Nobody at Elias-Clarke is allowed to accompany Miranda Priestly on elevators; it's a fact. It's a fact not just at Runway, not just throughout the corporation of Elias-Clarke, but in the broad fashion arena itself. Designers titter over it, but they don't press their luck. When Miranda visits them, they send their assistants to greet her. And when they visit Miranda, they travel in packs. Safety in numbers.
I've been with Miranda for almost two years now, and there have been times when it's been necessary to share an elevator with her, but I don't push my luck. I stand and wait for the next elevator cab, or run the stairs, or whatever, unless she gives me the okay - the irritated jerk of her head or roll of her eyes - but I don't push my luck. In some areas, yes, but on the elevator, no. The elevator is the only place where she can be alone.
Today was going to be an exception, I guess, to me not pushing my luck. An emergency, even, because one of the building management personnel called Jessica and told her that Miranda was on the elevator, and that the elevator was stuck between the twelfth and thirteenth floors. I found this out when I was depositing Miranda's Starbucks and a box from Calvin Klein in her office; I found out when I heard Jessica give a little scream. She was white and pointing at her phone, and then my cell phone was ringing, and that jarring, ugly ring could only mean Miranda. I didn't even look at the display, just answered it. She only said, "Get me out of here," before hanging up, but Miranda can say a lot in her tone, and her tone was seething.
That was when I looked at Jessica and asked her where Miranda was. "Elevator," she squeaked, and collapsed into her chair. "It's stuck, Andy. It's stuck! Oh god!" She looked at me in abject horror. "She called and hung up on me twice without saying anything and I didn't – I didn't know until building management called."
Reception can be bad in elevators, but our phones typically reach throughout the building; it's one of the reasons we use the carrier we do. I wondered if Miranda's anger was hiding her panic. I grabbed a bottle of water, searched my cell phone contacts for the director of building management and headed for the door. "Call Nigel and tell him we have to postpone his 9:00 with Miranda. Don't tell him why and don't give him another time yet; we don't know how long the elevator will be stuck. Don't let any calls go to voicemail. Don't, don't, don't," I paused to emphasize this. "Don't leave your desk for any reason."
There were three other working elevators, but I wasn't about to take any chances, so I took the stairs down to the thirteenth floor, talking to the building management company even in the stairwell. Our cell reception was fine; Miranda had hung up on Jessica because she was freaked out or pissed. The director of building management never had much direct interaction with any of us, but he knew who Miranda was, and he put me in touch with the elevator maintenance guy who was already onsite working on the problem.
My plan was to get on the elevator - that was plan A; there was no plan B. Because if Miranda was stuck in it, if she was freaking out because she was trapped in there, once she got out, all of our lives would be hell, especially mine. And I couldn't stand to think of her trapped like that, even though I knew she was okay. Technically.
The elevator guy met me on the thirteenth floor and he looked me up and down when I told him I had to get inside. He shook his head, even when I told him who was stuck in the elevator, and he said there was no way he would let me on. It would cost him his job, he said. I explained to him that not getting me on that elevator would cost him his job and any future jobs. I explained that very, very carefully, until he finally unlocked the elevator door and jumped down into the shaft. I watched him, peering over the side.
He hopped to the top of the elevator cab, opened the trap door in the roof of it, and then I followed suit. I could see down into the elevator: the marbled walls, the handrail, Miranda. I bent down, checked her placement and dropped my $400 Manolo Blahniks (courtesy of Runway's closet) inside. I slipped through the small opening, and the elevator guy was telling me not to jump when I jumped, and I think I sprained my ankle, because it hurt to put weight on it instantly. Of course, that wasn't my immediate concern.
The elevator guy closed the hatch and I was alone with Miranda, who was shielded behind dark Prada glasses with her head twisted at an uncomfortable angle like she did whenever anyone was being grossly idiotic. I handed her the bottle of San Pellegrino. "Here."
"Have you lost your mind?" she snapped, snatching the water from my grasp.
My ankle was killing me already. I tried to put weight on it and winced and leaned against the cab wall and just gave her a flash of a smile. Of course, I've lost my mind. I began losing it two years ago when I decided to accept this job. I was punished on a daily basis for accepting this job, and now I was enclosed with the woman who delivered that punishment with a certain amount of glee, it seemed. She must get off on being nasty to everyone. Only, to be fair and accurate, she wasn't really that nasty to me anymore. It was her constant abuse of Jessica that felt like my own punishment. The way Jessica took it and took it and then cried over nothing. Kind of like I used to.
I expected a caustic remark about the water I brought her because it wasn't coffee. And then I saw the tremor of her hands as she opened the bottle, her shallow, fast breathing. Definite panic attack. She had always seemed acutely uncomfortable in small spaces. "I thought we could go over your schedule today while we wait." I hadn't thought that at all, but maybe it would help relax her. My roommate in college used to have panic attacks before exams. I'd recite poetry to calm her. I'd start with a long one, one that we both knew, one that we had studied together, like The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock or Song of Myself, or something equally obvious, something equally, torturously long, and sometimes I had to recite most of the poem before she could get herself together and calm down. But when she did join in, her contributions were meager: Emily Dickinson or Carl Sandburg or someone else succinct. Miranda, though, didn't strike me as someone who would be tolerant of poetry recital as a method of relaxation.
She was cloaked in a double-breasted cashmere coat that was probably Alexander McQueen. It was too severe and too stylized to be Burberry, and I couldn't think of anyone else on Miranda's short-list who had done double-breasted cashmere this season. Though shivering in the long camel coat, she looked ready to do battle with her rigid posture and her scowling face, with her large Jérôme Dreyfuss bag on her arm like an escutcheon. "How long…?" she asked.
"They couldn't tell me," I said, wondering how the hell I was going to get her warm. Miranda, whom no one ever touched. Wondering how the hell I was going to calm her down; Miranda, who always thought she had everything under control.
Miranda's breath quickened. She bowed her head.
"But they're here now working on it, as you know, and I'm sure it won't be long." I pulled up her calendar on my cell. "I've had Jessica postpone your 9:00 with Nigel's team. They needed more time, anyway."
Miranda didn't make a sound. She didn't flinch, didn't grimace or appear the slightest impatient, which wasn't a good sign. She was standing stiffly, head bent toward the floor.
"Miranda?" This was worrisome.
She made a flicking motion with her hand, as if I needed to continue.
"Take your glasses off," I suggested. "It will help."
She was almost panting now, breathing through her mouth. She didn't take her glasses off.
"Here." I hopped a couple of steps to her. "Let me take these," I said, and gently removed Miranda's sunglasses. She managed to open her purse, which shook from her hands, which were now trembling worse, and I removed a case and slipped them inside and closed the purse. "There," I said, and took it and the water from Miranda's hands and put them on the floor, and placed my cell phone beside them, and I took a leap of faith and closed my warm hands around Miranda's cold ones. "There. Now look at me," I said, and Miranda did, briefly. She looked at me until I said, "Breathe."
Then she looked away, tried pulling her hands away, but I gripped them a little tighter. "Let's just give this a try, okay?" I offered humor. "We need to get your breathing under control before you hyperventilate and subsequently fire me because I witnessed a chink in the armor and dispelled the long-standing myth that you're too good to share an elevator with others." A look of surprise briefly flashed across Miranda's face. I held up two fingers in a pledge. "Scout's honor - what happens in the elevator stays in the elevator." At which Miranda seemed irritated, but she didn't look away.
I smiled gently. "Now, don't look at the floor. Don't look at the doors. Keep looking into my eyes."
Miranda frowned and quietly did as she was told.
"There. We're going to talk about your day. Not a lot going on, kind of a quiet day." It was very odd for Miranda to be silent and attentive. I kind of liked it. "So. Jessica postponed your nine a.m., which gives Nigel's team a little extra time to impress you." Miranda rolled her eyes, a much more appropriate reaction this time. "Exactly," I murmured. "Which means you're free until your 10:15 web conference with H&M, in which you expect them to introduce a new designer on their team."
I proceeded to remind Miranda of the young designer she'd already met, how the assistants at H&M were all agog because he had flounced in and ruffled feathers and did not care a whit who the senior designer at H&M was. He did, however, care who Miranda Priestly was, which made me hope that the web conference wouldn't be a total disaster.
I realized I had Miranda's entire focus and that this was the longest we'd ever held each other's gazes. It was very intense and intimate, and I was glad I had stopped being quite as intimidated by Miranda at some point in my tenure with Runway. Paris that first year, I guessed. Seeing Miranda stripped of makeup, with tears in her eyes, had done it.
Miranda was calming down. Her hands still trembled, but her breathing appeared more under control. Next, I launched into the latest on the twins' tutor, a man who seemed to have engaged in some sort of power play with Miranda, making himself unavailable for phone updates that I attempted to schedule on her behalf. Everyone in the universe bent their schedules to accommodate Miranda. The fact that her daughters' tutor didn't, spoke volumes. I wanted to fire him, but Miranda's tolerance of his attitude made me wonder if the man had a family connection. Still, I had gathered resumes of some likely candidates for a replacement, because, as I reminded Miranda, the twins' grades had not met the expected improvement.
Miranda didn't respond with a cutting comment, but remained silent. She seemed almost completely normal now. Normal enough that she appeared to be staring holes right through me about the tutor. I wondered if I had overstepped. I always tried to push my job up a notch so that Miranda had less to worry about, but she'd never indicated a preference for me actually thinking about what I was doing. Sometimes I wondered if it would be best to keep it simple like Jessica did. Jess never thought beyond what Miranda told her to do; she just did it and that was that.
But Miranda didn't seem angry, because she shifted her hands, and her thumb passed over my knuckles. It was a brief touch and definitely accidental, but Miranda never touched me or anyone else. I blinked and looked at her, and she was staring at me with those piercing eyes.
"Then there's the lunch with Stephen." She had unnerved me with her little thumb touching, and I totally forgot myself and scrunched up my nose as soon as I said his name, because I despised Stephen. I didn't know why Miranda would waste thirty seconds of breath on him, especially because they had long since parted on less than amicable terms. And then I realized: oh, I just made a face in front of Miranda. "Um, sorry," I said.
But I guess it wasn't necessarily a bad thing, because it elicited an almost smile from her. "Then you go straight from there to your meeting with Irv." Another time sucker that would make Miranda's day more stressful.
I shifted and the pain shot up my leg and took my breath away. I lost my balance and thought I was falling to the floor.
"You've sprained your ankle, I think," Miranda said, catching me swiftly. This was as much of a shock as the pain, but then she draped me against the elevator wall, effortlessly, as if I were thin, as if she were strong, and I was even more shocked. "Unless, of course, you've fractured something, which you could've done at that height."
"Wow. You, um… have quick reflexes."
Miranda frowned. "That was a ridiculous thing to do, climbing into the elevator like a monkey. At least you had the sense to take your shoes off before you jumped."
I realized I had given Miranda quite the show, wearing my tiny skirt, and I was glad my undergarments were as pretty as my outer garments. "Well," I said. "I couldn't leave you in here alone."
"I was fine."
"I know you were," I said reassuringly. I gave her a small smile. Her secret was safe with me.
Then I knew I was in surreal land because Miranda stared at my lips. She stared at my lips when I smiled and she kept staring at them, and the quiet now was laden with something, and it made me nervous. I didn't get nervous around her that often anymore. Working for her for two years did that to a person. It wasn't a nightmare like it had been in the beginning. Miranda was still very demanding, but when you knew what to expect, things flowed smoothly. I liked for things to flow smoothly. I liked ironing out her chaotic world. I wondered if she'd ever been stuck in an elevator before. I wondered why she rode alone if she was so frightened of elevators. All she had to do was snap her fingers and tell someone to ride with her every morning, tell them to stand in a corner and shut up, and it would be done. "This shouldn't have happened," I told her.
Miranda's eyes moved to mine, but the look in them, whatever it was, didn't change. I wondered if she had any idea what that did to a person. I may not have been intimidated by her on a regular basis anymore, but she was Miranda Priestly, and she was staring at me with something like contemplation on her face. Maybe she forgot that I was her assistant. I swear to god, sometimes she would act like we were on intimate terms, like I was her close personal friend, and she'd reveal something – a flash of humor, an angry comment regarding Irv, a concern about her daughters – but the moment would pass, and she'd start speaking to me like a second-class citizen once more.
"I don't want it to happen again." This slipped out of my mouth, which I should have kept closed. "You should have me ride up with you every morning, Miranda. I can have Tyler phone me as you're on your way in. And I'll meet you in the lobby and we'll ride up together." Tyler, Miranda's latest soap-opera-stud-wannabe driver, would be more than happy to cooperate. He'd like the gossipy feeling of being an informant. He loved the gossipy feeling of being driver to Miranda Priestly (and Miranda Priestly only), that much was certain.
"Absolutely not." Miranda's emotions flashed now and she actually came to life. She didn't seem angry, exactly, or irritated, but wary, as if I were plotting something.
"I should have thought of it before. We can discuss your day, make sure everything's in place, on the ride up."
"No. Andrea, I will not-"
"Or I can be perfectly quiet."
Miranda gave me a thunderous look.
I should have been shaking in my shoes, but I knew if she didn't want me to do this, it wouldn't happen. If she did, she'd make it unpleasant, but no harm would come to me. "Look, I can meet you at the car if you want. Open your door," I teased. "Take your arm and escort you into the building." A shift across Miranda's eyes again - wariness strung taut.
"Oh, oh!" I decided to be a goofball to try and break the tension; sometimes it worked with her. Sometimes it didn't. I always found myself willing to take the risk of irritating her, just to push further, to be more. "I can wait for you outside your townhouse every morning and we can ride in together and gab about what your neighbors are up to and compliment each other's choice of accessories, and run by Starbucks for coffee, and then, then we can go over your schedule in the elevator…"
Miranda turned away.
"Or, we could just meet in the elevator lobby."
Wonder of wonders, she gave a slight nod.
My victory felt brief. I knew I would pay for managing her in this way; I'd be the first on the firing line. I'd walk in the door of Runway each morning laden beneath her coat and purse and Starbucks and wrath. She would insult me just to start her day off right. She would enjoy it.
This was something that still got to me, her insults. I tried to guard myself from them emotionally; everyone was insulted, after all. But they hurt. I worked extraordinarily hard for Miranda – I gave and gave and gave – and was rewarded by being told I looked fat, or that I was dense, or my ideas were stupid. I was never told that I looked slender, that I'm smart, or loyal, or hard-working, or kind. She'd never uttered one word of appreciation.
The closest she'd ever come to showing thanks was by tossing her unwanted freebies in my direction. Everyone wanted them, but I always had first pick. So I supposed that counted for something.
But better than her discards were the looks she occasionally, rarely, gave me. She would look at me, not one of her masked stares, but a totally readable look, a look I knew, and it would be gone in a moment, but that look would tell me that she was proud of me, or that she thought me witty, or that I was smart, or that I had made a good clothing choice. The things I wanted her to say and she never did.
I leaned against the wall and slid down so that I squatted on my good foot. The other was well and truly hurting now. I reached out and grabbed my phone from the place where I'd left it beside Miranda's water and I was scrolling through it for the elevator company's number, when Miranda bent down beside me. She was so close that she looked larger than life at this angle, in her McQueen coat and perfect hair and flawless makeup, like a rock star. I tried not to gasp. Even after working with her for so long, she could still blow me away like that. Most of the time she was Miranda, of the tremendous work ethic and unbelievable talent and barely controlled anger, but sometimes she was Miranda Priestly - the legend - famous and powerful almost beyond comprehension.
She very gently touched my ankle, then held it and turned it carefully. "When we're out of here, have Roy take you to my physician," she said, holding my ankle in both hands. Just as gracefully, she released it.
Then she gave me a look that really unnerved me. I tried not to back down from it. I was a great assistant. I busted my ass for her, and there was nothing she could be unhappy with.
"Why did you refuse my offer?"
Oh shit. "What?" My review had been a couple of weeks ago. My second annual review, scheduled more than a month early because of the endless upcoming fashion shows. The review in which Miranda made it clear that she expected me to move on.
Her look turned ice cold, and she let a pause settle between us, during which time I felt sweat dampen my armpits. "Why did you want to stay at Runway?"
I figured a quick answer might save me. "I knew there was still so much I could learn."
"No, that's the excuse you gave to both of us. I'll give you another chance to tell me the truth, Andrea, and if you lie again, you will no longer be employed by me."
A chill swept over me.
"When I brought you into my office for your two-year assessment, I gave you a wide range of options. Like jewels spread before you, vast riches - any magazine you wanted, any newspaper - I would make it happen for you. Your dreams of writing. It was a just reward for someone who had worked very hard for me." Miranda's face was impenetrable. "But you rejected my offer because you wanted to stay at Runway. Tell me the real reason and tell me now."
She was going to fire me? After all I had done? Simply because I wanted to stay and work for her? Anger swept through me so quickly it was shocking. I was slow to anger, always, except Miranda had found my button a long time ago, and she pushed it occasionally, and she knew. She pushed it deliberately, like a vengeful child. I kept my mouth closed for a moment, to bite back what might jump out. If I told her the truth - that I stayed because it thrilled me to see her day after day - she would fire me. If I lied, she would see right through the lie and fire me. "Because of you."
Miranda's gaze was cutting. "Obviously." She rose and moved as far from me as physically possible. "Today is your last day at Runway. Get me out of here."
The pain was shocking, and it was as physical as it was emotional. I felt as if someone had punched me in the stomach, hit me over the head, torn out my heart. And spat in my face. It felt so vindictive, so ungrateful of Miranda, and so … illogical and wrong. I assisted her. I helped her. I was loyal to her. I did a thousand things to make her life easier. I protected her. I felt the sting of tears in my eyes and didn't realize I was even crying, that tears were even sliding down my face, until I heard her voice, and I kind of came to my senses again. I wouldn't give her the satisfaction of seeing me cry. This was what I told myself as I listened to her.
"…Begged me to stay, sniveling just like you. 'Please Miranda, I want to work for you,'" Miranda intoned in a British accent. She dropped the accent and scowled. "I should have fired you in Paris the first time, when you abandoned your job and threw your cell phone away like an obnoxious child, but you had shown so much promise up to that point. And all of this time I've wasted, nurturing you to have you turn out to be another Emily…I cannot tell you how disappointed I am."
There wasn't anything nurturing about how Miranda worked her employees like dogs; nevertheless, that wasn't what cut. She was full of knives, but her self-image, her idea that she was nurturing me, didn't cut at all; it was too ludicrous to cut. That she didn't see me, after all this time, that I could be any assistant, hurt. "I'm not Emily."
Miranda was standing with her arms crossed. "That's what I've told myself for two years, but it seems that you are. What will happen next year when your review comes up? Will there be more to learn? Will you throw away your dreams because you're so devoted to mine that you'll remain an assistant forever? Emily."
There were times when Miranda acted every bit her daughters' age. She threw her coats and purse at Jessica like a twelve year-old would. She bitched about her coffee not being hot enough like a twelve year-old would. She made scornful remarks about other people's clothes, their weight, their looks, like a twelve year-old would. This name-calling was her being twelve. Calling me Emily with the same tone of voice in which she would say ' idiot'.
Whatever fury gripped me earlier was nothing compared to what hit me now, and I pushed myself off the elevator floor without thinking, and launched myself at her. You spoiled brat, I thought. You spoiled, ungrateful brat. I came down on my bad ankle, and the lightning pain struck me, and I think I passed out for a millisecond, because when I became cognizant, Miranda was holding me again. She was holding me upright and I was standing on my good foot, and I hadn't hit the floor. I tried to breathe. Miranda's hands were on my waist, holding me as if I were a model, thin.
"I'm not Emily," I said, but the pain caused it to come out less than vehemently. And her proximity, and her perfume, and the way she held me.
Miranda's look challenged me to that statement.
I was angry not just for myself, but on Emily's behalf, as well. "There's nothing wrong with her, you know. She adores you. She used to knock herself out for you every single day, sometimes from the crack of dawn to midnight, and she did it gladly. She worships you, Miranda."
Miranda gazed at me pointedly.
Something clicked. Will you throw away your dreams because you're so devoted to mine that you'll remain an assistant forever? "Oh." Was it possible Miranda cared that I threw away my dreams? It was what she said, wasn't it?
I would've left it at that, probably kept my mouth closed, in silent recognition that maybe she really was concerned about me, about what I did with my life, but she was still holding me up. Her hands were touching me. By choice. On purpose. Miranda was hands-off. She didn't touch people, and they absolutely did not touch her, for any reason. But here she was, touching me. Her palms were on my waist, and she was holding me in a way that somehow made me feel slender and beautiful. How did she do that? Nate hadn't held me this way; no one had held me this way. "You're… concerned about me."
"It was self-serving for me to keep you when you asked me to. I should have let you go," Miranda said. Her face was a mask, but oh my god, her hands were on my waist.
"I do good work; I know I do. This is what I want to do right now."
"Emily," Miranda said contemptuously, and her grip on me slackened, and she guided me to the wall, where she propped me up and kept a hand on my side, as if afraid I'd fall. This confounded my perception of her. It blurred things a little bit. Being completely alone with her also shifted my perspective. It was just us in the elevator, and we were never alone. We were always in a glass box of some type – the office, the car, a designer's studio, a runway, her townhouse. And I was typically one of many; one of her entourage.
Being alone with her reminded me of the Miranda I tried to remember whenever the twelve year-old came out, the Miranda that apparently enjoyed hiding in plain sight – the Miranda that wrote the monthly editor's letters that graced her magazine. Sometimes they were so revealing that I'd actually gasp as I was reading them - she'd divulge something tender about the twins, make a remark about the body of work of some singer like Tori Amos, articulate Lady Gaga's influence on fashion, share her experience dancing with Diddy at a fundraiser, relate an incident that happened while she was on vacation (the terrifying moment a wave swept Cassidy far from shore), disclose something Karl Lagerfeld had whispered in her ear, share a wish (warm socks) from a friend dying of AIDS (Miranda, I knew, though her readers didn't, had purchased this friend a box full of hand knitted cashmere socks at $300/pair). The letters from Miranda always captured my imagination, and frequently touched my heart. It was difficult, placing that woman with the one whose scathing remarks could reduce business associates to tears. It was easy, placing that woman with the one who kept her hand at my side after she helped me lean against the elevator wall.
Let me stay, I silently thought, over and over, as she remained silent.
But she looked away and removed her hand. When she spoke again, she sounded detached. I stared at her face, at her neck. Her skin was beautiful, even very close. There were no blemishes. "How are you going to feel in six or eight months, when you could have been writing at Harper's, if you're still fetching coffee and clothes for me?" She pressed her lips together. "How will you feel about me then?"
Good god, as if she cared. Did she care? I felt tender and protective. "I won't hate you. I won't blame you. I'll be grateful you let me make the choice."
Miranda gazed at me long and hard, her face closed to my mirrored scrutiny. "The offer is on the table but it's about to go. Stay only long enough to train another assistant for me and I'll place you anywhere your little heart desires. But refuse once more, and nothing like this will be offered again."
I breathed. Tried exhaling this fury, because there was no fighting with Miranda, was there? You never won. She was illogical and irrational and twelve. And obviously trying to goad me into anger or hysterics or something. So, she wasn't firing me? But bribing me to leave? "I don't want that. I don't want your reward, if that's what it is. I don't want anything from you."
Miranda looked momentarily surprised, then she laughed at this, a cold mirthless laugh, and it almost pushed me over the edge. "You don't want to be placed in a position that would take you – I don't know… ten years or more of hard work, incredible skill and a huge amount of luck to attain on your own?"
"Don't fool yourself, Andrea."
From the beginning, Miranda had pushed me to the edge, time and again, until I felt like I was being pushed right through my own skin, constantly shedding and growing a new one. I always felt raw because of her merciless nature. "I don't care if you believe me," I said, turning away from her. "I don't want anything from you."
Miranda's hand was on me, grasping my shoulder like a claw, turning me back to face her. Her short nails dug into my flesh. "Everyone wants something from me, Andrea," she hissed.
I looked straight into her eyes. "I don't."
She gave me a calculating gaze before sliding away, removing her coat as if dropping a shield, leaving it where it fell. She leaned against the elevator cab and looked at me through hooded eyes. "Yes, you do."
