Preludes
By Laura

prel·ude [prel-yood, preyl-, prey-lood, pree-] noun, verb, prel·ud·ed, prel·ud·ing.
noun

1. a preliminary to an action, event, condition, or work of broader scope and higher importance.

i.

"No, I told you, Ma." Peggy switched the receiver from one ear to the other. "I'm not coming at all."

The voice on the other end of the line was shrill, incensed, agonized.

"I'm sorry, but we already had this conversation," Peggy spoke softly. She controlled the irritation that pricked the back of her neck with heat that spread red to her cheeks, not letting it seep into her voice. "I told you and I told Anita. Several times. I'm spending Thanksgiving with David."

Her mother's voice calmed and beamed joy into Peggy's ear.

"Okay, I will tell him. He probably can't make it the day after but I'll see you then," Peggy said, ending the call with a heavy sigh.

The truth was she wouldn't be seeing David. She hadn't seen David in weeks, not since their fourth date to see Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice. Not since she'd woken up under the weight of his arm and left without both of her earrings because she couldn't find one of them and didn't want to stick around long enough to recover it. But David had become her codeword for I don't want to do that/go there/see you.

Peggy's Thanksgiving was going to be working and probably eating dry turkey sandwiches at SC&P with the other uncommitted misfits (and she honestly wasn't sure until the likes of Stan and Mathis started filtering into the building whether or not she would be the only one).

x

The table was cluttered with more bottles and glasses than food or paper. The closest thing they had to turkey was a drawing Stan had taped to the center of the table.

"We need more," Mathis grumbled, holding up an empty gin bottle and tilting it upside down.

Nobody moved so Peggy dropped her feet from their perch on the table and pushed her chair back. She took her time walking the hall, enjoying the dark and quiet. She stopped outside the conference room when she noticed the yellow glow of lights from Ted's office.

There had been rumors trickling around for a while about the Chaough's. Peggy heard it from Ginsberg who got it from Scarlet who said it came from Cutler. While he seemed close to the source, she didn't take much of what Jim Cutler said seriously. But she had never known Ted to do more than make an appearance in the office on a holiday.

Peggy tapped on the outside of the door, which was slightly ajar. She heard nothing and poked the door open with her index finger. There was a plate dirtied with crumbs on the sofa. The desk and coffee table were cluttered with paper and folders. The latest Topaz mock-ups were propped against the wall. It looked like actual work was taking place.

She turned suddenly and froze when Ted appeared at the door. "Hi. Sorry," Peggy said.

He was more dressed-down than she'd ever seen him at the office – a sweater and denim pants. Ted walked around her into the room as he said, "Happy Thanksgiving."

It was one of the more morose holiday greetings Peggy had received, but by the time she turned to face him, he was sporting his usual cheerful disposition.

"How has your day been? Sick of pie yet?" Ted asked.

Peggy shrugged. "Nobody brought pie," she told him. "If I had known you were here I would have told you to come join us in the lounge."

Ted smiled. "I've got a busy day tomorrow so I really only came in to crank out a few things."

"Oh. Okay." Peggy clasped her hands together behind her back. Her eyes appraised the state of his office one final time before she backed up and said, "Well, Happy Thanksgiving."

ii.

For all of his memos and spontaneous confessions, Ted had managed to keep silent on the subject of his divorce. Peggy didn't buy the rumors until the Christmas party when Ted arrived wifeless and ringless and there was an underlying sadness to everything he did and said (the way he poured himself a whiskey and drank most of it before he'd even turned around from the bar cart; how he watched the office Santa distribute presents to the few children in attendance until he couldn't anymore and pretended to suddenly be engaged in the conversation happening around him).

It was that afternoon when the rumors became fact and Peggy spent the party watching him through the corner of her eye. The two of them never ended up in the same cluster, or at the bar together, or filling a plate at the buffet.

"Let's go over there," Stan said, nudging Peggy with his elbow.

She followed his line of vision to the conference room doorway where mistletoe had been hung. Peggy leaned into his side. "Since when do you need that?" she asked, immediately recognizing the salaciousness in her tone. Stan heard it too and wrapped his arm around her waist, squeezing her hip. Her flirty smile drooped.

Stan smacked his lips as he let go of her. He leaned toward her, leaving her with a simple kiss on her temple.

Peggy folded her arms and listened as the chatter died down. Everyone who had brought their children was long gone and most everyone else had decided what bar to take the party to. She watched Ted pick up a few plastic utensils from the floor and deposit them in the trash before he carried his drink to the staircase, settling on one of the bottom steps.

She carried her full glass and walked over to him. "Mind if I join you?" Peggy asked.

Ted looked up and offered the most genuine smile she'd seen all day. "I wish you would."

