Three Thousand Miles
If she would talk to him on the phone he would say I haven't even been to the beach.
Ted would say Merry Christmas and then he would tell Peggy I haven't even been to the beach because it would make me think about Hawaii.
He would tell her how every time he walks into his office he thinks he's in the wrong place. It looks like it belongs to a different man, Ted would say, and it always feels too empty and too quiet. He is always staring at the door and it's never the right person knocking. He hates his office but he rarely goes home because it feels even more unfamiliar.
Ted wouldn't tell her that. He wouldn't tell Peggy how few dinners he has been home for in the last month or how many nights he has slept on the sofa or about the time he almost concocted a lie that the agency already needed him back in New York for a few days. How Nan keeps asking if he's sure he feels okay – he's pale, perpetually pinching the bridge of his nose.
This is what three thousand miles looks like.
The elevator carries Peggy up to the SC&P offices so slowly, as if in protest of being used on Christmas day. She uses her key to let herself in the glass doors. She is always determined to make it to her office without looking at the closed door with Ted's name on it, and Peggy always fails. She stops, jiggles the knob, and is not surprised (but still disappointed) to find it locked.
Peggy shuffles toward her office and turns the light on. She rolls her eyes at the mess Stan left – tipped over paper cup on the table, rings of coffee stains on the typed copy she gave him for Avon. She notices he didn't leave any art for her to review.
She throws her coat and purse on the chair. Peggy looks from her desk to the table and settles herself on the sofa, stretching her legs across the cushions.
Ted stares at the ceiling and wonders if it's snowing in New York. He knows what his next thought will be and sits up from the sofa, stamping his feet on the floor. He takes a deep breath and sits behind his desk. He told Nan he had to leave the house after the boys opened their presents because it was imperative he determine how many freelancers they could hire before the year came to an end. It's not a lie but Ted can't bring himself to look through the portfolios on his desk or make sense of the branch's budget.
He reaches under the paperwork on his desk for a notebook, opening it to the page where he scribbled some of his own ideas for Sunkist. Ted shakes his head; they are mostly rip-offs of Peggy's Ocean Spray work.
He reaches across his desk for the rolodex. Ted flips through the cards until he finds the one he wants. He knows Peggy is probably with her family, and he hopes she is, but a part of him knows she is working. And every part of him wants to hear her voice.
Ted dials the numbers and his hand sweats around the receiver. It rings once, twice, and then he hears a click and a pause. A confused, "Hello?"
His breath seizes in his chest. All of the words he wants to say pile up in his throat and press on his tongue.
Peggy clears her throat. "Hello?" She doesn't know who would have her direct number except for her mother, but just as soon as she asks, "Ma?" she knows.
Her chest aches. She can hear him breathing and she feels it tickle her ear. It makes her remember his mouth on her neck and Peggy swallows against a sour taste in her mouth. She can hear herself say so many things – I hate you, You're a weak man, Leave me alone.
Peggy sits in her chair, resting her elbow on her desk. She sighs and her hand hovers over the phone, ready to kill the call at any moment, just as soon as she's ready.
The sun through the windows is blinding and Ted tilts his head down, closes his eyes. He listens to her breathe, hears a heavy sigh. After a while the line goes silent, there's a click and then a droning buzz. He keeps the phone to his ear long after she's ended the call.
Ted hangs up and feels around the desk for his keys. He is almost out the door when the phone rings. He bangs his foot into the side of his desk in his frantic effort to answer before the second chime. "Hello?" he answers, breathless, hopeful.
"You sound like you're working too hard."
"How much longer? The boys want you to help put the-"
Ted says, "I'm leaving now," as he sits back down in his chair.
"Oh, good. Okay. We'll see you soon."
Ted hangs up and props his elbows on the desk, pinches the bridge of his nose. He thinks about what he told Peggy a month ago – how he had to stay close to his family. He has never felt so far away from Nan and the boys.
He has left so much of himself in New York.