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Two Years Ago

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“Would there be any chance that you remember the models?”

Cammy Hartman looked between Jane Sloan and Jacqueline Carlyle with eyes full of uncertainty. Their whole demeanour was stiff with reluctance - they were scared. Jane and Jacqueline’s subtle glance at each other indicated they both knew it.  

“I do, but I wouldn’t feel comfortable giving you their information,” Cammy explained.  

“What if we found the models and then brought you their names - would you be willing to confirm that they did in fact sign NDAs?”

Jacqueline’s line of questioning was always skilfully executed. She was gentle and empathic, but also blunt and straight to the point, and she switched between them seamlessly as and when she needed to. The result was it often threw people off guard, and it earned her the respect of nearly everyone who she worked with.

Cammy hesitated and bowed her head to the floor, considering the offer. Even in her fear, Jane sensed that Cammy felt a degree of guilt about something, and it wasn’t clear what about. For some reason, something seemed to crumble away in them, and Cammy glanced up with steady resolution.

“Okay,” they said, “sure.” 

As anyone who had ever worked at Scarlet would say, Cammy took a swing.

Jane immediately relaxed. Beside her, she felt Jacqueline do the same. Finally, they had something to run with. There was light at the end of the tunnel. Now they just had to get something solid to show for it – they had to find the models and earn their trust.

As they stepped outside and into the orange splintered rays of the afternoon, Jane and Jacqueline looked at each other and shared a knowing smile. Jacqueline’s eyes were tinted with eyeshadow the colour of the sunset, and much like the sky above them, they were glowing. It was Jane’s unspoken favourite of all the colours that shrouded Jacqueline’s eyes, and she wanted to tell her how nice she looked. She wished she could tell her a lot of things.

They waited for the car to turn the corner and stood comfortably, bags under arms. There was a slight breeze in the air, and they felt light with their newfound progress.

Jacqueline cleared her throat and commented on how well Jane had held her own in there. It was the first time either of them had spoken since the meeting with Cammy, and she could hear the pride in her voice, she could feel it in her chest.

Jacqueline leant towards her and grasped her shoulder. She pressed comfortingly just below her collar bone, and the feel of bare fingers on her skin reminded her that moments like this had become a regular occurrence for them of late.   

The car approached in the distance. Larry greeted them with a flash of lights. Jacqueline casually dropped her arm and greeted him with her warm smile. Climbing into the backseat, the two women didn’t speak again for the entire journey back to Scarlet. It wasn’t an uncomfortable silence, just calm and still. The pleasant afternoon sun and the success with Cammy made the built-up tension of the past month slip away. Everything seemed to recoil back to its original place.

A few times, Jane peered across at Jacqueline, as she sat with her hands clasped in her lap. She gazed out the window, her brow often arching with thought. She had that unreadable gaze on her face, flickering in the window reflection and glossing over cars, shops, streets they passed by. Her phone vibrated several times, and she ignored it, always in favour of the New York view. 

Upon their return to the Scarlet office, Jacqueline disappeared wordlessly into another meeting. Jane settled into her chair and set to work. After the headway they’d made with Cammy, she instinctively felt more determined than ever. Her fingers itched to strike gold with every Google search and she wouldn’t stop until she did. Once Jane got her teeth stuck into something, she was like a dog with a locked jaw - she refused to let up. She refused to loosen her hold.

5pm rolled around and it was near impossible for her to focus on anything else.  She was deeply engrossed in research about young, relatively unknown models Pamela Dolan had worked with over the past ten years.

Unsurprisingly, there were a lot, but four models in particular stood out as potential case studies in her dangerous pattern of abuse. If they were proven to be true, their experiences were horrendous. The need to get justice for them picked at her, constantly.

When she looked up at the clock again, it was 8pm.

She printed out the relevant information on each model and peered over the top of her monitor to Jacqueline’s office. The editor-in-chief wasn’t there, and the lights were off. She’d must have left some hours ago. Jacqueline didn’t allow anyone in her office without her permission, but Jane had, in some instances, become the exception. And surely it wouldn’t matter, if Jacqueline wasn’t there and if she was quick?

Jane took her chance to bound across the floor like a leaping deer and shoulder open her office door. Careful not to touch anything, she walked stealthily round to Jacqueline’s desk and placed the neat stack of papers to the side of it. Jacqueline wouldn’t be able to miss them.

