The Scotch burnt her throat, and Jane felt the searing spice of it trickle all the way down. But it didn’t come close to the heat building in her chest at the way Jacqueline was looking at her, sat on the other end of the sofa.
They regarded each other quietly for a while, their eyes catching from over the steely tops of their glasses as they sipped wordlessly.
This meeting was strictly work, Jane reminded herself. Pantsuits, corporate work drinks, no-nonsense business. No more, no less.
She dropped her eyes to her knees and absent-mindedly tapped her fingers on her glass, trying not to look in the direction of Jacqueline's desk at the end of her office. The secrets that lay hidden in the top drawer that were hers and hers alone. She hoped she could keep a lid on her emotions for the duration of the meeting.
Jacqueline was still waiting for her to answer her question about working late.
“Last night I think I left the office around 8 pm?" her voice inclined upwards in question. "It all seemed to be coming together and I wanted to keep pushing on. I’m glad you thought the research was useful, though, that's great.”
“Thanks to your hard investigative work we've had a breakthrough. I sent the list of names to Cammy and they confirmed that they did sign NDAs for the models that appeared in your research."
Jacqueline inclined her head towards her, as she often did when she was pleased with her progress. Jane found herself nodding slowly as she took it in.
“Wow, that’s big news. That’s-” she scrunched her eyebrows gratefully. “That’s amazing. Thank you. Cammy really came through for us in the end."
Jacqueline contemplated for a moment, before she said solemnly. "They certainly did. It’s some dangerous game Pamela Dolan is playing, but we’ll get to the bottom of it.” Jacqueline gave her a reassuring smile and paused to sip her drink. “So, how do you want to start the meeting with Eden? Got any ideas for me?”
“Yes,” Jane responded, confidently, and clutched her notebook purposefully. “I was thinking we should present to her the case, what we’ve found so far, what Pamela Dolan is doing. If Eden is distant and unsure-”
“Which she most certainly will be.” Jacqueline added. “Given the sensitivity of the subject.”
“Right, exactly.” Jane agreed. “We can almost count on her to feel uncertain and she'll probably need time to gain our trust, so we should make her aware that she isn’t the only one. It’s not going to be her word against Pamela Dolan’s. We’ll make it clear to her that there are others who have also been abused, who have also signed NDAs. If there are other women who can stand with her…”
“Then she'll be more inclined to speak out.” Jacqueline finished.
Her eyes gleamed in the low light of her office as she considered her offer. Then, she moved swiftly and she pointed a finger at her victoriously.
“I like it. It’s that way of thinking that will make this story work.”
Jane smiled softly at her approval, and she glanced down at her glass, spared a moment to be pleased with herself. It was the first time she’d smiled since she’d entered her office. There was no doubt the Scotch was making her relax a bit, but it was nice, feeling comfortable in her office. It was a rarity.
“We can’t make Eden any promises we can’t keep.” Jacqueline was suddenly saying, and her assertiveness filled the room. “You and I both know how damaging that can be to sources we work with, and our reputation as a magazine, if we give them false hope or a false sense of security. We’ll be transparent that we will need to speak to the other models first before going further.”
“Of course, I understand.” Jane said, reassuringly. “You can trust me. I feel confident I can handle this story.”
“Good, because you're going to lead the meeting, steer the conversation," she responded frankly. "What else are you going to say to Eden? What are your other angles? Let's hear them."
She pulled her phone out of her pocket and started rapidly typing, then paused to glance up at Jane expectantly.
Jane was momentarily caught off guard by her quick movements, but recovered smoothly. She was well-practiced with her speed of conversation, by now.
"Okay, sure, so..." She slid her notebook across the table to her and gestured to a specific section of the page. "These are all my notes on Eden's case, including evidence. These are my questions for her. This section-" she turned the page. "Is some additional thoughts I had that I wanted to run by you first."
Jacqueline leant forward and picked up her notes, bringing them to rest on her lap. The office was completely silent as she read, and Jane watched her. She hadn't realised she was tapping her glass again, to distract herself more than anything, and she was unable to stop her teeth tugging ruthlessly at her lips.
