"An expose? Is *that* why you brought me here?"
Andy waved her hand wildly. She knew Carl wouldn't be fooled by her incensed voice. There was simply too much Tequila in her bloodstream for genuine anger.
"What's wrong with it?" He drank the last of his beer and signaled to the bartender for another.
"What's wrong with it? What's wro-- There's nothing right with it!"
"Andy, I hate to put this weight on those beautiful shoulders of yours but--"
"I'm *so* going to drag you to court for that," Andy muttered, morosely licking the salt on the rim of her glass.
"That would be a nice distraction. Might even become a scandal if we're lucky."
Andy said nothing. She didn't want to hear what Carl had to say about the magazine. Three layoffs in the last week. Rumor said The Mirror had six months. She didn't want to be talked into writing this particular piece.
"Even if I were to do it, in theory, you don't exactly want an expose on Runway, do you?"
"In theory, I want exactly that."
"Really? When did The Mirror's readers become so keen on fashion?"
"Don't be tiresome. You know the spin we need."
"Why don't you spell it out for me? Snow Queen shacks up with No. 4? Would that do it or do you want pictures?"
"I don't care. If you don't like the sex angle, go for something else that would sell. Ex-Runway-Employee tells all. Or fur. There's always fur and winter's coming up."
They stared at their drinks. When Carl spoke again, his voice no longer held its habitual warmth.
"I don't know, Andy. We are not at the end of our ropes yet. The online section will survive if I have to keep it together with my bare hands... even if you don't do this. I created it and it's going to live. Just another year and we'll be out of this recession. Our visits are going up every week, and this social media thing might just be our big break if we played it right."
Carl's voice had started out with a note of wonder in it, as if he couldn't believe what he was saying, but when he finished, he was the same old unflappable Carl again. Andy reached out and held his free hand.
"This beer is such swivel," he complained.
"That it is," Andy agreed.
After days of arguing with Carl, Andy had decided to go with the subject of unpaid internships. An ex-Runway-intern had sued Elias-Clarke last month but it hadn't yet garnered much attention in the news. Andy's report, lightly peppered with statistics (500,000 unpaid interns in the US), took a shot not at a single magazine, but at fashion industry as a whole, calling an end to the shameful practice that was particularly epidemic in fashion. Andy found that she could channel an outrage that she did not immediately feel towards the issue at hand if she thought about other, more personal events, such as her last breakup. Her heart was not in her words, but they were reinforced with her habitual diligence and extensive research. She was in the middle of last minute polishing when the phone rang.
"I'm working, Carl."
"Sorry. Is the thing ready?" Carl's tone was apologetic.
"No. Deadline's next week!"
"I know. It's just-- Andy, something's come up and I wondered, can you get it in by morning?"
Andy remembered that Carl wasn't one to harass his employees and kept her patience.
"There's gonna be another lawsuit and it will be filed tomorrow. Ex-employee. Elias-Clarke vs. Jonathan Stark."
"Will you do it?"
"Sure. Count on it." There was no reason not to do it.
"Thanks, Andy. I'll appreciate it."
Carl hung up.
Andy went back to her computer and was entering search keywords to read up on this new court case when her phone rang again. She answered it irritably.
"How do you expect me to turn it in by--"
"Andrea, it's Emily. I have a message for you."
"Emily? Wow, long time! How are you?"
"Miranda doesn't want that internship article published this week and I want your assurance that it won't be."
"Huh? How does she even--"
"It doesn't matter. She said you are free to do what you like next week, but not this week. It would be... inconvenient to have it out this week. Andrea, I can't believe I have to spell this out for you--"
"Sorry, Em, can't do that. Not even for you."
"She also asked me to inform you that she will remember this gesture."
"Can I choose the gesture she'll remember? How about--"
"Andrea, I haven't got all day for your nonsense."
"Fine. It is going in this week. Bye, Em."
Andy hung up, and considered the many ways in which Miranda could've learned about the report, a report that didn't even contain information that wasn't already public. Maybe Andy's home was rigged with cameras. Maybe Miranda was the big brother. Maybe Carl spoke to someone-- Oh. Andy hadn't exactly been quiet about her work at the office. If someone asked, she was usually generous with details. It was easy to forget the publishing world was often like a high-school.
Andy swiped at the phone vaguely, more than half-asleep, trying to silence what she thought was a wayward alarm, when she heard an unmistakable voice drawling her name on the other side.
Andy jumped up from the bed and dropped the phone on the floor. She cursed and picked it up.
"Hi?" She said cautiously.
"Honestly, Andrea. Are you in a circus?"
Andy was wide awake by now. She took a deep breath, mentally training her voice for sophisticated-and-business-like, and not sleep-deprived-and-terrified. And definitely, absolutely not squeaky-adoring.
"I'm great, Miranda. How about yourself?"
