Donna tries to hold his gaze but his eyes dart down as soon as she enters the elevator. So instead she fixates on a piece of floating dust and awkwardly shifts the heavy cardboard box in her arms. She watches as the dust flickers its way in and out of the light on its lazy journey to the ground.
Her chest isn't quite sinking in, and the floor isn't exactly dropping out from below, and he really isn't coming after her.
The dust finally lands on the floor and she steps on it with her shoe, extinguishing it like a cigarette with a sharp twist of her heel.
She doesn't consider calling anyone. Mike would just stutter awkwardly and accusingly, a child caught between two parents. Rachel would be uncomfortably trying to hide her dismay that Donna isn't infallible. And Donna doesn't want to head upstate, where she'd see only sympathy on her mother's face and hear only disappointment in Harvey in her father's voice –All this accompanied by her brother's shuffling feet and self-conscious pats on the arm.
There is a tingle at the back of her neck at the thought of all that hugging, the touching, the constant emoting.
She reaches the lobby and lets the elevator doors open and shut twice before she finally makes it out. Of course there are no cabs to be found and she can't handle the thought that Ray's eyes might not be able to meet hers. So she walks two blocks before she puts the box down and rests against the wall of a nearby alley.
She's trying not to lose it but the cold brick is making her aware of the clamminess of her skin and she can't fucking believe Harvey had Jessica do his dirty work.
She takes a deep breath and lets out a series of small sighs, stopping only when she realizes the shadows had hidden a couple making out across the way. They're staring at her with matching looks of alarm.
"Sorry," Donna scowls, "A bug was on me. A large bu -oh, just fuck off."
She pulls at her skirt as she picks up the box and begins to walk away, before turning back with an imperious frown, "Do you even know how many diseases you can catch from exposing your delicate parts out here? Rats can jump up to ten feet in the air –It's true. And they've been known to bite dicks off. So, one could come up and take a great, huge hunk off of your little johnson and you wouldn't even notice until," she makes a slashing motion, "no more baby nightwalkers for you and your little night-time companion here. And that's not even to mention how my great aunt Tallulah died from that infection– Don't walk away from me!" She can already hear the echoes of their footsteps from around the corner.
The exchange has brightened her spirits so she resumes her efforts to find a cab, determined to make eye contact with anyone she passes. When she finally slips into a taxi she slides off her shoes and throws them in the box, right on top of the can opener.
They're stuck at a red light when she has a sudden flashback of the way his face looked years ago, that first time he thought he'd have to fire someone. He'd practiced on her then, late one night with their shoes kicked off. She'd made increasingly silly faces until finally he'd cracked, throwing his favorite pen at her in frustration but laughing the whole time.
The two of them had eaten Italian food that night and Donna had solemnly promised to always mock him when he had someone to fire. Though of course, she'd added pointedly, he'd never be firing her, since she was the greatest legal mind to ever walk the earth without a law degree.
He'd silently agreed with rolled eyes and a smile, and the delicate clink of his glass of scotch against hers.
Now as the taxi drops her off she's hit with a wave of awareness that she's been a legal secretary, Harvey's legal secretary, for almost fourteen years –nearly all of her adult life. And all she has to show for it is a little cardboard box.
So while his parting silence weighs heavily, it's holding so much of her identity in her arms (packed up in a box like a parting gift) that finally breaks her.
When she gets home, the glass spaghetti jar also currently known as her favorite wine glass crashes onto the floor, almost as if she just accidentally dropped it.
Donna gives herself seventy-two hours to wallow. More and she runs the risk of becoming something chronically unshowered and pitiful.
Donna Paulsen does not do pitiful.
But any less and she won't have sufficient time to finish her newly purchased handle of gin, and the two bottles of ridiculously expensive wine he had already sent over by the time she got home from the office.
But her wallowing is impaired by the fact that the air conditioner has been broken for three weeks. She's been meaning to get it fixed but her landlord refuses to do a thing about it and the repairman had always wanted to come on weekdays, between 1pm and 6pm. For obvious reasons, that hadn't happened.