"These are good, Jane." She said at last. "They're thoughtful, precise... you're on the right track. I especially like this one, 'What false hard-truths did Pamela Dolan force you to face, and how did they disturb you physically, mentally and emotionally?' Go deeper with that."
She turned a few of the pages and continued to read intently for several more minutes, her eyebrows rose in intrigue, until she slowly rose up to meet her. "Well, I can see you didn't use my Gucci pen to write these. I'm surprised."
There was an unreadable expression on her face, and Jane's eyes widened as she clutched her drink tightly.
"Wait, did Andrew-?" she asked, and when Jacqueline didn't say anything, her face contorted in panic and she shifted restlessly in her seat. "Oh my God, Andrew told me he wouldn't tell you about that. I'm sorry. It's a great pen, incredibly reliable ink-"
"It is a great pen." she agreed breezily, and at once. "It's also mine. A unique gift from Alessandro Michele, the Creative Director of Gucci and an old friend. It has personalised engravings on, and it's the only one of its kind that exists in the state of New York."
Jane set the glass on the table in front of her and held out her hands in innocence. "Okay, shit. I didn't know that. I had no idea. I also didn't mean to say shit in your office, it's a been a day. I'm sorry Jacqueline-"
"Jane, stop, stop." She held out a hand to quieten her, and Jane slipped back on the sofa uncertainly. She was regarding her with such warmth, Jane didn't know what was happening. "Jane, it's a pen. You think I care that much about a pen? I'm obviously kidding. You really must think I'm a monster." She was laughing into her Scotch, and Jane could hardly believe it. "Use it to write down the angles we discussed. I want your typed notes on my desk by 9am tomorrow."
She dug her hand into her pocket and threw the pen across to her. Jane caught it numbly and looked down at it in her hand, at the engravings of Jacqueline's initials that cut deep into the silver. Her frown and smile were fighting with each other. Her reaction didn't go amiss by Jacqueline, who was regarding her with curious interest.
"Also, never ever apologise for saying shit in my office. I welcome everyone’s shit.”
Jane turned to catch her eyes again. Jacqueline wouldn't even know how good she looked, smiling so fully at her right then as she clung casually onto her drink. It left Jane's stomach twisting in hot, burning knots. Were Jacqueline's social invitations with Scotch, skyscrapers and the rich and powerful clientele of New York always like this?
She took a long drink to cover her anxiousness that was on the verge of unravelling, but she couldn't contain it.
"I don't think you're a monster, by the way." Jane was speaking before she even knew it.
At her words, Jacqueline immediately stopped what she was doing and slowly raised her chin. If she was surprised, she didn't show it. She didn't give anything away. She was an expressionless mask of beauty.
"Yes, you said before." Her lips quirked to the side and her voice lingered, as if prompting her to explain.
Jane hesitated, and began hurriedly debating how deep of a hole she wanted to dig for herself, but sped recklessly on anyway.
“I know, but I’m sorry if the way I’ve acted in the past made you think that. I swear that’s not what I think of you at all. I think you're ... well, you know what I think.”
She was finding it difficult to look at her. She had wanted to convey the words as honestly as she could, but she couldn't continue. It hurt her that Jacqueline had thought she saw her as a monster - even if she'd said it in a light-hearted way, it still made her feel like shit. Jacqueline was God-tier in her eyes, and she unmistakably always had been.
In a sense, Jacqueline's presence was the pinnacle of most things Jane had come to believe in. She defined and executed everything she loved about Scarlet, about women. No one could knock Jacqueline from the pedestal in her mind, and every time she watched Jacqueline waltz into a room her position there became cemented. The seat got higher. Jane hadn’t considered what that meant on the page or in her life, but as their eyes fixed on each other and they held heavy glasses in weakening hands, the reason beneath it all edged closer to surface.
Whatever it was Jane thought of Jacqueline, she couldn't articulate it. And it would be detrimental to the both of them to try.