"I'm done asking nicely. If that article goes on print or online before Monday, within a week you will be crawling back into whatever miserable little hole you crawled out of. Times, Daily News, Post, Newsday, Telegraph, they'll have your name and picture taped on the noticeboard for all eternity. Do I make myself clear?"
'Yes.' She bit the word back before it slipped out of her traitorous mouth and stared at the ugly brown wallpaper in her bedroom. Miranda's voice was cream and silk. It dipped and swirled, and if Andy didn't understand it, she would have been enraptured.
"Are you there?"
Miranda's fury was the stuff of urban legend. Andy never found out the truth behind half of the stories she had heard in Runway. She wondered how much of that was deliberately manufactured myth.
"Yes, I'm here. The article is going in today."
Miranda hung up, leaving Andy to ponder what professional ruin looked like in all its suffocating despair. She supposed she might find out soon.
Two hours later, she walked into the unnatural quietness of The Mirror office. It was only seven in the morning, and sleep was the last thing on Andy's mind after Miranda's phone call. It must have been made from the townhouse. Andy wondered stupidly if the twins had been asleep and Miranda had called from her study. She shook her head clear.
News of the fresh lawsuit trickled out at eleven. Andy's article was published fifteen minutes later. The website visits shot up as if on cue. Carl beamed. Andy bit her lip and waited for something to happen. The day passed slowly while the comments piled up on Andy's story. Andy saw Carl hurry outside his office at three. It was six hours before he came back, but Andy was waiting for him when he strode directly to her desk. She saw it written in his face.
"Am I fired?" She asked quietly.
"Oh, Andy." Carl's voice betrayed his exhaustion. He had aged far more than the fair share of six hours.
"Are you sure? Can't you fight or something? Carl, surely--"
"Why didn't you tell me about those calls from Elias-Clarke?"
"I'm sorry, kid. I can't-- There is no notice period. I've been thinking... I'll let you stay on as freelance for a couple of months. And that will have to be under a pseudonym--"
Suddenly, Carl reached and hugged her. Andy hugged him back fiercely. He smelled his usual coffee and cigarette smoke, except for a faint whiff of whiskey. There was something wrong about the smell here in office. It spoke of defeat.
"Carl, will you at least tell me what happened?"
He stepped back and looked around contritely.
She took his arm. "It's okay. Come, let's go get a drink. Another one, I mean."
Walking out of the office, anxious to make the most out of these few minutes before fear took over, Andy vowed silently that whatever this was, it won't break her. She felt something bubbling inside her, threatening to burst out any moment. She didn't think something like this would have broken Miranda. A hysterical laugh escaped her at that thought.
"Are you alright, kid?"
"Of course." Andy laughed again. She felt lightheaded and free; she was riding a mindless high, something better than alcohol.
Two weeks later, Andy had seven grand in savings, no job, and eight rejections. The rejections were coached in generic words, but the apology in the eyes of the interviewers -- the interviews courtesy of Carl's glowing recommendation -- told a different story.
Two months later, she woke up to her phone's vibration on Lily's couch. She had moved in after three weeks of unemployment and had started a diet of beans and eggs, because she didn't know how long this would last. She didn't keep an alarm anymore because it disturbed Lily and her boyfriend in the bedroom. She also didn't need an alarm anymore because she could not bear to be in this house while the lawful tenants were around, and automatically woke up every day at 6. She would shower and go to a nearby park, typing away at her laptop until its charge ran out five hours later. Lily would be at work by then, and Andy would come back for a quick brunch, her heaviest meal of the day, and submit job applications and freelance articles to various publications. By five, she would leave the apartment again and work her shift a few blocks away. Lily was often asleep when she came back, but at other times, Andy would hear voices in the apartment and wander away to a neighbor park. Luckily, there were plenty of those. She never slept a night outdoors, however, and spent all weekends at the library and the parks. Lily did not like Andy's withdrawal, but she stopped saying anything after the initial weeks.
Andy had made a few friends at The Mirror but their hushed, understated sympathy grated on her. She repeatedly declined their invitations to hang out until they stopped calling her. She met Carl twice, but the second time he offered her money and she walked out of the bar. She spoke to her parents twice every week, hating herself more with every new lie about her day. She hadn't told them anything of her freshly derailed career.
The phone vibrated again and Andy answered it, keeping her voice as quiet as possible.
"Be at my office at 10. That's all."
The line went dead. Andy dialed the number back.
"I need more explanation than that."
"You are not getting it."
"You want to derive some sick amusement, gloating over me?"
The line went dead.
"Bitch." Andy threw the phone on the couch.
She showered and dressed in one of the few Runway outfits she still had: the flowery red ruched blouse that hugged her body and had won her Miranda's glance of approval once long ago, black cardigan with an interesting knot at the front, black pants, three inch flats. She left the house when she heard Lily stirring, and got off the subway three stops before Runway's stop, planning to walk the rest of the way to pass the time. The icy wind blew her hair into a mess, but it also took her out of the gloom that was descending upon her with every step she took towards Runway. She had no idea why Miranda wanted to see her, but it couldn't be for anything good.