She calls them the first morning after and the woman on the phone tells her that because of the heat wave the repairman can't come out for another two weeks. Donna tries sobbing hysterically, then she tries cursing and then she abruptly switches to flirting, which almost seems to be getting her somewhere. But the end result is still a broken air conditioner and a repair date that is now three weeks away.
So she finds herself in exile in 600 square feet of muggy stillness, the thick air of her small apartment settling damply on her skin.
Her miniature spider plant, the only living thing in her apartment, has actually been dead for weeks, but she leaves it hanging in the window and keeps watering it anyway.
The fact that it's a brutally hot summer means she spends most of the time walking around the apartment in faded boxer shorts with shameful bunny slippers on her feet, vanity briefly forgotten with her hair in constant disarray, red wisps and limp waves stuck to her neck and face.
The first day home she briefly slips on a man's white undershirt. It's a specific man's white undershirt and it's been in her house since that one night. There's no reason why he didn't take it with him. There was barely a reason for him to take it off.
So there's really no reason why she still has it and he doesn't, other than the fact that returning it would mean they'd both have to acknowledge something that's never been directly mentioned since he left her apartment at 2am seven years ago.
She has no idea why she dug it out of the recesses of her closet and put it on because staring at the worn fabric makes her vaguely nauseated.
After wearing it for three hours she ends up ripping it off and throwing it under the bed, where it lasts for fifteen minutes before she retrieves it and hacks it up with a pair of scissors.
She turns the shirt into dishrags she'll never use and spends the rest of the afternoon reading magazines in her favorite purple sports bra.
At first, Donna rarely leaves the house for anything other than yoga and meetings with her new lawyers. And when she gets home from the latter her fingers are always twitchy. She's still so used to typing and filing and stapling. She only lasts through the first day and a half before she tries to take up smoking again.
It's a habit she gave up seven years ago –A pact they made with one another soon after that night, binding them together in a way that reassured Donna at a time when she would still occasionally close her eyes and be surprised to feel the ghosts of his fingers skimming her collarbone, see the curve of his lips as they followed the same path.
She and Harvey would celebrate each non-smoking day like they'd made it through a month. After the first few weeks, their gazes could hold just as long as they could before, and their relief at the return of the familiar eclipsed any tinges of regret.
He'd bought her a set of new wine glasses when they'd made it six months smoke-free. And those had lasted, for a while.
But now, these days, she can't sit still and she sucks at arts and crafts and her gin would taste so much better with something in her other hand.
She sits on the fire escape, ice cubes clinking in the glass, and stares at the woman in the apartment across the way watering her (still-living) plants.
After the first few drags, Donna realizes she just doesn't have it in her to become a real smoker again, but she still likes to watch the smoke swirl around.
So she starts spending some time every afternoon perched on the fire escape, watching as the smoke slowly meanders its way around her in soft strands.
She practices using different voices as she repeats, "I decline to answer."
She can't tell if it's the gin, the cigarette, or the way she's muttering to herself but no matter how many times Donna waves to that woman across the way, she never waves back.
Donna names her Camille and starts a running commentary on her outfits and tries to judge whether her husband is faithful based on the positioning of Camille's hair barrettes.
Her fire escape faces an alley so there isn't much else to see, but it's something.
She almost doesn't bother checking her phone when it chimes.
Her period of mourning is over and for days she's been bombarded with messages from Mike, Rachel, Louis, and Harvey's new assistant. She's barely responded to anyone but she can guess by now what each message might possibly say:
If Louis, it will be something about how she's beautiful and strong and amazing –and he has tickets to tonight's performance at Lincoln Center, if she wants company.
If Rachel, it will be devoid of exclamation marks and emoticons, but the sentiments will be so weird and encouraging that somehow it still reads the same.
If Mike, it will be somewhat belligerent, vaguely comforting, and a little petulant, all wrapped in a mention about how much this has destroyed Harvey.
If it's Harvey's pathetic new temp it will be a whiny mess, an over-long message about how, "Mr. Specter really really needs you to return his call. Really. He would like to know whether you are okay. Also, do you know how he likes his coffee? He keeps dumping mine out and he didn't seem to appreciate the color-colored coffee-sampler I gave him this morning. Thanks –Oh, this is Mr. Specter's new assistant by the way. Please return this call. He seems agitated and won't look at the rest of his messages and the yellow ones are piling up and there are quite a few orange ones as well. I mean, I'm on top of it, but, anyway, hope to hear from you soon."
