6. all matters financial
He hadn't expected to miss London much. New York had been his home for over two years now, and he quite enjoyed it there. But there was something pleasing about stepping off the plane and into a black cab. Actually, he thought, being whisked along the A4 into the city, and cataloguing the sights of central London, it was rather enjoyable to be back after so much time away.
The car wound up past Kensington and down the still-bustling Edgware Road. After another minute, they turned left into the quiet nook of Clifton Gardens and pulled up beside Lane's building.
He paid the cabbie, collected his suitcase, and went to ring the bell of number 31. It was the first time he'd been on the front stoop since last summer. How odd.
The door opened, and Rebecca ushered him inside. “Hello, Lane,”
“Hello,” he said, drawing her into a hug. It was surreal to see her here, after nearly six months apart. Lane released her, looking down the hallway for his son. “Where's Nigel?”
“With my mother,” she said, biting her lip. Lane felt his heart sink.
“Why?” He wasn't sure he wanted to hear the answer.
She drew in a sharp breath. “I thought we should talk, given the circumstances.”
“Rebecca.” Lane felt like shouting, but kept his voice quiet. “Can't we just...enjoy each other's company for now? I'm exhausted, darling. I don't think I'd be much good at talking right now.”
“Exhausted? Lane, you've only just arrived.”
They stood in silence. Lane attempted to change the subject.
“So, ah. Is your mother well? When you last wrote, you said she'd taken ill.”
Rebecca folded her arms, appearing annoyed. “Lane, that was four months ago. She got a head cold, and has since recovered.”
A silence settled over them, awkward and heavy.
“Well.” He felt ridiculous. “I'll just go unpack, then.”
He'd got up the staircase and halfway down the landing to the master bedroom when he wondered if Rebecca would even want to share their room tonight. Hm. Lane spent what felt like hours in a heated internal debate. Should he assume she'd missed him, or that she still wanted separation? Leaving him to make the decision was almost cruel. What would happen if he chose wrongly?
In desperation, he tossed his suitcase onto the bed of the guest room nearest the master suite. It seemed a fine enough compromise, for now.
He opened the case and began placing things in the bureau. A Mickey Mouse cuddly toy for Nigel went on top of the bureau, along with his watch and cufflinks, which he doubted he'd need today. Pajamas, socks and pants went in the upper drawer. His waistcoats and button-ups went in another; trousers and extra braces in the third.
Lane hung two jackets in the small wardrobe, placed his extra pair of shoes on the bottom shelf, and turned back to the suitcase, only to find it empty. Damn.
He supposed he'd go downstairs for a bit of breakfast. Perhaps things would be more pleasant as the day wore on.
That afternoon, they went out on what was meant to be a short walk to the canal.
“I'd just like to get out of the house,” Rebecca said, and Lane had to agree. They'd done nothing but skate round each other and pick fights while indoors. Perhaps the walk would do them good.
By the time they'd got to the canal, they were chatting amiably, mostly about Nigel. He was doing well in school, apparently. Good marks, seemed to have made friends. Lane was happy to hear that, at least. He was in the midst of saying so when Rebecca interrupted him.
“Darling,” she began. He looked at her in surprise.
“Would you,” she seemed suddenly shy, “mind walking up to Regent's Park? By the high street, perhaps? I know it's a bit far, but the willows by the river are so pretty this time of year.”
It was the first time in weeks she'd asked him for a favor of any kind. He couldn't refuse it.
So, they set off, back past the flat and towards St. John's Wood. The weather was actually quite pleasant. Perfect for a long stroll. Not as sunny here as in New York, mind, but warm enough, and surprisingly clear for this time of year.
“You know,” Lane offered, knowing Rebecca would appreciate this, “I'd forgotten how much I liked it here. I don't walk as often, over there.”
Rebecca looked over at him, surprised. “It is nice today, isn't it?”
They walked along in silence for a few seconds before Rebecca spoke again. “What's it been like in New York, lately?”
He wasn't sure what kind of answer she wanted, and decided to stick to the safest topic. “Very warm. Too sunny for my taste, now that summer's nearly on.”
“Yes, you hate that,” Rebecca said. She giggled, suddenly. “Too much like our honeymoon.”
They'd gone to the south of France for a bit of sunshine. He'd come back red as a boiled lobster.
“Ah!” He was surprised she still remembered. “Much less painful, though.”
Night had fallen when Rebecca hung up the telephone in the living room, looking pleased. “It's all arranged. Mother will bring Nigel tomorrow morning, ten thirty.”