Jacqueline observed her thoughtfully, her lashes low and thick, her lips pushed into a pout. She narrowed her eyes as if trying to pin her down into a calculation.
"I don't think I do know what you think, Jane, but thank you for telling me." She had tipped her head back to acknowledge her, and her eyes were bright. "It's nice to hear.”
Something uncurled in Jane as she spoke, and a tender moment of confidence passed over them; a sense that they understood each other better than they had a minute before. Jacqueline had quickly glanced down at the floor, and her contented expression slipped into a frown.
"Jane, do you mind if I ask you something?"
Jane tightened her grip on her glass until her knuckles strained white. Her mind whirled, and she realised she was unconsciously looking at Jacqueline’s desk. It was the worst possible scenario. Surely, she wouldn't go there.
"Your behaviour in recent weeks has been odd. All of a sudden you're incapable of speaking in full sentences, like when you were an intern. Why is that?"
Jacqueline was observing her with hooded eyes, and sharp curiosity ebbed at the edges of her voice.
Jane opened her mouth to speak and closed it again, and Jacqueline raised a hand in signal.
“Case in point.”
"That’s not true, I'm speaking fine."
Jacqueline continued, undeterred. "You were sick from work and acted strangely when I asked you about it which, in fairness, is reasonable. Sickness is confidential and private. And yet, earlier you suggested that I didn't need to join you to meet Eden tomorrow, who is an important source to a magazine that I am Editor-in-Chief of."
Mortified, Jane closed her eyes with a drawn-out exhale and Jacqueline's voice sliced through it.
"Your work is good, but you’re treading on eggshells. Why?" her voice soft but demanding. "What's this all about?"
"Nothing - it's about absolutely nothing. You keep asking me and I don’t have an answer for you." Jane was staring at her hard, and her voice cracked as she stubbornly added, "I've been handling this case and I want to do it well. It's all I've been thinking about."
"Okay," Jacqueline said, curtly, and her eyes never left her. "Then let me ask you this. From the moment you presented me this story I could tell you had that determined look in your eye. What is it about Ingrid's story that captured your attention? What is it about it that bothers you so much?"
She tilted her head, as if the new angle would help her find more answers.
It wasn't at all the direction Jane expected, and she was absurdly relieved. She hoped it didn't show.
"I just really need to bring Pamela Dolan down, for Ingrid. I hate that she thinks she can get away with what she's doing."
Jacqueline crossed her arms as she considered her. Jane knew what it meant and sighed, the growing sense of frustration was already building.
"I just think what she's doing is so inherently, so inexplicably wrong. The injustice of it gets to me, the abuse of power, her arrogance in knowing her victims are too scared to say anything. It's hard to detect, it's manipulative, and it's cruel." She was accentuating each point with her hands. "If I think about it for too long it makes me so angry, I can actually feel myself shaking. Is that normal for a reporter? Is that weird?”
She glanced uncomfortably at Jacqueline, fearing she'd said too much. Simultaneously, she couldn’t recall a single word she'd said.
Jacqueline was silent for a moment as she stared at her, trying to piece her all together. Then, she was shaking her head.
"It's not weird, but I wouldn't say it's not not normal either. There is absolutely nothing wrong with emotion, Jane." It was hard to tell what was softer - Jacqueline's eyes as she gazed wistfully at her or her milky voice. "You've always been an emotional and passionate writer. They are natural territories that are instinctive to you. When you feel things, you feel them deeply. Writing is your way of controlling the way you think about the world."
She watched Jane carefully as she drank, her hand greedier and heavier than before. When someone explained her behaviour, what made her tick, Jane never knew how to respond. It usually went one of two ways - she wounded up shutting down her emotions completely or they came cascading wildly out in a mass of heat and movement. It was endearing, and it fascinated Jacqueline to no end.
"For what it's worth," she pressed on delicately, "I really do believe you'll take down Pamela Dolan. I’d count on you to win most battles. Some of them single-handedly."
"Why do you think that?" Jane blinked at her. The immensity of what she said hadn't hit.