Miranda was wearing an amazing historic Mandarin war jacket, the real deal, tailored to fit her perfectly. I knew all about it, because I was there when it came in, when her eyes lit on it. It was a gift from a diplomat; silk in green, indigo, gold, and white, with three-quarter sleeves. She wore it opened to reveal a red ruched blouse beneath. Except for the softly draped cowl neck, the blouse hugged every inch it touched. Her rather staid pencil skirt was Alexander McQueen; I knew it because I saw it come through Runway's doors in a presentation - tweed with a frayed chiffon hem - that somehow looked sexier on Miranda than it had on the model thirty years her junior. How she had put an antique Mandarin jacket with this skirt, with that long cream cashmere coat, was beyond me, but she had, and the result, complete with outrageous Prada pumps that I had seen earlier, but not in this context - not with that blouse or that skirt - was breathtaking.
I became a little dazed again. Miranda, who displayed the tiniest fragment of herself in her magazine each month, could have charmed anyone with just that sliver, even if she had been unattractive. But she wasn't unattractive.
She pressed her palms flat on the wall of the cab and sighed almost languorously, as if she had all the time in the world - all the time in the world to spend in this elevator, which had caused that little panic attack earlier, all the time in the world to get to the bottom of what exactly I wanted, since everyone wanted something from her. She raised her left foot to press it against the wall behind her, jutting her hips out a bit. She did it with effortless sensuality. "What do you want?" she asked quietly.
Oh. She hit the nail on the head, didn't she? Seeing Miranda turn on the seduction for me, it all became clear. The answer I kind of knew but kept pushing away. Why did I want to stay at Runway? I wanted to stay because of her. What did I want? I wanted her complete attention. I wanted every morning to begin like this, just the two of us, alone. I wanted to be the first to see her outfit every day. I wanted to see her. I wanted to make her smile. I wanted to make her proud. I wanted to help her. I wanted to be the one she confided in, talked to, trusted. I wanted to yell back when she made me angry. I wanted to make her cry. I wanted to make her cry and scream and moan and come. Oh.
"Oh," Miranda smirked. Her eyes were on my face, and my eyes were all over her.
Oh god. Images flashed in my mind and I tried to push them away, but oh god. Being alone with her without any distraction, and the coat was finally off, and she looked so good. Shit. I turned away. Shit.
"You're fired," Miranda said.
Shit. Of course I was. Of course, because I couldn't be attracted to someone with a heart, could I? Or someone remotely attainable? Maybe it was better to move on. Maybe Miranda was right; I couldn't be an assistant forever. That was just ludicrous. Throw my dreams away for her? I ran these thoughts like a mantra through my mind, and tried to still my pulse and clenching heart. I tried very hard to postpone the emotion of this until I could be alone and let it all out. This was what I should have spent all this time learning from Miranda – controlling my emotions.
"I see it now," Miranda went on after a moment of silence. "Your little crush. Never really noticed it before. You're not so blatant as Emily… but hers seems insincere in comparison."
I focused on holding myself completely still. I held myself still and thought of my ankle and how it hurt, because that was a pain I could deal with.
Miranda kept talking, probably in an effort to make me feel even worse. "Most of my assistants can't take working for me more than a few months; few make it a year, much less two, when the natural order of things would dictate that two is an acceptable term – a year as the second assistant; a year as the first assistant. And typically if they make it two years, they're anxious to leave. It's become a legend in its own way, I suppose. Emily needed to leave us, Andrea. She's growing under Nigel's direction. She's gaining confidence… and her eye for trends already has been put to good use by Runway."
Miranda became quiet, perhaps allowing time for me to say something, but I kept thinking about my ankle. I would go to the doctor and make sure it wasn't broken, and I would go home and plan my future. Away from her. This fifty year-old who acted like she was twelve so much of the time. Firing me. There couldn't have been a better assistant to her.
"You need to go, too. Whether or not you believe me, were I to let you stay, you would regret the decision. And it wouldn't do for me, either, you see, because I'm accustomed to the turnover, the unvarying flux. I don't allow myself to grow attached to my assistants because … well, there's no reason, is there? Most are substandard at best. And no one's ever wanted to stay before you two. But Emily only needed a gentle push."
I scowled at the description. Gentle. Right.
"I know what you're thinking. Unlike you, she didn't want to stay as my assistant, she wanted to stay with Runway." She paused. "But this isn't about Emily, whom, I might add, is overjoyed with her current position, as you know. No, this is about you, who didn't want to work for me at all."
Miranda allowed a lengthy silence that I wasn't about to interrupt. "Sometimes someone different comes along… a rare occasion … and she performs her job in a far superior manner than those before her. And I find myself constantly reminded of the two year deadline. Because it will come up, just as things are running smoothly and I'm able to get some work done because I'm actually surrounded by something like competence, the deadline will come up. And this rare person… If she were to stay on…" Miranda sighed. "I might allow myself to become attached… and when she decided to leave, because she would – because no one wants this job, Andrea… Andrea, look at me."
I pivoted awkwardly on my good foot and was astounded once more by the visual of Miranda in those clothes, looking like no one else I've ever seen.
"If you stay now, you'll eventually want to leave. And I won't want you to, and … how will you do it then?" Her voice was soft. "If it hurts you now to think of it, how will it feel in a year or two, or five? Don't throw your dreams away running my errands."
I gazed at her, trying not to hear this, trying to remain angry, but, oh god, her words, and her tone. She sounded soft, like the letters she wrote in her magazine. The carefully crafted, tactical letters that were nothing like her, I reminded myself. Nothing like the bitch I worked with day in and day out, who enjoyed making Jessica cry, who fired people for reasons as ridiculous as cold coffee and imaginary two-year terms.
Her soft voice wouldn't fool me. I was sure it was a ploy, another of her seductions, and it didn't mean anything; she didn't really care. She just liked change. It's a widely known fact. She liked change and young designers and fresh ideas - the unvarying flux, just like she said. But it was hard not to be drawn in when she started pulling.
"I want to put you at Harper's," Miranda said. "You're a very good writer. You'll go far."
Okay, then, I would surrender with a white flag and dignity. "Thank you, Miranda," I said coldly. I knew she dismissed people left and right, but I really wanted to believe that she was having a hard time firing me. She was letting me walk away with a primo job that a million aspiring journalists would die for. The irony.
"Of course, that girl isn't exactly competent yet; you've been carrying her load and yours. You'll need to find and train someone, and I want things running very smoothly before you leave, which means getting the girl up to your level before you can begin looking at resumes for a second assistant. Good luck with that. Fashion week is coming up; that throws a wrench in things. I want Jessica with me in Milan and London – she needs to learn, so you better get her up to speed between now and then. And then quarterly budgets will be a mess to prepare for. Ninety days. A season. Stay with me another season, Andrea, and then let's say goodbye."
Miranda was smiling softly, which seemed like the cruelest thing in the world. I hated her for smiling. I hated her for doing this. I was supposed to go to London with her, to Milan with her. Stay with her another season? She made it sound romantic and charming, when it felt like hell.
The lights went out. Miranda moaned.
Time to take care of her again. It was hard, shifting to her moods. It took an extraordinary amount of backbone or grace or maybe whipped-dog to do it. "It's okay," I said in what I hoped to be a soothing, not cold, not hurt, voice. I tried to clear my head of everything that had happened in the past few minutes and focus on what she needed. I tried to focus on what the icon needed, and be the assistant to the icon, because the woman was tying me up in knots. She was cold. The woman was heartless and she could have a panic attack in this elevator and I shouldn't care. But the icon provided my salary, whether she was cold or not, and I needed to pay my half of the rent.
The emergency light came on. Miranda was looking around, breathing shallowly, her eyes a little wild. She wrapped her arms around herself.
"Miranda, look at me."
She pulled her gaze back to me, and she looked so vulnerable, so lost, indeed like a child, in an entirely different way.
"Okay, we're going to do this again." I took a step, but pain shot up my leg and I had to close my eyes for a moment, swallow, grab the handrail. "You're going to have to come to me." I reached my hand out to her, as far as I could stretch my arm, and I knew it was silly, but the look on her face was awful, and she thought I was an idiot anyway, didn't she? I didn't care anymore what she thought about me. She had fired me. There was nothing to lose, but as long as I was working, I'd do my job well, because that's who I was; that's what I did.
Miranda looked at it for a moment, then stepped forward and tentatively reached her hand out. It was shaking rather than trembling, and her face was very pale. An immediate panic attack this time. I pulled her close, held her hands again. Wondered if she'd pull away, now that she knew my feelings for her were not quite professional. She didn't, though. Her hands were even colder than before. Why had she removed her coat, if she was still cold? For drama? A tactical maneuver?
"We have to get out of here," she said, sounding panicked.
"We will. Look at me."
But Miranda was cracking; being in the elevator so long was finally getting to her, and though she looked at me, she wouldn't calm down. She was beginning to pant.
I pulled her hands away so that I could push the hair out of her eyes, and she clutched my shoulders. Definitely a panic attack, because she wasn't just touching me, she was clinging to me. I dropped my hands, rubbed her arms, trying to warm her, but being careful with the Mandarin jacket, careful with her. Not wanting to break eye contact by bending to get her cashmere coat, not sure I could manage on one good foot, not sure she would feel it anyway.
"Don't close your eyes," I told her. I tried to think of something to say to calm her down. Not easy. "It sucks that you're firing me," I said, deciding to let loose. "Because I take good care of you. I do things like climb down into an elevator for you so you don't have to be alone when you're afraid."
She looked away.
"I'm going to miss you. I shouldn't. You burn me all the time. You ask for the impossible, like an unpublished Harry Potter book, and when I deliver, there aren't any thanks for it. But if I don't deliver… well, there goes my job." It stung. If she cared about me at all, she wouldn't do this. "I delivered every single time and you're firing me.
"It's so unfair. To be fired. I worked so hard." I swallowed. "I guess it shouldn't shock me. Nothing about this place should shock me after that initial culture shock, everyone so self-important, everything so superficial. After learning that I'm no one of any importance. And in Paris, what you did to Nigel and knowing if you did that to him, you wouldn't think twice about cutting me loose… I knew it even back then. The realization that I wasn't important to you… it made me run away for a little while. I almost quit; I knew you wouldn't miss me. I knew it made no difference. You can't imagine how I feel, begging you to let me stay. What an idiot I am, like you've said, countless times."
I realized that Miranda was staring at me, and I looked at her. Her breathing had slowed and she was okay again, and maybe better than okay, because she looked somewhat shocked by what I had said, and irritated.
"You work so hard, everyone wants something from you - you're right - everyone's trying to take and take, and so I think, it's no wonder that you don't let anyone in. It's no wonder that you keep those walls around you; just like your office. It's so symbolic. Everybody can see you but nobody can access you. But I always hoped you'd realize you could trust me. And to know that you don't, to know you think I wanted something from you, a job or whatever after all this time… it cuts."
When it was apparent that I was finished talking, she just stood there for a moment, holding my shoulders, and her eyes swept over my face. Then she said, "You'll recover in no time. You're young."
"Not after this morning," I muttered.
She chuckled at that, and walked to the other side of the elevator and leaned against the cab wall again. "Emily would have us out of here by now," she said acerbically.
I swept my phone up from the floor beside me. No signal. "Emily would not have you out of here by now," I said, matching her sarcastic tone. She was chuckling. Providing an instant balm to my anger. "She wouldn't be down here, either. And if she were, you'd be hyperventilating all over the place. And so would she. You'd both die of asphyxiation."
Miranda pressed her lips together.
I leaned toward her handbag, pulling it toward me in a move that had her staring at me - but not offering to help. I opened it and grabbed her phone and fiddled with it, trying to see if I could get a signal. "Have I made any impression on you at all? Besides being the smart fat girl? Oh, wait, scratch that. You've said I'm stupid, incompetent, idiotic, foolish, an imbecile…"
I scrolled through her contacts, not being nosy, but seeing if she'd added any new ones, because I handled the input of new contacts; it was my job. When Miranda input contact info, it was as incomplete as a scrawled note on a bar napkin. And if I did it, I'd input the information into the shared database so that Jessica and I could sync our cell phones as well as Miranda's, so we'd all have the same info and that info would be more than an unknown number (cell? business? home?) and first name ("Christian" – Louboutin? Lacroix? Siriano? Thompson, even?).
I looked up. She was glowering.
"I guess I'll be the stupid fat girl, in your memory. If you remember me at all." I smiled to let her know I was teasing.
Her eyes flashed over me and then she looked away, and she was staring at the floor and I was staring at her when the elevator suddenly dropped slightly. It scared the shit out of me, so I could imagine what it did to her.
Bad ankle or not, I pushed myself away from the elevator wall and was at her side in a moment. "It's okay," I panted. I was dizzy. Sweat broke out on my forehead from the pain.
Miranda reached for me and held me up, and held me close to her. "This is ridiculous," she said, but she was gasping, too.
"You'll be okay," I murmured, but I wasn't sure I would. I leaned away, almost falling because I thought I would pass out from the pain. I ended up resting my forehead on the wall above her shoulder, so dizzy I thought I might be sick.
We remained like this for a minute or more - quiet except for our labored breathing - and then I said: "Everyone else will pale in comparison to you," thinking of future employers, future everyones. Her hair tickled my cheek.
Slowly, the dizziness receded, and Miranda's panting sounded more manageable. I lifted my head. A blush was on her face. I had embarrassed her, but whether from the closeness or my disclosure, I wasn't sure. She still held me, her fingers splayed wide, keeping me steady, but her gaze was on the elevator wall opposite us.
I knew there was something I needed to say. "I can't accept that I've done a good job yet I'm being forced out. Like Irv and Jacqueline tried to force you out a couple of years ago." Her fingernails cut into my waist and her entire body stilled; she even stopped breathing for a moment. "Do you see that this is how I feel? Only it's worse, because I trusted you."
She pursed her lips. She was back in control, breathing steady, eyes straight ahead. She was back in control, but I wasn't. I was too close to her, too aware of her, too cognizant of the impact her absence would have on my life. I wasn't going to make it ninety days. I wasn't going to be able to face a season of goodbye. "If I don't tell you before I go, it's been an honor working for you."
I said this with the utmost sincerity, but her eyes jerked to me, and what they contained was upsetting, because she looked appalled and then livid, as if she could see right through me, as if she knew I was going to ditch her.
The lights came on and the elevator began its ascent.
Miranda let go of me, pushed me away like I had the plague, and I almost fell. I caught myself on the wall, though, and we rose up through the building silently. I gathered everything: my shoes, the phones, her purse and coat and water, and hobbled to the office after her.
When Nate was around, I sometimes went to work with a hangover. But once he left, I fell out of the habit of drinking because it seemed to impede with my work performance, my Miranda-focus. However, at some point the previous evening, I began drinking wine from the bottle, having taken a pain pill that wasn't quite strong enough to alleviate the Miranda hurt.
Yesterday after we finally got to the office, I went on to Miranda's doctor, like she told me to, and he x-rayed my ankle and found nothing broken. But he sent me home with orders to keep it elevated and iced for the rest of the day. I felt very aware of my cell phone, and how it didn't ring or buzz with a new text message, even though I wasn't by Miranda's side or within her sight. It was strange.
The freedom from my phone felt like a wide open space after being confined for two years. I couldn't relax, even after Doug came in from work and tried to distract me.
I'd seen Miranda ten or twelve hours a day, five or six days a week for the past two years. How would I go about not seeing her? How was I supposed to not think of her?
This morning, the first day of my last season, I waited for her in the lobby by the bank of elevators, nursing a hangover. At least freeing myself of the emotions yesterday had somehow left me feeling like I had nothing to lose, which seemed as good as courage right now. This was no time for cowards.
And yet I had, of course, gone straight to Runway's closet to find something wide enough that would be passable so that there would be no snarky remarks about the comfortable shoes I'd worn to work. But wide John Hardy motorcycle boots were all that fit my fat ankle. A cowardly way to begin, dressing to please Miranda.
A cowardly way to begin – getting the Starbucks myself instead of asking Jessica to. I had to take a taxi to work because of my ankle, but I had hot coffee for Miranda. I waited in the elevator lobby, and if she noticed I had somehow wrangled an elevator to open just as she walked up, she didn't show it. She just walked into the elevator as if she were a queen, not acknowledging me at all.
But something about seeing her typically lifted my spirits, and it did today. The hurt - all of it - seemed to temporarily evaporate. I gave her a quiet 'good morning', entered the elevator behind her and pressed the floor while she remained silent. But when I launched into the schedule for the day, Miranda interrupted.
"How is your foot?" I could tell she was looking at it through her sunglasses, which weren't tinted very dark.
I smiled. "Hurts like hell. Not fractured, just sprained. Real swollen. Had to find something I could squeeze into first thing. You should've seen what I came to work in."
"Hmm." She was staring at the pair of short boots I wore.
"Borrowed from the closet. I'll return them once I can wear stilettos again." I wouldn't borrow more clothes. I supposed it wasn't really borrowing now that I was a temp.
Miranda's eyes went from the boots to the Starbucks I was holding to the smile on my face. "You will not return them. You've put them to good enough use." She grabbed the Starbucks and shoved the book into my hands.
The elevator came to a stop and someone almost entered until he saw Miranda; then he backed away soundlessly. "What else is on the agenda?" she asked.
"You have Sophie Charpiot coming in at 11:00; she seems very nervous to see you today."
Miranda looked at me. It felt like the first time she'd acknowledged me in a long time. I was accustomed to her stares, her glares and her rolls of eyes. But yesterday after the whole elevator incident, I felt like I was cut off from her. It was good to have the connection now, to have her look me in the eye again.
"Is that right?" she asked.
I nodded. "She's called me three times in the past two weeks, asking questions about what she should bring with her."
Miranda pursed her lips.
"You think her jewelry is bad this season?"
She gave a slight shrug. "I haven't seen it or heard the first thing about it yet." Then she looked at me pointedly. "She's carried a torch for me for - I don't know, a decade - so it could be practically anything. You know how emotional you torch-bearers are."
In an instant, my face flushed hotly. I tried to remain calm. "Wow."
Miranda smirked. "That shocks you?"
"Um, just that you told me. La Priestly Tells All," I said, parroting a recent gossip headline.
"The elevator confessional," Miranda murmured, and, oh, I went hot all over at that.
On Monday, Miranda was in an ill temper. Once we had boarded the elevator and I was running through her schedule, she stopped me by holding up a delicate hand. "How is your ankle?" she asked, looking not at my ankle, but at her own.
Jessica had run the errands on Friday, something the first assistant is no longer required to do, most of the time, but I enjoyed getting outside, and had always shared the brunt with her. But even without errands, there was still a lot of legwork involved in being Miranda's assistant. Once Miranda had called me into her office only to start bitching about how long it took me, until she looked up and was reminded of my ankle. No apologies, though, and no reprieves; I was called back again and again. Whatever healing that had happened on Thursday, with me elevating my foot and icing my ankle, was reversed on Friday. Luckily, the weekend had happened just in time.
"It feels a lot better, Miranda. Thank you for asking." I decided to stretch out her interest in me, however fleeting or shallow. "Got any confessions today? For the um, confessional?" I waggled my eyebrows, knowing I wouldn't get a smile, but hoping for a caustic remark at least. Anything but her withdrawal.
She looked at me with a sour expression, very plain through her sunglasses, which, like yesterday's were also tinted a light shade, but they still served to shield her from the world. I wished she'd take them off. "You said quite a lot the other day. It was really too much to process at the time. Things keep coming back to me. Idiotic things you said that have angered me to no end."
Oh shit. I wasn't expecting that. I rolled my eyes. "What did I say?"
Her face froze over. For a moment, I thought she might slap me. "Don't. Ever. Roll. Your. Eyes. At. Me."
"I was rolling them at myself," I said evenly. Sometimes when Miranda was especially vicious, I met her eyes through whatever vile thing she was saying, and I held them until she was done. Sometimes, I managed to let not one ounce of emotion pass through my gaze. Well, not really sometimes. Rarely, I managed to hold my emotions. I didn't want it to hurt, but I'd known her too long for it not to affect me. But this wasn't an insult. This was Miranda being a prima donna, and she was good at that. "What idiotic things did I say that made you mad?" I asked in a gentle and sweet voice, as if agreeing with her that I was a complete idiot.
Miranda eyed me suspiciously. "I won't tolerate any attitude, Andrea."
Of course she would see right through me; she always did. I nodded curtly.
"And what is that?" she asked, referring to my wool coat, which I still wore because it was chilly in the lobby. I guessed she was looking at my coat. Maybe it was the skirt or the blouse that offended her. I wore clothes I'd purchased myself. The skirt was baggy; I'd bought it before I started Runway, and now I had to wear a belt to keep it in place since it was a six and I was a four. But the clothes were mine, not Runway's, and that, I felt, was the most important thing.
I looked down, wondering how bad I looked. I'd have to do some shopping – Filene's and thrift stores - because I couldn't remotely afford what Miranda had been seeing me wear for the past two years.
"My coat," I said. I looked her in the eye, trying not to care what she thought. It was hard when you're standing opposite picture-perfect. " Mine. Not Runway's."
"That much is obvious." Her eyes narrowed as she looked me over from head to toe, and then she rolled them dramatically and looked away.
Newly written chapter! Thanks as ever to my beta reader, sheknowsnofear, who makes all things better.
- - -
After I showered this morning and stared at the contents of my closet, all I could think about was Miranda’s disdain. It seemed so… shallow. Because really? Who should care what brand of skirt I wear if I did the job right?
Picturing her rolling eyes, I went through my closet - which long ago had been sorted into two sections: the dwindling Runway-worthy supply and everything else - and found an old mini skirt from college that I’d never worn to work. I’d always loved it, even though it originally came from a thrift store and was already showing signs of wear the first day I tried it on. It was wine-colored and straight as a stick, and, though no one could tell at a glance, it had a stretchy waist band. I’d practically worn it out in my first year, when I’d gone through a mini-skirt-with-leggings phase. It always fit perfectly, even when I gained my ‘freshman twenty’ and then lost that extra weight the following year.
The skirt made me happy just to look at it, and the thought of Miranda seeing me in it kindled a sense of defiance. There was something niggling in my brain; something that sounded a lot like Nigel’s voice telling me it would be disrespectful if I didn’t dress the part. But I’d been dressing the part for a long time now, and it made no difference in how Miranda saw me. She had fired me, after all.
I pulled on some dark leggings and the motorcycle boots again, because they were comfortable, and because my ankle remained tender. But what I saw in the mirror dismayed me. With the gorgeous boots and black leggings, the skirt looked purposefully aged, even modern. And I couldn’t bear the thought of actually looking chic this morning, not after her rolling eyes.
So with that same sense of rebellion, I looked through my weekend wear and found an old t-shirt that had been Nate’s. It was white, thin and baggy. I grinned as I pulled it on, then brushed my hair until it was glossy and carefully applied my makeup.
The effect was exactly what I was going for: shabby on purpose. I smiled my head off before grabbing a jacket and scarf, and tossing all my stuff into a large Kate Spade handbag that was a Miranda cast-off.
It’s a commute to Runway, a long enough trip on the train to wear away my defiance by the time I reached the Elias-Clarke building. I thought of how condescending she’d be, and regretted my clothing choices.
I was freezing, too. The only thing saving me was my jacket, which was even older than the skirt. It was a black biker style I’d bought in high school, and it didn’t look dated to me, but neither did it look Runway-worthy. Still, it was warm, and that’s why I kept it on.
I had just enough time to grab a coffee for Miranda and make it to the elevators when I saw her car pull up outside. Steeling myself, I waited as she stalked into the lobby, past the young guy who was holding open the door for her. She was oblivious as he turned his head and watched her all the way to the elevators.
The anxiety from a few seconds ago - and even the insubordination I felt while I dressed this morning - left me in a whoosh.
Miranda was riveting. I took in her outfit - almost entirely Miuccia Prada - as she strode briskly toward me. But it felt like she moved in slow motion, dazzled as I was. She was dressed like some Hollywood sex-bomb from the 1950s, if that sex-bomb had been wearing modern, Italian-styled clothes featuring Japanese prints.
Her skirt was the plainest thing she had on, a black, butter-soft piece of leather that moved like silk. It was as straight as mine, but much longer (to her knees), and had a short slit up the side to allow for her stride. She was dark all the way to the floor with her black tights and ebony patent, chunky-heeled Louboutins, and all that black made her look so tall.
