“Well, Betty, I have some good news and some bad news.” Ronnie’s hand was on her shoulder, gently steering her off set. Betty followed dumbly as her heart sank.
“There’s bad news?”
“The client’s moving the international work to London,” Ronnie clarified. The words seemed jumbled, a series meaningless syllables that never the less sat in her stomach like stones.
“More Audrey Hepburn, less Grace Kelly.” Betty admired the way he gently couched the rejection, how he transmitted the message without actually saying the words. It was a built-in feature of all the advertising men she had met – smooth and gentle subtext without an outright declaration that could be argued with. She supposed that he could have said 'Our plan to woo your husband failed, but it's funny that you would think we'd put a relic like you in a Coca Cola ad. Thank you for playing'. Ronnie's words were infinitely more kind, but the blood pounded in her ears all the same. Humiliation and shame washed over her in tides, lapping at her breastbone and traveling higher up her neck with each pass. She felt small in her gown, like she was a little girl parading around in her mother’s clothes. Except now she was an old woman pretending to still be beautiful and interesting, and the feeling was so much worse.
“The good news is that you have two wonderful sets of pictures to start your book again,” Ronnie said, and Betty just nodded numbly as she felt her lips start to wobble. “The other good news – at least, I hope it’s good news – is that I have another project I’d like you to consider.” Betty looked up, forced her mouth into a shaky smile so that her tremble wouldn’t betray her.
“Really? What kind of project?”
“It’s not for McCann Erickson,” he cautioned, facing her and putting a hand on each shoulder. “But I have a friend who does freelance work. There’s a boutique jewelry store that is putting together their own ad campaign, and when he was talking about what they wanted, I told them I had the perfect woman in mind. It’s a small project, it’s just going to be shot over a weekend, but I don’t think they could find a more compelling model for their collection.” Betty’s heart sank again.
“I don’t know,” she said. “I don’t think my husband would let me work over the weekend. He gets lonely without me.” Ronnie waved a hand dramatically.
“Nothing makes men appreciate their wives more than having to take care of the kids for a couple of days. Make him miss you, honey. I don’t think any man could refuse a request from a beautiful woman like you.” He removed his other hand from her shoulder and took out his wallet, edging out a business card. “This is the number for my friend, James DuPoint. He’s planning on shooting soon, so if you’re interested, call him in the next few days. And keep the dress. I don’t do that for everyone, you know.” He put the card into her numb hands and smiled widely as he pulled away. The set hands came swooping in like vultures, pawing at the borrowed jewelry, picking her clean one bite at a time. Betty wished she were alone, wanted to sink to the floor and scream and kick until she winded herself. She knew she shouldn't be angry with Don but resentment stuck hard and fast in her diaphragm and choked her breath. For a few days she had had something of her own to be proud of, something that wasn't done at the direction of Don or for the benefit of her children. It was a foolish thought, because since she had become Mrs. Donald Draper she had lived like an appendage, never moved without Don's knowledge or permission. They were fused, like one person, and she supposed it was a very romantic thought. The idea that Betty was important enough to Don, that McCann thought that she could be used to woo him - that would have been romantic as well, if it had been true.
When her eyes began swimming and her lips trembled uncontrollably, she closed her eyes and pinched her fingers around the card.
“Miss?” One of the girls, a brunette, was motioning towards Betty's hands.
“Of course.” Betty let out a sound that was somewhere between a laugh and a sob, and with a grimace allowed the set hand to start pulling the gloves off of her fingers.
“How was your day?” Don asked, and Betty knew he was genuinely interested because he actually sat down and looked at her instead of mumbling on his way to the kitchen.
“It was good,” she replied, trying to sound upbeat. “The shoot for Coca Cola is over, but we discussed other possibilities for me.”
“Oh?” Don’s tone was light but there was something intense, disbelieving in his gaze that made Betty bristle.
“Ronnie said I’d be the perfect model for a project his friend is working on. Something for a boutique jewelry store.” Don frowned, raising an eyebrow.
“McCann working on a boutique jewelry store? It seems a little small for a firm of their size.” Betty shook her head.
“No. It’s not being done by an agency. The store is doing their own advertising. They’re going to shoot over a weekend, so it’s nothing too huge. It might only wind up being one day.” Don sighed and leaned back in his chair.
“Nothing ever goes right when these places think they can do their own work. They think they know what they want, but then change their mind when it doesn’t work out, and the models get called back to do a completely different shoot. And the pay is terrible for everyone involved. It wouldn’t be worth the money, Bets.”
“It’s not about the money,” Betty said, stabbing into her casserole. “We’ve had this conversation before. I’m old, Don. It’s not like my modeling career is going to take off and the kids will be raised entirely by a nanny. It’s just… nice to have a hobby.” She wished that Don golfed or had a yacht or anything that Betty could make a comparison to. She thought that maybe the men at her father’s country club would have understood, the interesting men that always talked about their exotic vacations and expensive watches. She thought of them and wondered how she had ever been dazzled by Don, how she had wound up with a man so unlike who she pictured being married to. Maybe that had been the attraction at first.
“Bets.” Don got up and positioned himself behind her chair, leaning over as he wrapped his arms around her. “You’re not old, and even when you’re 60 you’ll still be the one that everyone in the room is looking at.” He kissed the top of her head. “But I remember what it was like when you were still modeling. How you’d run around in tears because you couldn’t find the right piece of jewelry, or you couldn’t find the right building, or because you were running late or your pantyhose had a run in them. It always just seemed so stressful for you, and I wanted to give you a better life, one that was easier. Isn’t this easier than running around the city for hours every day?” His hands moved to her shoulders and began massaging, loosening the tension she wasn’t quite ready to give up yet. Betty had always loved his hands. They were powerful and broad, yet capable of the greatest care and gentleness. Right now they mostly felt like the beginnings of a noose.
“Yes, it is. But sometimes I miss the hustle and the bustle, of seeing places other than Ossining. I don’t want to be in the city every day – I have children, a husband, responsibilities. I like being able to drive around rather than packing everything on a train. But sometimes I’m jealous of you. You get to leave the house every day, go see different people, have lunch with clients at different restaurants. I don’t need much, it’s just… nice to change the routine sometimes.”
“It isn’t exactly fun.” His thumbs stopped their gentle digging and his hands gripped her shoulders a little more tightly than was comfortable. “Clients are difficult and have bad taste in food. Most of the time my staff doesn’t know what they’re doing, and they get mad when I need them to get it right. It’s difficult out there, and I think you’ve forgotten that.”
“Maybe I have,” Betty replied, trying to forestall an argument. Her mother told her that a good wife was never disagreeable, never started an argument, and that was what made it a household worth returning to. “You’re probably right, and going through it all again will make me remember how terrible working is, make me appreciate everything you do for me, for the kids, even more. And that can’t be bad, can it?” Some of the fight seemed to leave Don and she heard him sigh as he draped his hands over her shoulders again and leaned down for another kiss on her crown.
