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More of a Fair Fight

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Chapter One “First Day”

The wind, biting and frigid, would have swept through her Derek Lam ensemble if she hadn’t added a wool overcoat. Although the soft material of her suit resisted wrinkles, the heavy overcoat was still a small risk, one worth the protection against January weather in New York. As soon as she entered the Elias-Clarke building, the glass door remained open from a slight gust of wind which didn’t matter when half of Sixth Avenue poured in. Andrea shucked the overcoat and draped it over her arm once she reached a pocket of space among the hoard of workers. Getting an elevator car up proved difficult but, incredibly not impossible. She arrived outside Runway’s the semi-frosted doors and took a moment to breathe it in.

Runway and Miranda Priestly. Of course, she had jumped at the chance when Nigel came calling after Thanksgiving under the guise of drinks and ‘catching up’. Andrea smiled. From that sentence alone, she knew it was more, but the exact nature of his invitation never occurred to her. They weren’t friends but were friendly. Andrea had kept an eye on him and Runway and, if she were completely honest, on Miranda Priestly, too. Vogue and Anna Wintour had been her learning experience. From a struggling assistant to stints in accessories, video and multimedia and various other departments, she rose in the ranks, absorbing it all. At Runway, she planned to applying all that she had learned.

Presently, Andrea pushed open the door and tried not to show how excited she was to be there. Within the haloed halls, chaos reigned in the bullpen with stylish, reed-thin women and men scrambling between the tables while carrying boxes or navigating wheeled racks loaded with clothes or empty. Bemused by the noise, she looked around and spotted the stairs that led to a huge platform that overlooked the entire open floor plan. Just as she took a step in that direction, her elbow was firmly grasped.

“You’re late.” Nigel tutted, guiding her away from the wide stairs. “You can put your things in my office, or yours I should say.”

Andrea shifted her portfolio to the arm covered by the overcoat then adjusted the strap of her Prada bag.

“I’m actually early, Nigel.”

He wove them between several people , his hand still at her elbow, then tugged her up a narrow set of stairs near the corner of the bullpen.

“Not in Miranda time, my dear. Fifteen minutes early is the standard, although, it tends to change with her mood.” He shrugged then ushered her into a large corner office with an agreeable view.

He took her overcoat, pinching the collar between his fingers as he examined it, lightly twisting the garment from side to side.

“Hmm, this is a new designer, isn’t it? Rather pedestrian.”

She set down her bag and portfolio then removed her long gloves. “Actually, it’s exactly how I wanted it made. It’s tweed and the lining is beautiful.”

Nigel frowned and shook his head as he hung up the overcoat. “The asymmetric pattern limits what other patterns you can wear with it.”

“The colors and pattern compliment my winter wardrobe.” She narrowed her eyes and took in his clothing. “Hermès. Forgoing his traditional button-down and going for...that’s cashmere V-neck, right? I remember the bobble hat with the gray flannel suit number during the Fall show.” When Nigel flushed, she didn’t stop the wicked glee from bubbling to the surface. “Maybe it was a stylist’s mistake? But I did enjoy the cravats...all those colors. Véronique is shaking things up a little. I heard someone call it casual luxe.”

Nigel laughed, grabbing her shoulders. “The Derek Lam suit drapes well on you, Andrea, even if you are a...”  He looked her up and down, a finger to his lip as he stepped back. “...a six would be my guess.”

“Ass.” she muttered without heat then removed the trench and hung it up on the rack next to her overcoat.

Nigel looked at his phone, tsked, then stepped outside of the office and called out, “Alright everyone, gird your loins!”

A second of stillness pervaded the bullpen. Andrea smiled with sedate amusement at Nigel’s bland expression.

“Is that how you announce the queen?”

Nigel urged her to follow as he led them out of the office. “How did you announce Anna’s arrival?”

“Discreetly.” Andrea mocked.

At the end of the hall, he took a left at a narrow stairwell that led downward. At the bottom of the stairs, Nigel swiped a card and the door swooshed open.

“We’ll pick up your credentials and some paperwork from Vanessa when I take you to meet Miranda.”

