Mid-2016, after some tumultuous months, and Kayla stands amidst a sea of other women who look, really, just like her, and listens to one of the richest men in the country make a speech about taking the place of another man who ruined lives. Standing at his shoulder, still, is another man whose name was whispered, passed around, during Gretchen and Megyn’s crusade. Kayla remembers. She doesn’t think she could ever forget.
She turns on her heel. Walks away. Doesn’t look back. Doesn’t stop to wonder if anyone casts a glance after her - if Jess does. Drops her pass into the trash, rounds the corner, and leaves.
It doesn’t feel like freedom. Not exactly, not yet. But when she walks out of the front doors, it feels like she can breathe a little easier.
Just a little.
She stays in the city. She gets a job working the front desk at a big private gallery that just about covers her rent. Her mother calls and asks if she’s lost her mind, asks what the hell she thinks she’s doing.
“I don’t know,” she says, and it’s odd, how that seems to be the closest thing to truth she’s said in a damn long time.
Against her better judgment, she goes out on another date with the same guy she basically ran out on to call Jess, because she thinks he’ll take her somewhere nice and she’s a little sick of subsisting on cheap takeout and microwave meals a month after she quits. He’s the only one who’s texted her in the past four weeks, anyway.
She doesn’t think Jess. She doesn’t wonder, idly, in quiet moments, if Jess still has ‘Bill O’Reilly’ in her contact list. She doesn’t wonder if that photograph is still in her desk drawer. She doesn’t. She puts on one of her good dresses and goes to a lovely restaurant, where her date orders for both of them (again). She sips decent wine and savours her grilled salmon. Her date talks, mostly about himself, and Kayla lets it slip by her, unheard, until halfway through a sentence he drops a racial slur, like a bomb. An explosion, light sparking behind her eyes.
He continues without pause. Like it’s just another word, innocuous, sitting in his vocabulary. Kayla doesn’t respond, but something sits uncomfortably in her chest. Her mouth feels dry.
She keeps quiet. Lets him pay the bill. He sends her home and smiles and tells her he’ll see her again. She opens her contacts list on her phone once her front door shuts behind her and deletes his number.
Her fingers hover over another name, three slots above - Jess Carr. She’s suddenly, strikingly reminded of another night just like this one, standing outside a restaurant, sobbing into her phone. It’s been a month, and the ache still feels the same. Bitter on her tongue, something scraping in her throat.
Good girl, good soldier -
She doesn’t press call. She has a long shower and brushes her teeth twice, trying to get rid of the taste of the words she thinks she should have said. She goes to sleep alone, the room quiet around her.
She hears things, sometimes, somehow. The news is still eating up the whole scandal, some pieces still coming out every so often, so Kayla gets updated on things. People leave, people get fired, things get shaken up.
She knows that Jess stays.
Kayla thinks if she was a different person, she would have been disappointed about it. Angry, maybe. But she remembers standing in an elevator, hopeful, naive, bright-eyed. She remembers believing in things, then having them taken from her. She thinks someone who doesn’t know better might call her brave, for walking away. Maybe she was, but she thinks it isn’t the point.
For her, it was easy, in the ways that matter to her. She doesn’t think Jess has ever been given the chance for easy.
If she was a different person, and this was a different world, she would have asked Jess to come with her, she thinks. And Jess might even have said yes.
In this world, she has a phone number burned into her brain and the memory of one half-drunken, strange, beautiful night, and when she tells herself it’s enough, she thinks she might not even be lying.
She dates around, casually. Goes for dinner with every guy who asks her out knowing she’s not going home with any of them. She leaves her work at the office every evening and skips Fox whenever she’s channel-surfing. She keeps her head down and just takes her days one at a time.
Part of her feels antsy, restless. Like she could be so much more than this. She still wants to be greater than herself - the best version of herself she can be. She thought she knew what that was, and now? Now, she’s not sure. Not sure if she’ll ever know either.
She doesn’t feel free, or liberated, or any of those hippie-influencer-millennial buzzwords. But she does feel like she has time to figure things out. This time, she thinks, she’ll be able to fight her way back to where she wants to stand without feeling like she has to sell her soul for it.
And if she never gets there, she thinks she’s reached a point where she can live with that too.
Three months out of Fox, she’s making mac and cheese in her kitchen when Jess (finally?) calls.
The conversation is easier to slip back to than she expects. She surprises even herself with the ease of their banter, Jess catching her up on some harmless office gossip like Kayla didn’t walk out on them and never come back in an act of open defiance, like they haven’t talked in twelve weeks.
She still sounds the same.
They manage to keep it up for a good twenty minutes before there’s a lull, before she hears Jess sigh, long and staticky. “You’re not angry at me?”
“Why would I be?”
“For staying,” Jess says, like it’s the simplest thing in the world, like it was the easy way out - but none of this has ever been simple for any of them. Her, or Jess, or Megyn or Gretchen or any of the other girls in that building, that office. Kayla puts her spoon down and speaks softly into her phone. “You’re trying to survive. We all are. I could never be angry at you for that.”
Jess is quiet over the line, but Kayla knows she hasn’t hung up, so she keeps taking bites of her dinner until Jess finds her words again. “Your name’s still Bill, in my phone,” she says, and Kayla hears I miss you, even though I think I shouldn’t.
It’s strange now, looking back, all the things she said while working at Fox. All the lies she believed, packaged into pretty words and ideologies that seemed to make so much sense because they put her first. She wonders if that was how some of the others around her turned from Gretchen and Megyn the way they did. Believing those lies, because there was no other option that wouldn’t tear down so much of who they were, who they’d become. Because they’d lied until the lie had become their life.
She answers to nobody but herself, now. Something like that. Still trying to figure out her truths. She’s not sure about so many things, still. Not this, either. But she thinks she could be, in time. She wants to find out.
“I miss you too,” she replies, and she hopes to god Jess hears come find me.
It’s not I love you, but maybe something close, something she really, truly, wholeheartedly believes in, something she dares to say out loud. She hears Jess’ answering inhale of breath on the other end, a shaky reply of yeah, and okay, a promise for the near future, the time to come, and for the first time in a long time, Kayla Pospisil feels free.