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More of a Fair Fight

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The cab carried a distinctly unfavorable odor but, honestly, it was New York, and odors were subjective. Andrea checked the time and knew she had to call home. It was almost six o’clock. Nate would be getting Fen ready for bed. The guilt weighed heavily on Andrea. It always did. It was only a matter of time before her almost-four year old was going to wonder why her mother was never at home. Andrea looked out the cab window, alone with her thoughts.

“Normally Miranda would be meeting with the designer but her nanny had an emergency so, it’s up to us, Six.”

Andrea looked at him, the hint of a smile tugging at her lips. “...’Six?’?”

Nigel adjusted his scarf. “It’s fitting, isn’t it?”

“I guess.” she replied. After a few seconds, she ventured, “She doesn’t have help?”

“Her ‘help’ had an emergency, so no.”

Plucking at the hem of her coat, she asked, “She doesn’t have friends? Family?”

Nigel situated his body more comfortably on the cab’s bench seat. “I wouldn’t know.”

Andrea’s eyebrows rose.

“What I know isn’t enough for you to understand how things are with Miranda. She’s very  private. I just watched and learned, Andrea. I can tell you what kind of wine she usually favors, the designers she loves, even her favorite lunch. You’ll find out what pisses her off more quickly than what makes her happy. Beyond that, you’re on your own.”

His admission aligned with what she already knew about the editor and the half-formed thoughts she had from her own meager observations.

“You’re married?”

Andrea leaned back in the seat. “Yes.”

“Kids?”

“A daughter. Fenimore. She’ll be four on the seventeenth. Speaking of, do you mind if I check in? I’d like to tell her good night.”

Nigel made an consenting gesture and promptly turned his head to gaze out the window.

“Hey, I don’t have much time. I’m in a cab with a coworker. Can you put her on the phone?”

“What else is new?”

“Nate.” she said, the warning heavy in her voice. He called out their daughter’s name and two seconds later Andrea heard squealing.

“Mummers!” Fen huffed into the phone. “Daddy tookin’ me to the, the...” Andrea heard Nate say ‘playground’. “...play things!”

“Oh, that sounds like fun, sweetie. Did you have a good day?”

Fen jostled the phone, burst into song, then started talking in earnest which meant a chorus of sounds that didn’t make a whole lot of sense but melted Andrea’s heart just the same. She heard Nate tell her to ‘say good night to mummers’, which she did, the high pitched voice close to busting her ear drum.

“What time will you be home?” Nate asked.

“I’m not sure. A few more hours.” She glanced at Nigel. “Put her back on so I can tell her I love her.”

“She’s getting ready for bed, Andy.”

Flushed hot and she gritted her teeth. “Put her on the phone.”

Nate expelled a very drawn out breath, one she longed to shove back down his throat. “Hold on.”

After a tense half minute, Fen sang into the phone, “Mummers, I lubbie, lubbie you.”

“I lubbie you, too, sweetie. I’ll kiss you when I get home, okay?”

“Okay.” She made a kissing noise then hung up.

Andrea put her phone away and whispered, “Thank you.”

“It must be hard, being a parent.” Nigel said as he turned toward her. “I’m missing that gene but that doesn’t mean I’m not sympathetic. So, you’re intelligent and have a discerning eye for fashion. You’re also ambitious and always watching and learning from what I’ve seen. And, well, I’ve decided to be your fairy godfather, Andrea. We don’t have to do twelve hour days and every weekend to get you up to speed. Let’s make every minute count so you can go home at a decent time. It’s not like you don’t know what a Fashion Director does.”

Unable to stop the smile from overtaking her mouth, Andrea replied, “I don’t know what to say, Nigel.”