If asked, she'd say that she has no idea why she keeps listening to his messages. But if pressed she'd confess it's for the perverse pleasure she gets out of how his voice always gets slightly squeaky and desperate near the end.
Donna takes knowing that Harvey must hate him, or at least barely tolerate him, as some kind of consolation prize. For what, exactly, she's not sure. But the thought makes her just a little bit bouncy.
Twice Norma has called with an idiotic question about the Boerson case. And once she had a text from Harold, awkwardly asking her out because "ur hair is really red and ur almost nice and since u don't work here it won't b weird. I should have called? I should have called. I'm sry don't b mad."
She has no idea how the hell he got her number so she figures he deserves the vaguely threatening response he receives from a self-proclaimed judo-expert named Bruno.
When she finally glances over at her phone an hour later she frowns when she see his name on the little viewscreen.
"Are we ok"
She scowls, an unappreciated sense of something akin to embarrassment very briefly tinting her frustration. She was prepared for almost every possible scenario.
This is a surprise.
Considering she can usually read his mood by the direction his hair has been gelled, he's been surprising her a whole fucking lot lately. When she tallies it up, this hasn't worked out in her favor.
Donna shoves the thought away and instead focuses on the fact that he couldn't even spare her some punctuation; His personal communication skills have always been so half-assed for someone with suits so crisply pressed.
She throws her phone on the coffee table and takes a long shower.
She tries to wash away the small part of her that understands why he couldn't be the one to face her, why he couldn't be the one to let her go.
She'd never call him a coward, but he doesn't like people to see him break.
Sometimes, not even her.
And he would have.
Of this, at least, she is certain.
It's two hours later when he tries again, much to her surprise.
"So we aren't ok. I really need us to be ok"
It's another twenty minutes until Donna finally hits send, "We're ok."
His response is immediate, "Then you owe me a real apology at some point"
Any warmth toward him immediately dissipates and she allows herself five minutes to rage, spewing out the bitchiest possible retorts while she stomps around in circles and throws pillows at the wall.
Finally, she gulps down the rest of her wine and takes a few deep breaths. She tries to recognize the fact that yes, she did in fact mess up, in a big way, though her intentions were obviously pure, honorable, and beyond reproach.
She grimaces and perfunctorily types out, "I'm sorry, okay? I made a serious mistake and put you in a difficult position. You?"
"Now we're mostly ok"
She waits a few minutes for another text until it becomes clear he has no additional message to go with it. She collapses on the couch with a red face, any sense of embarrassment or remorse long since abandoned, "That's it? You're a jackass."
He fires back, "Aww, we really are ok".
She scowls at her phone for the rest of the night, waiting for some kind of text that might say, "just kidding, I'm sorry too" or "I should have fought for you" or simply "I'm the worst and you are an amazing goddess queen," but she thinks she knew all along it would never come.
She's been stuck at home less than a week and she's down to two spaghetti jars. Or wine glasses. Or whatever.
By the end of the night she's down to one and the broken glass is becoming harder to pick up off the worn wooden floors.
Donna sets her alarm clock for 7am the following morning and is disturbed to realize that she knows all the words to the Justin Bieber song that's waking her up on Z100. It's enough to get her out of bed immediately, hand slamming on the radio as she heads to the bathroom.
She's halfway through brushing her teeth when she slowly walks back into the bedroom and puts the radio back on because whatever, she lives alone.
Today, she's decided, she's going to start sorting things out. This means no alcohol before 5pm, no yoga pants unless going to yoga, and most importantly, what the fuck is she going to do with her life now.
By 8am she's freshly showered, hair blown out, make-up applied, and dressed in her favorite pair of jeans, a linen tank top and cute wedge heels.
She feels exceptionally accomplished.
She's also sweating her ass off. She can already tell it's going to be one of those scorching hot New York days when the humidity gets trapped between the buildings, the air tastes metallic, and the sounds of the city seem muted by the haze of the heat.