The Vogue closet in comparison, while just as enormous, seemed industrial to Runway’s meticulous organization. From a glance Andrea easily found whatever types of clothing she wanted. Seasons, ensembles, colors, accessories, shoes laid out so cleverly, Andrea suspected it wouldn’t take long to find what she wanted.

“Emily, our Director of Fashion Development, re-organized and expanded this a few years back. We also have a menswear closet on the other side of Miranda’s office. We have an OSS...”

“What’s that?” Andrea asked, still greedily scanning the closet.

“Out of Style. Everything’s vac-packed and categorized. There’s even a digital library of everything complete with a location.”

“Oh, please, stop.” she breathed through the fingers covering her mouth. “I may swoon.”

Nigel glanced at his watch. “I take it by your reaction Anna...”

“Would explode with envy if she saw Miranda’s setup.”

“Ready to meet the Devil in Prada?”

Andrea rolled her eyes. She took the lead, slightly edging out Nigel. “I have met her before, you know. She actually said to me ‘You’re Anna’s new puppy? Then, by all means,  go fetch’.”

“I’m sure she’s forgotten all about you by now.”

Stalling at the parallel desks in front of the open doorway of Miranda’s office, she glanced at Nigel who breezed past her. They pulled up short, nearly stumbling into the backs of Miranda’s visitors. Nigel signaled to recede with a brief shake of his head and a step back.

“...so it’s sort of comical how you think that you’ve made a choice that exempts you from the fashion industry when, in fact, you’re wearing the sweater that was selected for you by the people in this room. From a pile of ‘stuff’.” Miranda looked scathingly at the trembling girl wearing an unfortunate cerulean blue sweater.

Andrea didn’t know what to feel. Miranda’s modulated takedown caused a frisson along her spine which was disconcerting enough without adding the very real sympathy for the girl. While knowing where her allegiance lied, she still promised herself to take the girl under her wing if Miranda didn’t fire her first.

“Where is my coffee?” Miranda asked the room as she turned away and flipped through the hangers.

The woman wearing a burnt orange shirt dress over rust colored fitted trousers, an impeccable combination for her dark skin and wonderful figure in Andrea’s opinion, hissed at the girl and marched her out of the office. “Move.”

Two other women filed behind them leaving Andrea and Nigel.

“Who was that sad little creature?” Nigel murmured, looking over his shoulder at their retreating backs.

Deigning an appropriate response, Miranda continued to click through the clothes.

“This is Andrea Sachs.” Nigel announced standing in front of the desk with his fingers pressed against its surface.

Andrea counted the seconds in her head, waiting for the acknowledgement. At twelve, Miranda finally spoke without looking up.

“Yes, from Vogue.” She pronounced the magazine’s title with distaste. Click, slide, click, slide. “An assistant rose from the trenches. Rather quickly, too.” Miranda pulled a blouse and held it in front of Nigel, tilting her head.

“Uninspiring on its own. Perhaps a wide belt?” he replied then shot Andrea a look.

Without missing a step, Andrea walked over to the rack of accessories, skimmed through the belts then made her selection.

“Try this.” she said, offering the woven belt interlaced with wood and metal beads. “Thin floating bangles. Gold, silver, copper. Something funky for earrings from the onyx collection by Burberry, if you have them.”

For the first time, Miranda looked at her. Andrea didn’t hold her breath, didn’t sweat and certainly didn’t tremble, but simply waited for the editor to speak.

Miranda’s icy blue eyes remained fastened on Andrea as she told Nigel to get her the pieces from the closet. The silence played with Andrea’s nerves but she’d be damned if she started off at Runway cowed into submission.

“Sit.” Miranda murmured, gesturing to the chairs in front of her desk as she sat down.

Andrea did while Miranda took off her glasses and languidly folded herself in the chair behind the desk. She continued to watch her, tucking the arm of the Ford glasses underneath her chin until she closed them with a soft click.

“You’re wearing Derek Lam. I recognize it from the Fall show. Charcoal didn’t make it down the runway.”

“The taupe really was gorgeous but didn’t flatter my coloring.” Andrea leaned slightly back in her chair and brushed off a spot near her crossed knee. “I have several of his pieces.”

“Why are you here?”

Andrea bit down on her first and most obvious response. Miranda wasn’t asking that question.

“I’ve always wanted to work at Runway under you.”

