1963-11-13 - Business Women
Summary: Frankie tracks Pepper down at a restaurant after Pepper has given a women in business seminar. The ladies talk shop. Or, well, Frankie gets to learn about one of her idols, even if she doesn't remember the exact timeline.
Related: None
Theme Song: None
frankie pepper 


Ever since she traveled back in time Frankie hasn't been able to rely on her notes at the level of fine detail. She used to know down to the minute something like when when Pepper Pots was coming to dinner tonight, but Frankie's very presence means these numbers are not entirely reliable.

So, Frankie shows up two hours before her records show Potts having dinner at La Caravelle and arranges for the staff and other patrons to ignore her for the most part. It's not difficult magic to perform.

She wears a gray tweed suit and a white button up blouse that would be pretty boring if not for the daring cuts of hem and neckline. Nothing outrageous, but definitely pushing boundaries. It also looks expensive, and hand tailored.

The staff of La Caravelle don't seem to notice her for some reason, but she will be immediately recognizable to Pepper. She had attended Ms. Potts' symposium earlier and was most attentive in the front row, though she hadn't asked any questions at the time. Frankie is sitting in the waiting area as if she doesn't have a reservation. She sits alone, legs crossed, reading a magazine.

Pepper may also discover that her reservation has been lost somehow, and the restaurant is completely booked!

*

It had been *a day*. Pepper kept Stark Industries together, somehow, and still gave a speech to the women's business league in attempts to coach several others that what she does is possible for more than just her. The speech was calm, measured, mostly well received, but still ended up with at least one woman commenting about Pepper sleeping with the boss at the end. It's always the way of things. So, her reward to herself after a slightly hellish week was dinner at one of her favourite restaurants.

Except, apparently, her reservation is gone. Things are full. Pepper isn't one to throw fits, but she's an inch from doing so. She takes in a deep breath and gives a sweet, pink lipped smile in the host's direction. "I assure you I made this reservation several days ago and double confirmed this morning. What do you mean it's not there? You can fit me in somewhere, I'm just one person. Please…" She breathes out. Dammit, she was starving now. Her pale eyes streak across the room, looking for any salvation.

*

"Oh, Ms. Potts?" Frankie asks, in an unfailingly polite tone. She even sounds genuinely surprised to see the woman here. Frankie sets the magazine back in the rack by the waiting area and crosses to the Maitre D's podium.

"Franziska Clarke. Frankie. I really enjoyed your talk today." She extends her hand to Pepper, glances at the Maitre D, back at the hallway, and then nods as if just now making up her mind.

"Well, I think my appointment has stood me up at this point. Won't you join me at my table?" The Maitre D looks like he might protest, and then he sees her name. Right there. On the list. He blinks, unaccustomed to missing details like that, but then he nods, ready to escort the women to their table if Pepper agrees.

*

Well, that is a bit strange and surprising. Now her mind does actually catch on to the memory of the woman across from her. Pepper's head tilts to the side, a half smile flickering across her neutrally made up features (she always wore less make up when talking to women. She did know how to work the system!) "AH…Miss Clarke? That is very generous of you. I…I don't want to intrude, but… well, I can make it a short dinner. I just need to get something to eat before heading back for the office." She explains, a hint embarrassed. Especially since it looks like she can't keep her own reservation.

But, the Maitree'd sees her agree, so Pepper is lead the few feet to Frankie's table and she settles in smoothly, letting the man place that napkin smoothly in her lap and accepting the menu. Once they are alone, she offers her hand. "…I…I am Virginia Potts, but.. if we're just having dinner, you can call me Pepper, of course…"

*

Once they're settled in to the table, Frankie also allowing the napkin to be placed, she takes the offered and and nods. "You're so kind," and the light in Frankie's eyes is almost literal. There's always that moment when you meet someone you look up to and risk finding out they're actually a terrible person. So far, Frankie is impressed.

"And please, Pepper, call me Frankie. I hope you can forgive me for barging in on your evening. I just couldn't stand the thought of you being turned away. She smiles and glances around the room, curious but not staring at anyone. "Have you eaten here before? I've always meant to try it, but I don't know what's good."

