1963-09-13 - Ladies Who Lunch
Summary: Jennifer and Pepper meet at an insufferable women's networking lunch, but they actually manage some networking! Friendship is formed.
Related: None
Theme Song: None
jennifer pepper 


The quarterly meeting of the National Association of Professional Women, New York City branch, comes together for its Women Mentoring Tea. It all sounds very prestigious, though how they cram all those names on the white banner laced with flowers around the city skyline is impressive.

The co-sponsors, the Junior League of the City of New York, and the Financial Women's Association of New York City, each have their space and place.

Junior League involves exactly four women of an age not to be a student earning credit for their preparatory school and Jennifer Walters. Perhaps even Pepper. The NAPW she is a card-carrying member of, and the third youngest. Most of them are in their fifties, established professional sorts more interested in their philanthropic organization or whose daughter is marrying which businessman than getting ahead. In short it's been a phenomenal seminar on how to advance by conniving a ring around one's finger.

Or how to snarf sandwiches.

"This really wasn't what I had in mind spending an afternoon away from the romance of two bankers' boxes full of files," the attorney murmurs to the young women crammed at her table. Two of the high schoolers were already escorted back, leaving plates smeared with crumbs and frosting to be whisked off. A dreadful look is shot towards the gossipy set in skirt-suits. In 1942, they would have been revolutionary. Today, those ladies are scarcely helpful.

*

Pepper is in the middle of debating the absolute, most smooth way she can get herself out of this little bit of hell she'd decided to join. She originally signed on, after becoming invaluable at Stark Industries, because she thought it might be a good way to meet other like minded women who could help the company. The more intelligent women at the helm, the better. But now she's realized that this is as much a ladies who lunch sort of meeting as it is actual business, and the young redhead looks rather trapped.

Pepper is too damn nice for her own good and has been pinned in a corner of the food table and drink service by one of the older women who has decided to regale Pepper with tales about how back in her day a woman would never show her ankles in the office. This is a problem, of course, because Pepper is showing a lot of ankle, a lot of knee, and even some thigh. She's in a highly stylish, mod-type dress of pale green and white flowers. It compliments her red hair so nicely and manages to show off her svelte form. She's the height of 60s style, but apparently not propriety, as this woman is giving her an ear ful. "…Y-yes…yes, ma'am. No…No, ma'am, of course I wouldn't wear this to the office, ma'am… It was just… just so warm, ma'am…" Pepper stammers out, over her little glass of champange. She desperately needs saving.

*

The very certain decision to avoid that tea is proving useful, though the wine, less so. Too dry and oaky, Jennifer peers into the half-full glass with a dismal sense drawn briefly over her face. She about embodies the look of professional, black suit and white jacket a touch too large, the black skirt too long to be perfectly stylish. This is a woman who cares very little for turning men's heads so much as she does doing her job, and elegant, lovely lawyers are things only in fantasy novels. And now they are trapped, these wives of industry scions. The /real/ working women are doing that, working.

She puts down the glass again and frowns, doing her best to figure out a polite way of extricating herself from the ladies who lunch and devour all before them. Rather than stomp out while the organizer with her oh-so-lovely beehive is smiling hopefully at everyone, she instead beelines towards the lady in green and white. For reasons known only to her, those are favourite colours… though she's Lady Liberty's granddaughter, so naturally she favours verdigris and a much truer shade. "Come now, Miss…" Oh goodness, help, name tag, HELP! "Potts, was it? I must insist upon interrupting, Mrs. Russell, for I have barely had two moments to introduce myself to Miss Potts and we girls must stick together, you know. It's a brave, dangerous world out there." Cue thin smile, too many teeth, as strained as they come. "It was your handiwork all over the presentation for the Women of Finance meeting last month, wasn't it?"

Lawyers. Even the good girls next door can lie through their teeth like the best of them.

*

The look of relief in Pepper's eyes is a bit too immediate to entirely be hidden, but she covers it up a heartbeat later as she looks between Jennifer and her current captor. A sweet smile dances across her perfectly full mouth, she really was *unfairly* pretty somehow, and offers a gentle, "Mr. Russell, it really… *Truly* was an honor talking to you. And I'll take your advice to heart, I promise. It was quite valuable, but yes, I… I really should be networking… here with Miss…" Thank goodness for nametags, her eyes dropping to Jennifer's for a moment before pale gaze flickers back up, "Walters. Excuse us."

