then there are other times where you shut off and I'm in the dark. All of us, in the dark. I have no idea about you or what you think about anything." Jacqueline's eyes drifted off into the distance, and her voice was barely above a whisper. "It's like you become so ... unreachable."
Jane felt her cheeks flush, could feel her lungs inhaling, exhaling, with every breath. Jacqueline's eyes held still into the distance, and Jane wondered if she knew she was still there, witnessing her unfold.
"I could say the same about you." As she said it, Jane stared blankly at the amber liquid, watching as it sloshed in her hand.
Jacqueline was looking at her now with her mouth slightly open. She caught the way her steady hands tightened against the sofa as her eyes searched hers.
"What do you mean by that?”
Jane shrugged. “You can be just as unreachable as I can.”
Her shoulders felt stiff, and her cheeks felt warm, and she flickered her eyes to Jacqueline. They met each other for a full heated minute, and Jane lost track of time. It wasn't until her phone beeped in the silence that they ripped their eyes from each other. Jacqueline turned her attention to her drink, and Jane bent to check her screen, which illuminated in the dimness. Ryan.
Her fingers fumbled to 'vibrate' only and she begun typing a mindless response. Jacqueline had stood up with a lingering look at her and signalled to her empty glass, which she took and sidled over to her desk. Sliding open the drawer, the sound was low and strangely foreboding. Once again Jane's mind raced to the folded piece of paper with her email on, one drawer along from where she stood. She longed to know how often Jacqueline looked at it, if ever.
Jacqueline poured the liquid and screwed the lid back on, gave her glass back. When she sat down again, they drank in unison once more.
Jacqueline was first to break the silence.
“Have you heard any more from Dr Isabel Keenan? That was an interesting development for you.”
Her voice was determinedly controlled and she was looking firmly at her drink, scrutinising it as she handled it in her fingers. There was a raspiness that wasn't there before.
She remembered the conversation with Sutton and Sage in the kitchen the week before, when Jacqueline had walked in. Phone sex and being attracted to women - what a miraculous train wreck it had turned out to be. It had shot up to claim the prize of the most embarrassing conversation of her life with ease. Even now, she could hardly believe it happened. The last few weeks had been surreal.
“Sutton said she was texting you at quite the early hour. 2 in the morning, if I recall."
Jacqueline was still looking at her glass, and her voice was clipped around the edges. She only moved when she saw Jane abruptly lean forward, sighing heavily.
“Yeah, there’s been a couple of messages." She rubbed her eyes wearily, hating why she was asking this, why she was doing this to her. "Nothing is going on obviously, I'm just being – I don’t know – polite, professional?”
She mumbled it from behind her hands, in the hope that if she said it quietly it would help her imagine this conversation wasn’t happening. It didn’t work, and she reached for her drink.
“Well, polite and professional is a good start.” Jacqueline murmured reasonably.
Her tone was dripping in amusement, and Jane hit her with a face of pained accusation.
“Do you have any idea how embarrassing that conversation was for me?”
Jacqueline was smiling now. A perfectly unleashed smile and the sight of it made Jane gaze at her for a second too long.
“Oh yes, I was aware. I think everyone within the vicinity of you was aware.” She shrugged casually and held up her arms, one ringed-hand slung lazily on the back of the sofa. “You did well, you held your own. Maybe it's fun to watch you squirm.”
“Maybe you are a monster," Jane told her plainly, and Jacqueline laughed outright. The rippling sound of it made Jane feel lighter than she had in a long time. It also made her realise she was tipsy.
“Well, good luck with Dr Keenan. She was evidently moved by you.”
Jane couldn’t help but raise her eyes to Jacqueline as she said that. Jacqueline watched her in return, her blue eyes endlessly cloudy and a slight crinkle in her brow. It wasn’t clear whether her eyes were dancing with amusement or filling with something else entirely. Jane tried to gauge what she was thinking and couldn't, but they both felt the sudden shift.
The city lights behind them had cast dark shadows across the office and the atmosphere seemed different somehow.
“Izzy didn't text me at 2:00 am. You know that, right? It's nothing like that.”
Jane had swallowed a mouthful of drink and said it before she could take it back, and now she had plunged the both of them into dark waters.
In the stretched silence that followed, Jacqueline cocked her head to the side with a frown and took a deep breath in. Her legs were planted firmly on the floor and she had set her glass down to take hold of her hands, wrapping them together comfortingly. She was clearly contemplating her words.