*

Pepper is certainly not a terrible person, but she's not some goddess of business yet either. She's young, surprisingly so for where she is in her career. She looks a bit nervous and more than a bit tired. Her hair and clothing are all painfully modern, mod and stylish, still trying to impress with looks as much as she was her work. She looks like a young woman who is just on the edge of being overwhelmed but carries on because she must. She looks incredibly human for it.

"…Frankie, then… And that's kind of you. Yes. I've come here often. Their steak is good, but anything Italian from here will be the best. They do everything from scratch." Pepper mutters in the smooth, cultured way of a woman who is used to needing to come across like she knows everything. Otherwise, people will doubt her. She's a woman.

*

"The steak?" Frankie confirms, looking over the menu. "That sounds like an excellent idea." She's looking over the wine list, tapping the corner of her mouth with her index finger, thinking. "I liked what you said today, in your talk. About women having more options today. Not just teachers and nurses anymore."

She makes a thoughtful noise at the wine list and says, "Probably a nice cabernet with a steak." And then seamlessly, "Have you ever thought about taking on an assistant yourself? Certainly most business people at your level have people to help with their day-to-day needs."

*

It seems that Pepper has been here enough that she barely even needs to look at the menu. But then, it's always good business technique to give one's conversation partner full attention. It makes them feel important and well liked, as well as teaches the other quite a bit more about them. So, Pepper is focused mind and heart fully on Frankie across from her, even if there is just something a bit odd about the woman. A bit off. Maybe it was nerves.

"It's true… but the world won't catch on if we don't start *taking* those options. It's our duty to step into the other jobs when we can find them, to branch out… To prove we're just as worth of being behind the big desk as taking calls in front of it. So… tell me, what sort of business are you thinking of going into?" Pepper asks with a sweet, curious smile. Though the next question makes her blink. She gives a little laugh. "Ah…I… I don't think Mr. Stark would pay for that. That's my job, I'm his assistant."

*

It could be OCD. Or it could be that Frankie is a robot sent back in time from the future to observe humankind. Or it could be a coincidence! That's the most likely explanation. But when Frankie pauses for a moment to think about something Pepper said, she seems to go very still, and her blinking… is a repeating pattern? 2, 3, 2, no, it's different now. It was probably nothing.

Smiling, Frankie says, "Well, I'm many things, but mainly I'm a historian. Or at least, I hope to be. I'm currently working on a book proposal, writing about modern businesswomen, and the strides they're making. That's why I was at your talk today." She's back to acting totally natural again.

When the waiter comes over she orders the steak, and a surprisingly expensive bottle of cabernet. Surprising for an academic, anyway. At least she's not trying to get at Pepper's money.

*

That weird pattern makes Pepper blink, her head tilting just a touch to the side. "…Frankie, are you well…?" Pepper cuts in softly, a genuine brush of concern to her voice. That's the other thing about Pepper Potts — for as savvy and business skilled as she is, she does actually care also. She's not just some shallow networker. She genuinely feels for people.

But then Frankie seems to snap out of it again and Pepper blinks, a half smile of confusion flickering across her still perfectly pink lips. "A historian… and…You have someone to buy the book already? That's quite impressive. I didn't know that anyone else in the world cared to actually HEAR about women in business yet."

*

"They've only purchased a trial run for the book," Frankie confesses. "But I think after word gets around, they'll want a full printing. I'm lucky though. My parents left me with the means to pursue academics. And to skulk around seedy places like this." Frankie gestures with her hand to indicate the posh restaurant and smiles wryly at her own joke. There's no acknowledgement of the earlier hiccup in her attention.

*

Well, that explains the wine at least. A slightly warmer smile returns to Pepper's lips, not pushing that distraction matter (she didn't wish to be impolite.) Besides, Frankie seemed well enough now. "Well, then you are quite lucky and… even have MORE of an obligation to branch out, to push, to take risks that other women cannot due to a need for a fall back. I've been lucky myself with how well Mr. STark pays me…I feel a need to pass that luck along."