Her makeup is seeping into her skin and her jeans already feel damp to the touch.
She strips down and pulls out a sundress from the closet but the thought of putting another piece of fabric on her body makes her cringe, so she kicks off her heels instead.
With a furrowed brow, she settles on a new plan: no alcohol before 12pm, no pants, and what the fuck is she going to do with her life.
The answer is, she really doesn't know. Every few years she has had to update her resume for the firm –Pearson & Hardman likes to keep copies on file– and she's never been ashamed of hers. It just, it isn't what she'd planned.
She graduated in the top 10% of her class at Skidmore. She'd wanted to go somewhere farther from home, but she also didn't want to pay for college herself, or learn to do laundry…so her parents, and Skidmore, had won out.
And she'd loved Skidmore. She double majored in Theater Arts (her choice) and Business (her parents). To her surprise, she liked them both. It was Theater that taught her to read people and respond to cues; It was Business where she put that to good use.
So after graduation she moved to New York City and moved in with a gay couple (both named Josh), also from Skidmore. The apartment was small, terrible, and expensive, and in that useless area on the East Side of Manhattan that people named Murray Hill, but only so residents didn't feel bad about the fact that it's mostly a lot of nothing several avenues away from something.
But she had loved it because she could walk to something. And sometimes she could put on a pair of heels (slightly too small) and oversized sunglasses (gifted to her by Josh #1) and strut down Park Avenue like she was the something everyone else was there to see.
The only problem was that by her sixth month she still hadn't found a job in business and none of her auditions had led to a callback and her parents were becoming increasingly concerned, which meant Donna had a clock ticking to when her bank account became empty. Permanently.
So it was with something approaching desperation that she had turned to temp-ing, viewing it as the only possible way to tether herself to a life she wasn't yet ready to abandon.
During her second week at the temp agency she had ended up at the D.A's office, where her ability to cry on command came in handy three times on the first day alone. By Friday, they were asking her to stay.
She never meant it to be permanent; It was just something to get her parents off her case until something else came through. But she was good at it, really really good at it. And it turned out the feeling of success didn't suck.
So less than a year later she was passing an exam to become an Accredited Legal Secretary, a week after McKinsey & Company Consulting finally responded to the application she had posted nine months earlier.
A couple years after that she followed Harvey to Pearson & Hardman, where he secured her a salary high enough to ensure that she and her first pair of perfectly-fitting Louboutin heels never looked back. Not really, anyway.
Only now her resume registers thirteen years of experience as a legal secretary, two different Advanced Legal certificates, and fluency in legal Spanish and legal French. Well, it also says that in her spare time she teaches children how to read, but that only happened once before the hives kicked in and anyway, that's not exactly going to help her.
She opens her laptop and pulls up the McKinsey website. When she clicks over to the careers section she goes back and forth between the business trainee program and the openings for experienced professionals. She examines the requirements for both with a trained eye.
It's immediately obvious that neither exactly fit and the heat invading her apartment has given her such a headache that she tosses her laptop on the foot of her couch and crawls back into bed.
It's been two days since Donna and Harvey's text message exchange and he, or rather his assistant, has continued to call her non-stop. She has no idea what he wants but given how their text conversation ended, she refuses to even consider picking up the phone.
She finds out about the trial run when Barbara calls. She's twenty years Donna's senior and works down in payroll. She's not quite a friend but something almost like. But also, over the years, she'd become Donna's third most valuable asset in acquiring company gossip.
Donna taps her fingers along the counter and lets Barbara spend ten minutes rambling on about how two of the partners failed to bill properly last month, how Elizabeth Schift seems to have stolen a major client from Matthew Janis without his realizing, and how one of the fifth year associates keeps taking suspiciously long weekends.
She tries to listen patiently but there is no avoiding the fact that she just doesn't need to know these things anymore. Still, she can't keep her brain from whirling, filing these tidbits away for use in a future that isn't going to come. Her right hand is jangling her keys in her pocket and she's desperate to just hang up.
"Barbara," she finally interrupts, "I'm sorry, but I really have to run. I have a meeting."