If it weren’t for the lightness of her print blouse, she’d be a forbidding figure. But her top was a lemon-tinted breezy thing with an exaggerated chelsea collar. Only part of the print was visible, and it seemed to feature a geisha. Ukiyo-e prints were all over the Prada collection this year, most of them featuring landscapes by Hiroshige that were breathtaking and instantly recognizable.
But the print was hardly discernible beneath the cardigan Miranda wore—a fuzzy, currant-colored angora that made her seem soft and feminine. Perhaps even more so because a dark, military-styled peacoat was draped over her shoulders.
The most arresting thing she wore was the belt - a wide obi sash, cinched high on her ribs. It seemed more like a corset, with its threaded closure and oversized key dangling at her waist.
“Hi,” I managed, when she drew close. The elevator door was dinging annoyingly, and I wasn’t sure if it was the sound or my outfit that made her purse her lips, but the sour expression on her face felt like a bad omen. It was a shame, I thought fleetingly, glancing down at the key, which was outlandish - both sexy and satirical.
Before the doors had closed, she preempted my discussion of the day’s schedule by bringing up the board meeting that was slated for four o’clock. “You’ll be there to take notes,” she reminded me, as if I ever forgot anything on her calendar. She pursed her lips again, and now I realized it wasn’t me or the elevator causing her mood. “Irv is trying to… screw me over. As usual. It’s important we make sure he knows that’s not going to happen.” Her eyes met mine. “We run this magazine. Not him.”
I nodded silently, dwelling on the “we” of her statement, knowing she was speaking of the many people who poured their hearts into Runway, not just her and me. Irv had nothing to do with Runway, and neither did anyone else on the board. Runway and all its employees belonged to Miranda, body and soul. Elias-Clarke was just the name on our building.
I wished once more that I had dressed from the Runway-worthy side of my closet, if only to look more professional beside her in the meeting.
As if reading my thoughts, she gave my outfit a long up-and-down, and said: “Clothes can do many things, Andrea. Making a statement is just one.” She flicked her wrist. “You’re telling the world a person doesn’t need to be wealthy to be chic, and while that may be admirable, your skirt has seen better days, your top is threadbare, and if you remove the jacket, you’ll only look poor.”
We rode the rest of the way in silence.
Late in the afternoon, we headed to the board meeting. Waiting for the elevator, Miranda removed her cardigan and had me hold it while she adjusted her blouse.
Even with the wide (and ridiculously sexy) obi belt, most of the blouse was now on display, and I got a good look at the ukiyo-e scene that had been hidden beneath the cardigan all day. I’m sure she noticed my double-take when I realized that the scene depicted not a portrait of a geisha, but erotica.
On Miranda’s chest, for all the world to see, a man and woman were engaged in sexual intercourse. At a glance, all I could really take in was that one was mostly clothed, and on all fours; and that the other had a ginormous penis.
My face flushed hotly, and upon noticing, Miranda rolled her eyes.
I stared at her back as I followed her onto the elevator. The print was a wrap-around, but from this side the only part of the scene that was discernible was the sinuous lines of tea cups and a kimono scattered on the floor.
Miranda stood imperviously, waiting for me to press the button to the 22nd floor. I did, and I couldn’t help but look again at the front of the blouse. After a second, I realized that the figure with the huge penis also had breasts, and it became clear that the figure on all fours was a man, and that he was being royally fucked.
The conversation from that morning came rushing back to me. “Clothes can do many things, Andrea. Making a statement is just one.”
By the time we stood outside the Elias-Clarke corporate office a minute later, my cheeks were aflame and I was no longer simply holding her cardigan, but wringing it like a wet towel.
Miranda admonished me. “You’ll ruin everything,” she huffed quietly. “Silly girl. I hadn’t pegged you for a prude. Go back to the office.” She impatiently took her cardigan from me, draped it over her arm, and flung open the door.
I turned back to the elevator as she marched into the suite where Irv and the other bigwigs at Elias-Clarke kept offices. I didn’t know how I would look at her the rest of the day.
But while sitting at my desk working on her calendar, a greater worry began gnawing at me. The blouse wasn't just risqué. It was an aggressive heads-up to the powers that be. It was a warning.
The only thing that might save her was that it was art. She was wearing something created by one of the biggest stars in the business. And it wasn't something meant to trickle down to retail stores. It was custom made for Miranda.
Later I found all my worrying was for naught. She breezed into the office close to six, looking smug. Her cardigan was on again, and the ukiyo-e print out of sight.
First part, before the hashtags, is newly written. Thanks as ever to my beta reader, sheknowsnofear, who makes all things better.
Since I began riding the elevator with Miranda, I had learned that with that small privilege came the extra attention I longed for. I just needed to figure out how to live up to her expectations, specifically when it came to my clothes.
If I had Runway’s closet at my disposal, it would be a lot easier. But now that I’d ruled it off-limits, it became very hard to dress to impress. My own closet was small, and many of my clothes were too cheap, too large, and too shabby. I’d never cared how fashionable I was or wasn’t before Runway.
Nigel wasn’t entirely impervious to what I was wearing these days, even though since Emily had become his right hand, I saw him less and less. It wasn’t necessarily a bad thing - Emily kept him on-task, which meant he had little time for gossiping with the likes of me and Jess. But when I asked him how to inexpensively improve my situation, he quickly responded ‘a tailor.’
It sounded like a smart idea, but I couldn’t afford a tailor, much less the guy that he recommended.
However, Emily somehow knew about our texted conversation and she stopped to speak to me the next morning when I was standing in the elevator lobby waiting for Miranda to arrive. Taking in my outfit at a glance, she curtly said, “Make your lengths shorter, buy some quality dye, mind your posture, and accessorize.” That was all she said, not “Good morning,” or “Wow sure don’t see you much anymore.” But I thanked her as the elevator door began to close. She flicked her wrists at me as Miranda would when she wanted me gone.
I felt a little better; her suggestions were doable and might help my situation. I also took a great deal of time with my hair and makeup, kept my nails polished, and scrutinized every piece of each outfit before dressing. I had always taken pretty good care of my clothes, but now I became meticulous. I began a nightly ritual of gently cleaning my shoes and examining my clothes for loose threads and stains. I polished my jewelry more frequently, sent more things to the dry cleaner, and found a neighbor who altered a couple of my skirts in exchange for helping with her resume.
I stood up straight, held my head high, and remembered to smile.
I thought I could tell a difference when I looked in the mirror, but whether or not Miranda noticed, I wasn’t sure.
"Is this ever going to end?" Miranda asked as the elevator cab stopped for the third time and an unwitting person almost boarded. Her mood was tempestuous before her workday even began.
"Will you tell me what I said that made you mad the other day?" I asked her quietly. "When the elevator broke down?" I had obsessively picked through our conversation, and had no clue. I said several things that could've ticked her off.
"You said it was a big culture shock to come to Runway and learn you were no one of any importance. And that feeling was compounded when you learned you were insignificant to me." Miranda sniffed. "You're wrong on both accounts and I don't want to hear anything so foolish uttered by you again."
I was floored.
"Don't you dare leave here thinking you were unimportant." Her eyes pierced me, even from behind her shades.
My elation was short-lived.
She eyed my Anne Klein skirt and tights, my off-the-rack turtleneck, and my Louboutin heels, which I'd scuffed on the train this morning. "And don't you dare let that go to your stupid little head, which seems to think dressing as an urchin is in vogue."
The next day, I was wrapped in my coat, as the lobby was chilly. My wool pea coat was just fine, still fashionable though off-the-rack, and it temporarily hid my sweater, which had seen better times. My slacks, however, were perfect, as were my shoes, so all Miranda saw first thing was polished. By design. I wouldn't let her lacerate me every day with her cutting remarks.
She was in fur. She marched through the lobby in her long black Fendi coat and it swung behind her. I watched from the elevator, my mouth practically agape, staring the whole time. I stammered a 'good morning', but I didn't go through the calendar right away, just looked at her in the fur coat.
"What?" Miranda asked in exasperation when we were finally on the elevator and it closed.
"That might be my favorite thing you wear," I told her.
Miranda removed her sunglasses and made a face. "This coat? I'd assume it would offend your granola sensibilities," she sneered. "It is fur, after all, made from dead animals, no doubt cute and cuddly." Her expression became calculating. "Touch it," she ordered.
I reached out and touched the sleeve, then rubbed my hand down it. Then I stood back from her and looked my fill, up and down and up again, my eyes lingering on the coat and the way it draped on her slender form; the accompanying black leather gloves, the cool tones of makeup, the ties on the coat that dangled. She was watching me.
I dragged my hand from the shoulder to the wrist of the coat. "I hate fur," I whispered, and stopped touching it, because for a moment I had forgotten that it was fur.
"Touch it," Miranda once again commanded. She seemed to tower over me today, me in my Jimmy Choo flat boots I'd purchased off-season last year, she in five inch Zanotti platform pumps. She looked imperial in the fur, with her regal posture and her haughty gaze.
I reached up, touched her collar, and ran my hand down her arm to the wide sleeve of the wrist; then I bent to drop my phone on the floor and repeated the process with both hands, one on each arm. When I reached her wrists, I caught the ties in front of the coat. It was an inappropriate place for me to reach, to take the sashes in my hands from where they dangled below her waist, and she pinked when I caressed them. But she liked it. She liked this attention, because she said, "You'll start removing my coat when we get to the office every day. You'll take my bag and coat. Gently."
I nodded. Dropping the sashes, I grabbed my phone and stepped away from her. She was to be the queen, then, and I, her handmaid.
When we exited the elevator, I opened the door to Runway for her, and followed her to her outer office, where my desk and Jessica's desk were. Jess watched us silently. I took Miranda's Starbucks from her hand. "No more Starbucks in the elevator, Andrea," she said disdainfully.
I placed the cup, book and Miranda's handbag on my desk. Jess gawked. My hands were trembling when I untied Miranda's sashes. I didn't look at her now; I looked at what I was doing, head bent to the task like the servant I was. I was quick but gentle, and my fingertips barely grazed the wool sheath beneath her coat. When I turned to hand her the Starbucks and book, she had gone to her office. I was supposed to follow behind with these, I supposed. I hung her fur, and took the coffee and book to her.
Miranda was seated; her eyes tracked me from the outer office to her desk.
"Patrick is going to call you at 9:00 about the photos he sent over last night," I reminded her. "I had Neil print them out." I indicated with a nod of my head the glossies on her desk. Neil was Miranda's favorite person in Elias-Clarke's copy room. I stayed especially late to obtain the proofs and have him print them.
"Yes, Andrea," she said, taking the Starbucks from me, a hint of a smirk on her lips, her fingers lingering on mine. Her touch sent a jolt through me.
I turned and fled to the bathroom.
Just a little reworking of this one, breaking it up a bit and adding more clothes -
Mercedes Benz Fashion Week was starting up in NYC. Miranda was still frowning at my clothing choices, so I dipped into Runway's supply again, but only for this week, only so that I wouldn't embarrass her while I was out at the shows with her.
But I was making assumptions, thinking I would be the one to accompany her. I attended all of the shows, since my first one in Paris. Emily had never again gone to another fashion event as Miranda's assistant – she went all the time as part of Nigel's group, but not once more with Miranda. Miranda, who had snuffed me in favor of Jess for the overseas shows, and as it turned out, for those in New York as well. I didn't realize it until this morning.
I came to work dressed to kill in an eggplant Marchesa silk and velvet dress with nude illusion panels, having borrowed it from the closet last night. As she met me at the elevators, she gave me the slightest of smiles, and I felt relieved at her approval, though later I regretted my choice.
I saw that she was wearing a blazer that reminded me of one of the first fashionable things I ever wore at Runway. Nigel had outfitted me in a Chanel suit and thigh-high leather boots, and it looked so good even Emily had approved. The harder I stared, the more certain I was that Miranda’s black wool jacket was identical to mine, from its tweed accents to the prominent Chanel emblem. But it looked entirely different on her.
She paired it with an ivory tank that seemed to disappear beneath the buttoned-up blazer, and the pale skin of her neck was accented with a heavy gold choker studded with what must have been a hundred or more pearls in varying sizes.
Her windowpane skirt was white-on-black, and if I hadn’t known that she sent everything to her tailor, I could’ve guessed just by looking at the skirt, how it seemed to have been sewn on her. Her legs were bare, and her shoes a sedate cream color with black tips, low-heeled and modest.
I gave her a long look.
“What?” she asked quietly.
“Is that…” I indicated her necklace. “Chanel?”
“And the -“ I pointed to her skirt.
“All of it.”
Entirely Chanel for the first day of fashion week? I was certain she was making a statement, perhaps reminding today’s crowd who the truly Great were, but I was more concerned about what she wasn't saying.
"Miranda?" I said cautiously. "Jess doesn't know you fired me, does she?"
She looked at me and then her eyes cut away as if I were testing her patience. "What happens in the elevator stays in the elevator," she muttered.
I laughed. "Oh my god. I can't believe you said that!" And then I slapped my hand to my mouth at the look she gave me. "Um, okay. Okay, so no one knows?" She didn't nod or shake her head or acknowledge me in any way except to glare. "So is there a chance then, that I can make you change your mind, over the…this season?"
"No," she said.
The disappointment was swift. "Oh," I said, and turned away.
"Andrea," she said softly.
I turned back hopefully.
"Jessica will accompany me this week. There are five shows I want to attend today, which will take us out of the office until late in the day. You are not to leave your desk at any time."
After having worked for her for so long, nothing should surprise me. She was a woman that couldn't be pinned down, no matter how well you knew her. But somehow this came as a shock.
"Work on my expense report. I'll review it when we return."
I stared ahead, feeling like an idiot, wishing I'd worn my own clothes today. At least I would have my dignity then.
I felt, standing at the elevators this morning, much like I had right after Miranda fired me. Bewildered and crushed.
Yesterday, they didn’t leave until midday. Jess apologized profusely; she was unaware of how exactly she had taken the lead, but she didn't want it, and didn't want to hurt me. I gracefully (to her) conceded defeat and begged her to enjoy the shows, to keep her eyes open, to write everything down, and to have fun.
Once they left, it took a while to get started on Miranda's expense report. An extraordinarily large project, it was made manageable by weekly – sometimes daily – additions of expense items. Lunches with designers or Elias-Clarke staff. Gifts sent to actors and musicians. Flowers for funerals of people who had been important to Runway. Mileage logged by Miranda, Jess and me on Runway's Mercedes and Town Car. It wasn't hard to put the expense report together – we kept meticulous records, receipts for everything – it was just hard to focus.
I spent the day entirely alone in Miranda's offices, one of the few times I had done so. Most anyone who had anything to do with Miranda was at the shows. And the rest were enjoying the peace that came with the knowledge that Miranda was offsite. But I felt untethered, restless and unable to concentrate. I finally got the expense report done, but saw neither Jess nor Miranda the rest of the day. When I left at six, I still felt unanchored, and I picked up a bottle of cheap wine on my way home.
So I came to work with a hangover again, only this morning felt worse as I was emotional with a case of pms as well. I said 'good morning' to Miranda when she arrived, but I felt far removed from her as I pressed the elevator button for our floor. I was in a silent reverie when she launched a verbal attack.
"You had all day without interruption to do a task that requires little effort, yet what you submitted was rife with errors and were I not to review it – which I almost didn't Andrea; I trust your work that implicitly – had I not reviewed it, had I submitted it, it would have been embarrassing at the very least, and would've had to be done over again, a waste of time and effort. At the most, I would have been audited – accounting would have gone back over at least a year's worth of expense reports. You realize what a gargantuan waste of time and effort auditing my expense reports would be for me, my staff and Runway itself."
I looked up at her when she began, and I knew my eyes were wide as saucers. "Miranda – I, I…Oh my god. I'm so sorry." I knew I was distracted yesterday, but I hadn't realized I was that distracted. And oh my god, she was looking at me with such fury in her eyes that I felt overwhelmed by my mistakes, overwhelmed because I could do nothing right. She didn't want me here; it was the ultimate failure, being discarded by her.
"You will do it again today, and you will include an explanation of every calculation you made, every deduction, every-"
The chime signaled our floor. Miranda looked at the doors furiously as they opened and she stalked out of the elevator, but I didn't. I watched her turn, when she realized I wasn't there, and I saw the look cross her face, the same look as she had in Paris when I ran away. Then the elevator doors closed and I hit the button for the first floor.
I realized on my way down to the ground floor that I'd have to go back and face the music. I'd have to redo the expense report. It wasn't a matter of pride, it was a matter of doing the right thing.
Then, embarrassed further, I realized I'd have to go back, too, to get my purse. But first, I'd take a walk and clear my head. I vowed not to cry, but I was right on the edge, pms making my hangover that much more pronounced.
Just as I was exiting into the lobby, she called me. I turned away from the front doors and answered the phone. "I'm sorry."
"Where are you?"
"In the lobby. I've got to go. I can't stay, Miranda. I'll fix the expense report, but then I have to leave. I can't… I can't work for you anymore." The tears that had been threatening spilled out of my eyes.
She put her hand over the phone and said something to someone, and then I heard the elevator ding through the phone.
"I keep screwing up," I said, and then I began crying. Not just tears streaking down my face, but sobs that shook my shoulders.
I couldn't hear anything on the phone, so absorbed was I in my own misery, but a short while later, someone touched my back. I straightened and turned, and there she was, phone held loosely beside her, eyes looking concerned, teeth biting her lip. My sobbing ceased at once, as if she commanded it.
"Come to work," she said.
I looked at the elevator, then at the front of the building and the street beyond.
She was watching my face and she shook her head. "No, no, you'll come with me. No running off again to figure things out. You can do that in the privacy of our office once the girl and I leave." She looked at me carefully. "Or is that what you were doing yesterday when you were supposed to have numbers in your head?"
Fresh tears fell from my eyes. "I can't do this."
Her gaze became unsympathetic. "Really? Then come upstairs and fix the report - and before you run off with your tail tucked between your legs, you tell me exactly what it is that you cannot do." She yanked my elbow and pulled me to the elevator.
I shook my head, shook it again when the elevator doors were closed and she had pressed our floor button.
"What do you 'keep screwing up'?" she asked.
"Everything, obviously," I said, my face in my hands, my head bent. I was trying not to cry, trying very hard to get this under control. "You fired me, so obviously I keep screwing everything up."
Her voice was cool. "You did botch the report, but other than that, your work is above reproach. Unless there's something you're not telling me."
I jerked my head up. "Then why do you have to fire me?" I asked her. Tears streamed down my face. My voice cracked when I spoke again, and I became hoarse. "And why did you take away the shows? I was supposed to go with you."
She closed her eyes for a moment, as if she were gathering patience. "Jessica needs to learn what to do. I believed it would be a nice reprieve for you."
She looked at me. "I thought you could use the time away from me."
I realized suddenly that this was Miranda the woman, the editor who wrote those fragments of herself in her magazine, speaking to me. The considerate woman, not the war queen who was my boss.
The elevator chimed our floor and Miranda looked royally pissed. She made no move to exit when the doors opened, but instead, slammed her hand on the top floor button.
"I don't want a reprieve," I said through gritted teeth, eyes on the ceiling of the elevator, thinking how apparent it was that I didn't want to be let go. "All I have is ninety days and you're taking them away."
I heard her sharp intake of breath. "You love me," she said softly.
I began shaking my head at that, and the sobs came again. "This is so fucked," I cried into my hands.
"That it is," Miranda said drily, which made me laugh in the midst of sobbing.
A weight had rolled off my shoulders, though, no matter how fucked it was. I wiped my face with my hands. "I don't know if I love you," I began. "I think-"
"Oh, I do. I know. That's love."
I looked at her, and she was wagging her finger up and down at me.
"That's love," she said again.
Reworked this one a bit. Thanks as ever to my beta reader sheknowsnofear, who makes everything better.
I didn’t get to sleep until late last night, for how exposed I felt. For the knowing way Doug had looked at me when I told him all that had happened. How I’d screwed up the expense report and then cried like an idiot when Miranda called me out on it. How she had said my crazy emotions were a sure sign of love. His opinion ("duh") notwithstanding, Miranda was right; I did love her. And I hadn’t been wrong either when I told her that the situation was fucked.
She and Jess had all-day shows to attend again yesterday, and they went to these shortly after Miranda and I returned to the office. But before they left, Miranda took time to check on me. She stopped at my desk to see how the expense report was coming. I had looked up at her, and her eyes were full of concern. Then she called me throughout the day, between shows, for nonsensical things. Finally, when she called late in the afternoon to check on a meeting scheduled for the following week, I said, "You're really just calling to make sure I haven't gone AWOL, aren't you?"
After a hesitation, she had sniffed, "You owe me an expense report. Are you capable of doing it correctly this time?
It was the hesitation that I dwelled on.
I wondered, was it possible that Miranda had given me a ninety day notice out of kindness? Did she do it for my sake? Again, Doug's input was simple ("duh") and probably accurate. Though, to his credit, he did elaborate by reminding me that Miranda was famous for her swift, bold decisions; firing me was classic Miranda, but allowing me to linger for three months was extraordinarily out of character for her.
Talking to him, I realized that I was madly in love with the woman who wrote the editorial letters, the woman whom I saw only brief glimpses of in real life. Not the boss, not the icon, but the woman. The boss fucked everything up with her cutting remarks, her temper tantrums, her illogical and unexpected sackings of loyal, hard-working employees. The icon threw ice and paranoia into the mix.
But the woman was captivating.
I stared at the ceiling when I should have been asleep, lost in memories. I remembered countless times I’d delivered the book late in the evening to find her alone in her study, working. At first I thought it was pathetic: how could she work at home, when she hadn’t seen her family all day? Over time, my opinion changed, as I witnessed more of her than just the daily grind.
Sometimes when the book was early, I’d catch her in the middle of dinner with the kids (once or twice with Stephen, too, though not after the divorce). Or Miranda would call my name and I’d wander through the townhouse ’til I found her and the girls cuddled on the sofa in front of the tv. Or gathered around the kitchen island, watching Cassidy assemble yogurt parfaits. I saw them play board games, do homework and braid hair.
On a few occasions, they followed me into the townhouse - coming home from a friend’s birthday party, a Broadway show, a school event – just as I arrived with the book.
One evening, when I was especially early with the book, I opened the townhouse door to find Caroline tearing down the staircase; she ran past me, giggling and yelling “Pizza!” and before I could deposit the book in its spot, Cassidy scampered after her, laughing her head off. I grinned, because their laughter was joyful.
“You’ve had pizza this week,” Miranda said, coming down the stairs. She was dressed simply in something I might wear – a black short-sleeved t-shirt over a form-fitting long-sleeved one, leather cigarette pants a slightly different shade. Her feet were bare, and a pair of slingbacks dangled from her fingers. She looked insanely hot, all in black like that. When she saw me, she smiled, and my heart soared because of that smile. Before I closed the door behind me, I heard her suggest tapas, at which the girls simultaneously squealed.
Waiting for the elevator this morning, I was just as lost in memories as I had been last night, thinking about how different Miranda was when she wasn’t working. Times when her guard was down. When her laughter came more freely and she walked barefoot.
I decided that no matter how I hated my pending departure, I’d enjoy the time I had left with her. I would try to make each day count, because I knew what others who worked for her didn't know - that she had a heart. And this is why it was so hard to leave.
Today being Valentine’s Day, I felt especially romantic, and I began fantasizing about what it would be like if she loved me, too.
She interrupted my daydreaming by sauntering into the lobby wearing a magenta skirt - it was knee length, and wool, and so vivid that it popped against her plum tights and darker suede, knee high boots. The rest of her outfit was subdued, her blouse and vest the same dark plum as her tights, her long, oxblood coat flapping open as she stalked over to me.
I stood a bit straighter in my casual outfit. I looked nice in my True Religion jeans, Rock and Republic platform short boots, and a Tory Burch silk georgette blouse. Some of the finer things from my own wardrobe.
Miranda, of course, simply swept her gaze over me and asked if I thought I was getting away with something by dressing down while she was still attending fashion week.
"Well, you know," I said. "While the cat's away…"
She eyed my blouse. "That didn't come from the closet."
She wanted more of an explanation for the expensive blouse, but I didn't offer, and she didn't ask. Instead, she tilted her head and gazed at me. "Why do you love me?"
