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Withdrawal

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You walk away. Just this once, you walk away. And you hate yourself for it. You'd think it would make you feel triumphant, but it just feels awful. It brings back the memory of loss and disorientation, of turning back on those crowded steps and that split second of bewildered panic when you realized she was gone. You craned your neck, trying to see past the photographers and bodyguards, and there in the distance you caught a glimpse of black and green, the hem of her dress bouncing around her legs as she was walking away from you.

You can't pinpoint the exact moment it happened, the day and time the shift occured and Andrea Sachs stopped being your dull assistant and became something more. You suppose it was gradual, like the remnants of a wave washing up on shore: you only missed the crash narrowly, but when the water came, it pulled you into the ocean nevertheless and you let it wash over you, let it drag your oblivious body in, and by the time you took notice, you were already fully submerged and powerless to do much but succumb to your new reality, watching yourself be pulled further down into the terrifying depths.

You spent hours watching her, trying to decipher just what it was about her that pulled you in, that entranced you so far beyond your will and control. Her smile--sometimes teasing, sometimes genuine, but always bright and brilliant; her walk, when she felt confident enough in high heels, and the way her hips swayed; the way couture draped over her figure, hugged her curves perfectly, as if it was made especially and exclusively for her--you were enraptured by her, completely and irrationally infatuated to the point of shame, and more than once you caught yourself thinking inappropriate thoughts that a married woman should not be having, not for her much younger assistant and not for anybody other than her husband.

But your husband had stopped being a prominent aspect in your life and if you're honest with yourself, he never was. The harsh truth, the one you can't confess even to yourself, even as the divorce proceedings are progressing with each passing day, is that he was convenient, a pawn: useful in maintaining the image of a successful woman who's also a family woman and a father figure to your girls in place of the one you'd already driven away. But if you let yourself go to that place in your mind you so rarely visit, you secretly know that you never really loved him, not the way he deserved and, for that matter, not the way you deserved either.

Perhaps he was able to sense it. Perhaps, through missed dinners and lack of intimacy and too much formality for a wedded couple, he realized your marriage was a sham, and just like the ones before him, just like the ones who will follow, he'd had enough.

Oh, you're still angry. You're still hurt and unforgiving and left scrambling in the dark for an answer as to where you could have tried harder, what you should have sacrificed in order to, if nothing else, buy a few more months of stability. But you didn't approach this divorce with the vindictive rage you had the previous one. You're too tired and, besides, what's the point? You don't need his money, you can't bring yourself to care enough to make his life miserable, and throughout this whole mess, you want to shield your daughters as much as possible from this new bomb you've dropped into their lives.

Your daughters. They, at the end of the day, are the ones who will, who are suffering the worst consequences of your actions. They're young and innocent and helpless to understand or do anything to change their circumstances, and you already feel guilty enough for giving them you as a mother, feel that you've inadvertently punished them before they were even brought into the world.

So, you make up for it, or at least you try to. You attempt to make their lives easier, happier, and you give into their desires and whims so they don't want for a thing, so they don't have a chance to take note of all your faults and errors. You tell yourself that so long as they're young enough and you can keep them artificially happy, they'll believe their happiness is real and they'll forgive your shortcomings. They'll forgive the loss of a stable family life, and they'll forgive your job for taking you away from them, and if you're lucky, they might also forgive you for falling in love with Andrea Sachs.

Falling in love... You never considered it that way. Infatuation, yes. But does it go deeper than that? Does your interest in her go beyond the inexplicable, primal instinct etched into your DNA, beyond the smiles and sways and curves?

Andrea Sachs, you realize, has always been beyond. Beyond your expectations, beyond limits and boundaries, beyond a mere assistant, and that's the problem, isn't it? Where prior assistants had known to stay in line, known to be timid and do their job and never, ever take for granted the chance you'd given them, Andrea somehow broke that invisible barrier; at some point, while you were foolishly not paying attention, she managed to do what your husband couldn't--what you didn't let him--and became a prominent aspect in your life. And the worst part is you let her.