“Ah! Excellent,” Lane sat forward in his chair. “I thought we could take him to the pictures?”
She wrinkled her nose. “He's a young boy. He should be outside.”
Lane reminded himself to keep the peace. They'd been doing so well, tonight. “All right, no films. Where do you suggest?”
“St. James's? You know how he enjoys the river.”
“God, no.” Lane said, wincing at the thought of dodging palace tourists. “It'll be packed.”
She laughed a little. “You're right. I'd nearly forgotten. It seems like everything's run together, these past few months.”
She sat down on the sofa beside him, removing her earrings and turning them over in her hand, worrying the pearl setting in a nervous motion.
“I realize things haven't been easy, Lane. The separation – it's just —” she exhaled loudly. “I don't know how to explain.”
Try, he wanted to say.
“Tell me what's troubling you,” he said instead. “I won't be angry, you know.”
Lane rubbed a hand through his hair. “I won't laugh. You have my word.”
“We've – we've been married so long, you know.” Rebecca was looking at her lap as she spoke, picking nervously at the hem of her blue dress. “And I know how much you enjoy your work. Feeling important.”
“Only...” she hesitated, and gave a sniff. For a moment, Lane was afraid she would cry. “You were rarely home, darling. And when you did come home, you weren't there at all. Always in another world, fussing about accounts and billings and books.”
He placed a hand on her knee, wanting to comfort her. “Rebecca,”
“No, darling.” She shook her head, pressing her lips together in an attempt to keep composed. After another moment, she tried again. “Can't you understand what I'm saying?”
Lane had an idea, but was afraid to voice it. He met her gaze. “Will you tell me?”
She reached into a pocket and pulled out a small, folded paper, handing it to him as if it would provide an explanation.
He unfolded it carefully. The stationery was worn and creased, as if it'd been crumpled and unfolded a thousand times over. At the top, in small green typing, it read, “Flowers by Arlen, 53rd & 6th.” Below that, in a stranger's spidery writing: Joan, forgive me. Lane.
Lane gripped the paper in his hand, stunned. “I can't believe you kept this.”
“Don't be silly,” Rebecca looked away. “Surely you can guess why.”
He grimaced. “That was the worst day of my life. I don't think I've ever managed to anger so many people at once.”
“I'm sure your Joan wasn't insulted.”
Lane laughed aloud. “Darling, she threw her flowers straight in my face.”
A smile tugged at the corner of Rebecca's lips, indicating it was still safe to pursue the topic. “You're not serious, Lane.”
“No, it's the truth.” He spread his hands in a what-could-I-do motion. “Mrs. Harris confronted me quite nastily. Made it clear she was uninterested in my words, let alone any, ah, indiscretions. But I assured her,” he looked Rebecca clear in the eye, “that wasn't my intent at all. Those flowers were meant for you, as an apology.”
Lane forced a bit more cheer into his voice. “Then we fired my secretary for being an imbecile. And then I called you.”
“You make it sound almost funny.” Rebecca's voice was wistful.
“Yes, well. It was so long ago.” Lane didn't know what to say next. He recalled, with gruesome embarrassment, the last encounter he'd had with Mrs. Harris. What a fool, to let a rush of curiosity have so much reign over his life, when his wife and family had suffered for it.
He leaned against the couch, feeling drained.
“There was – there still is – nothing indecent there.”
Rebecca pinched the bridge of her nose with one hand, a sign a headache had surfaced. He'd fetch her an aspirin, soon. “You must be tired of defending yourself.”
“Well,” he began, not sure how to put it. “It was all so sudden, darling. One day you were simply homesick, upset with me for all the usual reasons. The next, you told me you wouldn't return to New York. I suppose...well,” he let the thought hang in the air for a moment.
“I didn't know what you wanted from me.”
She looked at him, strangely. “You've – you've made do, though? While I've been away?”
It was the hesitation that bothered him. Had his father told her about Toni? Had she simply guessed that he'd been lonely? Was she asking if he could continue to get by, without her?
“I suppose,” Lane said cautiously. “Kept busy with work.” He thought of the many matinees he'd seen with Don Draper. “Drank a bit too much.”
He searched her closed expression for a sign he was on the right track. Finding none, Lane decided to throw her a lifeline. “It isn't the same, you know.”
“No.” Her voice was almost a whisper. “No, it isn't.”
“Have you—” Lane hesitated, before continuing. He looked her clear in the eyes. “Have you missed me at all? Truly?”