I was taken aback by the question – shocked, more like it – and tongue-tied. I stared at her, turning red.
"I tried to figure it out last night, but came up empty-handed." And after a moment of uncomfortable silence, she said: "Unfortunately, you don't seem to know, either."
"Well," I rushed in. "It's not like I can name just one thing, and say, 'that's why I love you'." My heart fluttered at having said it out loud to her. "I know why I love you, but it's too many things to say –"
The elevator chimed.
"In a condensed amount of time," I finished.
"Tell me one thing," she said the next day, talking right over my 'good morning'. "Tell me one reason you love me."
I swallowed and told her the first thing that came to my mind. "Because of the way you looked when Cassidy and Caroline dropped in at the office on Halloween last year."
She closed her eyes, like she was trying to remember. "How did I look?"
"Happy," I said.
Miranda opened her eyes, and her guard was down. Her expression was so gentle and kind, it transformed her entire face.
Miranda was all business, striding across the lobby, in another world, appearing exhausted already. "Oh my god, you look amazing," I said. She was dressed again in head-to-toe Chanel, and with all the gold Chanel emblems, she looked as if she were going into battle, flashing her medals at the enemy.
She glanced up at me. "You like Chanel," she said, as if pulling a memory from the dark recesses of her brain.
"How does someone with your salary afford a four hundred dollar Tory Burch?" She looked at me curiously, thinking of the blouse I'd worn on Valentine's Day.
"I know people," I said, and then snickered at her eye roll. I was glad to feel this light-hearted. "Gift from a friend," I admitted, and looked down at my cell, which was buzzing with a text. "Jess said not to panic, she'll be here, she's just not here yet. Huh."
"Friend?" Miranda asked in a cool tone.
"Um, yeah." I looked at her, and my sentences became almost monosyllabic at the frankness of her gaze. "My roommate. Doug. He um. Knows where… where to find bargains and he - he likes Tory Burch, and found that blouse half price, but I couldn't afford it, so he bought it as my Valentine's gift?"
"And what did you buy him?" Miranda asked in the same icy voice.
"A chocolate chip cookie – big," I rounded my arms to show her. "Heart?"
"This is the boy you lived with when…?" But she didn't finish the thought.
The elevator chimed. I looked at her as we exited. "Um, no, um, we've only lived together since Nate and I broke up. Doug is… Doug is a big fan of yours," I said. "We go way back."
"I see," Miranda said, breezing through the door I opened for her at Runway.
There was one more day of New York's fashion week before Miranda jetted off to London. From there, she and Jess would fly together to Milan. Nigel had hinted that they'd continue on to Paris for the RTW fashion shows, but Miranda's schedule wasn't that flexible, and if she was going to do that, I think she would have told me. I think. She loved having a schedule in place, but sometimes she seemed to delight in disrupting it.
"Hey," I said softly, when she stepped up beside me as we waited for the elevator.
She gave a short nod, but didn't speak.
"You look really tired already," I told her, once we were inside the elevator and the doors closed.
"It would be easier, if you were going," she admitted. The tone of her voice indicated that this was somehow my fault.
"Jess can stay here and I'll go," I said. "I can be ready in time." There would be a lot of memorizing, not to mention outfits to ensemble, but I could do it. I'd gladly do it.
"That's tempting," she said, her eyes penetrating mine. "But you won't be by my side forever, will you?" Again, her tone was accusatory. "Jessica needs to learn the ropes."
I wanted to beat my head against the wall. "You can change your mind, you know. I'll never tell anyone you fired me."
She scowled, and as the elevator let us out, she began giving me the morning litany. “I need Patrick,” she said before we even walked into the office. “And get Nigel in here; that photo shoot he thought would be charming at Galileo won’t work at all unless he plans to spend his weekends between now and March fifteenth in work boots and a gas mask.”
I followed her into the office, grinning behind her back at the image she evoked of Nigel. She tossed her coat and purse to Jess, still issuing instructions. “The photos from Giles are in color for some reason when I specifically asked for black-and-white. Gently remind him that the texture of Balenciaga this year is the most important thing, not the color. Which should be obvious, I think, since the collection is entirely black and white.” She smiled humorlessly and went to her desk. “Then text Donatella that Ocean Prime is fine for lunch, but considering her proclivity for anaphylactic shock while shucking oysters, perhaps Avra on 5th would be a smarter choice. Unless she has an EpiPen with her, then…” Miranda tossed her hands in the air. “It’s entirely up to her. But call Simone first and tell her that her models are – yet again – unacceptable. Is it impossible for her to send me girls without tattoos? Am I asking for the world?”
“No, Miranda,” I said, trying not to chuckle at her snarky tone.
As I headed for my desk, texting Donatella, Miranda called, “Oh, and Andrea?”
I turned back to find her giving me an excruciating up-and-down. My clothes weren’t exactly haute couture but I’d had my skirt altered by my neighbor and everything fit well. I thought I looked nice. But apparently, not in Miranda’s opinion.
“Beige," she said. "Is not your color."
While Miranda, Jess, and Nigel’s team were overseas for the London, Milan and Paris fashion shows, there was little for me to do. I used the time to update my resume and fine tune my writing skills. But all I needed to do at work was answer the phone, and everyone who called Miranda knew where she was at this time of the year, so there were few calls.
Only one momentous thing happened during that time: Miranda called me, more than once, and for no apparent reason. The first time she called my cell phone, it was after midnight her time, so I was shocked, and picked up the phone immediately, heart thudding in concern.
"Andrea," she said. "So your cell phone is in working order and not at the bottom of a fountain or sewer."
"Ah, laughter. See? I told you that you'd recover quickly." And she hung up, just like that.
The second time she called, it was a respectable hour of the morning in London, because she roused me from sleep at close to two a.m. "Miranda?"
There was a pause before she spoke, then: "I woke you."
"Are you okay?" I asked, covering a yawn.
I ran a hand over my face, trying to wake up enough to speak coherently. "Mmm. Are you enjoying the fashion shows?"
She was silent.
"It would be easier if you were here," she reiterated. And then launched into a verbal assault on Jessica's performance, the crap that the designers were offering, and how she expected this day to be no better than the day before.
I listened, suddenly wide awake at her litany of abuses, and realized that Miranda had scathing comments to make about everyone, all the time. Which I knew, but I sometimes forgot, because when you're with her constantly, a lot of those abuses are aimed at you. She chewed out everyone who turned in less than stellar performances, because they slowed her down, affected her efficiency, and made her job harder. I listened and listened, and when she took a breather, I asked, "Miranda, is there anything I can do to make this better?"
Which only caused her to begin thrashing me for how poorly I had trained Jessica.
"I'll call her when we hang up and review some things with her," I offered.
At which Miranda sighed, and said, "Well, don't expect miracles; she's not as quick as you are."
The third, and last call from Miranda came while she was in Milan.
"Miranda," I said, unable to stifle a yawn. It was midnight in New York, so six a.m. her time.
"Andrea, I woke you again? The sun has hardly set, and you're, what? Nineteen? Twenty?"
I chuckled. "I'm twenty-five."
"What an appalling way to live at twenty-five." She, too, yawned.
"And what are you doing, sleeping in? What is it, the crack of dawn there? Tsk." And then I realized that she was possibly still in bed, and heat surged through me.
"I am sleeping in. Yesterday was impossible…" And her long list of complaints about Milan's fashion offerings thus far began. She complained about the designers and Jessica again, but also about Nigel – his entire team, their “utter lack of competence.” She even complained about Emily's makeup.
"Emily's beautiful," I said, because I had apparently become altogether too comfortable on the phone with Miranda. "Let her have flamingo eyelids if she wants."
Miranda was silent, then: "Your roommate is gay."
I became very hot and bothered that the conversation was turning personal. "Yes."
"And you are…? Bisexual?"
Very hot and bothered. "Haven't, uh, really thought about it, actually."
She was quiet. Then, "Tell me something you love about me."
Oh god. I swallowed and wondered how long I could keep her on the phone.
I imagined her in Paris, year before last, in her gray robe, looking defeated and defenseless. "How strategically you wear your clothes. Like armor."
Miranda hmm'd and there was a small silence.
"The elevator misses you," I told her.
Miranda and Jessica came back a day early, which should’ve made me happy, but it didn't; it freaked me out. When Miranda's driver called to tell me they were on the way, I ran to Starbucks, flew to her office with it, and rushed downstairs just in time to see her walking in the front doors of the building.
Any other time, I would have been thrilled to see her, but now all I could think about was my dress, which hung too loosely on me, even when cinched with a belt. All I could think about was the off-the-rack cardigan I wore over it, because the building was chilly, and because my coat, which was even shabbier, was too heavy to wear all day. And all I could think about was my shoes. My shoes, which were clogs.
While they were overseas, I had been taking the opportunity to wear the pitiful stuff in my closet that she'd pretty much forbidden. If I'd known she would arrive today, I would have made sure to dress in something better.
She strode across the lobby looking me right in the eye, apparently glad to see me, but then she caught sight of my outfit, and her expression became cold. Her eyes made it down to my shoes, and I thought her face would freeze my feet to the floor.
She didn't respond to my 'good morning', or to my question about the trip. She didn't look at me. She shrugged away from me as soon as I got her coat off, and she treated me very much as a great disappointment all day.
It hurt and I didn't know how to change it. I couldn't wear Runway's clothes. I couldn't bear her disapproval.
The next day, I wore a skirt that fit; it was outdated by Runway standards, but it was still fashionable and it looked good on me. My blouse was too loose for my slender frame, but it didn't look terrible; it was one of my better blouses. My shoes were some that Nigel had given me a while back, and, though they were chic, they were worn. I didn't look like someone who worked at Runway, really, but it was the absolute best I could do with my wardrobe, with my limited income. And if she was going to be a twelve year-old and pitch a fit, I could at least act mature enough for both of us. I was doing the right thing, after all.
I waited by the elevator. I always saw Miranda right away. Sometimes I ran to peek at her exiting the car, so I could get the elevator timed right if it was a busy morning and lots of people were going up, but mostly I stood, waited and watched as she marched across the lobby, people scattering away from her as though she were an evil warlord.
"Oh for fuck's sake," I said none too softly when I saw her this morning. Miranda was wearing a Dennis Basso fur, and though I really hated the entire concept of fur, it was hard to feel disgust, because Miranda made everything look so good.
"Good morning, Miranda," I said quietly. I held my arm across the elevator door as she entered it.
She turned to me immediately upon the door closing and jerked her head, indicating that I should come closer. "Touch it," she commanded.
I reached out instantly and began rubbing the fur at her shoulder, down her arm.
"Your clothing choice is becoming appalling," she said.
I didn't reply.
"Well? Do you have an explanation? You were wearing decent outfits, and now you look almost as hideous as you did when you first came to Runway ."
Hideous. I stepped away from her. "I'm not taking anything else from the closet."
I didn't reply. Hideous. I stared at the floor.
"Andrea, your insolence is wearing on me. You're here, now. You still work for Runway. Start dressing like it."
I nodded, but didn't look at her or say anything, and I didn't intend to wear anything from the closet.
That entire day, I couldn't look at her. I felt ugly and awkward, and I wanted to leave. After Jessica came back with Miranda's lunch, I ran the other errands Miranda had meant for her, not me, just to get away. I took my time about them, and there was a point when I was between shops that I thought about just slipping into the crowd and not returning.
It was really unsurprising that during this time, Miranda called me. I stared at my phone, but didn't answer. I sat, instead, outside, in the cold, and tried not to think for a while.
When I finally returned, Miranda was at Nina Ricci and wouldn't be at the office the rest of the day. I offered to take the book - Jessica's job now - but she smiled kindly and shook her head. "I don't think that's a good idea, Andy," she said. "She's furious that you didn't come back."
I wasn't nervous about seeing Miranda this morning, despite Jessica's warning that she was angry. I was tired of her insults. I chose to do the right thing by not borrowing from the closet now that I was a temp, and she rewarded me with hideous. I was ugly to her. Add that to fat and stupid.
I was wearing a Chloé wool dress from several seasons ago with dark tights and my Jimmy Choo flat boots which I knew Miranda hated, but they were chic, and they allowed my feet to rest after days of five inch heels. I didn't issue a 'good morning' to Miranda. I just stood by the elevator, silently boarded it after her, and pressed our floor. I felt her staring at me, and though I was facing the elevator doors, I kept my head down and away from the reflection in them. I wasn't taking from the closet, and she couldn't force me to. This outfit would have to do for today.
"Andrea," she said.
I straightened. "Yes?" But I didn't turn around.
She grabbed my elbow and whirled me around, astonishing me. "Look at me," she snarled.
I looked in her direction, but not at her. I wasn't trying to be disrespectful; I just found it hard to look at her whenever I disappointed her. She loomed over me again, because I was wearing flats and she wore exaggerated heels. She yanked off her sunglasses. "Look at me."
I couldn't. I tried, but somehow my focus turned entirely away from her then, to the elevator wall. She jerked me so hard that I stumbled. I looked up at her, in total shock. She held me in place, staring down into my eyes. "Don't ever ignore my phone calls," she said. "No matter how angry you are at me." Something flickered in her gaze. "Do you understand?"
"Don't mess this up."
Her face didn't reveal anything. I had no idea what she thought I was messing up. I searched her eyes, but they only seemed to hold a warning.
She pushed me away, then, and looked at my outfit thoughtfully. Before the elevator chimed our floor, she had removed the magenta and gold Hermès scarf from her neck and put it around mine. "There," she said. "Not so hideous."
It was as if she had declared me beautiful, had crowned me queen. I was on a cloud all day, inhaling her scent.
The next morning, I stood by the elevator and waited for her in an outfit I had practically worn out last year, one that I knew she was sick of, because she'd made a comment last winter about it. But I was short on clothes.
I had placed her Hermès scarf on her desk when depositing her Starbucks right before coming back down to await her arrival. I was still floating from it, and nothing, no insult could touch me today, because I wondered now whether maybe her insults weren't about me personally, but about the choices I made. My clothes, for instance. My clothes, which were hideous, or which made me look fat. The insults about my intelligence were ridiculous; they weren't about me at all, were they? They couldn't be.
She stalked over in a leather coat and Valentino cashmere dress that played off it both in color and texture, and I found myself staring. "You look… amazing," I told her, when we entered the elevator.
"You still look like an orphan," she said as she eyeballed my clothes. "What are we going to do about that? Oh, I know." And she thrust two bags at me.
One was from Phillip Lim; the other from Jimmy Choo. I looked up at her, my mouth dropping open. "What-?"
"You cannot refuse this, Andrea, it's not borrowing."
I was dumbfounded.
She looked like the cat who swallowed the canary. "That's for today. Change when we get to the office. You're depressing me with your dreary clothes. I think you might be depressing yourself, too."
I wanted to be indignant, appalled, outraged. But my stupid heart fluttered, and I smiled. "Thank you."
"Oh, a smile," she said. "I thought you had lost the ability."
"You fired me," I reminded her.
"It's not the end of the world. Really, Emily." She rolled her eyes.
I grinned. In the elevator with Miranda so close, everything else, all sense of time seemed to disappear. She had given me something.
"The other clothing will be delivered to your home tonight," she informed me. "I didn't choose your taste." She ran her eyes down my dress and boots. "Although you'll find a few Chanel pieces that should please you. You could have chosen what you prefer from the closet, but you didn't. So what you have instead is what I have chosen for you."
I wanted to tell her that I had chosen what I preferred – my shabby clothes – but that was a lie. That I had chosen what I preferred - working for her. But that was another lie. If I were to choose, there would be no work separating us.
I was chagrined to realize that the new clothes did bump up my self-esteem. Of course, it mostly had to do with the fact that Miranda had picked them out for me. I questioned Jessica on this extensively once we'd reached Runway the day before and I'd run to change into my new outfit. But she'd had nothing to do with it. She said that Miranda was given tons of clothing at the shows, which I knew, and that most of them she had shipped directly to her home. I also knew that most of these clothes would later find their way into auction houses, with proceeds going to charities.
I assumed, when I saw the quantity of clothing, that most of it had come from designers trying to woo her at the Europe fashion shows. But when I saw the individual pieces, it was clear that the bulk of it hadn't. The latest shows Miranda had been to featured fall and winter clothing, with a heavy emphasis on fall colors, patterns, and textures, even in the winter wear. What I was staring at was winter and spring clothing, and there was nothing autumnal about it. Which meant Miranda had purchased many, maybe most, of these clothes herself; they weren't freebies. Neither were they filed on Miranda's expense report, which meant they were paid for with her own money, not Runway's.
The clothes, as I found out later that evening, included not just dresses, skirts and blouses, not just wraps, coats and sweaters, not just pumps and wedges, ankle boots, mid-calf boots and thigh-high boots, but accessories (scarves, gloves and hats) and tights, socks, bras and panties.
I could have been drunk, opening the bags and boxes and trunks. I could have been in a movie, in a Pretty Woman dream. And all the while I opened and stared, I tried to minimize what I was seeing. Miranda Priestly didn't just buy me enough clothes to get through winter and spring. Miranda Priestly didn't just buy me dresses made of silk and sweaters made of cashmere and skirts short enough to make me blush to look at them. Miranda Priestly didn't just buy me thongs and demi-bras.
Miranda Priestly didn't just do all of this, did she? Doug, bug-eyed, nodding, whistling and running his hand through his hair told me yes, she did.
Was this another game? Was I her dress-up doll now? Her imperfect model? If this was her new distraction, I would discover it soon enough – she would find a thousand things wrong with my appearance each day, just as she did with her real models. And that must be it, I realized. She loved to find everything wrong with everyone. I had been wearing those crappy clothes and I was too easy of a mark. She wanted me to feel like I was worth a million bucks and then shoot me down. Because making certain everyone knew they were beneath her was one of her specialties. We were all inferior; she was The Queen, a goddess on Olympia.
But before I messed it up for myself with suspicions of her motives - while I was still excited about the clothes - I knew I had to text her. I opened the lingerie and touched it. I imagined wearing it for her, and my body went hot. I splashed water on my face and came back, and there everything was, staring at me. "How am I supposed to leave you now?" I texted, and sent it before I could change my mind.
I hadn't expected a response, so when my phone buzzed only minutes later, my legs went weak. Her response read: "Looking as if you've learned something." And then I realized why it had bothered her that I had been wearing rather frumpy outfits. I was going out the way I had come in, and for all appearances, she hadn't made a difference in two years. This realization was upsetting – I felt I had embarrassed her - but it also made me care for her more.
The thought of just seeing her today filled me with butterflies. I shook, when she walked into the lobby. She walked straight to me, on the cell phone with someone. Her eyes traveled over me as she paced back and forth. There were other people to look at in the elevator lobby, in the main lobby, even, but Miranda's focus was on me. Each time she walked away, her head was tilted down, looking at the floor, and each time she circled back, her eyes traveled up my legs and torso. It made me heady. For several minutes she paced, when we could go on up; her cell reception should be fine. But she continued pacing and looking at me.
I picked my outfit for a reason – a Zac Posen jersey dress that fit like a glove through the bodice and ended in a very short flouncy skirt. It not only covered my breasts but hugged them, and I looked slender if a bit busty, which is what I am. I chose this dress because it showed that Miranda knew my figure. She knew I could fit into something so small; she knew it would fit perfectly.
And I selected this dress because it went really well with the Chanel fur coat she'd bought me. Fur, but fake fur. She didn't believe in fake anything! She picked this just for me. I glowed.
She finally ended her phone conversation and boarded the elevator; I was right behind her. I pressed our floor and turned to find her leaning against the wall, looking at me from behind her Prada sunglasses. "You got me fake fur!" I giggled. Miranda was wearing fur, too, another Dennis Basso coat, not remotely fake.
"Not fake, faux. Faux fur."
I moved to her, stood right in front of her, feeling sassy. "Touch it," I said.
She gave me a fleeting smile, so brief I wasn't sure I had seen it. "It's not real, Andrea. I wanted you to wear it, after all."
I was only an inch taller than she was today, but it felt as if I towered over her, as I was wearing Prada pumps that were identical to a pair she owned. Wearing the replica made me feel powerful. "Touch it," I insisted. I reached out and touched her Dennis Basso, and began rubbing it between my fingers, at the opening in front.
She closed her eyes for a moment, while I was handling the fur. When she opened them again, she did so slowly, and her gaze was directly on mine, visible through her tinted shades. My heart skipped a beat. Then her eyes slowly moved down. My Chanel coat had fur at the collar, at the wrists, and at the skirt of it. Her eyes lingered on the fur at my skirt.
"Touch it," I whispered.
She touched the fur at my wrist – the wrist that was between us – and she may as well have been caressing an erogenous zone when her fingers brushed mine, for how my body reacted.
"It feels nothing like the real thing," she said, making a face. "Feel." She took my hand in her soft, cool one, and placed it on my own coat, and I became dazed for the millisecond that my hand was in hers. "See?"
I touched her coat again. "But nothing died so that I could be fashionable."
She looked at me contemplatively. "You wear leather."
I grimaced. "Yeah, and I eat meat."
"Fur is your breaking point."
You are my breaking point. And my tipping point , and my boiling point and maybe my point of no return, I wanted to say. "One of them," I said, and looked at her, only to find she had become irritated, suddenly. Her eyes were on the elevator buttons, flashing as we ascended, and as soon as I realized what she was looking at – the elevator button lighting our floor - the elevator chimed.
I realized that she had chosen to finish her phone conversation before we boarded the elevator because she hadn't wanted our ride to be interrupted. Not vice versa. And this had as much of an effect on me as anything else – as the looks, as the touch of her fingers, as her undivided attention – because Miranda's time was her most precious resource, and to want to spend it with me truly meant something. It was a gift greater than thousands of dollars' worth of clothing.
I had all weekend to think of her gift, to try everything on, to revel in feeling like I belonged to her. To extend the Pretty Woman feeling I'd had Thursday night. It was easy, dressed head-to-toe in clothes that Miranda had chosen for me. Dressed in satin boy shorts and silk bras, lying on my bed and covering myself in all the camisoles she'd picked for me. These were abundant. She'd bought lace and cotton, stretchy and loose; black, chartreuse and white; patterned, ruffled, ruched and sheer. And pink, pink, pink. There was watermelon, bubblegum, peach, salmon and berry. Fuchsia, magenta, coral, carnation and orchid. Hot pink, baby pink and light pink. So much pink that I blushed, because surely it must be her preference. Not on her, obviously. On me.
I chose pink this morning. This fantastic Monday morning when I could finally see her again after the long stretch of the weekend. My chocolate wool dress was crisscrossed with red and deep pink brushstrokes and featured a cowl neck. I wore it with five inch Louboutin suede pumps and a brown Burberry trench, all chosen for me by Miranda. Pink bra and panties she couldn't see. My glow was high.
She noticed right away, interrupting my review of her schedule to say, "This is all it took?"
I looked at her.
She waved a hand at my outfit. "You've lost the hideous attitude and all it took was a few clothes?"
Hideous attitude? That's what she had meant? "It was a gift, wasn't it?"
She pinked. "You don't want my gifts; you said that."
The gift of clothes was different, but I didn't know how to tell her that without riling her. I didn't want to say "the clothes weren't a bribe like the job at Harper's", but that's what I thought. This felt like a true gift from her heart. "You're right; I don't want your material gifts. I want the gift of staying. Take your clothes back and let me stay, and you'll never see the hideous attitude again. And you'll put thousands of dollars back into your pocket."
Her eyes were locked onto mine, and her walls were down.
"It was beyond extravagant." I blushed quickly, and more brightly than she had. "But you don't get it. These little elevator trips with you mean more to me than the clothes."
"Sometimes, Andrea, it's like looking into a mirror." Her eyes ran over my face. "You're so focused on what you want that you can't see what's happening in front of you."
This morning, I chose a gold sheath by Calvin Klein that was the same exact shade of gold prevalent in Miranda’s townhome. I picked it because of the color; I picked it to tell her that I understood what she'd meant yesterday, how I was just like her when I pursued a goal: I became so determined to make it happen that I lost sight of everything else.
"Sometimes, Andrea, it's like looking into a mirror. You're so focused on what you want that you can't see what's happening in front of you."