“I just want you to be happy.” Like most of the things that Don said she didn’t know if it was true, but she wanted to believe it, and perhaps that was good enough.
“I am happy,” she replied. “You make me happy.” She curled her fingers over his wrists, squeezing them gently. She wanted to believe that too.
Nine days later Betty was on 12th street in Greenwich village, looking up with trepidation. When James had given her the address over the phone she had assumed it had been for a studio of some sort. However, the hanging laundry and screaming children clearly marked it as an apartment block and this changed everything. The cab she had come in was hovering, waiting to see her safely inside, and the courtesy became a crushing pressure as she debated ringing the bell. If Don knew she was going to a man’s apartment, alone…
He wasn’t a violent man. Betty had rarely even heard him raise his voice, and she knew she was lucky. She had seen a lot of girlfriends with bruises and black eyes and Francine had complained endlessly about Carlton’s harmless, if irritating, temper. But something like this would be charting new territory for them, would rise above the squabbles of dinner and housekeeping to something else entirely, and she wasn’t sure if it was a risk she was willing to take. There was supposed to be another model coming, but if she wasn’t there, and it was just her and James, alone...
She jabbed the buzzer quickly, resolving to go home if there was no answer. But she heard the click of the latch unlocking almost instantly and she had the queerest sensation of stepping off a precipice. When she opened the door she heard the crunch of gravel as the cab sped off, and she entered the lobby to find it empty.
Betty’s heart pounded as she began the climb to the third floor. Even when she was single she hadn’t done this, and going to a strange man’s apartment as a married woman was inviting the kind of trouble her mother had cautioned her to stay away from. ‘You could be raped, murdered, because of your foolishness’. Each footstep fell on a syllable, reminding her of the jump rope games she played as a little girl. ‘Worst of all, you could wind up divorced and pregnant, and then no man would want you.’ She knew a good girl would have taken them for warnings, and Lord knew she had tried, but Betty had always been drawn to the macabre. Once in school she had written an inappropriate story, and her mother had screamed at her for days. The thrill of the dirty, of the unknown and dangerous, had pulled at Betty since she was a child, and at times it had been hard to keep her curiosity to herself. Yet sometimes she wondered if they had been her inheritance, if her mother's supposed warnings were really unexplored fantasies spilling out the only way they could.
When she reached number 306 she paused. It was Betty’s last chance to pull away, and there was a finality to knocking that she wasn’t sure she was ready to face. Her mother hovered over her shoulder, hissing that she needed to turn around this instant and go back to Don, to the children, to the life she had been dreaming of since childhood…
Almost immediately a man answered. He was attractive in a way that didn’t appeal to Betty, and there was something disappointing in that. He was slightly taller than her with curly brown hair and grey eyes, dressed in a stripped shirt with a mismatched tie hanging precariously around his neck. He was bohemian, artistic and Betty wasn’t sure what she had expected.
“Ah, you must be Betty!” James said cheerfully, and she smiled shyly and nodded. “Come in, come in. You’re right on time! And Ronnie was right about you. You are to die for!” Betty giggled and stepped into the apartment. It was vibrantly decorated in clashing colours that were almost painful to look at, but there was something charming about such freely chosen pieces.
“This is -" she began, but stopped short. In the center of the living room was the makeshift set, a simple coffee table made out of mahogany framed against a bookshelf. The curtains were drawn, blocking out the sun, but James had arranged a circle of studio lights that created a soft glow. In one of the chairs was Joan Holloway.
“Mrs. Draper.” Joan’s eyes widened in surprise and she shot up, like a soldier caught unaware by his commanding officer.
“Joan.” Betty tried to sound cheerful but her hands clasped anxiously in from of her, unsure of where to go. Their paths had crossed the few times that Betty had gone to the office and it was hard not to like her. Joan had always been the only one to greet her like the wife of a director should be welcomed, catered to her every whim even though Betty tried not to be too demanding. She was as stunning as ever, even in olive slacks and a yellow sweater, and her beauty and savvy had always set of alarm bells in Betty’s mind. Don often worked late, stayed in town over night, and on particularly lonely evenings she sometimes wondered…
“I see you two know each other!” James gushed as Joan sauntered over, her hips swaying like a pendulum.
“Yes. She works with my husband,” Betty said politely. “I guess that’s why we’re shooting this over the weekend – you’re needed at the office during the day.”
“This is more of a hobby.” Joan had regained her composure, coming close enough that Betty could smell the Channel. “Something to fill my time before I find a man. It’s so good to see you, Mrs. Draper.” Joan reached out and patted her arm.
“Please, call me Betty,” she replied, and looked at James. “Joan is indispensable at the office. The place would fall apart without her, or so Don always tells me.” Don had, in fact, never mentioned Joan – he rarely talked about work in anything more than the most general terms. But Betty had seen her strut around and anyone could tell that she was the top of the pecking order, probably second only to Bert Cooper. Joan fawned appropriately.
“That is so sweet of you to say. How are Bobby and Sally?” James motioned for her belongings and Betty handed the bag to him.
“They’re doing well. Sally starts school in September, so that will be nice,” she replied, tugging at the hem of her sleeves while James pulled the coat off of her shoulders. Joan smiled.
“The other day Don was talking about how they grow up so fast.” Betty knew that was a lie. She doubted that Don’s employees heard much more of his home life than she heard of his work life. She smiled politely as James whisked her personal effects into his coat closet.
“How are you, Joan? Are you seeing anyone… special?” Joan sighed and daintily waved at the air in front of her.
“You know men. The special ones aren’t marriage material, but the ones that are bore me to tears.” Betty smiled.
“I’m sure the right one will come along. In fact I met Don while I was modeling.”
“Really?” Joan’s betrayal stung, even if it wasn’t surprising. Betty had seen Don’s office, knew that he didn’t even have a picture of his family on display like other executives did. She had hoped that maybe there was more to Don than his stoic facade, that perhaps he occasionally let down his guard and bragged about winning the heart of a model who had deigned to give him equally beautiful children. But Don never had been, never would be, like the men at the country club who took such boastful pleasure in their beautiful belongings.
Hiding her dismay behind an enthusiastic nod, Betty said, “Yes. I was modeling for a fur shop – actually, one right here in Manhattan. I don’t know if it’s still open. But-”
“Joan, you’re not going to find a husband in this apartment, so let’s get started. The less time we waste, the more likely we are to have tomorrow off.” James clapped his hands together and Joan rolled her eyes, exaggeratedly mouthing ‘spoil sport’ with her full, red lips. Betty giggled silently and felt her stomach jump.
“Now Betty, I know this is a little beneath you, so thank you so much for coming here and wearing that fabulous dress. It’s perfect!” Betty flushed under his praise. Her dress, a periwinkle blue with a white lace top, had been specifically chosen, although she had forgone the crinoline underskirt that used to go with it.