“New York Fashion week is going to be brutal. Miranda’s tolerance for fuckery dips into the negative numbers. Remember, I have just as much at stake as you, darling, and normally I wouldn’t give your problems a second of my time.” Nigel removed his glasses, took a handkerchief from his pocket then started cleaning them. “If you don’t pick it up quick enough, be warned, I will run you into the ground to get you ready.” He replaced his glasses and turned to glare at her. “I will hunt you down if you break, crack, or cry. I will not be denied EIC of Paris Runway.”

Andrea nodded, impressed by Nigel’s offer and transparency. Afraid, even, by his cold promise. She took a handful of seconds to think about it. As he pointed out, he stood to lose as much as she did. There was the possibility he wanted to fuck Miranda over but that, she decided, would be counterproductive. Paris Runwaywas still under the Elias-Clarke umbrella. It was conceivable Miranda’s influence extended across the ocean.

Holding out her hand, Andrea replied, “Let’s do it.”

***

FD Squared looked rather derelict on the outside with its metal roll-up storefront door covered in graffiti. The regular door fared little better although the rust lent a certain industrial flair. Nigel looked around then pressed the buzzer. They were quickly shown in.

A man with impressive salt-and-pepper dreadlocks absently shook their hands as he looked over their shoulders, a frown on his face.

“Wait. Where’s Miranda?” he asked, a little puzzled but very eager.

“She sends her regrets.” Nigel announced as he removed his wool coat then draped it over his arm. “I’m Nigel Kipling, Runway’s...”

“She’s not coming? Wait, this isn’t what we agreed to.” The man’s heavy brows lowered as he stroked his goatee and slightly nodded several times. “Look, I don’t deal with nobody but Miranda.”

Andrea looked at Nigel and the set of his face didn’t look particularly understanding. “Hi, I’m Andrea Sachs.” She stood a bit in front and to the side of Nigel. “Are you Jamar King?”

“Yeah, yeah, that’s me.” Jamar waved over one of the several people standing around trying to act as if there wasn’t a scene unfolding. “Start packin’ up.”

Nigel said, “I’m sorry you feel that way. I’ll be sure to let Miranda know you weren’t interested in the possibility of being showcased in Runway.”

“Let’s see about that.” Jamar pulled out his phone.

Andrea stilled his hand. “She had a family emergency. There’s absolutely no need to disturb her when she sent us in her place, Jamar.” Staring into his eyes, she wasn’t playing a macho game and tried to convey it. “I’m going to take video and stills which I will send her as soon as you’ve finished showing us what you have. Everything’s ready. You don’t have anything to lose, right?”

Sizing her up, Jamar didn’t blink for several seconds then he smiled and called out, “Tamera, get the girls lined up.”

Andrea maintained her poker face, relieved Nigel hadn’t overplayed the prima donna persona.

Jamar laughed, the sound resonating in the space between them, and clapped his hands then gestured toward a long table. “We got hot wings and canapés plus some wine. Go dig in and have a seat.”

While people scrambled to adjust the lighting or disappear behind a heavy black cloth that separated the open floor plan almost in half, Andrea piled on the wings, grabbed an inch or so of napkins, and ignored Nigel’s raised eyebrows.

“Like leading a pig to a trough.” he mocked as he placed two canapés on a small plastic plate. “Say good-bye to that six-sized ass.”

“You’re a judgmental frown away from Botox injections.” Andrea licked the sauce that oozed down her thumb. She spotted the blue cheese dressing cups and snagged a handful.

“I know someone who does liposuction. I’ll give him your number.” he whispered as he leaned in front of her to get some wine.

Andrea laughed, hiding it behind the back of her wrist. “Can you grab me a bottle of water?”

They sat up front, in the seats of honor, while his entourage and crew sat behind them. The music started, a contemporary piano piece, and Andrea mournfully looked down at the wings then set the plate down on the empty chair next to her. When Nigel laughed, Andrea slapped him on the arm. Jamar stood in front of the makeshift curtain, rubbing his hands together. Quickly, before the show started, she cleaned off her hands with a napkin and some water, only half-listening to Jamar.