"Because your battles are my battles," she concluded simply, "and because Pamela Dolan has no idea who she's started a war with."
Even with the space between them, Jacqueline's eyes sought hers and they wavered with emotion. For a moment, Jane melted into her.
"Whatever happened to this being our story?" Jane retorted, after she'd managed to tear her eyes away. Her mouth was dry and gaped open in feigned shock, and she was a beat away from laughing. "'We're writing this together.' Isn't that what you keep telling me?"
She was deflecting from more serious conversation, and they both knew it; it was a familiar and well-trained tactic of hers. Jacqueline raised her eyebrows and the amused smile that grew on her lips said she'd been let off the hook.
"I like to think I know you well enough to know that when you are feeling this determined, you can lead anything." She was pointing a strong finger at her again. "Your actions at my anniversary party are a prime example of that.”
Her courage and her heart makes every woman on that team stronger.
Jane swallowed more Scotch as she let Jacqueline's words sink into her. She was being so kind and non-judgemental, her heart could barely take it and her ears struggled to soak the sounds in. She'd waited years to get her approval - had worked hard for it. Now the compliments seemed to tumble in at once, colliding in her chest, crawling their way into her heart, at an unstoppable speed.
Jacqueline's eyes drifted towards the window, and Jane longed to say something to pull her back.
"I don't agree with 80% of what you just said, especially the winning battles single-handedly part, but I want you to know. I'm going to do all that I can to take her down." She told her, directly. Every ounce of her was determined. "I'm going to tell the truth of Ingrid's story, and Eden's, and all the others. We're going to do this right... for them. And I'm grateful you had enough belief in me to take it even this far."
It was all she could manage.
Jacqueline seemed frozen with surprise as she stared at her, like she was an unearthly gift and try as she might, she couldn't fathom where she'd come from. She shook her head in amazement and returned to her drink.
In her ringing ears, Jane thought she heard her mutter. "There's the battle-winner."
Jane smiled softly into her drink, and noticed Jacqueline do the same. The glass felt heavy in her weak fingers, and the liquid slipped easily down her throat.
When she caught sight of the glass windows that looked out upon the bullpen, she saw the office was deserted. Not a single person was still working, and the automatic lights had shut off. Jacqueline had followed her eyes, and as if in unspoken agreement, Jane and Jacqueline instinctively turned to gaze out of the big window that opened to the city.
It was getting dark, and the thick buildings around them blocked out any last glints of sun that tried to reach them. Tiny cars moved swiftly, and the distant clunk of cranes whined jarringly up ahead. The grey slates of buildings stared hard back at them, all grit and no sympathy and red and silver circular beams floated across the office walls. Amongst it all, the glass revealed the reflection of them, angled towards each other on the sofa.
Jacqueline cleared her throat. “I won’t keep you late, Jane. Especially after your work last night.”
"It's fine." she replied, honestly. "I’ve missed working for the magazine. We don’t have these meetings too often these days. It’s been ... nice.”
She had hesitated slightly at the end, and she could feel Jacqueline's eyes on her as she peered down at her hands.
"You know it's funny.” Jacqueline said suddenly, but there was no amusement in her voice. There was something different in it, and Jane rubbed her hands nervously against her jeans.
Jacqueline shifted her elbows to rest on her knees and paused, staring at her thoughtfully. Long seconds trickled by, lost forever, as she mulled over what to say.
"You hardly let anyone in. Sometimes your emotions play out on your face, and I can tell what you're thinking, see what you're feeling, as plain as the day. Then there are other times where you shut off and I'm in the dark. All of us, in the dark. I have no idea about you or what you think about anything." Jacqueline's eyes drifted off into the distance, and her voice was barely above a whisper. "It's like you become so ... unreachable."
Jane felt her cheeks flush, could feel her lungs inhaling, exhaling, with every breath. Jacqueline's eyes held still into the distance, and Jane wondered if she knew she was still there, witnessing her unfold.
"I could say the same about you." As she said it, Jane stared blankly at the amber liquid, watching as it sloshed in her hand.
