Post-ep for "The Christmas Show".
The party was going on all around her, awash with faux-snow and Christmas spirit – the alcoholic variety. The noise of it pounded against the silence inside her head, and the pressure differential smudged the world, making it indistinct.
An eclectic mix of festive favourites jangled in the background, and as much as Jordan loved the nostalgia, the roasting chestnut sentimentality jarred with the palm trees and humidity. This was LA; the only thing being roasted over an open fire was her reputation with TMG.
But even that concern was blurred tonight, overwritten by other issues. Some professional, most personal. She sipped at her water and tried to focus, tried to push through the blur and step into the party happening all around her.
In the distance, near the doors leading out onto the beach, stood Jack. Like a shark in Armani he’d circled the room and was now deep in discussion with Wilson White. That these two – of all the people she knew – should be preparing to go to the mat with the FCC had been one of the bigger surprises of the week. Not the biggest, of course. Not by a long shot. But surprise enough that Jordan felt a stirring of loyalty; an admiration that she hadn’t expected to feel in a job she’d taken primarily as an act of defiance. As she studied the pair through her detached haze, Jordan found herself wondering if it was possible that they might all be playing for the same team after all. It was—
Danny Tripp sauntered through her field of vision, scattering her thoughts. He was as far away as possible, and yet somehow more vivid than anything in the room. He wasn’t looking at her, almost had his back to her as he laughed with Cal, but somehow she felt his attention fixed on her. And she had no idea how that made her feel. Her attention, however, was equally fixed on him, so…
I’m coming for you, Jordan.
She shivered, still not entirely sure whether that had been a promise, or a threat.
“Hey!” Someone waved a hand in front of her eyes. “Did you drift off?”
It was Matt Albie, balancing two drinks in one hand as he tried to get her attention.
“Sorry,” she said with a shake of her head. “Miles away.”
“Yeah.” Matt gave her an odd little smile and handed her a drink. “I heard you got yourself knocked up, so this is just soda water.”
“Yes I am…” He sat, uninvited, next to her on the two-seater sofa and stretched out his long legs, slumping down until his head rested on the back of the seat. He closed his eyes and yawned. “Tired.”
“It was a great show, tonight. The New Orleans tribute was inspired.”
He lifted an eyelid to look at her. “Yeah?”
“I think even Jack shed a tear.”
“Didn’t they weld his tear ducts shut when they removed his soul?”
She smiled. “He might not be as bad as you think he is…”
“Nope. He’s exactly as bad as I think he is.” That, apparently, was that. As Matt closed his eyes again, Jordan let her gaze and mind wander. Inevitably, they both ended up in the same place.
Danny was talking to someone else now, someone she didn’t recognise. One of the musicians, maybe? He was making the rounds, thanking everyone, being the face and voice of his show. Professional, in every way.
Except… Except three hours earlier he’d calmly pulled her out of the exec suite to tell her, point blank, that he ‘believed’ he was falling in love with her. He’d said it with the same authority he’d told her that the look-in audience was an artificial high, or that callbacks were the key to television comedy success, whatever she might think about viewer isolation.
Danny Tripp, she realised, liked to be in control.
“So, the thing you have to know about Danny,” Matt said suddenly, “is that he likes to be in control.” His eyes were still shut, for all the world like he was talking in his sleep.
She hadn’t considered it before, but now it seemed obvious; Matt knew. Of course Matt knew.
“Also…” He opened his eyes and looked up at her. “He can be freakishly intense.”
She tried to laugh that off, but the truth was inescapable. “He certainly doesn’t embrace subtlety.”
“That he doesn’t.”
She paused and sipped at the soda Matt had brought her. It was bitter, and she suddenly craved something sweet. Preferably chocolate. “Is he…? I mean… I don’t mean this to sound wrong, but is he serious?”
“About you? Absolutely.”
She shook her head a little, still trying to dislodge the mist that was clogging her mind. “It seems… We don’t know each other that well. I mean, how can he be—? Do you know how long he’s felt…?”
She blinked. “Monday?”
“Well, it might have been Wednesday by the time he admitted it to himself.”
Matt shifted around so he was facing her as he lounged on the sofa. “Danny doesn’t— There’s no halfway point with him, it’s all or nothing. Always was.” His eyes, usually teasing, sobered as he fixed her with a meaningful look. “No half measures.”
She met and held the look for a moment, and then offered something in return. “I think he might have proposed.”
“Do I look surprised to hear that?”
“Not a whole lot.” There was a strange sensation in her stomach; it was either burgeoning disappointment or heartburn. “So he’s… He’s done this before?”
“First time he got married, they’d known each other two weeks.”
She was silent, digesting the fact. She wondered whether Matt was trying to warn her, or warn her off. “I have no agenda here,” she said carefully. “I didn’t…invite this.”
“And here was me thinking you were pulling that old ‘I’m carrying another man’s child’ seduction routine.”
“Danny looks like he owns this place,” he said abruptly. “He struts around here like the king of the hill, takes crap from no one, and then yanks out his own heart and flings it in front of a freight train.”
She considered the point. “Is that me?”
“He’s— I know Danny. He has this all worked out in his head now, like a little short he’s directing. You meet, he saves you, you fall in love. There’s a beautiful blonde kid and roses around the door.”