“I design for women with curves who are bold and confident. They don’t shy away from standing out.”

Andrea opened her personal phone, having forgotten to pick up the company phone from Vanessa. Two calls and several text notifications greeted her, all of which she ignored. Thank god her battery had plenty of juice. Jamar signed off and nodded to someone in the wings then ducked behind the curtain. Andrea turned on the video and waited. Grateful the venue was cozy, she concentrated on keeping her hands steady. She made a mental note to bring the Nikon and tripod to work tomorrow. Maybe there was a unused conference room or space she could store some things or Nigel would let her put them in his office but, honestly, although they were getting along, she didn’t want to rock that boat. Not yet anyway.

While the show continued, Andrea worked the camera, zooming in and out with each new model. It was impressive, the scope of Jamar’s line which hit all seasons. The muted earth tones as the backdrop for the splashes of bold colors, he had created a look for a range of skin tones. Even though he professed to designing for curvy women, which in itself was highly rare in the fashion world, many of his pieces could be worn by less endowed women, too. Andrea tried not to get carried away by her exuberance. She needed to make sure to showcase his creativity from as many angles as possible. Miranda Priestly, while demanding and discerning like Anna, was still an unknown. Until she learned what the editor looked for, Andrea decided to widen her net.

When the show ended, Andrea pocketed her phone and stood with Nigel as Jamar walked up to them.

“What a splendid presentation, Jamar.” Nigel said, grinning a little.

“That’s how I planned it.”

“I’d like to get some shots of the details...stitching, material, and the like. Would that be possible?”

Jamar looked slightly put out. “You have the video. That should do it.”

“The more I can show Miranda, the better she’ll understand your vision, right?” Andrea shrugged. “But if you think...”

“You’re right, Andrea.” He winked at her. “I see what you did there. You’re a smart one. I need to inform the women.”

“So, how am I doing so far?”

Nigel started polishing his glasses. Andrea watched his face but it remained impassive as he replied, “What makes you think I’ve been paying attention?”

Andrea huffed. “You’ve taken the backseat all day. I’m not complaining, just curious if you’ve decided yet.”

“On?” he asked, slipping on his glasses and looking directly into her eyes.

“Whether I’m worthy of actually being mentored by you.”

“I’m still deciding.”

“Fair enough.” Andrea smiled, one eyebrow slightly higher than the other. “I didn’t think you’d give me the keys to the kingdom on my first day.”

***

They took separate cabs as Andrea needed to return to Runway and Nigel was meeting someone for a late dinner. Taking the elevator without other passengers, Andrea leaned against the back railing and sighed. To be honest, although tired, an excited giddiness swept across her skin. On her first day Andrea nailed it, at every turn. She knew the job, had filled in at Vogue when Densi went on maternity leave but being at Runway was the realization of a dream. Too bad her personal life lacked such optimism.

She used her keycard to gain access after-hours. The anteroom and bullpen were dim, a few strategic lights on to light the way. She noticed a light from Miranda’s office but veered off toward Nigel’s to get her things. It was going on nine o’clock and still needed to get a cab home or the subway which would delay her arrival home by thirty minutes. Andrea grabbed her purse then saw the packet with her name on it on Nigel’s desk. She shoved it in her purse and was about to leave when she glimpsed her portfolio. Andrea expelled an aggravated sigh. She meant to give it to Miranda but the day had been a whirlwind. She snatched it up.

When she walked between the empty assistants’ desks, Andrea paused midway. Miranda, seated behind her desk, looked as still as a statue as she read something on the laptop. A second or two passed and Miranda looked up, her dark-rimmed glasses framing her eyes as the white forelock curled over one lens. With a quick movement of her hand, she flicked the offending piece of hair from blocking her view.

“What’s your email address?” Andrea asked. “I have the stills and video from Jamar King’s show on my personal phone.”