I had been so obsessed with the fact that she'd fired me that I hadn't even taken time to notice what was going on between us each morning in the elevator. We were connecting. She was reaching out to me, in her way.
She kept giving me things. She had said she was firing me, yet she guaranteed me a position at Harper's – a good position, one she said would take a decade of hard work and luck for me to get on my own.
When I sprained my ankle, she sent me to her doctor, which I suppose wasn’t really a gift, yet, I hadn’t asked for it, and she wasn’t bound in any way to pay for my x-ray and office visit. It hadn’t been her stupid idea for me to jump into the elevator. And she’d told me I didn’t have to return the cool motorcycle boots that were comfortable on my swollen ankle. Those were a gift to the tune of about five hundred bucks.
She let me wear her expensive scarf for a day, all day long, and she hadn’t asked for it back. She hadn’t acknowledged it in any way when I returned it. I think, if I’d kept it, she may never had said anything at all. She lived in abundance, and perhaps she didn’t miss the scarf; nevertheless, it was hers, she had been wearing it, but she put it around my neck and never once said “I expect you to return it tomorrow.”
Then she bought me a wealth of winter and spring outfits - complete outfits as well as many extra pieces, none of which had seemed hastily chosen – all sized perfectly, even though I'm not a perfect four. And somehow these clothes fit me as well as the ones Runway had tailored for me – the ones that I'd worn to benefits, galas and other outings with Miranda in which evening attire was necessary.
I was feeling such gratitude and warmth toward her this morning that it was upsetting to see her trudge across the lobby as if she were depressed. As she came close, I observed the sullen expression on her face.
Though she noticed the gold sheath – her eyes flickered over it in interest before becoming unfocused – it did nothing to lift her spirits. Which I found troubling, because just being in her presence lifted me.
"Are you okay?" I asked instead of reading out her schedule.
She didn't reply, just glanced at me and away, and that bothered me so much that I decided to be positively cheery to pick her up. I knew I’d become an attention whore. I would do anything to keep her focused on me while we were in the elevator, because I needed this time with her. I wanted her to need it as well. "What happened to the confessional? No one's using it."
She didn’t answer. A woman walked right into the elevator at the fourth floor, squeaked, turned around and walked right out.
I pushed Miranda further. "I guess I'll have to revive it myself. It's only fair, right?"
"I assure you, Andrea, I have heard enough of your confessions already." Miranda looked at me with utter indifference.
I could give her so many confessions she would indeed get sick. "Oh," I nodded slowly, teasing. "I see. Well, I have lots of information, you know." My tone was playful. "But I won't tell you how Emily used to get on her hands and knees to polish your desk and search the carpet for things the cleaners missed."
Miranda sneered. "That's it? I give you confessions of a famous lesbian jeweler who's been in love with me for years, and you give me Emily the maid?"
I grinned. "God, you're tough. Okay, okay." I thought about all the rumors within Elias-Clarke that swirled around Miranda. She was gossip fodder everywhere, but no place as great as here. "There's a lot of rumors about you, you know. Most of them are crazy outrageous. And everyone believes them."
Her interest was piqued, although I couldn't imagine why. "Which rumors in particular are you referring to?" She was out of her daze, her eyes vacillating between my face and my body, and she was really admiring my dress now.
I licked my lips. "There's the one where your kids' teachers are paid to give them A's, the one where you're a vampire – and there are plenty of people who think you might be, you know because of – of the flawless skin. That's a fun one." Miranda was so like a vampire sometimes, sucking the very blood from her employees. "There's the one where you pushed a model off her stilettos and she broke a leg and couldn't work again that season, so her career was ruined? And there are dozens of rumors about what you put us - me and Jessica and all the previous assistants - through. Maybe thousands. My personal favorite is the one where you…" And then I caught myself, because I almost said it out loud, that rumor about Miranda having sex with her assistants. It was a particularly detailed rumor, complete with dildos, whips and chains. The symbolism of it, you could almost write a thesis on: Miranda physically forcing us into submission to satisfy her needs.
Of course, Miranda forced no one to do anything. Her power was such that people wanted to please her; no torture necessary. That's why the sex rumors were my favorite – they were so wrong.
Miranda caught a whiff of what I had almost blurted, and I squirmed. She knew it. She could read me like a book. When she saw my discomfort, she wouldn't let it go. "Where I what, Andrea? Come on. You've got the nerve to say it, don't you? You're not afraid of anything… certainly not me. Hmm?"
I became paralyzed under her gaze.
"Where I what? Spank my assistants? Lock them away without food?" She zeroed in on my eyes. "Fuck them?" And then she dragged her eyes over me in a way I will never forget, a way that had me shaking, until the elevator finally stopped on our floor and she exited.
I ran on adrenalin and aftershocks, after that look, after those words, after hearing Miranda say 'fuck' and in that context, the rumor that she fucked her assistants. It had been an outrageous rumor, absurd, until she voiced it, until her eyes had raked over me. And then it seemed, somehow possible, if improbable. And so, so hot.
I could hardly speak this morning; mostly I stared at the floor, demure in my navy dress. I paired it with one of the two turquoise belts Miranda had given me. I knew the reason she included them in my collection – that embarrassing time when I was still new to Runway and I'd witnessed a discussion of how to accessorize a certain flouncy dress. I think it was Jocelyn who had held up what appeared to be identical belts - they were both turquoise, both slim, with silver buckles - and she was actually like, "Oh I can't decide! They're so different!" It was so absurd that I snickered loud enough for everyone in the room to hear.
Never did that again.
Still, it had taken me a while longer to realize that even if I didn't verbalize how ridiculous I thought fashion was, my clothing choices were speaking volumes. I couldn't understand why I could never please Miranda; it took Nigel pointing out how I was publicly mocking her every time I went to my closet to pick out the day's outfit for me to finally get it.
Of course, now, given the same situation, I would see the difference in the belts Jocelyn had been holding up. I thought today might be a good time to let Miranda know that.
She noticed, but then she noticed everything. And she used her observations to shock me further.
While I was going through the schedule, I looked up to find her watching me. She removed her sunglasses while holding my gaze, and said, "Do go on."
I did, but I continued to feel her eyes on me, and looked up once more, while I was reminding her about the afternoon of editorial meetings. Her eyes were on mine, then they deliberately swept over me again, checking out my belt, then moving up to my breasts.
I began sweating, because she had found a new game, hadn't she? A new kind of torture. Our gazes met again, and she smirked. I had gone from her handmaid to her model to her hopeful courtesan. Or perhaps her opponent, because this felt distinctly like a dare on her part.
I'd always been good at flirting, but my little seductions were never the battle plans Miranda's were. I wondered how to meet her challenge. Not by backing down. So many had fallen by Miranda's proverbial sword; I wouldn't be the first or last or most significant.
I knew I had to meet her head-on to survive this last season. I dropped my hand to my side, the one holding my cell phone, and stared at her flashing eyes.
Miranda had so many attractive features – her glorious, trademark white hair, flawless skin, radiant smile that was so seldom seen, her sensuality that she could turn on and off like a tap. But her eyes could kill you. How they seemed to change color depending on what she was wearing or the kind of mood she was in. I’d seen them look dark as night when she was tired, steely when she was angry, and almost blue when she wore an azure scarf.
This morning, they were as gray as thunderclouds.
I took in her confident bearing and the arrogant tilt of her chin. How her soft, monochrome outfit sharpened the lines of her face and made her look fierce even in repose. She wore a nipped-waist leather blazer in pewter over a sleek turtleneck. It and her slit, silk skirt were the same metallic color as the jacket, but because the three pieces were made from different materials, the lush hues were harmonious, though not identical. She offset them with a dark violet crocodile clutch; her shoes were ruthless black stilettos.
It was a color palette that could wash out another person's complexion, but not Miranda's. She was made a warrior. Her cheeks were ruddy, her gaze malevolent. She looked like she had just sprung from battle in Themyscira, and had mistakenly grabbed her purse instead of sword.
There's only one goddess she'd be on Mt. Olympia. "Like Athena," I murmured. "Always with the eyes."
She frowned, but she had been derailed. And she was curious. Her lips pursed, then she opened her mouth to ask a question, but the elevator chimed and we exited. I felt mildly victorious.
The next day she stared at me from the moment she entered the lobby. I stood by the elevator and awaited her arrival. Her eyes never left mine. The victorious feeling I'd had the morning before – which had carried me through the day – surged through me once again, and I felt her beside me when I pressed the button for our floor. I felt her reach behind me; she was pressing the button for the top floor, and I turned to her, to find her eyes were all over me.
I leaned against the elevator wall and let her look. I had chosen a Ralph Lauren maxi skirt this morning – long, wool, tartan in mostly navy and white - it was meant for leisurely wear, for weekend wear. It was one of those skirts that would have been photographed on a model sitting on a fence in a field, wearing equestrian boots and holding a riding crop. But I wore mine with some Miu Miu biker boots (one of my favorite things she'd bought me, because I assumed they were a nod to my John Hardy biker boots I'd gotten from the closet when I sprained my ankle) and knee-high socks that peeked out from the wrapped front of the skirt. My top was a thin slate cashmere sweater that hugged me like a second skin. I had been very deliberate with everything this morning - from boots to eye shadow. Gray wasn't great on me; unlike Miranda, who wore it well, I often looked deathly ill when I wore it. But I wanted to pay tribute to her eyes, and I had risked it. I had taken a lot of time on my makeup, perfecting it. I'd parted my bangs and worked them into the rest of my hair so that my face opened a bit.
The time I had spent was worth every second of effort. Miranda stood close, devouring me with her eyes. I didn't know what her mood was until she reached down and touched my skirt near the knee. She opened it to get a look at my boots and socks. "This is casual wear," she said. "Not meant for work."
I parted my legs just a bit, trying to be subtly sexy, trying not to shake at her nearness, at her hand still on my skirt, still holding it open. "I wore it for you."
I saw her nostrils flare slightly when my legs parted, saw her looking at the bare skin above my boots, above my knee-highs, above my knees as she opened the skirt ever slightly more.
"'Cause when will I ever see you casually?" I asked, and it came out breathless, because, oh god, she was holding my skirt open. "I have to put everything into these small segments of time." I closed my eyes and inhaled her scent. When I opened them again, her eyes were still pinned to my bare legs. "Seconds of time alone with you. It's all I have; I have to make them count."
As she straightened, she drew her eyes up slowly, letting the skirt fall, oblivious to the elevator door opening and closing, of someone seeing her and turning around quickly, of us rising alone together. Her gaze finally reached mine and she purred, "Athena?"
I smiled, lips closed, bashful suddenly, looking away, and nodded. "My professor was obsessed with her. The Greeks sometimes said she had the bluest of blue eyes, sometimes gray flashing eyes. Like your eyes."
"The goddess of war," she said.
"Or peace, depending on how you look at it," I said, trying to attend her ego. "She was the protector of the city. She battled with intelligence, courage, skill, and self-control - very cool and collected, not impetuous much, not until somebody stepped on her ego by saying something ridiculous, like they were better at weaving or something. Because she was the patron goddess of arts and crafts, too. Craftsmen looked to her for protection and assistance." I paused; Miranda's eyes were steady on mine. "You're always fighting for the arts, aren't you?" I waved my hand in her direction. "You're constantly at battle to protect and serve your own craftsmen, the designers. You're constantly at battle with Elias-Clarke, aren't you? When all they want is for your book to be one long series of ads."
She studied me for what seemed a long time, not a foot from me. The doors opened at the top floor and closed again. "If you think I'm the goddess of war, what would that make you? One of my soldiers?"
I stared at her.
She twisted her head, and gave me a calculating look. "A messenger."
I licked my lips. "Pallas."
Her brow furrowed.
"She was killed by Athena, accidentally, when she let her guard down," I said. I had only seconds of time. I stared into her eyes, trying to make her understand. "They were only playing."
Her eyes were on my lips, then my eyes. She turned away, and turned back, the change in her posture causing her knee to brush mine. She didn't move it. "This skirt isn't suitable for errands. Have the girl go out today. You stay close, Andrea."
I nodded, heart thudding, face flushing.
The next morning I wore a feisty outfit. A short skirt with fishnet stockings that peeked out above my high boots, which would pull her eyes to my legs again, by design. And a blouse that hugged my breasts. Miranda had picked quite a few of those for me. I wondered how she had done that. Almost as if they had been tailored for me.
She entered the elevator looking distracted, and her eyes were riveted to my thighs, to the fishnet.
"How did you know my bra size?" I asked her when the elevator doors closed.
Her look suggested that this might have been the dumbest thing I had ever asked her. "Nigel had your measurements. Those nice evening gowns don't come ready-to-wear."
A cynical little silence followed. "You're not going to toy with me," I said defiantly.
She narrowed her eyes.
"I'm not going to be Sophie."
In an instant she became amused, and said acerbically, "I should hope not. Of course, my Sophie wasn't fatally wounded, like Athena's Pallas."
I turned red, but plowed on. I wanted to get to the bottom of Miranda's love life. She always picked such pedestrian choices. "Why don't you date your Sophie? She's perfect for you." I paused at her gaze. Then, "She's beautiful, successful, wealthy…" I trailed off.
Sophie was perfect for Miranda. So perfect, if Miranda was romantically interested in women. I had only known her to be involved with men, though. They were an important part of her life; her marriages had been with men. She was still close to the twins' father, and a couple of her best friends were guys. Nigel had been her right hand at Runway for more than a dozen years. Plus, she seemed to always have a gentleman on hand to go to galas with.
I'd never known her to have a girlfriend. Now, it struck me as odd - why wouldn't she be attracted to women? She surrounded herself with them. Her life was women.
Miranda's gaze was steady. "Perhaps you should date her, in that case. You do like successful women, don't you?"
I pursed my lips.
"And she's older, too," Miranda added quietly, with an edge to her voice. "A bonus."
I felt my whole body flush, and I looked down.
"Last fur of the season," Miranda said, before the doors had even closed. "It's getting too warm out." She hit the top button after I had pushed the button for our floor.
I wondered where exactly the fur in question was. She wore a trench coat, tied, and then - who knew? Perhaps a skirt and jacket beneath, or perhaps a dress; I couldn't tell. I tucked my phone away in preparation. She hadn't worn fur in the past few weeks without commanding me to touch it.
"What were you thinking," she asked suddenly. "When you touched my fur that time? The Fendi?"
I blushed. The first time I had touched one of Miranda's fur coats, I had been thinking about the woman herself, her skin, her face, her body, her eyes. I had been thinking about opening the fur; I had been thinking about the scent that she wore. I had been thinking about kissing her hands, her lips, her neck.
"Your hands were all over me," Miranda said quietly, but with relish, as if it titillated her, which it should, as it was an untruth. My hands had been only on her coat.
The few times Miranda towered over me, it was because I wore flats when she wore an outrageous heel. But she had never stood as tall as I did today. I loomed over her, she, in her charming Tabitha Simmons pumps with the short, narrow heels – not even two inches. She might be my height if I were barefoot. But I wore platforms: Miu Miu python slingbacks stacking at five point five. I wasn't just taller than her today; I was an amazon.
I felt emboldened, by her words, by the way she was looking at me. I stepped to her and untied the trench, her eyes on my face. I didn't untie it as her handmaid; I untied it as her pretend courtesan, pulling the sash firmly enough to cause her body to sway toward me. Her eyelashes fluttered, and then she leaned back against the cab wall.
"Later, you practically ran from my office and you didn't stop at your desk."
I didn't answer, but glanced down as I held the trench open, and there was the fur, lining the inside. And her body, in a fitted, rather masculine blazer and skirt, and her ivory chest.
"Tell me what you were thinking about."
I touched the fur close to her waist. "You," I said, stroking.
"That's your answer for everything, isn't it?" she asked contemptuously.
I closed my eyes, but the silkiness of the fur, the nearness of Miranda's body, the scent of her perfume, created a combination too heady for an elevator ride. I opened my eyes to find her studying my face.
"Pallas was killed because she was distracted," she said.
I looked down at my hands, caressing the fur close to her body, being careful not to touch her. "That's what I said, wasn't it?" I asked quietly.
"You said she let her guard down; there's a difference. One can lead to the other, but they aren't the same."
I looked once more into her eyes. "I stand corrected. You would know all about letting guards down."
"You would know all about distractions," Miranda said.
She was leaning, still, against the elevator wall. I twisted my fingers in the fur on either side of her waist. "Last fur," I said, and pulled her to me by the handfuls.
"Last hideous thing you wear?" I asked, and gave a lift of the eyebrow and a quirk of the lips that was a dead-on impression of her.
Her smile was quick and true.
Newly written chapter! Thanks as ever to my beta reader, sheknowsnofear, who makes all things better.
When my wardrobe had arrived that memorable evening not long ago, it came in a battalion of bags, boxes and trunks. “What am I gonna do with all this stuff?” I’d said to Doug — because the clothes literally filled the tiny apartment I shared with him.
He brushed it off. “We’ll find somewhere to put it.” When I began fretting that there was no room, he chastised me: “Welcome to cynical island, Chapstick. Population you. When somebody gives you pricey new garms, you don’t complain that your iron closet’s too small to hold ‘em.” He proceeded to organize all of it by designer while I fussed and moved the couch to make more room.
Every morning since then, I’ve asked his opinion on my outfits for the day. It’s more than Doug’s assurance I’ve needed; much of the clothing was mix-and-match and suddenly I had no confidence when pulling something together. This only got worse as time went on, because Miranda was looking at me now, much more now than ever before, it seemed.
From Runway’s closet I’d learned what I could wear that wouldn’t cause her to twitch, but owning a hand-selected wardrobe made me nervous in a new way. She’d picked out all of it for me; I didn’t want to to let her down.
At first, I mostly stuck with the dresses Miranda had sent me, because they were harder to mess up. I still had to pair them with the right bags, shoes and coats, but it was a lot easier to do that than to combine a skirt from one designer, a blouse from another, and finish out the ensemble with the right cardigan or jacket, coat, shoes, tights or hose, jewelry, scarf, hairstyle and makeup.
It wasn't like I had a signature look, like Emily. She wore modern outfits with outrageous shoes every day, and all of it seemed to have the same kind of edgy look. Her nails were consistently dark, her eyelids neon; her copper red hair was always worn down. The way I wore my hair and makeup changed from outfit to outfit, and my outfits never seemed as cohesive as hers.
Doug told me not to worry, that I’d find my signature look at some point. I told him I already knew what it was - blue jeans and boots, messenger bag over my shoulder. Blouse, jewelry, and a minimum amount of makeup. Hair down. Real relaxed.
At first, he giggled like I'd made a joke. Then he cleared his throat. “Okay, so maybe minimal is your look. But-“ He waved in the direction of one of the garment racks. “There isn't a whole lot of minimal right here.”
“So what do I do?” I asked. “I mean, I've been throwing it all together, like what looks good - stuff you like. But it doesn’t... I'm not sure I'd wear it if I wasn't at Runway. I mean… I wouldn’t wear some of this stuff down the street.”
He snapped his fingers and pointed at me. "That's what you do. Dress for the street, not Runway.”
I didn't think I could do that. Several mornings, I was abnormally stressed, trying to figure out what to wear that Miranda would not only approve of, but adore. What if I put together an outfit that clashed and disappointed her? A lot of the clothes were tame, but some were downright preposterous. The orange cape that Nigel had given me from Runway’s closet last year was boring compared to the lime green, glittery Gucci skirt and shimmering purple paisley Dries van Noten pants.
Sure, I could figure some of it out on my own. Like Burberry’s Delft-inspired short jacket that didn’t exactly match the yellow blouse and navy, patterned slacks that were from the same season, but when I put them together, the outfit somehow looked right.
“That’s what you should focus on,” Doug said when I shared this little insight, “not things that were meant to go together, but that feel right to you.”
Still, even after two years of working at Runway, I wasn’t a design genius and there was a lot yet to learn about fashion. Doug was a good teacher, always patient and never afraid to celebrate the outlandish. Though that clearly wasn't my style.
“Isn’t…” I held up an Alexander McQueen dress designed by Sarah Burton. “Isn’t this ugly?” It was a sleeveless, quilt-looking, paneled thing which came down to my shins. Embroidered front-to-back with flowers, pagan symbolism, ships, crests, and the English alphabet, the sheath looked like a messy, half-started collage of random stuff. I thought that if I ever wore it, I'd stand out like a sore thumb. The colors alone - baby blue, olive green, gold, gray, black, and many shades of red - seemed strange. All over it, crimson strings had been left hanging in threads and loops. The hem was unfinished, lending to the overall messy look.
At Doug’s silent, impenetrable gaze, I hesitated. “I mean, is it?”
“It’s important,” he said quietly. “Look at this panel. Right from a medieval tapestry.” He pointed at another. “That’s actually hand-stitched needlepoint.”
I rubbed my finger over it. “Kinda reminds me of my gran,” I told him, picturing the sampler that hung in her dining room. Hers was quaint and homey; the McQueen piece was stark in comparison.
Doug spent the next hour pouring over the dress like it was a treasure map, pointing out all its unique displays of handiwork. He helped me understand how Burton had incorporated a hodgepodge of sewing techniques as a tribute to her forefathers and -mothers, and how it had been sewn with great care and love. The hanging threads and unfinished hem weren’t mistakes, they were design choices.
I began seeing it with new eyes. It was more than someone’s tribute to their grandmother; it was like a time capsule of ancestral craftsmanship. By the time Doug had thoroughly examined and analyzed the dress, I agreed with him - it was a work of art.
Miranda had expected me to understand its importance, and that made me proud. The fact that she thought it would look good on me - that I would wear it well - thrilled me to no end. Overnight, I grew to love it and couldn’t wait to wear it.
This morning, I put it on. Miranda had given me a black leather biker jacket, longer than my old one, butter soft, sleek and shiny. I wore it and pulled on some short boots from the same season. I left my hair loose, and a little messy. Street style, I realized, just like Doug said. Simple and chill, like I wanted to look. “What do you think?” I asked him. We fiddled with jewelry - an antique-looking gold cuff, a thin leather choker - until he pronounced me Miranda-worthy.
“Fabulous!” he smiled. “And all you.”
“Not like a clacker?” I asked, already knowing what he’d say.
“Girl, I look more like a clacker than you.” Glancing down at his pajamas, he amended. “Well, give me a minute.”
I stood by the elevators, waiting for Miranda. The McQueen dress fit like a dream; Doug said it made me look older, but also: smart, artistic, and worldly. I reverently touched the panel on my collarbone - a beaded, red rose.
Miranda was on the phone when she entered the building, but stopped for a moment, and stared at me. I felt such gratitude and warmth, I know my smile was huge. She smiled back, hanging up the phone absentmindedly. Then she came my way, her stride long and confident.
Before the elevator doors had closed, she was fingering the loose threads at my waist. “You’re fortunate,” she murmured. “To be young enough to wear something like this.”
“You could wear it!” I protested. “It would look amazing on you.”
She shook her head. “I’ll appreciate it on you, instead.”
And she did. I glanced her way throughout the day to find her gazing at me fondly. Her mood was cheerful and relaxed.
As if Miranda controlled the weather, after a very cold winter, New York felt an early spring hit. And with the warmer weather came an almost insane interaction between us.
I tried not to think about it. I only knew that when I saw her stalking across the lobby in the mornings, my entire body seemed attuned to the direction she was taking, and I found myself turning toward her, even when she was twenty feet away. My stomach, already full of butterflies, would flip-flop, and my heart would beat hard in my chest. Chills raced across my arms whenever she said my name. I watched her eyes, her lips, her hands.
She knew, and she used it to her advantage.
Miranda had quite the sadistic streak, so she didn't wear just anything lately; she wore the most luscious garments I'd ever seen. Not just luxurious, but sexy. And it wasn't just my imagination, not my heightened sense of awareness of her.
Jessica's mouth dropped open one day when I removed Miranda's coat to reveal a pale gray sheath that dipped in a low V in the front and hugged her breasts; it made her look ethereal, sexy and slightly trampy all at the same time. "Wow," Jessica uttered, before she could stop herself.
Miranda had whipped around at that, but before she could say something snarky, which would send Jess to tears, I said very softly, "You do look wow, Miranda. Really, really wow."
And amazingly, instead of something cutting, Miranda said, "Thank you, Jessica." Jess glowed for days.