“It’s the dress I wore to tell my girlfriends that I got engaged.” James did a chef’s kiss.
“Perfect! And as both of you know, this is exactly what we’re going for. Betty, you are the lucky woman who has just had the man of your dreams propose to you. And Joan, you are her best friend in the entire world, her confidante, the person she was most excited to tell after her parents. Now, we’re going to try to capture two emotions in these photos. Joan, in one set you are going to look jubilated, you’re just so happy that this has finally happened to the woman you care about the most. In the other I want you have a similar feeling, with just a hint of jealousy. Why is she getting married instead of you? What have you done wrong? Why couldn’t-”
“I get it,” Joan snapped, and James nodded.
“Great. If you two could get seated, we can begin.”
James gave Betty the engagement ring when she sat down, and it was so large she worried her finger would cramp. Quite frankly it was ostentatious and gaudy, and Betty didn’t have high hopes for the store if the rest of their pieces were like this. She was leaning back in her chair, her right arm casually slung around the edge as if she didn’t have a care in the world. She was used to this – advertisers rarely wanted a woman looking sour or weighed down. Joan was bent over the table, gawking at her ring, and when she took Betty’s hand in her own Betty was unexpectedly self-conscious. Were her hands too sweaty? The nail on her ring finger was shorter than the others, a casualty of a heavy grocery bag, leaving a terrible eyesore of half a French tip. That particular nail wouldn’t be in the photo but Joan would see it and it made Betty unhappy to think of her imperfections on display like that.
James buzzed around them, sometimes giving them direction and sometimes swapping out his lenses or adjusting the lights, but otherwise they sat in silence as the camera snapped photo after photo. There was something disappointing about how clinically James looked at her, how utterly short and devoid of intrigue his glances were. He was professional, Betty told herself, in a way that very few men manage to master. Her soothing thoughts were meaningless to her pride, so instead she tried to focus on her memories of being engaged. She knew she had been elated, had felt like she had reached some pinnacle point in her life after which everything would be easier. There had been problems back then, issues she assumed would be solved with some wedding cake. She had been afraid to tell her father, who hadn't (and still didn't) like Don, her friends had been critical, pointing out that said that while he was handsome, he wasn't in the same financial bracket that the Hofstadts inhabited. She wondered if the passage of time made the warning signs more glaring, or if she had just been so foolishly in love that she hadn't noticed.
She wondered if perhaps she should have waited to get married, if perhaps Joan had the right idea in holding out. Betty felt she was infinitely more wise than she had been eight years ago. She was sure that she still would have married Don, but maybe she would have been happier going into marriage with a bit more worldly experience. Had Joan taken lovers? Undoubtedly. She had the countenance of a woman confidant in every area of life, moved in a way that stirred the imagination more than any scandalous magazine ever could. She was too stunning, too sultry to be a bashful virgin, and during their shoot Betty had the leisure time to examine her in a way that politeness wouldn’t allow.
If she had ever weighed as much as Joan did, her mother would have kept her on a cabbage soup diet for a month. Yet somehow every extra ounce of weight only served to glorify the redhead, creating a delightful landscape of curves that compelled people to look. Betty wondered, hypothetically, if she put on weight… would she look that good? If she filled out a little, traded sharp hipbones for a little extra cushion, would it adorn her as well as Joan? Would Don still be attracted to her? Maybe he would want her even more. The comparisons to Grace Kelly would likely stop, but she couldn’t help but wonder how it would feel to caress her stomach and feel a little more volume, if her breasts would strain proudly against her tops like Joan’s did. She wondered how difficult it was to find clothing that covered her sufficiently, if she had to spend hours agonizing in dressing rooms. Maybe she had to make all of her clothing herself, or get it specially tailored. And wouldn’t it be a designer’s dream to have a model like Joan, the perfect specimen of feminine design at one’s disposal to discover the female form in all its glory...
When James coughed Betty and Joan turned their attention towards him.
“Betty, if you could just look up a little more? Joan, you’re perfect.” Red hot shame washed over Betty and it was a struggle to calm the blush that was climbing up her neck. She tried not to focus on her partner, except Joan’s hands were soft and supple and sometimes she would move them and it was like rubbing up against silk. Her grip was firm but tender, and for a fleeting moment Betty imagined Joan enveloping her in a hug, all warm softness and smoothness. She wouldn’t be able to feel Joan’s skin under the sweater, of course, but maybe if Joan had worn a strapless evening gown…
The hours dragged on and Betty’s legs started to feel stiff and her shoulders began to ache. Joan was obviously feeling the effects as well, having been hunched over for most of the shoot. The sun was falling in the sky when James took his final shot and told them they could move.
“You’re both consummate professionals!” he declared as they stretched. “And your reward is that you don’t have to come back tomorrow. We’re done! It’s a wrap!”
“Thank God for small mercies,” Joan muttered and Betty giggled. She hadn’t realized how funny and sharp Joan was, and it seemed like a privilege to see a side of her that wasn’t the cool, gracious secretary at Sterling Cooper. She thought that maybe after this, she knew Joan better than Don did. She hoped that was true.
“We make a good team,” Betty said brightly. Joan cocked her head and studied her for a second, and Betty worried that she had said something asinine.
“The best,” Joan finally agreed, and Betty followed her to the coat closet. “Let’s go out and get a drink. Just us girls.”
“Oh.” Betty was torn. She wasn’t sure if she should be drinking with her husband’s employees, but the thought of being alone with Joan was its own kind of exhilarating. “I don’t know if I can. Don’s at home with the kids, and I don’t-”
“Men aren’t really as helpless as they seem, and the more you let them get away with it, the more they use it against you,” Joan said pointedly and took Betty’s coat off the hanger, holding it open for her. “Besides, when Don is working late? Ninety percent of it involves him and Roger Sterling drinking in his office, telling war stories and bawdy jokes. When was the last time you go to have a drink with a girlfriend?” Betty turned her back and Joan helped her into her sleeves.
“It’s nice to hear that’s all he’s doing when he works late. I mean, I know he works hard, but...” Betty trailed off self-consciously, unsure of how to finish her sentence. Joan’s hands reached around her shoulders and slowly, almost soothingly, patted her lapels into place. Betty noticed her nails were perfect, uniform in colour and length.
“Let’s go out for that drink.”
They wound up at a jazz lounge a couple of blocks away.
“An ex of mine used to bring me here,” Joan said by way of explanation. It had been so long since Betty had been out on the town that Joan could have taken her anywhere and she would have been pleased. The lounge was relaxing, the chairs languidly embracing her in plush blue velvet that popped under the low lights. There was a band playing and the musicians were enchanting. They were imbued with the music they were making, so full of energy and erratic and yet somehow everything flowed into a wonderful melody that made Betty almost burst with joviality. It made a nice change from the carefully orchestrated operas of the Metropolitan. Perhaps most importantly, Betty could see how many people were looking at them. It felt good, especially the men that openly gawked. They never would have if Don were around, but with Joan by her side they were shameless and greedy. It filled Betty with the most pleasant déjà vu.