With a satisfied smile, she peeled a sticky note from her pad and leant over to write an explanatory note when she realised she’d forgot her pen. She couldn’t be bothered to go back to get it.  

Hovering over Jacqueline’s desk, she spotted a fancy silver one and recognised it instantly as the pen Jacqueline held during pitch meetings. She could just envision her now, clicking the pen lid and twirling it slowly in her fingers as she listened to people’s ideas, pausing her movements only to take short notes. She imagined her hands on it, the same hands that rubbed her shoulder. The same hands that gripped the table with smooth, gold ringed fingers. The same clasped hands that rested on her lap in the car.

Hesitating, Jane stopped to listen to the sounds of the office floor. It was silent, and she was sure she was the only one left. She picked up the pen and removed the lid, hurriedly scribbling:

‘These 6 cases studies stood out to me as potential cases of abuse. Let’s reach out to the models. - Jane’

“What are you doing in here, Jane?”

Jane bolted upright and nearly fell backwards. In the commotion, her hand brought down a large pile of Scarlet magazines on the desk and they toppled noisily to the floor. Mumbling incoherently, she bent to pick them up, fully aware she couldn’t have been less discreet if she’d tried.

Andrew stood by the door watching her in a pristine suit. His clipboard was held firmly across his chest and his eyes were wide with scandal. He approached her, immediately on edge. 

“Jane, you aren’t allowed to be in here without an appointment, especially not after hours-!”

“I know, I was just leaving some important documents on Jacqueline’s desk to do with our Pamela Dolan story. I promise I’ve been in here for a minute, tops-

“And you were using her pen? That pen is from Gucci! Oh my God, Jacqueline is going to kill me.”

“I wasn’t using her pen!” Jane retorted adamantly.

Andrew regarded her straight-faced and unamused, as he so often did, and she sighed. “Okay, fine, I used it for literally ten seconds to write this note-”

“Of course you did. Truly vulgar behaviour.”

“It’s hardly vulgar, can you relax?” she exclaimed, "It's fine. She won't even know." 

He rolled his eyes and bustled around to the desk, observing her desperately as she knelt on the floor gathering the magazines.

“You are an assistant’s nightmare, Jane. Put everything back in its place. She knows where everything is. She’ll be able to smell that someone has been in here, trust me, she’s like a wolf-”

Jane glanced up at him, frowning. “A wolf, Andrew? Really? Come on.”

Andrew went on talking rapidly as Jane tended to the spilled magazines. There were dozens of them, all issues from the past ten years, bright in their different shades of glossy colours.

She’d remembered most of them from her own collection of Scarlet magazines in her room in Colorado. She'd read them cover to cover, as she lay on her bed in the lamplight. She was adding a 2011 issue featuring Blake Lively and Leighton Meester to the pile when Andrew’s voice pulled her back.

“I mean the last week has been so hectic, the only person in this building who may have had a busier week than Jacqueline is Kat, and she’s running for office.”

“Oh, I know. I helped her flyer on my lunch break last week.” She shoved the remaining magazines to the pile and heaved them back on the desk, using her chest to push them forward. “Okay, that’s it, I’m done.”

“Those magazines are why I’m still here. I’ve been sorting inventory and it’s the last thing on my list. They need to be put into storage and Jacqueline wants them in that cupboard there.” He pointed elegantly to a large cupboard at the furthest end of the room. “You’re helping me.”

His tone left no room for negotiation and Jane knew it.

“Okay, fine. But promise me you won’t say a word about me using her Gucci pen or being … in here in general.”

Andrew wasted no time picking up a stack of magazines.

“Whatever.” He sighed, irritably. “I’ll pretend like it never happened. The key for the storage cupboard is in the top drawer of her desk.”

He marched over to the storage cupboard and waited with the magazines. Jane turned back to the desk. She had only ever been around this side of her desk a handful of times, and rummaging through her drawers felt like a criminal offence.

She was overcome with a looming guilt, but equally she felt her fingers twitch with a heady rush of excitement too. Jacqueline’s desk was a forbidden sanctuary, a place of fascinating artefacts, and opening one of her drawers was like uncovering a secret part of her.

She did it anyway, and she saw the key instantly. It was lying on top of some papers, minding its own business. She picked it up and spotted something else in the corner of her eye.

A single folded piece of paper. With Jane’s name on it.