It seemed that Miranda purposefully chose the ethereal-sexy look for a while, as the warm weather held out and the sun was glorious. A light wool coat hid a clingy cardigan, which was covering a partially transparent blouse. She had me remove her coat and take her purse. She had me remove her cardigan. It was hard to do that without touching her. It was hard to remain a handmaid, particularly when my eyes lit on the sheerness of the blouse. She looked so soft and pretty (and she gave that impression, until she opened her mouth and the caustic remarks flew).
As soon as she tired of ethereal, she came in wearing Balmain’s diamond-encrusted short jacket with sharp angles and exaggerated shoulder pads, signaling the beginning of a 1980s fashion revival. I was amazed to see everyone across the office pick up the trend. None of them pulled it off with Miranda’s panache, though.
I wasn’t into trends at all, but everyone else seemed to be having fun with the neon colors, Members Only jackets, and parachute pants. I was too busy working on my own style each morning. I was learning that when I went with what I liked, Doug almost always approved. And so did Miranda. She never said anything about my clothes, but occasionally I would get a nod or smile from her. I never got the pursed lips anymore, even though I wasn't following the Runway - or runway - looks du jour. My only concession to the two-week fad were the mirrored gold leather open-toed Zanotti’s I wore with a simple skirt and top.
“Oh, I get it,” Nigel said snidely when he saw me that day. It was a rare occasion for our paths to cross, so I stopped in mid-stride to chat with him. “You’re too clever to be trendy, but you’ll poke fun at the rest of us who dare to be bold, beautiful and brave.”
I chuckled, but didn’t have time to reply before he continued.
“Emily tells me all your clothes are this fabulous these days. I can’t imagine where they’re coming from – certainly not Casual Corner, hm? Not the closet, either, according to her.” His phone buzzed and he glanced at it. “She Who Must Not Be Named calls. Toodles.” He abruptly turned away. But he walked backwards for a minute, saying, “Let’s catch up sometime, Six. I want to know all about your sugar daddy.” His eyebrows shot up hopefully. “Maybe he has a friend?”
I grinned and waved him off, but he had unnerved me. No one else even noticed my new wardrobe – I guess Jessica and everyone else assumed it was from the closet – but Nigel and Emily, both of whom I saw only in passing these days, realized something was up.
Well, they could keep wondering; I’d never tell. Because I couldn’t imagine the consequences. Miranda would flat out deny it. It might embarrass her, it might make her furious. Or she may be totally indifferent. But I didn’t want to find out.
Besides, everyone at work was so jaded and snarky. Either they'd think I was lying about the clothes or they'd believe Miranda only gave them to me for some nefarious reason. It was better like this, with no one at Runway but she and I knowing about her extravagant gift.
It was the sweetest of secrets.
Miranda ended the 80s throwback with timeless, head-to-toe Chanel. Her dress was vanilla-color, her jacket cream. I gawked at her in the elevator. "I take it you approve," she said. "But would you have known it was Chanel if not for the signature stamp?" She indicated the logo emblazoned on her jacket, the interlocking double C. "I suspect not. I suspect you've learned nothing."
"I may not have your words to describe it, but I think I'd know," I replied, reaching out and touching her blazer. I rubbed the fabric between my fingers. "I've learned other things, important things," I said, looking into her eyes. "About publishing, about running a business, about budgeting, time constraints, meeting deadlines. I've learned how to work for someone who's just about impossible to please."
Which earned me a glint in her eyes that verged on irritation.
"But I've also learned how impossible your job is," I said. Miranda was doing a Chanel spread for the next issue, and she had cut some of Patrick's photos – some striking photos that I really loved. She'd cut the images because they didn't quite impart whatever it was that she wanted to push in that particular article. "And I've learned that Miranda Priestly, who loves art, walks a tightrope between lifting it to a higher level in her magazine and destroying it altogether," I added quietly.
Her eyes were on my face; we were isolated, in another world. I ran my finger over a gold button also emblazoned with the Chanel logo. "But maybe I haven't learned anything about fashion because I don't know what to say to describe this Chanel, besides how it looks on you, elegant and classy. You wear it so well. You're so gorgeous." I realized what I said. I realized that the button I was tracing was at her chest. I realized she was intimately close, and I stepped away, blushing brightly.
One morning, while removing Miranda’s jacket, I inadvertently touched her breast. "Accident," I muttered immediately. But her gasp and the fleeting feeling of her body made me want to push her against the wall right then and there. I knew this had veered out of control.
So I initiated a 'dry spell', as I called the few occasions that we backed off, and played it strictly professional. Times that I didn't flirt, and Miranda didn't ogle, that I didn't play courtesan, that she didn't order me to touch something, and we each pretended to be completely unaware of the other’s presence.
The only problem was, I was the only one acting professionally. I was faking it - pretending Miranda was just another person and not someone I was crazy about. But she continued with her sadistic outfits, skimpier as spring progressed; there were no coats to remove, only scant wraps.
I kept thinking about how all of this was ending soon, how my time was running out. So I focused on everything but her, because I wouldn't see her during any other spring, ever again. A thought that I was trying not to acknowledge.
But there came a day when she wore an outfit that demanded acknowledgment.
She wore a Bill Blass suit that hugged everything. The slacks cupped her ass; the jacket was cut around her slender arms and narrow waist. She had it buttoned over a silk camisole, a chartreuse one that she'd worn on several occasions, and it always drove me out of my mind. You could never see much of it, because Miranda kept her jacket on all day, but occasionally – strategically – she would unbutton the single jacket, and put her hand on her hip. And there it would be, the cami fitting her like a glove, forming to her breasts, and no one within any distance - gay, straight, bisexual or other - could help but looking. Fuck fifty, Miranda wasn't afraid of clothing or her sexuality, and she flaunted everything.
I saw the suit as she stalked across the lobby. I saw the pants, I saw the jacket peeking out from the trench coat, and I knew. I knew that damn cami was underneath. I began discussing the schedule, trying to keep my cool, as I had for several days now, but Miranda immediately unbelted the trench and unbuttoned the jacket. Of course, I watched. "What's that you were saying about Patrick?" she asked in a 'gotcha' tone, knowing what she was doing to me, taunting me with it. I looked at her a little bit dangerously.
I felt a little bit dangerous, in fact. So much for the dry spell. I slipped my phone away and stepped to her. I opened the trench, and then the jacket, carelessly knocking her satchel to the floor. I stared my fill at the creamy skin and the breasts in her tiny cami, while Miranda stared at my face. I was aware of her lips parting, of her sharp intake of breath, of the rapid pulse at the pulse point at her neck. "You're trying to kill me," I muttered.
I stared at her torso, and let my eyes travel up to meet her eyes, and we gazed at each other. Something passed between us, and I felt a sharp cognizance; I felt the potent rush of turning her on. My eyes traveled back downward, and rested on her breasts. She moaned softly. I jerked my gaze up and we locked eyes again.
The elevator came to a stop several floors before ours, and right in time, too, because this was spinning out of control. I stepped away and Miranda buttoned her jacket. Someone who was about to board saw her and ducked away.
"I thought you quit caring," Miranda said lightly. She picked up her satchel from where it had fallen.
"I've been trying to act professionally," I said indignantly.
She tilted her head back and laughed at this, and, having witnessed her laugh only a few times, I laughed as well. "You make it difficult," I said after a moment.
"I do? I do?" She gave me the once over. "You're the one opening my clothes as you wish and ogling me, and ordering me about. And I'm making this difficult?"
I pressed my hand against my forehead and smiled. Of course she saw it this way – I was ordering her about and ogling her when she was totally in control. "You have no idea how you affect me," I said.
"Tell me," she said in a low voice.
"I thought you heard enough of my confessions." I searched her face.
The elevator chimed.
"Ah! Saved by the bell," I said, and followed her, opening the door to Runway and letting her breeze through. I took the satchel and trench coat effortlessly, Miranda took the book and coffee smoothly, and Jess didn't even glance our way.
"The elevator confessional seems to be dry lately," Miranda said a few days later.
I was just about to go through the schedule. I was trying really hard not to look at her black Prada dress and how well it fit across her torso and hips. She already knew what she did to me; my gazes just added fuel to the fire.
She gave me a look. "Tell me how I affect you. And if you don't make it snappy, and if you are saved by the bell again today…" She cocked her head to the side.
I frowned. "What? What are you going to do? Fire me again?" I should have realized she was teasing, probably would have realized it under usual circumstances, but I was moody and tired this morning. I had been running late, had run through my hair and makeup quickly, and it occurred to me, hearing her tone, that perhaps she would take elevator privileges away. It wasn't beyond her rationale if I looked as unkempt as I felt, that she'd kick me out of our private club.
The elevator came to a stop at the third floor. I turned and snapped at a man who got a glimpse of Miranda and was just about to step away anyway. "For god's sake, doesn't anyone take the stairs?"
"You're wasting time," Miranda purred, before the doors had once again closed, before the man had time to move or do anything other than gape.
I took one look at her face, at her eyes, and began talking. It wasn't the sexy chatter that she had been expecting, no doubt. But it was the truth. I watched the floor numbers light up as we ascended. "How you affect me… It's simple sometimes, like seeing you in that camisole or the Fendi coat… Then it's complicated, sometimes, like seeing you with your daughters in their costumes, all dressed up for Halloween, how the look on your face went from all business to all mom, and feeling like I'd witnessed something private, and how it made me happy to see you happy. And then it's … it's neither simple nor complicated, it's just the status quo, sometimes, like when your husband has filed for a divorce, and you're trying not to cry, and I want to comfort you so much that I'm trying not to cry, and I ask you how I can help. And you tell me to do my job." I swallowed. "That's how you affect me, Miranda."
The elevator chimed, and the doors opened. Miranda was completely still for a moment, then she moved away and waited for me to open the door to Runway. I did, and we went about our routine silently, but my hands shook when I unbuttoned her light coat, and though I kept myself together, the trip to Paris that first year haunted me the rest of the day, and Miranda called my name not once.
The morning after was especially tense. I was so lost in memories - thinking of Paris, and my mistakes, and Miranda's mistakes - that I didn't notice what she was wearing; I barely recognized that she was present. When she arrived, we boarded the elevator and rode in silence until she spoke.
"I turned around and you were gone." There was no anger in her voice, only bewilderment. "I was shocked, and … frightened that something had happened to you. Then I realized you left of your own will, and I became angry." She gave me a penetrating look. "Then you knocked on my door in the middle of the night, and I took you back, without so much as a question." She looked at the elevator doors. Her next words sounded weary. "Why don't you dwell on that woman for a while and maybe you'll find she's a nice counterpoint to the cold bitch you keep trying to hate? The one who can't bring herself to fire you and forces you instead to take the most outrageous offer she's ever enticed an employee with. The one that goes something like this: pick what you want Andrea, and I will give it to you."
I was stunned into silence. I stepped off the elevator as if in a dream, opened the door for her, and was vaguely aware of Jess bolting for the bathroom. I took Miranda's handbag and began unbuttoning her Stella McCartney twill coat, a bit heavy for the weather. I wondered if she was cold, and I wanted to rectify this. I wanted to warm her, my own goddess, my real-life, better-than-Athena goddess. "I'm so sorry, Miranda."
"Something else you need to realize, Andrea, is that you doing your job is a great comfort to me."
I wanted to ask her why, then, was she firing me, but I already knew the answer to this. Miranda wanted me to move on; she didn't want to keep me here, as an assistant, when she saw the future shining brightly before me. She had said this, right at the beginning, only I hadn't wanted to hear. I met her eyes and smiled, and finally, with less than a month remaining, accepted that I was leaving her employ.
"Sophie Charpiot has somehow found her way onto your schedule again," I said, as I reviewed Miranda's calendar for her. It was late morning; Miranda had already been to a meeting before coming to the office.
Her eyes fairly twinkled. "She called last night; I had the girl fit her in."
"So you're having lunch with her instead of having it at your desk while you review Patrick's photos."
"Oh don't sound so disapproving, Mother," she said. "She has questions about the future."
My mouth dropped open. "She what?"
Miranda, breathtaking in another Chanel number, tsk'd me. "That look isn't becoming on you, Andrea," she said. "Gaping."
"After ten years, she has questions about the future?"
Miranda smiled. "About her jewelry. You do have a vivid imagination."
I looked at her cautiously. "Well, maybe she'll finally take the bull by the horns and ask you out."
"What makes you think she hasn't already? And been rejected?"
"Huh." I was trying to read her eyes, but she was still smiling, and her smile was distracting. "Well, I'd be asking about the future, too, if I were her. I'd be visiting you a hell of a lot more than once or twice a year, that's for sure. If I were Sophie."
Her smile softened and then vanished. "I closed that door long ago."
"Then I'd keep reopening it."
"Why?" Miranda asked.
"Because it's you on the other side."
The look she gave me made the risk worthwhile.
Miranda was wearing an indigo dress that was tailored to fit her slim figure, clinging to every curve, and particularly her breasts. The neckline showed even though she wore a cardigan over it. She was staring at me, at my perusal of her outfit. "You know these designers," she said. "How?"
I waved my hand. "You look … Sorry, I know that blue is supposed to draw attention to your eyes, but it so doesn't." No one would get beyond her breasts – the neckline saw to that.
"You're transparent as glass," she sniffed. "Not one bevel to you, just the single facet. I can see right through you. Tell me who the designers are, and how you know it's them. Quickly."
"Uh, your dress is Zac Posen because his clothes are so tailored, and the way it's constructed around the neckline is hard to do… Tory Burch sweater-"
"Cardigan," she interrupted.
"Because it looks like my Valentine's Day shirt-"
I grinned widely. She was staring now at my outfit, a clingy velour mini dress by Juicy Couture, and tall Jimmy Choo boots, no stockings, no hose, just bare legs. It was a young ensemble, but she couldn't take her eyes off me. That bit of knowledge triggered a realization, and I became almost giddy with it. "I can see right through you too, you know," I retorted.
She rolled her eyes.
"Just because you have all those walls around you doesn't mean they aren't transparent." I suddenly felt very smug. "Like your symbolic office." I kept pushing, because she always, always pushed me. "I know why you're not interested in Sophie Charpiot. I couldn't figure it out. I couldn't see the forest for the trees."
She finally tore her eyes from my bare legs and looked at me with mild interest.
But suddenly, I understood that revealing this to her would erect a barrier I'd probably never get across. She'd be embarrassed or angry, and she'd never forgive me. She wasn't attracted to Sophie, I realized, who was a wealthy, successful, drop-dead gorgeous artist, because Sophie was too old for her. Sophie must have been in her early forties. And with the way Miranda looked at me, the way Miranda had always looked at me, it was obvious that she liked younger women. And older men. I was proud of myself for figuring it out.
"Are you going to share?" she asked.
The elevator chimed, and I bolted.
New chapter! Thanks as ever to my beta reader, sheknowsnofear, who makes all things better.
Since Jess had taken the role of first assistant, I seldom accompanied Miranda to galas and other parties. I didn’t even visit local ateliers with her anymore. And since I didn’t deliver the book either, that meant I could usually go home at a decent hour.
It also meant I had no occasion to wear the evening gowns that she had given me. There were several of them, exceedingly beautiful, designed to be worn to fancy parties.
I wanted Miranda to see how they looked on me, so I decided this morning to wear one to work. It meant I couldn’t run errands, which shouldn’t be a problem - lately Miranda had been making Jess do the bulk of them.
So I chose a black, floor-length Ralph Lauren. It was both edgy and sophisticated, with a bodice that reminded me of a torn t-shirt. Four elegant, cut-out flower petals at my midriff flashed my bare skin.
I knew I looked nice; still, Miranda frowned when she strode into the lobby and saw me. “Hey,” I smiled.
“That gown is meant to be worn to an event, Andrea, not work.”
“I know, but-“
“You’ll ruin it,” she said, stepping into the elevator.
“I’ll be super careful. Just wanted you to see it on me. I haven’t had the chance to wear the evening stuff at all.”
She sniffed in disdain while eyeing it, neckline to hem. “But surely you have occasion to wear it. It would be appropriate at a formal event – The Oceana Ball, The Met and MoMA galas - they’re right around the corner. La Bohème is running in a couple of weeks, the Henry Street-”
I couldn’t help chuckling, and she stopped in mid-sentence.
A look of enlightenment crossed her face. She cleared her throat. “And the Marchesa?”
I bit my lip to keep from laughing out loud. The Marchesa was, by far, the dreamiest thing Miranda had given to me. Truly couture. Hand-sewn arrangements of ivory orchids adorned the strapless, sheer silver gown. The torso was entirely made up of those flowers; the skirt and train were gauzy tulle, trailing a dissipating, wispy cloud of petals. In our cramped, old apartment, the gown was empyreal. When I tried it on, Doug had been speechless.
To say that it was luxurious or extravagant really didn’t do it justice, because Miranda had given me an entire wardrobe of swanky, sumptuous clothes. The Marchesa wasn’t a dress for an ordinary woman like me. I couldn’t even imagine where I’d wear it. Even if I still attended events as Miranda’s assistant, the gown was just too much. It was meant for a big occasion, one in which I was more than a subordinate. I’d have to be someone special - like Miranda’s date - at an important event (The Met Gala, maybe) - to wear it.
“I don’t - I don’t go to stuff like that, Miranda, except, you know, for work.” I looked down, trying to hide my big smile. “I’m flattered, though. The Marchesa - it’s like a fairytale.”
After a moment, she sniffed. “I suppose going to the movies and eating popcorn is a night out for you.”
I laughed. “On a good night, yeah.”
She seemed perplexed by this, but a smile snuck across her face as the elevator dinged at our floor.
As was Miranda’s nature, she continued the conversation the following morning. I was wearing a checked miniskirt with a flattering Gucci pullover. My boots were over-the-knee peep toes, and I loved them.
Miranda, however, didn’t seem to notice. “Is it a lack of interest? The reason you don’t attend charity balls and the like,” she said without preamble.
I donated to charities, sure. But I couldn’t afford five-thousand-dollars-a-plate galas. I knew she knew what my salary was; her signature was on my checks, after all. The reason I didn’t go to the big celebrity events that she did should be obvious to her. I pushed my bangs back. “I don’t - I don’t know anybody, Miranda, who goes to those things. Except you.”
She studied my face. “You have contacts. You’ve met many people while working at Runway.”
I furrowed my brow, wishing I could make her understand. She and her wealthy friends were in a whole different class than me. “You mean the high society people, the ones who make Page Six all the time.”
She didn’t disagree, just waited.
“I don’t like them,” I explained.
She seemed clueless when she said, “But you like me.”
“Well, you’re different.”
Her look was obtuse. When the elevator dinged a moment later, she was still staring at me.
I was reading Miranda's schedule aloud, scrolling down my cell, past the details of why exactly Patrick felt the need to see her (to convince her to resurrect the photos she'd rejected for Nigel's Fashion for Charities spread), when I saw that she'd added an appointment herself. She seldom did that. Unlike her scribbled contacts that showed up sporadically, appointments were made by me or Jess, because Miranda could seldom be bothered with the details, like time and place. If she wanted to meet with someone, she told us, and we took care of it.
"You're meeting with Stephen at noon," I said, feeling discouraged for myself, and dread for her. Their marriage had ended in an ugly divorce, with Stephen publicly dragging Miranda through the mud.
Her eyes coursed over my face, and she gave a slight nod.
I bit my lip and scrolled.
"Yes, I made my own appointment," she said. "I know how that frazzles you."
I gave her a hard look.
Her eyebrows lifted and she smirked. "Oh, jealousy."
"He treats you like shit." I said in frustration. "And you let him! You let him treat you the same as always, bumping everyone important off the calendar."
The amusement in her eyes vanished and her gaze now locked onto mine; the connection between us was alive. I felt it. "Funny how that happens, isn't it?" she asked.
"You were too busy today for Thakoon. I love it when he comes in, because it rejuvenates you. You always smile when you see him. But you let Stephen have lunch with you? I assume it's going to include lots and lots of drinks?"
"Andrea," she warned.
"That's why you hate him? For embarrassing me?" she asked quietly. "Because it's obvious you hate him. It's been obvious from day one."
I glared at her. "He doesn't deserve you. He fucked up. He's gone. Or he should be."
The elevator chimed and I exited before she did, stomping off, but she caught my arm. "Careful," she cautioned.
I was so angry at her for choosing him – him - when so many people adored her and would treat her like a queen. Her eyes were on my face but I couldn't look at her. "He left me, Andrea, not vice versa. I know the difference between someone who abandons me and someone who has to be beaten back with a stick." Her voice was full of amusement, like this was the funniest thing in the world.
"You beat everyone back with a stick. You send everyone away." I said.
When I opened the door to Runway's offices for her, she looked just as amused as she had sounded. She touched my stomach lightly, her short fingernails brushing across it. "You and your torch. It burns so brightly."
I stomped past her to her outer offices, awaiting her arrival, standing before Jessica's empty desk. Miranda was a breath beside me a moment later, and I turned to take her bag. I struggled with my emotions; I struggled to be professional. "What can I do to make your day better?" I asked through clenched teeth. Because Stephen could make her day hell in five minutes.
"Your job," she said.
Full of self-righteous anger, I clumsily reached for her jacket, pissed off and disappointed in her. "That's your answer for everything, isn't it?" My fingernails scraped her arms as I yanked the jacket off.
She caught my arm before I reached the closet. "No errands for you today, Andrea; make the girl do them."
I blinked slowly, trying to recover from rapidly diffusing anger. She had that power over me, to make me instantly mad, and then to instantly calm me.
She was staring right into my eyes. "Stay close," she said, and moved to her office.
The next morning, I wore what seemed to be the most adult and sedate outfit amongst what was a younger and sexier wardrobe than I'd have ever chosen for myself. It was a Vivienne Westwood navy suit, the skirt slim, the arms of the jacket so slender I could hardly slide my hand through; only the neckline gave it away as a Westwood. I chose this outfit because I wanted to look mature in her eyes when I asked her about the appointment with Stephen she'd had yesterday. The lunch had carried on for an hour longer than it was supposed to, and she had come back to the office looking drained.
I wanted to look mature, too, in light of my behavior yesterday, pitching a tantrum when she had told me to do my job. Her words, telling me it brought her 'great comfort', struck a different chord yesterday, when I had wanted to shake her. All I kept picturing was Stephen, at the top of the stairs, bitching at Miranda for doing her job. Stephen at the gala, drunk and embarrassing Miranda while she was doing her job. Stephen, waiting until Miranda was in Paris, doing her job, before he launched the divorce war, while he was a million miles away with a drink in hand, no doubt.
Miranda eyeballed my suit immediately. "What top are you wearing?" she asked, because if you're going to wear this jacket, it had to be buttoned to look right, and I had it buttoned all the way. "Show me."
I looked at her carefully and began unbuttoning with one hand. "Are you okay?"
She seemed weary. Her eyes veered from my fingers undoing the buttons to the lights on the elevator. "Quickly," she said. "Let me see you."
I dropped my cell phone and used both hands to get the jacket open. She had known it would be a camisole beneath - the wide neckline of the Westwood styling, even buttoned all the way, would have shown anything else. Her eyes fastened to the apricot silk and chiffon confection of femininity that she had purchased for me from Dolce & Gabbana, and she exhaled.
"What did he do?" I asked, because she wasn't herself.
Her eyes, which had been glued to my cami, drifted up to meet mine. She was flushed now, but still seemed unsettled.
She looked away, and the elevator chimed.
I, too, was unsettled. I didn't like Stephen being back in her life, and couldn't stop fixating on it over the weekend.
On Monday morning I wore a short jersey dress and thigh-high boots, a scarf of the same pinkish hue as the cami had been draped across my neck. She noticed it immediately, then her eyes drifted downward to my boots. I leaned against the elevator wall and let her take her fill, because this wasn't even a game for her, whatever this was. There had been desperation in her eyes and in her voice on Friday (Quickly, let me see you), and she wore that same expression today.
"Are you okay?" I asked quietly, while her eyes were pinned to my breasts.
She dragged her gaze up to my face. "I want you to start delivering the book again."
I didn't read a whole lot into why she wanted me to deliver the book, only because I came up empty sometimes when I tried to figure Miranda out. But I delivered it last night, and I wish I hadn't. I wish I had refused. Because Stephen was back.