“I didn’t really care for jazz, before my ex,” Joan said, her voice almost as mellifluous as the music. “But I learned to appreciate it.”
“Why is he your ex?” Betty asked.
“Too pretentious. I wound up liking jazz, but there were only so many poetry readings I could take.” Even in the dark Joan's beauty couldn't be dampened and Betty was once again self-conscious. She couldn't tell if she was staring too long or too intently and her movements felt awkward, uncoordinated. She kept reaching for her drink, lit a cigarette that she would alternatively puff on like a lifeline before forgetting about. She was anxious in a way that was almost pleasant, and she hoped that Joan didn't notice.
“I think Don feels that way about me,” Betty admitted. “I drag him to see plays and operas, and he just tolerates it for my sake.”
“It’s because he loves you,” Joan assured her, somehow both coy and earnest as she looked over the rim of her cocktail glass. Betty nodded.
“You’re right. He loves me very much.”
“So finish the story of how the two of you met. It sounds like something I would read in a novel.” Betty giggled and rehashed the tale of their courting, and by the time she was done she had almost finished her drink.
“Wow.” Joan was only half way through hers, and Betty knew that she should have paced herself but was feeling too good to care. “I’m impressed. You managed to put that one in the bag.” Betty giggled again.
“I’m lucky,” she agreed, and Joan's admiration made her a little more confidant. Surely, if Joan was having an affair with Don, she wouldn’t invite his wife out for drinks and listen to her go on about her marriage? Yet, if Don had fallen prey to Joan's charms, Betty wasn't sure if she could even blame him.
“No Betty. He’s the lucky one. I’m sure you could have had your pick of suitors, and you chose the man with no money, working his way up. You saw his potential, and he should be grateful that you were willing to take the risk on him.” There was an edge to Joan’s voice, a certain tightness in how she gripped her glass, and Betty worried that she had said something wrong.
“It’s not like that. I knew he was going to do great things. There wasn’t a doubt in my mind. And he’s so good to me. I worried that after I had the kids he… well, that he wouldn’t be attracted to me anymore. Sometimes he’s tired, he does work a lot, but...” Betty felt that colour come back up her neck, realized she had blabbered on inappropriately. Her mother used to tell her off for it, would smack her arm at the dinner table when she bored her daddy with school tales. One time she had run to her mother in tears because her friend had revealed Betty's feelings to her crush. Her mother hadn't hugged her or dried her cheeks, just admonished Betty for having a big mouth. Betty had cried for hours, more so because of her mother’s betrayal than her friend's. She hands clenched as she heard the mocking voice of Dr. Wayne.
"You're mad at your mother."
Sure she was - wasn't everyone?
“Betty.” Joan reached across the table and put a hand on hers, running her thumb over the knuckles. The touch was so nice, so gentle, and Betty wanted to lean into it, wanted Joan's other hand to cradle her face. “He would have to be crazy not to be attracted to you. You’re a model, for God’s sake.” Betty smiled weakly and nodded.
“My mother always told me that I had to keep my figure even while I was pregnant. She said that the moment you start letting yourself slip is a moment you can never take back. Of course, it helped that I had so much morning sickness with Bobby. I couldn’t keep anything down for the first three months. It really made everything so much easier.” Joan withdrew her hand and waved it front of her nose like she was batting away a foul odor. Betty wished she hadn't, wanted the hand back, but didn’t know how to ask.
"Mothers are the most infuriating women on the planet. Mine was always nattering on about how I dressed too provocatively, how late I stayed out with boys, how I spent too much time on my hair and make up. When I first moved out she called me every night to make sure I was at home."
"That sounds sweet," Betty said. "She must have been worried about you, in the city." Joan shook her head.
"No, she wanted to make sure I wasn't spending time with boys after dark, probably because she couldn't conceive of having sex with a light on, never mind in broad daylight. You know how women of that generation are. After a while I just let the phone ring, and now she only calls me once a week." Betty smiled and shrugged.
"When you have children, your perspective on your own mother changes."
"Does it?" Joan asked, and took a sip of her drink while she waited for Betty's response. It was an innocent question, devoid of judgement, but Betty felt that she had been caught off-guard. She opened her mouth and then stopped, staring at the table. It was only when her palms stung that she realized she was clenching her fists. Changing the topic, Joan asked, “So, you have the handsome, rich husband, two beautiful children and a gorgeous house in the country. Why are you still working?” Betty reached for her glass to distract her fingers, rolled it between her palms to feel the coolness of the melting ice.
“I just miss it sometimes. I’m not ungrateful, I have everything I ever dreamed of having. It’s just sometimes… well… you kind of miss the old days. Back before...” Back before what? Back before she had a husband she didn’t understand or really even know? Back before when she had been Betty instead of Mrs. Donald Draper? Back before, when her mother was hounding her to get married to the next blue blooded New Englander before it was too late? Betty didn’t know what she was going to say, and fortunately it didn’t matter. Her glass suddenly slipped from her hands, and there was a metallic cling as it hit the edge of the table before thudding onto the floor. Betty realized both of her hands were shaking.
“God, I’m so clumsy,” Betty choked out, feeling the tears come to her eyes. Joan had already jumped into action, grabbing a napkin to scoop the fallen ice cubes back into the glass.
“No harm done,” she said soothingly, reappearing above the table with the glass in hand. “It didn’t even break. Just a little chip along the rim.”
“It’s just sometimes… I have this thing where sometimes my hands shake and I can’t… I can’t stop it.” Betty could feel her lip trembling and she self-consciously stuck her hands into her lap. She was a child again, overdressed with expectations that were too big to live up to reality, and the shame overwhelmed her. She should be at home with her husband and children instead of gallivanting with a beautiful woman like they were some stupid college students.
“Come on,” Joan said kindly. “Let’s continue this at my place. The next band isn’t nearly as good.” She went around the table and helped Betty stand, and then patiently helped her back into her jacket, arm by arm. She was so gentle and understanding that Betty felt anger rise, hot and heavy in her chest. She couldn't remember her mother ever being this compassionate.
Joan’s apartment was also in the village, and the 15 minute walk did a lot to soothe Betty’s nerves. Joan linked their arms together and even though the streets were bustling Betty felt like they were in their own calm, peaceful bubble. Joan talked about happy, inconsequential things – her work, her roommate, Carol, who was off visiting family, her fabulous hairdresser. Betty half listened, nodding and laughing where appropriate, but her mind was surprisingly empty. She felt serene in Joan’s company, loved how soothing the airy timbre of her voice was, how softly she cushioned Betty’s arm against the side of her breast. She just had this magical ability to make everything seem feel it was going to be alright, and Betty wished that they were back in college, that she didn’t have to go home so soon.
