"It's me," said a tired voice on the other end of the line. Stan bristled.
"What do you want now?" he asked. "The damn shoe layout is at the printer's. I'm working on Chevalier now."
"No, it's not that. I wanted to apologize."
"That's rich. For what?"
"Snapping at you this morning. I'm sorry." Peggy wrapped the cord around her finger, feeling her throat go dry. "I don't know what's wrong with me lately. It's been a bad day. I owe Shirley a…I don't know. I owe her."
Stan sighed and picked up another pencil, the phone cradled against his shoulder. He started drafting an outline. Horses were his downfall. He never liked drawing them. He was having a hard time visualizing the hind legs. It might mean a trip to the library to study horse anatomy tomorrow. All this for ten seconds of a presentation with Lou Avery. Still, it was better than going home to nothing but a Moshe Dayan poster.
Stan sighed as he erased a portion of horse mane that was verging on overkill. He blew the shavings away, but some landed in his cup of coffee. Great. He took a sip, anyway, before speaking.
"…So treat her to lunch or something. I can't give you advice if I don't know what happened. I can make a wild guess, but you won't like it."
"So you know."
"Of course I know. You might be on track for a shitload of Clios, but you're the shittiest actress I've ever met. For christ's sake, I called it last New Year's."
Peggy cringed at the memory of those butterflies in her stomach that night. Goddamn Ted. She opened her desk drawer and pulled out a Baby Ruth she had stashed away for moments like this. She unwrapped the candy bar and popped a piece in her mouth. Ugh, stale.
"I forgot to warn you, the candy in that machine is old," Stan said. He always knew what she was doing, like he had a sixth sense. "You missed your chance years ago. Ship sailed."
"Are we still talking about candy bars?"
"Whaddaya you think?"
Peggy went silent and took a sip of coffee. It had gone cold. She ignored the urge to dump whiskey into it.
"Stan…do you think I'm stupid?"
He chuckled softly.
"Is that a yes or no?" Peggy continued, a catch in her voice.
"Peggy," Stan replied softly, as he reached for the bottle of india ink. "The idea that you think you're stupid is ludicrous."
"I've made a lot of mistakes here," she said. "Sometimes I wonder what the hell I'm doing."
Stan finished off the dregs of his coffee as he put the finishing flourish on the horse. He stood up to stretch; his right shoulder was giving him problems. "I never judge. I mean, jeez, I've made my own share of mistakes. Linda, for instance."
Peggy smiled, remembering Stan's birthday party. Linda had dropped some acid, tore off her clothes, and ran naked down the street into some cops. Stan had joked that normally that would have warranted a straight-up marriage proposal, but he restrained himself. As much as Stan postured about being open minded, he put his foot down with psychedelics and kept his drug experimentation to different grades of weed.
Peggy smiled. "You want to take a break?" she asked. "How's that horse?"
"Come on over to Chez Rizzo," Stan said. "Bring the rest of that Baby Ruth, we'll melt it in some coffee."
Peggy didn't ask how Stan knew she was eating a Baby Ruth. He knew. He always knew, somehow. Knew what her favorite movie was. Knew how much she hated Don's hat. Knew how much she disliked the smell of copier toner. She knew just as much – that he didn't like the sound of dripping water, that he loved lime Jello, that he loved cats. In fact, he had gotten her one after one too many late night phone calls flipping out about mice in her building.
"I'll name it Stan," she'd joked. "…After you."
"In that case you might as well just name it Sucker. Isn't one Stan to yell at all day enough for you?" he sighed, handing her the kitty carrier. "Take good care of him. My aunt is real particular about her cats, even though she has way too many. He's a nice little fella. He purrs pretty loudly but he'll do the trick. I guarantee your mouse problem will be over in no time."
She never could figure out a name for it, so she named it Cat. But sometimes in her moments of loneliness, she absently called it Stan, just to have someone to talk to.
She walked into the kitchenette and poured them each a fresh cup of Folger's. Stan joined her and patted her back.
"Yeah. Let's go watch TV in Harry's office. What's on?"
"Petticoat Junction. Englebert Humperdinck. Bleak, if you ask me."
"Harry wouldn't think so."
"Harry's the reason it's bleak. But I do know of a secret stash of snacks in there. You don't get the munchies as often as I do without a solid backup plan."
They laughed and snuck inside Harry's office. Sure enough, in the top shelf of his desk, they found a huge pile of goodies.
"Guarantee you these aren't stale." Peggy squealed with glee as he held up two Almond Joys. They each picked up some candy and plopped on the sofa together, propping their feet on the table. Stan turned on Petticoat Junction and they shook their heads and laughed. Peggy began to feel sleepy and nodded off by the time the late movie started.
Stan looked over at her, her head thrown back against the wall, softly snoring.
Sleepily, she turned and laid her head on his shoulder. Stan felt that old familiar pull in his heart, the one he had been trying to ignore since the day he met her. He put his arm around her as she snorted and relaxed once again. She was so exhausted, he thought. Stan wondered how much time she had put into the Chevalier copy. She'd been so overwrought lately, and he wondered if Chaough still occupied too much of her mind. Or worse, her heart.
He decided to let himself enjoy this delicate moment, before the walls lifted once again and she returned to her regularly scheduled sourpuss face. He shuddered to think how she might react tomorrow morning when she got wind that he and Ginzo had been nominated for a Clio. Since the day they met, that was the one thing that stuck in Peggy's craw, and he knew it was her sore spot. He felt guilty that he had gotten the nomination with Ginzo, when it was a campaign so close to her heart. Stan admitted he felt pretty damn good for having his hard work recognized, but poor Peggy. He debated whether or not he should break the news to her, and decided to just let things happen. The last thing he wanted was to spoil the evening.
"Come on, Peggy," Stan said, nudging her awake. "We can split a cab. It's late."
"Getting on 1:00AM. Aren't you ready for your beauty sleep?"
"Shut up," she said, laughing. "Oh man, that coffee's going right through me. Be right back." She got up and walked down the hall to the ladies' room, returning a few minutes later, fluffing her hair. Stan absently wondered how many cans of hairspray it took to shape that helmet of hers, and how soft it would be without it.
"Okay, let's go," she said. "We have to present with Lou tomorrow morning. Meeting's scheduled for 9:30. How's the artwork?"
The walls had returned, Stan observed ruefully. He held up the sketchpad. It was full of doodles of naked women, a caricature of Ginzo riding the Chevalier horse, and lettering samples.
"Whoops, wrong page," he joked, flipping to the final draft of the horse.
"Beautiful," she said, smiling at him. "You really are amazing, Stan. I don't tell you that enough. But you have a rare talent."
"Cooper Union didn't think so," he said, closing the tablet. "But who gives a shit about them, anyway?"
"I really admire the work you do. I wish I could draw."
"Keep talking like that, baby, and I might have to kiss you again."
"Nice try. Call that cab before I fire you."
"On it, Chief."