I hadn't seen or heard him - or anyone - when I deposited the dry cleaning and put the book down on the table; I was involved in one of my mental tricks, the ones I employed in order not to be overwhelmed by the grandiosity of Miranda's home. I had been thinking about the clothes she had worn that day - the designers, from sunglasses to top to shoes to jewelry.
I was thinking of her necklace when she walked into the foyer, striding purposefully toward me. She looked stunning as ever, in something very casual and chic. And though we were in her home with all its extravagance, all its artwork, not the elevator, not the lobby, not the office, her eyes sought me out. We were staring at each other when someone's footfall came down the stairs. She looked up. It was Stephen, and he was asking, "Who was that?"
I was so shocked to see him, I couldn't move for a second, even though my brain was screaming to get out of there. Long enough for him to smile luridly at me and say, "Oh, work."
I turned on my heel without a word and Roy drove me home. I didn't sleep all night.
Now I was in a fog, standing by the elevators. I'd been here for a while, freezing though I was bundled up. Today I would quit. I didn't think she would care. Stephen was back. So all this flirting, this heavy breathing we'd been doing, it was all just a game. Just a way for her to pass time. It had been idiotic for me to think she cared for me in any kind of real way.
I had gotten dressed by rote this morning, pulling on what was easy – the James Perse stone cotton jersey dress with tights, Stella McCartney wedge ankle boots, and oversized Joseph cardigan. Everything I wore was designed to be warm and comfortable, and looked as unlike spring as I felt. My makeup, I was sure, was as horrible as my hair. I wasn't thinking about what I would wear to work when I got ready this morning; I wasn't thinking about it at all until Miranda marched over and told me to open my buttoned-up sweater as soon as the elevator doors closed.
I stood there, a little shell-shocked that she still would play her games. I didn't notice the desperation on her face, and I didn't move immediately. Suddenly she was on me, grabbing my elbow and turning me, unbuttoning my cardigan herself. I kept my gaze away from her, but she stopped what she was doing when she saw my lack of response.
Someone stepped onto the elevator and stepped off again while she was staring at me, somewhere on the lower floors. I felt as though I was crying, yet I was too exhausted for tears. "Andrea," she said at last. "Don't mess this up."
"Don't mess this up?" I repeated hollowly. My voice sounded like it came from far away. "Don't mess this up. This? This long goodbye? That you find so funny. Don't mess this up? You come in here every morning and jerk me around and it amuses you." My voice broke, and I swallowed.
I was in a world of pain, really inside myself. It didn't fully register that we had reached our floor and the doors opened while we were still staring at each other. That the doors closed again and we went down. That someone almost boarded until they saw Miranda. At some point I realized we were floating between floors, occasionally moving to another floor, only to have the Elias-Clarke employee who wished to board with us withdraw before they ever came close. The iconic white hair, the posture, the clothes; Miranda was instantly recognized. All it took was a glance in her direction for people to move in the opposite direction.
All I could think was, it's over. "In less than three weeks, I'll never see you again. I'll never get to hear all of the cracks you make about the designers and the clackers and Irv… I'll never get to see you make a polarizing decision that has everyone shaking in their shoes, that they totally won't get until months later. I won't get to watch you create the September issue, or look at all the things you edit out, all the beautiful stuff that doesn't make the cut, and spend days puzzling over it and try to figure it out without asking you. I won't hear your voice. I won't hear you say my name in that way that you have, the way nobody else says it." I wiped my face, which was wet from tears. "Don't mess this up? It's just a game to you and I'll – I'll never hear you say my name again."
When I finally looked at her, it was as if an explosion of rage had happened and what I was seeing was the aftermath: her slipped mask, her hands clenched in fists, her shrapnel eyes. "Andrea, you were once good at seeing right to the heart of the matter, but you've become an idiot. Did you bump your head when you threw yourself down here that day?"
Shocked, I dumbly shook my head, no.
"Do you think I'm a cruel person?"
She enjoyed games - teasing, taunting and winning - but I assumed she had no idea she was hurting me. I thought of Caroline and Cassidy. I thought of Nigel and how Miranda had more than made up for what she had done in Paris two years ago. I thought of Emily. "No," I whispered.
She dashed her steely eyes over me in dismissal. "Evidently you do, if you think I would toy with you when you made your feelings clear."
I pointed a shaking finger to the elevator door. "He's back in your life. He treats you like shit." Fresh tears streamed from my eyes. How could she let Stephen back in?
Understanding dawned on her face, and she shook off my words with a flick of her wrists. "Andrea. Don't believe everything you see."
The tears poured then. They just spilled out of my eyes, and I didn't sob, but they fell all the same. She touched my cheek, tracing her fingertips over my tears as they fell. She looked into my eyes, then once more went back to her work of unbuttoning my cardigan. She held it slightly open for a moment when she finished her task, staring at my torso, at the form-fitting wrap front of the dress. Then she opened the cardigan wider, and pushed it down my arms forcefully enough that I wobbled in my shoes. "Make the girl run the errands," she said. "I want you close.”
Miranda said not to believe everything I saw, which was, in its way, the same as telling me to trust her, so I did. I still thought about Stephen, and wondered what was going on, but I also thought about the way my sadness burned off instantly when she yanked the cardigan down my arms, the scorching heat of her gaze, the coolness of her touch.
I always felt especially connected to her on the days she expressed a desire for me to ‘stay close’. I knew she felt calmer - and the office ran more smoothly - when I was there, taking care of things, and Jess was running errands. Today, I felt even closer to her.
She had me accompany her to the studio of a young designer I didn’t know. It was one of those things that Jess would usually be tagged with, but when she grabbed her bag and rose from her desk, Miranda shook her head. “Andrea,” she called quietly, and I’d practically leapt to her side.
On the elevator ride down, I ran a brush through my hair as Miranda watched silently. In the car, I touched up my makeup, which had practically washed away when I was crying earlier. She said, “Are you always so emotional?”
I wanted to reply with something witty, but she kept talking: “I always thought you were cheerful, but lately…”
I was acutely aware that we weren’t alone, and glanced in the driver’s direction before speaking. “It’s been kind of a wild ride, you know, since the elevator broke down that day.”
“Hmm,” Miranda replied.
“I’ve been tied up in knots,” I admitted.
She stared out the window. A minute later I heard her murmur, “Love will do that.”
“Tell Nigel to contact his friend in Rome. I don’t care if he has to charter a jet or swim across the ocean and three seas for a face-to-face, is that clear? Then have the girl call Paolo, while you try Valentino Garavani himself. Is it impossible to find five minutes to speak with me? Am I asking for too much?” Miranda ranted. I didn’t even have the chance to say “good morning” to her. She’d been hurtling challenges from the middle of the lobby, threatening everyone within earshot.
There were two creative directors at Valentino, and one of them had announced on social media late last night that he was leaving the brand after seven years. Apparently, no one at Valentino had thought to inform Miranda of the decision before alerting the general public. That’s what had her fuming - not that the pair were splitting, but that they hadn’t given her the heads up.
I’d worked for her long enough to get it; I’d feel slighted, too, if I were her. But I thought she was mostly hurt. She was always fighting with Irv and the board to keep the Valentino photoshoots lavish as she wanted them to be, year after year. She’d been a big fan of theirs, gushing over them at shows, making sure they had lots of coverage in Runway, protecting them from critics who suggested they were more flash than substance. She called the design duo “geniuses” and “true artists”. They were her dream team; Valentino was, for a long time, the one design house she could count on to “consistently produce excellence.”
She’d given me several gowns and outfits that they had designed, all subtly beautiful, and I knew she had been wearing Valentino gowns almost exclusively to formal events. It was a big deal that Paolo had left, and that Silvano would be carrying the label by himself. It was an insult not to let Miranda know before everyone else.
“I’ll get Valentino on the phone,” I assured her.
Now that she’d gotten the problem off her chest (and would have the entire office, if necessary, reaching out to Valentino's people), her anger lost some of its momentum. She sighed. “I don’t know if Silvano will be up for it. When two people join forces - when they’re on the same wavelength - magic can happen. He made magic with Paolo.”
“Maybe it’ll be Silvano’s moment to shine,” I suggested.
“We can only hope.”
Just as Miranda sometimes directed a conversation into a whole new direction without warning, I did now. Time was short; the elevator had almost reached our floor. “Why didn’t you get me to deliver the book last night? You said you wanted me to do it from now on.”
“I thought it was a good idea at the time." She rolled her eyes. "I was obviously wrong about that.”
“Stephen was there,” I reminded her.
“There’s always someone there. I don’t live alone, Andrea.”
“I know.” Her house had open doors: not only were the twins there, but when I used to delivery the book nightly, I would run across her nanny, chef, colleagues, designers, famous actors – a whole bevy of friends and acquaintances might be around. Not all the time, but often enough for privacy with her to be an uncertainty. It should have been no surprise to find Stephen there. But I couldn’t imagine anyone worse. "But-"
The elevator chimed. “Get Valentino on the phone now,” she ordered, marching to the office. “Then have my lawyer call Stephen’s lawyer about the Gaigner in the library.” She turned toward me, pulling her shades down a fraction to peer over them. “Not the one in the dining room.”
“Oh.” Relieved, I nodded and smiled. If Stephen was hanging around because of artwork, that was a much better scenario than anything I had been imagining.
When she paused at my desk so I could pull off her jacket, she continued quietly. “And Andrea? I expect to see three resumes on my desk before the end of the day. You’ve had months to find a replacement, and I will not be left short-handed while you’re pounding the pavements of Brooklyn for news stories. That’s all.”
I followed Miranda into the elevator; she was wearing a black leather jacket over an Oscar de la Renta champagne dress that hugged her body up top and ended in foamy layers at the hem. The combination was mind-blowing. "Fuck, Miranda," I said softly, and I saw her stiffen before I turned and punched the button for our floor.
I looked over at her and realized I'd uttered the words aloud. I gestured at her vaguely. "You're so…" The leather jacket looked like something Emily would wear; and then I saw the panel in it, so unusual in an already very stylized piece. "Is that cotton?"
She leaned against the wall accommodatingly. "Touch it," she murmured, a small smile on her face.
I was gentle. The panel was indigo, and it was at the waist, making the jacket look layered. I felt it with my fingertips, both hands on her jacket. "Wool?" I asked her.
"Blend," she said.
"Thakoon?" I asked uncertainly. Not edgy enough for Rick Owens, not wacky enough for Vivienne Westwood, and thereafter I was grasping. I knew both of those designers quite well because Emily favored them. I knew Thakoon Panichgul because Miranda had discovered him, and made him a superstar overnight.
"You have learned something. Shocking," Miranda said teasingly.
I met her eyes and opened the jacket, and then stared at the sheer neckline of her dress. "I've learned a lot more than you realize," I replied.
"You've learned why I don't want to pursue Sophie, you said."
I froze – I couldn’t believe she remembered that. "No, I misspoke."
She searched my gaze. "Very well, what else have you learned?"
The elevator chimed at our floor. I sighed in exasperation, gently pulled her jacket closed and turned. She pulled me back. "Tell me what else you've learned. You're always insightful. Even if the second girl you've chosen is worse than the first. Whom you also chose, I might add."
The elevator doors closed.
The new second assistant had started. I was still providing training to Jess, who wasn't bad as Miranda made her out to be; she just wasn't accustomed to anticipating Miranda's needs. But I also had begun training Tiffany, who I expected would be a go-getter within a couple of weeks. I shrugged and smiled. "They can't all be me."
Miranda sniffed and rolled her eyes.
I tracked the movement of her eyes with my own, until she was looking at me again. Being in love was wonderful, in these tiny doses, while we were in the elevator. She was mine then, but I was without her the rest of the time, because Miranda was all business, all work, all of the time. I was beside her throughout the day, but only with her in the elevator. "I learned you can't stand being alone, even though nobody would guess it, the way you push everyone away." Miranda: at the center of her perpetual entourage, but isolated. "It surprised me when I found out you're not a twin," I said. Miranda: constantly married.
Her gaze, which had been focused on my lips as I spoke, jerked up to my eyes.
The elevator chimed again. We were still at our floor, and we silently, mutually agreed this was a good time to exit.
There was one morning, another of the mornings where I had pulled on a comfortable ensemble – and thankfully, miraculously, Miranda had purchased me several of these – when she and I didn't speak at first, beyond my 'good morning'. She slid into the elevator and turned toward me. Taking her sunglasses off, she looked at my outfit, beginning with my shoes and stopping when her eyes reached mine. Then she leaned against the elevator wall, and just stared at me.
I stared right back, biting my tongue, trying to say nothing for once, to see if I could wait it out. I almost broke into a sweat, but I held the silence; she was the one who broke it.
It was all she said.
For several days thereafter, I kept my words to a minimum, but she never said anything that rocked me like hearing her say "Andrea" like that. She had done it remembering what I told her (I'll never hear you say my name again), and she had done it with the understanding between us that she was not toying with me. At least, in her mind.
But even though nothing significant had been said during these quiet elevator rides, the entire dynamic between us seemed to have shifted. These mornings became my favorites, because Miranda turned to me now, always, when she boarded the elevator. We faced each other, and looked at each other. Once, she wagged her finger at my outfit, indicating I should open my jacket so that she could see what I was wearing beneath. One time, both of our cell phones rang, and we ignored them. Another time, I took my place near the control panel with its display of buttons, and Miranda, having already taken her place in the center of the elevator, looked at me for a long moment, then moved to stand closer to me.
My days slipped away.
We matched, this morning. Miranda was wearing a light brown, tiered dress. She made it more casual than its original intention by pairing it with a tiny cardigan in turquoise, and chunky jewelry. I wore a short Versace skirt straight from one of the London runway shows and a camel-colored silk Chanel top. Miranda's eyes went straight to it, not the skirt, and I supposed it was the ascot collar. She leaned on the elevator wall and didn't say a word to me, but her gaze was riveted.
I waited for a moment to see if she would speak, but she didn't, so I reached over and punched the top floor button. Looking at her, I began carefully unbuttoning my blouse from the bottom. Her eyes were glued to what I was doing. When I reached the button that would reveal my bra, she placed her hand on mine, and said a quiet 'no'.
"But you never see half of what you gave me," I said.
She shifted her gaze from our hands to my eyes, and I continued unbuttoning the blouse, her hand on top of mine. She stilled it once again, this time by squeezing my fingers in hers. She shook her head, stepped away, and turned her back.
I wasn't having any of that. There was something between us, and if she didn't think it was a game, then I wasn't going to play anymore. We were going to move forward or we were going to quit. Because this dead-end flirtation was madness, and I was almost out of time.
I had purchased a vintage Halston halter dress at a thrift shop a while back, which I never wore, because it was a lot more revealing than I was comfortable with. I wore it this morning, now that it was almost warm enough to wear it – but the elevator lobby was chilly, and the dress was thin. My bra was thin, too, so Miranda's peep show was going to end up being a lot racier than it would have been yesterday, had she let me show her my bra.
She briefly paused during her stride to the elevator, as soon as she caught sight of me. We boarded the elevator and I punched our floor button. "Turn around," Miranda said quietly, and guided me by the elbow as I did a complete circle.
"Take your glasses off,” I said. I could see her expression through the tinted lenses, but I'd rather see it more clearly.
"No." Miranda was flushing. "Turn away from me."
I complied, turning toward the elevator doors, a smug little smile on my face.
"That dress is inappropriate for work," Miranda said. Her voice sounded strained.
"Yeah, well it's about time you had a taste of your own medicine."
"I beg your pardon?"
"Being turned on all day because you look so… hot. That's inappropriate for work," I said. "Wanting you is inappropriate for work."
A humming sound, a little "hmm" of amusement came from behind me.
I clenched my hand around my phone. "This is torture, Miranda; we shouldn't be doing it. We need to stop."
Then she was on me, lips to my ear, fingernails at my bicep, breasts against my back. "No, Andrea," she breathed, scraping her nails painfully across my arm. "We don't need to stop; we need to start."
The elevator chimed, and she stepped away.
I was desperate to get Miranda alone, especially since I was down to a handful of days at Runway. Even though I knew there was a great possibility that she was the kind of person who might fuck me and drop me as soon as the novelty wore off, or when I left Runway. She seemed like the type who would forget someone who wasn't in the picture every day.
This morning, the Monday after the Friday of the fingernails scraping across my arm, I dressed in a Juicy Couture denim mini skirt, never meant to be worn at Runway, I was certain. I pondered that for a while - the fact that there were many things she’d given me that she couldn’t expect to see at Runway (ball gowns, bras, and denim, for example). I wondered - did she imagine she would see them at some point? And my heart began racing, especially when I thought of all the lingerie.
I put on the short, short skirt, the over-the-knee socks, the Louboutin Mary Janes that had left me a little breathless when I first saw them amongst all the shoes Miranda bought me (silver studs across the back and across the strap, they looked so naughty). I wore a raspberry Miss Sixty blouse, long-sleeved, and tight except the billowy arms. The blouse was sheer and ruched all over the bodice; a pullover that buttoned from the neck to just below my breasts. I kept it unbuttoned except that last little button, which would expose my bra if left undone. It was a very sexy outfit, (if I did look a bit like a schoolgirl), complete with tousled hair and pink lips. I wondered if this ensemble would appeal to her as much as it did to my male subway companions.
As I ran through the schedule with her, I absently rubbed my fingers on the neckline of the blouse, and let them trail down to the last button. I was leaning against the wall, one foot propped behind me, hips slightly jutting forward – mimicking Miranda's pose when the elevator got stuck and she had successfully discovered, by seduction, what it was that I wanted from her.
When I looked up, she was seething. I gave her a soft smile. "You look a little tense, Miranda. Is there something I can help you with?" I blinked, giving her a long look at my sweet eye shadow and thick lashes.
The elevator chimed our floor and we both ignored it. As we began descending to the first floor again, Miranda crossed over to me swiftly. "You are to sit at your desk all day. When it's time to leave, Roy will take you home. You are not permitted to wear that again."
"Oh," I said, and I tried to say it in a sexy voice, but it came out shaky, because this incensed Miranda made me a little terrified and a lot turned-on. "But you bought it for me."
Miranda eyed me up and down. "That is not suitable for work. I didn't purchase it for you to wear here."
The elevator chimed, the doors opened, and a handful of people saw Miranda standing in what they would assume was a threatening posture, me helpless, flattened against the wall. I flashed terrified eyes at them and they all scattered. We silently remained on the first floor. The doors closed once more.
I pressed the top floor button, and blinked at her again. "But I wanted to wear it for you. You'll never see it otherwise." I leaned in and whispered into her ear, "Just like you never see the other things you bought me. But I wear them every day." I was working the last button while I leaned close, and leaning back said, "See?" I quickly held my blouse open for her to view the pink bra beneath.
Her mouth went slack at this, her angry look replaced by a dazed one.
I leaned against the wall, watching her. "See?" I said again, feeling supremely in control for the first time since I’d known her. Her eyes were on mine, unfocused, but she saw me look down, and when she followed my gaze, I lifted my skirt to show her the matching demi panties.
I thought she might slap me. "You have to stop this," she finally spat. "This is not the place-"
"Where, then? Tell me and I'll be there. I'm not allowed to deliver the book anymore, and you have people at home anyway –children and ex-husbands." I twisted my arm so that she could see, through the sheer blouse, the angry red marks she'd made. "And you want to start."
Her look went soft, then she leaned in, her lips close to my mouth.
"Oh fuck," I said, and jerked away from her. "Sorry, no Miranda. Cameras in the elevators."
She looked confused.
"There are cameras in the elevators. Why do you think I haven't pounced on you yet? God." I shook myself. "I can't believe I just did that. Shit."
Miranda frowned. She pursed her lips. "You…"
"I've done a few things that might look odd if anybody saw, I know. But you can always say that I was threatening you, that I was crazy and you were afraid of me or something, if it came to something weird like that. It won't, but if it did. There isn't sound, just cameras. They can see, but not hear, not that they monitor them – only examine the footage when a crime has been committed or something like that." At Miranda's look, I said: "I know; I know everything about these elevators now, trust me."
Miranda shook her head. "You want to kiss me possibly more than any other person in my life ever has… and you've just passed up the golden opportunity because you're trying to protect me?" She smirked. "Emily."
The elevator chimed at the top floor, and we stared at each other.
"When are we starting?" I asked, buttoning my blouse, my tone all business.
"Tomorrow night," she said, staring at my lips.
The next morning, I looked at her with a bit of trepidation. Here was a woman I loved, a woman I desired, who had difficulty carrying on a conversation that wasn't punctuated with inane orders. I was certain she would find a lot wrong with me and that I wouldn’t be able to please her. I had been up all night the previous night, throwing up from nerves. This was Miranda Priestly. Why hadn't I set my sights a little lower? To a mortal, perhaps?
"You look like hell," she said, a smirk on her face.
"Nerves," I admitted.
Her eyebrows shot up. "You'd better not have nerves, not after the onslaught of batting lashes and short skirts and 'can I touch it?' and 'please let me stay' and 'oh, you look so amazing, Miranda'."
I burst into giggles.
Her eyes cut over me. "You're not wearing that tonight, I hope." She was looking at my outfit – an outfit she'd purchased for me – in distaste.
I realized the green of the outfit probably made my skin tone sallow because I already looked like hell anyway from puking all night. "Um, no. I thought I'd go home and change into sweats first." I rolled my eyes and then turned away from her, deeply disappointed that she would be so superficial.
"Oh, pouting. We're off to a rollicking start."
I whipped my head around so fast my neck should've snapped, and I saw her annoyance. I looked down at my hands, fiddling with the green sleeves of my jacket, which I had chosen so carefully this morning. The jacket which she had given me. She was illogical and irrational and twelve, and I loved her.
"When you put your scarf around my neck that day, I felt like a queen," I said softly. "Everything you say to me, affects me, Miranda. Whether or not you think that's fair. You can imagine, if you made me a queen with your scarf, how I felt when you gave me these clothes, worth tens of thousands of dollars. Do you know how it feels to be given clothes by you? It's magical." I touched my skirt, running my fingernails over it. "And I don't believe I ever thanked you. So - thank you; it was such a tremendous act… Like firing me." I sighed. "Do you know my two year anniversary fell on a Sunday? And I … I wanted to call you. And that was so stupid, to want to call you, like to celebrate or something… Do you even know how many days I have left here?"
She remained silent. When I looked at her, she was still as a statue.
Gently, I said, "Do you know what it's like to fall in love with Miranda Priestly? It's terrifying. It hurts, constantly."
I became aware that we were floating between floors in the building, the elevator moving up and down as someone pressed buttons somewhere. The doors would occasionally open, and then close, everyone staying away as soon as they caught a glimpse of her.
When she spoke, her voice was as quiet as always. "Why don't you put yourself in my shoes, Andrea? What if you were me? What if this young woman, half your age, refused to leave your side, even when it was in her best interest? You're twenty-five years younger than me. You-"
"You like younger women," I said. "That's why you're not attracted to Sophie. She's, what? In her forties?"
Miranda pursed her lips.
"I know you want me to let it go - that you fired me - but I won't, because I want to set my own course, like you did. I want to find my own way, and I can't do that with you firing me or forcing me out or bribing me out of here or whatever you want to call it. I've got to decide my life."
She regarded me coolly. "You decided it when you recklessly tossed yourself down here, in the elevator when it was stuck. I had to fire you for that," she said. "For endangering your life."
For a few seconds, I was shocked into silence.
Then I became indignant. "I didn't endanger my life. The elevator was, was right there," I pointed to the ceiling of the cab."And all I did was hop down to it, and the elevator guy was with me." I frowned at her, shaking my head. No, no, no. All this time I thought she fired me because of her presumptuous ideas of what I needed, or her ridiculous desire for change, or the idea of a two-year term, and she fired me because she thought I was negligent?
"If Irv ever found out, he'd fire you and try to fire me. And he'd have every right, because OSHA could shut us down. Or at least levy a tremendous fine, not to mention the company's humiliation that I'm such a… demanding person that my assistant would feel the need to risk her life..." She waved her hand as if to bat away the idea. "But the undergarments sealed the deal. My career - I could be sued...and Irv...It was an unwise thing to do. The clothes were bad enough, but the lingerie was idiotic."
"Why did you do it, then?" The word 'idiotic' blipped through my brain. She had described her own actions as idiotic. Apparently, no, that had been me, the supreme idiot, not just for jumping down here, but for not realizing how it would impact her as my employer. I could have gotten her fired? In light of my reckless behavior, I imagined OSHA wouldn't be too forgiving with the three month severance, either. I shook my head again. She was confounding my perspective of her once more.