Ugh, it was doubly embarrassing to say that aloud. He couldn't put the question out of his mind. What if she was happy here, without him? What would they do then?
Rebecca's mouth dropped open in surprise. “What?”
“Oh, don't make me repeat it, please.” His face flushed hot, and Lane felt like a prize idiot. He was forty-nine, for god's sake! Too old to be blushing, and in front of his wife of all people.
She was quiet. It was making him rather nervous. “I, ah, realize you're made of...stronger stuff...than I am, generally, but there's no need to couch your sentiments, whatever they are.” He couldn't quite meet her eyes, instead letting his gaze roam over the bookshelf directly behind her. “Only...you were quite clear over the phone, that day, and nearly every time we've spoken since. I suppose I still wonder if you, er, need me.” He laughed a little, without mirth. “Even after all this time.”
Rebecca's expression was troubled, but she kept quiet. Lane decided to make a hasty retreat.
“I should go upstairs, I think,” he said, getting up. “I'll be awake for another half hour, if you...well.” He wouldn't complete the sentence.
She moved to stand, reaching out for him. “Lane, I—”
“No, don't say anything.” He waved away her attempt. “I think I've got my answer.”
He walked upstairs with a heavy heart.
Lane sat on the edge of the mattress in the guest bedroom, undressing for the night. He'd hoped to return to his own bed by day's end, to share it with Rebecca as a sign of good faith, but that idea was out, particularly after tonight's conversation. Did you miss me, indeed.
He felt like a schoolboy again, a fool.
The room was dimly lit by a single corner lamp, forcing him to keep his spectacles on until the last possible moment. He'd just finished unbuttoning his shirt when he glimpsed movement at the door.
Rebecca stood framed in the doorway, wearing a white sleeveless nightgown he couldn't recall ever seeing before. She'd washed off her makeup, and her hair was unpinned, falling softly around her face in the gentle waves he'd always loved.
“Dearest,” he breathed, shocked. She crossed the room in just a few steps, sitting next to him and drawing his left hand up to her face in an impossibly quick motion, covering it with her own.
“Lane,” she whispered, voice breaking on his name. He felt water on her cheek. Her free hand, palm open, splayed across his chest. “I'm not strong, I can't do it. Not—not alone.”
“My darling girl.” He brushed away stray tears with the pad of his thumb. So she had missed him, more than he'd realized. “Tell me what to do to make you happy.”
She released his hand, putting her fingers to his lips. He could feel them trembling.
Lane kissed her, briefly, then made short work of the nightgown, pulling it over her head with surprising ease. He wasted little time on his own clothes, throwing them aside in a graceless heap, along with his glasses. She'd be his sole focus. He guided her backwards, tracing patterns across her body with his mouth and fingers till she gasped under him.
When they made love, when she needed him this way, he could almost glimpse the girl he'd met after the war. The shy, lovely girl who once confessed she thought she'd never be a wife. Some nameless prat from her schooldays had told her she wasn't a beauty, and wasn't enough fun to attract a decent husband.
He was determined to be a decent husband for her, tonight. Even if just for a moment.
“Yes,” Rebecca breathed against his neck, arching against him as he entered her. “God, Lane, please,” and the words, coupled with her frantic expression, were almost his undoing. Together, they moved in a familiar, desperate rhythm.
Her hands moved down his back, teasing, and Lane shuddered. He was so close, could feel his release building. “Becca,” he growled. His voice was ragged. “Don't stop.”
After a few more moments, she cried out, tightening around him, and he followed her over the edge, utterly spent.
They fell into an easy, amiable pattern, after that. Days were spent as a family, glorious days where they played Peter Pan games in the park, or made paper boats to sail in the canal. Lane even managed to sneak Nigel away to the pictures one afternoon and catch Dr. Who and the Daleks.
Nights were spent with Rebecca – the best nights they'd spent together since Nigel's birth. Lane couldn't remember the last time he'd seen his wife so happy. The last time she'd been excited to share his company. It felt like a rebirth.
Every few days, they had dinner with his mother-in-law. Although Eliza Winters was reserved, she was also kind, and always good company. At Rebecca's insistence, they also had dinner with his father, once. Lane spent all of it trying to ignore the man's damned smug expression.
In the middle of his third week of leave, the phone rang at three in the morning.
Lane fumbled for the receiver on the night table, stupid with sleep. “Hello?”
“Lane? It's Don. Listen,” and Lane felt an icy dread grip his heart. Don wasn't the type to hesitate. “Lucky Strike's pulling out. You need to get on a plane.”
