The telephone rang like a loud, insistent bell, jolting Peggy awake. She padded out to the living room and immediately wished she had worn socks – the creaky wooden floor was freezing, even in late September.
“Peggy?” a woman’s voice answered tentatively.
Peggy checked her watch. It was nearly two in the morning.
“Who is this?” she asked, rubbing her eyes. There was sniffling on the other end, and Peggy could hear the muffled sounds of the city in the background - someone on a payphone.
“It’s… it’s Megan. It’s late, I think. Sorry. It’s Megan Draper, Peggy,” Megan slurred, her voice thick and unsteady. Peggy furrowed her brow – why would Megan be calling her? They’d barely stayed in touch after Megan left the agency, and Don had eventually stopped mentioning her altogether (something Peggy had noticed, and had studiously tried not to think about because she knew him and knew what that could mean). Don. Peggy felt a cold wave of apprehension curl through her, pooling in her toes.
“Where are you? Is everything okay?”
There was a pause on the other end. Peggy could hear Megan breathing softly into the receiver.
“Nobody’s hurt,” Megan said, her voice hiccupping into a sob. “Please. I don’t want to go back there. Not home, not tonight.” Peggy pictured Megan alone in the dark of her apartment with a bottle of Don’s whiskey, waiting for the sound of his footsteps in the hall. She gripped the phone tighter, a dull ache beginning to throb at the base of her skull.
“Megan, how much have you had to drink? Are you with anyone right now?” Peggy asked, her voice clipped with worry. What the hell was going on? She pressed a hand to her temple and wished desperately for a cigarette, or for Joan to materialize out of thin air and tell her what to do. When Megan spoke again, she sounded very small.
“I don’t have anyone,” she whispered. Peggy remembered the thin, glamorous strangers at Don’s birthday party and the sad curve of Megan’s mouth the morning after, how she’d clutched her notebook over her chest like a lost little girl. You’re all so cynical. You don’t smile, you smirk. Peggy glanced over at her threadbare couch.
“Come to my apartment,” Peggy said.
“It’s at 129 West 81st Street. Are you far?”
“Cab. I’ll… cab,” Megan stuttered out, her breath hitching.
“I’ll wait by the front door. Be careful, okay?”
Peggy hung up the phone and stared at a pale patch of moonlight on the floor. Sometimes the thin cord that tied her to Don threatened to cut her off at the knees, and Peggy set her teeth against the familiar hot flare of resentment. No, she thought, that wasn’t fair to Megan. She liked Megan, who had been eager to work and help out the rest of the team whenever she could. She liked how Megan had always sought her out for input on an idea. But sometimes the openness and eagerness of Megan’s face had made her uncomfortable; it somehow made her feel like being twelve years old in the confessional again, nervously offering up the sin of lying to her mother to the shadows inside the old wood-paneled walls.
Once, the two of them had been in the creative lounge with Stan. Megan had been vividly describing a silly exchange she’d witnessed between Ginsberg and Pete, and Peggy had laughed until her ribs hurt at her impressions. She’d felt an acute stab of something she couldn’t name, something dark and sharp as she’d watched the angles of Megan’s face and the long, elegant line of her neck. (She had meant it later when she’d told Joan that she thought Megan was good at everything.)
Peggy swallowed hard and began to search the apartment for spare blankets and pillows.
The dim light bulb in the foyer flickered, a low hum echoing in the dingy hallway. Three clumsy knocks sounded at the door. Megan was standing with her purse clutched in her hand, her eyes red and raw, makeup smeared across the top of her right cheekbone. She was very pale. Peggy noticed the guarded, heavy way Megan held herself, as if a light had been snuffed out inside of her. It made her feel strange.
“Hey. Um… come in,” she said awkwardly, reaching out towards her. Megan stumbled over the threshold and latched gratefully onto Peggy’s arm, looping it through hers.
“Hi,” Megan replied in a low voice. She was swaying a bit, leaning into Peggy as they made their way up the stairs. She smelled like floral perfume and whiskey. Canadian Club, thought Peggy, remembering the leaden weight of Don’s arm on her shoulders, the stench of vomit on his shirt. She didn’t let go of Megan even as she unlocked her door.
Megan slumped down onto the couch and propped her head up on her hand. She watched from half-lidded eyes as Peggy nervously flitted around the room, setting a large glass of water on the coffee table.
“Drink that,” she said, wringing her hands. Megan did, curling her legs up on the couch and shifting to lie down on her side.
“Do you – do you want to talk about it?” Peggy asked tentatively, feeling the strangeness of the situation. She thought about the handful of slumber parties she’d had as a girl: Katy Perkins describing her first kiss with Trevor from catechism in the darkness of Peggy’s bedroom, stifling her giggles into the pillow, swearing Peggy to secrecy. Megan shook her head, her lips pressing into a firm line as she quite obviously tried not to cry.
“No,” she said. “I’m just being stupid – so stupid. I didn’t mean to drink so much.”
Peggy waited, her heart thrumming in her chest.
“I told him I was meeting Julia, but I just needed to – I wanted to go and be by myself. But I couldn’t go back there, not like this… He – he would be so mad. There’s always a fight,” Megan mumbled, more to herself than to Peggy. There was a hint of finality to her tone. She curled into the sofa, her dark hair falling around her face.
“You’ll stay tonight,” Peggy said quietly, watching Megan’s tears drip onto the worn fabric of the sofa, frozen. “I won’t say anything.” Megan let out a pitiful, shuddery breath and nodded. It was quiet for a moment.
“He won’t even notice,” Megan whispered suddenly.
“He doesn’t, sometimes,” Peggy murmured, and was surprised that she had said it at all. In the warm glow of the lamplight, Megan’s eyes were bright and glassy. She looked at Peggy curiously, a hint of understanding in her gaze.
“I’m sorry for dropping all this on you. I’m a mess,” Megan laughed bitterly, clumsily swiping at her eyes.
“No,” said Peggy, smiling a little. “It’s okay.”
“It’s just… I want – it’s like no one cares that I’m here. Nobody sees. But I am,” Megan said quickly, like she was afraid she’d lose the nerve. “I’m here.”
Peggy stared at her, feeling like a veil had been lifted in the barely lit room. Her mouth felt dry, tongue heavy. Megan's expression was soft and pleading.
“I think we all feel like that sometimes,” Peggy replied gently, knowingly. Suddenly, she had to look away from the vulnerability in Megan’s gaze, feeling acutely aware of the late hour. She moved to grab the folded blanket on a nearby chair, briskly draping it over Megan.
Megan’s long fingers closed over her wrist, holding her in place. She brought Peggy’s hand up to her cheek, palm curving over her knuckles. Megan’s face was cool to the touch, her skin impossibly soft, staring up at Peggy with something sweet and sad in her eyes. Peggy’s head was swimming.
“You’re so good, Peggy,” Megan whispered.
Peggy felt her pulse in her fingertips, her ears, hot and urgent between her legs. She closed her eyes. I’m not, she thought, not really.
She stepped away, pausing in the doorway of her bedroom.
“Good night, Megan,” she said, her head bowed.
The blanket was folded neatly on the couch the next morning. There was a note left on the coffee table. Peggy picked it up with shaking fingers.
You’re here, it read. She held her breath.
Peggy folded the paper into a tiny square and tucked it away into her drawer, trying not to think about the tender way Megan’s hand had pressed over hers.