Other Ways of Speaking
Peggy stands in the hallway and listens to Mathis screw up a joke. Stan corrects the punch line. She lifts her hand and traces a line under her bottom lip with the pad of her thumb. It's a gesture she finds herself repeating when she's alone, if she hears Stan's voice, or any time she's had one drink too many.
He knows she isn't sleeping well, or at all. Not because Peggy has confided in him about her living arrangements or what is keeping her up at night. Stan knows because she has taken to rubbing her neck, dropping her head forward and rolling it side to side.
Peggy walks out of the lounge and to her office. She leaves the door open. Stan lingers in the hallway and watches her drop her folders on the edge of her desk. She tilts her head forward. Back. Forward.
Stan eases the door closed behind him without Peggy noticing he's let himself in. His fingers on her shoulder blade startle her. He presses a finger to his lips and she sighs, turning back around.
He lowers the zipper on her dress just enough to loosen the fabric around her neck. Stan spreads his fingers at the base of her neck, kneading. He lifts his other hand and pushes both thumbs hard into her shoulders and Peggy arches her back.
Stan massages her neck and shoulders and feels the tension in her body dissipate and strain him instead. He zips her dress, the teeth slowly coming together. He holds his hand to the center of her back for a brief moment before turning and leaving the room.
Cutler brings champagne to christen what he calls the new firm. The sign is being replaced on the door – Sterling Cooper & Partners – and it's like a ribbon cutting.
Somehow Peggy ends up tasked with pouring. She fills Don's glass, then Chaough's. Mathis and Ed. Cosgrove. She gets to the end of the line and finds Stan holding two paper cups. She fills both and sets the empty bottle down.
Peggy accepts one of the cups from Stan. He holds his aloft. She smiles and touches her cup to his.
It feels like a party exclusively for the female population of SC&P. Avon sent samples and full size products and little pink zippered bags to store everything in. The girls are passing around bottles of perfume, spritzing one another on the wrist or neck.
Stan stays because Peggy is pumping a quarter-size circle of lotion into her palm and slowly massaging it into her skin, between her fingers, up to her elbows. She looks up and catches his eyes.
Later, when she's carrying her own loot to the elevator, Peggy drops a compact. Stan trails behind her and picks it up. She thanks him and their hands brush.
He watches her disappear behind the elevator doors. Stan covers his mouth with his hand; he can smell the perfumed lotion and feel the soft warmth of her skin where his is rough and worn.
The radio is turned down low for the meeting. Stan keeps maneuvering and fidgeting in his seat beside Peggy on the sofa. He flings his pencil and it rolls across Peggy's lap. He snatches it back and mouths, "Sorry."
She rolls her eyes and says something to the group about the cosmetic needs of professional women versus women out of the workforce. She is interrupted when Ginsberg reaches across the table for a fresh piece of paper and accidentally turns the volume dial on the radio.
Everyone groans at him but then the words scratching out the speakers become the center of attention. It's nothing they aren't used to hearing about – the war, the soldiers in body bags, the politics, the protests.
Stan leans forward, folding his hands under his chin. Peggy scoots toward him. He flinches when she rests her hand lightly over his thigh. She squeezes, just for a moment, before drawing her hand back and crossing her arms across her chest.
It's too cold to go home. Ginsberg is taking up the couch in their office. Stan shuffles toward Don's door to see if it's open. He stops when he hears the murmur of voices coming from Chaough's office. His curiosity is spiked until Peggy's laughter beams out through the half-open door.
Stan's instinct is to retreat but his shoes are plastered to the floor.
The door opens and Peggy emerges, a folder tucked under her arm. Chaough comes out after her. "Going home?" he asks across the room.
Stan shakes his head.
"Well, goodnight," Chaough says. He looks at Peggy and back to Stan. "Both of you."
Peggy stares across the room for a moment. She holds the folder up – something of a wave, something of a way to say Well, I've got work to do.
She's been staying later every night. She divides her time between Chevy and Avon, between Don and Chaough, between her own work and correcting others'. Peggy stares at the mess of papers and boards strewn across every surface in her office. She's drowning in it.
The drawer where she keeps the rye has only a pencil that rolls around loudly when she opens it. Peggy pushes it closed with her toes and goes to the cabinet. Empty.
She heads to the kitchen. It's dark and she doesn't turn the light on. She knows exactly where the supply is, and she grabs a glass so she doesn't even have to bother carrying the bottle back with her. Peggy pours and drinks the rye at the counter. She turns around and yelps at the outline of a man standing on the other side of the small room. The glass slips out of her fingers and shatters at her feet.
"Fuck," she spits.
The man walks into the sliver of light from the hallway.
Peggy's shoulders relax as Stan steps over the mess. She's about to tell him she's okay and she'll clean it up but she can't.
Stan's hands frame her face and he presses against her until Peggy feels the edge of the counter dig into her back. He tilts her head, gaining better access to her neck and then her mouth. His kiss is hungry and a little sloppy, but the deft way he rolls his hips and moves a hand down to rub his thumb across her nipple – searing her through her sweater, her dress, her slip, her bra – is anything but careless.
She moans into his mouth and grips his belt. Peggy gathers her strength to undo the buckle when Stan lets go of her and pushes back.
Peggy feels for the light and blinks against the harsh yellow. Stan is gone and she's standing in the puddle of liquid and shards.
Stan has to leave the room when Peggy snaps a compact open and freshens her lipstick. It's something he's seen her do a thousand times before a big pitch but now it's different. Now he knows the shape of her lips and the texture of her tongue and how she tastes like those violet candies and whiskey and a hint of mint.
The previous Christmas he was reclining on the couch, joint in one hand and the phone in the other. He was listening to Peggy's voice crackle across the line – talk of trying to get her mother and Abe in the same room for the holiday, something Chaough said about her work. Stan had offered to get her a cup of coffee like he always did, and it was not the only time he really hoped Peggy would say, "Yeah, okay. Let's meet for a cup."
Stan stares at the phone on the desk. It's not ringing. He doesn't even know where he'd call her (maybe at her mother's, probably at Peggy's apartment, for fuck's sake please not wherever Chaough is).
"Want some coffee?"
Stan smiles. He holds the smile for a long while before he realizes he's not imagining what Peggy might say to him if he did get her over the phone. He stands abruptly and looks at the door. "Hey," he says. His voice is coarse like he hasn't used it in years. He clears his throat. "Hey. Merry Christmas."
Peggy walks all the way into the room and sets two paper cups on the desk. She removes the plastic lids and steam wafts into the air. "Merry Christmas," she says.