Opening her glasses, Miranda took a cloth from the desk and began to clean them. “You are aware of the NDA, its terms and so forth? I will pursue any confidentiality breach without remorse.”

Andrea nodded, a little transfixed by the steady gaze Miranda maintained.

Nigel arrived with the pieces Miranda demanded in her quiet way. After putting the outfit together on the long white table near one of the large window panels, they stepped back and considered the finished look.

“I’ll get Meisel and see if Tyra’s available.” Nigel said, a bit tentatively.

Miranda drifted back to her desk and said, “Vanessa.”

Taking her cues from Nigel, Andrea followed him out. The cerulean girl sat behind one of the desks, phone wedged between her jaw and shoulder, pen and paper in hand as she asked, “Can you please spell Gabbana?...Hello?...Guess not.”

Andrea slowed and watched how unconcerned the girl looked. It was quite probable she wouldn’t finish the day. She caught up to Nigel. Until she survived herself, Andrea had no business rescuing anyone.

While she shadowed Nigel from one meeting to the next, taking notes on things she wanted to remember, Andrea wondered if she wasn’t in deep shit. Runway’s atmosphere was frenetic in intensity but streamlined in execution. At least, that had been her observation until the eleven o’clock accessory run-through. Surprisingly, Miranda attended, seated at the head of the table as she wrote on a tablet.

“What else do we have for accessories for March?”

“One thought I had was sea glass...”

Miranda drew a line through something and without looking up, interjected, “We did that two years ago. What else?”

The redhead squirmed in her seat. “Umm...maybe some pendants...”

“How original. What else?”

Incapable of watching the redhead struggle another second, Andrea replied, “Knotted and turban headbands by Jaciya. They have seasonal colors and a multitude of patterns.”

Marking something else out, Miranda said, “Somebody came to work today. And jewelry?”

The meeting dragged on with Andrea biting her lip, Nigel smirking, and many in the room flailing for ideas which displeased Miranda. Once or twice Andrea helped spur a thought or idea from someone as they burned under Miranda’s artic gaze but she tried to remain silent and observant, not wanting to be seen as a kiss-ass her first day.

“You deserve lunch.” Nigel whispered as they filed out of the room. “I know a place.”

Andrea smiled. “Sounds good. Let me make a call first.”

“I’ll be in my office.”

There was a small love seat next to the window in a tiny alcove. Andrea sat down on the end farthest from the potted green plant.

“Hey.”

“Not too busy to call. Wonders never cease.” Nate said in a bored tone. “So, how’s your first day going?”

“Learning a lot and trying not to piss off people.”

“But you’re so good at it.”

Andrea counted to ten. “Can I speak to Fen?”

“She’s down for a nap which you would know if you...”

“Nate, please. Just give me a break. I’m doing the best I can.”

“Yeah, okay...look, Lily’s in town and wants to hang out tonight.”

A swell of irritation almost clogged her throat. She took a breath. “Oh? She didn’t mention she was coming...”

“Don’t get all bitchy. In case you forgot, she’s your best friend and doesn’t need an invitation to come see us.”

Oh, the petty responses on her tongue begged to be released. “Well, maybe not to see you.”

“What does that mean?”

“It means both of you knew today was my first day at Runway and I don’t know what my schedule’s going to be like, Nate.” The anger curled around her like a dark shadow. “But, then, that was the point, wasn’t it?”

“What are you trying to say, Andy?”

“I don’t know when I’ll be home.” she sighed, curling her lip at the meek tone she used. “I’ve got a lot going on.”

“You always do, Andy, but once you settle into the new job, I’ll go back to work and we’ll be able to afford a nanny. Let’s stick to the plan.”

After a few sweet words, she hung up, but stared at her reflection in the window, taping the corner of the phone against her lower lip.

“Ready?” Nigel asked several feet away from her.

Andrea tucked her phone in her pants, smiling. “Lead the way.”