Then, as if they were best friends, Pepper hooks her elbow through Jennifer's and leads them both away from that trapped little corner. Maybe they can find another corner that is far more private than what they had before, somewhere they won't be noticed by the old biddies and the ladies who lunch. She gives the woman a slightly apologetic, wincing smile, "…I am so sorry to have bothered you but god, thank you… Thank you, so much. I… I thought the age range in this room was going to be far… different than what it was, or I'd have worn a suit. YOu have to be dying in that thing." Pepper nods to Jennifer's far more conservative suit.

*

Jennifer has reconnected.

*

Jennifer has reconnected.

*

Jennifer has partially disconnected.

*

The brunette is used to swimming among sharks of varied sizes. She extends her smile in return, though it lacks the sheer beauty of Pepper's, a touch too thin with the strain of escaping the terrible burden put upon them. Mrs. Russell is a terror beyond imagining, someone capable of slaughtering reputations with the stroke of a pen to gossip pages in the newspaper or building them up by announcing "Mrs. Russell (nee Vanderyes thembilt) gives her support to…"

At least the nametags are a saving grace. They give identity and escape routes, like secret maps worn in plain sight no one else takes seriously util it matters. "Thank you so much for your understanding, Ms. Russell. Truly inspirational to bring together so many gifted, talented individuals. Behind the great men of the city, such splendid intellects." Properly buttering up the doyenne of the little ponds they swim in, that koi hightails it away.

Away with her guest and fellow evacuee, leaving them to wonder which one will marry first. The poor wallflower or Tony Stark's hard labouring assistant who… well, you know those Stark boys. Better to settle down with someone a little less likely to wander, mm? The words practically chase them outside. "So had I. Junior League doesn't mean junior high school." She waves a hand in front of her face and sighs. "I thought if I unbuttoned the coat, they would scream hussy." Seven feet tall as a hussy now sounds promising. "Days when I'd trade places with the girl at a soda counter are few. But New York summers are a punishment, and I'm no glutton."

*

Jennifer has partially disconnected.

*

A slight shock crosses Pepper's features as she hears the discussion following them about marriage and the Stark boys. Pepper practically has to bite her own tongue from yelling back at them, but she mutters beneath her breath to Jennifer, "I'm not dating my boss. I swear I'm not. Why do they all think I'm dating my boss? Tony dates everyone in the world, that's not how I got the job, I *swear*." Pepper half begs those words. Yes, surrounded by ledgers, stock tickers, personnel files, or ANYTHING to do with running a company, she was great. She was brilliant and competent and kept the whole operation moving. But she's still a middle class girl now in a tank of sharks and so in over her head socially it's not even funny. She's well out of high school and her degree, but she somehow looks painfully young compared to the lawyer at her side.

"You've been here before? Why do you come back? Is it really worth it? And yeah… Tony doesn't care that I dress like this around the office. I think he likes it. And it's comfortable. Why should I wear a suit if I don't have to?" Of course, the fact that she calls her boss by his first name is probably a problem alone, but it's just habit now. "…And…what do you do? I didn't hear them complaining about your boss so he must not be hanging over your shoulder all the time."

*

"Because it stands to reason a man of a given age and a woman younger than him could not possibly have a business relationship without the personal aspect. They probably suspect every secretary or personal assistant is a mistress," Jennifer spares no one's feelings, her customary California girl bubbliness bleeding through sideways. Her nose wrinkles, and her glasses slide down the slope. A slim finger pushes them back up into their customary places. Someone get her thinner frames, something better suited to the delicate structure of her face, she might be passably pretty. Not a bombshell, but pretty. The lawyer herself is barely approaching her mid-twenties, but she seems to have learned to dress from someone closer to fifty. Probably her mother. Her mouth twists into a little compressed frown, not impressed to say the least. "Hmph. You know, I have no patience for anyone trying to turn a meeting into a question of whom dates whom. It sounds straight out of a Jane Austen novel, and while I love Lizzie Bennett as much as anyone, having her -mother- at every turn sounds horrid."