It was untouched in its own pile, neatly preserved. Her name was written in black ink, the same black ink that oozed from the pen she had just used. She recognised the writing. She had an innate feeling that if she was reborn again as a different person, she would still remember that writing. It would come back to her, through everything. It was magnetic to Jane.

She suddenly became overly aware that Andrew was still waiting behind her, and she quickly turned round and handed him the key. He fumbled and struggled with the lock with his free hand, huffing as he gripped the large stack of magazines in the other. She took the chance to turn her back and unfold the paper in the drawer.  

She didn’t know what she expected to see, but it wasn’t this.

Had my last meeting with Jacqueline. She told me I had the potential to be exceptional. I can’t feel anything, guys. I can’t tell her how I feel. Not to be dramatic but I might be dying. I need drinks, ASAP.

Even the sight of it seemed to scold her. As she stared at the words, I can’t tell her how I feel stared back, hard and stubborn and unrelenting. She felt sick with dread.

For a split second, she saw Jacqueline sat in the chair across the same office she stood in now with glassy eyes as leant towards her and murmured, “I really do believe that you have the potential to be exceptional.”

And again, she relived stepping out of the doors of Scarlet Magazine and walking away, gripping her silly box of silly belongings. She was naïve and ambitious, and remembered feeling none of it really mattered, anymore, without Jacqueline. It was the pained ending she’d never quite gotten over, and it was right there, on the page she held. Tucked away in the top drawer of Jacqueline’s desk.  

“Jane, do you remember when you said you'd help me?" Andrew said pointedly, his voice brittle with sarcasm. "Because I do."  

“Right, sorry – yes!”

Before he could notice, she instinctively folded the paper up and dropped it back in the drawer, shutting it with a snap. Her hands were empty, but her head was spinning.

It didn’t take long to fill the storage cupboards with the magazines, but to Jane it felt like an age. She struggled to breathe normally and had an insatiable need to be alone in the cool night air to process what she had just seen. This new information.

Sometime later, Andrew finally stood up and grabbed his clipboard again. Annoyingly, his suit was still iron-crisp, as uncreased as the bright morning when he’d put it on. In contrast, there wasn’t a single part of her that wasn’t internally collapsing.

“Don’t come in here again after-hours, Jane. This is your final warning. You don’t get any privileges with her like I do as Jacqueline’s assistant. His voice was a shouted whisper, and he scowled dramatically as he ushered her out the door.

Ordinarily, Jane would’ve responded something funny and sarcastic which Andrew would’ve no doubt appreciated. But right then, Jane couldn’t hold on to a single thought about anything, let alone string a witty sentence together.

She swung her coat on and headed for the lifts, her feet like lead. It was strange, how heavy her limbs felt; how every step felt like someone else’s, not her own.

Instead of catching the subway home, she took a taxi. Conversation with the driver was stilted and she stared at the window, as if in a trance. It took the whole ride home before she registered what had happened. What this folded sheet of paper with her name on meant. Why her email was printed out and placed hidden away in her desk. She sat, numb with panic, through all the traffic light stops and all the gentle brakes, watching the indicator click on and click off.

Jacqueline must’ve seen her email after all.

 


 

I found two models who received huge monetary settlements after working with Pamela. Any updates your end?

She was on the phone to Ryan and walking slowly into work when the message popped up from Jacqueline. Ryan was telling her about the freebies on offer at his current hotel as he chewed mouthfuls of pastry, and Jane zoned out of his voice like her ears had been cut off. She stared at the message, at the sight of her name appearing on her phone.

She’d been lucky to get three hours sleep last night. She’d tossed and turned until the moonlit shapes beyond her window set into the misty morning. Somehow, the following morning was underway before she’d had a chance to settle into the previous night. And through it all, she thought unwaveringly about Jacqueline. She couldn’t tear her brain away from the nagging truth that she had seen her email, and had not mentioned a thing about it. 

It was all Jane could manage just to turn up at work today. The thought of walking through the Scarlet office and facing her, knowing the information that she now knew, was enough to make her bolt for the door and sprint for the nearest bar - a repeat of last week.

Until this point, she didn’t know what was keeping her at work. Her willpower was on the brink of extinction and she needed a reminder.

Pamela Dolan. Bringing down Pamela Dolan. Making her face up to what she’s done.

She pulled her phone from her ear and swiped to message Jacqueline back.

Check your desk.