“I shouldn’t have said that.” Jane began in a rush, "It was a stupid thing to say."
It was her turn to set her glass on the table. The force of her hand was too heavy and it made a louder sound than she thought. Jacqueline was observing her movements, and for maybe the first time, her head bowed with uncertainty.
“Why - why would Sutton say that?"
She had turned to look at her, expressionlessly. There was still a lot of space between them, but the movement made Jane’s heart hammer. She was testing her again with the hard questions, with the impossible answers. She could never answer them and she would be forever stuck in the mud trying to. It wasn't clear what Jacqueline expected her to do.
“What do you mean?” Jane asked, knowing perfectly well what she meant. Jacqueline, with her perfect arched eyebrows and dubious lips, knew it.
“If Dr Keenan hadn’t messaged you, why did Sutton say that she had? It isn’t like Sutton to lie."
Jane stared at her almost desperately, trying to communicate without actually having to. She found herself both shrugging and raising her arms, her limbs loose but somehow stiff. Controlled but helplessly messy, in equal measure.
There was something in Jacqueline's face as she watched her. An innate sense that Jacqueline knew her more than either one of them would ever care to admit. Like she understood her and all her complexities, and could trace the messy, untrodden paths of her like a finger on a roadmap. Sometimes parts of Jane would lead to dead-ends. Other times, they'd stumble upon something unexpected, but every time Jacqueline knew the questions to ask. She could render her speechless or fire her up. It had been a fact that had existed between them since the beginning, and it lingered in the air now.
Jane’s voice quietened, and something crumbled away in her. “Okay, she wasn't lying. Sutton would never lie about that. Izzy did message me..." she hesitated. "Just later. Not at the time I said she did.”
Jacqueline looked at her. Even though a question never fell from her lips, it was there on her face. Jane found herself speaking again.
“I didn’t want her to know it was you, and not because-" she broke off. "I don’t know why, and it really doesn’t matter. I'm sorry for bringing this up-”
She stared down at her drink, her accidental companion. She couldn’t believe she’d said these things out loud, willed them into the air between them. She realised her jaw was hurting from clenching it so hard.
Jacqueline was turning her hands over to examine her rings, and it was a long time before she spoke. Her eyes were fathomless, but her voice gave her away.
"Jane, if this is a conversation we don’t need to have, we won’t have it."
There was a detectable hardness in the words that startled Jane, and she turned to see her staring contemplatively out the window. She seemed like she was in another world entirely. Despite the sense of crushing disappointment that hit her and kept hitting her in painful, dizzying waves, Jane smiled and nodded.
“You're right. We don't need to have it." There was a horrible lump in her throat, and she tried to swallow it as she stood up. "I'm going to go. I've got a long meeting with Patrick tomorrow morning. He wants to catch up."
She drained the remaining Scotch and slid it back on the table. Two of them gone, in just over an hour. She let her eyes shut for a split second as the liquid scolded her, and she begun gathering her things. Her notebook, her phone, which she unlocked with slightly shaking fingers. 2 more messages from Ryan. A dozen from Kat and Sutton discussing dinner plans.
"Enjoy your meeting with Patrick."
Jacqueline stayed rooted to her seat, facing the night as it ascended over the city. In the reflection of the window and the dimming light of her office, Jane could see the unmistakeable shine her eyes. Her emotions under the lights. The lump in her throat throbbed again, and she turned away.
In the hazy distance she could see the outline of her desk, the drawer. She wondered if her email was still in there, or if Jacqueline had whipped away and discarded it as quickly as her tone could wind her. As effortlessly as she could wrench out her heart.
“Thanks for the Scotch," Jane muttered, and didn't mean a word of it.
She turned her back on Jacqueline to make her way to the door, all wheels in motion.
“Jane, hold on a moment.”
Jane stopped but didn't turn around, and she tried not to react. She was level with the shining glass panes of the door, the industrial silver handle Jacqueline's rings always clunked against. If she longed for something, she didn't know what it was, and decided she'd better find out.
When she turned tensely to face her, Jacqueline was standing. The emotion in the room was heavy, and it stuck to them. Jacqueline's glossy eyes washed over her, and pierced Jane right through.
"I saw your email."
I'm going to take some time to respond to all your comments over the next few days. Thank you, thank you, thank you.