“What?” Christ. He was already trying to calculate percentages. It was made difficult by the overwhelming urge to thrash Lee Garner Jr. out of existence. “Bloody bastard!”
Don laughed, without humor. “Yeah.”
“What's being done?” Lane looked over at Rebecca, who seemed to be stirring.
“Roger's going to Raleigh-Durham, maybe talk some sense into Lee. Otherwise, we're fucked.”
“No,” Lane said, insistent. “We're not sunk yet. Tell Mrs. Harris to pull the files on each account. I want her to go down the list, client by client, and confirm our current operating budget.” His mind raced. What else to do?
“Next, audit payroll. Go back a year at most. Then find the minutes from the partners' meetings, from Christmas till now. That should give accounting a basic idea of where we stand, till I return.”
“Got it,” Don said. Lane could hear him scribbling it down on the other end, already feeling exhausted. “How soon can you get here?”
Lane tried to gauge Rebecca's reaction from the corner of his eye. “I'll be on a plane immediately.” And he hung up the receiver.
“Darling, what's going on?”
He buried his face in his hands, hiding his frustration. “Trouble.”
“Please,” she sat up, moving closer and placing a hand on his shoulder. “Tell me,”
“Lucky Strike is leaving us,” he said, lifting his head to look at her. He could tell by her expression that she understood, more or less, the degree of importance that held. “I'm afraid I have to go back. Today.”
He took both of her hands in his. “I won't force you to come with me.”
She squeezed them, briefly. “I'll help you pack.”
Relief flooded him. She wasn't angry. Perhaps they'd be all right. For a moment he was overwhelmed with gratitude, pulling her into an embrace.
She held him for a moment, then kissed his cheek. “Come on, then.”
7. well, it's almost an honor
Joan knocked on the door, though it was open. “You wanted to see me?”
“Oh, yes,” Lane said, pushing aside the memorandum he was editing. “Do come in.”
He stood and stretched a bit, sore from perching in his desk chair for so long. He walked to the wingback chair, moving to sit down and indicating the sofa beside it.
“Have a seat. It's good news, I assure you.”
“I wanted to tell you that we've had another discussion, the partners and I. Business has been trickling in steadily ever since Mr. Cosgrove and Miss Olson signed Topaz last month. And since Don seems optimistic about picking up Heinz—”
“Lane,” her voice had an edge, “Your point, please? You're making me nervous.”
“Oh,” He hadn't intended to do that. “Well, in short, your title-only promotion has now become a full one. You'll be given a ten percent raise, which will go into effect the first of next month.”
She began to laugh, which he took as a good sign.
It only worried him when she couldn't stop. Was she laughing at him?
“Are you quite all right?”
She nodded, finally catching her breath. Tears streamed from her eyes, and she dabbed them away with her palm, shoulders still shaking with mirth. “I'm so sorry. I'm fine.”
She glanced at the closed door, as if to make sure it wouldn't spring open, then back to Lane.
“This may not be the best moment to share my news, but you'll know it soon enough. It's probably clear that I've put on weight—” she made a face signalling how displeased that fact made her “–but not without cause. I – well, my husband and I – are expecting a baby.”
Lane felt the world shift beneath him. A baby. My god.
He stuttered out a congratulations. “Have you told the other partners?”
“Not yet.” She averted her eyes. “Though I think one or two have figured it out.”
Fear gripped him, suddenly. “You won't be leaving permanently, will you?”
Her eyes widened. “God, no! Not if I can help it.”
Lane stood up, almost dizzy with relief, moving to the small bar beside his desk. “Well, then. This calls for a celebration!”
“No,” she demurred, “Lane, you don't have to do that.”
“Nonsense,” Lane said, preparing two glasses with ice and pouring a small amount of brandy into each. “You have two pieces of news to celebrate. We'll have a toast.”
She moved to join him at the bar, and he handed her the second glass.
Lane cleared his throat. “The day I found out I was to be a father, Rebecca came home with a Hamleys sack. That's a toy store, in London, you know, full of children's things. She put it in front of me and asked that I open it. Inside that sack was a small box, and inside the box was a cuddly toy. A brown teddy with a blue ribbon round its neck.
She came close to me, and took my hand, placing it on her stomach just so. I could feel this strange, small pulse fluttering under my fingers. It was my son's heartbeat. And she told me – ah.”
He could feel his throat constricting. Lane put his free hand to his forehead, embarrassed to be so emotional. “I apologize. This was meant to be a much shorter speech.”