Paris. You think about that night for the millionth time. You've been finding yourself doing that more and more since your return to the States, since another hectic Fashion Week has culminated and life around you has begun to settle--at least relatively. Since then, you've been unable to stop your mind from going to that forbidden place whenever it wishes, unable to make sense of those few minutes in your hotel suite, of the shifted atmosphere and the changed dynamic.

And the most curious thing is when you think about that night, when you lie awake in your bed or zone out in the car or try to drench your thoughts away in the shower, you don't think about what led to those fateful minutes: you don't dwell on Stephen's preceding fax or remember the silent breakdown in your robe when you tried so hard to maintain your composure while also granting yourself just a few moments of grief. But you do remember the look on Andrea's face--that look haunts you whenever you close your eyes and try to will your mind to go anywhere else. You think of the way her sorrowful eyes watched you and her lips turned down in a frown. She listened, and she didn't judge or offer an empty comment, and you think she understood, you think that by then she understood who you are, what drives you, that everything went a little beyond.

Or maybe, like now, you let your thoughts and your hopes and expectations get the better of you. Because the very next day, she left. You turned around on those steps and she was gone, just like that, with no declarations and no notice and you felt frozen to the spot, cold and helpless with silent panic, fighting not to let it show.

And then she came back.

The first night came as a complete surprise. You heard the dull thud of heels on the carpeted floor and glanced up from your desk before you'd even registered the meaning of the sound. And there she was: Andrea Sachs, in the flesh.

She mumbled a weak apology and thanked you for providing her with a job recommendation, and perhaps it was the shock of her abrupt return, the surrealism of the moment, but when she offered to lend a helping hand, you let her. More than anything, you knew that if she left again, she wouldn't come back, and you couldn't let that happen.

You didn't speak for the rest of the night, not even a word of goodbye, perhaps because you were too busy drowning in your thoughts once more. You'd thought you'd never see her again, and you'd thought that was a good thing. But then she was there, a mere few feet from you, occupying the same space and breathing the same air, only your breath had been stolen from your lungs the moment she walked through the door. Perhaps you'd hoped that following her departure, she'd regress back to her old style of baggy sweaters and shapeless skirts, if only so the insanity that had possessed you would go away and you'd be able to see clearly again, be able to determine that Andrea Sachs was not worth it. But she hadn't forgotten the lessons she'd learned at Runway and, looking her up and down, you realized it didn't matter. For a reason beyond you, a weight was lifted off your chest and relief took its place.

The next day, you spent more time than you care to admit wondering if she would show up again. You sent both assistants home earlier than they deserved in your anxiety to have the place cleared for her arrival--you preferred the privacy, anyway, which is why you'd shooed your new second assistant the night before once it was past the time for phones to ring--and this time Andrea didn't disappoint.

It's been five nights now and you don't know where this is going: you're not sure you know what you're doing and you can't know for certain how much longer it'll be before she gets tired of this strange, unspoken game you're playing and ceases to show up. In fact, you're afraid that time will come a lot sooner than you expected, afraid that, as is your habit, you've driven her away, too.

Because tonight you felt confident enough in her presence to make the first step into... not a relationship, but something that was no longer estrangement. And tonight, you managed to ruin everything.

She brought up your girls. Your weak spot. You don't think she meant what she was saying or even understood what she was asking you, but you felt the implication like a punch to the gut nonetheless, felt flooded with guilt and sorrow for your daughters and, more than anything, shame.

Which is what led to where you are now, listening to the gentle hum of the elevator as it takes you down through the floors. Leaving her behind.

You hadn't expected to see her again before, hadn't considered the possibility, but now there's the question of will she or won't she and you can't determine with certainty that, come Monday night, she will come back. She's good at walking away, and you're good at scaring people away. And when you think about it like that, in a bizarre and twisted way you complete each other.

She will come back, you decide as you step out onto the lobby floor. Her clothes haven't changed, but she has, and you choose to believe, choose to trust that she will not let you down again--it's a lot preferable to the alternative. She'll come back and you'll find a way to make it up to her, make her see your appreciation, and you'll pick up right where you left off.

Yes, you muse to yourself, feeling the subtlest smile tugging at your lips, you might be in love with Andrea Sachs after all, and if you play your cards right, it just might prove to be worth your while.