She stayed on the phone to Ryan as she ascended the escalators and the bullpen slid into focus. She strolled towards her desk, her phone to her ear, still chatting pointless non-sense about hotel coffee and breakfast food and the little sachets of sugar left on bedside tables. It was mindless talk, but it was a distraction. 

Spinning round in his chair, Alex shot her gun fingers and smiled. Jane dropped heavily to her seat and hung up shortly after. She wondered if that phone conversation had been as mundane for Ryan as it had been for her.  

Alex regarded her with his eyes glistening. “Why do I get the feeling you didn’t catch many z’s last night?”

“Because I didn’t.” Jane's response was deprived of all amusement and Alex frowned. 

“Hmm, I thought so. How’s Ryan?”

“He’s great. Hotel number 7 has got free aloe vera moisturiser.”

”No way. That’s ridiculously fancy.” 

From the corner of her eye, she caught Jacqueline leaning over her desk in a vibrant two-piece suit, full of electric interwoven colours like the feathers of a peacock. Inside her, Jane felt her muscles relax. Jacqueline Carlyle was the very opposite of mundane and hotel freebies.

She watched as Jacqueline moved about, occupying the space in her office with decisive movements. She spotted the papers Jane had left the night before and stopped. Her hands hovered over them for a moment, before she picked them up, with her eyebrows raised with interest. Her eyes scanned the note on top of them and she smiled.  

Jane was still watching her, or trying not to, when Jacqueline glanced up and looked straight at her as she sat at her desk, quite obviously not doing anything. Even from across the room and with the lengthy distance between them, she could sense the softness in Jacqueline’s eyes. She couldn’t help but think Jacqueline often looked at her in a way that she could feel, not only see. Did that make any sense? Maybe it didn’t.

Kat appeared behind her and she didn’t have time to think any more about it.

“I’ve missed you, tiny Jane. Where you been?”

Kat rested her arm loosely on top of her chair and squeezed her hand with the other. Jacqueline was still watching her with that fond, pleased smile and shortly returned to the papers in her hand.

Kat was mid-sentence about her night with Tia who she described as definitely, absolutely only her campaign manager, when her phone beeped on her desk. For the second time that day, it was a message from Jacqueline.

These cases are FANTASTIC. I’m stacked with meetings this morning - let’s touch base after my 3pm.

A moment later, another beep.

How late did you work last night?!

Despite her growing fear of their inevitable meeting in a few short hours, the grin burst mightily across her cheeks. She was starting to think Jacqueline had a habit of double-texting.


It was scraping 5 pm by the time Jacqueline returned from her meeting. Her heels hammered on the floor and her peacock suit flashed through the bullpen as she strode purposefully past them towards her office. Jane felt her before she saw her, and her fingers paused from typing as she watched her walk by.

Jacqueline half-turned as she passed Jane’s desk. She inclined her forehead towards her. Her eyes were unusually bright. 

“Well, that meeting was insanely overrun. Jane, walk with me.”

Andrew watched their exchange from his desk.

Jane swallowed her nerves and stood up to follow her, brushing down her skirt and grabbing her notebook. Alex gave her an assuring thumbs up as she passed him. He had no idea what was happening or what the root cause of her nerves were, but it was still a sweet gesture. 

She returned his smile weakly, and all too soon she was shutting the door of Jacqueline’s office behind her and they were alone in a confined space. Looking around her office, it dawned on Jane this was very situation Jane had wanted to avoid. 

“Two of those models you found matched the two models I told you about who received large settlement money. Great work again, Jane.” She regarded her coolly and held up the papers. “Have you reached out to them?”

“Yes. So far one of them has agreed to meet me tomorrow. The model from Iowa, Eden Verbrugge. I didn’t know where to suggest so I found a bar. Skinny Dennis on Metropolitan Avenue.”

She cleared her throat. She was finding it difficult to meet her boss’s eyes.

“Okay,” Jacqueline quipped. “Send me the details, I’ll go with you. We need to do everything we can, everything within our power, to get her on board. Especially after this hack.”

“Of course, I'm handling it." Jane assured her. "I’ve already established the relationship and I can get her to trust me. You really don’t have to come if you …”

Her voice trailed to silence. If you don’t want to. She didn't say it, but she may as well have. 

Jacqueline crossed her arms and titled her head as she stared her down, confusion pulling at her. She seemed taken-aback and was trying not to show it. 

“Why would you say that?”

She was frowning, and there was a slight change in her tone. It was demanding, but there was something else in it, too.