Miranda leaned back in her chair, taking off her glasses and setting them down on the desk. “It can wait until tomorrow. First impressions?”

Andrea blew out a long breath, disturbing the tendrils that had fallen over eyes. She ignored them. “The stitching was a little uneven but the color contrasts were artful. He had several outfits, mix and match pieces, for every season. About twenty entire outfits all together. I think if we bring him in slowly and he stays the course, he may have his own house in a few years. His models were curvy from different ethnicities and they looked great. If his creative drive is strong, he’ll bring in those demographics which the industry generally ignores. ”

“Does he have something for the March issue?”

“I haven’t seen the mock-ups so I don’t know where he’d fit.”

Miranda smirked just the slightest bit as she picked up her glasses and put them on. “That’s all.”

Swallowing a quick rejoinder, Adrienne set down the portfolio and walked away but turned back after crossing the threshold, one hand bracing against the doorjamb as she looked over her shoulder.

“My portfolio.”

Andrea left, amused by the editor’s absorption or indifference. She wasn’t worried. Miranda wasn’t stupid. She did her homework. The second Nigel revealed his choice to succeed him, Miranda would have gotten her assistants to pull everything on the internet about the person. If that hadn’t been enough, no doubt she instructed them to call designers, photographers, and anyone else that may have had dealings with the candidate. Smiling as she hailed a cab, she wished she could have been there when Miranda grilled Nigel about her. Of course Miranda knew something about her, had probably seen a spread or two of she did at Vogue but her portfolio told a story, the progression of her career, and she wanted the editor to see it. In Andrea’s opinion, there was no better way to judge what she learned over the years.

***

By the time she put the key in the door, it was going on ten o’clock. Hopefully, both her husband and daughter were asleep but she suspected Nate lurked just beyond the door.

And Lily, apparently, who was sitting on the couch next to her husband with Fen’s head in her lap.

“Hey, when did you get in?” Andrea asked quietly as she hung up her overcoat and put her things on the long, narrow table along the wall.

Nate didn’t looked away from the television.

The living room lights were out, casting the couch and its occupants into flicking blue and white light edged in darkness.

Lily’s hand rhythmically stroked Fen’s back as she said staring at the screen, “This afternoon. Shhhh...good part coming up.”

At that moment, Andrea disliked her best friend, resented the ease with which Lily sat next to her husband, shoulders touching, and the casual affection she showed her daughter. Andrea went to the bedroom, which presumably was still hers she thought acidly. She didn’t take a shower but washed her face, moisturized and brushed out her hair then changed into a pair of old, threadbare sweats. The sleeveless t-shirt hugged her breasts, assets Lily lacked.

When she returned to the living room, Lily was picking up Fen and Nate was turning off the television.

“I’ll take her.”

Lily cradled her daughter, replying, “It’s no trouble.”

But Andrea blocked Lily’s path to Fen’s bedroom. “I’ll take my daughter, Lily.”

“I already have...”

“Now, Lily.”

Nate snapped, “Christ, Andy.”

“Mummers.” Fen sighed, curling around Andrea’s upper body.

Andrea glared at her husband and best friend then put her child down for the night. She squatted by the side of Fen’s bed, tucking the sheet and blanket around her.

“I lubbie, lubbie you.” she whispered, gently smoothing the dark curls, so like her father’s, away from her face.

Fen yawned, curling her fist under her cheek. Andrea leaned over and placed a long kiss on her child’s brow. Crouching beside the bed, she watched Fen peacefully sleep and wondered how much she would change in another year from now. Andrea’s heart wrung dry at the thought. Unable to stop the impulse, she nuzzled her nose along Fen’s hairline, past the delicate curve of her ear to the crook of her warm neck, memorizing the scent.

She turned on the nightlight and kept the door ajar.

When Andrea reached the living room, Nate stood with his arms crossed and Lily was gone. They were going to argue. The way he wouldn’t look directly at her when in the past he couldn’t wait to pin her with an accusing stare riled up the small hairs along Andrea’s arms.