When they got to the apartment Joan took her coat and put on some Bobby Darin. She busied herself at the small liquor cabinet she had, grabbing ice cubes from the freezer before pouring them each a healthy helping of scotch.
“Drink this slowly,” Joan cautioned, handing Betty the glass. “When you take it sip by sip it’s a great tonic. If you drink it too fast, you’ll feel bad.” Betty nodded and took a small, polite sip to show Joan she could follow the rules.
“You have a lovely apartment,” she commented, both because it was true and because that was what one did when invited into someone's home.
“You’re too sweet,” Joan replied, sitting on the couch next to her. She crossed her legs and Betty imitated her, trying to look a bit more natural, relaxed. “It’s really just a lot of old furniture I got for cheap. I’m sure it’s nothing compared to your home. I’ve always wanted to escape the city.”
“Ossinging is nice,” Betty agreed. “But once you get out there, it’s a lot less exciting than the city. Here it seems like anything could happen. Out there, you know that each day is going to look like the one that came before it.” She took another sip, a slightly larger one, and Joan fixed her with a curious glance.
“Well, one does make certain trades for the promise of security,” she replied finally.
“It’s silly.” Betty didn’t know where her need to talk came from, but Joan was so much warmer, so much more lively than Dr. Wayne, and everything just seemed to slip out. “When I went up to James’ apartment, I thought… I thought that something might happen. Something scandalous, something interesting. It didn’t, obviously, but the possibility of it was… exciting.” Joan let out a small laugh, and Betty both worried that she was the subject of the joke and delighted that she had made Joan produce that sound.
“Nothing was going to happen with him. He has other inclinations.”
“Oh.” It shouldn’t have surprised Betty, but she was so used to the homogeneous streets of Ossining that the thought hadn’t occurred to her.
“I’m sorry, I shouldn’t have said that.” Joan replied.
“No, no.” Betty shook her head. “I went to Bryn Mawr. I’ve heard all about… that.” Joan smiled.
“I’m sure you did.”
“It wasn’t polite conversation,” Betty continued. “But you knew that when certain ladies disappeared into the dorms and closed the door, you didn’t enter. I almost burst in on my roommate and her… friend, but one of the other girls stopped me. We played Dominoes for hours until they came out.” And Betty hadn’t been able to keep her mind off of that dorm room. It had haunted her for the rest of the semester, filled her with questions she had longed to ask but had been too polite – too afraid – to seek the answers to.
“Hours,” Joan said wondrously. “And here it’s hard to find a man who can make it last 15 minutes.” Betty giggled.
“Don doesn’t have that problem. But sometimes I wonder if it’s because I’m just not exciting enough, or that I’m doing something wrong. When I was dating… well, I never went all the way with a boy. But they used to get so… excited. It was very flattering. And with Don, I just… don’t know sometimes.” Joan’s eyes were soft, full of compassion, and she laid a gentle hand on her thigh.
“Betty...” she said.
“My mother always told me I had to be thin, that if I put on more than two pounds my husband would leave me for another woman who had kept herself together. But then I look at you, and you just look so soft and inviting and I think that she must have been wrong. What man wouldn’t want to go to bed with you? I’m sure Don has thought about it, at least.” Betty knew she had crossed far beyond the bounds of polite conversation, especially with someone her husband worked with, but some final dam seemed to have burst and she couldn’t stop herself.
“Don has never even looked at me that way, I assure you.” Joan squeezed Betty’s thigh and the feeling was warm and electric.
“Then he’s an idiot,” Betty burst out. “You know, my roommate was beautiful. She had this chestnut coloured hair that turned a little red when she had been out in the sun and these beautiful freckles and she was so kind. And part of me wondered, why didn’t she choose me? I was her roommate, we wouldn’t have really even had to sneak around that much, just locked ourselves in at night. My mother would have disapproved, but she wasn’t there, and maybe if I had just...” Betty had once again crossed that line where no words could follow, but this time she had an exit plan. She leaned forward and kissed Joan, full of hunger and need but somehow less afraid than she had ever been. Joan’s lips were fuller than Betty’s, unimaginably soft and tender, and it was more than Betty had even dreamed of.
“Betty...” Joan broke off and Betty wanted to chase her but couldn’t bear the shame if Joan had to fight her off like she were some pervert. So she sat there, the ice melting into her half-finished bourbon, praying that her hands wouldn't start shaking again in the long pause. “Are you sure you want this?”
“Joan,” Betty met her eyes with a determination born of desperation. "How could I not? Please.” It came out as more of a demand than a plea, but Betty had never been a word smith. All she knew was that good girls didn’t play adult games with other little girls – her mother had taught her that at the tender age of five when she had pretended to be a doctor delivering her friend’s baby into the world. Except she had spent her lifetime following her mother’s words like they were commandments from God and it still hadn’t made her happy, and she didn’t think her mother had ever been happy, and she was tired of the entire charade.
Joan smiled with that seductive playfulness that Betty was sure many men had seen before, except this time it was for her and it was better than all the jewelry that Don had ever bought her. She closed the gap between them and rested her hand on Betty’s thigh, pressing into it as she continued their kiss. Betty could feel the currents running down her body, culminating between her legs, and had to moan to burn off some of the tension. She kissed back, slowly opening her mouth and letting her tongue meet Joan’s. She tasted like bourbon and vanilla, like dreams that Betty had long given up on, and her soft breathing felt like Betty’s own pulse. She put her hand on the back of Joan’s neck and deepened the kiss, trying to balance her overwhelming need with the softness she craved. Joan moaned in response and put her hand behind Betty’s back, pulling them together. Joan’s breasts flattened against the pressure of Betty’s body, and Betty wished there wasn’t so much clothing between them.
“Let’s move this to the bedroom,” Joan, ever the mind reader, suggested as she broke away. Standing up she offered her hand, and Betty was so full of need all she could do was accept and let Joan lead her away.
Joan’s bed was pink and plush, just like the woman herself, and the sight of it pulled Betty out of herself. The only person she had ever made love to was Don, and most nights it had been in the bed he had built in a home they had created together. Betty was suddenly acutely aware of stepping into someone else's life, one that had been built without her and would continue after she left. It made her feel like a passing apparition, a thief in the night, and it was the most thrilling, otherworldly sensation she had ever had.
“Is something wrong?” Joan asked. She was sitting cross-legged on the bed, looking at Betty with concern.
“No.” Betty replied, drawing closer. “Well, yes. You’re still dressed.” Joan raised an eyebrow, smiling slowly.