She offered him a watery smile. “No, please. Go on.”
“Ah. Well,” he cleared his throat. “My wife, as you know, is a very practical person. I never forgot what she said next: 'Boy or girl, physician or author, I hope our child will make you proud.'” He choked up again, but soldiered on this time.
“So, I'll tell you the same, with a few alterations. Joan: whether boy or girl, physician, author, or advertising executive” – he was pleased to see she laughed through her tears – “I hope your child will make you proud.”
He raised his glass. “Cheers.”
“Cheers,” she whispered.
They clinked their glasses together, once.
Mrs. Harris broke the news to the other partners at their next meeting. Cooper and Roger appeared unfazed, Don surprised but happy, and Pete stunned. She told them, in as little detail as possible, when she could expect to be gone and assured the others everything was in hand.
She'd since excused herself to take a telephone call when Roger spoke:
“Hope somebody wrote that down. We'll have to have a party, you know.”
Don lit a cigarette, smiling. “So form a committee. Let me know what to bring.”
Pete laughed, and Roger made an irritated noise.
“I'm serious. Word gets out we knew about this and didn't get a diaper-shaped cake, the girls will have our heads.”
He took a cigarette from his pocket, put it in his mouth, unlit. “Lane. Am I wrong, here?”
Lane sputtered. “I – I suppose it's only proper,” he managed, before Roger interrupted him.
“You hear that? Even Ebenezer agrees. I'll make Caroline do it.”
Joan's party occurred in early April, two weeks before her leave began. They had set it up in the conference room, just after lunch. So far, it was just copywriters and secretaries in attendance, though others had begun to wander inside as well.
Next to the punch bowl, Mr. Rizzo was in the middle of telling an off-color joke to Miss Olson. Lane overheard the punchline – something about breastfeeding – which made him roll his eyes and caused Peggy to down the rest of her punch in a single gulp.
Standing next to Cosgrove and Pete Campbell, Harry Crane was hovering over the gift table, asking everyone else what they'd bought.
“You got her Tiffany's?” Lane overheard him complain, as Roger Sterling placed a small blue box with the other presents. “Damn it, I got her a diaper pail. Now I'm gonna look like an ass.”
“Don't you always?” Roger retorted, causing Crane to frown and cross his arms like an angry little boy. Lane choked back a laugh.
“Hey, Prince Albert,” the other man called, and Lane sighed. Roger'd begun to call him all sorts of ghastly nicknames as of late. “Go get Joan. We're losing steam here,”
“It's not a surprise party, you know,” Lane pointed out. “She works next door. The walls are made of glass.”
Roger waved him away, clearly uninterested in talking, and Lane took the hint as gracefully as he could. He walked to his office to collect his gift for her, first, and opened the door to a surprise.
Joan was sitting in the wingback chair, feet propped up on the table, heels kicked off. He went to shut the door, but she shook her head, moving to a proper sitting position.
“Don't tell anyone,” she said, flushing guiltily. “My feet have been killing me.”
He laughed. “Your secret is safe with me.”
Joan went to stand, putting a hand on the chair's arm for balance and appearing a bit wobbly. Lane, not wanting her to stumble, moved to help her, taking her elbow with one hand and putting his other hand at the small of her back, the way he'd once done with Rebecca. It seemed so long ago, now.
“Thank you,” she said, touching his arm briefly to steady herself, as he released her. “Otherwise I might've been stuck for hours.”
He smiled. “Come now. I wouldn't let you miss your own party.”
Joan's eyes widened, suddenly. “Someone's kicking again.” A few moments passed, and she laughed delightedly, cupping a hand to her stomach as if it were the most perfect sensation in the world. “God, he's just going crazy! You should—” and she paused, peering over his head and past the door, as if to make sure they weren't being watched.
“Quick, before he stops. You've got to feel this. It's amazing.”
She took his hand and placed it high on the round curve of her stomach, guiding it deftly until, under his palm, he felt a tiny movement. It was quick, almost like lightning, but distinct, and strong for such a little one. My god. Lane felt he'd never smiled so brightly.
He met Joan's eyes, almost in wonder.
“Joan,” he whispered. “It's – it's extraordinary,” and it truly was. Imagining her as someone's mother. She'd be perfect.
How on earth was he supposed to get along without her?
They stared at each other for a long moment, until the baby's movement calmed. Her oceanic gaze, clear and bright, seemed to fill him, lift him up.
“They're waiting for us,” she said, clearing her throat. “We should probably go.”