“Lily left?”

“Can you blame her?” Nate snapped. “You all but threw her out.”

“No, I didn’t. Don’t be so dramatic.” she said, plopping on the couch and eyeing him. “She’s not Fen’s mother.”

“You didn’t have to be such a bitch.”

Andrea inhaled deeply through her nose. When she looked at her husband, she very quietly asked, “What is this about?”

Nate huffed then finally decided to sit down next to her. He rubbed the back of his neck and said to the floor, “I’m not happy, Andy. I haven’t been for a long time.”

So much for ‘sticking with the plan’.

She didn’t want to hear what was coming next. She really didn’t but Andrea tried to relax. It didn’t make his unusual complaint easier to take.

“You want to go back to work.” she stated, plucking at the hole in her sweats and knowing it was just the tip of the iceberg.

“I have a buddy who gave me a lead on a sous chef position with a Micheline star chef...in Boston. I have an interview this coming weekend.”

Andrea propped her elbows on her knees and massaged her forehead with her fingers. “I don’t believe this.”

“I already booked the flight.”

Laughing gruffly into her chest, she muttered, “And?”

“And...well, I think it’s a good change.”

Head popping up and turning toward him, she hated him for making her ask, “Is Lily going with you?”

The sharp queasiness in her stomach when she looked into his eyes propelled her to suddenly stand up and move away. Her brain stayed on the image of her husband, child and best friend on the couch. Andrea had to give him credit. This time, he had a plan.

“Andy...”

“Get out.”

Nate rolled his eyes. “It’s not like we’ve been happy.”

“Get out.” she hissed, hands clenched at her sides.

“We haven’t had sex since you got pregnant.”

Andrea said nonchalantly, “Because you were too busy fucking your nineteen year old waitress.”

He rose from the couch and left the room.

Andrea trembled with the urge to yell and fight. If she ever saw Lily again, she promised herself she was going to choke her until she passed out, revive her, then do it again and again until the bitch died. She hadn’t seen that particular betrayal coming. To think she cried on Lily’s shoulder when she found out about the waitress made Andrea want to inflict damage.

“Look, let me take Fen...”

Without conscious thought, Andrea rounded the sofa and got into his personal space at the edge of the living room. “You are out of your fucking mind. She’s just a baby and I’m her mother.” Andrea shoved him. “Go knock up Lily, I really don’t care, but Fen stays with me, Nate. You didn’t even... I had to beg you to, to...”

“There’s no point in paying for daycare when I’m right here.” Nate snapped. “You’re not being fair, Andy. I’m her father.”

“You want to talk about fair? Where were you when I was pregnant with your baby?”

Nate shook his head and took a deep breath. He placed his palms together and put the tips of his fingers over his lips. “Look, just calm down okay? Nothing has to be decided right now.”

Tears pricked her eyes and her throat ached so painfully, Andrea wondered how she still breathed. “Anything else?”

“I didn’t go looking for it.” Immediately Nate held up his hands when he saw her face. “Just...listen, Andy, please? Last time it was about my fear of being a dad but this time...with Lily...she makes me happy.”

“How comforting.” she said, back under control as she wiped the tears from her skin. “As riveting as the story of your happiness is, I have to go to work in the morning. Pack a bag and leave.”

“Andy, this isn’t easy for me.”

Andrea moaned a little, holding her stomach. “What do you want from me, Nate? You’re fucking my best friend. I don’t give a shit about your feelings.”

Nate muttered, “Fucking incredible.” Then he went into their bedroom.

Andrea resisted the urge to climb into Fen’s bed and cry herself to sleep. It sounded like something she should do but only after Nate left. She went to the window and looked out at the view, concentrating on the lights from the traffic below. Fen was hers. Fuck Nate. Fuck Lily and fuck Runway because there was no way in hell she was giving up her daughter.