“My my, you’re bossy.” All the same her hands curled down to the bottom of her sweater and began pulling it up. Betty watched with anticipation as the fabric gave way to Joan’s girdle and bra, both beige. Betty had stopped wearing a girdle ages ago – it just dug into her awkwardly, and sometimes even made her look bulkier. It made Joan look like a goddess waiting to be unwrapped. Betty straddled her lap, kissing Joan so forcefully that it pushed her backwards onto the bed.
“I’m used to getting what I want.” Betty replied, and she was happy to see both the girdle and the bra had clasps at the front. “I am the wife of a director, you know.” Her hands deftly flew down the hooks of the girdle, revealing more and more soft, creamy skin, and when Joan had been freed Betty slowed down. Joan wasn’t a slender woman, was built very differently from Betty, and it absolutely intoxicated her. Betty smoothed her palms over the soft layers of her stomach, idly ran her fingernails along the stretch marks and made patterns between the occasional mole and freckle. Joan’s body was perfection, a visual feast that she wanted to wrap herself in, and Betty didn’t know how she’d be able to catalog every stretch of skin in the short amount of time they had.
“Is there something particularly entertaining there?” Joan asked.
“Just you,” Betty replied. “Why? Is there somewhere else you want me to be?”
“You can be anywhere you want. It’s just… a strange place to focus your attention.” Betty took that as a hint and continued on. The bra had a cute shell-shaped clasp at the front that came apart easily under the pressure of her thumbs and Betty was almost breathless as the cups fell to the sides. Joan’s breasts were beautiful. Due to their size they fell in a way that Betty’s never would, and the possibilities of how they could be held, caressed and licked seemed endless. Cautiously she reached out and cupped one, gently feeling the weight in her palm. The nipples were short and pink with large areolas, slightly stiff with arousal. Tentatively Betty bent her head and licked one. When she received an encouraging moan she popped the entire nipple into her mouth, tongue drawing circles around the areola and flicking over the tip.
“Bite down a little,” Joan instructed and Betty gently set her teeth on either side of the nipple before pressing lightly.
“A little harder,” Joan called out again, and Betty felt the soft skin bend beneath her teeth. Joan moaned again and Betty reached her hand over to the other breast, lightly trailing over the skin and flicking a hand over the other nipple. She wanted to bury her face in Joan’s sternum, pillow herself on those magnificent breasts, but she wasn’t sure if that would be polite. Was there a code of etiquette for such situations? Maybe she could ask Joan later, just in case she ever found herself in a similar situation. Just in case.
Betty traded nipples, sucking and nipping on the right while massaging the left. Joan’s moans and sighs were melodious, encouraging, and Betty started to trail her hand down, slipping the tips of her fingers beneath the waist band of Joan’s slacks. When Joan didn’t complain she grew bolder, started a trail of kisses from Joan’s sternum down to the last inch of flesh and carefully undid the button on top. Her breath hitched when she unzipped the fly and came face to face with Joan’s pink, satin panties.
“Beautiful...” she murmured, and stroked the front. She felt the small bumps and indents of pubic hair and wondered if Joan was a redhead there as well. “But all of this is going to have to come off.” Joan giggled and lifted her hips. The slacks were so form fitting that Betty had to peel them down and she felt like she was unwrapping some exotic fruit. She knelt down and tugged at the hem of the legs, pulling the pants off in a swift motion before turning to lay them over Joan’s dresser.
“What are you doing?” Joan asked.
“I didn’t want them to get wrinkled.” Joan giggled again.
“So considerate.” Turning back she saw the satin panties were dangling around Joan’s ankles and knelt to remove them. She saw the gusset was damp, turning the satin dark with Joan's wetness, and the contrast was hypnotizing. Without thinking Betty brought the panties to her nose and inhaled. She closed her eyes as the symphony of top notes, sweet and sour, made her mouth water before giving way to the bottom notes of deep arousal. Betty's hand ventured between her legs and lightly rubbed her clitoris through her dress. She felt herself grow wetter as her head swam with scent and sensation, she knew she could easily orgasm through this alone.
Setting the panties to the side, Betty returned her attention to Joan. She cupped her hand around Joan’s calf and pressed her lips to the ankle, made a trail of butterfly kisses up the leg and the thigh until she reached the junction of thigh and pelvis. Turning her head she saw Joan in all her glory. Her pubic hair was still a reddish colour but had a little more of a brown tint, and the skin was just as smooth and white as it was everywhere else on her body. Her lips were red and plump, glistening with arousal, and the inner ones peaked out, like they were panting in anticipation. Betty ran her fingers down the hip crease and then softly touched the protruding labia, liking how it made the tip of her finger wet. She wanted to dive in with her fingers, feel Joan’s insides squeeze around her, but her nails were too long and she knew it would ruin everything. So instead she trailed upwards until her fingers found Joan’s nub. It was larger than hers, protruding slightly out of the folds, and Betty scooped up a little more of her wetness and began to rub it around in small circles.
“Oh Betty,” Joan moaned, clenching the bedding in her hands as Betty traced slow, consistent rounds. She felt almost reverent, like she was worshiping at the altar of some long-sought goddess, hoping that her actions would be pleasing. Joan’s labia engorged, grew redder as Betty continued her ministrations, and it made her feel powerful. When Betty leaned in and licked her slit from bottom to top, Joan arched her hips.
“Oh God!” she cried out. Betty placed a hand on either side of her, gripping tightly to try to keep Joan still. If Joan bucked again she didn’t think she’d be able to stop it but she hoped she’d have a good, long time to explore. She leaned in, inhaling the sweet, musky odour of Joan’s arousal, before plunging her tongue inside, making a long, sweeping lick. Joan tasted salty, with a little hint of tobacco, and Betty loved how the thick, viscous arousal covered her tongue. She dove in, pressing her face as close as she could, drank from Joan like a woman dying of thirst. She was selfish, letting her tongue wandering where it felt pleased, stroking it into Joan’s center so she could taste more of that delicious nectar. She hoped Joan was enjoying herself, of course, but Betty was following her own desire rather than waiting for Joan’s approval.
“Betty… Betty...” Joan gasped, her hips twitching as she tried to keep them level. Betty wished that Joan would grab the top of her head and force her down, bury her between her legs and not let her come up for air until after she reached the point of no return. “I’m so close...” Betty turned her attention back to Joan’s nub and gently, carefully began tracing those circles again with her tongue. Joan let out a loud, needy moan and she seemed to pulse before Betty felt a gush of wetness against her skin. Greedily she lapped at it, swallowing down every drop that Joan would give her.
“Come up here.” Joan tugged at her hair and reluctantly Betty gave up her station, crawling up beside her lover. Joan’s eyes were dark with satisfied desire and she put her hand behind Betty’s neck, drawing them into a kiss. It felt delightfully salacious, and Betty wondered if Joan could taste herself on Betty’s tongue. She hoped she could, that her own taste aroused Joan as much as it did Betty.