Jacqueline was looking at her now with her mouth slightly open. She caught the way her steady hands tightened against the sofa as her eyes searched hers.
"What do you mean by that?”
Jane shrugged. “You can be just as unreachable as I can.”
Her shoulders felt stiff, and her cheeks felt warm, and she flickered her eyes to Jacqueline. They met each other for a full heated minute, and Jane lost track of time. It wasn't until her phone beeped in the silence that they ripped their eyes from each other. Jacqueline turned her attention to her drink, and Jane bent to check her screen, which illuminated in the dimness. Ryan.
Her fingers fumbled to 'vibrate' only and she begun typing a mindless response. Jacqueline had stood up with a lingering look at her and signalled to her empty glass, which she took and sidled over to her desk. Sliding open the drawer, the sound was low and strangely foreboding. Once again Jane's mind raced to the folded piece of paper with her email on, one drawer along from where she stood. She longed to know how often Jacqueline looked at it, if ever.
Jacqueline poured the liquid and screwed the lid back on, gave her glass back. When she sat down again, they drank in unison once more.
Jacqueline was first to break the silence.
“Have you heard any more from Dr Isabel Keenan? That was an interesting development for you.”
Her voice was determinedly controlled and she was looking firmly at her drink, scrutinising it as she handled it in her fingers. There was a raspiness that wasn't there before.
She remembered the conversation with Sutton and Sage in the kitchen the week before, when Jacqueline had walked in. Phone sex and being attracted to women - what a miraculous train wreck it had turned out to be. It had shot up to claim the prize of the most embarrassing conversation of her life with ease. Even now, she could hardly believe it happened. The last few weeks had been surreal.
“Sutton said she was texting you at quite the early hour. 2 in the morning, if I recall."
Jacqueline was still looking at her glass, and her voice was clipped around the edges. She only moved when she saw Jane abruptly lean forward, sighing heavily.
“Yeah, there’s been a couple of messages." She rubbed her eyes wearily, hating why she was asking this, why she was doing this to her. "Nothing is going on obviously, I'm just being – I don’t know – polite, professional?”
She mumbled it from behind her hands, in the hope that if she said it quietly it would help her imagine this conversation wasn’t happening. It didn’t work, and she reached for her drink.
“Well, polite and professional is a good start.” Jacqueline murmured reasonably.
Her tone was dripping in amusement, and Jane hit her with a face of pained accusation.
“Do you have any idea how embarrassing that conversation was for me?”
Jacqueline was smiling now. A perfectly unleashed smile and the sight of it made Jane gaze at her for a second too long.
“Oh yes, I was aware. I think everyone within the vicinity of you was aware.” She shrugged casually and held up her arms, one ringed-hand slung lazily on the back of the sofa. “You did well, you held your own. Maybe it's fun to watch you squirm.”
“Maybe you are a monster," Jane told her plainly, and Jacqueline laughed outright. The rippling sound of it made Jane feel lighter than she had in a long time. It also made her realise she was tipsy.
“Well, good luck with Dr Keenan. She was evidently moved by you.”
Jane couldn’t help but raise her eyes to Jacqueline as she said that. Jacqueline watched her in return, her blue eyes endlessly cloudy and a slight crinkle in her brow. It wasn’t clear whether her eyes were dancing with amusement or filling with something else entirely. Jane tried to gauge what she was thinking and couldn't, but they both felt the sudden shift.
The city lights behind them had cast dark shadows across the office and the atmosphere seemed different somehow.
“Izzy didn't text me at 2 am. You know that, right? It's nothing like that.”
Jane had swallowed a mouthful of drink and said it before she could take it back, and now she had plunged the both of them into dark waters.
In the stretched silence that followed, Jacqueline cocked her head to the side with a frown and took a deep breath in. Her legs were planted firmly on the floor and she had set her glass down to take hold of her hands, wrapping them together comfortingly. She was clearly contemplating her words.
“I shouldn’t have said that.” Jane began in a rush, "It was a stupid thing to say."