She sat and noticed he was holding an empty cup. Peggy reached over, pouring half her whiskey sour for him. They clinked glasses.

The two of them sat side by side, quiet and observant. After a while, Ted had to lift his feet so Clara could pick up a fallen green streamer and Ken bellowed from across the room, "You guys coming?"

Ted looked at Peggy who shrugged and then he called out, "We'll meet you there," and it was so unconvincing that Ken shouted a hearty goodnight back at them.

Their shared drink was gone and someone had already wheeled the bar to a different room. Peggy tucked her legs up close to her chin, smoothed the wrinkles in her dress. She thought about how many closed doors there were and all the odd couplings that were probably locked behind them. She was a little drunk and that was why her clothes felt tight and stifling but she knew the heat was also coming from being close to Ted and the fact that neither of them could bring up the D-word.

"Tomorrow is Christmas Eve," Ted said.

Peggy nodded. "It is."

"Will you be at your mother's?"

Peggy couldn't use the David excuse anymore without actually bringing David to meet her mother. "Yes," she sighed.

"I'm taking the plane to Philly."

Peggy thought she knew what that meant – visiting family, but not taking Nan and the boys. She set her cup on the step and stretched her legs out, crossing one ankle over the other. She reached across the slight space between them and squeezed his arm. He looked at her, mirroring her slight smile.

And then a door down the hall burst open and one of the secretaries Peggy didn't know yet was crying and buttoning her blouse and she and Ted both got up from the stairs, heading in opposite directions.

iii.

She would be removing confetti from her hair for weeks. Peggy wasn't sure how there could be any left after showering and using curlers, but she picked out a sliver of shiny blue and held it in the palm of her hand.

Her mother was going to ask how her night had been. Peggy heard herself saying, "It was nice," and that wasn't a lie. Ken's brother-in-law was handsome and polite and Cynthia was inclusive and sweet as always. But here she was on the first day of 1970 stopping at the office – not meeting Ken, Cynthia and Hank for breakfast.

Peggy was only going to check on a few things, review whatever had been submitted to her when she last left the office. Maybe put a few boards on Don's or Ted's desk. Their first big Sunkist campaign had been in print and on the airwaves for months already; it was time to discuss new strategy.

She sat at her desk and a folded piece of paper caught her eye. It wasn't the pink memo she usually got from Phyllis. It was pale gold. Heavy, textured paper. Peggy opened it and read the note. Happy New Year, Peggy. –Ted

iv.

Everyone was so sure it would happen.

"I don't know," Peggy would say. "I mean, it would be wonderful. But I'm not expecting it."

Joan called a meeting. She stood on the middle of the staircase. By the time Peggy emerged from her office into the crowd, people were cheering and a bottle of champagne popped open. Peggy listened closely but as she wove through the group, bumping shoulders, nobody said anything in particular to her. There were no pats on the back.

Joan was issuing a general congratulations when Peggy made it near the front of the crowd. She joined in the light applause.

"There is one other Clio nomination for our agency," Joan said.

Peggy noticed Ted on the other side of the room. He was already holding a champagne flute. She focused on him and when Joan said Sunkist and commercial suddenly there were hands on Peggy's shoulders. It was the smile and nod from Ted that she appreciated the most.

Later, when there was a trashcan full of empty bottles, Peggy roamed around the first floor on the kind of high that couldn't be achieved with drink or drug. She had yet to come face to face with Ted and it wasn't until she ducked away from the celebrating to her office that she knew where he'd been.

"Congratulations," Ted said as she came in and shut the door to her office. He handed her a glass. "To you and Sunkist. I always knew that would be an award winning combo."

Peggy tipped her glass to his and laughed quietly when she realized he'd added vodka to the orange juice. "Thank you, but I don't… we don't have an award yet."

"But you will."

She smiled. She took a sip and set the glass on the edge of her desk. Ted did the same.

"Have you called your mother?" he asked.

Peggy glanced at the clock. "I will in the morning."

"You should go out and celebrate."

"I will. I am. Some of us are going to Leary's." Peggy chewed on her bottom lip. She looked down at her feet and then back at Ted. "You should come."

Ted said, "I'd like to. I'll have to see."

He took a step forward and Peggy moved to give him access to the door. She was surprised when he stopped in front of her, circled his arms around her and drew her into a tight embrace. Peggy lifted her arms around his shoulders and sank into the hug, pressing her cheek to his chest. She closed her eyes and memorized the clean laundry smell of his shirt and the remnants of cologne and coffee.

"I'm proud of you," he whispered.

Peggy heard the words but she mostly felt them – the warm whisper of his breath against her skin. She shivered and tightened her hold on him.