*

"Yes! That's precisely how I've felt, in fact," Frankie says with quiet but eager enthusiasm. She's obviously giddy that Pepper gets what she's doing. Frankie sips from her water glass with a gesture so natural, roboticists decades from now would weep to witness it. "I have a responsibility to do what I can. And I wonder…" Frankie trails off, thoughtful while she studies Pepper's face for a moment.

"It's horribly rude to even bring it up, I'm so sorry, but I wonder if you wouldn't be able to bring me on as a 'volunteer' assistant?" Frankie looks so genuinely apologetic to be bringing up a business proposition over dinner, it's like she was raised in another time. "I wouldn't need a salary, and the chance to observe America's Leading Lady of Business up close and personal could elevate the discourse of my book." Except, no one has called Pepper the Leading Lady of Business yet. That's… later. Or now. Oops.

*

That just gets Frankie a *look*, confusion dancing deeply across Pepper's features. "Uh…I… I don't know who you're thinking of, Miss, but I'm certainly no such thing. I'm just an executive assistant. While…help would be nice, I'm certain there are other women out there with bigger jobs right now. Not many but…Some. I just work for Tony Stark, that's it. I'm… no one." Pepper genuinely seems to believe that too, even as she teaches these classes, and networks, and meets with people like Wilson Fisk. In her mind, she was still barely a step up from a secretary.

*

Rather than zoning out this time, Frankie is acutely observant of Pepper's confused reaction, and her own eyebrow arches, managing to mentally tally her misstep without verbally making it worse. "I'm sorry, Ms Potts," she says, falling back on the formal. "I didn't mean to be hyperbolic. I just…" Frankie sighs and blushes, displaying just the right amount of embarrassment.

In a show of recovery, Frankie closes her eyes and sits up a little straighter. Opening her eyes again she offers an abashed smile. "Could we start over? I get so excited when I talk about my book. It was selfish of me."

More composed, with a hopeful expression on her face, Frankie extends her hand shyly, "Hi, I'm Frankie."

*

Slowly, Frankie is ticking over from competent and over eager to possibly insane. Not entirely there yet, but Pepper is starting to have her doubts. Pepper's head tilts just a bit to the side, a hint of heat blushing up the apples of her cheeks, but she really doesn't even know how to deal with that sort of flattery. So she smiles neutral, sits a bit straighter, and lets Frankie hit this weird reset button.

"…Uh.. Sure, Frankie. I'm…Pepper. It's… nice.. meeting you…" Pepper offers her hand, shaking again, but then she clears her throat slightly, "And…just a though, uh…I wouldn't try this start over thing with men. It's cute, but they'll probably roll their eyes."

*

"I'll be the first to admit," Frankie says. Her awkward, grateful smile also says she didn't mean the reset to be entirely so literal. "My social skills haven't kept pace with my studies. I'm not crazy, I promise," she says, blushing only a little this time. "Evidence to the contrary." And then something Pepper said returns to her and she smiles again, genuine, wiping away almost all of the embarrassing episode. "Oh gosh, men. How does anyone find the time?" Her laugh is light and airy.

*

"Sadly…that might be what I recommend you work on first. So much of business is a man's social game, Frankie. If you can't keep up with them, no matter how smart you are, they'll leave you in the dust. It's a damn shame but it's true. Men can get away with being… Strange. Women have to be picture perfect in all things." Just because Pepper does what she can to rail against sexist things, doesn't mean she's also not complicit in the system. Pepper has to be, in her world.

*

"That is excellent advice, thank you," Frankie says, sitting back in her chair, looking thoughtful. "There were more than a few 'strange' men in my degree program. But I know what you mean. We have to work within the system, to be able to change the system. Anthropology tells us the only other option is violence, and I'm afraid I can't condone that."

She pauses briefly while the very efficient waitstaff deliver their meals, and pour the wine. When they're finished and gone she adds, "Even given the abuse women have suffered for generations, answering violence with violence never actually gets you what you want." She picks up her wine glass, offering to clink with whatever Pepper is drinking. "To women helping women," she says with a small smile.