“Betty...” Joan pulled away and smiled seductively, danger glinting in her eye. “I want you to try something for me.”
“I want you to climb up and put your knees on either side of my head, and then just lower yourself onto my face.” Joan giggled, perhaps a little nervously, but the thought made Betty’s head swim.
“Oh my,” she replied. Don used to do that to her – well, at least what Betty had done to Joan. But after they had gotten married he had refused, told her that married adults don’t do those kinds of things. Betty had wanted to ask Francine if that was true but had never had the courage to bring it up. The idea that someone would want to use their tongue and lips on her was almost overwhelming in and of itself, but to do something so raunchy…
“You don’t have to-” Betty cut Joan off with another kiss, one that brokered no argument. When Betty drew away she stood up, pulling up her dress so she could undo the garter belt and remove her stockings and underthings. Joan sat up, shrugging the straps of her forgotten brassier off her shoulders, and trailed Betty’s movements with hungry eyes. Betty tried to crawl back on the bed but Joan put a hand on her sternum, shaking her head.
“As beautiful as your dress is, I want to see what’s underneath. Take it off. Take everything off.” Betty impatiently pawed at her back, trying to find the zipper, but Joan waved her hand. “Let me help.” Turning around she felt Joan undo her dress, and then the clasps on her brassier. They both fell to the floor, joining the puddle of clothing at Betty’s feet. She stepped out of the pile and turned to face Joan, who’s open admiration made Betty float sky-high.
“C’mere,” Joan croaked and Betty stepped before her. Joan reached out and cupped her breast before covering the long, brown nipple with her mouth. Betty groaned and closed her eyes, putting her hands on Joan’s shoulders to steady herself. Joan’s mouth was gentle and soft, lavishing her nipples with a devotion Betty had only dreamed of. When Joan pulled off she blew a soft puff of air onto the wet nipple and Betty’s knees went weak with delight.
“Uhng...” Betty moaned when Joan switched to the other breast, and she wondered if she could orgasm just through this. Eventually Joan came back up and smiled, patting the bed.
“Now up you get.” She said, laying back down, and Betty didn’t have to be told twice. She crawled over Joan, trying to position herself so she’d hover over just the right spot. When she righted herself she adjusted her knees, walking them up just a half inch more, and was pretty sure she’d found the perfect position. Excited as she was, she found herself hesitating, a little scared to plant herself on Joan’s face. It seemed… vulgar, fraught with the possibility of being too much, too demanding.
“Come on now.” Joan reached up and gently guided Betty’s hips down, gripping firmly into the divots below the bone and the flesh of her rear. Betty followed her hands down, hovering less than an inch over Joan’s face. She was worried she might do something embarrassing, like drip all over Joan, except that would be exciting too…
Joan gave a small yank and Betty found herself being opened up, Joan’s plush tongue licking and probing. Betty gasped and began rocking, small minute motions that made the sensations even better, quicker. When Joan gave her rear a quick swat Betty knew to pick up the pace. She buried her hands on the top of Joan’s head, feeling the fine strands tickle her fingers, and began going a little faster, made her motions a little more exaggerated. She thought she heard Joan moan beneath her, maybe heard her say ‘yes’, but Betty was so lost in the sensations that she couldn’t be sure and it didn’t matter. She set the pace, rocking in a steady rhythm that let Joan flick her nub on each pass but not linger. She wanted to draw this out, keep that warm mouth attached to her for as long as possible. There was a slick squelching noise that Betty made with each rock and the idea of her wetness and Joan’s mouth working in tandem to make a melange of fluids was so arousing that Betty couldn’t focus on it, had to keep it out of her mind, except she kept hearing it and….
Betty’s entire body stuttered when she came. Her hips struck a short, staccato rhythm as the release crept through her spine, her head becoming light as a balloon. She felt Joan’s hands return to her hips, this time bringing reassuring strokes as she lapped up Betty’s pleasure. Betty groaned. She was overstimulated, but it was good in an achy, almost painful sort of way. She bent over and leaned her hips back so she could see Joan. Her face was wet, smearing the lipstick and carefully applied eye makeup into corners and edges they weren’t supposed to go. She was smiling, a contented sort of grin on her face, and even when she wasn’t put together she was stunning beyond belief. Perhaps even more so.
Crawling back down Betty joined Joan, laying on her side so she could see her. Joan mirrored the action, and for a moment both of them were silent, watchful. Then a grin spread like lightening across Joan’s face and she started laughing, and Betty couldn’t help but join in. She alternated silent giggles with gasping chuckles, both of which were drowned out by Joan’s howling.
“I don’t know what’s so funny.” She admitted when they quieted down, wiping tears from her eyes.
“This is the most perfectly ridiculous thing that has ever happened in my life.” Joan brought her hand up to her lips as she snorted. “I can’t believe I just made love to my boss’ wife.”
“You should mention this to Don. Maybe you’ll get a raise,” Betty quipped. Joan laughed again.
“I hadn’t realized how funny you are. You are just a treasure trove of hidden talents. Quiet, though.” At first Betty didn’t understand, but then she smiled.
“I’m sorry. I’m used to worrying about waking the kids.” Coming down from her high, reality hit hard and Betty sighed. “I guess I should be getting back to them. And Don. And my dress will probably be wrinkled and he’ll get suspicious.”
“I can iron it before you leave.” Joan protested. “And redo your make-up. When you get back, he won’t notice a thing. Not that men do, anyway.”
“Yeah...” Betty sighed.
“But you don’t have to go right now...” Joan reached out and grabbed Betty’s wrist, sliding her hand up until their fingers were intertwined, and Betty couldn’t help but agree.
Joan was right. When Betty got home it was late and the kids were already in bed. Don was irritated, but more or less mollified when she told him that they didn’t have to shoot on Sunday. He didn’t seem to notice anything amiss. Betty had thought that her deception might leave her guilty, might intrude upon her sleep. Instead she felt free, like a little girl with a secret to cherish, something that belonged to her and her alone.
“You said I was mad at my mother.” Betty was back in Dr. Wayne’s office, laying on his couch with a cigarette in hand. The doctor didn’t answer her, of course, and today she was grateful for that. “I think you were right. For a long time I was angry with her, even before she died. But now I just feel sad for her. She was so caught up in everyone else’s business, so concerned with looking perfect that I don’t know if she ever got to enjoy life. I think she was anxious. It’s hard having a girl, and I understand that now that I’ve had Sally. I don’t think my mother was ever really happy, and that makes me feel… wistful.” She took a drag and could feel his eyes raking down from her lips to her bust. As she blew out the smoke she wondered if he ever thought of her while he was with his wife, imagined her lying underneath him. Or maybe he fantasized about her making love to his wife, and wouldn’t that be something? Men liked that, she knew. She remembered telling a boyfriend about the extracurricular activities at Bryn Mawr and he had demand more details than she could provide. She had wound up inventing a fanciful story where she had been the voyeur, watching her beautiful roommate make love to another woman, told him all the details she had fantasized about as she stroked him to completion. She had dumped him the week after, citing something about incompatibility. The truth was that when an available man left her less aroused than a remote possibility, it was a sign that there was nothing fruitful in their future.