Lane drew back, feeling suddenly, strangely alone. “Yes, of course.”
8. terribly adrift without you
“Oh, Mr. Pryce?”
Lane growled. Roger's voice, an infuriating falsetto. Didn't he have anything useful to do?
“Mrs. Harris is here to see you.”
For once, a bit of good news. He punched the button on his intercom so viciously he nearly knocked it off the desk. “I'll be right out!”
Lane's nerves stuttered simply looking at Joan, a vision in pink and black. She was radiant. He couldn't keep his eyes off her. He ushered her inside, and they got to talking, discussing various business and billings as if she'd never left. Lane felt relieved. Things were finally returning to normal.
And just as suddenly, she was in tears, asking between her sobs if she would be replaced by Scarlet and Clara. Joan, replaced by Scarlet and Clara?! My god, even the idea made him suicidal!
“The two of them together couldn't operate a parking meter! They're imbeciles!”
He moved to sit beside her on the couch, and handed her his handkerchief in an attempt to dry her tears. What on earth had made her think she wasn't needed?
Lane listened as she explained, and suddenly, he understood.
“Even with my mother, and the baby...I feel alone.”
Yes, he understood intimately. It was easy to be surrounded by others and to be isolated. To feel as if you had no one in the world to rely on but yourself, no kindred spirit but your own.
Were he a different man, a more...confident person...he would have held her, and tried his best to convey that she wasn't alone, would never be alone as long as she had him. He would spill out any number of words just to get Joan to see how truly valuable she was, to everyone around her.
Honestly, he still had moments where he'd ring her office, only to hear Scarlet's exasperated sigh crackle through the intercom: “Mr. Pryce. Can I help you with something?”
Lane wished he was better at putting these things into words.
“I'm terribly adrift without you,” he confessed. He'd thought it would've been obvious by now. “It's only a matter of time before they find out I'm a sham.”
She smiled through her tears, and that was something. A step forward. He patted her hand, offered as much comfort as he could. Anything to get her to smile again. When she asked him about the party, he felt had just the trick.
“Mrs. Draper,” he said, with a smirk, “performed a bit of a burlesque.”
“No.” Her mouth was an o of shock. Lane was thrilled to have surprised her.
In the end, Lane couldn't do Zou Bisou Bisou any measure of justice, but he tried his damnedest. He was sure it sent his mother spinning in her grave. Privately, he felt his attempts at coquetry were worth all the embarrassment in the world, long as he'd seen Joan laugh.
9. it shall be too late
God, he'd been such a bloody fool! To think he'd trusted Campbell and the others with the account – his account! A Jaguar, for Christ's sake! And all for nothing, now. An easy three million in billings, gone. A goddamned waste. Was this the way of his life? Watching younger men, childish men, throw away every one of his measurable successes? Because he'd made his job, his tireless efforts for the company, appear too easy?
He was so bloody tired of being the office's whipping boy. All the jokes at his expense, the snide remarks, the exclusion. Don had told him once that he was being paranoid. Now he knew better.
A knock at the door. They could stuff it, the buggers.
“It's Joan,” came the reply. Lane felt a surge of relief. He made a vague attempt to smarten up on his way to the door. Just because he'd been dragged through the mud didn't mean he had to look messy. Not for her. He unlatched the door and opened it.
She said nothing as she entered, closing the door behind her and coming to sit beside him on the sofa. Removed the lid on the ice basket as if to prompt him, take care of yourself.
When she spoke, her voice was soothing. Quiet. “What happened?”
How could he begin to tell her? To find the words? He felt like a schoolboy again, humiliated and angry. The people he'd thought were his colleagues, his friends, saw him as useless. Effeminate. Lane plunged his hand into the ice and felt the shock of cold against his stinging knuckles.
It came out as something akin to a plea. He had to fight to keep his voice from shaking. No, he wouldn't cry. Not here. Not in front of her.
“...What do I do here? I mean, truly?” I need you to tell me. I don't know anymore.
She looked at him, head tilted slightly. As if she were hearing his every thought, not just his words. “Something essential,”
“You could do it,” Lane blurted. Since her return, it was as if a weight had been lifted from his shoulders. When he needed something, no matter how small, she found it. When he had a question, she had an answer. She could step in easily, and perhaps receive less criticism from the partners than he'd managed. God knows they probably preferred her company to his.
“If they've tried to make you feel you're different from them, you are.”
Lane hung his head, averting his eyes. He'd spent his entire life being different. For once, he wanted to be part of something. A valuable part.
