"Another late night, Chief?"
Stan appeared in the doorway of Peggy's office, two cups of coffee in his hands. She looked up and smiled.
"Thanks," she said, as he placed one on her desk. "Look, Stan, I'm really sorry about yesterday. I shouldn't have snapped at you."
He held up his hand. "This was a peace offering, baby, I got it." He took a sip from his mug and walked over to the door, shutting it. "Look. You need a vacation. I'm worried about you."
"I'm fine," she replied, waving her hand dismissively. Stan had seen this gesture too many times for his liking in recent weeks. "Don't worry about me."
He watched her as she sat down at her desk and drank her coffee thirstily. "I don't even know what I would do on a vacation. Worry about work, I guess. This Lou guy…"
"…You're taking what that joker says way too personally. He's not going to like you if you keep shooting down his ideas, and you're just going to dig yourself a bigger hole. I know he sticks in your craw, but you have to remember that your work life is not your personal life. And you don't always have to have the last word."
She put her head on her desk. Stan leaned back in the sofa and draped his arm over the back of it. He watched her as she took several deep breaths.
"I know what's been eating at you," he said softly.
"Oh, you do, do you?" she said, her tone sharpening as she glared at him. "Go ahead, make one of your cracks."
He shook his head. "It would be like kicking a puppy," he said. He got up and left the room. Peggy felt a tug in her chest, wondering if she had hurt his feelings. Stan had been driving her nuts lately, but even she could admit that it was nothing concrete.
He returned a few minutes later with a small paper bag. He reached into it and pulled out a homemade cookie.
"My aunt Rhoda sent me a few dozen of these," he said. "She always overdoes it on my birthday."
Peggy sat upright and ran her hand over her face. "Your birthday. Stan. I forgot. Can you forgive me? I'll make it up to you, I've just been so busy."
He chuckled as he sat back down on her sofa, picking up a portfolio marked ART DEPARTMENT. "It's tomorrow, baby. So you still have time." He bit into the cookie, leaving a small trail of crumbs on his beard. Peggy sampled hers. It was absolute perfection: just soft enough to be chewy. Wonderful trails of cinnamon tickled her tongue.
Stan looked over the folder of proof proposals, quietly finishing his cookie.
Peggy watched him from her desk. By now, Stan's face was tolerably familiar to her – his mocking eyes, his once-boyish face now masked by a pile of beard. Her mind began to wander to a long-ago weekend – five years ago, now! – in the Waldorf. She was mortified to find herself staring, as Stan glanced up at her, their eyes meeting squarely.
"Take a picture, it'll last longer," he said, returning to the folder.
"These cookies are wonderful," she said quickly. "Your aunt's a great baker."
"Yeah…" Stan trailed off. "She misses Robbie." He looked down at his knees and fiddled with the dial on his watch. "We all do."
"I'm sorry," Peggy said, abandoning her typewriter and sitting next to Stan on the sofa. "It must be so hard for your family. Was she your mother's sister?"
"No, my father's. Still is, actually," he chuckled, reaching in the bag for another cookie. He split it and handed half to Peggy. "It's a long story. Let's just say I'm closer to my aunt Rhoda than my mother."
Peggy took the cookie and smiled ruefully at her friend. She put her hand on his and gave it a light squeeze. "If I could ever bake as well as her, I would make you some, too," she ventured. "Maybe I'll just write you a poem about Campbell's soup instead."
"So, uh. What happened to Valentine's Day plans?"
"We…ah, we postponed them until Monday night," he replied honestly.
"Oh," Peggy replied. "Is it serious?"
Stan smiled sadly. No, but it had the potential of getting there. He'd been seeing Linda every couple of weeks since January. Stan described her to Peggy. She was a photographer; they'd met at a party.
"You would have met her, too, if you'd gone to that party."
Peggy remembered that night. Stan had asked her along to some shindig in the Village; she'd been at work on Butler that night and was still feeling the sting of seeing Ted in the kitchenette.
Peggy tried listening earnestly, but she felt a twinge in her stomach as Stan started smiling. His words began to fade away as she tried picturing him with this woman. She felt…what was it? A strange sense of betrayal, in a way. She felt her body tense up as he continued about his dating history with this woman. He wouldn't have gone home with her that night if you'd been there, a voice in her head told her.
"Is she pretty?" Peggy asked sharply.
Stan laughed. "She's a good-looking chick, yeah. What do you care? You interested, too?"
Peggy smiled wanly and shook her head, rolling her eyes. Stan continued to watch her as she shuffled papers on her desk, a redness creeping over her face that she pretended wasn't there. Peggy cleared her throat.
"So, I..." Stan began.
"I have a lot of work to do," Peggy replied.
Stan rose slowly, cracking his back. These late nights at the art table were killing him. He was starting to get sick of shoe layouts. All of the Butler Shoes for women looked like something Paul Revere would wear. "Keep the rest of the cookies, Chief."
Peggy smiled and returned to her folder. He glanced over his shoulder at her in the doorway.
"Peggy?" he asked, using her real name for once.
"I'm having a few folks over tomorrow night for my birthday. You want to come?"
She thought about saying no; about avoiding the gnawing in her stomach that was sure to come when she'd run across this "Linda." But she stifled it and looked up from her papers.
"I'll be there."
Stan smiled as he walked down the hall. He wasn't sure why he felt so happy all of a sudden.