*

A tilt of her head is given in agreement, a gentle smile crossing Pepper's lips. "I cannot either. I know it's happening in the city a lot… people are scared, but I think they are going to fight back even worse. They will resist change when there is violence. But… if we can work to change it from inside the systems, then we can start to see progress." Pepper smiles a bit wider there, proud and earnest. She raises her own glass of water, she rarely drinks on the clock after working for a Stark, and clinks it against the woman's glass. "Cheers."

*

However strange she may be, it doesn't seem like Frankie is bothered by a comfortable silence. She sips her wine and then cuts a dainty bite from her steak, chewing thoughtfully and finally asking, "If you don't mind my asking, where did you study? And how did you pick your school?" Frankie's recallibration is complete. Treating Pepper like a famous person is a no-go.

*

It's a smart recalibration, because Pepper simply didn't know how to deal with that. Even if men knew her face and her name, knew she was good for business, she's still considered Other. Lesser. She's a woman, useless and nothing but a secretary, no matter how much she runs. SO, being treated like the opposite has very much spun her head. The more relaxed questions that could be considered small talk makes Pepper smile a bit softer and relax, as they settle into their food.

"I went to the Margaret Morrison Women's Business School, out in Pittsburgh, at Carnegie Mellon. It's one of the best in the country and all girls so there aren't…Distractions."

*

It also meant that women did not go there to get their MRS degree. Quite rare.

*

"I wish I'd thought to find a women's college somewhere," Frankie says. "But I was on my own by the time I was picking schools, and the Sorbonne in Paris was so tempting. The campus was magnifique…" She's a little dreamy with the memory, and Frankie doesn't seem to have any trouble flicking between English and French pronunciations. She must be fluent. "I even got to meet Claude Levi-Strauss. His anthropological research after the war was ground breaking."

*

"And being fluent in French could help a lot. There are plenty of jobs at the UN for people who are bilingual. I think you'll do quite well, Frankie. You clearly have a good grounding. I…couldn't afford to go abroad. SO, I found a place here. But never regret your past. Own it. Be confident about it. Especially when you are working with men." Pepper cannot HELP but keep teaching when she's in a situation like this, even if they are almost finished with their meals and this was supposed to be a relaxing meal, not a work dinner. Pepper isn't all that good at not working.

*

This has been a valuable lesson on many levels for Frankie. By playing cool, and dialing down the flattery and eagerness, she wound up getting the tutelage she wanted after all. It also keeps her excitement from steamrolling facts like This Hasn't Happened Yet. Blending in to 1963 would be more challenging than she thought!

"Blending in will be harder than I thought!" Frankie says with a grin. "But if I'm going to document the rise of women in business, at least I know what to work on."

With both of them basically done, the Maitre'd stops by. "Ladies, thank you for joining us this evening. I just wanted to stop by and let you know that your bill has been taken care of by someone who wishes to remain anonymous." He smiles, and bustles away.

Frankie puts on an amused expression and raises an eyebrow. "I've… never had that happen before. You?"

*

"Blending in… well, yes. It's a challenge, but you can do it." Pepper has no clue what the woman is actually talking about. For all her sensation of SOMETHING being off with her, she's not pinned down what it is. Then the maitre'd comes and she blinks, genuinely surprised also. "…Once…once or twice, generally if someone wants to sleep with you. Never…anonymous, before. Well…that was very sweet." Pepper smiles, certainly not complaining.

She then moves to stand up and dips one hand into her purse, pulling out a silver card case. She pops that open and removes one, handing her personal numbers over to the woman. "I'm usually working but, if you ever need anything, give me a call and I'll reach out to help as soon as I can."

*

Frankie stands as well, prim and precise in her movements. A hand dips into her clutch as well, producing a similar card. "Thank you so much, Pepper. For letting me crash your dinner plans. It was such a pleasure to meet you." She shakes the taller woman's hand and smiles, letting her leave without going with her, so she doesn't feel crowded or followed.

*

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