Her fingertips grazed his forehead, brushing his hair into place; he looked up, startled at the touch. It had been so long since a woman had touched him with tenderness. It sent his nerves singing with anticipation. It made him ache.
Joan's eyes met his, open and unafraid. “That's a good way to be.”
Suddenly, Lane was sure. She had to know he cared for her. He couldn't keep it secret any longer. Pulling her close with his free hand, he kissed her.
She seemed surprised, but arched into him slightly, and he threw caution to the winds.
After a few seconds, they parted, wordless. His heart tattooed a furious rhythm against his throat. He could feel the blood pounding in his ears, and her gaze burned into his soul and oh, hell, the way she was staring, as if she'd never truly seen him before. Had he misjudged her?
She stood up, silent, and crossed to the door. Lane felt sick. What had he done? He looked away when she opened the door, utterly defeated. He couldn't watch her leave.
Footsteps, and she sat beside him again. He didn't understand. Now he felt twice the fool.
“I'm sorry,” he said. The only thing he could say, really.
He stared at her. Hope blossomed in his chest, unbidden.
She smirked, her lips even more red since he'd kissed her. “Everyone in this office has wanted to do that to Pete Campbell.”
Lane smiled for the first time in what seemed like years. This was something like forgiveness.
“I'm bringing you the first aid kit.” She touched his knee, briefly, before getting up. “No arguments.”
Lane winced, not willing to try. “God, I must look a fright.”
She paused at the door. “No. You look – ” and she stopped, seeming to shake her head. He wished he could know what she was thinking.
“All things considered,” she said, finally, “you look good.”
And she walked away.
Good? He didn't dare hope. It was impossible.
10. powerless to refuse you
Eliza Winters took ill, suddenly, and passed away towards the end of August. Rebecca got the phone call with nearly a week to spare, allowing her time to return to London and to visit her mother in hospital before the end. Lane, unfortunately, couldn't take off for much more than the funeral proper.
He stayed in England for four days, in an attempt to be useful. Lane had always liked Eliza, and was terribly sad to lose her. But he hated funerals; always had. They made him anxious. He wasn't good at dealing with other people's grief.
When he returned to New York, he was almost relieved to return to the dull grind of work. Also, rather selfishly, he was glad to be surrounded by people untouched by loss. Only the senior partners knew why he'd taken leave, so he didn't have to worry about people stopping him in the halls to give condolences, or dodge suggestions on how best to cope. He hadn't even mentioned it to Joan.
He did wish someone could give suggestions as to how to comfort his wife. Rebecca hadn't stopped crying since she'd left for England. Lane picked her and Nigel up from the airport on a Tuesday evening, late, and she was still dabbing away tears on the ride home. When they finally dried, she didn't speak to him, save for giving absentminded yes or no answers, for three straight days. It was as if she were in another world.
Late Friday evening, just as Lane was really beginning to worry, she spoke:
“Are you happy, the way things are?”
“What on earth?” He was utterly taken aback. “What do you mean?”
She spread her hands. “I mean, are you happy?”
He scoffed. “What type of question is that, dear? What's brought this on?”
“My mother,” she said, drawing her knees up to her chest and hugging them, as if she were a young girl. “That's the last thing she asked me.”
“Oh, my darling,” Lane said, rubbing her shoulder and preparing for more tears, but there were none. She gave him a wan smile.
“It's kept me thinking, all these past few days. You know I've done better at adjusting to the city, this time around. Gotten involved with Nigel's school. I've even made friends at your firm. Cynthia Cosgrove's been very kind to me. But, even so, I just can't stop wondering if I've changed.” She stared down at her knees. “Do I seem different to you?”
“Rebecca,” he began, worried. “What's brought this on?”
Her voice shook, but there were still no tears. “I think we've grown apart.”
Lane spent the weekend in a haze of shock. Somewhere between the shouting (and there'd been shouting, he was embarrassed to admit), and the crying (likewise), and the feeling of overwhelming loss that seemed to linger over every moment, it was difficult to process what was happening. To really understand that his marriage was coming to an end, after all this time.
He'd tried to tell Rebecca to stay in the flat, that he'd find a hotel somewhere, but she was absolutely undeterred. By Sunday evening, she'd packed many of her things and a few of Nigel's in four large suitcases, and resolved to stay at the Pierre through the next two weeks, then return to London within the month. She'd pack the rest up while he was at work, she told him breezily, a little at a time, and would send it across the pond by post, whatever the cost. Eliza had left her some money, and the flat she'd had in Kensington. He told her he'd also send a decent sum, each month. She'd be all right.