Opinion given, she circles around the tables and inches away. A glance to the bar, and then the door. "Do you have your purse. Can we make a run for it? And unfortunately Lieber and Holliway would have a collective heart attack if I dressed like a client, and not a proper attorney. We already fight for credibility, as a firm, and they took me on. A woman." As if that needed saying. The other components of her life, well… "Coming in dressed in anything less than Victorian widows' weeds would send our clients, some of whom have actual spikes, running for the hills."

*

"Yes! Yes… a run for it sounds great, if we're not going to get called out on the way out." Pepper explains half breathless, nodding to her little pocket book around her shoulder. She wasn't comfortable enough sitting anywhere or leaving it somewhere she might have to return to and get trapped in another conversation. She finishes off a gulp of her champagne like she would a shot glass and then sets it aside on a table, following the taller woman out of the room like a shadow. Jennifer might have gained a redheaded puppy dog, so to speak.

"Lieber and Holliway? Oh goodness… you're a lawyer. That's fantastic. I know we could use a few more on staff. How are you with patent law, at all? Or corporate law?" Pepper asks, actually seeing a chance to network here and her pale eyes are lit up with hope about it. She remains close, her voice quiet as to not interrupt the ladies who lunch behind them, but she seems content to duck out with the woman.

*

Battleplans have been drafted in as much time, and usually by ten year old boys. "Then let's look perky and pretend that nothing happens to be amiss. I spot a clear break before that incorrigible woman tries to sign us up for another six months. I came to the last of these in hopes they would be improved. I can see that is not the case." She has no problem stretching out her legs to widen her gait and hasten along there, well accustomed to having a rather long skirt which affords her that. "You happen to know GLKH? I don't show up anywhere in that particular line though, perhaps, one day. Ladies aren't partners, don't you know. Apparently those ones in France amount to something subhuman." A roll of her shoulders speaks volumes for a professional opinion on that measure.

"Patent law? I have a fairly strong foundation in it. I worked on IP — intellectual property and patents — before coming over to civil rights and the like. Holliway is somewhat gifted in the field, if you want an expert, and Lieber." Her mouth curves up slightly, and then she utters a faint, lasting sigh. "Litigation is generally denied to us. I've had a judge toss me out of a courtroom, as it happens."

*

"…You're on. You are taller, so the moment you see a break, I'm on your tail." Pepper states with an almost conspiratorial grin, sticking close to the woman as they sink back a bit closer against the far wall, like they could fade into the shadows. But, the redhead already looks far more relieved about this all, since finding someone who actually might be close to the very reason she arrived. She takes another few almost delicate steps backwards and to the side, her green reflective high heels barely making a sound on the floor.

"…You do have a foundation in it? Don't suppose you'd like to do it more? I understand civil rights are…well…Really damn necessary right now. But I sure as hell could use another bright woman around the office, especially when it comes to the patent and business division…" Pepper admits with a half sigh, the all-too-familiar exhaustion of someone who is drowning in men with not another female ally in sight.

*

Taller isn't much help here, but she does her best to open a space by sheer speed. Jennifer has an easy gait to her, one that might require a bit of work, but she balances on those petite kitten heels. Comparably quick to make her escape, she nudges open doorways and gets out into the fresh air with particular ease. "Civil rights are the focus, the bread and butter, of the firm. They are not the only thing, however. And let's face it, not everyone wants to be represented by a woman, and they do not want anything less than the best. I do cover more than one portfolio, though a legal team, and a corporate focus, is not a bad thing."

She taps her fingers against her brow, and then slows once they are safely out of the building and back into the Upper West Side, which is elegance incarnate. "What sort of assistance are you looking for? Counsel, an outside neutral party to review the work of your firm? Or?"

*

"Well…it's… I work for Stark Industries. So, we're filing new patents all the time, and making certain that all our R&D team is keeping to the non-disclosure agreements on top of getting all the paperwork in before anyone can copy us… It's all some very careful timing and, let's just say, I don't always trust everyone downstairs." Pepper states with a slightly flat line to her lips, suspicion clear behind her eyes. Now the scared, cowering little red head girl who was being lorded over by that old woman is well and gone. Pepper is the savvy, sharp business woman she knows herself to be almost the moment they manage to slip out the back door and into the elegant area, if warm air. It still tasted fresh compared to what was inside.