“Yesterday I was in the supermarket and I saw this woman come in, and she still had a few curlers she had forgotten to take out. Can you imagine, getting ready in the morning, driving out, walking into the store and still not realizing they were there? I don't think I'd be able to leave the house for a month.”
The months dragged by in a wonderful, torturous daydream. Betty's thoughts were filled with red hair and creamy skin, of the evening that had passed and fantasies of an impossible future. She didn't want to leave Don, of course, but acting like a single woman, out on the town making her own money... it had been charming. She hated it when Sally interrupted her daydreaming by demanding attention, and school couldn't start soon enough. Except then she was alone with Bobby, and Betty didn't know what to do with his quiet demeanor and hawk-like gaze, so she hired Carla. When Don didn't come home at night, it ignited a different anxiety than before. She wondered if she could leave the kids with Francine, go into the city and show up at Joan's doorstep. Except she didn't quite remember where Joan lived and screaming at the windows wasn't the kind of reunion that any woman hoped for. So instead she fantasized.
It was late November when Betty decided to stop by Sterling Cooper after her session with Dr. Wayne. The phone bill was heavy in her coat pocket, Francine's cries ringing in her ears, and she wanted something. She was grateful she didn't see anyone she recognized in the elevator, that she didn't have to make any small talk. She did flash a smile at the secretary at the front (what was her name? They rotated so frequently that Betty wasn't sure if she had met this incarnation) before turning a sharp left to head for Don's office. When she saw Joan there, a perfectly coiffed red head bent over the desk, she paused for a moment. It was silly, to be this old and feel like a teenager, but she felt the butterflies and the heart palpitations all the same. Part of her wanted to hide, to watch Joan like some sort of voyeur, and the other part wanted to run up and demand her attention. She cleared her throat and settled for a calm walk up to the desk.
"Joan," she said pleasantly, flashing a nervous grin. Joan looked up, shocked for a second, before a large smile broke out.
"Mrs. Draper!" She stood up, and Betty admired the green dress that fit in all the right ways. With her red hair and red lipstick, she looked like an early Christmas present. "How lovely to see you here."
"It's lovely to see you as well. I didn't think you were assigned to a particular person."
“Don’s previous secretary, Peggy, I think you met her, has been moved out of her role. I’m filling in until we find a replacement,” she confided conspiratorially.
“That’s great!” Betty gushed. “I mean – I hope she didn’t get fired? She seemed like a sweet girl.” Joan shook her head.
“Oh no, nothing like that. She’s doing a little copy writing now and the increased workload was a bit too much for her to handle. Is there something I can help you with?”
“I came to see if Don was free for lunch. I just happened to be in the city and thought I might as well come by.”
"I'm sorry, Mrs. Draper. He's at a business lunch and we don't know when he'll be returning." There was nothing that Joan did that gave Don away - there was no momentary look of pity, no sugary sweetness to her voice, but Betty knew all the same. There was a dull, churning sensation in her stomach, but somehow looking at Joan, knowing what they shared, brought her comfort in a way she couldn't describe.
"Maybe I'll wait for him then. After all, it seems silly to come so far and not even see him." She nods towards the office door. "Would you mind?" Joan looked at her darkly from under her eyelids, but turned to grab the keys from her drawer.
"Certainly, Mrs. Draper." Joan walked to the door and bent over, and Betty didn't know if the wiggle of her hips was intentional or not, but she appreciated it all the same. Joan waved her in, and Betty rushed over to the couch, trying not to look eager as she laid her jacket and purse on the couch.
"Have a drink with me," she said right as Joan turned around to go out the door again. Joan paused, looking over her shoulder at Betty, before turning around. She didn't come any closer.
"I don't think Mr. Draper would appreciate having his secretary go through his liquor cabinet."
"You're entertaining his wife. I think that it would be a necessity," Betty joked, but there was no humour in Joan's eyes.
"Betty," she said cautiously. "I've started seeing someone."
"Oh?" This didn't make Betty happy but she also wasn't sure how it was relevant right then.
"Yeah. He's in residency to become a surgeon. I think this is the one." Joan's face finally broke, lit up with a smile she couldn't contain, and Betty felt the earth drop underneath her.
"Oh." The room grew a little fuzzy, a little darker, and Betty sat down before her knees could buckle. "Well, that's great. I'm happy for you."
"Thank you." Joan looked so deliriously happy and Betty wanted to feel the same way, but she could only produce a dazed, weak smile. "He hasn't proposed yet, obviously, but I'll give him a year. He does have a lot to worry about right now. How long did it take Don to propose?"
"I... I don't remember..." She didn't want to think about Don, didn't want to hear about Joan's boyfriend, didn't want to be in the building anymore.
"I'm sure that after a year, if they haven't proposed, there's no hope for them. I just keep imagining being a surgeon's wife! Of course, his hours will be long, but mine are going to be a lot shorter, if you know what I mean." Joan giggled and smiled her coy grin as she took out a cigarette and lit it.
"You might be surprised at how much longer they become when you're at home all the time." Betty didn't mean to say the words but she didn't regret them, even after Joan's smile fell. Grabbing her coat and purse she got up and fixed a false smile onto her face. "You know, I might as well go home. The trains get packed in the evening and I need to take out a roast for dinner." Joan stepped back as Betty passed through the doorway, following her with a cryptic glance.
"Of course, Mrs. Draper. Shall I tell Mr. Draper you dropped by?"
"No." Betty paused and shook her head and Joan just nodded, taking another puff.
"Well, it was great to see you," Joan said softly.
"Yes," was all Betty could say in return. She fought to keep her head high and her steps even as she walked out of the office. When she finally made it out of the main lobby and onto Madison Avenue, she began running.
Betty deftly avoided the wreathing mass of New Yorkers, slipped through the tiny spaces between bodies as she ran as fast and as hard as she could. It wasn't until she saw Grand Central Station come into view that she turned the corner. It wasn't private, no street in New York could boast that, but it was less crowded and she managed to shield herself against a drain pipe. She put her forehead against a brick wall and let the tears fall, let her face tremble in the way that her mother said made her look ugly. She sobbed, choking on her own grief and rage and everything else she wasn't supposed to feel and didn't have a name for.
"Miss?" Betty couldn't bring herself to look at the kindly gentleman trying to peer at her face, just wiped her nose with the sleeve of her jacket and tried to bite down the sobs. "Are you alright?" She raised her hand to smooth her hair behind her ear, and it was only then Betty realized that it was shaking again.