It was her turn to set her glass on the table. The force of her hand was too heavy and it made a louder sound than she thought. Jacqueline was observing her movements, and for maybe the first time, her head bowed with uncertainty.
“Why - why would Sutton say that?"
She had turned to look at her, expressionlessly. There was still a lot of space between them, but the movement made Jane’s heart hammer. She was testing her again with the hard questions, with the impossible answers. She could never answer them and she would be forever stuck in the mud trying to. It wasn't clear what Jacqueline expected her to do.
“What do you mean?” Jane asked, knowing perfectly well what she meant. Jacqueline, with her perfect arched eyebrows and dubious lips, knew it.
“If Dr Keenan hadn’t messaged you, why did Sutton say that she had? It isn’t like Sutton to lie."
Jane stared at her almost desperately, trying to communicate without actually having to. She found herself both shrugging and raising her arms, her limbs loose but somehow stiff. Controlled but helplessly messy, in equal measure.
There was something in Jacqueline's face as she watched her. An innate sense that Jacqueline knew her more than either one of them would ever care to admit. Like she understood her and all her complexities, and could trace the messy, untrodden paths of her like a finger on a roadmap. Sometimes parts of Jane would lead to dead-ends. Other times, they'd stumble upon something unexpected, but every time Jacqueline knew the questions to ask. She could render her speechless or fire her up. It had been a fact that had existed between them since the beginning, and it lingered in the air now.
Jane’s voice quietened, and something crumbled away in her. “Okay, she wasn't lying. Sutton would never lie about that. Izzy did message me..." she hesitated. "Just later. Not at the time I said she did.”
Jacqueline looked at her. Even though a question never fell from her lips, it was there on her face. Jane found herself speaking again.
“I didn’t want her to know it was you, and not because-" she broke off. "I don’t know why, and it really doesn’t matter. I'm sorry for bringing this up-”
She stared down at her drink, her accidental companion. She couldn’t believe she’d said these things out loud, willed them into the air between them. She realised her jaw was hurting from clenching it so hard.
Jacqueline was turning her hands over to examine her rings, and it was a long time before she spoke. Her eyes were fathomless, but her voice gave her away.
"Jane, if this is a conversation we don’t need to have, we won’t have it."
There was a detectable hardness in the words that startled Jane, and she turned to see her staring contemplatively out the window. She seemed like she was in another world entirely. Despite the sense of crushing disappointment that hit her and kept hitting her in painful, dizzying waves, Jane smiled and nodded.
“You're right. We don't need to have it." There was a horrible lump in her throat, and she tried to swallow it as she stood up. "I'm going to go. I've got a long meeting with Patrick tomorrow morning. He wants to catch up."
She drained the remaining Scotch and slid it back on the table. Two of them gone, in just over an hour. She let her eyes shut for a split second as the liquid scolded her, and she begun gathering her things. Her notebook, her phone, which she unlocked with slightly shaking fingers. 2 more messages from Ryan. A dozen from Kat and Sutton discussing dinner plans.
"Enjoy your meeting with Patrick."
Jacqueline stayed rooted to her seat, facing the night as it ascended over the city. In the reflection of the window and the dimming light of her office, Jane could see the unmistakeable shine her eyes. Her emotions under the lights. The lump in her throat throbbed again, and she turned away.
In the hazy distance she could see the outline of her desk, the drawer. She wondered if her email was still in there, or if Jacqueline had whipped away and discarded it as quickly as her tone could wind her. As effortlessly as she could wrench out her heart.
“Thanks for the Scotch," Jane muttered, and didn't mean a word of it.
She turned her back on Jacqueline to make her way to the door, all wheels in motion.
“Jane, hold on a moment.”
Jane stopped but didn't turn around, and she tried not to react. She was level with the shining glass panes of the door, the industrial silver handle Jacqueline's rings always clunked against. If she longed for something, she didn't know what it was, and decided she'd better find out.
When she turned tensely to face her, Jacqueline was standing. The emotion in the room was heavy, and it stuck to them. Jacqueline's glossy eyes washed over her, and pierced Jane right through.
"I saw your email."