***

Nigel’s place happened to be a small kosher diner tucked between a beauty supply store and a vacant office. A bit rambunctious, the vibe nonetheless delighted Andrea. The New York Jewish accent was alive and well, calling out orders and talking to customers. Deferring to his experience, Andrea allowed Nigel to order for her while she snagged a coveted table next to the front window. People rushed by, bundled up in parkas, puffer jackets, faux fur coats, and, of course, furs. LL Bean and North Face to no-name bargain coats and retro classics, the outer attire fascinated Andrea. Scarves, ascots, fur-lined hoodies and beanie hats scurried past the window exhaling warm air that turned into white puffy clouds once exposed to the low temperature. So far, in the new year, the January forecast didn’t predict snow which was a disappointment and godsend to Adrienne.

Last December, right before Christmas, it snowed in New York. She and Nate had taken Fen to Central Park and watched her squeal with abandon as she made snow angels, a snow ‘person’, and had a snowball fight with her parents. It was a great memory, one Andrea liked to think about quite often, but it wasn’t enough quell the niggling doubt in the back of her head.

“It’s none of my business but I am nosy...” Nigel’s voice cut into her thoughts. Dark eyebrows arched high over his spectacles as he regarded her. “...Ever since your phone call, I’ve noticed a certain...strategic concentration in your expression. Care to share?”

She didn’t know Nigel, not enough to confide in him, but, then, she never sought advice from anyone, preferred to rely on her own intelligence, instinct, and strength.

“Nothing to share, really. Just boring domestic logistics, I’m afraid.”

“God, save me from that.” Nigel muttered then took a sip of water. “So, Andrea Sachs, Vogue’s fallen angel?”

It wouldn’t do to reveal things on the first day, nor even the first month, perhaps not even the first year. Until Nigel departed to Paris Runway and Miranda anointed Andrea as his successor, she wasn’t about to spill any secrets or dish in gossip.

“Anna understood the move.”

“Is there a backdoor to Vogue after your defection to Runway? Fashion espionage, perhaps?” Nigel asked slyly.

Before Andrea thought of something witty to say their number was called and Nigel stood, waving her away as he headed for the counter.

She needed Nigel to make her transition at Runway successful. He and Miranda had worked side by side for decades. Their understanding of the other was seamless, relying on a silent communication derived from looks and moods from what she observed during a meeting. Andrea craved that but needed it more if she wanted to advance. She and Anna Wintour had never synergized as well as Nigel and Miranda. At Vogue, Andrea had spent countless hours defending her decisions and, in essence, her vision. A credit to her perseverance, Andrea won more than she lost but the toll often sapped her creativity.

“For you, madame.” Nigel said, presenting a tray with flair as he set it down in front of her. “Pastrami on rye, potato chips made in-house, and a dill pickle that will convert you to Judaism. Bon appetit.”

Andrea dug into her food, biting into the angled tip of the sandwich and nearly moaning when it hit her tongue. It wasn’t her first pastrami sandwich but it was one of the best she tasted in recent memory.

“This...oh, my god...food-gasm.”

Nigel smirked, tucking into his sandwich with delicate precision then humming with his eyes closed.

“Obviously I don’t come here every day.” Nigel said, dabbing his mouth with a white paper napkin.

They talked about the food, about what passerby’s were wearing, about the latest trends. Andrea wanted to ask him about Miranda. Not because of the job, although she was keen to learn about the idiosyncrasies of her new boss, but because Miranda Priestly was Andrea’s fashion epitome. Since she decided on a career in fashion, Runway, and by extension Miranda, was the standard. After college, she had applied for a position at Runway but they never called her in for an interview.

“I know why, but...damn, it’s so good, Nige.”

He laughed then took a bite out of his sandwich. Tucking the food in his cheek, he asked, “So, how’s your first day at Runway? On a scale of one to ten, of course.”

“Eight. Only because I haven’t established a report with Miranda.” Andrea tilted her head to one side and licked the corner of her mouth. “Seems to be rather tricky. Care to share?”

Nigel’s brow lifted. “I do recall you leading the way to Miranda’s office, annihilating Heather from accessories, and, this is really cute by the way, how you nudged a few people along during the run-through. Miranda noticed. You keep it up and you’ll be the better Nigel, mark my words.”

It was high praise and Andrea attempted to deflect. “You’ve been at Miranda’s side for twenty years, Nigel. That’s not something easily replaced.”

He considered his sandwich but before taking another bite he said, “There’s a season to everything. It’s time for me to move on and time for you to take Runway to the next level.”