Big thanks to coloneljack for the lightning beta!
Post-ep for The Option Period. Obviously, contains spoilers for that and also for next week's episode.
She hadn’t been kidding about pretending she had a year to live. Although it wasn’t really about living, and it wasn’t really a year. Nine months was more accurate – too accurate for Danny, so she’d fudged it a little. Nine months. Realistically, five now. Less, when the truth came out, which it would in the very near future. She was frankly mystified that no one had spotted her expanding waistline already; perhaps they thought she’d been hitting the donuts too often and had been too polite to comment. Or perhaps, more likely, they just hadn’t noticed.
Jordan McDeere wasn’t blind to her own appeal, and it was a constant source of mystery that she could look the way she did, do the job as well as she did, and yet somehow remain invisible to those who she most wanted to see her.
Sleazy baseball players and frustrated execs with stale marriages were a dime a dozen, but the other kind of guys, the ones with humor and talent and integrity, they never seemed to see her. To them, she was just a suit; all her charms paled beside the grim reality of budgets and they saw who she stood for, but they didn’t see her.
She saw them though, she always had. How many times, as a girl, had she pored through magazines, seeking tidbits about her latest obsession? Unlike her friends, though, it hadn’t been the Hollywood megastars who’d captured her imagination, it had been the talent behind the camera. Perhaps because she’d been blessed with a body that commanded attention, she knew the true value of beauty and treated it accordingly. It was the mind that drew her in, the Scorseses, the Coppolas, and the Kubricks who set her girlish heart racing.
And so it was now.
Her greatest regret – and she had plenty – was that she hadn’t been granted that kind of talent herself. She’d have traded her good looks in a heartbeat for the chance to create one truly great film, one truly inspirational television show. But a couple of screenwriting classes at UCLA had punctured that dream, and she’d turned her attention to her real gifts; recognizing other peoples’ talent and exploiting them to make money. It was as close as she could get to the giants who inspired her, and so it would have to do. But there were times, so many times, when she yearned to be on the other side of the team. Jack, she knew, thought she spent too much time with the artists and not enough time with the board. And he was right; it was her weakness. But the truth was, when she was hanging out on the set – any set – she felt alive and involved, like the very air she breathed was more potent.
And Studio 60… ? She looked out over the silent set, dimly lit now that the show was long over, and felt a thrill that never got old. Studio 60 was an altogether different high. It was her baby, after all, her first chance to make a difference, to play her part in creating something of note. It was working too, and she felt euphoric about that; in her single year of life, she’d done that. She’d at least done that.
But there was melancholy mixed with the high tonight, a noxious combination that reminded her of bad nights with tequila and red wine. Her year, that had only ever been nine months, was half over. Once the news broke no amount of spin could save her; a drunk driving, Christian hating, single mother? TMG would be over the moon, and Jack would fire her before she could say unfair dismissal.
Not that she’d play that card. Would she?
“You know…” a voice said from behind her, “the party started two hours ago.”
Jordan smiled, and it was truly heartfelt. Danny was dawdling around the slowly melting ice-bucket, fishing out another bottle of water; just the sight was enough to make her think of the bathroom – again. “You’re still here,” she pointed out, as if that was a reason for her staying. And perhaps it was.
He lifted his eyes to look at her, the same idea obviously playing through his mind. They thought alike, she’d known that from day one. “Matt’s still here too,” he said, by way of misdirection.
“I know.” She turned to look out the window again. “I didn’t think the show was so bad.”
“Bits of it tanked,” he said, moving closer. Not close like a friend, but closer. “Bits of it were okay. The thing about Matt… The thing you have to understand about Matt is that he could write Hamlet and worry it wasn’t tragic enough.”
“He wouldn’t be worried about the plagiarism?”
“Legalities.” This time Danny smiled; he had an infectious smile, but tonight that just made her feel blue.
After a long pause she said, “I don’t want to get fired.”
“Just like that?”
“Fight it. Fight your corner.”
“With what? My winning smile?”
For a moment he just looked at her and there was a warmth in his eyes she’d glimpsed once or twice before; a warmth that hinted he might be a friend. “I doubt you became president of NBS on the back of your winning smile.”
“I can’t say it didn’t help.”
“There are plenty of winning smiles in this town, sunshine. You’ve got something else.”
“I do?” And she couldn’t help but grin, because Danny – Danny Tripp! – had looked past the suit and seen her.
“You’re a ball-buster,” he said with a cockeyed smile. “So…bust some balls.”
“I could start with my ex.” Both of them.
“I’d start with the board. Go on the offensive, tell them what lily-livered, craven tight-asses they are.”
“Or words to that effect?”
“I’m paraphrasing.” He took a sip of water and grimaced.
Jordan watched him for a moment. “Is it hard?”
His eyebrows rose. “What?”
“The— I’m sorry, do you mind me asking? I meant, avoiding the beer in the cooler. Is it hard?”
The warmth in his eyes vanished. No, it didn’t vanish. It was more like he drew the shutters so she couldn’t see inside anymore. Clearly, he did mind her asking. She was on the verge of apology when he said, “Yes.”
“Sometimes it’s difficult.”
“Were you—? Is that because you’re an alcoholic?”
“No. But one thing leads to another.”
She nodded. “Yeah. Okay. I’m a chocoholic and walking past the vending machine is enough to...”
His look would have withered a rainforest.
“Sorry. That was…”
There was a pause. “Some people think it’s glamorous,” he said suddenly, turning away from her and fiddling with the water bottle in his hand. “Lots of people. The whole self-destructive creative-type, they think that’s glamorous.”
“I don’t. I think… I think you could have died eleven years ago and that would have been a tragedy.”
He went very still. “You read that in…some kind of file?”
Jordan almost laughed. “I don’t have a file, Danny. I read it in the papers. I was – I am – a fan.”
He shook his head. “Of me? Or the gossip rags?”
“Not the gossip rags.”
“You have fans.”
“Generally speaking not among network executives.”
“Well you should. You’re— God, Danny, you and Matt are in a class of your own. Of course I’m a fan. Why do you think I hired you?”
He looked up from his scrutiny of the bottle. “To get you out of a jam?”
“No. Wes’s…meltdown notwithstanding, I’d have approached you about Studio 60.”
“Because of the test?”
“Because I knew the show had to be great again, and I knew that no one but you two could do that.” She turned back to look out across the set. “But let’s face it, if you hadn’t failed that test you wouldn’t even have taken the meeting. I wouldn’t have gotten past your assistant.”
His silence acknowledged the point. After a moment he said, “Looks like Matt’s done with the self-flagellation.”
She glanced over and saw Cal and Matt meandering out into the corridor. Time, she thought with a sigh, to return to the real world on the other side of the street.
And then she felt a touch on her arm. “Come to the party,” Danny said, nodding toward the door. “I’ll buy you a drink.”
Wouldn’t that be nice. “I’m driving,” she said with a lame smile. “But…you can buy me a juice, or something.”
“Okay.” He smiled, and the warmth was back in his eyes – or the shutters had lifted. He had nice eyes, she thought. They hid more than they revealed, but when the irony was absent they were warm and friendly and…winning.
As she passed him, heading for the door, he said her name and she turned. “Yes?”
“For what it’s worth, I’m a fan too. And I’m in your corner.”
Her heart flipped unexpectedly. “That’s— That’s worth a lot, Danny.”
More, she thought as they walked out of the building together, than he could possibly know. The next few weeks were going to be hell, but perhaps – with a giant like Danny Tripp in her corner – she might live another year.
Stranger things had happened.
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