"I didn't mean anything by it. I thought you'd be busy, or it was too late notice." Jane tried to explain, and Jacqueline held her eyes captive. 

“I thought we'd established that we're working on this story together. I want to be there. Eden Verbrugge was left in freezing ocean water for hours, at sixteen years old. If I can help you help her, I'm sure as hell going to.”

“Okay no absolutely, I get it.”

Jane nodded, like it all made sense and they could move the conversation on. Crossing her arms with interest, Jacqueline didn't buy it, nor did she take her eyes off her.

“Jane, is everything okay?" She said it slowly, each word stretched out. "You've been acting oddly for weeks. Is there something you're not telling me?" 

Jane was quick to jump in.

"No, no, there's no problem. I assure you I'm fine. I just, I wanted to check you were okay with the bar and that you weren't busy - which you're not - and that’s great." 

She gave her a wide grin, and tried to appear as relaxed as possible. It took everything for Jane to hold her own. To bury her panic. To not think about the email that she'd sent and Jacqueline had most definitely seen. 

Jacqueline gazed at her and her eyes took her in whole. It was a look that said she knew her, that could see right through her. There was something intimate about it. Jane stared back and they stood like that, regarding each other closely, until Jacqueline clapped her hands together.  

“Good. I'm absolutely okay with it. Skinny Dennis it is. What time?"

"Seven." 

"Fabulous." 

Jacqueline threw the papers down and looked about the room, exhaustion flooding her features. For a moment, Jacqueline seemed to be at a loss of what to do, and she wasn't the only one. Jane clung onto her hands and had to fight not to hang her head in frustration. She hated being off her game. 

"Well, I don't know about you, but I’m going to need a drink after my back-to-back meetings today. Let’s have a Scotch and go over our notes ready for tomorrow. You drink Scotch, right?”

Jacqueline sauntered round to the back of her desk and slid open the third drawer. Jane watched, holding in her breath, as she took out a bottle of Scotch, followed by two glasses, and unscrewed it in a well-trained movement. She was pouring the amber liquid before she had a chance to respond.

Scotch in Jacqueline’s office was her territory, her private ritual. Jane briefly wondered how many powerful celebrities or wealthy clients Jacqueline had done this with over the years. 

"Yeah, I drink anything. I've drank Scotch in your office before, I think.” She said, and her voice became quieter as she explained. "It was two years ago now. The night we were stuck in the building because of Trump."  

"Ah of course, I remember. You and your 'How to Tell When It's Time to Move on From Your Job' quiz. How could I forget?"  

She smiled fondly, as if recollecting the memory, and Jane turned to look out the glass windows that looked out on the rest of the office. She saw Alex stand up and slowly gather his things together, finishing up for the day and preparing for home. Others were doing the same. Some people had already left.

She couldn't see Kat and Sutton anywhere, and part of her needed them to rescue her like they did from shit dates - burst into Jacqueline's office with an excuse of a medical emergency or something, but she knew Jacqueline would see right through it. She needed their back-up plan more than ever, and it wasn't because she thought Jacqueline would be a shit date. Looking at her now, her hands splayed over glasses as she waltzed about in her peacock suit, the illuminating sight of her burned Jane right through. 

Jacqueline held out a glass to her. She seemed to sense her hesitation and she was smirking; her eyes flickered over face, and they shone with incredulous fondness.

“Don’t look so terrified, Jane. You act like I'm a monster sometimes."

"What?” she could tell she was making a face. “No. I would never think that."

Jane's response was quick, and she couldn't stop the glare of adamance sink into her face. She was genuinely annoyed she would even suggest it. Jacqueline saw it all play about before her, saw the wheels turning in Jane's head.

"I really don't think that." Jane said firmly again.  

Jacqueline blinked at her silently for a few moments, evidently surprised by her response. What is was that surprised her wasn’t clear. 

"Okay then, good. Take a seat.”

She gestured to the sofa. Jane took the glass from her and did as she was told. She hated Jacqueline thinking she was scared. She didn't want to be scared, it wasn't in her nature to be scared. She was bold and brave and could answer to any one. Kat’s words found her once again. Live your fucking truth.

Jacqueline sat down at the opposite end, and even with all the space in the world between them, her nerves jangled and soared. 

Jacqueline crossed one of her long legs over the other as she raised her chin and her glass of Scotch simultaneously.  

“So. How late did you work last night?”

Jane gripped her glass and took a long sip.