Ted drew his hands from her back to her hips, his fingers pressing, daring to move more. He let go quickly and they both stepped away from the other. "Have fun, Peggy," he said, and his voice sounded somehow too loud and too far away.

v.

Stan didn't want to have to wear a tux but he was amenable to the idea because he did want to see the ladies in formalwear. He talked about either bringing the newest tenant in his building (busty and blonde) or the waitress from the previous night (long legs) and Peggy said, "You have another month to decide. Or pick someone else entirely."

He stubbed out his cigarette. "What about you?"

Peggy leaned back in her chair. "I don't know. Ken said his brother-in-law would go but I sort of blew him off after New Year's."

"You do realize he's not married anymore?" Stan asked.

She squinted. "Hank? He was never married."

"Not Cosgrove's guy," Stan corrected her. "Chaough."

Peggy stammered, shaking her head, doing her best impression of someone who was confused and appalled.

Stan laughed and leaned toward her, tapping his hand on her knee. "How about you take the waitress and I'll ask my new neighbor and then-"

She clapped a hand across his mouth.

vi.

It was Joan who made the final decision. The first dress Peggy purchased for the awards ceremony was too matronly and the second was such a departure from her signature look that it would "take away from what everyone should be focused on about you tonight."

Peggy stood in front of the mirror and was pleased with her choice and Joan's influence. The gown was a deep shade of magenta, bright and feminine but understated. It was long and didn't hide the curve of her hips and the V-neckline was flattering without being overly racy. The dress was a real winner, she thought.

x

The ballroom was buzzing with chatter and forks on plates and ice dropping to the bottom of glasses. Peggy was the first to arrive at the SC&P table. She saw Stan across the room and didn't recognize the petite redhead on his arm. He sat his date and joined Peggy on the opposite side of the table, appraising her with his eyes. He leaned close to say, "Why didn't I just come with you?"

Ted appeared, heading toward them from back of the room. He shook Stan's hand and his words caught in the back of his throat when he told Peggy, "You look lovely."

x

She didn't want to drink too much just in case she had to speak. In case she was allowed to speak? Suddenly Peggy panicked – she really didn't know how it worked, how it might work. She was named as the copywriter. But the award went to the team, or it should. That she knew, even if not everyone got to take a trophy home or speak at the podium.

Peggy twisted the cloth napkin on her lap around her finger until it throbbed. Why was she worried? There was only a one in five chance the Sunkist campaign would take the gold.

In a flash it became time for their category and Peggy bounced her knee, knocking into the table and rattling the plates and glasses. She flinched and then smiled when Ted reached under the table to still her nervous fidgeting. He kept his hand on her thigh and Peggy covered it with her hand, feeling anchored.

The people around her were blurs of color. The voices were indistinct. Peggy took deep breaths and eventually the weight of Ted's hand wasn't enough and she curled her fingers around his, locking him in a tight grip.

Everyone at the table suddenly stood, napkins falling to the floor. Pete's water glass got tipped over and splashed on his pants. Peggy remained seated, Ted tugging on her hand. "That's us," he shouted over the noise. "That's you!"

"What?" Peggy said, allowing herself to be pulled to her feet. She felt someone's arm wrapping around her waist from behind but she kept her eyes locked on Ted's.

"We won!" Ted told her, laughing. "Let's go!"

Peggy was carried toward the podium by the excitement of her team, propelled there by the applause and whistles that bellowed from the SC&P table. The noise died down once they had all assembled and she had the gold trophy in her hand.

Ted stood at her side, his hand on the small of her back. He tilted toward her, whispering in her ear, "Didn't I tell you this would happen?"

Peggy glanced back at him and smiled. When she faced the microphone again she suddenly knew exactly what to say.

x

The party after the ceremony – when the ballroom turned into something that more closely resembled a bar with a big dance floor – was the part of the evening Peggy realized she had been looking forward to the most. Everyone was jovial, kind to one another, excited and smiling. Even Don found her on the dance floor and kissed the top of her head before making his early exist.

Peggy had to sit down and rest. She drank water. She kept the award on the table but always had one hand curled around the base of the statue. People stopped by to say their goodbyes, the SC&P group dwindling down.

Ted approached the table, closely followed by a gentleman wearing a suit and carrying a large camera. "Peggy Olson," Ted said, "this is Sam Harper. He's a photographer for Advertising Age. He'd like to take your picture."

Peggy pursed her lips. She tucked her hair behind her ears and stood. "Oh, okay." She picked up the award and moved out from behind the table, posing for the camera.

"You get in there with her," Sam said.

Ted stood by her side, arm around her waist. They smiled for a picture and then another. Sam thanked them and walked away, but Ted and Peggy remained in their pose.

The music playing was soft, slow and sultry. "Feel like a dance?" Ted asked.