"I just… I know you'd understand what it is to be a woman in the business world. You wouldn't betray me. Us. We have to work twice as hard as any man to get noticed, so… I'd like that hard work to be on my side." Pepper states flatly, pausing in her step to look straight up to the woman's eyes so Jennifer can see how dead serious she is.

*

Jennifer has disconnected.

*

Jennifer has connected.

*

"You work for the great big tall building with all the lovely, shining bits on it." Jennifer laughs at this, a sound warm and sweet as a cinnamon bun hot out of the oven. Approval and admiration shine briefly in her eyes, and she runs her hand over her tightly bound hair. "Of course. You manage the affairs behind the scene, don't you? No wonder they were saying the dating… I think I've seen you in a few of the media clips here and there. It changes very little except to improve my estimation of you, my dear Miss Potts." This almost brings out a laugh, and she gestures to the wide, broad avenue cutting north and south. "Enough of that bad wine, enough of those mean old hatchet-faced dames. Do you enjoy what you do, all the responsibility you have? I knew from a very young age I wanted to go into law, though I so rarely have opportunities to talk to a businesswoman."

She pauses, then pushes on. Some people are brushing off on her. "As successful a businesswoman! I know how terrible it can be to walk on the field and everyone mistakes you as the secretary or thinks you should sit down and be quiet so the men can talk. Treated like a child, when you have credentials to match theirs." Her mouth twists slightly and she looks like she might smack something. Gently. Because the alternative is putting a telephone pole through two buildings. "I think I've discovered my kindred spirit! Over -horrible- sandwiches!"

*

A slight laugh escapes Pepper's still perfectly painted lips — how in the world DID she get her lipstick to stay that long — and she walks a bit more easily alongside of Jennifer, "Yes. Right towards the top of that building, actually. And… I guess, technically, I am a secretary. Executive Assistant. But… I manage everything. Tony's a genius for science. ANd that's it. I make certain bills are paid, patents filed, lights stay on, people get hired… God. Everything, it feels like. And yes, I love it. Stark Industries does… really amazing work. I'm glad I can be there to ensure it goes forward." Pepper responds earnestly, her smile a bit softer now, the tone of someone who is truly in love with her job even if it exhausts her to her core.

"And…well, weren't we there to network? I can't believe it actually worked. And you're a *lawyer*. I mean…I'm nothing in compare to you, Miss Walters, but… I'd still love to give you a platform where you can do big, important work and not have to hide behind some male lawyer. Whatever sort of patent law you'd like to do, I'll put you there. I promise."

*

"I have absolutely no idea what constitutes a good networking event. Not that." A wave of her hand banishes the unwanted teatime meeting, and Jennifer can appreciate lipstick that stays put (or any, she's terrible with it) as much as capability. "Naturally. A scientist may be brilliant, and he has no idea how to keep the lights on, make a pot of coffee, or feed himself something that isn't out of a box. My cousin is the exact same way. Into his workshop he goes, spends a few days feverishly working, and the world could all but fall down around him without him noticing. He's chronically confused why he ends up in cutoffs."

Sorry, Bruce. You're gone, and that she has to reminisce around. Such sadness!

"I can appreciate it all. And hush, you mustn't say you are nothing compared to me. Do you know how often I stand in front of the crowd?" A pause follows. "Nearly never do I get to face off with those wonderful, joyous, sadly impossible judges because I am too busy doing all the rest of these things. And that's tolerable, it is. I would rather have someone who understands it. Patent law, then and we can look to the rest. No doubt the government eyeballs you wrongly and then others complain that you are… ah, how does one say it? Insensitive for testing or some other trumped up claim."

*

"Absolutely, Miss Walters. Absolutely. I can't wait. Here…" Pepper reaches into her little hand bag and pulls out her card, pressing it into Jennifer's hand. She's about to say something more, but then the green bracelet on her wrist — something with a thin display that shows numbers so, probably, it's actually a clock. It vibrates. It buzzes and buzzes and buzzes again. Then there is a repeated, mechanical voice. "Pepper. Pepper. Pepper." Pepper sighs and rolls her eyes, "That…is my call back to the office. I wish he could make it say something other than my name. But… yes. I need to go. Please, call me, we'll get your initial interview set up and then figure out proper hours. I cannot wait." And with the bracelet still yelling at her, Pepper tries to mash her thumb into the side as she turns on the ball of her foot and double times off into traffic.

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