The older woman pauses, "A meeting?" she asks.
Donna runs her hands through her hair, "Yeah, with my lawyers, you know. Save Donna! And all that... And then I've got yogalates. Gwyneth Paltrow does it and that evil bitch has a tight bod so I'm going to go and love it. Or I'm going to destroy it."
"Right, of course!" She can hear Barbara nodding through the phone. Barbara clears her throat, "But your meeting with the lawyers, will this affect your ability to participate in the trial run?"
Donna jerks her head up sharply, "What now?"
"The trial run? Didn't someone tell you about it? I just assumed you'd be there, given your involvement."
"Well, Barbara, no one's told me so please, come on down."
"The firm is putting Harvey on trial, as practice for when this whole case with Travis Tanner goes forward. He's got Jessica defending him, and Louis is prosecuting. The whole place is madness. It's a bit exciting, to be honest. I just assumed they would call you in to take part. And Donna, I really am sorry about everything. I still can't believe Harvey didn't go after you! You know, I'm pretty sure I saw him wearing mismatched socks yesterday. One was argyle! And I think the other paisley! And he was missing a pocket square! I know what you've said about what it means when he's missing a pocket square. Donna, seriously, he's so terrible to his new assistant. And I don't think he's eating. Oh that man, after all you've–"
Donna interrupts Barbara with a sharp laugh. "Yup, okay. Great. Thanks Barbara! Lovely to chat! And by the way, Janis doesn't care that Schift stole his client because they've been badoink-a-doinking for months. Trust me, use hand sanitizer generously if you have to enter Conference Room F."
"Bye bye!" She exclaims, hanging up abruptly.
Her apartment is silent for long moment before the piercing notes of a Flock of Seagulls song start blaring from her phone. She glances at it to see who's calling and sees it's Harvey's office number. Again.
When it finally stops ringing she picks up the phone and sends a short message to Harvey's cell phone, "I have not and will not ever pick up the phone for that imbecile. Handle your own business. I have nothing else to say."
She walks out the front door and leaves her phone behind.
She probably shouldn't be surprised to find him waiting outside her door the next morning. Her last message was essentially a gauntlet thrown and she should have known he'd show up eventually. But the sight of him calmly leaning against the black car still catches her by surprise.
She immediately glances down to see if his socks match and is exceptionally irritated to realize that she can't tell. But he's missing a pocket square, even though he usually wears one with that suit. Also, the sides of his hair are gelled too aggressively, in that way he does when he's agitated and hasn't slept much. He's wearing one of the ties that she once tried to outlaw after a shopping trip to Bergdorf's. The color of it makes him look sallow. A small smile escapes her lips.
He's been waiting for her awhile. She can tell because there are tiny drops of sweat across his brow, and a few more winding down the side of his throat. The heat has made the smell of his after-shave more pronounced. He's wearing the one from the blue bottle, Zegna, she thinks. It's always been her favorite.
She's still cataloging these findings when his brow furrows just so and she realizes: he's not just there to see her.
"You came to get me to do the trial run."
He's staring at her carefully and she could reach out and trace the lines of tension on his face with her eyes closed.
She fucked up. Everyone knows she fucked up –she knows she fucked up. But it's the slightly patronizing lilt of his voice as he says, "You did screw up," and "I did fight for you," that makes her think maybe he'll never really understand.
The thought makes her sick, which pisses her off, and makes her walk away from him even faster.
She knows everything about this man, still. And maybe that's the hardest part.
She looks back once as she is walking away and the look on his face almost makes her turn around. She thinks he would reach out to stop her, maybe catch her arm, if they were the kind of people who still touched.
Instead she can hear his voice cracking as he yells after her. She abruptly turns into that stupid Duane Reid on the corner, the one that now doubles as a bar. She glares at all the patrons and mutters, "what kind of fucking pharmacy serves beer?"
Ignored, she ends up shoplifting a cheap lipstick like she's fourteen again and doesn't return home until after dark.
Everything in her apartment feels warm to the touch so she's wide-awake when her phone chimes at midnight.
The newest message simply reads,
She doesn't respond.