“I…doubt she’ll be blonde.”
“What happens when the kid’s father shows up?”
“I’ll tell you what happens…”
“…Danny loses control of the whole situation. Suddenly there’s pages missing from the shooting script, he doesn’t know what scene he’s filming, and then—” His hand slapped down on the back of the sofa. “When Danny loses control, he loses control.”
“Listen to me…” Her hand covered his, eliciting a flicker of surprise when his eyes met hers. “God, Matt, I don’t even know which way is up right now. The last thing I want to do his hurt anyone, especially Danny. But I don’t even know— He’s half way around the track, and I’m still on the starting blocks.”
Matt held her gaze for a long moment, then looked sharply away and scrubbed a hand over his face. “Sorry,” he said. “I didn’t mean to— It’s just…”
“No. It’s nice. I’m…” She smiled and felt a ridiculous moisture in her eyes. “I’m a little jealous.”
He cast her a quizzical look. “Of me?”
“Of your friendship. You don’t find that often.”
“No,” Matt agreed, his expression becoming opaque. “No you don’t.”
She smiled and tried not to make it seem sad. “I can’t promise that this won’t end badly. I can only promise that I’ll be honest.”
Matt nodded slowly. “One thing,” he said as he pushed himself to his feet and cast his eyes around the room, looking for someone. They alighted, Jordan noted, on Harriet Hayes. “Don’t leave him hanging tonight. Don’t leave him wondering if you’re going to slap him next time you see him.”
She wasn’t entirely sure he was talking about her, but the principle seemed sound. Her own gaze drifted too and instantly found Danny, leaning against the open door and gazing out at the beach beyond. Alone, for the first time this evening. She watched him, trying to make sense of the chaotic feelings his declaration had unleashed. She had no answers, no sudden revelations, but she’d promised Matt honesty and that, at least, she did have.
Getting to her feet, she leaned over and kissed Matt lightly on the cheek. “Merry Christmas.”
She’d just turned to leave when he called her back. “Jordan?” He took a step closer, fixing her with a cautious look. “It was all Danny. The New Orleans thing? It was all Danny.”
She nodded, taking his gift for the tacit blessing it was, and began to make her way through the crowd. She wasn’t exactly nervous, but she wasn’t exactly complaisant. She was dancing between excitement, self-consciousness, and mirth; a giddy combination. Danny hadn’t moved since she’d first caught sight of him, yet somehow she knew he could feel her approach. She had no idea how, she just knew.
And so, as she came to stand with him on the threshold of the beach, he didn’t start or react at all. After a moment’s silence he said, “It’s a beautiful night.”
“Yes it is.”
“Was…?” He glanced over. “Was Matt warning you not to break my fragile heart?”
Jordan smiled, she couldn’t help herself. “He called me a freight train.”
“I’m not sure.”
Danny looked away, out over the ocean. “Matt’s— I’ve put him through a lot of crap. He’s overprotective. You don’t have to—” He caught her eye again. “I’m a grown up. You don’t have to walk on eggshells.”
“That’s good,” she nodded. “Because apparently, in a couple of months, I’ll weigh as much as a small blue whale. Those eggshells would be dust.”
Danny laughed. “I always liked blue whales.”
They lapsed into a silence edged with…something. Excitement? Fear? Uncertainty? Almost certainly all three, and more. “I’m going home now,” Jordan said at last. “I just wanted to say…” Her voice faded, leaving her hanging.
Danny turned, leaning back against the doorframe and watching her with that same intensity she’d seen early in the evening. “What?”
“I wanted to say…Merry Christmas.”
His eyebrows rose a little sceptically. “Okay.”
“And also…” For some reason her mouth was suddenly dry. “I wanted to tell you that… I’m not running.”
It took a moment, but then his eyes lit up with a heat that seemed to be burning deep, deep inside. “Okay then.”
“But you have to know… I’m not on the same page yet.”
“I hear you.”
“My head is in a million places right now.”
“I know.” He smiled, his eyes not dimming for a moment. “Go home. Sleep. Eat. I’ll see you after the holidays.”
There was a split second there where she had a fleeting fantasy of throwing caution to the wind, of flinging herself into his arms and seeing where they washed up. And perhaps at one point in her life, about twelve weeks ago, she might have done just that. But not now, and probably not ever again. Her life was incomprehensibly more complicated, and her mistakes were no longer only her own.
But it made her heart lighter, knowing that Danny understood. That he understood her. “Thank you,” she said, reaching over and kissing his cheek.
“For what?” His voice, she thought, was just a little rough-edged.
“For knowing me.” Their eyes met, and for a fraction of a second there was a connection that hit like a thunderbolt. She looked away, shaken.
Danny cleared his throat, his voice unsteady. “So…I guess I’ll see you next week?”
“If you need anything over the holidays…?”
“Good. And Jordan?”
Hesitantly, she looked at him again. “Yes?”
“It’s a pleasure. Knowing you.”
She smiled at that, despite everything else careening through her heart and mind. “You too,” she said, realising, perhaps for the first time, that she meant it. “It’s a real pleasure, Danny.”
He just smiled, and she knew, whatever else might happen, she’d carry that smile with her for a long, long time to come.
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