“I'll leave it to you to file papers,” she told him over breakfast on Monday, after Nigel had gone off to school. They'd watched him wave a cheery goodbye as he met their driver in the lobby. Rebecca had cried, knowing they'd have to tell him the whole truth within a day or two, and to be honest, Lane had felt a bit choked up, himself.
“Tell the magistrate whatever you like,” she insisted. “Whatever's necessary. Long as Nigel and I are provided for, I won't dispute it.”
You don't have to do this, Rebecca, he wanted to say. We'll figure this mess out, together.
But he couldn't make the words sound convincing, even in his own head.
Perhaps this was for the best.
The day Rebecca left for London, Lane arrived at the office over an hour late, intending to bury himself in work just to put the whole mess behind him.
Unfortunately, he couldn't concentrate worth a damn.
He let it go until noon, at which point he resolved to bugger off work and, instead, to get very, very drunk. Persuading the new girl to procure him an extra bottle of Canadian Club from the supply closet was easier than he'd thought. Lane shut the door to his office and locked it, then poured four fingers of rye into a glass tumbler, drinking it all in one gulp.
He poured himself another.
Next thing he knew, a bright light seared into his eyes, pulling him from sleep. He was lying on his back on the sofa, with an unwieldy cushion jammed behind his head and shoulders. Ugh. His back ached and he still felt sluggish from the alcohol, though had likely slept off most of its effects by now.
Was there someone standing by his desk? Lane went to push himself upright, but knocked an empty bottle to the floor as he moved. It clattered against the tile with an almighty rattle.
The other person screamed at the noise, and he jerked fully upright with a yell.
A pause. “Lane?”
He squinted into the darkness. He knew that voice. “Joan?”
“God, you scared me! I just came in to put these on your desk.” He could see her now, vaguely, through a stream of light coming in by the open door. Must've been what woke him.
She moved closer, taking in his disheveled condition. “I thought you'd gone home hours ago. Your door was locked all afternoon.”
“Oh,” Lane muttered, rubbing a hand over his eyes. He couldn't remember unlocking it. “What time is it?”
“Nine o'clock.” She moved to sit on the end of the sofa, stepping gingerly around the empty bottle on the floor. “Tell me what's wrong.” It wasn't a question.
He grimaced. It was only a matter of time before he'd reveal it to her anyway. “Rebecca's gone back to London.”
Joan's face was sympathetic. “For how long?”
“I—” Lane began, but stopped. Began again: “Permanently, I think. It's done.”
Her eyes were soft. “Lane—”
“Eighteen years together,” he continued, interrupting her. She seemed genuinely sorry, but he didn't want pity. Not now. He exhaled in frustration, flopping back into the cushion.
“I'm too old to be divorced.”
She made a noise of disagreement. “Don't say that.”
“No, it's true. Plenty of young lads still around, even with a war on.”
“But they're not like you,” Joan insisted, her voice rising.
He laughed, darkly, letting his head loll to one side. The furniture was casting strange shadows in this light, making things appear almost alien. “Yes, I'm aware, thanks.”
“Lane, stop it!” she said loudly, and he looked up at her, surprised.
She held his gaze, stubborn. “You're a good man, a kind man. And if a woman can't see you for the catch you are, then she's a goddamn fool.”
“What?” He began to sit up, utterly lost for words.
With one hand, she pushed him back onto the cushion he'd been using as a pillow.
“Trust me,” she said, and pressed her mouth to his. Shocked but pleased, he responded in kind, pulling her closer till she was half-sitting, half-lying on top of him. He threaded one hand through her hair, her gorgeous red hair, while the other roamed her back, careful not to stray too far south. Joan's hands, meanwhile, pressed against his shoulders, her fingers grasping at his shirt as he kissed a line from her jaw to her clavicle.
Several minutes later, they parted, breathing hard.
“Joan – I thought – you opened the door, that first time,” Lane managed, still breathless. “I thought you didn't want me.”
She flushed a deeper red, sitting up, and he found this terribly endearing.
“I was overwhelmed, that day. It just wasn't the right moment.” She gave a sort of shrug. “Things are different now.”
He laughed, wiping a bit of lipstick from his mouth. “Yes, I could tell.”
“Come on,” Joan said, standing up and offering him her hand. “We're getting dinner. You must be starving.”
Lane accepted the help cheerfully, and went to search for his glasses. “You'll hear no argument from me.”