She looked away. "Throwing yourself down the elevator shaft… it was so stupid and so… stunning."
"It was a valiant effort," she said. “From a valiant girl. Not Pallas, but Nike. Always protecting me. Wearing her tattered clothes, looking like an urchin because she has morals and values, refusing to take what isn't hers. When everyone who surrounds me takes and takes."
I sucked in my breath. Me, the goddess of victory? A big smile splashed across my face. Miranda admired me for not taking clothes from Runway's closet. She praised me for idiotically jumping into an elevator shaft for her. All those glass walls around her shattered.
"You're the only one I wish would want something, and you don't want anything."
I blinked and gestured to her. "I want the most important thing."
Her eyes flicked up, and she smiled.
I stared at her smile, and when I closed my eyes, I continued to see it, like an afterimage. While my eyes were still closed, I felt her fingers at my buttons, and my body lit up. It was as though I were a Roman candle, as if I'd burst into flame.
When I looked at her, she was holding open the green blazer she apparently disliked on me, but eyeing the Thakoon silk tank beneath it with approval. "You may wear this tonight if you wish," she breathed.
My hand shook so badly that I had trouble unlocking the door, but eventually I managed it, slipped inside and closed it behind me. I should feel calm in Miranda's home, this austere blue heaven, so like the woman: cool, calm and entirely unruffled, but my heart was beating so hard that I couldn't think.
The first time I was in Miranda's townhouse - my initial, disastrous run at delivering the book - I had a slight panic attack. The townhouse, gutted, would be huge, but it's divided into so many rooms that it doesn't give the impression of immensity. But it still triggered my fear of wide open spaces, and so I blanked. Everything looked the same to me that first night. My heart had raced, and I couldn't think what to do, where to go, how to do my job. I could only see all the artwork, wealth and opulence, and the stairs and stairs and stairs.
I went back on future trips and was successful in not looking at anything at all. But one of my tasks for Miranda my first year had been to catalogue the contents of her home, so I knew most everything there was to know about what she owned, and sometimes it overwhelmed me. So I would focus on simple things, like placing the book exactly two inches from the orchids, or hanging the dry cleaning so that it didn't touch the other dry cleaning no one had yet put away. Or timing myself, counting the seconds it took to get in and get out. Any little trick so that I didn't see all the wealth.
I knew the moment I entered her front door, this would be a bad night. I hung the dry cleaning, and it fell; then when I closed the closet door, the Alex Katz painting, Harbor 3, was right there. I tried to ignore it, but I couldn't stop looking at it.
And the flowers placed before the painting. I'd have to scrimp and save just to buy Miranda flowers like these in this one vase, and there were vases everywhere. The painting, though; I may one day buy an apartment worth as much. I broke out in a sweat.
"Andrea," Miranda called.
I moved to the stairs and looked up. When I twisted around I saw her on the first landing. She'd changed from what she was wearing at Runway into a deceptively simple hand-knit Ralph Lauren dress that had been made just for her; copies of the dress in alternate patterns were available for purchase, but only Miranda received this one. The bodice was crocheted, and hugged her frame from the waist up.
The Thiebaud painting of a San Francisco intersection was behind her. Valued at almost three times what the Katz was worth, it alone separated us like nothing else could. To Miranda's right, a Carlo Mollino table and Eames chairs, a Yoshioka lamp, an Alexander Calder mobile. To her left, a bedroom.
Her expression darkened. "Andrea?" She marched down the stairs.
I was beginning to have trouble breathing. Everything felt overwhelming.
Miranda stood before me. "What's wrong?"
My eyes slid to a painting near the Katz, to another vase of flowers, and to a Hilgemann sculpture. I opened my mouth because I couldn't breathe.
Miranda jerked the book from my hands and flung it down. "Look at me."
I looked at her helplessly. This was the woman I loved. I realized that it was so much more fucked up than just Miranda's power games at work, than her insults and childish behavior. She was entirely out of my league; I had absolutely nothing to offer her - a brief respite from her normal life, maybe. That's what I had to offer Miranda - an interval. Like the elevator rides. Oh. I clapped my hand over my mouth, because I thought I might cry or scream.
I turned to leave. I couldn't – this couldn't happen. This was ridiculous. I was an idiot, just like she'd always said. I tried to walk, but she grabbed my shoulders and pivoted me back with such force that I almost fell. "Andrea," she commanded.
I couldn't breathe. I pulled from her, turned, tried to get to the door to get some air. I was her assistant, like a maid, a chauffeur, a hired hand. Only worse, I was a seasonal one – a temp.
"Breathe," she said, and wrapped her arms around me. I was bending, gasping.
I had been the one wanting this, leading us to this, and it was only going to come down to an intermission in Miranda's life, a brief sexual dalliance. I couldn't get enough air; I tried to suck it in.
Miranda's nails dug into my shoulders. "Look at me."
I felt the room spinning.
"Andrea, please," she said.
I looked up, panting.
"Did you get in touch with Calvin Klein today?" she asked carefully, scanning my face.
I tried to think. I closed my eyes. Miranda shook my shoulders and I opened them again. Finally I remembered, and nodded.
She made a face. "Well? Will they be ready?"
My eyes kept finding the Katz painting.
Miranda's fingernails were sharp in my shoulders. "I wanted to buy one of his paintings. Alex Katz." She shook me. "I thought them to be elegant, but isolated, detached. Like looking in the mirror," she said. A sardonic smile flashed across her face, and I was reeled in, hooked by her intense eyes.
"I contacted him directly," she said. "And he asked me if he could choose. I was flattered but prepared to be disappointed, of course. I assumed he would choose a painting involving fashion, even though that's not what I would have chosen for myself. I was certain it would be the portrait of his wife - Orange Hat, or perhaps Black Shoes or Wedding Dress. You could have knocked me over with a feather," she said and gestured at Harbor 3, the portrait of two women sitting in front of the sea, the backs of their dark heads close together.
"What did it mean?" Miranda murmured. Her eyes were staring directly into mine, and I realized my breathing was becoming easier. "In relation to me. Why this one? He had so many paintings with clothing – hats, dresses, shoes. But I get these women and that sickly looking water. Are they waiting for their proverbial ship to come in? Is there an existential meaning?" She frowned. "Tell me what it means," she said to me. "You're a writer, you know symbolism. You will know." She gave a flash of her eyes, mocking herself again. "He had to explain it to me."
I looked at the painting and back at her. "Twins," I said. Miranda smiled gently and looked at me proudly.
"Now talk to me, Andrea, about Calvin Klein," she said in a tone that meant business. I looked at her again - the woman I knew, the woman who wrote the editor’s letters in Runway.
"I told them 10:30 instead of noon to make sure they'd be on time this time." I was still panting a little, but feeling better. My hands were clammy and I wiped them over my skirt, the Ralph Lauren maxi skirt she'd favored a few weeks ago. Too warm for this time of year, but I had freaked out when she hated my green outfit, and stuck with what I knew she'd like. I did pair it with a cami and cardigan this time instead of the pullover sweater. But I kept the motorcycle boots.
"Why was that necessary?" Miranda asked. Her fingers brushed the hair away from my face.
"They're always late. They always keep you waiting." I stood straighter, irritated at the CK people. "They had a change in management a few months ago, and since then, they've kept you waiting. So, they need to learn not to do that anymore."
She smiled softly. "What about Patrick?"
I took a deep cleansing breath, feeling composed and calm under Miranda's gaze. I was aware of her eyes, so dark right now, of being alone with her. We were together, and alone, and the elevator wasn't going to chime an end to this moment. "He's fully recuperated – well enough to return to work; he'll be calling in tomorrow to update you first thing. You know nothing keeps him down for long."
"Nothing keeps you down for long, either. One of your better qualities." Miranda considered me. "Along with your ability to look beyond this," and she gestured at the extravagance around her. "And somehow see me. No one does that, Andrea. Just you." Her lips quirked in a ghost of a smile. "Even though tonight seemed to be an exception."
I touched her face, my fingers trembling.
She grabbed my hand and pulled me toward the stairs. "Come, show me what you're wearing beneath that cardigan."
I was glad she was initiating this, but the stairs made me feel woozy again. I jerked her hand and she looked at me insolently.
"You…" I was still on shaky ground, in her home, with her disclosure this morning, coming right after her scathing look at my outfit. And the stairs.
Her gaze became assessing, then she dropped my hand and walked to the front door, set the alarm, and turned out the entry light. She stepped into the side rooms and turned out the lights. She stopped to look at me, but I still couldn't formulate what I was trying to say. Then she brushed past me, scooping up the book, and went on to the kitchen and turned out the light there, but didn't come back.
It took me a minute to realize she must be reviewing the book, and when I realized it, I became so angry and felt so foolish that I stomped my way to the room that she referred to as the small family room. It was the room she was most often in whenever I used to deliver the book, but I didn't know why she referred to it as such when her family was never in it. Only pictures of them.
A huge, beautiful monochrome photo of Miranda and the girls walking down the stairs, taken by Patrick, had been mounted on thick canvas, like a museum piece, and hung floating on the periwinkle wall. And because it was a Demarchelier, it didn't look as if they were walking down the townhouse staircase; it looked as if they were walking down a staircase in a tunnel or something. Not a claustrophobic photo, exactly, but tight and womblike, a slight lavender tint to it. It was the showpiece of the room, with two spotlights trained on it, hanging under the arch of the built-in bookcases, which were a golden-mustard lacquer and took up the entire wall. There was a light blue checked sofa beneath the photo, but Miranda was never on it with her feet propped up on the granite, kidney-shaped coffee table. No, Miranda was always in the side chair in the corner, beneath another set of photographs of the girls, this one smaller and more traditional.
That's where she was now, curled up in that chair in the corner, the book in her lap, reading glasses on, shoes removed. I stomped in there, furious at being left for the book, but one glance and my fury dissipated. She looked slightly self-conscious, but not at all impatient or angry or even unhappy.
So I simply sat on the footstool before her. It was low, so I sat below her, like a subject in her court, while she sat on her throne and made notes to the book. I gazed at her and after a moment put my head down on her feet which were tucked beside her, careful not to disturb her note-taking. Her hand was in my hair a minute later, absently stroking and pulling. Her touch soon drifted to my face, caressing and cupping my cheek. She traced my lips, still inattentively, and I kissed her fingers.
I felt it when she stopped working on the book. Her body stiffened, the palm of her hand glanced over my face and mouth, and then her fingers began prodding my lips open. When they encountered my tongue, the book dropped, and she leaned, pulling at my face with both hands. It was so like her, forcibly making me stand up and crush me closer to her; it didn’t matter that she was hurting me - she wanted things now, not in the five seconds it would take for me to stand and bend to her gracefully.
I saw her face, fleetingly, before we kissed. I was finally up, and she beneath me now, leaning back in the chair, head angled toward me. She pulled her glasses off and let them drop. I brushed my lips over hers very softly, but she tangled her hands in my hair and pulled me in for a kiss that was intense and profound. A kiss that belied her desire to work on the book in the first place; a kiss that caused every cutting comment she'd made to me in two years to evaporate. I braced my hands on the chair-back so that I wouldn't fall on her, and tried to keep up with her, pulling away only briefly, only to catch my breath, only to murmur her name. She dragged my head down again, her fingers tight in my hair, pulling it so she could press her mouth to mine more firmly, so she could thrust her tongue more deeply, so she could control our interaction.
I wanted to control some of it, too - wanted to at least be able to touch her, at last, after having touched her clothing for weeks - and so I braced myself with just my left hand and let my right one roam. In her hair first, then down her neck and up to her face, and back to her hair. She was shifting beneath me, meanwhile, her legs bumping against mine as she unfolded them and propped them on the footstool on either side of mine.
She pulled back, letting go of my head, pushing me away. "Show me what you're wearing," she said, her eyes dark.
I straightened, boxed in between her legs, the footstool and chair, and began unbuttoning my cardigan. I opened it so that she could see the small, pink Miu Miu camisole that she'd bought me. Her eyes stayed on the cami, and then moved down to my skirt, the tartan maxi skirt with wrap front, and she reached out and opened it a little; my knees went weak, then she opened it wider, and I began trembling. She looked for a long moment at my bare legs and, opening the skirt at a higher point, my wisp of panties. I ran a hand through her white hair. "Take off your shoes," she said.
I stepped out of the motorcycle boots as gracefully as possible and stood before her.
She leaned forward, opened my skirt, and pulled my panties down. I gasped, trembled, moaned - it was the most erotic moment of my life - and I felt heat flashing through me, making me wetter, even with the evidence of my arousal already so pronounced.
"Step," she said gently, and eased them over my feet, me staring down at her slender form, bent to the task.
Miranda reached under my skirt while she was still close and drew me to her, her hands on my bare hips, as she sat back. She pulled me so that I straddled her, my skirt obligingly opening for us, my knees wedged in the chair, pressed against her thighs.
"Cardigan," she said, raking her eyes over my torso.
I removed it quickly, not gracefully, and let it drop on top of the panties. Her hands were still on my hips, unmoving.
"Camisole," she said.
I wasn't as fast with it as it fit snugly, but I got it off and displayed the feather-light Carine Gilson lace bra, the match of the panties on the floor. Miranda breathed out and stared. Her hands pulled me toward her, and then her mouth was on my breast, her tongue finding my nipple and laving it with wet, greedy kisses that set my entire body trembling. I touched her face lightly, a thumb on her cheekbone, my other hand in her hair, while her fingers gripped my hips beneath my skirt, her nails nicking my skin.
"Oh god," I moaned, feeling like I was about to stumble upon an orgasm. I could stare at her, she could do just this, and it would happen.
Miranda drew back and looked at me. Her hands began moving to my inner thighs, palms sliding upward purposefully.
"I'll ruin your dress," I warned her. I'd ruin my skirt as well, but it was replaceable, while her dress had been hand-sewn especially for her.
"You worry about silly things."
I swallowed. "It's one-of-a-kind, though. And I'm really wet."
She sucked in her breath and then her hand was sliding through all that wetness. "Indeed," she finally said, and I was bucking and grabbing the chair-back for support.
"Beautiful," she murmured, as her eyes, mere slits, lit on my face. She entered me with two fingers, added a third, and began thrusting.
"Oh god." To be beautiful to Miranda Priestly. To feel her inside me, if only for this moment.
I leaned down and kissed her, subduing her movement, and she kissed me with a sweet affection that hadn't been there before. It was still an all-consuming kiss, but her teeth didn't nip at me, and she didn't seem to be doing battle this time. Instead, her tongue inside my mouth was deep and sensuously slow-moving.
Oh god. To be beautiful to Miranda Priestly – if only for this moment.
I felt the orgasm building, and sat up, and began pushing down on her fingers, my hands on the chair for leverage. I was rocking up and down, her fingers splayed on my waist, making me feel thin, and her fingers inside me, making me feel beautiful.
"Andrea," she said.
Oh god, to be beautiful to Miranda, if only for this moment. I came, pressing down and sobbing her name.
She held still for longer than I would expect of her, then carefully withdrew her fingers, painted my collarbones with their wetness, and took my face in both her hands for a tender kiss. She pulled away to murmur, "Perfect."
I looked down at her. Of all the fantasies I've had, this had not been one – here in a chair like this, or Miranda uttering things like 'beautiful' and 'perfect'. I had envisioned something like what happened next, when she seared me with a smoldering gaze and said, "Upstairs. No excuses this time."
I extricated myself from her, and bent to gather my clothes from the floor, at which she gave a sidelong look, and said, "Oh, you won't be needing those."
Her tone set me off, and I followed her out of the room and up the many stairs, staring at her dress from this angle. The bodice of it, in back, was constructed in an open-knit fashion, revealing her perfect skin, no bra - no dress to speak of, up top. It was as if the designer had wanted to hint at chainmail, but the crocheted loops were wide enough to fit my fingers inside, poke my tongue through, or grab, just as she was walking into her bedroom.
It stopped her, the very gentle grabbing. I placed my hands on her shoulders from behind and bent to press my lips to her shoulder blades. I kissed her pale back, through the crocheted loops of her bodice, again and again, my hands roaming, down her arms, down her hips, up to her breasts, which had me shuddering, and both of us moaning.
She turned in my arms, kissing me, head tilted up, barefoot like me, bare legs, bare arms, bare shoulders but for a couple of thin straps, bare chest but for gentle triangles cupping her breasts. I ran my hands all over her bare skin, and then over her dress, pulling her to me, palms pressed against the fishnet back of her bodice, kissing her as if this would be my last chance.
She pulled away after a moment, breathless. "You're quite good at that," she said, one arm hooked around my neck. She tapped my lips with her finger. "Those lips."
I smiled. "Ah, a gold star, at last. And Nigel said I'd never get one."
"Hm." Her eyes were mischievous, and she pressed against me wantonly. "Not sure you've earned it yet."
I grinned, but could think of nothing clever in response. No matter, though, because, with a glance, she was back at work, reaching around and unclasping my bra, pulling it away, her face serious once more, her mouth on my skin, suckling my breasts, licking my clavicles clean.
I felt so triumphant, so giddy with joy at having her complete attention, her approval, that I interrupted to lift her chin and kiss her once more, earnestly, for a long time. Her arms wrapped around me, her hands pressed flat against my back, while my hands roamed. I slid them down her body and under her dress. Her hips responded, her body arched to me, and this was so arousing that I fucked her while we both stood, my hand under her dress, fingers inside her, her leg hitched up over my hip. And then Miranda was having an orgasm and leaning against me in total supplication. I held her up until she could stand again.
She looked at me unguardedly, and it started once more, this time with both of us pulling at each other – she kneading my breast, while I began a rather frantic search for the closure of her dress. "Where does this thing…" I began, and she directed my hand to a hidden side zipper. She stood perfectly still while I unzipped her, looking first at my face, then her eyes closing and her body slightly swaying.
"Did you fantasize about this?" I asked her softly as I removed the dress, for she was entirely compliant.
"I don't typically fantasize," she said quietly. "I plan."
Which turned me on almost as much as seeing her beautiful body, slender and toned, that perfect skin flushed with arousal. "Did you ever plan for me to undress you?" I asked.
"Oh god, Miranda." I pushed her down on the bed and pulled off our remaining clothes, and we made love - me all over her at first, unable to restrain myself, unable to concentrate my attention on any specific area, I was so overwhelmed by her. Then she moaned when my lips wrapped around her nipple, and I was unable to restrain myself from focusing all of my attention there, and when her legs wrapped around me, I put my mouth to work between them. Her hand tangled in my hair, gently tugging.
When she had been standing, Miranda's orgasm was quiet. Her arms had tightened around me; her forehead pushed against my chest; her leg wrapped around my hips had pulled against me so hard I was worried we'd fall; and I felt her clench tightly around my fingers and release with orgasm. But the only sound she made was an "oh", a damp utterance hot on my skin.
She was quiet, again, though her body, lithe and graceful, was thrusting against my mouth forcefully, her hand twisting in my hair began pulling harder, the other hand clutching the duvet hit it with one severe slap. Then she propped on her elbows, slowing down, undulating her hips, head back. I began using my hands in combination with my tongue, holding her legs open, using fingers to explore her, and I felt her body still, and I looked up to find her staring at me. Her legs began trembling then, her eyes drifted closed, and her head nodded down until the orgasm overtook her, body convulsing, chest heaving, and the "oh" more like a mewling sound, as if she were sobbing. My heart thudded, in witness.
Once her breathing had slowed, she pulled me by my arms, so that I was on top of her, looking down, and she pulled the duvet over us; we stared at each other for a long time, like we were in the elevator again. "Do you know what it's like," she finally said. "To fall in love with Andrea Sachs?"
Chills swept across my body. A tear escaped my eye and plopped onto her face.
"It's terrifying," she whispered. "It hurts constantly." She looked at me searchingly, as if trying to ascertain whether or not I knew her tone. A serious reply to the question I'd asked her this morning, or a playful mocking jab to lighten the air? She was serious. She didn’t brush away the tear.
Another tear dropped from my eye onto her face. She did something completely different to my heart here in bed. Something completely devastating and irreparable. "I don't want it to hurt," I whispered in return, and kissed the places the tears had fallen, then kissed her lips, and her lips opened. This kiss lasted a long time, and became desperate, not with sexual need, but with some need, some great need, because our mouths never moved far from each other's lips, and our hands never strayed far from each other's hair, each other's face. Tears trickled out of my eye and she pulled me tightly to her.
"I need you," she said into my ear. "You can't decide you like boys again, or young women, or Sophie or Emily."
I moaned, and began lavishing her neck, her chest, her breasts, with kisses.
"I mean it, Andrea," she said.
I pulled up to say, "You're the one who's been married over and over." And went back to her breasts, wondering at her stamina, at her tolerance for constant physical attention, because I had never been aroused by anyone like this. Because I had never loved anyone like this.
I had only begun when she interrupted me, beginning what sounded like a speech. I stopped what I was doing and propped on an elbow, my leg thrown over hers, to listen.
"Alex Katz said to me, 'You need symmetry, don't you, Miranda? You collect pairs. Pairs of children, pairs of assistants and you're part of a pair yourself. The number two seems to figure prominently in your psyche.' At the time, I was part of a couple. I always am; I always look for that other person to balance me…as you already surmised, though no, I am not a twin myself." She pressed her lips together.
"Something changed with us, Andrea. In Paris, the year you came to me. The dynamic changed. I grew accustomed to having you by my side. I should have known it when you were with me at Valentino's party, but I didn't. I felt it, but I didn't know exactly what it was. I didn't realize it until you hurled yourself down into that horrible tiny little box with me just so I wouldn't be afraid. You hurt yourself for me."
"Why didn't you tell me that's why you fired me?"
She touched my face, tracing it with her fingertips. "Because that was a bright and shining moment. I didn't want to ruin it."
She looked more beautiful than I had ever seen her. Vulnerable and loving; the woman who wrote the editorial letters. "I think I balance you very well," I said, my voice hoarse from emotion. I thought I would cry in earnest at her look, at her words.
"Valiant," she whispered, kissing me tenderly.
My season wasn't quite over yet; I still had a few days remaining, so I stood by the elevators, Starbucks in hand. I sipped this one; Miranda's was upstairs on her desk. She breezed into the Elias-Clarke building wearing a lilac silk and taffeta Jil Sander dress beneath a Burberry cardigan that I never would have paired it with. The combination was very spring, and it made Miranda look soft, studious and no-nonsense all at the same time. It was breathtaking. "That's a form of torture," I said, in lieu of good morning. "You look beautiful."
"Are you drinking my coffee?"
I shook my head. "It's upstairs." I held my arm across the open elevator door, and once it closed, smiled lazily, and leaned against the wall.
Miranda took my cup, sipped from it and grimaced. "Is mine this tepid?"
"Of course not."
"What's on for today?"
"Patrick will call you at 9:00. You've got a meeting at Calvin Klein they think is at 10:30, but it's really at noon, and then lunch immediately after with the girls' new tutor who should have evidence in hand of improvements already. Then your lawyer at 2:30, the Mac proofs at 3:30, and Sophie Charpiot is, for some reason, on your calendar yet again, at 4:45." I arched an eyebrow at her.
"What's that about?"
Miranda held out the Starbucks, and I took it. "She has a few changes to her line."
"Oh really? Yeah, I would change my line if I were her, too. Because it hasn't worked for ten years, has it?" I gave Miranda a cocky grin.
She pursed her lips. "My, how smug they become, apparently overnight. It seems like yesterday you were wistfully wishing to be in Sophie's shoes."
"I told you. If I were Sophie, I'd have knocked on that door every day. And I did, didn't I?" Then I bit my lip. "I got worried this morning, on the way here, thinking about your daughters. They're going to hate me."
"Why would they ever do that?" Miranda frowned. "They most definitely won't hate you. I don't hate you. And you'll do that same thing to them that you did to me, that…" She gestured to the air. "Charm you have. They'll be yours by the end of the week; mark my words."
I was unconvinced. "Um."
Miranda looked at me, that look with the cocked head, as though I were obtuse or idiotic or both. "Well, it's not as if you have to do anything but open that blabbering mouth," she sniffed. "Emily."
The elevator chimed.