Peggy hesitated and then nodded. She started to walk toward the dance floor when Ted said, "You can leave that here," and she set the Clio on the table.

Their dance started as an awkward embrace, stiff arms and a wide gap between their bodies. But the romantic lull of the music and the dimming of the lights relaxed them. Ted spread his fingers at the small of her back. Peggy moved her hand from his shoulder to the back of his neck and the movement brought their bodies even closer. She closed her eyes when she felt the press of Ted's cheek against hers. The briefest brush of his mouth on her cheek and Peggy's eyes shot open. She let go of him and slipped out of his hold, murmuring, "I'm sorry."

Ted watched her flee, weaving through the tables, holding her dress up. She left her award on the table and he grabbed it before taking off after her.

Peggy couldn't get very far in her shoes. She was just outside the entrance to the building when she heard Ted calling her name. She continued walking and heard the pounding of his feet get closer until his hand was reaching out, his fingers curling around her arm. She stopped and he circled around, standing in front of her.

"I'm sorry," she said again.

"For what?" Ted asked.

Peggy jerked her head backward, toward the hotel.

"You're sorry for winning a Clio? I don't under-"

"No, for… I'm sorry for…" Peggy stammered. She lowered her voice. "I don't know if I should still feel sorry for the way I feel about you, Ted."

He flinched. He knew all too well what she meant. Ted had technically been a free man for six months but it didn't solve anything, it hadn't been the only obstacle standing between them.

Peggy looked down at her shoes. The satin of the heels was shiny and new and looked out of place standing on the dirty, cracked sidewalk. "I've been trying to keep my distance," she confessed. "I know what happened between you and Nan wasn't about me. I've been respectful." She glanced up and Ted nodded his agreement. "We still work together. That hasn't changed. But… you haven't talked to me about anything that's happened. I don't know what you're thinking."

"I've been adjusting," he told her. "It hasn't been an easy transition. It's difficult for a lot of reasons, but the boys…" He lifted one hand to his face, pinching the bridge of his nose, shutting his eyes.

"I can't imagine," Peggy admitted quietly. "I guess I just… The way I feel about you never changed. And it's been a while since we talked about how we felt and it's been confusing all this time." She paused and shook her head. "I'm not making sense."

"No, you are. Perfect sense. Some things are different and some things are the same." Ted looked at the Clio, handed it to Peggy. "I always knew this day would come for you, Peggy. The way I feel about your work hasn't changed." He took a step closer.

Peggy watched his face – the way he closed his eyes briefly, how his lips formed something of a mischievous smile before he corrected it back to neutral. She saw it all then. How their relationship had started off about work, and that was how they had fallen for one another – being impressed, building on one another's ideas, sharing, fascinated, collaborating. But Ted had always been a married man and now he wasn't. It was different and the same.

"I've had a lot of things to work through," Ted told her. "Starting over sounds wonderful but it's not easy."

She nodded.

"I've wanted to talk to you more about everything. But I never wanted it to seem like you were the reason Nan and I divorced, Peggy, because you never did anything wrong."

"I understand."

Ted glanced around, suddenly aware of the people and the cars passing them by. "Are you in a hurry to get home?" he asked.

"Not really, no."

"I could use some coffee."

Peggy looked across the street and pointed in the direction of a diner she knew would be open. "I was too nervous to eat tonight," she admitted.

"I noticed." Ted laughed and his hand on her back guided Peggy to the curb. He held her hand as they crossed the street.

x

The Clio was the centerpiece on the table. Ted and Peggy passed a plate of greasy French fries back and forth. He ordered chocolate cream pie and she ate most of it.

Ted told stories from his first award ceremony, made Peggy swear that if she ever repeated them to anyone she would leave out the parts about Cutler. He said something about his father and Peggy talked about her dad and then work never came up again.

The waitress left the coffee pot on the edge of the table for them. Ted joked about being so wide awake that he wanted to take the plane for a spin and Peggy started naming all the places she wanted to go.

"Be right back." Ted scooted out from his side of the booth, leaving his tuxedo coat on the seat. When he returned to the table he sat beside Peggy, sliding his arm around her shoulders.

She turned toward him and smiled. She closed her eyes when he cupped her chin, tracing just beneath her bottom lip with the pad of this thumb. Peggy's lips parted and she pressed the palm of her hand to Ted's chest when he kissed her, firm but tender.

He kept his arm around her shoulders and settled his back against the booth. Ted slid the plate of fries close to the edge of the table, making them easier to reach without having to let go of her.

Peggy looked at the trophy glinting in the light. She let her head rest on his shoulder. She realized it wasn't scary to be winning awards and dancing with Ted and kissing him because it felt wrong. It felt right, it felt like where she was supposed to end up.