By the time the Elias-Clarke building loomed into view, it was only 9:00. Andy passed the time tracing her path back and forth. She considered getting a starbucks for herself to calm her nerves, but it was more a brief exercise in restraint than real temptation. She walked into the building at 9:55, feeling like an intruder, but when she got out of the elevator on Runway's floor, it was as if she'd never left.
Emily was right there at her station whispering threats into the phone, and a new assistant was typing at the computer with her eyes flicking towards Miranda's office every few seconds. Two clackers pushed a trolley of bags and purses past Andy into the elevator. Miranda was standing in the office, leaning against the side of her desk, peering through the glasses into an oversized notebook, just as if she had not been the sole cause of Andy's new barista job and steadily growing terror. The stern lines of her suit were supposed to conceal the soft curves, but on Miranda, they stressed them. The impossibly high heels were casually worn, as if she was utterly unaware of the pain that went with wearing them. Between the iconic silver hair, the glittering white stone in the open collar, the dark blue of the suit stressing the ivory paleness of her skin, it wasn't so much that Miranda belonged in that glass-panelled room of light and space as the room seemed to be designed around her. Andy had never seen her in this shade of blue before, and the suit promptly replaced the Valentino gown in her mind as the most beautiful thing she had ever seen on a human being.
Miranda scribbled something in the corner of the notebook. Andy realized she was holding her breath, exhaled slowly and walked in, head held rigidly high. Neither Emily nor the other assistant paid her any attention. She was inside the office when Miranda spoke without looking up.
"Andrea. How nice to see you. Please take a seat."
The voice was pure cream again, but this time it held a note of venomous politeness. Andy wasn't sure what more this woman could do to her, but she already sensed the constant danger that one felt around Miranda. She swallowed and hesitated momentarily before choosing the chair closer to Miranda. Her first impulse had been to sit as far away as possible, but she was not about to display weakness.
The corner of Miranda's lips twitched slightly before settling into their habitually disapproving line. She put the notebook down and ran her eyes over Andy, the scorn and the malice in them palpable. At this distance, the eyes were bluer than Andy remembered, but it might have been the dress bringing the color out.
"The editorial team has a vacancy. Associate copy editor, reporting to assistant copy editor, reporting to copy editor."
Andy stared. This was the last thing she had expected to hear. Miranda tilted her head, the gesture so quintessentially Miranda that Andy nearly smiled.
"It's yours if you want it."
"Really?" Andy croaked, hating the hope that was filling up in her heart.
"Really," Miranda smiled. It was not the genuine smile that sometimes used to flash Andy's way.
"But what?" Andy realized she would take this job, regardless of the sting of working under Miranda again. She gripped her hands together to hide the shaking in her fingers.
"The copy editor was..." Andy held still while Miranda fixed her with another piercing gaze. The white stone in her throat caught the light. "...impressed... with that drivel you came up with. I wouldn't mind giving you another chance myself. In exchange for this, shall we say, generosity, I want a series of articles."
'Drivel'. It wasn't Andy's best piece by a long shot, but the word stung. She looked down at her hands. "What articles?"
"Not on Runway, of course, but on the website. Unpaid internships done for college credits. You know the, ah, spin." No trace of the smile now.
"Yeah, oh." Andy looked up in surprise. She was being teased, but the demand was real.
Andy blushed in shame when she realized that the first thought in her head was one of a hot shower in her own home, followed by one of a mattress. A real job again. Miranda wanted Andy to go back on what she had written, and she wanted that to be public, on Runway's website, the magazine cited twice in Andy's original article. Ostentatiously, the worst consequence of such a series of articles would be the shredding to pieces of any credibility Andy might have been able to build in the future. But Andy wasn't blind anymore. If nothing else, the last two months had taught her something about human dignity. The articles wouldn't shred Andy's credibility alone. They would tear at Andy's sense of self-worth. It would be a long, long time before she can once again summon the moral assurance necessary to write anything at all.
"Well?" Miranda's face was a mask.
Andy sighed. She would get to work with Miranda again, at least occasionally. In a year or two, everything would be forgotten and she might be able to leave on good terms again and restart her career.
"Thanks, Miranda," she said softly, surprised at the sudden, inexplicable urge to say Miranda's name. "But I can't take it."
"Don't be ridiculous, Andrea. You are finished. I'm throwing you a lifeline. A few years down the line, nobody would recall--"
"I know." Andy stood up and smiled sadly at her. "It was nice seeing you too. Give my best to the girls, won't you?"
She walked out before she lost her nerve.
She turned at the door.
"The job is yours if you come back within six months."
She almost ran to the elevator, and felt Miranda's blue eyes on her until the doors closed.